Go to the Holiday in Vietnam 2008 photo album if you want to see the pictures.
In July we visited Vietnam again. In 2001 it was the last time we (Sisi and Willem-Jan) had visited Vietnam and that was to bring Yeri, Sisi's son, to the Netherlands. Sisi had visited Vietnam in 2007 for 3 months to get medical treatment. So this time it was for all of us a family visit and a real holiday, the first one in years. Sisi had already left 2 months earlier, again for medical treatment.
A week before Yeri and I left we got bad news from Vietnam. Sisi had had another high blood pressure attack and was brought to the hospital in Dong Hoi. After a few days she was transferred to a better equipped hospital in Hue.
After a long flight and a stopover in Hong Kong we arrived in the early Friday morning (4 July) in Ho Chi Minh City where Sisi's nephew was waiting for us. He was about Yeri's age and they went along very well. Lan, Sisi's sister had booked us on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hué in the afternoon. Yeri and the nephew wanted to go into the city, so after changing some money a taxi brought us to the city. It was steaming hot and the traffic was really bad. Welcome to Vietnam!
After lunch in one the many shopping malls we went to a small bar where the boys played pool with some locals and I fell asleep. A few hours later we went back to the airport, said goodbye and took the flight, with some delay, to Hué. One hour later we arrived where Lan, her husband Hông, her son Viêt Dung and her niece Mai Phuong were already waiting for us. They drove us straight to the hospital to pick up Sisi. The doctor could not find anything that caused these high blood pressure attacks, just as they could not find anything in the Netherlands.
After dinner we took a van to Dong Hoi, where we arrived around midnight. But first the drivers and the family needed another midnight meal, before we finally arrived at Sisi's parent's house in Dai Trach commune, Bo Trach district, about 10 km outside of Dong Hoi, the capital city of Quang Binh province.
It felt good to be back after so many years. The house had an extra floor and my bedroom was now on the first floor and had a door I could close. This was much better than the bedroom downstairs where I had slept before. Sisi slept in different rooms, she could sleep everywhere.
On Sunday we (Mai Phuong, Yeri, Viêt Dung and Hông and Willem-Jan) went by car to visit the Phong Nha Caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. These caves are the largest and most beautiful caves of Vietnam.
Hai, Van's husband, was the first one in Sisi's family who could afford a car and the car was shared by the whole family. Hông drove us to the village of San Trach, about an hour's drive. From here we traveled by boat on the Chay river to the entrance of the first cave. There the boat took us another few hundred meters inside the cave. We left the boat and walked deeper into the cave, wondering at the massive and colorful limestone formations. After an hour we walked back to the boat, which took us outside the cave to the landing place from where we took the stairs up to the second cave in the hills that was open for visitors. It was a long and hot climb. About halfway we rested and Hông decided to stay behind, exhausted as he was from the climb sofar. So the four of us continued the climb and explored the second cave, which was just as beautiful as the one downstairs. On the way back we picked Hông up and the boat took us back to the village.
The next days were spent lazily around the house, visiting family and friends. In the afternoon I always went to Nhat Le beach in Dong Hoi. We went by car or by small motorbike. It was always a small group of family members that went to the beach. We went for a swim and I stayed on the beach reading a book and watching the people, while the others went to one of the many small restaurants that lined the beach for a beer and seafood. After a few hours we went back home for dinner and another day had passed.
In the first week of our holiday Sisi was having again a few attacks of high blood pressure. One night it was so bad that she was brought to the hospital in Dong Hoi. The next day I went to Dong Hoi and stayed at Van's place. They live near the hospital in a beautiful house, designed by Hai, who is an architect.
Van took care of me and I visited Sisi twice a day. It was a 30 minute walk to the Dong Hoi hospital, built in the 1980s and donated by the Cubans. Unfortunately they ran out of money so the hospital was never really finished.
Sisi spent the first days in a room with 3 beds, before she was brought to a larger room with eight beds. Every patient had someone who was looking after her or him. The hospital did not provide food or hospital clothing. They only supplied the beds, medication and the surveys. Everything else had to be done by yourself. If you had no family living nearby who could take care of you, you really had a problem. Although the hospital and the rooms were in a pretty bad shape, the patients dealt along quite well with everything. The nurses were pretty, some of them even walked on high heels! Sisi made friends with everyone in the room, sharing food, talking and keeping up the good spirits. Everyone liked to see me coming for a visit and wanted to know everything about me. Since I did not speak Vietnamese I let Sisi do the talking. Most of the time I just sat and read my book.
