The Fantastic Hoi An Temples of Central Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

A day spent visiting the Hoi An Temples are a day well spent in Central Vietnam

Buddhist influences are felt far and wide throughout Southeast Asia, but perhaps the most beautiful and unique are the Hoi An Temples. Thanks to a combination of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and even French architecture notes, the temples are a stunning part of Central Vietnam’s ancient capital.

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Hainan Assembly Hall

Hoi An, Vietnam
Fancy fresh durian or bananas? A lady seller in a rice hat poses in front of the Hainan Assembly Hall

SInce I’ve already written at length about Hoi An this post will stick primarily to the brilliant Hoi An Temples and their overall vibes, architecture and general design.  First up in the Ancient Town of Hoi An is the Hainan Assembly Hall. It was built in 1851 by the Chinese of Hainan to serve both the Hainan and Jialing communities. The story behind this temple is that it is in memorium of 108 Chinese merchants who were mistakenly killed when locals believed them to be pirates. These merchants were named deities by King Tu Duc, who donated the money in order to build it.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

Chua Phap Bao Pagoda

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Chua Phap Bao Pagoda is the only temple in this mini Hoi An – Vietnam Travel Guide – that is located outside of the Ancient Town. The well-kept modern pagoda (relatively speaking, that is) is named after its founder and the 34th Chaplain Lam Te Chanh. Three famous Buddha Images are located in the compound – Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha and Maitreya Bodhisattva – and it was completely renovated in the year 2000 by Thich Hanh Niem. It was originally built in 1981.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

Cantonese Assembly Hall/Quang Trieu Assembly Hall/Hoi Quan Quang Dong

Hoi An, Vietnam

Built in 1885 by Guangdong/Cantonese Chinese immigrants, the Cantonese Assembly Hall is one of Hoi An’s most famous temples. Filled with statues made of pottery and mythical characters from Chinese and Vietnamese lore, the Assembly Hall has so much to see. Some of the temple compound was actually built in China and transported to Hoi An. For a bit of history, the Hall used to be located on a wharf and it was a meeting point for local fishermen and merchants to buy/sell/exchange goods. Festivals are held at the Hall several times a year so make sure to plan your trip around the festivities if possible!

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

Trung Hoa Assembly Hall/Trung Tam Hoa Van Le Nghia

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An’s oldest assembly hall, built in 1741, is the Duong Thuong Assembly Hall. Built with money from local traders of the five Chinese counties of Fukien, Zhao Zhou, Canton, Hainan and Jiain. Filled with history, it has been dedicated to a number of different people along with soldiers killed in the “anti-Japanese Resistance War.” It was renamed the Trung Hoa Assembly Hall in 1928, served as a public school for the Chinese and then named the Le-Nghia School. Today is serves as a school for children of the diaspora and is dubbed the Truong Le Nghia. Fun fact: there was a stone stele called “Duong Thuong Rules” which stated the 10 principles for the Chinese immigrants to do business in Hoi An.

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Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall/Fujian Assembly Hall

Hoi An, Vietnam

I’ve already said that the Duong Thuong Assembly Hall is the oldest temple in Hoi An, however some argue that the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall was actually built in 1690 and is the oldest. Regardless, the large temple is not to be missed when visiting the Ancient Town of Hoi An. Also known as the Fujian Assembly for having been built to serve the Fujian Chinese community, it was sold to traders from Phuoc Kien after some damage from earthquakes and was restored around 1759.  The architecture of this temple is tremendous and its images and sculptures are some of the finest in the city.

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Quon Cong Temple

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Quon Cong Temple is another example of Chinese craftsmanship and architecture in the Hoi An Ancient Town. Named after a successful Chinese general and sometimes referred to as the Ong Pagoda, it has been reconstructed several times and also features major sculputres, perfectly-manicured bushes and trees, and several prominent Buddha Images.

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Tu Do Tham Quan

Hoi An, Vietnam
The entrance to the Tu Do Tham Quan from Tran Phu Road

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Tu Do Tham Quan is yet another example of brilliant architecture in Hoi An. The humble entranceway gives way to a quiet and peaceful courtyard with perfectly-manicured trees, clean paths and floors, and well-cared for statues and sculptures.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

I hope you all enjoyed the photo drop and breakdown of some of my favorite Hoi An Temples! Don’t forget to follow the links below to read more about the stunning Hoi An Ancient Town and the rest of my travels in Vietnam!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Exploring Authentic Hoi An, Vietnam

Japanese Covered Bridge

There are few pristine travel destinations left like Hoi An, Vietnam.

Brilliant architecture, perfect canals, clean coastline with immaculate sandy beaches and more history than you can shake a stick at make Hoi An, Vietnam, a gem of Southeast Asia.

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Hoi An, Vietnam

While modern cities like Ho Chi Minh City (and even more photos here) and Hanoi see a great leap forward in FDI, architecture and technology which is reshaping them to their very foundations, Vietnam’s ancient cities of Hue and Hoi An are still raising the flag so to speak of traditional Vietnamese culture and identity. Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a wonder of central Vietnam.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Crossing the Ho River into Hoi An from China Beach

Hoi An, Vietnam

And that’s just the view on the way in to Hoi An! The drive from Danang to Hoi An is a roughly 30-kilometer drive along the quiet and peaceful coastline. Spanning the length of My Khe Beach, the infamous stretch of sand used to be referred to as “China Beach” by American GI’s during the Vietnam War. It’s quite a weird thing, passing Danang, cruising past the Marble Mountains and heading inland towards Hoi An and imaging how different a sight this place must have been only 30-some years ago.

Hoi An, Vietnam
The famous Chinese Lanterns of Hoi An
Hoi An, Vietnam
French Colonial Architecture lines the Ancient Town of Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Iconic Japanese Covered Bridge of Hoi An

Hoi An has long been an international city and not to get too bogged down in history, but the Japanese community in town wanted to link up with the Chinese quarter therefore they began bridge-building over the natural canals. The first bridge built here was in the 1590s with updates and upkeep taking place frequently since then. Keeping faithful to the original Japanese design, during the French Indochina days they flattened out the roadway for cars and the bridge, especially its arched shape, was completely restored in 1986. It is now an icon of the city.

