Vietnam 2017 – Part 15

9th September, 2017.

The day dawned clear after overnight rain but it promised to be an extremely humid day not a happy prospect as we would be visiting areas where Australian troops had been based during the Vietnam War.

The view from our hotel room before we checked out.

We picked up a local guide prior to our first stop at Long Phuoc, a former village standing on a maze of tunnels, a few miles south-east of the Australian Base at Nui Dat.

Part of one of the tunnels is open for tourists to explore and the entrance features a static display representing a group of Viet Cong.

I was not keen to explore the tunnel but Erich was game.

Another display inside the tunnel.

Our next stop was at Nui Dat, where the Australian troops lived and trained.

Standing on the helicopter landing area looking towards the remains of Nui Dat hill, which had been partially removed for use in local road making until the authorities realised that no hill would mean no Australian tourists and stopped its destruction.

The surrounding area is now farming land.

Our guide had an interesting folder of maps and photographs which gave us a good feel for how the area looked during the war.

Looking along what was the 1 km long airstrip for the base.

We visited the nearby Kindergarten co-funded by the Australian Vietnam Volunteers Group. It was school holiday so the place was deserted but we could have a look around the area.

The Long Tan Memorial was quite an emotional stop for most of our group. We had a short service and each placed a memorial flower.

Nui Dat Hill in the background.

For more information about Long Tan –

More Vietnamese ingenuity – a three wheeled motorbike parked outside our lunch venue.

After lunch our coach made its way back through Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, a city on the Mekong Delta. Once again we had water views from our hotel but this time it was a river view.

Our hotel’s facade from the riverside with the open air restaurant to the far right.

Although the hotel was not fantastic, its restaurant was very good. We had never seen a whole fish presented like this. It was delicious; even the scales!

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 14

18th September, 2017.

We had a mid-morning flight with VietJet Air from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and, with the airport being located so close to the city, there was not too much rush with checking out of our hotel.

The drive to the airport gave us a good view across to the Golden Dragon Bridge we had visited the previous night.

Not a great photo as it was taken from the moving coach but it shows the bridge in its entirety with the head to the right and tail to the left.

This close-up shows the detail of the construction.

In the check-in area I spotted a cut-out advertising our airline and took this photo in case I missed out on the real thing in the airplane. A really snazzy uniform for the flight attendants.

Our flight was delayed so while I made use of the airport’s free Wi-Fi, Erich went for a walk through the departure lounge where he saw this sign. From a distance it appeared to offer free beer but closer inspection revealed the truth.

Once seated for departure I was quick to take a couple of photos of the flight attendant with my iPad. Such a smart and practical uniform in my opinion. The hat is discarded once the safety demonstration is completed.

As we ascended, the views of Da Nang were impressive. The statue of the Lady Buddha can just be seen on the far left across the bay.

Zoomed in on the Lady Buddha.

Interesting cloud formations and scenery as we flew south.

Approaching Ho Chi Minh City airport.

After landing at the domestic terminal we walked a couple of hundred metres to the international airport where our coach awaited us as tour coaches are not allowed into the domestic pickup area. Here we also said farewell to one of our group whose 2 week holiday was finishing as she was flying back home via Singapore.

Boarding our new coach we set off for the coastal town of Vung Tau, where Australian soldiers spent their RnR during the war and where a number have returned to live. Once again it was quite a slow journey and the sun was low in the sky when we stopped for a photo opportunity before making our way to our restaurant for dinner.

This statue of Christ dominates the skyline.

Seated at a long table at the water’s edge, we had lovely views out to sea while we dined.

We spotted this little monkey (centre right in the photo) which we originally thought must have been wild but it was actually on a lead held by a young boy at a nearby table.

Following a delicious dinner we were taken to our nearby hotel where we had a room with views of the ocean, though by the time we checked in it was completely dark outside.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 13

17th September, 2017.

Leaving our hotel in Hoi An, we were again transferred by mini-van to our coach located outside the old town and were soon on our way back to Da Nang, our overnight stop prior to our flight to Ho Chi Minh City the next day.

