Saturday, October 27, 2018

Danang and the beautiful Vietnamese coastline The Wandering Writer

Here I am back to the usual appointment with this journey to discover the beauties of Vietnam, trying to get the advantage of every single day to move around, rather than staying in a single place. As we left last time, we reached the city of Danang, famous for being the cultural center of Vietnam and also for being the first port where the US troops entered Vietnam in 1965, when soon after the city became a sort of "small American town."
Of course small was something that didn't last long as soon refugees from the fire free zone, and people from the rural areas conveyed to the city. At that point, the population started to grow exponentially until nowadays being the fifth largest city in Vietnam.

One thing we immediately noticed was that despite being a large city, the traffic on the street was not even comparable with that on Saigon.
In Danang, life seems to move more quietly and for us was a blessing because in this way we could rent a scooter and move around quite freely for the city's attraction. One offside was that we had a short time to visit everything, so we needed to choose wisely our destinations.

Something that I truly recommend is the famous Con Market, which is the largest and busiest open market in the city.

Likewise, the one we visited in Saigon, here you can find everything for everybody. The western concept of "mall" here means open market, and people get not only their groceries here but also the houseware, clothes, shoes, spare parts and whatever else except large electronic ware for which there are dedicated shops.
Something I have noticed though is that on traditional shops (the way the westerners mean LOL) the prices are surprisingly high, and this put into perspective the wealth of this country, far from being a place where to find bargains, like we did for example in Hong Kong.
Do yourself a favor, do not go to sleep early!
The city turns itself into a carnival of lights during the night. Mainly the bridges are something spectacular you do not want to miss.
You will regret.
Moreover, the nightlife in Danang, like I presume in every big city of Vietnam is vibrant and full of attractions, from the late night markets to the nightclubs, restaurants and much much more.

Vietnam, with its diversity, liveliness, with the friendliness of its people will fascinate you and is supposed to remain in your memories like a dear destination.
There are undoubtedly many other places that deserve to be seen, and probably we will be back to Vietnam once again to experience it one more time.
That said, I wish you a very bright weekend and don't forget to stop by next week, because there are funny experiences we had on the train trip from Danang to Nha Trang, a place that will surely make you wonder for its peculiarity.
Stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2018

On the road between Laos and Vietnam with the Wandring Writer

One thing I have learned during my journeys around the world is to never expect much when buying a bus or train ticket. Although with the train it is generally a question of how crowded it might be, on the bus, you really can expect everything.
On the paper, everything seems to be fine, but even those rides that read VIP might be deceiving.
And of course, you want to reserve a spot on a VIP ride, particularly in those countries where the standards are quite far from those you are used to. Nevertheless, also in those cases, the acronym VIP might be subjected to many interpretations, and not necessarily they meet your expectations.

In Tanzania, we were accommodated for a 10 hours ride on a rusty little bus where the floor was missing in a few spots, no air conditioning and it was sold for a VIP ride (I do not want even to know what would have been the normal ride).
In India, to reach Kathmandu, we had a bus which you could barely call it that way, and the windows wouldn't close.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were supposed to travel on a night boat with a private cabin. The actual boat was a small ferry so rusty that it seemed a miracle it could still float. No, there weren't cabins, but the captain was so kind that offered his own little sleeping "room" (I think I have thanked him one thousand times).
These are just a few examples on the topic "never trust a salesman when he is offering a comfortable ride."
To reach Danang, Vietnam, from Pakse, Laos, we choose another VIP ride, because we know the alternative can be a nightmare.
The ride was supposed to be relatively long, about 12 hours on a bus, and we sincerely hoped that for once in the lifetime, the trip would have been at least comfortable.
We were instructed to wait for the taxi to get us from the hotel lobby at 4:30 AM, but they arrived with a half an hour delay rushing like crazy to be able to reach the bus terminal in time.

So after the last goodbye to the beautiful night sky of Laos,

We were ready to leave.
 The bus was not exactly what we were expecting, but it had air-conditioned, and it was reasonably comfortable, at least enough to be able to fall asleep like babies.
Yes, we could have taken the flight that would have brought us to our destination in one hour, but we hoped to be able to see something more of the scenery offered by a road trip. This was true only for the part of the journey when we were awake, so to be honest quite few.

Nevertheless, something I could notice is that in the countryside, both in Laos and Vietnam,  people are building charming houses. I believe that, like everywhere else in the world, the prices to buy the land in those isolated areas might be way lower.
The journey went on flawlessly except for a small problem at the border. We had only a single-entry visa for Vietnam not really thinking that we should have paid for multiple-entry one (silly us).

Well, sometimes you just forget the smallest detail, and since this trip was mostly not planned at all, this kind of problem was to be included in the holiday package.

No problems at all, we just paid 5USD for the re-entry, and everything was solved, except for a small delay on our schedule, which seemed not to have bothered the other passengers, who could enjoy having more time to eat and stretch their legs.

Note to self: remember to think about the kind of visa you need in advance (and I should have seen that coming)!

So in the end, we reached Da Nang, which is one of the most important cities in Vietnam.
This is the commercial and educational center of Central Vietnam, as well as being the largest city in the region. It is close to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Imperial City of Hue, the Old Town of Hoi An... but for this, you will have to wait until next week.
Wish you a great weekend!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saigon to Pakse, Laos, the Wandering Writer's style

After a few days in Saigon, we headed north to Laos, to be precise Pakse.
Now this is not the most  popular destination among the tourists who decide to visit Laos and for this reason you might imagine how this attracts me the most. Few tourists means also that the place didn't adjust its image and heritage to accommodate the tastes of international travelers.
Despite the small deviation at the airport of Saigon, where we arrived one day in advance, the flight went smoothly and within a couple of hours we reached our third leg of the trip, where we would have stayed for other five days before...
Hmm... what then?
The fact was that because the failure of the dam that happened last month, we didn't dare to make any plan and considered wiser to plan as we go, from that point on.
In a few famous words, No Reservations.

