A Travellerspoint blog

Hoi An

January 25th to January 28th

overcast -16 °C

On the map, I have included where I am going next after Hoi An

An hour after leaving Hanoi, I landed in Danang which is considered to be Central Vietnam and I got a minivan to Hoi An upon landing which is just a 45 minute drive away. Hoi An itself does not have an airport or a train station and this in itself seems to have helped Hoi An retain its delightful atmosphere. It is known as a very "balanced", having a quieter lifestyle than many places and it is known as the most traditional cities in Vietnam. It is a World Heritage Site, as the buildings in the Old City are remarkable and are a living memory of its history. It simply is gorgeous and very, very charming. At night it comes alive with coloured lanterns strung in the trees, across the narrow windy streets and of course the vendors who sell the lamps. It is hard not to find yourself drawn to these lamps. Luckily I resisted the temptation to buy one! I know when I get home, I would not have anywhere to put it. But do I have photos!

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Hoi An coloured lanterns

The city is really alive at night along the river where there are endless boatmen and women (mostly women) who want to take you on a 45 minute ride up the river and back. I did it on my own my first day. The boatwoman handed me an oar and expected me to do my part. I did stop a few times to take some photos. It was good exercise for sure.

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Boatwoman - it's a hard life......

Another charming part of Hoi An at night is all the women and children who are selling these little candle boats, all different colours and then you float them in the river. They do look gorgeous. I never managed to get away with floating any less than three or four an evening particularly as they were more willing for me to take a photo if I bought one. Nighttime photography is a challenge for sure.

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Candle seller

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Bridge over the river in Hoi An lit up at night - quite a sight!

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Candles floating on river in the daytime. You can see the lovely buildings in the background.

There are many many great restaurants here mostly serving Vietnamese food but there is also Italian places, an Indian restaurant and plenty of bakeries selling all sorts of tempting treats. Because of the French influence on Vietnam from colonial days, they really know how to bake and the bread is to die for. These wonderful baguettes which sadly come with every breakfast and I simply cannot resist!

There’s lots of seafood served here and this will continue for the next few weeks of my trip as I will be near the ocean. This is a big treat as it is so fresh and generally Vietnamese food is fantastic.

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There are a lot of tourists here and lots of shops and lovely things to buy. Hoi an is known for it’s tailors who will sew clothing in just a day. They have a lot of silk here and men often get suits made very cheaply. There must be 200 to 300 or perhaps more tailors.

There are many many historical buildings in the city which you can visit, but I found myself not wanting to do this as there are so many tourists visiting them that it doesn't appeal to me. I already know I need to come back to Vietnam again, so I suspect Hoi An will be on my route and probably will do a bit more exploring inside of the buildings at that time.

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There is a French photographer Etienne, Brosset, who lives here with his family and who offers sunrise photo tours which I joined twice while here. We went out to a fishing village, just near the ocean and spent 4 hours there. The boats come in and unload their fish and the women haggle over the fish in the market. It is quite amazing. I even saw a fight break out with two women over fish.

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Etienne, goes to this village three times a week and has been doing this for years, so he has a great relationship with the people and speaks Vietnamese fluently. Each morning we met a number of different villagers and were able to photograph them. What faces!!

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The "Bamboo Man" who makes all things bamboo including basket boats

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We visited a smelly fish sauce factory with is really just a small cottage industry. I always imagined that those bottles of fish sauce came from big factories, but there I was watching them bottle, label and even shrink the plastic wrap around six bottles together with a hairdryer! Now that is the personal touch.

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Another cottage industry we visited and they were making some kind of dried thin pancake.

I really could have spent all day in this village as there is always something going on that is interesting. Etienne was a fantastic instructor and I feel like I really benefited from his instruction.

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View over the Thon Bhu River near the fishing village with those fantastic nets they use for fishing

I spent one day at a homestay, in countryside, just a 20 minutes from Hoi An. A homestay is when people create rooms in their homes for guests to stay. Generally they are more personal than hotels and give you more of a sense of being in Vietnam. This homestay was run by Vy and Hoi who were a really sweet couple who have created a beautiful place for us to stay. I could not have designed anything more lovely. There are a number of ponds on their land in which they have fish, shrimp and crab which they sell mostly other than what they use themselves. They have beautiful gardens and also the flower gardens were lovely as well. It was such a peaceful place to stay.

