My coastal journey begins in Dong Hoi at the Sun Spa Resort where the Son Doong Expedition found some much-needed R&R. A pool, spa, a comfortable bed, and some western food were most welcome I can tell you. I booked an extra night just to make sure I was rested for the final part of my journey down the coast which will include Quang Tri, Hue, Hoi An, Quy Nhon, and Nha Trang. Two nights will be spent in the highlands of Dalat before finishing up in Ho Chi Minh City.
QUANG TRI PROVINCE – Not much to be said for Quang Tri except that my four-star hotel was super cozy and stylish, and had good internet to get caught up with things. At half the cost of most Motel 6 rooms, I was very pleased. Not many restaurants nearby either so I resorted to room service a couple of times. I did take the opportunity to do the DMZ Tour which was something I wanted to do, and it spared me having to use up my time in Hue doing it.
The Rockpile – Vietnam War U.S. Observation Post
The Rockpile rises 700 feet above the surrounding terrain, and was accessible only by helicopter and used as an observation post during the Vietnam War from 1966-1969. Located just south of the DMZ, it was also used as an artillery base.
Khe Sahn Combat Base – Museum
I found the museum disturbing as the propaganda found within insinuated rather clearly that our troops were cowards during the shelling of the base during the Battle of Khe Sahn. I can handle it when they build up their own troops or decry the use of Agent Orange, but questioning the courage of our troops I found to be disrespectful of the men who lost their lives there.
Lasting 77 days, the Battle of Khe Sahn claimed 703 American and South Vietnamese lives with 10,000 to 15,000 Viet Cong killed. The base was abandoned and destroyed two months after the conflict ended.
Vinh Môc Tunnels – DMZ
Vinh Môc is a tunnel complex located in Quang Tri province. The U.S. Military believed that the villagers of Vinh Môc were supplying food and armaments to the North Vietnamese. Bombing campaigns designed to force the people to move elsewhere forced them underground instead. The tunnels were constructed using simple farming tools and were originally dug to 10 meters. Then the U.S. forces developed bombs that would go to 10 meters so the villagers dug to thirty meters. It was built in several stages from 1966 and utilized until 1972. About sixty families lived in the tunnels, and as many as seventeen children were born there. They were an incredible success since there were no casualties. There was only one direct hit, but the bomb failed to explode. The hole it made was eventually used as a ventilation shaft.
Family Rooms – On Sides Of Hallway
Cemetery Of 3,000 Unmarked Graves – 1/1000 of Total Killed In The War
Hue – A Sculpture Park Along The Perfume River
Thien Mu Pagoda – Hue
Built in 1601 by the order of the first Nguyen lords, this is the tallest religious building in Vietnam.
The Car Used By Thich Quang Duc Before Immolating Himself In Saigon In 1963
Who can forget the image of the Buddhist monk who set himself on fire at a Saigon intersection in 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists under South Vietnam’s Diem regime? John Kennedy said, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” This iconic vehicle that he drove to Saigon that fateful day is on display at the Thien Mu Pagoda. It is said that as he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure was in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
One Of The Many Moats Around The Citadel
Les Jardins de la Carambole – My Favorite Restaurant in Vietnam
Also very close to the Citadel, it is an ideal place to stop for lunch after touring the grounds for three hours or so. Owned by a Frenchman, this beautifully restored French Colonial edifice produces food as pleasing as its environment. If you’re in need of a good steak, their beef tenderloin in mushroom sauce can’t be beat.
Tu Doc Tomb
This tomb constructed between 1864 and 1867 is one of the most popular and beautiful of the royal mausoleums. Tu Duc’s tomb is not only one of the most beautiful works of the Nguyen dynasty, but it is also a collection of romantic vistas.
Khai Dinh Tomb
Minh Mang Tomb
Bunkers From The Vietnam War
The Japanese Bridge – Early 1600’s
Amazing French Pastry
A Special Free Meal From Our Hosts
Thap Doi – Twin Towers
Nhon Hoi Bridge – Longest Bridge In Vietnam
FISHING VILLAGE – NORTH 0F QUI NHON
After an eight-hour sleeper bus ride from Dalat, I’m back in Ho Chi Minh City where it all began. A lot wiser for my experiences so I needn’t worry about being caught unaware by a taxi looking to take me for a ride. Now I find myself with a moment to evaluate and reflect on my experiences in Vietnam.
I’ve read a number of blogs and comments by people who have visited, and they tend to fall into two camps. People who love Vietnam and people who hate Vietnam. I have had a tendency in the past to get very black and white about things, but when it comes to Vietnam it’s more complicated than that. There are things I dislike intensely about Vietnam, and there are things that I love about Vietnam. Like Nomadic Matt, who can’t get past the utter disrespect he experienced when dealing with unscrupulous people, I almost let the experiences cloud my opinion of the country. At one point I almost reached critical mass, but every time there were people or acts of kindness that kept me from falling into the I hate Vietnam category. I just couldn’t bring myself to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Strangely enough, upon my return to Saigon, I have encountered no issues with being ripped off or even taxi cab dishonesty which is rampant in Ho Chi Minh City. It is such a problem that my hotel has about 500 words dedicated to it on the flip side of the city map they hand out. In fact, when visiting Saigon or Hanoi, your hotel desk staff is your best defense against problems you might encounter. They can give you proper fares for specific taxi rides, and appropriate prices for souvenirs and street food.
I think a lot of the problem stems from the war, and old wounds that haven’t healed. The Vietnamese lost 3,000,000 people not to mention the wounded and countless people affected by agent orange and unexploded bombs. The young people are less inclined to negative behaviors toward tourists, and I think that can certainly be attributed to being born long after the war and its lingering effects. Getting scraped for the odd dollar here and there is not a big deal. It’s when people want to charge you 3-5 times what something is worth and then try to short-change you in the same transaction. This is when things get ugly. Unfortunately, there are many people who have no problem behaving this way even going to point of making fun of you to their friends while they are taking advantage of you.
The good news is that this sort of behavior tends to be centered around the big cities or major tourist areas. Get out into the county in places featured in my blog like Sapa, Phong Nha, and Dalat, and this sort of thing is virtually nonexistent. I am grateful to have seen the country from so many different angles. Vietnam has endured a lot through the years and is very much a work in progress. Trash is a major problem in Vietnam, but even the ubiquitous rubbish is being addressed in a few areas like Phong Nha Ke Bang national park, Nha Trang Beach, and areas of downtown Dalat which are kept spotless. I can only see this trend increasing as the government becomes aware that a beautiful Vietnam attracts more tourist dollars. I expect in time they will crack down on the dishonest taxi drivers as well. Everywhere I went on my way down the coast there was an amazing amount of building and public works projects going on in common areas. I can’t imagine the government investing all of this money to have it squandered by litter and an unscrupulous citizenry.
So, by all means, visit Vietnam, but go with your eyes open and prepared for the issues I have mentioned. Just don’t take any of it personally, ask for the price upfront, and be prepared to walk away from someone trying to rip you off.