Glover's ongoing report 2 mos. In sea

Old Feb 23rd, 2011, 11:47 PM
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Next day  was devoted to finding husband's Camp site  during Viet Nam war.  We had a driver and guide so drove first to Quang Tri, which was basically obliterated during the war.  Nothing grew for years because of napalm,etc.   A new town is growing there now, but it is mostly a town of cemeteries.  Very sad.  H's camp was right at the mouth of the Qua Viet river on South China sea.   Not much there then or now, but it was an interesting experience.   Out driver had been in the army of the south, and he was quite interested in seeing the couple pictures h had of the camp from 40 years ago.   Talking to some local people, driver did a great job of getting us right to the spot on the beach where the camp had been.  Then we ended up running into a woman who grew up 
There, was 13 at the time, and remembered it all.  She too was interested in seeing the old pics and had a bit of conversation with h with our driver translating.   Our local English speaking guide (about 35) said "we younger people here hear a  lot about the wAr, but we really don't know what to think about it.".  He asked h why the US entered the War.   After we left Qua Viet we drove another couple hours to Khe Sanh, site of very bloody battle for both sides.  There's a little museum there and a couple US helicopters.  We stopped on the way back at a very basic local restaurant.   Only other customers were some locals who'd arrived in a van.  Guide explained that the van was used to transport remains of Vietnamese soldiers still being sought in the Area.   Two of the women led a spirited clapping song at the table.   When I asked the guide about the song, he said it was "a popular war song.".  Turned out that the woman's brother's remains had finally been locAted, even more important to those who believe in reincarnAtion.   MIA for 40 years!  Was interesting to read visitors comments in the book at Khe Sanh museum.   Most said the same thing, what a waste, never again, never forget,  etc.     And yet. . .  

Next day we visited 3 beautiful, ornate royal mausoleums from vn's last emperors, 1800s And early 1900s.   Just hired a driver through our hotel tour desk.   Viet Nam is slowly working on these treasures and beginning to take conservation and restoration seriously fortunately - with support from others- Korea, Germany, Canada all got credit on signs. . .   

Try, but fail, to find a Mediterraneo restaurant in Hue.  Believe Kristina on fodors had mentioned eating in one here in her blog.   Alas it seems to be defunct.  No locals have heard of it and it's not at the listed address.  Telephone numbers don't work.  Naturally I had set my heart on their salad and pizza.   Instead we had a substitute pizza at Missy Roo.  Not too bad.   We also ate twice at Confetti restaurant, quite near our hotel.   Good vn food, nice atmosphere.   And two late afternoons after returning from day trips we had great pho at our hotel, really hit the spot on those cool,misty days.

Picked up next am at 8 or so by Tonkin arranged new driver and guide.   We had asked to stop at Bach Ma National park on our way to Hai Van pass and on to Hoi An.  There was always some question about how much of the area we could see, as the road to the top of the mountain is always under construction and never being completed. Sadly it turned out that we could not even walk up the road, Wuxi we had thought might be possible, but that was forbidden as well
So we looked around in the fairly nice visitor center at pictures of birds and other wildlife we might have seen.   On to Hoi Van pass.
Was nice driving a long the coast a bit and taking the high winding mountain road.  But our views were pretty limited by foggy weather.
Told h that I may be cured of any fear of driving windy mountain roads in fog after surviving Many on this trip.   

We were amazed at the development on China beach around da Nang. So many huge condo projects,  gold courses.  Most everything empty. Who will buy these?  

We're delivered to a nice little restaurant on the river in Hoi An for an included set menu lunch.  Have already forgotten its details but it was all quite tasty.  Then on to check in at our hotel, Thien Thanh, about a 10 minute walk to the old quarter. Hotel is small and charmng.  We're delighted to have a 3rd floor room in back with balcony overlooking a water spinach field.  And. . .  Wonder or wonders . . .  The sun comes out!!  Yay!  We haven't seen it for about 10 days.   We're so comfortable on our balcony basking in sun checking out birds - two more new kingfishers - that we while away rest of afternoon right there.  Later stroll down into the old part. Try to have dinner at Morning Glory, but they're booked.  Eventually fall into Casa Verde on riverfront.   Lovely small spot with nice view of river and people.  Have a great salad and red snapper.  Nice chat with Canadian couple at next table.  Chef comes round for chat.  