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There were bicycles that we could use and so I cycled a lot while there out to the rice fields where there were mostly women working in them planting rice seedlings and then just exploring the area by peddling down the little lanes. I so enjoyed this.

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Just before I was to check out of my room I found the river and this place that offers basket boat rides. Basket boats are very common here and as you can see they are round. They even take the out in the ocean. I can’t imagine it really . How vulnerable they would feel! So I got lured into taking a 30 minute ride with this boatman that he spent quite a lot of time teaching me how to make a ring from the palm fronds and then a crown, which I will include a photo. I have to say I felt a bit silly but what to do…….

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A few more photos of Hoi An:

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Rickshaw drivers in Hoi An waiting for potential passengers which are usually Chinese tourists in groups of 30 or more!!

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A frequent sight in Hoi An as fruit sellers love to set up a photograph and then insist on you buying their fruit at a healthy price!

So here I am sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh City or as it is know HCMC. I will just stay overnight and then head to the Mekong Delta tomorrow morning which is just a four hour bus ride. I am hoping for clean windows so I can see the landscape!! It should be warm, like in the mid-thirties.

Posted by danjali 02:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Bac Ha

January 22nd to January 25th

rain -1 °C

I am delighted that I now have a map to go with this blog. If you hover over the dots you will see the names of the places that I have visited so far.

My early trip to the north of Vietnam, was entirely so that I could visit the Sunday market in Bac Ha which is the largest market in this area. Many people from the various tribes attend this market and the most numerous group are called the Flower Hmong. The name really adequately describes the traditional clothing of the women perfectly. They are simply beautiful as you will see. While in Sa Pa I discovered that there is also a Saturday day market called Can Cao and it is less frequented by tourists so of course I wanted to visit here too. So I left Sa Pa a day earlier than I had planned. There were two minivan journeys which in total took about 2 1/2 hours and I arrived early afternoon. I had book a place called Sa House which is what is called a homestay and Mr Sa picked me up from the bus station on his motorbike.

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Sa House

Mr Sa is delightful to say the least. He really tries to make everyone's stay a good experience. When he told me that the best way to get to Can Cao, which is 45 minutes away, was motorbike, I told him I wasn't up to that. For the afternoon he suggested I walk to a local Flower Hmong village just a few kilometres away. It was such a wonderful experience as the people here are not spoiled by tourists at all. It felt very natural to walk along and say hello and watch the various games and activities in the village.

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Scenery on the way to the village

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Two children I met in the village

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Local village women returning from Bac Ha

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Local women collecting some plants

When I arrived back, Mr Sa, suggested I explore some other villages on a motorbike and before I knew it there was one there with a driver Mr An, whom he assured me was a careful driver. And he was. It felt great to get over my fear. And the roads were really easy as there was so little traffic. I only saw one car on the road my entire time there. It is mostly motorbikes and minivans and some trucks. I was able to go into a few homes and see how they live and even samples their local liquor made of corn, which was pretty strong, and not to my taste for sure.

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I visited this women's home and she showed me how they distill the corn liquor

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This was the other family we visited

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Scenery on the way back from the village

The weather has taken a real turn and started raining in the night and the temperatures are really low for this time of year. It dipped down to 5 degrees C. That may not sound like so cold however my room was that temperature as the building that my room was in was spent to the outside air and had no heat. It was a good thing that there were two very warm quilts.
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My room at Sa House

The rain started to clear so I made the decision to start off to the market with Mr. An with a rain poncho just in case it rained. And of course it did!
It was very cloudy so the scenery was pretty hidden, but the market was fantastic. There were so many tribal people which made it visually stunning and of course the setting was amazing having rice terraces in the background. This time of year there is no rice growing as it is too cold. As I wandered around the market exploring the various areas, it became very muddy and my shoes are still a mess, though now dry. It was a small price to pay for such a great experience. Here are some of the photos I took.

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Flower Hmong skirts for sale!

