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By this Author: chrisvasil

Hue - Old capital / Purple Forbidden City


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Hue served as capital of Vietnam from about 1800 to 1950, and the main features of the city are the Purple Forbidden City (so named because it is for royalty, not for its colour) and citadel. Though Hue was subject to many bombing campaigns after losing its status as capital of the French colony, the old city walls and palace walls remained largely intact, some buildings are still standing, and work has been done to restore or rebuild other buildings. The outer city walls are about 5km squared, while the Forbidden City walls are about 1km square. The outer city was mostly bombed to a point of total destructio, and is now largely used as agricultural land, and we focused our visit on the Purple Forbidden City. Only the emperor, his concubines, and their eunuch servants were allowed to enter, and the penalty to unauthroized entry was death.

Here's Sue in front of the moat and gates to the outer city
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After we crossed over a cycle rickshaw driver gave us wrong directions and followed us for about 5 minutes, after which point I realized the directions were wrong and went back the way we came from. Outside the complex are some colonial-era cannons, and a block away is the citadel with the flag proudly raised.
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Here's Sue in front of the moat and gates to the Forbidden City.
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Once inside, there are a variety of sculptures and buildings, all of the buildings being in the style of Chinese temples or of that country's Forbidden City.
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The old throne, looking small in proportion to the building.
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Here are a couple courtyards, which seem to have been reclaimed from agriculture given the shape of the ground (raised border around the plot)
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Another building that just finished being built or restored. I really would prefer if there were plaques saying what is original and what is not, but then there might be nothing original and if people know they wouldn't recommend anyone go there...
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Barren field where buildings used to be. Parts of the foundation can still be seen.
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A royal bathing basin, now used for watering plants (I believe from recovered rainwater).
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Posted by chrisvasil 22:30 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hoi An - Old Asian Port City


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Hoi An (and Hue) reminded me of Penang and Melaka in Malaysia - a small city focused around a Chinese-influenced old town. Hoi An was Vietnam's main port city some 500 years ago, and many buildings remain from that time.

Here is an old temple. Inside the complex a guy was hand-painting T-shirts and some kids were running around.
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A sign at the entrance of the old town warns that it is for walkers and primitive vehicle users. Much better than boringly stating No cars allowed.
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At the edge of the old town there are ticket booths selling Old Town Entry Tickets. We were quite glad we didn't buy them - tickets aren't needed to get into the old town, only to enter a couple old small museums and temples.

Here is a shop making silk embroidery. It looks like it takes awhile.
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Some old buildings. Presumably because of tourism money and renovations, many of the old buildings look pretty new. Anyway, here are some.
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Here is the waterfront. A bridge connects the two sides of town, and both sides are lovely (though only the main side is interesting, the other is residential and just feels suburban). Kids play soccer near the river, and at one point we saw the ball fall into the water, and one of the kids jumped in and got wet past his waist to retrieve it. With few bridges, some of the locals paddle across on bouyant baskets rather than wallking all the way to the bridge.
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Toward the end of the day we happenned across a fancy coffee shop serving half-price Vietnamese coffee. It was delicious, as Southeast Asia coffee and tea tends to be as a result of the sweetened condensed milk. From there we went back to our hotel, where Sue slept and I stayed up all night because of the coffee. Since it was Christmas day, and during the day North America time, it gave me the chance to write a few extra merry christmas emails.
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Posted by chrisvasil 22:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Nha Trang - Big waves and big prawns


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Nha Trang is a beach resort town, but we visited in the low season where big waves make the waters unswimmable. For me that meant playing in the waves, but that was exhausting as the waves are taller than me, easily have the power to topple me and leave me spinning around underwater at the mercy of the current, and come in quick succession. It was exciting and a bit scary to be knocked underwater by the waves and twisting like a rag doll, but after a few tries I learned water safety: always knowing where the next wave is, sitting on the water makes it easier to keep balance, the wave is strongest where it crests. Actually a few times I was right at the crest, and either felt water everywhere except my head (it literally jumped over me), or was unexpectedly flung into the air, or felt the rain from the wave crashing. The water literally knocked my trunks off more than once, as the wave and undertow were moving in different directions and I was helplessl being pulled by both.
For the most part we just stood back and were lifted by the passing wave, very calmly. Sue joined me in the water the second day, and agreed the waves were better for bobbing than anywhere else we'd been, but much less fun than Phuket because all we could do was wait to be lifted by the wave - the waves were just too strong to do anything else (except maybe surf, but we never have and there were no gear shops around).
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Nha Trang town is a small city like any other, though the big buddha on buddha hill is pretty good. Here are a few of the landmarks: a government building, a monument near the sea, and the train station.
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For pre-Christmas dinner we went to a fancy seafood place and got giant shrimp (about a foot long) and some other stuff for $10 per person. The shrimp were great, tasted like lobster and were very meaty.
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Typical construction style of Vietnamese buildings - tall and narrow.
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I went without Sue to Buddha hill, as she was waiting to buy train tickets out of Hanoi. It was about 20 stories of stairs up a mountain, but the Buddha was big as promised and the views of the city were not bad though the Buddha is not visible from town because of poor planning - there is no clear line of sight up the hill from anywhere we were.
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The right way to do child discounts - by height.
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We spent the night of Christmas Eve/Christmas morning on the overnight bus, making me a bit sad to not be with my family for Christmas for the first time, but at least I got to spend it with Sue.