Along the way we stopped at Marble Mountains, also referred to as Water Mountains, where for a small fee a lift takes the visitor up to a maze of tunnels, caves and temples. Unfortunately we did not have a guided tour and most of the signage was in Vietnamese so it wasn’t possible to get the best from the visit but still plenty of photo opportunities for Erich.

Extensive views from the top.

Before going to our hotel, we stopped at the Temple of the Lady Buddha situated at the Linh Ung Pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula 14 kms from the City Centre of Da Nang.

We had marvellous views back to Da Nang and over the bay.

There were scores of ancient bonsai in the courtyard.

And lots of marvellous marble statues.

At 67 metres, the Lady Buddha is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam.

Later in the afternoon we went to another hotel where we had High Tea on the 18th floor with views over the city.

That evening we had dinner at an oceanfront restaurant with views across the bay to Son Tra Peninsula and the illuminated Lady Buddha.

After dinner we joined thousands of others at the Golden Dragon Bridge which spans the Han River in Da Nang and, at 666 metres, is the longest bridge in Vietnam. Constructed over a two year period and completed in 2013, the bridge was built to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang at the end of the Vietnam War. Illuminated with LED lights in the evening, the dragon’s head spews fire and water at 9pm on weekends and holidays.

The surrounding buildings and tour boats on the river are also lit up.

The dragon’s head at one end of the bridge.

The people standing on the bridge would have been rather wet.

When we arrived back at the hotel we found the foyer full of scooters. Not sure what that was all about.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 12

16th September, 2017.

Erich was out early to wander the streets around our hotel before the day heated up.

The bridge leading from our hotel side of the river to the main part of town. We walked across it many times during our couple of days in Hoi An.

The front of our hotel looking towards the river.

Looking out from the breakfast room. The green plant on the table is sprouting rice.

This morning, along with a fellow traveller, we had booked a cooking class with the hotel’s chef. First we headed off to the markets with him.

Looking stylish in my conical (or should that be comical?) hat.

Chef explaining something to us. We were grateful for our conical hats but I did have to “duck” quite a lot.

In the covered part of the market, Chef bought us some little morsels to try. Fortunately they were cooked as we would not have eaten anything raw – that is just asking for the Vietnamese version of Bali Belly.

Back at the hotel, our class was actually conducted by an assistant cook and was mostly demonstration with just a bit of hands on from us.

Some dodgy looking rice paper rolls made by us.

Erich trying his hand at Vietnamese Pancakes, a savoury pancake that is then wrapped in rice paper which we thought a bit odd.

Can you tell we are a bit hot and bothered here? No air-conditioning and we were just about melting.

At the end of the class, the Chef offered to cook us a BBQ dinner beside the river that evening for the princely sum of USD15 each. As we had a free evening we jumped at the offer.

Here are some hotel staff preparing the dining area for us.

Later in the afternoon our guide had organised a boat trip for the group.

Walking back across the bridge to board our boat, the clouds provided an interesting sky.

Not exactly a luxury cruiser but authentic.

Local fishermen.

Notice the eyes painted on the bow of this boat. We saw this a lot throughout Vietnam.

As we motored along the river this chap paddled up to us in this strange round boat.

He was a bit of an entertainer, spinning the boat around for us.

We were watching the time as we were due back at our hotel for our BBQ dinner but instead of mooring where we had left we continued under the bridge and much further up river than we expected.

Once moored we were now a long way from the hotel so we had to scramble to find a taxi to take us back to the hotel. It was a pity that we didn’t have the opportunity to explore more of this part of Hoi An.

Back at the hotel, everything was ready for us.

We started with Pumpkin Soup which we had many times throughout Vietnam, much to our surprise. The rest of the menu included Pork Ribs, Red Snapper, Beef Mince wrapped in Pepper Leaves and Marinated Prawns, all cooked on a small kettle BBQ, a wonderful salad with an unusual tuna dressing and fried rice followed by fresh tropical fruits. It was a wonderful meal.

Chef Thanh firing up the BBQ.

Alex and Erich (in one of his new shirts that we had collected during the afternoon) tucking in.

Chef Thanh and his assistant Lien.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 11

15th September, 2017.