Hoi An, Vietnam
To make a local smile, ask in Vietnamese for the “Cau Nhat Ban”
Hoi An, Vietnam
“Lai Vien Kieu” = “A bridge for passengers by from afar”

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
The bridge’s “Pagoda” section, the Cau Chua Pagoda

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Streets and Local Vibe

After the Japanese Bridge, the streets are lined with cafes, restaurants, local shops and handmade goods stores. Primarily a tourist city, Chinese lanterns line the city streets and are available for purchase for tourists who want a trademark souvenir.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Handcrafted goods line the alleyways

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Expert craftsmanship, done the old way

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
The Cau An Hoi Bridge over the Thu Bon River

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Riverboats are always available for cruises up and down the canals

Hoi An, Vietnam

 

The Central Market

The busy little Central Market  is essentially a large food hall surrounded by small shops, tailors and restaurants. If you’re looking to save a bit of Dong vs. the rest of the city’s tourist spots, this is the place to go in the Ancient Town for a good local meal for a fair price. I recommend the Cau Lau or the Mi Quang, but my favorite is the fried beef with noodles.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Always busy and seemingly always open (officially at 6:30am)!

Keep checking the site for more on Hoi An, as the Temples and Assembly Halls are up next… and you don’t want to miss them!

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Capturing the Corpses, Lakes & Prisons of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Gorgeous lakes, Communist shrines, French-inspired colonial architecture and a sprawling modern city make Hanoi, Vietnam, a must-see city in Southeast Asia

From the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton to the brand-new buildings of downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital is alive with economic progress while maintaining strong ties to its roots.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi! The capital city of Vietnam is one of the most interesting places to visit in the country from a historical perspective – I mean there is the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison, the Soviet-Communist inspiration of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and of course, the French colonial architecture of the Old Town. But there is also massive economic progress being made as the communist ruling government embraces progress via foreign investment and capitalist principles.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The famous Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi, Vietnam

For most visitors to Hanoi, the first stop is usually the Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple. Open from dawn till dusk, the ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ is Hanoi’s most-visited temple and sits on a small island in the northern part the lake. The scarlet bridge is constructed in classical Vietnamese style and the temple itself is dedicated to a general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, the patron saint of physicians and a famous Vietnamese scholar. It’s free to enter which is great because I could spend that money on overpriced drinks that night at a rooftop bar overlooking the awesome cityscape of Hanoi. Check out the quick video below!

Hanoi, Vietnam

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WreNtO-kV1Q”]

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi, Vietnam

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sight to behold and entering the mausoleum is an unforgettable experience. Styled after Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, Russia, the Vietnamese version features a traditional sloping roof and imposing gray granite which looms over the Ba Dinh Square below. Strict rules upon entrance mean giving up your phones, cameras and electronic devices. The dress code is enforced at all times, meaning no shorts or skirts. Visitors enter in rows of two-by-two and the honor guard you pass on the way in is dressed in all white, pristine makeup and are meant to be intimidating. Upon entrance, silence is mandatory, no hands in pockets (a soldier actually grabbed my arm and put it by my side), no smoking, eating, drinking, photography or video is allowed. The body of Ho Chi Minh is on display in a very cool and air-conditioned central chamber and you are meant to walking rather quickly in a U-shape around the embalmed body.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese guards turn away all visitors in skirts and shorts
Hanoi, Vietnam
The expansive square is used often for military parades

 

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum has open hours usually from: Tuesday-Thursday 07:30 – 10:30; Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00. I recommend checking in with your hostel or hotel staff to the open hours on that day as schedule changes quite often and sometimes it is closed for maintenance.  After the mausoleum we headed next door to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum for a bit of history before heading on to the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is located next to the mausoleum

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam
Artifacts and trinkets from all around Vietnam are on display at the museum
Hanoi, Vietnam
A wax figure of Ho Chi Minh at his desk

 

The Infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original Maison Centrale gatehouse of Hoa Lo Prison

I’ve written before about how “History is written by the victors” using the famous Winston Churchill quote when discussing Vietnam and modern attitudes towards the War with America. In fairness I try to present both sides because, honestly, both sides’ arguments had merit and both sides’ actions were at times atrocious and inexcusable. The example I commonly use is this: dropping napalm (USA) vs. torturing and killing prisoners (Vietnamese). And that’s all I’ll touch on that.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

For a short history, the Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French during the Indochina Colonial days and was used mostly for incarcerating political prisoners. Known then as the Maison Centrale (Central House), the French’s cruelty towards those agitating for independence was notorious and well documented. Torture and execution were frequent occurrences and a guillotine still exists and is on display today at the museum. Such was the horror under the French that the locals dubbed the prison Hoa Lo, the fiery furnace or hell hole.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Most of the history on display at the Hoa Lo Prison concerns the inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners under French rule and praises the treatment given to the Americans under Vietnamese rule. When the French departed, the North Vietnamese assumed control of the prison and used it to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Known infamously as the Hanoi Hilton by the American prisoners in an ironic twist, the Vietnamese actually grew to “resent” the nickname as it went against the propaganda of how “humane” they treated the American prisoners. Again, a point of contention that both sides would dispute greatly but as always, I present both sides.

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Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
American Senator John McCain, in a rare photo, was one of the most high-profile prisoners held at the “Hanoi Hilton”

 

From the beginning, U.S. POWs endured miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary conditions. The “Hanoi Hilton” moniker was given sarcastically in a reference to the famous Hilton Hotel chain. Kids nowadays may be more familiar with the heiress to the Hilton fortune, Paris Hilton. Most of the POWs who were held at the prison were American pilots who were shot down during bombing raids. Straight from Wiki, “Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 which demanded “decent and humane treatment” of prisoners of war, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement.” Regarding treatment at Hỏa Lò and other prisons, Communists countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
One of the beds provided to captured American servicemen during the war

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original guillotine used by the French at the Hoa Lo Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original New Year’s greeting from Ho Chi Minh on display at the prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, has so much to see and do and I hope this post helped convince you to make the trip!

