In an effort to speed up my faltering photo posting progress from this trip (which was finished over a month ago, mind) I am combining two cities into one post again even though they are miles apart, both in terms of disposition and in terms of geography.
We were led to believe by a couple of people that Huế was the less touristic, more “authentic” and historically significant alternative to Hội An, but I would be the first to admit that we struggled there. Despite staying in an excellent hotel, we found the actual city to be imposingly big and hostile to pedestrians, with some of the most persistently annoying cyclo touts (I recall beginning to wince at the approaching shout of “HELLO!”) and moto drivers around. It didn’t help matters that on the first day we slogged through a couple of miles of this annoyance to cross the river to the Imperial Citadel in oppressive jungle heat. Think Adrian Cronauer’s forecast of “continued hot and shitty” and you’re there.
But we got to the Imperial City and the Forbidden City within and were impressed by the old buildings and the new – some of them restored to former glories after pesky bombings by the Americans in the 60s. We chanced some fairly dodgy street food (congealed pig’s blood, anyone) and dodged yet more cyclo drivers. On the second day we battled through small intestinal distress and retook the city, this time on a smarter conveyance: bicycles. This was a much more pleasant way to see the city as it precluded the cyclo touts approaching and also cut the city down to a manageable size, allowing us to get around to the central market and the surrounding canals.
Half a country away on the Chinese border is the former hill station of Sapa. Whereas we had been wrongfully advised of Huế’s “authenticity” and lack of tourists, several fellow travelers had shared horror stories of the tenacious hill tribe touts of Sapa, so we arrived expecting the worst. As it turned out, aside from an initial encounter with a gaggle of Black H’mong women swarming our bus on arrival, and a bit of a rip-off tour booked from our hotel, most of our time in Sapa was copacetic and we found Sapa quite relaxing even as it was touristic.
Our time in Sapa was mostly visiting the surrounding countryside of steep rice terraces, villages, parks, and the odd waterfall. It was on one of our excursions over into the village of Cat Cat that I decided to lay down on my back to get a beauty shot of a water buffalo and did my back in, a condition that has only exacerbated over time and is still affecting me over a month later as I type this in Nigeria. But we continued with our hike and our overall experience of Sapa was a positive one which made me want to come back and get a bit more off the beaten track next time.
I couldn’t resist including the shot below, which I forgot I had captured. These two German girls were the two biggest marks in Sapa, by which I mean that they had developed no defenses against people approaching them on the street. Every time a H’mong woman came up to them, for instance, they would stop and chat and check out whatever she was selling. Except that this always drew a crowd of other H’mong merchants, so that wherever these girls went, they always had a convoy of hill tribe women attached like lampreys.
We are into the home stretch now, in the next post or two we will cover the buzzing capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, as well as the beautiful karst wonderland of Ha Long Bay. By which point I will well and truly be ready to change tack onto other destinations… Barcelona awaits.
… I decided, in classic anal-retentive style, to go back through all the posts I had imported from my Posterous blog and to apply categorisation to them. For some reason, WordPress saw fit to re-publish all of these to the RSS feed as if they were brand new. So my apologies if I seem to have spammed your feed reader of choice. Won’t happen again. I hope.
My last trip report had us heading north up the coast for a bit of seaside relaxation. After this, we cheated a little bit and hopped on a plane up to Hội An, a ridiculously charming (and deservedly touristic) French colonial town about halfway up the coast towards Hanoi.
We had approached Hoi An with caution due to its reputation as a tourist trap, but we were in luck as it was Reunification Day holiday weekeend, which meant that the sheer numbers of Vietnamese tourists meant that we didn’t feel like Hội An was some sort of theme park for Western tourists. We had a blast in our three days there, and managed to hook up with some friends who were heading in the other direction.
Hội An is a small town, easily walkable, with a charmingly down-at-heel look about it (my folks would have called it “elegantly shabby”). It was generally a friendly town, with a great deal going for it on the food scene, and a lot of history to trawl through. There was also a great central food market. We had day trips out to the Cham temple ruins in My Son as well as some very scenic beaches and outlying villages surrounded by rice paddies.
As it happened I found Hội An extremely photogenic and came away with over 700 photos of the place. Clearly I will not be subjecting anyone to the full 700, but I still uploaded a bulging set of 50 of my favourite Hội An shots to Flickr. I present a selection of my favourites below but I highly recommend a browse of the other photos over on Flickr.
Next time around: The imperial city of Hue. Then onwards to Hanoi, Sapa and Ha Long Bay…