Leaving Hue behind we headed south with today’s destination being Hoi An. As we drove through the outlying parts of town we saw significant amounts of damage to property and infrastructure from a storm the previous night. Some large trees brought down on shops and dwellings and across the road had the locals out clearing up.

Our first stop was a Lang Co Resort for what Mr Lam called a “Happy Room” stop i.e. to make use of the conveniences. He told us that 10 years ago this was the premier resort on this part of the coastline.

Unfortunately, State ownership has allowed the place to suffer from neglect and the bathrooms were certainly a reflection of this. It was possible to envisage how it must once have looked but to us it just looked sad. The previous evening’s storm did not help the look with palm fronds and debris strewn about the place.

Looking out to the South China Sea.

Beautiful Frangipani.

Leaving the resort we passed more oyster farms.

Shortly later we passed through the Hai Van Tunnel, at 6.28kms the longest tunnel in south-east Asia, opened in 2005 to bypass the Hai Van Pass and cut 20kms from the distance from Hue to Da Nang. Exiting the tunnel we had a great view down the hill overlooking Da Nang. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the coach to take any photos.

Lunch was at a very popular noodle bar in suburban Da Nang.

After lunch we resumed our drive to Hoi An but before leaving Da Nang we stopped at a marble showroom that ships wares all around the world.

It’s a pity we don’t have room for this cheery chap in our garden.

As our coach was too large to negotiate the streets to our Hoi An Hotel, we transferred to mini vans for the remaining few hundred metres. Our room was on the first floor front corner overlooking the gardens and towards the river.

Our afternoon was free so we set off by ourselves to explore the markets and laneways. Hoi An is well known as a place to get clothing tailor made and we strolled along a street lined with individual tailor shops marvelling that all these shops could make a living. It wasn’t long before we succumbed to a lady’s persuasion and ordered an outfit for me and a couple of shirts for Erich.

Judging by the blur in this photo, Erich was excited at the prospect of new clothes!

A little further along we came across a spectacle shop where we ordered a new pair of reading glasses for Erich that, like the clothes, would be ready for collection the next day at a fraction of the price we would pay at home.

This temple was in a side street standing cheek by jowl with pocket sized retail shops and opposite the market.

The market was something to see and smell!

Straight from the water to the market.

After a rest and a well-needed shower, we met our travelling companions in the hotel foyer for the walk to our picturesque dinner venue beside the river. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos that night but I took a photo of the restaurant from a boat as we passed by the next evening.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 10

14th September, 2017.

Today we had the choice of touring the Imperial Palace in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, with our knowledgeable guide, Anh, or a cyclo tour around the perimeter of the Citadel and parts of the centre of the town. Erich was the only person to opt for the tour so had our guide’s undivided attention for the morning and took some wonderful photos.

Hue was the capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 and the Imperial Palace was the residence of the emperor as well as the seat of government.

Unfortunately the day was overcast and threatening to rain as they approached the entrance.

This is the entrance gate with separate gates for the emperor, his immediate inner circle and the others.

The gate in the middle (on the right of the picture) is for the emperor only.

Ahn explained the significance of the row of stone carvings – they are markers for the grades of the mandarins. The building in the background is the Thai Hoa – The Palace of Supreme Harmony.

No photographs were allowed inside the Thai Hoa. The following photos are after exiting the building at the rear.

The whole imperial city is a work in progress, being gradually renovated. This dragon has been restored recently.

The architecture of the buildings is quite spectacular and in parts very ornate.

Ahn took this photo of Erich in front of one of the buildings.

This building was not accessible to tourists – on the right hand side you can see workers restoring the building.

Heavy rain kept them inside for a few minutes until it eased.

Erich and Ahn joined the rest of the group who at that stage were busy exploring the shops. In the meantime, I joined the rest of the group being individually chauffeured to see the sights.

Opposite the ancient site, life goes on much as it has for centuries.

When we dismounted our cyclos at a barricade to take photos of this building, the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. Most of us had umbrellas but the rain was so heavy we sheltered under the awning of the ticket office until the rain eased enough for us to return to our vehicles. Fortunately, most of the cyclo riders had covered their bikes with transparent plastic covers so that we could continue the rest of the tour relatively dry.