Great weather continues into next day, my birthday.  We have already booked cooking class at Red Bridge cooking school.  Meet at Hai Cafe in town at 8:30.  In groups of 4 or so we 20 or so assembled go off to Hoi an market.  Our guide is su, and we enjoy her.  We stop to look at and hear about various fruits, veggies, and fish, some are familiar to us, others not.  Then we get on a boat for the half hour ride on the river to the school.  All are talking about the earthquake in NZ, as one couple in our group lives in the epicenter.   They've established that all friends and family are safe, but no one is even allowed to check on their house.   They manage to stay upbeat nonetheless.   The school facility is great and the teacher chef was a hoot.  We really enjoyed the whole experience.   Mostly demo and a little bit of hands on practice.  (we definitely failed at decorated vegetables).  Made rice papers.  Great eggplant on clay pot.  Left with some good recipes and tips.   Enjoyed the other students in our group, too.  In afternoon h goes off for massage and I hit the town for shopping.   Wander in and out of numerous shops and a few of the old Chinese meeting halls.  Enjoy checking out the Yaly tailoring place.  Only thing I could imagine having made would be the ever elusive "perfect pair of black pants.".  But since I didn't much like the feel of any of the wool products available, they would have just added to my ever growing collection of "good enough" black pants.

Return to hotel and collect husband.  Back to town for dinner at ""secret garden.".  Indeed a beautiful setting.   And it's a good thing cause we were there a looonnnggggg time.  When we arrived at 7 we were almost alone.   But shortly after that lots of folks arrived.  Restaurant was also finishing up it's cooking class.  Restaurant was about 80 percent full, but more than available staff, perhaps kitchen, could handle.   So service, for most, was pretty terrible last night, though food, when it finally arrived was great.   We weren't in any hurry anyway, so we weren't unhappy.   Had 3 drinks each and enjoyed the music.  Classical guitar and a female singer who sang some Vietnamese songs.   

Another sunny day!!!  Nice breakfast on hotel's lovely deck overlooking water spinach fields.  We're again collected by our same guide fro two days ago and new driver.   Guide seems distracted, minimally interested today.  Oh well.   We go to ruins at My Son.   Nice hour drive out there, past some wetlands (more kingfishers).  Beautiful tree lined road into site.   Fair number of other visitors there by 9:30.   As usual going earlier would be better.   Try to imagine whAt site must have looked like before we bombed it.  Fortunately all that info is at Cham museum. I guess, so we can enjoy exploring the ruins without reading about the war for a time.   Will have to do some Internet research, as we didn't go to the museum.   When we arrived at the site a performance of ancient dance and music was in progress.  
Twice daily performances it seems.   Stayed an hour and a half or so and were back at hotel by 1.   Had slow lunch on our hotel deck again enjoying sun and view of fields.   Morning Glory for dinner tonight.   
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Old Feb 24th, 2011, 04:01 AM
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I have only 2.5-3 hours to visit the tombs. Which 3 did you visit? In case we have time to visit only 2. which 2 would you recommend?
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Old Feb 24th, 2011, 05:42 AM
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Shelley, we visited Tu Duc, Minh Mang, and Khai Dinh tombs. Of the three, I liked Khai Dinh best, smaller with greater immediate impact and amazingly ornate. The other two are lovely too, but more spread out and park like settings with moats etc. Most people seem to like Minh Mang best of all three.
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Old Mar 4th, 2011, 12:48 PM
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OK, finishing up our two month trip report, as we returned home to DC yesterday. .

Continuing report from Hoi An. It was a good dinner at Morning Glory. We'd made a reservation when we arrived the night before without one and were sol. So reservation is recommended. The place is busy! Food was great and ditto service.

Based on a chat we had with some other folks staying at our hotel, we decided we'd rent a couple bicycles and ride out to the nearby local beach. So for $2 at the place right next to our hotel we rented two rickety 1 speeds with handle breaks and cable/key lock. Easy ride out of town and then onto lovely two lane road, rice fields on both sides. Not much traffic on the road fortunately. Ride probably wasn't more than 3 km. Never did see a name for this beach, but believe it to be the closest one to town, smaller and quieter than a bigger one a little further on ("the one where many foreigners go" per our hotel clerk). It was just a wonderful spot we thought. There are maybe a half dozen small beach front restaurants there, each of which controls its own parking lot and perhaps a dozen nice wooden lounge chairs under thatched umbrellas. We paid about another $2 to park our two bikes and then found chairs at the farthest location to the right (just chose that one based on our new friends advice, who showed up shortly thereafter). Weather was perfect for the beach, though I wimped out of diving into the water. Water temp didn't actually seem that bad. Wiled away most of the day there, with a great cheap seafood lunch at the restaurant, people watching, and chatting with new friends. A couple young women selling jewelry on the beach, but not much high pressure. . We loved this experience, and highly recommend for a nice day just outside Hoi An. .
That eve we went to dinner with same new friends at their fav Hoi An restaurant, Cafe 43. This little family operated outdoor restaurant was near our hotel (in the opposite direction from the town center). Very friendly place with great local food at ridiculously low prices. They serve "fresh" beer for 15 cents (yes, that's not a typo) a draft. We had 4 beers and about 6 dishes between us for something like $20. Great fun. A nice ending to our Hoi An visit.