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Can Cao vegetable market in the rain

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This shows the beauty of their traditional dress

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Sugar cane for sale

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The buffalo market

This morning it got even colder and in fact some say there was some snow in Bac Ha, but for sure there was in Sa Pa. It was 1 degree C this morning and it was really cold. I slept with my camera batteries as I was worried they would work. My laptop would not even charge properly because it too cold. It was good to get moving and I headed down to the Bac Ha market after breakfast with a French couple I had met at Sa House. I spent all morning there and luckily it didn't rain until noon when it poured. It is such a delight to be seeing such sights. I had a lot of fun with my portable printer and was able to take photos of some of the people and give them prints.

Here are some of the photos of the Bac Ha market.

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Women buying bags to sell to tourists

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Selling something like turnips

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Flower Hmong women love to shop for clothing for themselves and their daughters!

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I just love this photo

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Dogs for sale

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These cabbages weighed 35 kilos and she is smiling....

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Bac Ha Animal market

This evening I am heading back to Hanoi on the Chappa Express and then will fly tomorrow to Danang and immediately go to Hoi An which many people describe as the most beautiful city in Vietnam. I hear the temperature will be in the 20's which will be welcome for sure. I will continue on in the next entry. Dana

Posted by danjali 04:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hanoi to Sa Pa

January 19th to 21st

Though this trip seemed so far away, it came up really quickly and before I knew it I was landing in Hanoi airport. I had not been anticipating enjoying my day in Hanoi but was pleasantly surprised by my experience. Hanoi is known for it's overwhelming traffic, mostly motorbikes which take up the sidewalks so that pedestrians need to use the road to walk. It wasn't as bad as I imagined it to be!

I spent quite a lot of time by Hoan Kiem lake which is located in the heart of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. My favourite part was watching people doing their various exercises by the lake and just simply taking in the quiet.

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Hoan Kiem Gym!

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View from the room in the Old Quarter

That evening I headed off on a train up north to a town called Sa Pa which is located hight up in the mountains of Vietnam. Sadly, the trip is overnight so there was no scenery to be seen. For whatever reason all the trains are at night. I travelled in comfort, what they call a soft sleeper, which was a cabin with four births. My cabin mates were from Holland. I hardly said hello to them as I was exhausted after the flight.

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Chapa Express Train

We arrived in the train station at Lao Cai at 6am and then had a shorter minivan journey to Sa Pa where I found my room for the night at the Sa Pa Stunning View Guesthouse. Love those names. It did in fact have a great view of the mountains and a rooftop from which I could watch the play of clouds. It was perhaps the most remarkable thing for me in Sa Pa watching the clouds and the mist roll in and out constantly. It was like watching a timeline video except it was happening for real!

I would have liked to have included a video of the clouds but I haven't been able to successfully upload them, so here is a photo of them.

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Sa Pa Clouds

Sa Pa itself is more touristy than I would have liked, but the location is amazing. What makes it special and also a bit challenging is that there are many many women who are from the various Hill Tribes, mostly the Hmong and the Red Dao and the Tzay tribe. They still wear their traditional dress and each of them is very skilled with embroidery and weaving and they are pretty insistent on trying t see their wares. It was pretty normal that I left the guesthouse and within minutes a woman would come up to me, ask me my name and where I am from, and perhaps if I have children and then she would begin to bring out her goods. "You buy from me" You make promise you buy from me later" and so on......... I could have filled up my back pack many times over, but I resisted mostly as I am beginning my trip. The sad thing is I would love to support the women by buying but it is simply too much. I am sure when I get back they will remember me!!!

On my second day there I arranged to go on a hike with this group of guides called Sapa Sisters who employ Hmong women to be their guides. My guide Pen was great. As it was my first day hiking I decided to just do a one day hike to see how I did. We were quickly joined by Lam who stayed with us most of the journey. It was actually very sweet to have both of them. The first part of it was very busy with other tourists, so Pen led me on a quiet route through the rice paddies. Relief! Sad to say that though I loved the hiking, the villages that we visited were really touristy and there were endless stalls set up where locals are selling their wares. I realize that I need to do a much longer hike staying overnight several days to get out to more natural villages.

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Pen and Lam

I will continue on in my next entry about my time in Bac Ha

So long for now, Dana

Posted by danjali 03:00 Comments (0)

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