Hai Van pass

From Hoi An we hired a scooter and drove to Hue via the Hai Van mountain pass. We followed the route that top gear famously took for one of their show specials.

The views from the mountain pass and the nearby communications tower were fantastic and I loved driving up the wiggly mountain roads… but I couldn’t help thinking that it’s not a patch on the alps. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by our trips to the mountains in Europe in recent years.

The weather probably impacted my opinion. It was a grey day and unexpectedly wet so it was pretty chilly in shorts and t-shirt on the scooter. The weather got worse as the day progressed and we ended up diving the last 20km to Hue in driving rain.


Hoi An

Hoi An is a nice small city with a lot of Japanese and French influence. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.

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It’s the place to come if you want a suit too because there are tailors everywhere. I didn’t get a suit in the end but I decided to buy a tailored shirt with custom cuffs and collar made for me within a day. It’s my only shirt that fits perfectly, normally either the arms are too short or the chest is too big. I wish tailored shirts were this cheap back home, it only cost £20. The streets where the tailors were found had lanterns hanging across the street, which looked lovely day and night.

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Whilst in Hoi An we used the hotel bikes to explore the city and the nearby beaches. The food and the markets there were great. The markets weren’t too rambunctious so we bought some dragon fruit and some …..rambukans.

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It was also good to catch up with some familiar faces again, we’re met Fabian and Christina for drinks on one evening and found out that we would also be in Hanoi at the same time too.

Whilst in Hoi An we also made the most of the cheap Vietnamese massages (after my pre-historic workout 🙂 ). 20170226_120622

Blue starfish Mun

Today Beth and I boated full steam into the ocean for a snorkeling trip to Hon Mun, an uninhabited island off the coast of Nha Trang, passing floating fish farms on our way.

We had two snorkeling locations off the coast of Hon Hun, both with a variety of coral, crustaceans and fish including the vividly bright parrot fish, blue starfish and football sized urchins.

Beaching it up in Nha Trang

Three days in Ho Chi Minh City was enough… the humidity, traffic air pollution got the better of us. We took a cheap flight north to Nha Trang, a beach resort on the edge of a city. We spent the day chilling out on a beautiful white sandy beach, lined with palm trees and framed by mountains and rocky islands.

It was great to have a truly relaxing day with a spot of swimming for good measure, my only exercise for a few days. As the sun began to cool in the late afternoon the beach came alive with the locals (and a surprising number of Russians).

War remnants museum and the Chu Chi tunnels 

The war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City showed the chilling impacts of war, the American/Vietnamese war. It was surprisingly graphic too with photos of severed heads, sculls, dead bodies and torture victims. One photographer caught on camera a B52 bomber being hit mid air by an American anti-aircraft missile (blue on blue). The vertical tail plan was severed from the aircraft  only 50m or so from the ground.


American vehicles left in Vietnam after the war and now on display at the museum.

I was also surprised by the amount of military vehicles left in Vietnam by the Americans including bulldozers and a Chinook and the number of personnel in Vietnam at the time. At one point there were half a million American soldiers there.

It was shocking to see the destruction and the obliteration of the landscape caused by the bulldozers and chemical weapons. And there were several shocking quotes from Americans too about bombing the Vietnamese ‘back into stone age’. There are many examples of the Americans disgracing themselves during the Vietnamese/American war but the museum only showed one side of the story. It would be interesting to have a more balanced view on the war.

Here’s some lovely simple landing gear for those at work to get excited about 😛

We also took a trip to the Chu Chi tunnels, the underground tunnel network and home of the Vietnamese Communists (VC) during the war. On the way to the tunnels the guide told us some stories about life today. Today, to get into the police force the Vietnamese need to be at least the third generation VC and he liked to band around the following saying:

“Good VC, good CV!”

He was also keen to highlight the corruption:

“If you like money join the police, if you want big money, join politics.”

The ‘Democratic Republic of Vietnam’ is not so ‘Democratic’.