After some more days Sisi decided to leave the hospital, since the doctors again could not find anything. More paperwork was needed, which took a day, but finally she was out of the hospital again. We went back to her parent's house. Since she was feeling well again I did not want to stay here too long. I wanted to see some more of Vietnam, but our original plan of visiting the Mekong delta of Vietnam was fallen apart because of Sisi's illness. So it was again a visit to Hué where Van and her family would join us a few days later. Yeri stayed behind and would later travel to Nha Trang, together with Meo and grandfather.
We arrived in the early morning in Hué by train and a cyclo brought us to a hotel where Lan had stayed before when she was taking care of Sisi when she was in the hospital. The hotel was decent and even had satellite tv with a lot more channels then eight years ago. They even had a few American movie channels. I soon found out that most of the hotels had these satellite tv's. A lot had changed since our last visit.
Over the years we had visited many places in Hué, but a few places were still to be visited. The first one we visited was the Japanese Bridge, a small covered Japanese style bridge, 11 km outside Hué. It was a nice ride on a motorbike through the rice fields to the small village of Thanh Toan, where the bridge was located. It was a quiet place with not many visitors. We walked around for a while and after a drink we headed back to Hue.
The next morning we visited the Tomb of emperor Minh Mang, situated on the west bank of the Perfume river. It took us a while to find the exact place, but finally we found it. We walked around the site and visited the different buildings. It was a really nice place to be. We now had visited all the tombs around Hué.
That evening we visited a ceremony of saving the animals, organized by a buddhist community from Hué. The ceremony was held on a boat. Lots of people arrived and after boarding they were busy preparing diner and decorating a small ceremony table with food, fruits and flowers. A small group of women was preparing small baskets of paper, which would held little candles. Sisi and I were introduced to the head monks and Sisi talked with them for a while.
After one hour the boat left and sailed upon the Perfume River. Some people were changing into temple clothes and the ceremony began. Incense was burned and the head monk held a long speech, prayers were sung, accompanied by music from metal and wooden bells. It was getting dark and the candles inside the paper boxes were lit. The paper boxes were placed in the water and the fish, held in big boxes, were released into the river. It was an impressing sight to see hundreds of paper boxes, lit with the candles, drifting away in the dark night.
The boat returned back to Hué and dinner was served. Everybody was happy about the good deeds done this night and was having a good time. Back in Hué we said goodbye to these friendly people and went back to our hotel.
On the third day in Hué Van, Hai and Yen Ngoc arrived by car and booked a room in our hotel. In the afternoon we went to Thuan An beach for a swim and seafood. It was a very relaxing day. Too bad it rained like hell on the way back to the hotel.
The next morning we left Hué and took National Road 1A and 1 towards Da Nang. We passed through little villages and past ricefields where people were tending the fields. Just after Vung An Cu Lake we had to make the choice to take the Hai Van Pass over the mountains or take the Hai Van Tunnel. In 1995 I had cycled this beautiful mountain pass and I wanted to do it again, but now by car. Alas, Hai choosed to take the tunnel, the short and easy way. We passed Da Nang where I had met Sisi in 1995 in Lin's little restaurant. Somehow we missed the new road to Hoi An, so we took the old road, which was much nicer. In 1995 Sisi and I had driven this road by motorbike on a daytrip to Hoi An, but I could not remember anything of it. Finally we arrived in Hoi An. It took us more than an hour to find a good hotel which was not too expensive. It was located on the road leading to the beach and was lined with hotels, restautants and souvenir shops. Hoi An had definitely changed. It had become a real tourist trap, but it was still worth a visit.
Hoi AnHoi An is a very pictoresque village with lots of old houses, temples and Assembly Halls.
We stayed here 2 nights and visited the Assembly Halls of the Fujian and Hainan Chinese Congregation, walked through the little streets, took a boat trip on the Thu Bon river and spent a lazy afternoon at Cua Dai beach. We ate in small restaurants, only visited by the Vietnamese. Nice food and really cheap.
Van and Hai had only a few holidays, so they went back home. We said goodbye and maybe see you next year in the Netherlands. They wanted to visit us and see a bit of Europe before having another baby.
