Monthly Archives: June 2017

Danang, Vietnam–A Brief Eulogy for Honey Bee

Good old Honey Bee.  You weren’t the fastest or the newest or the prettiest scooter in Danang.  You weren’t even the smoothest ride and your suspension was pretty much shot.  You were however our first scooter.  You had a descent storage compartment under your seat and I could always seem to locate you in a crowded parking lot.

Our three-month lease has expired and it’s time we move on to something a little newer that doesn’t stall when we’re heading into oncoming traffic.  (Surprise!)  But don’t feel bad.  You’re not used to carrying so much weight around, and you are in your golden years, after all.  We will always have a special place for you in our hearts and in our memory of Danang.  Take care, our bumbling Honey Bee.  And thank you.

 

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Huế, Vietnam–Imperial City, Here We Come

The drive from Da Nang to Huế takes about four hours if you opt for the more scenic route of Hải Vân Pass, which we did.  It was a very pleasant drive, although we were happy to reach our hotel and stretch our legs.  Ryan chose the Charming Hotel for our one night stay and I was very happy with the accommodations.  We were each given a freshly made banana smoothie when we checked in and the scrumptious crepes we enjoyed the following morning were included in the cost of our room.  We even had fancy towels and all for $13.16 USD!

We spent the afternoon and evening exploring the city by foot and trying some of the local food.  Even the more standard Vietnamese dishes are a little different everywhere you go and we found this to be the case in Huế as well.  My go-to bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with pork) was accompanied by an interesting peanut sauce, rather than the expected fish sauce we’ve grown accustomed to in Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.  Bún bò Huế is a popular Vietnamese soup that can easily be found throughout the country so we were sure to try some when we were actually in the city of its origin.  We also tried bún hen (baby clam with rice noodles).  There was a little too much going on in this dish for me, but Ryan enjoyed it.

bún thịt nướng

Perfume River

Bún bò Huế

bún hen

Huế is the former capital of Vietnam and is now a World Heritage Site.  It has a population of roughly 350,000 people.  One of its major attractions is the grand, crumbling Citadel surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls.  The Citadel was built in the 19th century between 1804 and 1833.  According to Wikipedia, a total of 13 Nguyễn emperors lived in Huế between 1802 to 1945.  The Nguyễn dynasty was the last ruling family of Vietnam.

Inside the vast Citadel lies the Imperial Enclosure and the Purple Forbidden City, which we were very happy to explore the following morning.  These formed the epicenter of Vietnamese royal life for 143 years and it was interesting to imagine what their daily lives might have been like as we made our way around the grounds.  The sun was hot but luckily there were a lot of palaces and temples to wander in and out of, as long as we left our shoes outside.

I especially enjoyed finding a quiet shady corner in the formal royal garden.  This was a great place to just sit and relax.  There was not another soul to be seen, aside from Ryan.  We stayed here until we felt up to venturing back out into the morning heat.  We took our time and when we’d seen all we wanted to see, we said goodbye to the Citadel and returned to our scooter.  We had a four hour drive ahead of us that was sure to cool us off.  Thank you Huế for sharing your wonders!

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Vietnam–Hải Vân Pass

I’ve discovered a secret to surviving the radiating summertime heat of Southeast Asia.  It can be summed up in a single word: “Wheeeeeeee.”  While neither Ryan nor I have ever done especially well in the heat, I feel that we’ve adjusted better than we expected.  Sure, there are times when it’s not pretty–like the 15th of every month when we pay our utility bill–but from the back of a scooter with the breeze blowing in our faces, it’s more than tolerable, it’s pleasant!

Hải Vân Pass is by far the most scenic drive we’ve ever taken, and we’ve enjoyed it more than once.  We took the pass the most recent time on our way to Hue and it was absolutely wonderful!  I call this James Bond Bay.  I could have sworn I saw him down there…

When the weather is nice and the sky is clear, you can see forever.  The winding mountain journey of the Hải Vân Pass is approximately 21 kilometers long (or 13 miles) and reaches 496 meters in altitude.  Put in some tunes and take in the view of the South China Sea and some beautiful topical green terrain.

Driving the Hải Vân Pass is considered by many to be a must do while visiting Vietnam.  It was even featured in BBC’s Top Gear in 2008.  Presenters called it “One of the best coastal roads in the world.”  I can’t really speak to this, but it was certainly the best coastal drive I’ve experienced.  It took us a little over 4 hours to get to Hue from Danang and it was worth every minute.

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Hội An, Vietnam–Paper Lanterns

Hội An is a forty-five minute scooter ride from our apartment in Danang.  The road is somewhat busy but the breeze is pleasant.  The road is along the coast.  When the ocean is not blocked by a big resort or construction project, the views can be very nice. Hội An is a port city with a population of approximately 120,000 people.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved Vietnamese, French, Chinese, and Japanese architecture.  I’ve been to Hội An twice, although the experiences were somewhat different.

An Bang Beach, Hội An

An Bang Beach, Hội An

The first time we visited was during the heat of the day.  Before we’d even reached the city we had a friendly young couple zoom up next to us and casually visit with us all the way to the city center.  It was strange having an ongoing discussion with two strangers from the back of a moving scooter, but it seemed completely normal to them.  They were very interested in our plans and I kept waiting for them to pitch us something, but they only seemed interested in talking to us.

They showed us where to park which was helpful as this can often be confusing in a new place.  Just when I was beginning to feel guilty for being suspicious–I was even considering inviting them to join us for lunch–the woman pulled a business card out of her pocket.  She told me that her family owned a tailor shop and I should come and look at it.  It was right on the way.  It wouldn’t take long.  The quality of their clothing was excellent and the prices were very reasonable.  I could just look at what they had.  There would be no pressure to buy, etc.  By then we’d already been having a casual conversation for the past fifteen to twenty minutes and it felt awkward to not follow her to her family’s store, so we did.

Hội An is well know for it’s tailor-made clothing scene.  If you’re in the market for a nice suit or dress or coat custom made to fit your figure, Hội An is the place to be.  If you’re more interested in taking in the scenes and trying some of the food, then walking past the endless tailor shops can feel more like running a gauntlet.  At least that’s how it felt for me.  Everywhere we went there were friendly faces beckoning us to come into their family’s store, or sometimes to follow them there.  “What’s your name?  Where are you from?  What do you think of our city?”  If you chose to answer any of these questions then you’re already having a nice conversation and it feels rude to cut it short or refuse them a few more minutes of your time when the subject of commerce rolls around.  (It always did, by the way.)  The high-pressure sales situation was so distracting that it was hard for me to even notice the city’s interesting mix of french colonial, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese architecture.

We ended up doing a rushed once-over of the city center (which didn’t take long).  We decided not to purchase a ticket to enter Old Town and see the handful of buildings that aren’t shops.  Instead, we grabbed a banh mi from one of the eateries previously visited by Anthony Bourdain (Banh Mi Phuong) and jumped right back on that scooter.  “Get me out of here!” I told Ryan, and he did.  Promptly.

I wasn’t in a big hurry to go back after that, but we did a couple of months later.  This time we visited Hội An in the evening and I much preferred this city at night, all lit up with paper lanterns.  It was truly a beautiful sight.  While there were still high-pressure salesmen at work, this time trying to talk us into taking a romantic boat ride down the canal, at least I was more in the market for this service than the tailor-made clothing scene.  We let them talk us into taking a short boat ride.  We paid the elevated prices that were asked and for the most part, we enjoyed ourselves.  In conclusion, Hội An was not my favorite destination in Vietnam, but it was still worth the visit.

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