We entered Vietnam the night of November 14, 2012, and it was like entering a developed nation again. Amanda had no problems entering the country, however, the immigration officer took many looks and a second opinion at Tyson. After much deliberation, Tyson finally was allowed to enter this clearly communist country. The next day we walked around the busy, polluted streets of the old quarter where scooters were everywhere. The honking was a continuous sound that you heard day in and day out, being a pedestrian was quite scary. We walked around Hoan kiem lake where supposedly a 800 year old turtle lives, but we did not see it which made us skeptical. The national museum and The temple of literature were among the other sights we encountered.
Our highlight of vietnam was our 3 day 2 night trip to halong bay on an imperial junker. The boat did not look like the pamphlet as we have unfortunately become accustomed to, but was still amazing. The plumbing on the boat was also questionable as we awoke to the smell of feces. We assumed this is not a new problem so we did not tell the unfriendly staff and left it blindly in their very capable hands. There are approximately 1967 islands and islets in Halong Bay. In Lan Ha Bay there are over 260 islands and islets. We had the luxury of staying in a bungalow in Lan Ha Bay the second night right on the waterfront and it was beautiful! We finally had the perfect view along the ocean we were looking for and we enjoyed it. Our guide also took us clam, oyster and crab gathering as it was low tide. We had the most delicious clams that evening, but we are unsure where the oysters and crabs went. The trip also included going to monkey island which involved climbing jagged rocks for incredible pictures that evening we enjoyed drinks and talking with our friends Lib and Dom that evening. The trip was amazing and we are very satisfied with choosing this over Sapa trekking.
We arrived into Hue the next day and arrived to our hotel around 10pm. There were several problems with our hotel. Thr first problem is it is down a dodgy alley. Secondly, it smelled like pee and the mattress was damp. The last problem was that we were committed to staying there as it was late, dark and we used their transport services. The next morning we were greeted by the owner pressuring us to spend money on trips, so we decided to check out other hotels before we leave. This owner followed us out of the hotel and got mad at us for going into other hotels to negotiate for a price. We were actually afraid to check out but more afraid to stay at this place. After finding a safe hotel, we started our day. We rented a motorbike (scooter) and saw a lovely pagoda. We also visited the Imperial Palace, or what remains from unrelenting bombing from the Americans during the war. The scooter also gave us the opportunity to see Tu Duc Tombs which were beautiful in a pine forest with a stream and lake. We also had the luxury of dealing with the locals trying to charge us for parking in a public area. Even after we clarified we could park there for free from the admission person, the lady was still getting mad at us for not giving her $5000 Dongs (about 25 cents US). Of course when exiting the tombs we were bombarded by another lady to pay. We have gotten used to these 'tourist taxes' but still try not to pay them as it is not right. Lonely Planet had suggested Mandarin Cafe to have a meal and we were not disappointed. Mr. Cu is the owner and a professional photographer. The food was great and we got a free postcard each. He also donates some proceeds to training blind people.
Hoi An was beautiful. Our hotel was magnificent and very welcoming staff offered us a biscuit and tea after they picked us up from a bus which needs some air conditioning repairs done. We went exploring around the town, which consists of over 200 tailoring shops. It took several visits to find a trustworthy tailor, but we settled for Kimmy Tailors. Our tailors, Tinh and Lora, we're great! We enjoyed the creativity and flexibility of getting exactly what we wanted. The next day we rented a motorbike and went to An Bang beach where we were once again greeted by unregulated parking regulators, our nemesis. As there were many people all trying to get our business, we haggled down to $2000 Dong and to pay after. Approaching the beautiful water and sand, an older lady missing most of her teeth was trying to rent us beach chairs. We bargained for 2 beers for $50,000 Dong and free use of beach chairs which she gratefully accepted. The water was clean, warm and relaxing. Hoi An is rich in culture and we saw beautiful buildings like the Chinese Meeting Hall, the Japanese Bridge, Tan Ky House, Quan Thang House and many other structures.
We flew out of Danang and into Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), which was filled with motorbikes, pollution, noise and was dirty. Our hotel was in a questionable back alley, but was beautiful and a short walk from everything we wanted to see. Along our trip we have visited many markets, but none were as unfriendly as this one. Shop merchants were literally grabbing at us saying "Buy something", which gave us no motivation to stop. We were ready to leave the market several minutes after entering. The next day we embarked on the Cu Chi tunnels. Our guide was Mr. Binh who fought in the war. Interestingly, he moved to America as a kid and fought on the American side. His take on the war was very interesting and questionable at times. It was amazing to think the Cu Chi people lived underground for 15 years and tunneled underneath the American base. We also had the opportunity to meet up with Lib and Dom for a lovely supper and drinks. We went to Botzeit where we enjoyed Shisha and delicious home made lychee vodka. The head chef of the restaurant is Bobby Chin who is apparently quite famous. The manager, Gouchi, started odd on the streets in Vietnam and is now quite successful. It was nice talking with him and hearing his opinion with Vietnam and its problems. We embarked on a trip to the Mekong Delta where we saw how candy was made and saw traditional trading on the water market. It was amazing seeing small boats come out of no where, attach to our boat and try to sell us drinks and food. We were ready to leave Vietnam and take a night bus to Phnom Penh.