Once reunited with Erich and Anh, we proceeded to Thien Dinh Palace and tomb. This place had many stairs and as it was so humid, I stayed in the coach while Erich explored the site.

The following two photos may help give perspective to his other photos.

Flanking the stairs to the complex, dragons form a balustrade on either side.

The gate to the salutation court.

These stone figures are all in the salutation court. Erich obviously was fascinated by them as he took so many photos.

This is a gigantic statue which could be seen in the distance.

This is the outside of the Thien Dinh palace where the tomb is located.

The tomb with a statue of Thien Dinh.

It was just a short drive to our lunch venue, La Pines Restaurant, where we had a private dining room and a really lovely meal.

Leaving the restaurant these colourful lanterns in the courtyard took Erich’s eye.

Next stop was at Thuy Xuan incense village to watch incense sticks being made and a demonstration of the making of the traditional Vietnamese conical hat.

Each different coloured bundle of sticks has a different fragrance. The artistic array is in fact to allow the colour to dry prior to the incense mixture being applied.

This lady was so quick at rolling each stick and instinctively chose the exact amount of incense mixture for each stick.

Heading back to Hue, the rain was now more persistent and most people opted to return to the hotel while a few of us ventured off with our guide to see the Thien Mu Pagoda.

The Pagoda remains a functioning Buddhist Temple where Buddhist Monks live and study.

This certainly made us pause and reflect.

As we made our way out of the Pagoda grounds, I thought this gate at the entrance to one of the Monks’ residences was worth a photo.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 9

13th September, 2017.

As we had arrived at our hotel quite late, Erich went out early the next morning to explore the area.

Our hotel looked quite impressive in daylight.

It was located directly opposite the beach giving Erich a good opportunity to photograph fishing boats going about their business.

An impressive carving outside the hotel.

The view from our room.

Waiting to board our coach in the hotel foyer.

Our destination today was the city of Hue, a distance of only 168 kms but road travel is quite slow in Vietnam. Along the way we stopped at the 17th Parallel, the historic military border between North and South Vietnam. The border was slightly south of the 17th Parallel, roughly along the Ben Hai River.

This bridge across the river was destroyed many times during the conflict. Now different coloured paint marks the spot.

This impressive sculpture is supposed to represent a mother and child awaiting the return of the soldier husband and father.

The Ben Hai River.

Erich was warned by our guide not to go any closer to this military installation.

At the rest stop where these photos were taken a northbound bus had stopped for a meal break for the passengers, Buddhists from southern Vietnam, heading north to assist victims of a recent cyclone.

Our lunch stop was at a small cafe in Dong Ha along the route.

Our senior guide, Mr Lam, making a point about something with the map of the de-militarised zone (DMZ) in the background.

We had a short stop at a Catholic Mission – The Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. The original church was destroyed at Easter 1972 during the war and the bell tower and part of the facade is all that remains.

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Vietnam 2017- Part 8

12th September, 2017.

Whilst waiting for our coach to arrive to take us to the airport for our flight to Dong Hoi, Erich did a bit of people watching outside our hotel in Hanoi.

Our route to the airport took us past the mosaic wall again and I took as many photos as I could however I will refrain from posting any more here but it really is something to see.

This internal flight was our first experience with Vietjet Air and we were very impressed with them. The airline is only about 4 years old and runs a modern fleet of A320s but it was the flight attendants’ uniforms that took our eye. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo before the caps were removed so you will have to wait for a later blog post about our flight with the airline from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City as I was fully prepared that time.

After arriving in Dong Hoi we quickly transferred to our new coach for the hour long drive to the Phong Anh-Ke Bang National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and in particular the Phong Anh cave system which has a discovered length of 126kms and is considered to be the largest cave in the world.

Once aboard our boat, it was around 5kms upstream to the entry to the cave.

The tours are conducted by local villagers who also harvest the river weed for fertiliser in a similar way to those we saw at Trang An Grottoes.

Approaching the entrance to the cave.

We explored only the first 1500 metres of the cave system in the boat and then went ashore to explore on foot heading back towards the cave entrance where our boat picked us up once again. Low light in the cave made photography tricky and it is difficult to show its sheer size.