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Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

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Riding Motorbikes in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Meeting a friend from Israel in Vietnam? Time to take the bikes out for a proper ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is a top travel destination which draws tourists from all over the world to its lush limestone mountains which jut violently from the sea. What few realize is that a whole adventure waits for you just outside the city of Ha Long Bay itself.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam
#squadgoals

Of all the travel destinations I’ve wanted to see most in Southeast Asia, Halong Bay, Vietnam, was top of my list. World renowned for its brilliant karst limestone mountains which seem to impossibly rise out from the surrounding bay, I was more than thrilled by the sites but less impressed by the weather. July is hit-or-miss in Asia in terms of weather as the monsoon can be unforgiving. I hit a one-for-one with one day wet and rainy and the next nice and cool albeit quite gray with clouds.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’ve gone in-depth before on the Halong Bay itself however in this post I’ll focus on the surrounding area.  I met a good mate of mine from Israel who had been studying abroad in Hong Kong and he joined me along with two of his classmates, one from Germany and the other from Singapore. Taken aback by the sheer number of tourists descending upon the bay, we spent our second day renting motorbikes for 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $10 USD each for the day, quite expensive in Vietnam but expected for a tourist area like this) and by using Google Maps traveling throughout the countryside in a makeshift loop.

Our makeshift loop around Halong Bay
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Google Maps works in Vietnam… a welcome luxury after suffering through Myanmar with my basic Burmese
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The city of Halong Bay doesn’t have much to offer… but the countryside is another world altogether
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The powerful water buffalos of Southeast Asia are nothing to mess about with

The loop we chose was a large elliptical surrounding the outskirts of the city – past farmland, karst limestone mountains (the very same that dot the famous bay, just formed on land) and massive quarries which deplete the area of its natural beauty and resources, not too mention they brew up a nasty dust storm which makes biking through the area quite unpleasant. My sunglasses where even chipped by stones being kicked up by massive trucks moving huge piles of the stuff through the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Landscapes all day
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And the ‘progress’ which is destroying them
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The Bãi Cháy Bridge from the outer loop swampland

The landscapes surrounding the city are almost as stunning as the bay itself. Unfortunately they may not be around for long as economic exploitation of the region is shifting into high gear as Vietnam modernizes and raw materials are needed to build the massive buildings and structures already underway in places such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. But I digress… as we explored the countryside it slowly morphed into swampland but we were still able to visit a temple sat back behind the paved road via a sketchy dirt path.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Metal wires help mold the trees outside the temple into unique shapes

Beautiful lakes, well-paved roads (for the most part), pristine surroundings… if it weren’t for the development of these large-scale factories the areas around Halong Bay would be perfect for trekking and exploration. I will say that in the rainy season it would be quite difficult but well worth it. Anyways our loop took us from the southwest corner of the city all the way past bridges and towards Hanoi, then back up and around the northern tip of Halong Bay region and back along the coast south into the city.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Trying to chart our progress… OK I got us lost….
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And made it to the coast! The monsoon was setting in but with some lucky lighting I got in a few shots

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Doesn’t this look like a “Lord of the Rings” set?

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Well that more or less wraps up our motorbike ride around the Halong Bay, Vietnam. With clear weather we decided to take our bikes for a little drag race to see who’s was faster. Mine was an embarrassment and I came in last by a long shot. With that defeat in mind but a fun day overall, I highly recommend the outer loop of Halong Bay. Till next time in Hanoi.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam
Ready, Set, Go!
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Nuu… faster!

Photo Journal: Vietnam War Tour in HCMC

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975 but its legacy still cuts deep in the Far East.

“History is written by the victors” is the famous quote by Winston Churchill and that rings true more so in Vietnam than anywhere else. This photo journal will cover three important locations of the Vietnam War in relation to the former capital of the south, Saigon, known nowadays as Ho Chi Minh City.

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The immaculate lawn of the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

The Independence Palace (Reunification Palace)

The Independence Palace of Ho Chi Minh City is a landmark of the South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. A symbol of the fall and subsequent reunification of Vietnam when on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. The palace is known nowadays as the Reunification Palace and is a museum to the southern fall and northern conquest. From rooftop party decks to underground bunkers, the site is immaculately kept and open to all visitors.

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the many meeting rooms in the Independence Palace

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The President’s desk and office
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The Presidential Library
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The palace’s retro-style movie theater

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The original bar that was used during presidential shindigs – and next to it a mark of American-style capitalist influence
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
A commandeered chopper next to two markers where the United States had dropped bombs during the Vietnam War

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The exit to the bunker from the rooftop for a quick escape
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The first room of the underground command center used during the war

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
These tunnel labyrinths were used extensively during the war
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
There are two levels to the underground tunnel system (that we know of!) Each is more claustrophobic than the last

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the tunnel exits leads to the kitchen

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The backside of the Independence Palace – the vertical columns in the middle of the building are part of an open-air ventilation system

The Cu Chi Tunnels

I’ve covered the Cu Chi Tunnels extensively in a lengthy post here however for the sake of this post here are a few of my favorite shots from the thick-jungle of Southeast Asia. The tunnels, as I’m sure you’re aware of, were used by the Vietcong to ambush the American/Australian/British troops during the Vietnam War.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Jungle Warfare mixed with Guerilla Warfare… a terrifying combination
Cu Chi Tunnels
On hands and knees during the crawl through the “reinforced” and tourist-ized section of the tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
The real size of the cramped and dirt-carved tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
Absolute relief and joy upon exited the cramped and tight tunnel system

The Vietnam War Remnants Museum

A last bit of Vietnam War-related travel in Ho Chi Minh City that is a must in order to understand the Northern Vietnamese perspective is at the War Remnants Museum. The museum features many pieces of hardware from the war including captured and left behind planes, helicopters, tanks, missile shells and casings, guns, gas masks and much much more, all presented in a manner completely (no pun intended) foreign to an American-educated lad such as myself.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

 

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum
As democracy fought communism on Southeast Asian soil, the Cubans along with others lent their support to the Northern Vietnamese cause
War Remnants Museum
Captured guns and weapons, along with war stories from Vietnamese soldiers, line the walls of the museum. I’ve decided to cut the really graphic stuff from here but you can see them on Facebook via the link here
Ho Chi Minh City
Still one of the most powerful images from Vietnam and snapped with my phone nonetheless – the Communist sickle and hammer coupled next to the icon of American capitalism – Starbucks

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For all the high-resolution photos from the War Remnants Museum: Click Here

Hot Shots from Ho Chi Minh – Part Two

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and has huge buildings, awesome nightclubs and a vibrant culture.

