THE LAND OF FLOWERS AND FLAVOURS
In January 2014 I went on a epic journey to South East Asia. It all started in 2013 with a huge knee operation. I have over the years had many operations and especially my right knee five times. In October 2013 I got a new knee after two years of Paine. On my job as a security officer in Copenhagen Airport, I had a three month of saved vacation, and decided to spend them in South East Asia January-April. I have over the years traveled a lot in Southeast Asia, but never been to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. My plan was to buy a one way ticket and go from there. The good thing about flying in Asia compared to a lot of other countries is, that one way ticket is around the half of a return ticket ,in many countries you pay the same price one way or return ticket. Normally I travel alone, but this time I had been accompanied by two old friends Bo and Mogens.
They are both divorced and there kids are grown up, so after listening to all my stories over the years, they wanted to join me. Bo my oldest friend were travelling with me in Croatia in 2013, and now ready for new adventures. Mogens had for many years dreamt about hiking in the Northern part of Vietnam, so when he found out, that we where planning a trip, he called me. I told him that due to the time of the year, we would stay in the Southern Vietnam. In January it can get very cold in the Northern part of the country. Any way he wanted to come along. Bo had two weeks vacation, I made a plan so he could get a taste of Asia. Big city, culture, pristine beaches, the jungle, tropical Islands, the Mekong River and a final with the Chinese New Year, What a plan. Mogens was temporary without job, so he also bought a one way ticket. We traveled to Ho Chi Minh City the 15 January.
THE HIDDEN LAND OF FLAVOURS
Vietnam the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. There is a population of approximately 93 mill people. Vietnam is bordered with China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, and across the South China Sea Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. The capital is Hanoi since 1976 when unified with the south, and the Historical capital is Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Vietnam exotic and exciting,,,
Hike in breathtaking mountain scenery in the north with tribal villages, sail in the spectacular otherworldly Halon Bay, or go back in time in the ancient city of Hoi An. Pristine beaches along side the turquise coast and paradise Island of Phu Quaq in the South. Add to all this the best food in all of Asia, all most intoxicating.
The fusion between the spices and the crunchy vegetables from Asia and the fine French cuisine gives the food incredible flavours.The Vietnamese people are the proudest people I have ever met, and with the history of there wars with the Chinese occupation from 111BC to AD 939, Americans ( The Vietnam War ) from 1965 to 1973 and the Frenchman from mid -19th century until 1954. They where also the reason that led to the fall of Pol Pot in Cambodia 1979 in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. They beat them all.
THE ONE WHO DISCLOSES
We arrived in the morning and went straight to our Hotel Mini Saigon in Pham Ngu Lao Street. And what a pleasant surprise, this cheap mini hotel at the best location and with a fantastic view to the Saigon skyline. The street with the best bars and the famous Vietnamese street kitchen. Ho Chi Minh city ( Saigon )has become one of my all time favorite cities in the world. It is the largest city in Vietnam and around12 million people lives here. The main transportation is scooters, and an estimated 6 million of them. The traffic is chaotic, and yet some kind of system, it actually works. Saigon is the city of the future, new skyscrapers is popping up everywhere. Ho Chi Minh means The One Who Discloses a vibrant city of the future,,, Welcome to Vietnam.
Here The Dark Ghost from the past met the future, with the skyscrapers next to the French bourganville mansions from the colonial times, and all around the real Vietnam with old pagodas. The first day it was all about the area we stayed in, just strolling around and take in the many new impressions. The evening delicious street food and beer. For 5 dollars each soup, chicken, vegetables and rice, all the flavours of the southeast Asia with a twist of France. We were sitting on very low chairs, so every time up and down, they had to help me. With a new knee not much flexibility, but we had a fantastic evening with pool, massage and beer. Next morning sightseeing, and first stop was the War Remnants Museum. The museum opened in 1975 about the Chinese and the American War crimes, and renewed in 1995 when the diplomatic relation between USA and Vietnam was restored.
Out side there is and exhibition of Helicopters, tanks and other war material. The museum shows the horror of the war, and inside there is a large collection of posters and photographs from the Vietnam war. It is an emotional experience, but it gives a glimpse of the history of Vietnam, and a,,, most do thing in Saigon. Next on our list the Benthanh Street food Market and lunch. Here you can taste food from all over the world, it is delicious and cheap. Again the evening street food, beer and party, 3 guys in heaven. Up next morning break first at the top of our hotel with the view over the city. Then the market with fruit, food, vegetables clothes almost anything imaginable, it is always funny to visit markets in Southeast Asia. Then a visit to the French colonial area and later on the fashionable downtown. The afternoon a late flight to Huè in the central of Vietnam.