The point where we got back on the boat.

Looking down to the cave entrance before descending the stairs with the boats waiting for the walkers.

Patiently waiting.

Heading back down river, one could be forgiven for thinking we were cruising down the Rhine.

But a closer shot puts it in perspective.

Our captain’s offsider.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 7

11th September, 2017.

We arrived back in Hanoi in time to head straight to dinner but, due to fatigue or illness, a number of people opted to skip the meal and go straight to the hotel which was a shame as we had one of the best meals of the whole trip that evening. It’s just a pity that I don’t remember the name of the restaurant!

Erich’s camera died the very first day in Vietnam and he had been using my camera so far on the trip. As we had a free morning we decided to check whether we could have it repaired (having heard of the quick turn-around available in Vietnam) or purchase a replacement and have the old camera body repaired when we returned home. We had Googled Olympus retailers and repairers in Hanoi but there were not too many choices. So with map in hand, we wandered off in search of “camera” street. Many of the streets in the old town of Hanoi are dedicated to selling just one type of goods i.e. fabric street where every shop front retailed fabric of one sort or another. Another street sold only party goods, another just seemed to have belts and ties, another was mensware, another just cleaning supplies and equipment and so on.

This is a photo taken in the party goods street. Three ladies selling from three different shop fronts. We were amazed that they could all make a living but apparently they do and I guess it’s convenient for shoppers to have all the choices grouped together.

We found camera street but didn’t have much luck finding anyone who had a clue about Olympus cameras but we did find a retailer that could supply the camera body as a kit with a lens that Erich didn’t want for 69 million VND – that’s about $4000 and much more than we would pay for just the camera body at home. So we gave up on the idea and walked back to Hoan Kiem Lake where we had seen a lovely looking cafe that served real cappuccino which had been difficult to find so far.

The view from our table overlooking the lake was very peaceful.

Later in the afternoon we were given a tour of the old town lanes in 6 seater golf carts, much safer than rickshaws in this crazy traffic.

Most of us lined up for a group photo but there were a few who were awol.

How they know which wire belongs where amazes me.

The golf carts were a great safe and quick way to see the back streets without having to battle the traffic and crowds.

After our tour we were back on our coach heading for our dinner venue at an International Buffet and once again driving beside the levee wall that protects the city when the Red River is in flood. The mosaic wall had fascinated me since our very first day in Hanoi so I took lots of photos as we drove along. Not great quality through the coach window unfortunately.

At around 4kms long, this is the longest mosaic in the world with different scenes depicted along the whole length. These are just a few.

The project was undertaken in 2010 to commemorate 1000 years since the founding of Hanoi.

Our dinner venue was delightful and the food was amazing with around 20 different cuisines to choose from – Japanese, BBQ, Vegetarian, Desserts etc.

After dinner we sat in the courtyard enjoying the entertainment of traditional Vietnamese music.

This performer is playing the Dan-Bau, a monochord Vietnamese instrument, which sounds amazing. You can read more about the instrument here

This was a very fitting end to our time in Hanoi. Next destination – Dong Hoi.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 6

9th & 10th September, 2017.

Leaving the Trang An Complex just after lunch, we were expecting another long drive of 4 hours or so to Ha Long Bay. As we neared our destination a couple of people were desperate for a comfort stop, so it was decided to have a quick tour of a Pearl Farm and showroom. It was quite interesting to watch the workers seeding the oysters, sorting the pearls and stringing them and there was no pressure on us to buy anything. Having not bought any pearls the three times we were in Broome, I would have felt a traitor buying them in Vietnam.

Oyster beds.

These nets are hung vertically from the timber supports.

Seeding the oysters.

This is a still shot taken from a video hence the blur.

And here is the actual video – amazing speed!

Grading the pearls.

Local lacquer work featuring mother-of-pearl was not a patch on the quality of the Hanoi lacquer work we had seen.

Many visitors to Ha Long Bay spend a night on a Junk in the Bay but we were happy to be sleeping on dry land prior to our morning tour of the Bay.

The view from our hotel room.

The next day dawned overcast and a little wet and the throngs of tourists milling about waiting to board their tour boats didn’t add to the atmosphere.