Southeast Asia feels like a totally different world for western travelers, however Ho Chi Minh City is undergoing a renaissance complete with an influx of professionals from the west. Here are a couple of my favorite little spots around the city.

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For part one of my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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Ho Chi Minh City
The architectural masterpiece that is the Bitexco Buildling

Ho Chi Minh City is the “city” symbol of Vietnam’s rising economy and new-found wealth. Vietnam’s largest city, formerly-known and sometimes still referred-to as Saigon, has huge skyscrapers and a bustling new industries. Perhaps chief among Ho Chi Minh City’s skyscrapers is the 68-story Bitexco Financial Tower. The 262.5-meters tall building was once the tallest building in all of Vietnam upon its completion in 2010 until 2011. Designed by Venezuelan Carlos Zapata, the renowned design of the Bitexco Financial Tower shows a significant shift in the mentality of the communist-meets-capitalist new reality of the country with a well-known troubled past.

Ho Chi Minh City
Go to the Bitexco Skydeck. You won’t be disappointed.

Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City

As much as the Bitexco Tower is a symbol of Vietnam’s future, the Independance Palace of Ho Chi Minh City is a testament to the country’s past. The deep division sowed into the society between the Democratic and Communist factions before the Vietnam War (or War of American Aggression, depending on who you ask!) has repaired itself as best as probably possible… and of course no one would discount all the things that happened during the build-up, during and of course after the War, by both sides, and the scars the beautiful country still bears to this day.  Not to go too deep into the history of the conflict here (though I may go in-depth on this topic in the future) but for an insight into the war from a Viet Cong leadership perspective the Independence Palace is the place to go.

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Another interesting piece of Vietnamese history is the famous Saigon Central Post Office. Located just caddy corner from the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica in central Ho Chi Minh City, the Post Office itself is still function today and was built during the French Indochina days in the late 19th century. Designed by Alfred Foulhoux with Gothic, Renaissance and French cues, it was finished in 1891.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
“Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892” – “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”

All around Ho Chi Minh City are architectural and historical landmarks, such as the Cac Gio Le Catholic Church. Built in 1859, it is located just minutes walking from the Bui Vien backpackers’ area and worth a quick stroll on foot.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

I’ll wrap up this post with a quick word on Ho Chi Minh City nightlife. Basically, whatever you’re looking for is available in the city but one thing is for sure – you don’t have to bend rules to have a great time. Some of my colleagues took me to Glow Skybar and the view alone from the roof was worth it. Drinks can be a bit pricy at some of the trendier nightclubs however a simple search of “bars” on Google Maps will provide you with dozens of options all withing a few block radius. After months in Myanmar, a proper night out can be found in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
As blurry as my eyesight!
Ho Chi Minh City
At. Your. Own. Risk.

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I hope you guys enjoyed the post and I’ll be back soon with some more from awesome Vietnam!

Chillin in Ho Chi Minh City – Part One

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s former capital and one of the funnest cities in Southeast Asia! 

A backpacker’s paradise, Ho Chi Minh City has everything a traveler is looking for – interesting history, amazing nightlife, vibrant culture, good shopping and of course, it’s cheap!

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For part two of my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

Ho Chi Minh City
The French-inspired Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon. Vietnam’s most-populous city of several names (most use both, I did/still do)  is quickly shifting towards the future, however its vibrant culture and old-school attitude is still felt by its residents and travelers alike. I’ve touched on the Vietnam War bit of the coastal country’s troubled history in my post about the fear-inducing Cu Chi Tunnels, so I’ll focus more on the city itself and what there is to do around town in this post and the next in a two-part series.

Ho Chi Minh City
Bui Vien Street, a backpackers’ paradise
Ho Chi Minh City
Chances are, your hostel will located down one of these many packed corridors in Ho Chi Minh City

For starters, if you arrive in town from neighboring Cambodia (like most backpackers) or via the airport, you’ll need to make your way towards Bui Vien Street/Pham Ngu Lao Street. The central hub of all hostels, trips, bars, restaurants (and amazing street food) and things-to-do-in-town, Bui Vien is the place to get sorted. I stayed at the Galaxy Hotel & Capsule for around $10 USD/night which is pretty standard in Saigon. Most hostels call themselves hotels since they offer single private rooms (as basic as you can imagine, but private nonetheless) in addition to the regular dorm-style accommodations most opt for due to cheapness.

Ho Chi Minh City
Like ebony and ivory, Vietnam is a mix of communism and capitalism in perfect harmony

As readers of this blog are certainly aware by now, my favorite thing to do once I arrive in a new city is to scope out the surroundings by taking a nice long walk, camera in hand. The strangeness of Vietnam’s communism-meets-capitalism is quick stark and offers such a weird contrast for the recent arrival. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the famous two-tailed mermaid, a symbol of American luxury coffee literally located next to sickle and hammer flag. Bui Vien is the place where the far east meets west.

Ho Chi Minh City
A pair of western gals stroll in front of Vietnam’s famous propaganda

I could write volumes on the oddness of seeing American consumerism occupying the same stretch of street as Vietnam’s staunch political belief systems. One last example – Popeye’s Fried Chicken located 3 minutes walking from the Independence Palace. But I digress… and will leave it for the next post. After taking in the local area I grabbed some shuteye for the next day. I planned on hitting up some local parks and sights and then meeting a colleague of mine for drinks a bit later that night. One of the advantages of living and working in Yangon, Myanmar, is that you make connections all around Southeast Asia and with a good nights’ sleep I wanted to make the most of the famous Vietnamese nightlife… but first, the Tao Dan Park.

Ho Chi Minh City
The sidewalks of Saigon have a lot to say for proper city planning. Loving that shade.

The Tao Dan Park is located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. The park is made up of old stupas, a Buddhist Temple or two and plenty of leisure space for children to run around and adults to partake in some strange Tai Chi – like dance moves. The large park also has artwork on display and is incredibly well kept for a big city spot of nature.

Ho Chi Minh City
A tribute to the famous Viet Cong dual-way sandal

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
Stone carvings are among the artwork on display at the park

Ho Chi Minh City

The last place I’ll cover in this post is the absolutely-brilliant Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral Saigon. Designed by the French architect Jules Bourard and opened in 1880 (1880!) the massive church dominates the downtown landscape and maintains its presence amongst the modern buildings of the “new Saigon.”