THE CITY OF KINGS
Huè the most Royal city in Vietnam is located on the bank of Song Huong- Perfume River, around 1100 km from Ho Chi Minh City. Huè is one of Vietnam's top attractions, the former Royal Capital with Tombs, Pagodas and The Citadel are something of a spectacle. We landed in Huè around 8 PM in heavy rain, and I was afraid that I had made a mistake due to the weather.
I had booked us a hotel in city center, and again a nice hotel, located close to everything. The Hotel DMZ named after the demilitarized zone, was really nice and the staff very helpful. After check in we walked around the corner to the bar connected to the hotel DMZ. Perfect a lot of people and a nice pool table, we were happy. Next morning I organized a trip with a taxi to see the attractions around, and also a tour to see the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, the day after. Walking around this Tombs, is like stepping back in time, you can almost fell the presence of the Dynasty.
After the Tombs, we went to see the biggest attraction the Huè Citadel on the North side of Perfume River. The Citadels is actually four citadels created to be the Capital City. Hoang Thanh ( Imperial City ) for Royal Palaces and shines, Tu Cam Thanh ( Forbidden City ) Royal Residences, Dai Noi ( Inner City ) and Tran Binh Dai exclusively ancient architecture. And finally the Thien Mu Pagoda with the octagonal 21-meter-high tower.
After a late lunch we sailed on The Perfume River and enjoyed the the stunning surroundings. The evening We found a nice restaurant owned by a beautiful deaf Vietnamese woman with a fantastic history. She could read lips in both Vietnamese and English and she had travel around the world. We became friends with her, and after a fantastic meal, we invited her to join us for the rest of the evening. And what an evening and night, we party until the late hours, we got very drunk, and I had a little romance with her. The tour to DMZ and the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang started at 6 Am, so I only got two hours sleep. Bo and Mogens didn`t make it, so I went by my self, with a hangover and a strange stomach for many hours in a bus. First stop DMZ the Former Demilitarised Zone for lunch and a beer before the caves.
THE DWARFS UNDER THE MOUNTAIN
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site 209 kilometres from Huè. The Cave system is the largest in the world and oldest karst mountains in Asia. The system with hundreds of caves and amongst them the largest in the world Hang Son Doong 150 m wide 200 m high and 5 km long. The cave has its own river, jungle and climate. These cave systems is also the inspiring of the scenes from Moria in the Lord of The Rings. It is a spectacle, and i wouldn't`t have mist it for the world. I have seen many drip caves before, but never as impressive like this.
If you get the chance in Vietnam, it is a ,,,most do. The hole area is in itself a huge attraction with primal jungle and rivers around. Sorry for the pics, I only brought my Iphone, and it was difficult to shoot good pictures, but they will give you and idea of the size of the caves. After all most 15 hours, I was back in Huè for beer and pool with my friends. Next day we explored the beaches around and a quit evening before new adventures. We had an early flight next morning with a fast flight change in Ho Chi Minh City, before our destination Phu Quoq Island.
PARADISE ON TWO WHEELS
Phu Quoq Island is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful exotic Islands I have ever visited, and I have been to some pretty ones around the world. This little wild tropical paradise in the Gulf of Thailand a 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City and only 4 kilometres from Cambodia has everything imaginable for a perfect vacation. Stunning Palm-fringed white sand beaches, turquise seas, lush virgin protected rain forest, high mountains and friendly locals living in small idyllic fishing communities around the Island. Beneath the water a totally different paradise with amazing corals and enormous variation of fish. A scuba divers heaven. The Island is famous for the best fish sauce in the world, pearls and pepper. But Paradise is about to disappear, a new airport with a capacity of 2,65 million passengers and the governments plan of turning it into a Vietnamese Phuket, it is just a matter of time. We landed early and went straight to Duong Dong beach, the largest town of the island.
After a couple of beer and lunch we start looking for accommodations. We found some nice rooms on Long beach, and cheap too. After Huè we were ready for the beach, and we were not dissapointed. Long Beach is really nice, and the location next to the night marked makes it the perfect place to stay. On the beach massage, sun and beer and the afternoon we visited a barber shop. That decision became very important for me, my hair power has become less flashy over the years, so I told the barber to remove it all. And what a pretty face, now I looked like a young man.
The evening fantastic seafood at the night marked, you just point out what you want, buy some beers and they will serve you a meal fit for a King. It is a wonderful experience to stroll down the narrow streets and enjoy the view of fresh seafood beautiful decorated in all the booths.
Next morning we rented scooters and explored the Island. Looking back in the mirror, maybe it wasn`t such a good idea, I had just got a new knee, and I still had to be very careful.
We behaved like teenagers again, raising around the Islands like crazy. First stop the National Park with the mount Chua 603 m high. We hiked to the top along side the waterfalls. The park is very famous for macaque and languer, we didn`t see them but the park is worth a visit. On the bikes again to a small fishing port and a local villages, where the local held a rooster fight.
