Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hue: A Definite Low Point

I was so excited to visit Hue. I read so many great things about it: its cuisine, people, city culture and history. Lonely Planet even went so far as to name it Vietnam's "most likeable city." Well, let me tell you, Hue was by far the worst place we visited in Vietnam. Its streets are polluted and ugly, its population is rude and pushy, we ate disgusting food in a restaurant crawling with rats (thanks for the stellar recommendation, Lonely Planet) and were rather underwhelmed by the famous citadel at the city's center.

Granted, the city's history is rich and quite intriguing. Hue was once the country's capital and military strong point. Its citadel was home to emperors and country leaders. Later, Hue played a very crucial role in the American Vietnamese War and was the sight of a massive American attack. Much of the citadel was destroyed during the bombing. Remnants of the violence can still be seen in the Citadel's many crumbling and derelict walls and buildings.

After spending a few creepy hours roaming around the Citadel we headed back to our hostel and requested that a car take us away from the dreaded city immediately. We hightailed it out of Hue to Hoi An, a much more inviting, beautiful and interesting place only 2 hours away.

Grass covered foundations of buildings that stood before American air strikes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tam Coc and Around

Tam Coc, made famous by the film Indochine (still haven't seen it), and the surrounding area are absolutely stunning. Karst peaks and neon green rice fields are but a few of the details that mark the area.

We encountered drizzly weather during our time there but the rain somehow enhanced the landscape's natural beauty and added an element of mystery to it.  Damien and I toured the area by private car and tour guide, both of which turned out very well. We wanted to tour the area by bike but the rain stopped us from doing so.

We kicked off our day on a boat tour of the Tam Coc river. It is touristy, yes, but totally necessary. We got there really early in the morning, which is the way to go if you want to visit. The river tends to get overcrowded with tourists and hawkers by 10am. After that, we visited a small local market where I bought coriander seeds (which have sprouted!) and took some pretty pictures. From there we went to the ancient imperial capital, Hoa Lu and finished our day with a boat ride down the river and through the grottoes of Trang An.

My favorite part of the day was our walk through a small local village and cemetery. It was so peaceful and green and lovely!

We stayed in Ninh Binh, a city just 15 minutes away from Tam Coc. Ninh Binh isn't a destination in and of itself but it offers many places to stay and easy access to the sights. We got there by private car (yes, another one). Our driver drove us from the Halong Bay area to Ninh Binh in about 3.5 hours. Not bad considering the two lane road was totally effed!

Beautiful Graveyard

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Halong Bay

Halong Bay is so beautiful. It was the second stop on my Vietnam journey. I was lucky enough to spend two days and one night there on a private junk boat with my new friend Damien. We ate fantastic food, went kayaking and enjoyed stunning views for a glorious 48 hours. We also took a surprise visit to a small fish farm close to Cat Ba where we arrived just in time for the morning feedings.

We departed for Halong Bay from Cat Ba Island, a point of departure that came highly recommended by friends. Cat Ba and its surrounding waters are quaint and quiet. When compared to Halong City, the more popular Halong Bay jump off point for tourists, Cat Ba is nearly undisturbed by tourism.

Though it was a bit chilly when we visited Halong Bay we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Halong Bay gets very busy in the summer months but remains quiet in the low season, which lasts until mid-April (we were there on April 3).








A local family run fish farm. The largest in the region.