The original idea was to take the bus to reach the border and from there trying to reach one of the cities along the coastline of Vietnam, but we needed to figure out the whole trip one reservation at a time.
In the meanwhile we could enjoy our stay at the hotel my husband booked in Pakse. If there is a word that can be associated with my husband is minimalism and character, two words I really appreciate too. However, when we talk about a hotel stay, I wish at least the basic comfort being granted, and if I can also have wi-fi and air conditioned that would be the top I can expect.

The hotel was a surprise:

I don't know what's going on but this was rated as a three-star hotel! I would have given a good five stars.
The room was perfect, even if we took the standard one, I considered it far better than many other four-star hotels I have stayed in.
Now once settled in our room, it was time to go and check out the hoods.
Pakse, is a very small town, it has just a couple of attractions, but the main thing it has is the beautiful nature it is immersed in.
When traveling in Asia, particularly in areas where the tourism is not as developed as in other cities you need to forget where you come from, and start over again.
This is the best way to appreciate and get to know the local culture. If you keep comparing with the place you come from and things that are familiar to you, the result will be always disappointing. Instead if you keep your mind open, thinking like you have just been born that day, your experience will be amazing. Your heart will be opened to understand better what's around you, and the differences that make this world amazing.
In the town there are many restaurants, and I think we'd tried all of them. However two were the busiest and also the ones which could grabbed the attention of the tourists. They are located side by side, and I guessed the owner is the same, as their menus are identical.
The staff spoke perfectly English (something quite rare to find) and they offered a great variety of international and local food.
There were things we could not go and see due to the low season and the flooding of the area, but this doesn't mean that there wasn't anything to do or see.
Considering the almost absence of traffic on the streets, we dared to rent a bike and go around to have some fun. Something really worth to be seen was the Golden Buddha statue watching the city and giving the chance to have a great panoramic view of the city and the Mekong river.

The city seemed a oasis of peace, particularly after Saigon, and offered many idyllic views that enchanted me.
 After a good rest and wandering around the question was still open, what next?
The answer arrived just at dinner time, when we noticed the big poster on a side of the restaurant wall, about the bus trip from Pakse to Danang, in Vietnam. Since we didn't have any other plan, and we needed to get back to Vietnam at some point, this sounded like the best chance so we booked the trip right away, together with a hotel for a couple of nights in Danang.
As I said we would have continued our trip one reservation at time.
Have a great weekend and stay tuned for the rest of the journey!!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

From Turkey to Saigon, a brand new experience

From the small, but interesting parenthesis in Turkey, my journey continued East towards Vietnam, precisely Saigon. Ho-Chi-Minh city is the name given by North Vietnam, and it is generally accepted, but South Vietnam people prefer to call it Saigon, and personally, I do also prefer to call it that way.
The country during its history has endured a lot of conflicts, from regaining its independence from China to the latest of the events the Vietnam war.
Nevertheless, its economy and development are on a constant rise.
About Saigon, I will have to stop again, because there is a lot to discover just in this city and it would be a pity not to show you the most I can in the time of this blog series dedicated to Vietnam and Laos.
The first thing you notice about Saigon is the impossible traffic on the streets. Half of the population moves with scooters and motorbikes, while the other half with cars, taxis, buses, and tuk-tuk (although the latter is less common to be seen and it seems to be used mostly by tourists).
You can rent a scooter for something like 4USD a day plus gasoline, but be warned, the traffic rules are mostly ignored, and you will have to be very skilled in not ending up into an accident.
Kudos to Vietnamese people for being able to drive in such conditions without causing accidents.
This was just a typical Monday...
The city has a lot to offer to the curious eye, and if you are looking for bargains, you need to visit the street markets. Those are the places where you can buy food of any kind, meat, fish fruits, dried cereals, vegetables; you name it. Kitchenwares, decorative items, militaria, clothes, shoes and everything you might need or desire.
The smells are strong, but you'll get used to them ad you will soon be able to recognize to which food they do belong and let your nose be your guide.
Those places are generally a labyrinth where it is easy to get lost, but once again your sense of smell can guide you to the exit, where usually, the food court is located.
Don't miss for any reason in the world the Vietnamese coffee; a little bitter than the one we are used to, but full of a very particular aroma that will surely entice you.
Personally, I bought a big amount for myself, not to forget about the tastes of this incredible place.
Meanwhile, during the day, the streets are busy, and the business is running, the nights are vibrant of colors and lights of the restaurants, bars, and late shops.
Saigon is a city that never sleeps, a place where a vampire won't feel lonely.
People are very friendly, and although they do not speak very well or at all English, they will never refuse to help you, if you need some directions to find your hotel.
Another thing you should visit is the war museum, be warned, you won't leave without tears.
What Vietnamese people, just like many other populations that experienced war, had to endure, (and many of them are still dealing with the aftermath nowadays) is something that always makes me wonder how we still have wars.
The sad fact is that humanity never learns a lesson and greed, thirst for power, desire to show who is the strongest, will sadly continue to blind humanity, so instead of living together sharing the planet in peace, they will try to annihilate each other.
My question is how long until we will finally destroy the whole race?

After three days in Saigon, it arrived the time for our departure for Pakse, Laos, we arrived at the airport well in advance... Yes, one day in advance!
That didn't mean anything wrong, we got another night to an airport hotel, and we had the chance to see another district of the city.
Stay tuned and come back to discover Laos and its natural beauties!

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