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception

Ho Chi Minh City
Our Lady and the Cathedral

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

I’m gonna do something a little bit different in describing the Basilica – just list facts… and what facts are these:

  1. All the building materials were imported from France. The bricks outside the cathedral are from Toulouse and have retained their red color without the use of coated conrete.
  2. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France.
  3. The cathedral foundation was designed to bear ten times the weight of the cathedral itself.
  4. Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles are carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon”. Many tiles have since been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war.
  5. In October 2005, it was claimed that the Virgin Mary statue out front started to “shed tears.” This was never confirmed by the Catholic Church yet it still drew crowds the world over.
  6. In 1960, Pope John XXIII erected Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to Hanoi, Huế and Saigon. The cathedral was titled Saigon Chief Cathedral. In 1962, Pope John XXIII anointed the Saigon Chief Cathedral, and conferred it the status of a basilica. From this time, this cathedral was called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

Ho Chi Minh City

That’s your lot for now, I’ll be back soon with Part 2  of Ho Chi Minh City. Cheers!

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Claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels

Have you ever been terrified on  your travels? I have, and the Cu Chi Tunnels are as frightening as they are incredible.

Vietnam’s (and neighboring Laos) natural beauty is engulfing; yet a legacy of war remains prominent when visiting the Pacific-rim country and the Cu Chi Tunnels are a prime example of that.

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Cu Chi Tunnels
A path cleared for the tour through the thick jungle of Southern Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those countries that, no matter how much culture, heritage or even change that has taken place, it still bears the scarred reputation as being the focal point of one of the worst theaters of war to have existed on Earth. Napalm, gasses of all kinds, bombs of all sizes and more all did terrible damage to a gorgeous country that is now rebounding in a big way. One of the main remnants of the war that is now a must-see tourist (or backpacker!) destination is the Cu Chi Tunnels of what was known then as Saigon but nowadays, Ho Chi Minh City.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Tiny entrances and exits – this is why the Viet Cong was so deadly and effective

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located about an hour and a half outside the city, especially if you sign up for a bus tour near the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao backpackers’ area like I did. Southeast Asia is known for the possible scam or two and our trip was no different as the bus conveniently stopped near a workshop to try and get travelers to purchase locally-made goods from “victims” of Agent Orange. I do recommend taking a bus from the city instead of trying to drive it via rented car (lots of traffic) or motorbike (quite dangerous roads) and I won’t spend too much time on this but as a travel blog with travel tips, I will say a few things to watch out for: firstly it’s great to always contribute to the local economy when visiting a much-poorer country like Vietnam, however with the inflated prices at the shop you could easily purchase similar goods for a fraction of the price in the city markets and with the prices listed, there is more “value” in this little market than at an entire Gucci or Versace store – no joke. So that’s one thing, another is that they book you for a half-day trip and spend an hour at a place like this wasting your precious travel time. So after 15 to 20 minutes I started rallying the bus and telling the guide that it was time to head out as no one was going to buy anything. Do this and your sorted. One last tip – never leave your bags or any valuables on the bus even if you pop off to grab a quick soda.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
While the goods are handmade, those making it may or may not have been affected by chemical agents left over from the war

And now to the tunnels! The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug by the Communist Viet Cong forces and at one time spanned “tens of thousands of miles.” Whether or not that number is entirely accurate they do span for miles and miles.  In terms of engineering, they really are a marvel – dug mostly by hoe in the post-monsoon rainy season, the tunnels have air vents, booby traps, living quarters, hospitals and more! The small, narrow tunnels were easier for the smaller Vietnamese to navigate vs. the larger American, British and Australian forces, however life was incredibly difficult underground and living in these tunnels meant dealing with rampant malaria and disease, poisonous centipedes and scorpions, even vermin and rodents infested the cramped quarters.  They were highly effective nonetheless and were the launching point of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The 90-meter long stretch of tunnel was made larger, wider and reinforced for tourists
Cu Chi Tunnels
The original tunnel is truly frightening
Cu Chi Tunnels
Successfully made it through! Had to suck in the gut, obviously

After a guide explains to you the basic history, runs you through some of the terrifying booby traps and tactics used by the Viet Cong vs. the foreign forces, brave visitors can try their hand at crawling through an enlarged version of the tunnels. The 90-meter long stretch has several exits for the claustrophobic and larger travelers as they get progressively smaller towards the end. About halfway through I seriously reconsidered why I thought this was a good idea. I think the look on my face above shows how absolutely thrilled I was to get out of there. Honestly looking up through the exit sent chills down my spine. What if I don’t fit through? I’m getting clammy thinking about it, but check out my size 10.5’s (American, like 45? in European) next to the exit below.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Too small…
Cu Chi Tunnels
… and way too tight!

A half-day trip is all you need at the Cu Chi Tunnels although I do recommend  reading up on the history of the place beforehand. At the conclusion of the tour we stopped by the gun range where you can shoot old rifles and even some Jeep-mounted machine guns. The prices are a bit steep and it’ll set you back around $20 USD to get down onto the field. I passed as having grown up around veterans who have had to actually shoot guns in Vietnam for real, it is thankfully something I’ve never had to do and really not a vibe I want to get in to. But if you have some extra dough it does go back into keeping the grounds meticulous and they really are.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The path towards the shooting range at Cu Chi
Cu Chi Tunnels
Booby traps made the tunnels impassible for invading soldiers

As you can see, the photos here are less quality than my normal pics as I was shooting entirely from the GoPro on a rainy day. I’ll be back with more from Vietnam soon!

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Cu Chi Tunnels
A captured American tank during the “War of American Aggression”

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
The Vietnamese used fake ant hills as disguised air vents

Shooting Fire at the Da Nang Dragon Bridge

The Da Nang Dragon Bridge is a symbol of the resurgence of Central Vietnam both culturally and economically.

The fire-breathing Da Nang Dragon Bridge is located in the heart of Danang and spans the length of the Han River a whopping 666 meters (2,185 ft).

