Walked around town. Went to the Unification Palace, History Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum etc. I'm starting to get a grasp of the complex history of this place. I booked a trip to the Caodai temple (a little known, esoteric religion with 4-5 million followers) and the famous Cu Chi Tunnels.
We took off by bus at 8.30. The guide was a 61 year old ex South Vietnamese Army officer. He gave us good insight into what things were like during the Vietnam war. The Cu Chi tunnels are really something. If you are anything close to claustrophobic than this is not for you. You can research these things by googling it, rather than me getting into some lecturing about it. I shot 10 rounds out of an AK-47, just to get the feel for it but I wore ear protection, and it was still pretty loud. Afterwards I had some snake wine, which is rice wine with a cobra snake, ginseng and sometimes scorpions and other snakes in the bottle. I felt fine during the ride home.
I picked up the visa and booked the 8.00 bus to Mui Ne, a quiet beach town for tomorrow morning. I should be arriving at noon.
Mui Ne is a windsurfing Mecca. They have a great brise blowing 250 days out of the year and I've been studying the kite surfers. I windsurfed for an hour but I'll need at least a week and 350$ to learn how to kite surf. Maybe next time.
I arrived in Nha Trang around 18.00 and settled into the Dream Hotel with a sea view room.
Left at 7.30 to go on a dive boat to the outlying islands. The visibility is 10 to 20 meters and there's interesting coral and fish.
I met an American-Vietnamese named Li and had some interesting times and conversations. Li lives in Atlanta and started coming back to Vietnam to visit relatives in 1995.
I arrived in Hoi An and am staying at the Huy Hoang Hotel on the river. This town is an old port town, very Chinese in character and architecture. It has a lot of tailor shops and other crafts like sculpting marble and wood carving. Extensive markets all over the place.
It drizzled a bit in the morning, an indication that the more northern climate is a change from the South. I'm having a new zipper put into my leather bag and I ordered a vest from a tailor.
I took the bus to Hue, the old imperial city and got a room in the old citadel at the Than Noi hotel. The weather is cool and drizzling at times and I'm wearing long pants, shoes and a sweater. I booked a boat tour along the Perfume River to see some tombs etc. and also booked my flight to Hanoi for the 26th.
Saturday, Feb. 25th
The boat trip was very beautiful. Up the Perfume River, towering mountains in the background and fields and gardens along with temples and the occasional palace along the river bank. Lots of walking along the palace grounds.
Sunday, Feb. 26th
I went to check out the Imperial City which is within walking distance from my hotel. Most of it has been destroyed during the French and American War where fierce fighting took place but since it was so huge there is still a lot left and parts of it have been and are being restored.
Hanoi has two lakes within the city and is reminiscent of an Asian Hamburg. The lakes give it that Alster feel and they even have a pavilion. I put off my Halong Bay excursion because I don't want to be stuck on a boat for 2 days with little to do, since the advertised activities like snorkelling and kayaking are highly unlikely to be enjoyable in this weather. Tomorrow I'll do a city tour and see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum among other things.
I went to see Uncle Ho. A lineup of people was very strictly controlled by soldiers. No cameras, hats or other inappropriate clothing and no talking and hands in pockets etc.. Later on I really enjoyed the Temple of Literature, the first Vietnamese University dating to 1070. The Goethe Institute is close by. Apart from being a georaphically and architecturally pleasant city, it is far from being a party town and in this respect is a bit boring. At least it's not raining anymore and I guess I'll tough out another day before leaving for Shanghai.
Wednesday, March 1
There were a couple of hours of sunshine today and I walked about the town. I went to the water puppets theatre at 18.20 to buy a ticket for the 18.30 show but it was sold out. So I bought a ticket for the 21.00 show and went to have dinner at my favorite restaurant. Afterwards I wandered around and came upon a nice looking pub. There I met some nice people and ended up having such a good time that I didn’t even go to the theatre. It was the best time and redeemed Hanoi to the fullest. I’m almost sad now that I’m leaving tomorrow.
Thursday, March 2
I arrived in Shanghai and am staying at the Piao Ying Hotel. China and Shanghai are quite overwhelming. Shanghai is considered China's "head of the dragon" and it seems voracious. It is the first city I ever encountered, that feels eerily intimidating. I went to eat and managed to get an English menu where the first choice was fried dog flesh in some sort of sauce, followed by “rural frog” and “snake head fish”. This prompted me to order Tofu, which was unlike any I ever had but nevertheless delicious. - The space and dimensions of this place are so different from what most people are used to that it creates a kind of dizziness akin to a landlubber’s first time on an ocean going ship. The hotel here has not one English TV channel. Everywhere else I’ve been so far they had HBO, CNN and numerous foreign language channels. Deutsche Welle, French TV5 and lots of Sports etc. China has more than 20 Chinese channels of which one broadcasts in English for an hour once or twice a day, expounding various achievements. I understand that historically we Westerners do not have the best track record here but let’s hope it’s not pay back time. I definitely have the impression that we’ll be speaking Chinese before anybody will speak English here apart from a few token cases.
Friday, March 3
I did some running around in the morning to book my ticket to Seoul and change some traveler checks, which no one but the Bank of China seems to accept. I went to the market and did a little shopping and a lot of looking and bartering. These people here are business. They don't start with prices 3* as high they start with prices 8* or even higher. It takes a while to get the feel but this is not harmless good natured little fun, this is as close to close combat trade war as I've ever seen. This is why China is growing at the pace that it is and they take no prisoners. To be a player in this game you have to have your wits about you and hang tough. Once that is established though, you can have a great time because they are not without humour and sentiment. After all, they've had their share of the school of hard knocks.- Later I took some pictures of the Bund and the opposing skyline and then even found a German brew pub. I finished the evening with a sushi dinner. This city, huge and intriguing as it is, can surely grow on you and is still full of business opportunities.