We were eventually underway in a rather fancily decked out junk that we had just for our group and it was air-conditioned!

Made up of some 1600 limestone karsts and isles, Ha Long Bay looks similar to the limestone topography around Ninh Binh but set in water.

It was almost a race to get through these narrow spaces.

The locals still live on and fish these waters. They must be thoroughly sick of all the tourists.

We docked at one of the islands to allow the more adventurous the opportunity to climb up inside one of the limestone towers, walk through a cave and descend at the other end.

Some of the group after climbing the steps and before they entered the cave.

It was another long drive back to Hanoi and I amused myself by watching the locals we passed. This is a terrible photo taken from the coach as I was too slow and almost missed it but those are two cows being transported in a trailer attached to a motorbike.

Arriving back in Hanoi just as the sun is about to set.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 5

8th & 9th September, 2017.

We were woken early again by this creature which seems to live on the balcony of a nearby building. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been woken by a rooster!

Today we were leaving Sa Pa behind and making the 8 hour coach ride past Hanoi to Ninh Binh, a small city situated on the Red River Delta. This is not something I recommend doing! It was a very long tiring day even though we did nothing but sit in the coach and disembark for comfort and lunch stops. I’ve told Erich that if I ever suggest any kind of coach travel in the future to slap me!! On top of that we passed an horrific traffic accident involving one of the “sleeping buses” and a semi-trailer in which 7 people were killed. Sleeping buses should be avoided at all costs when travelling in Vietnam as they are poorly regulated and only fined minimal amounts for traffic violations. Our guide said the company would only have been fined around AUD400 for that accident and it was clearly at fault as the bus was on the wrong side of the road. A similar accident involving another sleeping bus had occurred the previous week and 11 people were killed. Horrifying!

We were pleasantly surprised by how modern and clean Ninh Binh was. It appears to be quite prosperous due to a thriving building material industry with cement production being one of the biggest. The contrast between this town and others we had passed through was astonishing – there was absolutely no rubbish anywhere and the buildings were neat and tidy and appeared well constructed.

Erich took most of these photos from our hotel room with the limestone mountains making for a stunning backdrop.

Erich took a few photos of our hotel the next morning.

A spectacular carving in the foyer.

And a couple of imposing statues guarding the entry.

On his early morning walk, Erich thought he would take some photos of a couple of churches that could be seen from our hotel room. They turned out to be private residences – perhaps owned by Cement Magnates!

The reason for our stay in Ninh Binh was its proximity to the Trang An complex, a series of lakes and grottoes sometimes referred to as Halong Bay Inland and which featured in the movie Kong: the Skull Island.

The local villagers harvest the weed to keep the waterways clear for the rowers and utilise it as fertiliser.

A couple of wild pigs foraging at the water’s edge.

This was a wonderful way to spend a morning even if the row boats were rather cramped. The tour was one of the highlights of our whole trip. Following lunch we set off on our drive north to Ha Long Bay but not before snapping this picture of a happy bride and groom being married at the complex.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 4

7th September, 2017.

We were looking forward to today’s visit to a small village about 11kms from Sa Pa. Populated mainly by the Hmong people, Ta Van, while feeling very remote and quite primitive, is nevertheless a popular day trip for many tourists to the region.

Erich and I left the hotel early for a quick look around nearby and a few photo opportunities.

Just getting to the coach this morning was an adventure as our driver was unable to bring the bus to the hotel as the whole street was a mass of traffic including construction vehicles, people and mud. There are already scores of hotels of all grades in Sa Pa but there is ongoing construction of even more seemingly without any real planning being involved. It is almost impossible for traffic to negotiate the town now and it will only get worse if something drastic isn’t done soon.

Even though this is a one way street, scooters and motorbikes were oblivious to it and the previous evening as we were walking to dinner, a car drove down this street the wrong way. One really needs eyes in the back of their head to avoid catastrophe. As we left our hotel we were joined by a band of village women, many carrying babies, attempting to sell us their wares. Once we were on the coach, they were picked up by their husbands on motorbikes and followed the coach all the way to the village where they followed us around displaying the goods they had for sale.