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Da Nang Dragon Bridge

“Cau Rong Da Nang!” That was the first thing I heard upon arriving via motorbike in Danang, a growing tourist destination in central Vietnam. Well, a “growing tourist destination” in theory at least as the Southeast Asian country is investing heavily in the beautiful yet-still-quaint city. Its location between the Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame in the north, the gorgeous ancient town of Hoi An along with the Marble Mountains to the south, the Son Tra Peninsula located slightly east and the Ba Na Hills to the west make it a prime vacation spot for Buddhist pilgrims and vacationers both local and foreign. But I digress… let’s talk about the fire-breathing Dragon Bridge!

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Awesome, right? The Cau Rong – meaning Dragon Bridge – is ironically-measured at 666-meters long (about 2,185 ft) and connects the Da Nang International Airport to the city of Da Nang. The 1.5 trillion Vietnamese Dong ($88 million USD) project was officially completed in 2013 and is a 6-lane pass going both ways over the mighty Han River. As for seeing the fire show, the Da Nang Dragon Bridge lights up from sunset on Saturday and Sunday nights at 9:00pm. It is best to get there a bit early as the bridge is massively popular with the locals, however the bridge itself shuts down to traffic so it isn’t so hard to find a good view.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Da Nang Dragon Bridge as seen from the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula
Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Dragon is a symbol of power, nobility and good fortune dating back to the Ly Dynasty

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
Cooling off the street after the fire show

As you can tell, I was a bit too close and the heat emitted from the fire itself is no joke! The police presence is apparent but they don’t do that much aside from keeping crowds near the sides of the bridge and stopping traffic… so you can get pretty close. After the show I recommend walking the span of the Da Nang Dragon Bridge to take in all the sights of the city after dark.  There is a pair of bridges, LED lights galore and ships moving up and down the river while the lights of restaurants and bars fill the banks of the Han River.

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Cau Song Han Bridge from the Cau Rong

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Sun Wheel and the LED lights of the Cau Tran Thi Ly

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Alright, that’s your lot for today. Back soon with another post from Central Vietnam!

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The Incredibly Colorful Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple of Da Nang

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

The city of Da Nang in central Vietnam has so much to offer travelers – whether that be backpackers, photographers or regular run-of-the-mill travelers. An afternoon drive along the beach brought me to the Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple and I just had to snap some pics.

Located along the beach just before the magnificent Son Tra Peninsula, the Chua Buu Dai Son is a colorful reminder to always explore everywhere you go!

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Many of Vietnam’s incredible sites have been well documented thanks to the enormous numbers of travelers who have ventured to this part of the world. Danang’s Dragon Bridge, Son Tra Peninsula (not too mention the glorious Lady Buddha) and the further Hoi An and Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame, have all been written about at length. What has gotten lost in all this clamour are the less-traveled yet important heritage sites such as local pagodas and temples. The Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple is a perfect example of the latter, as Vietnamese culture oozes through every part of this fantastically colorful pagoda and surrounding compound.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
The Budai (or Pu-Tai) statue in front of the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Swords and mythical figures – a Chinese epic in the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Incredible colors and a solitary Buddha Image

Like most places I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, there is a serious dearth of information on the Chua Buu Dai Son Temple. I could wax poetic about the colors though I feel I’ve covered that already! From my visit and perusing the entire compound, I can report that there are many stone statues each with its own unique flair in addition to well maintained albeit smaller temples and the Vietnamese traditional-style architecture, with Chinese infusion, is beyond stunning.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

So that’s your lot for now. It was a brilliant day of blue skies and I hope you enjoyed the photos from the Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple. I’ll be back with more from brilliant Da Nang, Vietnam – my favorite city in the country! Here are some more photos for a lasting impression.

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
More than a few swastikas, hey

 

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Wild Motorbike Ride to the Peak of Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

The Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang is one of the most picturesque places I’ve had the chance to travel to. Taking a motorbike up to the top of Monkey Mountain is a must for travelers passing through central Vietnam. 

Monkey Mountain on the Son Tra Peninsula rises 850 meters (about 3,000 feet) above the city of Da Nang and makes for a perfect day trip for any adventurer (or photographer!) and has some of the best views in the entire country.

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Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Located almost halfway between the former Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the current capital of Hanoi, Danang is one of the gems of Vietnam’s central coastline and has so much to offer a traveler. From the glorious Buddhist pilgrimage sites of the Marble Mountains to the towering Lady Buddha located a third of the way up the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula, you really need to stop by this place for a few days at minimum to catch a glimpse of real Vietnamese life. As I’ve just published a blog post on the Lady Buddha I’ll leave that for this post on the motorbike drive up to the peak of the Monkey Mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The fishing village at the bottom of Monkey Mountain with the Lady Buddha of Danang in the distance
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The bay of Danang and city in the distance, from the circular road leading up the mountain

The Son Tra Peninsula still largely covered with dense, lush rainforest.  Though I didn’t spot any, the mountain gets its “Monkey”moniker from the rare Red Shanked Doucs monkeys that inhabit the area. The narrow jungle roads can be a bit hairy by motorbike as taxis, tuk tuks and open-air trucks can be seen ferrying up visitors to and from the peak. I only came across a few but the one-lane roads make it easy to imagine having to take it a bit slow just to play it safe. Don’t go too slow, some of the roads are pretty steep and you won’t be able to get your bike up it!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Some amazing coves and views all around the peninsula. Most of the beaches are empty and can be taken advantage of by those who want some peace and quiet
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Clouds starting to form at the peak

I made it a point to leave early in the morning to try and beat the afternoon clouds that usually settle upon the mountain this time of year… however as luck would have it about two-thirds up the clouds started to form around the peak. Back on the bike and with the GoPro attached to my wrist, it was full speed ahead along the increasingly narrow, steep roads to the top.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Eek! That was close

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

By the time I reached the peak I was driving in near white-out conditions. From the photo above, you can see how thick the clouds set upon the last stretch of road near the top. The following two pics are almost completely untouched so you can get a real feel for just how cloudy the peak was. What is most peculiar is that just a couple meters below the cloud line, perfect weather mean incredible photos… it was just the top bit that had zero visibility. Check out the pictures below of the chess grandmaster waiting for you at the top and following that some excellent shots of Danang City from just below the cloud line.

