February 27, 2015

DaNang, China Beach and a mountain of marble

We arrived in the city of DaNang, late at night and the entire hotel staff was waiting for us. We stayed at a small boutique hotel, owned and operated by a family, and they were so nice and accommodating. Matt was also happy to see our welcome gift. 

Also, Pocky sticks for the girls. One of our favorite Japanese snacks.

The breakfast area was on the top floor, so there were some amazing views.

I had never seen, nor tried passion fruit until this trip. It is very tart, so you sprinkle a little raw sugar on top to balance out the tartness, and scoop the fruit out with a spoon. I'm hooked!

After breakfast we walked the town. It was much smaller and less busy than Ho Chi Minh City, with a more rural feel.

 I loved that people actually did wear the pointy hats, just like you see in movies!

So, when the sidewalks are used for parking, where do you walk?

Yes, it's not everyday that you pass a t-shirt wearing monkey sitting on a scooter! He seemed to be posing for me.

We found our way to the river and Dragon Bridge. At night the bridge is lit up and the dragon is even "fire breathing" during festivals.

Why a Native American statue is in this town, in Vietnam, I've no idea. Very random, but it felt like a small piece of home, regardless.

We made our way to Han market, which sold everything you could imagine, and then some.

The vegetables looked amazing. I wish I could shop here on a regular basis!

Lots of dried fruit and candy.

These bins contained different types of fermented vegetables.

I really liked the banana booth.

There were rows, upon rows of fabric, shoes and clothing.

You could even get a custom made garment, ready in a few hours. In fact, custom tailor shops are very common in Vietnam, and very cheap!

On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at this little café for....

Vietnamese coffee, of course! I am now officially hooked.  And at a cost of about 75 cents (US) a glass? Even better!

Ella has always loved coffee flavor and would even sneak and eat coffee beans that had fallen out of the grinder in the grocery store, as a small child. No, she doesn't normally drink coffee, but hey, when in "Rome".....and she savored every sip!

I found that there were many creative ways to transport children in Vietnam. This little gal was standing on the seat.

We had a driver take us to a nearby area called Marble Mountain, because there was said to be great views of China Beach from the top.

There were lots of steps to the top!

The Marble Mountains hold many Buddhist sanctuaries, and there are also numerous tunnels and caves.

It is said that the mountain caverns housed a Vietcong hospital during the war, and that it was a prime location for spying on American troops.

This was the pagoda at the top.

And the view of China Beach below, was worth the trip. 

The girls loved exploring the caves. This tunnel led to a huge cavern.

Further on up the mountain was another great look out spot.

And this was the view opposite China Beach. There were five marble mountains rising up from the ground, just like those on the horizon.

And, finally, China Beach. American soldiers were sent here for their R&R during the war.

We then drove from DaNang to Hoi An for the remainder of the day, and I fell in love! (It  looks farther on the map, but was only about a 30 minute drive .) 

Next up, Hoi An, Vietnam. A darling, ancient port town.

February 25, 2015

Ho Chi Minh City, (A.K.A. Saigon), Vietnam

We were fortunate enough to spend the first few weeks of this month in the beautiful country of Vietnam. We started in Ho Chi Minh City, at the far southern tip, and worked our way north to Hanoi, with a few stops in between. Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon, before reunification, and most of the locals still refer to it as such.

 Of course, we need our gratuitous Mt. Fuji picture from the airplane. It's strange that I've come to think of this sight as "home". 

Just arrived and waiting for a taxi. The tropics always feel good in February!

I was not prepared for the ride to the hotel. There were absolutely no driving rules that I could ascertain. Motorbikes and cars were everywhere, and the painted lane lines seemed to be "suggestions", at best.

We spent the evening walking around, dodging motorbikes, and learning to cross the street! You do not look both ways in this country, (we would still be standing there!), you slowly just start walking and let the cars dodge you. Yes, we walked right through traffic like this. It was harrowing at first, but you actually do get used to it!

The hotel breakfast bar included a pho station, a Vietnamese favorite. Ella loved it!

Xin Chao (hello)!

Let this adventure begin!

I still couldn't get over the motorbikes. This was some type of parking area, and some bikes were parked two or three deep. How do you even get out?

There were also people transporting everything you could imagine. Safety first!

As we walked, lots of people were trying to sell us various things, I guess you could say, we stand out. What?! We don't look local? One man was quite friendly, and casually gave Matt his load of coconuts, so he could see how heavy it was. We soon learned, this was a gesture used to reel us in for a purchase.

The man quickly cut off the top of the coconut and handed one to each girl. All the while, Matt kept asking, "How much?"

He wouldn't answer until we refused more coconut. Finally, he said $4 each. Matt paid it but we knew we'd just been had. You can buy a coconut at the market for about a quarter. I guess capitalism is alive and well, even in a communist country!

One lesson learned. But, at least we got some coconut water out of the deal, and straight from the coconut itself!

 There were lots of "festive" decoration's out for the TET holiday, an independence celebration, and also for the upcoming lunar new year.

You never know what you'll find on city streets.

We started the day at the War Remnant Museum.

There were lots of US Army vehicles here, that had been left behind after the evacuation of Saigon.

The museum portion was all about the Vietnam perspective of the US conflict, known to them, as the American War. We ran into a group of Vietnam veterans at the museum and it was interesting to hear their take on the propaganda and how everything was being presented.

There was also a prison on the premises, that dealt mostly with the French occupation of Vietnam. (Yes, Matt is feeling the effects of the humidity!)

Next up, the Independence Palace. This was the residence of the President of South Vietnam during the war, and was also where the war ended. A North Vietnamese tank crashed through the front gates, signaling the fall of Saigon. Today, it is just used as a historical site.

Coincidentally, the original structure was designed and built by the French, but it was partially destroyed during a conflict, and rebuilt in 1962. Too bad it wasn't just restored, I'm just not a fan of '60's architecture!

The rooms had a very presidential feel.

And this is the view from one of the balconies.

This was some type of war strategy room. My girls were in awe that these were actually phones, and that you had to sit right there to talk on them. It is a very interesting conversation,  trying to explain to a child, how to dial a rotary phone. Try it sometime!

And the communications room. How times have changed!

We enjoyed wandering the palace, as well as the surrounding grounds. Ella found her dream tree in Saigon!

It was time for a refresher. We found a lovely outdoor patio and ordered some iced Vietnamese coffee, a very popular drink. It consists of a few shots of sweetened condensed milk, and coffee. Even to me, someone who normally can take or leave coffee, this drink was a little piece of heaven in a glass! I'm still dreaming of this. (Coincidentally, Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world.)

A beautiful model, on a photo shoot, took some time out for us.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the downtown area, enjoying all the French architecture. This was the post office.

Notre Dame, Saigon.

I truly felt like I was in Europe.

The Hotel Continental, famed as a popular journalist hang out, during the war.

The Saigon Opera house.

I don't even remember what this building was, but it was beautiful! I guess I didn't realize the extent of the French influence in Vietnam. (The French occupied this country for roughly 100 years.)

We came across a very dirty river. Not so sure I will be eating the seafood!

Yes, the motorbikes even drive on the sidewalk, then honk at ME?!

One of the rare times that everyone actually stopped at the red light.

The next time you are stressed out about making sure that your child's car seat meets every safety requirement under the sun, think about a Vietnamese car seat and relax!

After a long day, hanging out in style in the airport lounge.

Tomorrow, on to DaNang,  a little further up the coast.