Friday, 1 January 2016

Sitting on the dock of Ha Long bay...

We were lucky enough to spend the last few days of 2015 (and of our travels, too!) on another majestic world heritage - Ha Long bay.

About 3.5hrs away from the capital, Hanoi, Ha Long bay is made up of over 3000 limestone islands breaking up the Golf of Tonkin.

The legend behing the name, that means 'descending dragon' is that the Vietnamese people had to defend themselves from enemies coming from the north... They asked the Gods to help them and the Mother Dragon and her children descended to help the Vietnamese. They spit ambers with their breath, killing the enemies and those ambers have turned into the islands and islets that dot Ha Long bay.

We also visited a Heaven cave, so called because it has openings in the ceiling... Where you can get to heaven!

We slept one night on the boat, unfortunately it was rather cold and foggy... But very impressive anyway.
The second night we spent it in the biggest island on the bay, called Cat Ba which means "women island" as once only women and children used to live there as the men were off to work or to war.

We are back in crazy Hanoi - with its sidestreet cafes and 5millions motorbikes before the very last few days, but here's a few snaps.

The Forbidden Purple city

Another heritage site in Vietnam is Hue - just across the Perfume River from the modern city, lies the Citadel. Built between 1804 and 1833, it served as residence for the Vietnamese royal family.

We walked around the Imperial Enclosure, the Queen Mother compound and the Forbidden Purple City.

Because of our tight time schedule (we are coming home soon!) we could only spend a day in the city but here's some sights!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas in Hoi An

Happy Christmas! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

We are celebrating our Christmas in Hoi An this year. The city is so so pretty, with Chinese temples, lanterns and old houses.

By pure chance, it was also a full moon on the 24th of December so, in Buddhist tradition, most of the businesses and houses had little altars with offers outside.

We celebrated Christmas's Eve with a bit of DIY dinner: mackerel hotpot! They cook it for you but you have to add your own vegetables and noodles, we also had roll-your-own shrimp and pork spring rolls!

Christmas day was spent on the beach - about 6miles from Hoi An, lies An Bang beach... One of the most beautiful one we have seen in Vietnam. Fried rice on the beach makes an odd Christmas dinner but we were able to sunbathe and go for a swim...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Lanterns and tailors

We are in beautiful Hoi An.

Hoi An is a UNESCO cultural heritage site, on the coast of Vietnam. With its status, it has been doing a really good job at keeping the traditional houses and architecture - that of an Asian trade town from the Middle Ages, with Chinese and Japanese influences as well as a lot of laterns.

And tailors, oh the tailors. Over the last few years, Hoi An has become a bit of a mecca for buyers of tailor-made clothes with over 400+ shops that have all sorts of displays and possibilities.

We are coming towards the end of our trip now and, being Christmas, we decided to splurge and have something made... We are picking up our 10 items today!

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, from getting measured to picking my style - I asked the lady to design a dress she did not have on display, I clearly explained what I wanted, picked the 2 differ materials and it turned out even better than what I had in my head!

They sent the materials we picked, off to wear the clothes are made. In less than 24hrs we were back to have the first fitting. The jackets we ordered were just perfect ... Look at that lining!

My dress needed some modifications on the sides and the top...

But we were back that same evening to get it all confirmed:

We are walking out of the shop with 2 coats (mine has got green silk lining... feels like heaven!), 3 pants (one for my shortarse legs... I love them and I normally hate pants!), 3 shirts between us and 2 fab dresses all designed by me!

Now here's to hoping they will fit in the bags... Whoops!

PS: the shop we used is called Bi Hanh on Tran Hung Dao St. They were really nice to us, suggesting and giving ideas with a good price and impeccable service. If you're ever in Vietnam...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

More beaches, fruits and costumes

Our second stop on the Vietnamese itinerary was the costal town of Mui Ne.

The town is brimmed with Russian tourists and big resorts but we managed to find a small hotel and have some quiet time by the pool. The sea is pretty rough in this area, very windy also so popular with kite sufers and wind surfers.

After Mui Ne, we took a bus up to the hilly town of Dalat, stopping on the way for some funky-looking fruits. The pink ones are dragon fruit and the green ones are huge mangoes.

At 1475mt above sea level, it is about the chilliest place we have been so far (I guess it makes a good taster for the English weather in January), we spent some time mooching around the market and the lake.

This is the view from our 4storeys hotel:

We also visited the Bao Dai's summer palace - Bao Dai was the last king of the Nguyen dynasty who died in 1997. The palace needs some restoration but in one of the rooms you have the opportunity to dress up like a Vietnamese princess... And I just could not say no?

Crazy Saigon

We have reached our final country.
Crossed the border from Cambodia to Saigon, or should I call it with its official name now Ho Chi Minh City... where motorbikes do not stop and beep instead of using the brakes, where people squat on the side of the road to have a bowl of noodle soup (pho') and where the beers is 26p.

South Vietnam is filled with history so we did out bit going to see the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remenants museum.

The tunnels were built by the Viet Cong in order to escape the American bombinng during the war. We were lucky enough to have an ex soldier as a guide, he was funny but also very moving when talking about the struggle. People that lived in the tunnel could not move away more than 5 metres from the airholes and, if living in the tunnels for long periods of time, suffered blindness.

The museum was also very interesting: heartbreaking stories of the bombing and the suffering that still haunts the people of South Vietnam, like dioxin pollution.
Amazing photos shot by US photographers, including the most famous one with a little girl being burnt by friendly fire and napalm.

What impressed me was the museum is still filled with hope that those sufferings will not be repeated - its very own symbol is a dove.