Top Shot: Walking a-Hue

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Ok – maybe I just wanted to make the ‘Walking a-Hue’ joke but still its a well timed photo taken in a beautifully rustic part of the Imperial City.

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Hue: The Imperial City

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I had two different opinions of Hue – the first time we stayed in what I guess could only be called the tourist district, where the majority of hotels, backpacker hostels, bars and restaurants are found. We knew that we would be back in a couple of weeks with Jess’ parents who were visiting so we stayed away from the Citadel and I didn’t enjoy my couple of days there. After spending a day walking the ruins of the Imperial City a couple of weeks later I can see what the fuss was about.

Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty who dominated the South for more almost three centuries. In 1802 the dynasty gained power over all of Vietnam, making Hue the nations capital until 1945. Because of the city’s location in the middle of North and South Vietnam over the years it has sustained a lot of damage during war but there is still plenty to see inside the Citadel itself. Jess’ parents opted for a cyclo tour with a very charasmatic and funny guide and Jess and I walked through the ruins ourselves (our budget is slightly tigheter). Both are great ways to see everything that lies inside the walls. Another great sight in Hue is the Thien Mu pagoda, the largest pagoda in Hue and the unofficial symbol of the city. It has a great view of the Perfume River and is close to the Citadel so both can be seen in a day.

The best part of Hue though is a vegetarian restaurant called Lien Hoa. It is a little outside of the main tourist district next to a monastery, if you visit during the day it is often filled with monks enjoying lunch. The food is ridiculously good – I think the best Vietnamese food we have tasted, and we like food… It is also really cheap – not like other restaurants that get a good review in Lonely Planet and then triple their price. A table full of food can be between $5-10 AUD depending on what you order and there is unlimited free and delicious jasmine or green tea.

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Top Shot: Splash 2!

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I love seeing the form that water takes in a splash! This is our second ‘splash’ photo but I like this one even more because of how brave Jess was taking her camera so far into the ocean – tough nuts!

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Hoi An

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The best time to explore the city of Hoi An is at night – after spending the day lounging on the beach overlooking the beautiful blue water of the Vietnamese east coast. There is plenty to do here for the relaxed traveler, not so much for the adventurous. At night the lanterns are lit and a red glow descends upon the streets. The shopfronts are very authentic and exactly what I imagine Asia to look like before modern and western influences – it feels as though you are stepping back in time when wandering through the streets.

Most travellers here must have the same idea, beach by day and wander at night because the population of the city seems to triple after dark. Restaurants come alive – our favourite was Morning Glory which comes highly recommended and was even booked out on the first night we arrived. They run cooking classes too which we heard from our new friends Joni & Kirsty was really good. The restaurant serves ‘street food’ but with a restaurant finish and is quite reasonably priced considering the prices at other tourist traps in the main quarter.

Another popular thing to do in Hoi An is have clothes made – you can’t walk 10 steps without seeing another tailor, particularly on Le Loi which is the street we stayed on. We went to the central market and bartered with one of the tailors there to have two dresses made for Jess and a jacket for me. The quality of the clothes was great but we disagreed a couple of times with them regarding price so we didn’t get anymore made. The price in the tailor shops is a little more expensive but you get to see what you are getting (they have numerous clothes on display) and the material is often a better quality. Bargaining at the market is good if you have something you want copied or a strong idea of what you are after and can choose from thousand of available fabrics!

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Top Shot: Good Fortune Sellers

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All along the river in ‘old’ Hoi An you will find beautiful young girls and charismatic and irritatingly persistent old women wanting to sell you a decorated paper float with a candle inside. The idea is to make a wish and float it down the river – the skeptic in me thinks that I am paying for a float that has floated down the river with a few different peoples wishes but the young girls are hard to say no to.

Funky Monkey Boat Trip

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We had heard mixed reviews about this trip – the Lonely Planet guide says its a party boat with lots of drinking, music and people to meet but the Trip Advisor reviews tell a different story, mainly Asian families and no fun. We decided to go anyway and had a great time. Yes, it was mainly Asian families – only one girl from Chicago who we made friends with, but we made our own fun with the help of the ‘Funky Monkey’s’ onboard.

Our first stop was at a very strange aquarium in the shape of a ship with a very sad selection of marine life but the outdoor aquarium at the back was awesome. It was filled with huge turtles and big circling shark-like fish. There was food available to buy and feed the animals and stairs down to the water. We fed the turtles and I walked down the steps to give one a pat – do you pat turtles?

The boat trip also took us to an island where you can swim, jump off the boat, snorkel and has a couple of water activities to try. Then we were taken to a fishing village where we had lunch on the boat and afterwards jumped into the water to drink from the floating bar. There was free shots, singing and about 20 of us in the water all clinging to each other and the bar so as not to float away in the current. The last stop was to another island where us and our new friend went on a Banana Boat ride around the islands. Even though we seemed to be the only people ordering beers, singing karaoke (apart from another little boy) and staying awake for the entire trip we had a great time.

Top Shot: Tracks to Ba Ho

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We followed these tracks along Highway 1 on the way to Ba Ho Falls in Nha Trang. Train tracks run all along the coast of Vietnam, through mountains and rice paddy fields, even through cities and between houses. We have had some of the most amazing views of Vietnam looking out the window of a train.