2019 tour travel blog


Tuesday 2nd October

There is plenty to choose from at the buffet breakfast, we meet up with more “boat people”, and others also on a Halong Tour. It is supposed to be “winter”, yeah, right, 28 degrees at 9am, pfft.

We are waiting in reception with six others, when a group of four get whisked off in a private car, they thought they were on a group tour. The rest of us are in a 20 seater bus, with more boat people. We are surprised at the number of people on the tour that draw the curtains and sleep until we get to My Son, pisses us off actually, as we cannot see out those windows. And then there are those that draw their curtains so they can read their bloody phones… sigh.We are waiting in reception with six others, when a group of four get whisked off in a private car, they thought they were on a group tour. The rest of us are in a 20 seater bus, with more boat people. We are surprised at the number of people on the tour that draw the curtains and sleep until we get to My Son. It pisses us off actually, as we cannot see out those windows. And then there are those that draw their curtains so they can read their bloody phones… sigh. Our tour guide tries hard to carack jokes, she says that we will not being seeing My Son today because he is in school. Haha. Then she says she has a very special announcement, checks the date, and tells everyone it is our 35th wedding anniversary today. Sweet, even if she is a few days late.

33 degrees by 10.30am, not too comfortable to be out and about in, but we have plenty of water and shade. We are at a UNESCO World Heritage site, My Son Holy Land, dating from 4th to 13th centuries, this is the ancestral and spiritual home of the Champa Kingdom, and the source of the sacred Thu Bon river. Unfortunately much of the area was destroyed during WWII, the first Indo-China War, and by far the worst damage occurred from American bombs during the second Indo-China war. Some 70 monuments remain here, they are unique in Southeast Asia, and are gradually being restored. We are warned not to wander off track at all, there remains the possibility of unexploded ordinance, something that also greatly affects any archaeological work. No one mentions what happened to the people who lived here, we wonder what became of them, and why they felt the need to leave in the first place.

During our visit we are treated to a cultural dance. Later we go to Cau Lau boat station and take a boat trip on Thu Bon River, lunch is served on board, once again a bit of a comedy as they struggle with everyone’s allergies and food choices. We are taken to one of the islands to see more demonstrations. The first is a craftsman making mother-of-pearl inlaid into wood. Some of us are a bit sceptical, there is a lot of product here on the table, but he tells us it takes three days to make two wooden plates. Hmmmm. There is no doubt how talented he is, but we strongly doubt that everything here is made by hand, unless there are dozens of others slaving away in a factory elsewhere on the island. We also pass by a boat building yard, there is no doubt that this is genuine. As we board our boat, our guide tells us that during the war the warships based here disguised the ships with branches cut from trees on surrounding islands. When done, the ships looked like just another island in the river, but eagle surveillance spotted that the “islands” were facing a different direction later in the day. The ships had moved with the tide, and their cover was blown.

We enjoy the rest of the cruise on the river and a bus takes us back to the hotel. Time for a swim.

The night markets here are always lots of fun, and Hoi An is no exception. You just have to get over constantly getting pestered, some days are better than others when it comes to that. Lantern boats are on the water taking people for a sail on the river, lots of bright lights and noise here tonight. There are a couple of people making a killing on a stall, sort of a pinata type game where some poor sucker pays a wad of money to be blindfolded, then walks up to a hanging clay pot. The object is to break the pot with a stick, but you only get one shot. You can walk up to the pot as many times as you like without the blindfold, you can even test the height of the pot, but once blindfolded you only get one crack at it. They even place broken pots on the ground when they set up, just to make it look like people succeed. A couple of people actually hit the pots, but none succeeded in breaking any while we were watching.

Tony meets up with Lewis from the boat (and the bus to Hoi An) while at the market tonight. Another long day, 13 km walked.

Wednesday 3rd Oct

We are unsure what today holds, as we cannot really find out a lot about the place we are going to. Reviews are mixed, and this is an extra that we bought through the hotel when we arrived here. People have raved about Ba Na Hill, others have slammed it. We paid VND2.78milion, $197, a very long cable car is the main attraction, with a pair of giant budda hands holding up a golden bridge. Oh, and we have a buffet lunch. We have a rushed breakfast as the restaurant has hardly been open before we are picked up in the minivan for the two hour drive, about 40km inland from Da Nang.

The area was originally a French resort, long since abandoned (it was pretty much destroyed during the war), and the remains of the original buildings left to nature. Now Sunworld operates a theme park and resort on top of the mountain. The only ways up to the top (1500m), are by funicular or the fantastic cable car. Opened in 2013, it holds the world record for longest non-stop single track cable car at 5,801m long. This place is so busy they actually have three cable car systems running up the mountain, and a fourth is being built.