A rainy start to the morning put paid to the option for the more adventurous to walk from a neighbouring village as the track was too muddy and slippery.

We stopped along the road to take photos from a convenient lookout and immediately the ladies dismounted their motorbikes to try their selling skills again. This lady was so happy, smiling all the time and she certainly was persistent. That is a baby on her back.

Rice almost ready to harvest.

Our merry band of followers.

At the local school – all Government buildings in Vietnam are painted yellow.

This girl talked to us through our guide and told us that she was 17, had been married two years with a baby and another on the way.

The school looked to be the best kept building in town.

Following our stroll around the village, we had lunch at a rustic local restaurant where our followers continued their sales pitches through the open sides of the building. They were actually fairly successful in making sales of their woven bags and shawls.

Time for a meal break for the baby too. I was surprised to see the baby fed by bottle as I would have thought breastfeeding would be the norm.

Following lunch we were entertained by a troupe of local dancers.

These girls were probably from the other ethnic group found in this region, Red Dao, as their facial features and clothing were completely different from the Hmong people who had been following us. There are 54 recognised ethnic groups in Vietnam.

There’s no getting away from technology as even in this very remote area internet access was available.

The weather had improved as we left the village allowing for some terrific views of the surrounding rice paddies.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 3

6th September, 2017.

We got off to an early start for our coach trip to Sa Pa, a popular tourist destination some 320 kms north west of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border. The freeway to Lao Cai was completed just in the last couple of years and offers an alternative to taking the train and then a shuttle bus to the remote village. As usual, Hanoi was bustling with traffic as we made our way out of town.

Travelling along beside the levee wall built to protect the city when the Red River floods, we were amazed by the 4km long stretch of mosaic wall, the longest mosaic in the world, decorated to commemorate Hanoi’s 1000 year anniversary in 2010. More photos of the mosaics in a later post.

Crossing the Red River.

Well into the journey, we had our first comfort stop at what passes for a Roadhouse in Vietnam.

Here you can buy all sorts of local delicacies.

Lao Cai, where the freeway ended, was our lunch stop at this restaurant which looked promising for some French inspired cuisine. Unfortunately, the reality of Pumpkin Soup and Spaghetti Bolognaise, though tasty enough, was a bit of a letdown!

After lunch we drove to the border crossing over the Red River to China.

Apparently there is a thriving business of Vietnamese locals crossing to China to buy goods supposedly “for their own use” but in fact for third parties who then avoid import taxes.

Leaving Lao Cai, we had a 38km somewhat hair-raising drive over winding, narrow, mountainous roads where we almost came to grief on a hairpin bend meeting a semi-trailer coming from the opposite direction. Another layer of paint and we would have been in trouble. Once again road rules were ignored with vehicles passing on double lines and blind corners. I was pleased not to be sitting at the front of the coach.

Sa Pa was teeming with coaches, tourists and locals and it was quite a job for our driver to get us to our hotel in this one-way street basically having to make a circuit of the whole town to get us to the door.

Looking from the entrance of our hotel with the local upholsterer recovering lounges to the right of the photo.

The view from our hotel room was amazing. We were literally perched on the side of the mountain.

Dinner was at one of the local restaurants but, while perfectly acceptable, pizza was not what we were looking forward to. We mentioned to our guide, Michael, that we would prefer more Vietnamese style food and following some phone calls to his tour company we enjoyed local foods for the rest of the trip.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 2

5th September, 2017.

Following our early morning walk around Hoan Kiem Lake we set off in our coach touring various sites in Hanoi.

Vietnamese National Assembly House.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, unfortunately closed for annual maintenance.

Changing of the Guard.

Entrance to the Presidential Palace grounds.

The Presidential Palace.

Ho Chi Minh’s residence.

Strange tree roots coming up for air.

One Pillar Pagoda built in 1049.

Our guide Michael giving us a demonstration of how the local women carry goods on bamboo poles.

Next stop was the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Pagoda in Vietnam having been commenced in 541.

Our next stop was at the Vietnam Museum for Ethnology which was really very interesting but didn’t make for very interesting photos so here are a few of Erich’s artistic impressions.

