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Hoi An Vietnam

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Hoi An Vietnam 169

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Of all the cities we visited in Vietnam, I felt the best about Hoi An, a delightful seaside village that has become one of Vietnam’s most popular travel destinations after the designation of the old town portion of Hoi An as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our hotel was across from the river and had free bikes so we rode to the beach and around the city, and also toured some of the historic homes of Hoi An. Although the presence of a LOT of foreign folks distracts a bit from the notion you are truly immersed in the culture, Hoi An’s charm more than compensates for that challenge.

Halong Bay Boat Sinks

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This is a ship much like the one that just sunk on Halong Bay, killing twelve. We were on a very similar vessell just a few days ago during our visit, sleeping out on the magnificent calm sea. Although our ship seemed “safe enough” we’ve been noting how relaxed the standards are here compared to the USA, and it seems likely the recent accident was caused at least in part due to these lower safety standards. (though the cause remains unclear at this time – I think a broken part on the ship).

Unlike the USA where some might argue that safety standards are generally too high, creating unneeded costs and barriers to economically optimal situations, in Vietnam the standards could be improved both in terms of safety and infrastructure, creating a more viable tourism industry.

www.heraldsun.com.au/ipad/dead-halong-bay-boat-accident/s…

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Caves 103

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Another great travel experience here in Vietnam on rickety old boats that take you down the river and into a spectacular cave system at Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. My enthusiasm is tempered a bit by today’s news that one of the junks that sail Halong Bay – a ship very much like the one we were on earlier in the week – sunk yesterday, drowning twelve people. This should probably send a strong signal to Vietnam tourism that the standards for tourist services need to be raised somewhat. We’ve found that the hotels are often spotless and superb even as the infrastructure such as roads and tourist services like public rest rooms in prominent placees can be very challenging.

Hanoi Vietnam – Imperial Citadel UNESCO World Heritage Site

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We are LIVE now from Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Coffee here below the flag tower in central Hanoi.

The Hanoi Imperial Citadel is basically the “Forbidden City” of early Vietnam, where the early Emperors ruled their roost with an iron fist. See Wiki link below for more…

As a child of the 1960’s America, it feels strange to be hangin’ in Hanoi, and frankly the folks here don’t feel nearly as welcoming as in the south. Here, smiles seem to be replaced by pitches for little services or scams or paid photos (where before people seemed happy to be photographed). I’m missing the smiles of the south but not the noise and bustle.

The streets of Hanoi are cleaner and things seem somewhat more orderly here. Drivers are fewer but more aggressive.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1328

Halong Bay Cave, Vietnam

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Halong Bay’s amazing karsts sometimes have caves, the largest of which we visited yesterday after waking to the splendor of wooden boats all over the bay. This is one of several large rooms of —- cave name to follow later —-

I think I overheard an English speaking guide explain how this cave had some military significance some time ago as a hiding place, but not clear on that as our tour was … in Vietnamese …..

Changing Money in Vietnam

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Without more experience I cannot say this for sure, but I think the advice of most guidebooks and “normal” currency exchange rules for experienced travelers – e.g. use trusted ATMs, are WRONG in Vietnam.

Best approach is to bring US cash and then head to a jewelery store and trade at what will be a much higher rate than the “official” rate used by banks, Western Union, and a somewhat higher rate than if you just pay in US which is easy at many venues, even with street vendors.

During our trip in Feb 2011 the jewelery store rate is 21,300 VND to 1 USD vs 20,000 at most shops, restaurants and 19,500-20,030 at official exchange places.   Even at 20,000 you are getting hit with a 5+% penalty for not changing at jewelery stores and at 19,500 almost 10% – that’s a free 100 in VND for every 1000 you spend here!

Sa Dec, Vietnam

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Sa Dec, Vietnam

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

The Sa Dec market was one of the great experiences of the trip to date. Here, you walk through dozens of small vendors selling everything from eel to snails to coconut milk, from pork to papaya and many vegetables not at all common in the US. One of my favorites is a huge grapefruit like fruit – about 3x the normal size we’d have in the USA. It peels and pulls apart easily and is often served with a peppery spice dip.

Little BBQ chef, Sa Dec, Vietnam

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Sa Dec, Vietnam

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

The kids in Vietnam are really nice – many will wave or say “hello” as we walk by. Americans seem somthing of an oddity even here in Ho Chi Minh City and very much so in Sa Dec, a city of about 100,000 (a small town in Vietnam) that is located along the Mekong River just up from the more famous areas in the Mekong Delta.

Here, a young chef learns the trade in the family BBQ restaurant. Streetside grilling is common here where the sidewalks serve more as venues for business and scooter parking than for walking, which is done .. in the busy street as hundreds of scooters swoosh by.

Vung Tao Fisherman, Vietnam 044

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Vung Tao Fisherman, Vietnam 044

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Vung Tao is a popular harbor and beach resort area about 100k from Saigon. The trip was by Russian made hydrofoil and took about an hour and 15 minutes via the Saigon River which spills into the South China Sea at Vung Tao. Here, about 100 hotels – many big fancy resorts – cater to Vietnamese city folks escaping the heat and commotion.

We enjoyed a nice seafood lunch here including giant “shrimp” which tasted like lobster but were served with the common peppery salty lime sauce on the side. At $10 per mega shrimp this was the most expensive thing we’ve eaten and although it was tasty my rule of inverse food cost continues – the most delicious food has been the least expensive. Favorites after ten days: Lao Bo in Sa Dec, street Pho and street pork in Saigon.

Vung Tao Crabbers, Vietnam

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Vung Tao Crabbers, Vietnam

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

Vung Tao is a popular beach resort area about 100k from Saigon, usually via a Russian made hydrofoil boat you take from downtown Saigon up the river. The area’s popularity is waning in favor of the newer beach resort areas Nha Trang, Mui Ne, and others, but Vung Tao’s proximity to Ho Chi Minh City keeps it hopping, especially on the weekends. I think this is kind of the “Atlantic CIty” of Vietnam

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