It is really busy here, and we are told to be thankful that we were not here in June or July, when it was really busy. Is this is not busy, then we dread to think what it was like a couple of months ago! There is quite a wait for the cable car, it takes a good 20 minutes to get through, and then we are jammed in as fast as they can get us aboard. The cars are not running that slow either, and we saw a couple of people get jammed between the car and the gate because staff tried to rush them aboard at the last minute. Really great on health and safety here (cough), we soon learned that if they said go you went before they finished telling you.

As we reach the top (nearly 20 minutes) we pass under the latest attraction, the 150m long Golden Bridge, held up by a pair of giant hands. It has become something of an icon for the area since it was opened in June 2018. From the bridge you can see a truly majestic natural landscape, provided the clouds clear. Yes, it was cloudy, and misty for us today. We were hopeful that meant it was cooler too, but temperatures ran at about 24 today, so yes it was cooler, but it was still warm. Occasionally the mist would fully cover the whole area. Still no wildlife though, and bird song is decidedly lacking.

We cross over the bridge, but it is fairly packed, and our guide advises us to come back to it later, and that if we go through the gardens first, we can have another crack at the bridge on the way to lunch, so we do just that. Being built on a mountainside it is pretty steep, and there are a lot of steps. There are nine themed gardens all up, and we wonder why there are pigs everywhere… penny drops, it is the Chinese year of the pig. There is a large wine cellar on site, we give that one a miss, it looked expensive! There is a massive white Budda statue, and a pagoda that you just about had to be a mountain goat to get to, and then climb back up the mountain again when you had seen it!

The restaurant for our buffet lunch was huge, and packed. We found tables in an extension of the dining room, a few dishes were available in here, but we still had to negotiate the crowd in the big room if you wanted to try lots of dishes. Cynthea gets some snakehead to try, but it turns out to be a type of fish. We get a glass of wine each, and then notice not many of the Europeans have finished theirs. There is a reason for that. Despite the French name, it is Chateau d’Cardboard, and bloody awful.

Lots of different dishes to try, and we are soon happiness filled. We head out to explore the excitement of the theme park. Much was made of the activities here, but it was far from the Disney type experience we expected. Outside of the buffet were a lot of different food carts, all over priced tourist traps. This part of the village was very European, French style. We were told that there was a fantasy fun park, but couldn’t find the entrance to the 100 plus games (later found it was three stories underground). There was a “roller coaster” ride, probably quite tame enough for Tony, but too many in the queue to wait for a turn by the time we got back around to it. As we watched the whole thing was shrouded in mist, you could not see the track or the riders!

We took the cable car back down to the car park, and the mini van took us back to Marble Mountain in South Da Nang. Not to climb a mountain, but to see the marble factory and another unbelievable demonstration of how the figurines were produced. A chap stood there with a hammer and chisel knocking chunks out of a block if someone was watching. A woman sat grinning like a Cheshire cat “polishing” the finished product with an emery cloth. Yeah, right, we are picking that there was a factory with power tools and a lot of long hours churning out stuff for very little payment in return. The prices here were extremely high, really ripping the tourists. No one on our tour bought anything.

We seem to take more of a back road to get back to the hotel. At one point we are almost across a single lane bridge when three taxis try to cross. No way is there room for them to pass, we are astounded they even thought they could. In the end they all have to back up because our driver refused to do so, not that he could, there was a line of traffic behind us by then. We continue to be amazed and astounded by the traffic here, from the scooter fuel in plastic bags, coke bottles or whisky bottles, to the “breakdown warning system” – if it is a scooter it has three sticks poking out the back of the bike. If a car or truck breaks down there are sticks on the road either side of it. Hardly an easy to spot warning, given the amount of rubbish about.

We eat at Morning Glory restaurant tonight, Jenny had recommended this one to us. Lovely food, but we made the mistake of sitting outside in the street, where every bloody man and his dog passed by with something to sell. Cynthea does feel sorry for the crippled fella who was beside us selling tiger balm, so she buys a small pottle from him. A police woman tells us he is there every day, and sells a lot. He hadn’t sold much while we were there though. We cross the river to the night markets, spending a bit of time there. We have our flight tomorrow, so don’t stay out too late. Even though it is not far to go, we catch a taxi home, but the cunning prick puts a 20,000 dong flag fall on the meter, and the meter is running rather hot. We call him on it, and the 70,000 dong fee drops to 40,000. It is still more than Cynthea paid last time, we are not impressed.



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