What a fun, first the villagers were a little insecure about our presence, but after a while no problem. The evening as usual food, beer and pool. Next day I went diving and the guys snorkeling on a boat trip. I was a little dissapointed, I had expected amazing diving. Later on I found out that the great diving was outside some Islands nearby.
Anyway it is always nice to go diving. The evening something I hadn`t tasted for many years, Boa snake and it is delicious. The last day back on the scooter again through beautiful landscapes and deserted white sand beaches to the North of the Island, meeting fisher folk with there nets and visited cosy villages.
But our time in paradise had come to an end, next on my itinerary was Mekong River. The early morning we jumped on a ferry to Vietnam and the Mekong River.
THE RIVER OF THE NINE DRAGONS
The ferry from Phu Quoq to Ha Tien takes around 3 hours, and a then bus to Vinh Long the capital of the district. We arrived at the hotel at lunch time. Vinh Long is the right place to be if you really want to experience The Mighty Mekon River. The Mekong Delta is the big rice bowl of Vietnam, and rice is harvest 3-4 time every year. It is a fertile landscape exploding with fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. The best way to experience this, is there markets booming with fruit, flowers and vegetables in all colours and sizes, or go to the fish marked always fun. Mekong River or the Vietnamese name (Song Cuu Long) means The River Of The Nine Dragons. The River has its origin in Tibet and runs trough China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and after 4500 kilometers it runs into the South China Sea in the south of Vietnam. The river is the life nerve for 73 million people living alongside Mekong River and its tributaries from Tibet to Vietnam. They believe of the spirit of the river. The first day we just walked around in slow pace, to take in all the new impressions. Every were there were flowers in bright colours of red and yellow Red. The Yellow star symbolizes The Vietnamese Communist party and Red represent the blood of the Nation. There were only two days to the Chinese New Year, and the flowers are used for decoration all around town.
In the afternoon we had a hilarious moment, and all created by me,,, Although without my knowledge. All the local people pointed at me, laughed at me and tried to explain me something, and suddenly I became aware of all the attention to me. I was Bald after my visit to the barber on Phu Quoq, I had my orange shorts on and an orange t-shirt I bought in Saigon,,,I looked like a monk. We turned around and back at the hotel I change to more appropriate clothing, and ready for food and beer. Again the Vietnamese street food is amazing. We had three soup, three rice with chicken and beers, all together we paid less than 5 US dollar, and it was delicious. Next morning I had organized a sail trip on Mekong River and visiting the Floating Marked.
I have been to floating markets in Asia before, although never in Vietnam, so didn`t now what to expect. It was a pleasant day on Mekong, and the floating marked was more authentic than those I have visited in Thailand. The Cai Be floating market is bustling with Wholesalers on big boats and smaller boats selling fruit and beer. We also made a stop in the town Cai Be, and had a taste of local alcohol mixed with snake venom and healing ingredients. After lunch back to Vinh Long for the last night.
Next morning up early on a trip with a local taxi driver to an important place during the war against the US. We sailed the backwaters and walked in the jungle with all the tunnels, where the Vietkong soldiers were hiding from the US soldiers. We enjoyed the area for a couple of hours. After the sightseeing we jumped on a bus to Ho Chi Minh City for Chinese New Year.
THE YEAR OF THE HORSE
The biggest celebration in Vietnam is Chinese New Year, or more commonly known as TET, it is the promise of spring and time to appreciate family and friends. TET starts on the first day of lunar and last for 3 days, it is amazing with the decoration of the city and the Vietnamese people dressed up in amazing colours. Everybody enjoying, you can not help feeling good. It is almost magical. Even a lot of the food is special, only served during TET. 2014 the year of the horse from the zodiac calendar symbolizes enthuasiasm and energy. The animal gives people an impression of independence and integrity, it is the Chinese people`s ethos. There are also traditions like cleaning your house the day before, and on the first day of the New Year, adults give the younger ones Lucky Money for good wishes.
Visiting Pagodas the 1st day of New Year is also a common tradition. We came back in the afternoon and downtown was packed with people partying in the streets. Walking along Nguyen Hue Street with the fantastic art from the artists and the spectacular flower decoration is very special. It was like being a part of a Disney movie with a happy ending. There are so many shows and happenings all over town. The evening party in our streets with food and beer, and finally down to the river for the fireworks. It was also the end of Vietnam for this time, and Bo was leaving next morning. Mogens had decided to follow me to Cambodia.
It is a a beautiful country with the nicest and proudest people imaginable.
For sure the best food in all of Southeast Asia
I will be back
I will continue in Cambodia 2014
For more pictures go to gallery in the menu