I won!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
A 4-minute drive from the peak broke through the clouds and gave way to some of the most incredible views
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
STOKED!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Danang Dragon Bridge crossing the river in Danang, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

From the lookout I continue my descent through the winding roads of the Monkey Mountain. An observatory sits atop a second peak and unfortunately I was unable to get up there. But the view from my stop off was unbelievable. Islands almost untouched by man and some of the thickest jungle in the entire region blanket this little bit of paradise.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Welp, there you have it… my motorbike trip through the excellent and pristine Monkey Mountain of the Son Tra Peninsula. Keep an eye out for my next post of the Danang Dragon Bridge, a long stretch of road over the river in the form of a traditional Vietnamese dragon… and it shoots fire at night!

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Biking to the Da Nang Lady Buddha of Son Tra, Vietnam

Da Nang Lady Buddha

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is missing from most guidebooks and travel sites but it is a must-see of central Vietnam. 

Da Nang is best known for its Marble Mountains, close proximity to the Hoi Van Pass, Hoi An and Hue. The Da Nang Lady Buddha isn’t at the top of the list for most travelers but really should be, standing at 67m tall and rivaling the Statue of Liberty in scale.

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Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Lady Buddha of Danang from the fishing village across the bay

The Linh Ung Pagoda of Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang (Danang), Vietnam, is home to a massive Buddha statue which looks over the bay and China Beach (known locally as My Khe Beach).  The beautiful 67m (220 ft) is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam and is only 14km from the Da Nang city center making it a quick drive along the coast and past the fishing village. Perhaps what is most impressive about the Da Nang Lady Buddha is how it is visible from almost the entire city and as well has a lotus diameter of 35m, equivalent to a 30-story building! The official website of the Lady Buddha reads that “facing the sea, the kind eyes looking down, a hand exorcizes (ed) while the other hand is holding a bottle of holy water like sprinkling the peace to the offshore fishermen.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha

In Danang, you can rent a motorbike for around 100,000 dong (about $5 USD) and the drive up the coast to the Son Tra Mountain aka Monkey Mountain takes hardly any time at all. The traffic in this area is quite light while the infrastructure of this area is top class. The only thing a traveler needs to look out for is tight turns around the corners going up the mountain. Vietnamese drivers are notoriously quick and carefree so of course you’ll have to take that into account. The views from the Lady Buddha are brilliant and you’ll want to stop off several times on your trip to grab a few photos. I sure did!

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Halfway up to the Da Nang Lady Buddha!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Mountainous islands and brilliant turquoise blue seas as far as the eye can see

Definitely don’t get distracted while driving up! The Da Nang Lady Buddha is located about halfway up the mountain and a large-scale parking lot is available at the entrance to store your bike. I forget the exact parking fee but it is nominal to say the least. If riding motorbikes is a bit too hairy for you, tuk tuks and open-air trucks regularly ferry visitors up the mountain. Most will take you up to the peak of the Son Tra Mountain after visiting the Lady Buddha, another sight you won’t want to miss. My next post will cover the peak of the mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The steps leading up the Linh Ung Pagoda from the parking lot
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The entrance… but first turn around quick!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worth it!

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Linh Ung Pagoda

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is part of the greater Linh Ung Pagoda, a complex with many different temples and Buddha statues to take in.  On a hot day (it was way past 40C when I arrived, around 100F) there is plenty of shade to take advantage of. As a quick bit of history (and Vietnamese myth), the people of Son Tra “recalled that, at the time of Minh Mang King (Nguyen Dynasty, XIX century), there was a Buddha statue from nowhere to drift on the sandbank here. Believing that was an auspicious sign, people here established a shrine for worship… the sandbank where the Buddha statue drifted was then named Bai But (i.e. Buddha land on earth) also was where Ling Ung pagoda erected today,” – LadyBuddha.org. The modern complex you can visit today took six years to complete, from June 2004 to July 30th, 2010. The Linh Ung Bai But Pagoda is considered the “meeting place of heaven and earth.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The main temple of Linh Ung Bai But with the traditional Vietnamese architecture of a dragon roof
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worshippers praying to the Sakyamuni Buddha Statue
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva ‘guarding’ the Buddhist worshippers

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck
Da Nang Lady Buddha
18 stone Arhat statues line the Linh Ung Pagoda courtyard. Each was carved up by the artist Nguyen Viet Minh (head of the Non Nuoc craft village) with monolithic white stone materials brought from Thanh Hoa
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The view from the main temple. Beat this: Danang City in the background, a pristine ocean, the entrance and courtyard and, of course, the Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

I hope you guys enjoyed the Da Nang Lady Buddha and Linh Ung Pagoda! I’ll be back with the drive up the Son Tra Peninsula and peak soon, don’t miss it!

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Marvelous Marble Mountains of DaNang, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

The Marble Mountains of DaNang jut out along the flat and pristine Vietnamese coastline and give central Vietnam its spiritual character.

The Marble Mountains, Vietnam, are a main attraction for tourists from all over the world, including devout Buddhists who wish to find their inner peace within the grottoes of the intricate cave systems.

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Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The immense view from the “Gate of Heaven” at Mt. Thuy

The Marble Mountains of Danang, Vietnam, are known locally as the “five elements mountains (Ngu Hanh Son)” and upon first glance it’s easy to see why. The karst limestone mountains loom in the distance from the city and a 20-minute motorbike ride south from the city center takes you right into the heart of the pristine mountains. Made out of the same rock as the well-known tourist destination of Halong Bay in the north of Vietnam, you get all the beauty but without the mass amounts of tourists. I’ve been told this is depending on the season, however I was there atthe beginning of the dry season and I had no issues with a mass influx of tourists whatsoever.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The Marble Mountains consist of five mountains, each named for an element: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. Each mountain contains tunnels, caves and shrines

First things first – how can you travel to the Marble Mountains on a budget – easy – hostels in Danang are easily bookable for about $5-10 USD. Motorbikes are available for daily rental for around 100,000 Vietnamese Dong/Day (that’s less than $5 USD)! If you want to travel more upscale, there are plenty of resorts around Danang all the way south towards the tourist hub of Hoi An. I stayed at the Glocal Beachside Hostel and “paid extra” for a private two-bedroom room, basically just for the private amenities for roughly $12 USD. Shared room and bathroom options are available for cheaper. After renting a motorbike, I made the 20 minute or so journey along the coastal highway south to the Marble Mountains and was met along the way by a woman wanting to show me her statue shop and offering me free parking. I declined as there is already free parking at the site for motorbikes plus what is a backpacker gonna do with a massive Buddha statue?