Since a few years nightbuses with sleeping beds drove through Vietnam, mainly used by tourists, but also by local Vietnamese. We decided to give it a try. The bus picked us at our hotel, a bit too early as agreed. So we were in a bit of a rush to pack everything for getting aboard the bus. The bus had three rows of beds lined up, with a bed below and one a top. The beds below were very uncomfortable, too warm and narrow, so I moved to a top one next to a window. We sure did not want to sit in the middle row. The beds were also not very large. The bus drove to other hotels in Hoi An to pick up more passengers and after waiting some time at a hotel left all of a sudden without Sisi, because she had left the bus for a sanitary stop. After a heavy discussion with the busdriver about waiting and leaving we finally left and headed for Nha Trang. Soon all the lights went out and on my question "why the lights went out so early and can we please have the lights switched back on" the busdriver got really angry with me and replied that this was sleeping bus! That really did it and we decided that this was the last time we would ever travel by those night buses. Better travel my train or normal bus!
Just before a midnight a rest stop was held in some small village, for the drivers to eat and for us to hang around, waiting for them to finish eating. After a sleepless night we arrived around 5 o'clock in the morning in Nha Trang. People were already up, doing exercises at the beaches we passed, or on their way to work. After another useless stop at the outskirts of the city we were finally dropped at a hotel in the center of Nha Trang.
Sisi called her brother Thao and together they went looking for a hotel. They found a good one near the beach. After unpacking we went to his house where we met his wife Huê and children Truong Quôc and Thu Huong. They made us breakfast and after some rest they drove us to the piece of land that Thao had bought for us the year before. It was in an area southwest of Nha Trang that still had to be developed. Thao had promised us that the land could be signed over in our name, but after asking the real estate agency it was still not possible for foreigners to own land in Vietnam. A bit disappointing, but the government was working on those laws, so we had to be patient.Our land was quite big, where only bushes and small trees grew. There were already a few houses, but no real roads. After wandering around for a while we went back to our hotel.
Sisi and I had visited Nha Trang for the first time in 1995, but like Hoi An, not much was familiar to us. That time in December it was cold and rainy, now it was hot and sunny and we saw a lot more hotels and motorbikes.
We stayed here 5 days and visited Long Son Pagoda, a really beautiful pagoda with a huge white Buddha statue at the top of the hill behind it. It had also a very good and cheap vegetarian restaurant.
I spent a few good hours at the magnificent Po Nagar Cham towers. In front of one of the towers a small dancing group gave a performance, accompanied by music players.
In the shadow of another tower a few families were having a ceremony with music, dancing and singing. A few women got in trance while dancing.
Mai Phuong, Yeri and Sisi's father arrived after a few days. Together we visited a new amusement park called Diamond Bay Resort, situated southwest of Nha Trang, that still was under development, but already showed signs of decline. A few attractions like a water attraction and caroussels were open, but nothing was very spectacular. After a lunch with good seafood we went to the beach for a look over the South China sea. It was already very hot, so we decided to go back to Nha Trang.
In the afternoons I always went to the beach, just a short walk from our hotel. One afternoon Thao and his family joined me at the beach. We had drinks and food and bought even more seafood.
This part was not very touristy and just fine for me. A few large hotels were built along the boulevard, but it was still on a small scale. I walked a few times to the southern part of the beach, where the main tourist places were, clubs, restaurants, hotels and so on. And I still did not like it that very much. I was lucky that I could stay with my Vietnamese family and that Sisi could speak the language. This way we could always stay in the less touristy places of a city where the hotels and restaurants were just as good and cheaper.
We were in our last days in Vietnam. Sisi and Mai Phuong went ahead to Saigon, by train. Sisi had to do some business in Saigon, clothes and visiting family and friends. Yeri, grandfather and I stayed a few days longer in Nha Trang, but after 2 days it was also our turn to say goodbye and leave for Saigon, where we arrived in the late afternoon.
Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City
Sisi picked us up from the train station. Yeri and grandfather spent the last days with family in Saigon, while Sisi and I stayed in a lousy hotel nearby, the worst one I had stayed in Vietnam over the years.
We spent the last afernoon visiting some friends that had helped Sisi a year earlier when she was under treatment by a doctor and bought some souvenirs on the way back to the hotel.
The next day Yeri's cousin accompanied us also to the airport. We said goodbye to him, Mai Phuong and grandfather and checked in for the flight to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we had some problems getting our boarding tickets to Amsterdam. In Saigon they had computerproblems, so the booking for the connecting flight was not possible. It took them more than 1 hour to book us on the flight to Amsterdam. We just made it in time and after a long flight we arrived in the early morning (2 August) safe in Amsterdam.
On the map you can see all the places we have visited.