At the Chi chi tunnels we were shown some intriguing torture methods used by the VC. They were pretty brutal with the aim of maiming but not killing.


Some of the traps on display at the Chu Chi Tunnels

The VC were pretty resourceful, making sandals made from American tyre rubber. Also the women farmed rice at night to avoid the American soldiers.

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We had the opportunity to go though the tunnels but had to join a continuous stream of people and shuffle through doubled over (and these have been enlarged for tourists). The tunnels were hot but were ventilated, which made it bearable. Beth and I were OK for the first 10m but when the line stopped moving for 30s albeit, we quickly became claustrophobic and panicked a little internally so we were happy to leave the tunnel at the midway point of 15m.

The tour was ok but the tour guide was pretty poor and rushed us around the site telling us what to take photos of.

The Crazy Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is simply mad. The streets are buzzing  (on a Sunday night), packed with people bikes and neon lights. You could people watch for hours here! We tried Bun Cha for dinner, nettle and pork in a spicy broth which was very tasty and set us back a massive 30,000 dong …..£1!
Here’s the roof top garden (The View Garden) we went to for cocktails:

Here’s the green rice banana dessert we tried at Bun Cha:

I also have a few videos I need to put on Facebook.

Inle Lake

On paper, our hotel on the canal with the roof top terrace sounded blissful and relaxing. Hahaha, how wrong we were! We were awoken each morning by the sound of Hell’s Angels revving up past our hotel. The boat engines are terrifically noisy and chug from 4.30am till 5pm.
Whilst at Inle Lake, Beth and I took a bike tour on one day and a boat tour with Fabien and Christina from Zurich on the next day.
We saw the “famous” foot rowing fishermen, the long necked ladies and several cottage industries. The Myanmar people are very resourceful, using large areas of the lake as a floating tomato farm and growing lots of produce including pac choi, spring onion and peas between the waterways. Inle is actually pretty shallow throughout, a maximum of 6m deep in the centre and supports a host of vegetation and bird life. The swooping gulls didn’t seem put off by the Hell’s Angels of the water. We watched on fisherman catch three fish but the fishermen using the traditional methods didn’t have any luck…. I actually think they may have been there for show. In any case, they gave me a hunger for fish and I tucked into a fresh Inle fish in the evening at Sun Flower restaurant after cocktails at sunset on the roof top of Ostello Bello hostel.
The next day Beth and I explored Nuaung Shwe on foot, getting a feel for life at Inle Lake in the morning during our run seeing the farming community and walking in the afternoon sing the market men, boat men and some residential areas.
Back to Yangon on the night bus…. hopefully it will be on a coach this time! Next stop VIETNAM!

Kalaw to Inle Trek

The two day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake was only 36 km, taking 6hrs on day one and 4hrs on day two. We were taken through fields, many of which had the remnants of maze burned after the harvest but the soils were a rich rusty colour, full of iron but needing water. It was evident that the farmers were awaiting rainy season but despite this there was still ginger being harvested and red chillies being picked for the Indian market, they’re too hot for the locals!
Have you ever heard of the Burmese eating dog?!? No, it’s news to me too….but I’m so not sure whether the guide was winding us up or not. The dogs are starved for a few days and then fed uncooked spicy rice. Once the dog is flame grilled on the BBQ, the full meal is ready, fluffy spiced rice included! Thankfully it wasn’t on our menu for the trek, and there wasn’t any evidence of cooked canine…no doggy bags :-P. Beef was not on the menu either, surprising considering the number of cows around. In fact, the farmers spend so much time with them in the field that the cows are considered friends and family pets. The cute puppy dogs were blissfully unaware of their destiny.

Not for dinner

We made some good friends from Switzerland, London and Bristol on the trip and spent more time together once we reached Inle Lake. Funnily enough, Jennifer from Bristol also worked for Airbus, on behalf of Quest, before starting her travels last September. The trek ended with lunch at a hut on the side of the waterway before a rainy boat ride across the lake to our accommodation in Nyuang Shwe.