Posted by chrisvasil 22:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh - Saigon, 40 years later


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We crossed into Vietnam and settled into the backpacker district, which is like Bangkok's Khao San Rd only without the endless supply of cheap and delicious food stands. Every building on a couple of the streets is a 'minihotel', which are generally pretty nice 5-storey buildings with 2 rooms per floor and standardized pricing ($12 per night almost everywhere when we were there). Had we known that there are more than one such street we could probably have saved a couple dollars and perhaps had better quality by going to a different street and avoiding the Lonely Planet Recommended premium, but we had no qualms with the place we stayed.

The next day we hit the sights: the market, presidential palace, and war museum.

The market had a blend of wierd stuff and tourist shops, with raw goat (?) hearts, intestines and brains among the more exotic meat items.
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Sue! How could you?! And with Ho Chi Minh?!?! Well, I guess she is from China...
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Here's the presidential palace, looking like a university library.
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At the War Remnants Museum, which is probably the best (most terrible?) war/genocide museum we've seen. Inside are mostly pictures of the effects of Agent Orange and napalm and the like, and some (mostly American) weapons. The hippies had good reason to protest.
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Here are 'tiger cages' used for storing VC prisoners, encased in barbed wire. Seeing them, the first thought is - that's a really small cell. Then we see the display saying they were shared - 6 x 2.5x 1.3 ft for 2-3 ppl and 6 x 2.5 x 3 ft for 5-7 prisoners.
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A jeans brand that probably wouldn't be popular in North America
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Making up for the unimpressive Presidential Palace, HCMC has some excellent parks, big and well manicured. The jungle gyms are similar to the West's, but have a wider range of activities, and look safer (in person).
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On the way home we happenned across a Christmas village, which was great to see a few days before Christmas. There were also random displays here and there in front of bars and shops.
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Typical street in Vietnam - lots and lots of motorbikes. Once you get used to it, being a pedestrian in a motorbike city is really easy - it is safe to cross any street anywhere at any time (in daylight), as long as you walk slowly and always look at oncoming traffic
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Our last day in town we took a day trip, a boating tour along the Mekong Delta with stops in a farm, a candy factory, smaller canal boats, and a small music performance.

Rickety waterfront houses
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Gravel mined from the Mekong for use in concrete and construction. Singapore got much of its landfill from the Mekong in Vietnam, and now in some parts the river is too deep for nativ aquatic life or is changing shape. Vietnam has now outlawed the export of sand and gravel from the Mekong, though it is still used for domestic construction.
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Lazily drifting along
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The farm was very cool, with irrigation canals everywhere, a lot of frogs, and a cockfight! Actually the cockfight was more like rooster wrestling than pecking, and there was no clear winner nor apparent injury. The roosters didn't have the metal spikes that are used in real cockfights.
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Me handling a snake. A guy a few minutes before me angered it by (inadvertantly) choking it, gripping much harder than he was supposed to. But it was calmed back down when I got there. The skin was scalier than I was expecting, being not fully fluid when it moves.
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We're on a boat!
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Some singing as our day and our Saigon adventure come to an end.
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On our way out of Saigon we got an open-end bus ticket: for $35 we get a sleeper bus ticket all the way up to Hanoi, with 4 stops along the way where we can stay as long as we want. The sleeper bus wasn't great, but probably worth the extra $10 instead of having a regular bus for the 3 overnight buses. The company we booked with, TM Brothers, was terrible - the people working there were worse than useless, the time on the ticket for one of the buses didn't match the brochure (which said there were muliple departures available daily), one of the buses had roaches, the onboard washrooms on all buses were permenantly broken ("Broken" was written in marker on the door), and the sleeper compartments were just not very comfortable.

Posted by chrisvasil 22:23 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Phnom Penh - Pol Pot did some bad things


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Back in the capital, we picked up my visa and did some walking around.

There are international schools every 2 blocks, it seems, though at some points it gets ridiculous. Here is the very fancy Hello American Kindergarten, in a nicer building than any school I know of in North America (granted, I only know public schools).
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Here's a random temple.
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An asian cartoon cat from hell, I think Hell Kitty is the next big thing.
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We went to the S-21 war museum, at a former school that was turned into a torture building and prison under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. It was a stark reminder of what men can do, and the notion that some must be stopped. Under this particular version of communism, original farmers became landowners and people from the cities (including those that had recently moved from the countryside in search of opportunity) were legally second-class citizens, without the same rights or legal protections. After the world said "never again" after WWII, we let it happen again, and it would likely have been completely unchecked if communism hadn't been the enemy at the time (as fascism might have a generation earlier if Germany hadn't attacked so many of its neighbors, and as it apparently is in Darfur). This is still a step less than what we saw in the war remnants museum in Saigon, but that's another post for another day.

Here is a typical room in the first building, which housed high-ranking officials from the prior government.
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There are many, many pictures of prisoners.
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Pictures of what was dug up from mass graves
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The next building was another residence complex for prisoners of the regimes, but with much smaller cells and barbed wire preventing escape into the courtyard (or suicide by jumping from a 4-th story window)
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Drawings of the conditions of the time
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Actual skulls from the mass graves.
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On to less aggreiving sights, we walked past the independence monument and Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument en route to the Royal Residence and Silver Pagoda (which had unfortunately reached capacity for the day, so we couldn't enter).
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More temple
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Big hot pot dinner, though a bit overpriced at $10 for two.
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Posted by chrisvasil 07:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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