Next day we spent a leisurely am lingering on the deck over breakfast and coffee (did I say great coffee here?), packing, checking out some more birds. H went for yet another last minute massage).

Our Tonkin driver came for us right on time to deliver us to the airport for our afternoon flight to Hanoi. Yet another flight that went off without a hitch (the travel gods definitely smiled on us this trip or perhaps it was all those temple offerings . . . )

Checked by in at our Hanoi home (the Hanoi Imperial). This time we have a smaller corner room on the 4th floor. We've grown to really like the place. Clean as a whistle, super nice bed, big rooms. .. . helpful staff.

Chill in the room until dinner time when we go for our final Hanoi dinner at Mediterraneo. We've been eating lots of VN food, which we enjoy lots, but feel no compunction to eat it for every meal while in country. And we love this little Italian restaurant. Have nice chat with the owner, a charming fellow, re not being able to find the sister restaurant in Hue. He says it closed in June, frequent power outages being the final straw for him. Said Hue was "going down" whatever that means ... .

Next day have communist breakfast at hotel and then are picked up right on time by a Tonkin driver who delivers us back to airport for our flight to Hong Kong. Hanoi airport is a mob scene. It's Sunday. We make a new Chinese friend who says he's never seen it this bad. We're flying the only flight to HK that day . .. could have something to do with it. We arrived two hours early and were finally checked in with about 20 minutes to spare before departure time . .

Otherwise flight was uneventful. HK airport on the other hand was fabulous. Everything incredibly well signed, efficient, easy to get around. We took the nice airport express train into town (23? minutes) about $20 for both of us. Drops us in Central. Tourist info rep takes a look at our light luggage (a shoulder bag and a small softside carryon each) and says we could probably walk it to our Bishop Lei Hotel, since most of the walk will be on the Midlevels escalators. We decide to give it a try and manage to do it thanks to a little direction from a nice young woman who stopped to help us when we looked at our map. Have to admit though that those little suitcases got a bit heavy. .

Enjoyed the escalator scene and staying up there in the Midlevels (Robinson Road). It was my first visit to HK. H had been there once decades ago. We chose Bishop Lei based on fodors recs. I'm just psychologically opposed to spending more than $200 a night on lodging. So at Bishop Lei we had a grande harbour view room for $950 HK. Had hoped for higher floor though. They gave us 7th. So our harbor view was just a piece of the harbor between two high rises. It was a great urban view though. I asked if higher floor was possible and was told "this is the highest nonsmoking room available." Decided not to press the issue. Room was small, but obviously recently redone, and efficiently laid out. Free wifi in room. Small new bath with shower only (great pressure and hot water). Free English newspaper. Breakfast not included, so we never actually ate at Hotel restaurant. As other reviews have said the desk staff doesn't smile and provides good enough help when asked. Would definitely stay here again. We thought it great fun to be up there just above Soho. Looked like a hip happenin place for young professionals. Robinson Road itself is lined with high rise apt buildings and real estate offices.

As it,s late afternoon by now, we walk over to the nearby zoo and botanical gardens. Lovely spot. Have a nice dinner that eve at Bistro Bamboo, one of the many restaurants located just off the Midlevel escalator in Soho.
It's a Sichuan restaurant. Food was great, price pretty reasonable for HK and service was great.

Next am we hit Starbucks nearby for coffee and minor breakfast. Spend a lot of the morning in Hong Kong park, at, where else, the aviary. Really nice. We have plans to do our own walking tour of central, but it's such a beautiful day, we decide to scrap those and do the Star Ferry and Peak tram while the seeing is good. Walk down to ferry and hop on. Stroll promenade in Kowloon. Stop at tourist info booth and pick up HK walking brochures recommended by Cicerone here. Ask them for lunch rec for good Chinese. They send us to the Serenade restaurant on the promenade. Food was good here, service lousy, price $$$$. It's a huge place. Fancier than we needed for the time. . sorry we didn't get dim sum which looked like maybe the best way to go there.

Ferry back to island where we discover that the Peak Tram service is "suspended until further notice." So we took escalators back up to the hotel, picked up jackets and binoculars and got taxi to the peak. Spent 5 pm to 8:30 up there. Just wonderful! Enjoyed both day time and night time views. Perhaps just a tad hazy, but basically pretty clear, we felt lucky. We see that they are doing some work on the tram tracks. Walk around the peak trail a bit. Check out birds. Decide to stay up there for dinner so we can catch night time view too. Choose the Peak Bar and Grill (think that was its name). Had a great little steak and salad.
Paid the $3 or whatever to go up the mall escalators to the roof view, even better! Taxi back down. Have a drink at McSorley's pub in Soho.