The ominous entrance to the “Cave to Buddhist Hell”

Unfortunately once I arrived, there was a power outage at the “Cave to Buddhist Hell” in Mt Thuy and it was closed down with entrance forbidden. Kind of ominous really, but inconvenient mostly. I made a return trip just for this cave system on my next trip south to Hoi An so I ended up being able to see it after all. The cave entrance is much larger than the rest and inside is pitch black save for the artificial lighting which illuminates the way.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The narrow passages of Mt Thuy “The Cave to Buddhist Hell”

Marble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, Vietnam

Thumbnails: Just your average stirring boiling souls alive in soup, toture and being eaten by snakes.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
Buddha Shrine in Mt Thuy illuminated by neon LEDs

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

All is not lost in the eternal damnation sense, however, as the cave has a very narrow walkway up through a skylight to the top of the mountain, named the “Gate of Heaven.” If there is a hint of rain or the steps are wet, climb at your own peril as the small steps don’t offer much room for footing. I climbed up to the top amid a bit of foot traffic and the view was definitely worth the hassle.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The brilliant blue sky, sea and a sign of “new Danang” – one of many tourist resorts popping up along the otherwise pristine coast
Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The Marble Mountains, a zoroastrian church and the small town

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

 

Several Buddhist sanctuaries can also be found within the mountains, making this a famous tourist destination for pilgrims. As a bit of history, there was a US military base in the area during the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the “War of American Aggression”) and history buffs may be more familiar with the name “China Beach.” To protect the base, the US dropped copious amounts of napalm in the area and its devasting effects can still be seen today in destruction of the local area and birth defects among the local population where the deadly chemicals infiltrated the water stream. But I digress… Outside of Mt. Thuy, there are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, and many Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries.  The pagoda Tam Thai was built in 1825 by Tu Tam and Linh Ung along with the tower of Pho Dong. The sanctuaries feature statuary and relief depictions of religious scenes carved out of local marble.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
So peaceful… swastika!

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

All in all, the Marble Mountains are a fantastic day trip for travelers in central Vietnam. Make sure to check out the surrounding village and nearby An Loc Temple while in the area for some cool views and fun adventure. I’ll do a photo post here soon for those who just want to see some cool shots from the area.

Alright folks, that’s your lot for today. As always, for all the high-resolution photos from the Marble Mountains, Vietnam: Click Here

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A Rainy Day in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Few places in the world are as renowned for its incredible natural formations like the karst limestone mountains of Halong Bay, Vietnam

The sheer size, scope and beauty of the natural rock formations of Halong Bay, Vietnam, first captured my imagination several years ago when I caught a glimpse  of them on a television program on the National Geographic Channel. Seeing is believing and it is truly one of the rare places on Planet Earth that you really do need to see to believe. Unfortunately my trip included a massive monsoon rainstorm that caught up with me on the boat ride out to explore the area.

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[su_youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zOhh2NagQg” theme=”light”]

From the start, we arrived to the town of Halong Bay after a couple days in Hanoi (with beautiful blue skies nonetheless) and the change of scenery was seriously welcome. A crowded and bustling (though brilliant… more on that in a later post) city gave way to striking countryside, small villages and excellent rural expanses that span as far as the eye can see. I was traveling with three mates, one from Israel and doing a semester abroad in Hong Kong, plus two of his classmates, one German and one from Singapore. After some hunting around for the best price, we ended up in a private van for about $15 each.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Boats with cabins below and a sundeck above are aplenty at Halong Bay, offering daily cruises

After settling into the hostel and looking for the best price for day cruises, we found most prices to range from $30 USD to $50 USD and up. We booked for $30 from the Halong Party Hostel and pickup began at 6:00 AM. Unfortunately our perfect blue skies gave way to the last gasps of the Southeast Asian monsoon and muggy weather turned out to be the theme of the day. Luckily I was armed with my handy GoPro camera and its waterproof case turned out to be a lifesaver. So in advance, my apologies for the clarity of some of these images as I was constantly wiping away raindrops from blurring my shots of the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
For reference, the thousands of islands of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Upon grabbing our boat and setting sail, our first glimpse of the thousands of islands that dot the Halong Bay landscape came into view and despite all the rain, the sheer size and immensity of the surroundings really blow you away. Our first stop was a cave amongst the islands for which I was able to break out the Canon and take some remarkable images of the giant stalactite and stalagmite formations of the cave.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam

The cave itself was an eerie experience though for me, a bit far from enjoyable. Many tourists are crammed into the caverns not only making the art of photography difficult but making it hard to connect with the site itself and feel more like a theme park ride than an adventure out into the islands. This is the tradeoff in Halong Bay, Vietnam = the most unique and impressive sights combined with a glut of tourists which make it hard to take it all in. But I digress… after we exited the cave, the weather had broken a bit and it was back into the boat and on to the next location, taking out kayaks into the Bay. A word of advice – make sure you negotiate the kayak rental into the price of the trip itself. We had it thrown in as part of our package and avoided having to pay an extra fee for the rental. But as we arrived, the weather acted up again but it didn’t stop us from going hard into the water.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
The cave behind us led to…
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The most gorgeous lagoon I’ve ever seen, rain and all

Kayak rental can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 USD depending on who you rent from. Don’t get scammed but definitely take the kayaks. Even in the worst weather it is an adventure well worth the hassle. With the GoPro affixed to my head attachment, we set out into the bay and underneath a cave which led to the lagoon of my dreams. We were the only ones in there and it was a welcome change from being surrounded by tourists. This was by far my favorite moment of the trip.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The rain continued to press on and by this time we were all quite miserable, our crew along with the entire boat. I attempted to dry off but it was ultimately to no avail. A short boat ride around the islands followed by another stop at a small island concluded our epic trip to the once-of-a-kind Halong Bay. I’ll leave ya’ll with some parting shots (For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Hereand stay tuned for more from Vietnam!

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Sun setting after a long cruise on the epic Halong Bay, Vietnam

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