February 1-20, 2000
We spent February 1-20 in Vietnam. We got there by flying from Guangzhou, China to Hanoi. We spent a very nice five days and six nights in Hanoi soaking up the atmosphere and doing a bit of bicyling. Our most interesting day was spent going to the Perfume Pagoda, about 60 km south of Hanoi.
We wanted to take the night train to Hue but because of the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, we couldn't get a booking. But airplane seats were plentiful, and once we were flying, we decided to fly twice as far south as Hue to the beach resort of Nha Trang. Just for reference, Saigon is about 1800 km south of Hanoi; Nha Trang and Hue are each 1/3 of the way between, with Nha Trang 600 km north of Saigon and 1200 km south of Hanoi. Hue is 600 km north of Nha Trang and 600 km south of Hanoi.
Nha Trang is best known as a beach resort but there are also some Champa ruins in town and 1.5 hours outside. The Champas were ethnically Vietnamese but adopted the Hindu religion and built Indian-style temples. We had warm weather for the first time in several months, which is just what Jan wanted, being tired of blue fingers. (But even at our coldest in China we were far warmer than an east coast winter.) We got several days in a swimming pool, and spent a lot of time in deck chairs reading and looking at the ocean.
Leaving Nha Trang we had a lovely all-day ride north along the coast to Hoi An. It was in a crowded bus but the scenery and the atmosphere were terrific. Hoi An is a small town with lots of 100-200 year old single and two-storey buildings. It has a romantic but decayed charm to it. Unlike big cities, the only action is the tourist scene. Gerry's birthday occurred while we were there and we celebrated it with attendance at a traditional folk music and dance presentation.
From Hoi An we went a short distance north to Danang, spent a night, and then went on to Hue. Altogether we spent a week in Hoi An - Danang - and Hue. All three can be treated as one tourist destination because from any of them you can get day trips to the others, as well as to the Champa ruins and the DMZ. To get from Hoi An to Danang we rented a car and driver for half a day to make the 30 km trip; it cost us $12. We stopped in between at the Marble Mountain and had a great few hours exploring the Buddhist and other temples built in caves and on the mountain. Just beside it there is a village where nearly everbody is employed making stone statues; they were wonderful and cheap; we wanted to buy them, but at several tons we couldn't have done much with them.
Hue was disappointing at first because it did not have a lot of old colonial charm nor resemble an old imperial capital. But it grew on us, particularly because we had a very nice day on the Perfume River seeing both the river and emperors' tombs which are built near to it. From Hue we went on an all day trip to the DMZ and visited the Khe Sanh base site. It is now a coffee plantation, but it was very interesting to see with our own eyes the countryside where a famous battle took place. Now there is no evidence of it at all (excluding a few piece of military junk placed there by the Vietnames government).
After two days in Hue it was unfortunately time to leave. Before leaving Hanoi we'd bought tickets to fly Hanoi-Guangzhou (China). In Danang we got a Hue-Hanoi ticket but could not get a connecting flight on to Guangzhou and so had to fly the previous day. When we arrived at the Hue airport on Saturday we encountered a mob of people with delayed flights due to bad weather in Hanoi. It wasn't long before we began to wonder when or if we would make it out of Vietnam. After about three hours we learned that our flight to Hanoi was cancelled. Instead of leaving the airport we stuck around — we had little else to do and were trying to find the airport bus, which had gone off duty for four hours! But every cloud has a silver lining, and because we were among the very few stranded passengers from our flight still waiting around 3 hours later, we learned that we could perhaps get seats on a flight that should have departed before ours this morning. Six hours later, we succeeded and finally got to Hanoi late and spent Saturday night there. Sunday morning we got to the airport early but flights were still delayed. Again, we had nothing to do, so hung around and eventually our flight did depart, but we got to Guangzhou late. From there we took a train to Shenzhen. We got in too late to do much but get a hotel and unpack.
So after almost two full days in Vietnam at airports we were in China. It was strange to arrive and feel that we had by providence come to an advanced and organized and dependable country.