Our next stop was at one of the leading lacquer workshops in Hanoi where these workers were creating amazing pieces using eggshell. No photos were allowed in the showroom, only in the workshop.

Beautifully painted pieces.

A very labour intensive process to produce the finished product.

I rather liked these “naive” designs.

The pieces featuring mother-of-pearl were also stunning.

On our way to the Water Puppet Theatre were some more interesting things to see.

A very French looking facade.

Good balance required.

It was not easy to get good photos in the very dark theatre. These are the musicians and singers.

A few of the different puppets.

The Puppeteers taking a bow at the end of a very entertaining show.

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Vietnam 2017 – Part 1

3rd – 5th September, 2017.

Our trip to Vietnam was to be a private group tour that had been recommended to us by a fellow resident of our village; a first for us as we normally prefer to organise our trips and travel at our own pace. However, we realised that Vietnam was a special case and having Vietnamese speaking companions for the length of the visit would be a distinct advantage now that we are a bit less adventurous than we once were.

Intricate planning by the organisers had gone in to the itinerary and we were well informed about the minutiae that would make the trip successful.

As with our recent trip to Alaska and Canada, we decided that leaving our vehicle in the long term parking at the Brisbane International Airport would be the best solution for us. Living some 3 hours drive away is a bit of a logistical hurdle that requires either an expensive flight from Hervey Bay to Brisbane, a shuttle bus or train so we find the convenience of driving ourselves is well worth the effort.

Our flight was due to depart shortly before midnight on Sunday night so we took the opportunity to arrive in Brisbane in the early afternoon to spend some time with family leaving just a 30 minute drive to the airport from their home. We soon met up with a number of travellers in our group and all went smoothly despite the additional hour that is now recommended to jump through all the security hoops prior to boarding. It was a smooth flight to Singapore where we met more of our group who travelled from New Zealand, Sydney, Adelaide and Darwin and then had a few hours wait before boarding our final leg to Hanoi where we arrived late morning.

There was not much opportunity to take photos on the drive from the airport to our hotel but these two very modern buildings were a foretaste of the contrast between old and new that would become a common sight over the ensuing three weeks.

Our hotel was centrally located in the old town of Hanoi.

Our first meal in Vietnam had us a little confused – we were not sure what to make of the Chicken legs with malarial fever! We were to come across many examples of strange menu translations.

It was a short walk to Hoan Kiem Lake early the next morning to see hundreds of locals out getting their morning exercise. There were various groups doing everything from Tai Chi through line dancing to Fan Dancing.

And many individuals just doing their own thing.

It was easy to see why this area is so popular.


Behind the Trompe L’oeil (“deceive the eye”) on this building facade was a rather large supermarket. We’ve only now noticed the graffiti in the photograph something we didn’t see (or perhaps didn’t notice) throughout the country.

Getting to the lake and back to our hotel was our first experience of the chaos that is Vietnamese traffic. Our guide told us once we start to cross a road not to stop or go backwards as the scooters and motorbikes will expect us to keep going forward and will go behind us. There is very little regard for road rules and traffic lights – it’s every man for himself. Having said that, we found absolutely no road rage on the streets.

People watching was a favourite pastime.

Jo and Yvonne honing their bargaining skills

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Canada 2017 – Vancouver

15-17th July, 2017.

Returning the motorhome to Traveland in Langley was as uneventful as the pickup and we were soon in a taxi heading to our hotel in Vancouver where we would spend two nights before our flight back to Brisbane.

The view from our hotel room.

Once again we decided to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour as we find these the best way to get a good overview of a city. Our first hop off point was at the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The first few photos were taken in the public gardens outside the walls of the authentic garden.

Entering the Classical Garden we joined a tour that had just started. Everything inside was brought from China while the public garden outside is made up of replica pieces.

I’m sure this dragonfly is a local.

As was our guide.

Leaving the garden, we walked through the Chinatown district to the Gastown Heritage district.

Steam powered clock in Gastown.

Back on the Hop On bus overlooking Lions Gate Bridge.

The next morning was our last day in Vancouver but our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until almost midnight so after checking out of our hotel, which allowed us to leave our luggage there, we walked to Granville Island over Granville Bridge.

Exploring a path.

Great views back to the city.