Next day we do the Hollywood Road area, checking out shoppes and markets etc there and then walk to Wan Chai and schmooshed around there. Had in mind to eat at one of two Chinese places there that were on Cicerone's great list - Fook Lam Moon or American Peking. Fook Lam Moon rejects us as they're fully booked with big party. So we do American Peking instead, brightly lit old place. Couldn't figure out how the 2 of us could do Peking duck, since it seemed only to be available by the whole (large) duck. So I got a similar duck dish and h got a quite tasty beef dish. Also had hot and sour soup. Food was very good, service was super efficient and serious. Place is obviously quite popular because it filled up quickly after we got there, very few Westerners, so it was a fun cultural experience too.

Thought we might cab it back to hotel, but the weather was fine and we decided we needed to walk off dinner, so we walked (and escalated) all the way back to hotel. H did amazingly well getting us around. (he's in charge of money and navigation on our travels, I'm in charge of preplanning research, restaurants and lodging). Though I must admit that, after trailing behind him for two months, I hope I've not forgotten how to make my own way in the world.

Next day we wandered down to the Flying Pan (another Cicerone rec) for breakfast. Also just off the escalator. Great breakfast spot. All the standard western breakfast characters, giant portions, bottomless coffee, and reasonable prices. Couldn't have been better for our purposes. Then walked down to Central to catch #6 bus to Stanley. Fun bus ride on top level to back of island. Enjoyed the view (though not as great as our first day) on the way over, fancy real estate, etc. Schmoozed the Stanley market. H bought a pair of sunglasses, I bought 10 wine bottle bags. Are we the last of the big shoppers or what? Nothing unique there. Had nice lunch at Boat House in Stanley (thanks, Cicerone). Bus back and back up the escalators to hotel. H goes for yet ANOTHER massage. I think about hitting Hollywood road etc for some last minute shopping, but then get lazy and hang at hotel. When h returns we eventually decide to just wander back down to Elgin Street and pick a spot to eat. We settle on Cantina Cecconi there and have a great meal. I have wonderful risotto and he has great lasagna, nice salads. Not outrageously expensive by HK standards. Fun people watching. Hip young professional couples - all of whom seem to speak both Chinese and English well. (though, true, I can't vouch for the quality of their Chinese). We assume that these are the people who will be in charge of the world.

Up early the next am. Skip breakfast, take hotel free shuttle down to Airport Express in Central for train to airport. Have decent airport breakfast. Focus on enjoying every aspect of business class service back home (our first and probably our last, as we were using the last of ff miles)
What a contrast to those terrible United econ seats on the way over. Not that we sleep, of course. But still. Soooo much more comfortable. Interesting to see how much more booze is consumed when it's free . .

Some summary notes:

We both agreed it was a fabulous trip. We feel like we really saw and experienced a great deal - ruins, temples, rainforest/nature, local beach, a nice variety. We couldn't believe how well it all played out. So many flights, so many hotels, yet they all went off without a hitch. We made all the arrangements ourselves, except those in Viet Nam, which we had Tonkin Travel do. Tonkin was great! Couldn't have done it as well without help from Fodors community! Thanks, esp to Bob, cicerone, Kathie, and many others I've forgotten I'm sure for so much good advice. ..

We agreed that it was "broadening." Many places in SE Asia were more sophisticated than we had ever imagined. Yet it was just fun to see how life is lived in someplace like Hanoi, for example, where we spent a fair amount of time. Roosters in the street next to our Old Quarter hotel, people exercising by the lake, 3.5 million motorbikes vying for space. Hip young professional couples in Hong Kong. Humbling too. Next to no one we talked to locally recognized "Washington, DC." I don't know why but I expected the US capital to register with more folks. Most locals expected us to be from Australia or Europe (closer). Once we said US, they usually said "California?" Though a few Indonesians did say "oh, Obama."

It strikes us as funny that many of our friends and acquaintances think of us as "adventurous." Yet when we travel we always meet people who are on much longer and much more adventurous trips than ours. Many young backpackers of course, but also other retirees like us. .

While we were gone all that time, we also did a great non-simultaneous houseswap that worked out really well. So we had some great housesitters and will be taking advantage of their NYC co-op later this year . .

We traveled with both an Ipad and a Kindle this time. It was great to have both, esp the Ipad. Everywhere we stayed offered Wifi, mostly in the room. And the only place I remember being charged for it was the Intercontinental in Singapore. Of course, it's speed/strength varied . And whether or not one should spend any time on line on vacation is another whole discussion. It's always so easy to burn up time there. . . Ultimately some sort of still tinier smart phone device would be best. Ideal for, say, carrying around while following directions for one of cicerone's walks in HK. . . (which, sadly, we didn't have enough time to do, they sounded so great).
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