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Two-day Motorbike Trip

by becca on October 13, 2009

What’s the best way to see Vietnam? To really see and experience Vietnam? You hop on a motorbike and make your way through the country. Now, we would be doing more of this if renting a bike for more than a day weren’t so outrageously expensive. But luckily we met Quy and Ty, two Hue Riders, that gave us a great deal on joining them for a 2-day adventure from Hue down to Hoi An. We would stay the night in a town they had never ridden to before, where they were looking to carve a new route for their tours. It worked out fine and was cheaper for us, so off we went.

The first half of the first day we went to some established spots: the rice museum in Hue, the City of Tombs, a Cham temple built in the 4th century and uncovered on a beach by local Vietnamese a few years ago, and a beach for lunch. Most importantly though, were the things not on the list like back roads, rice paddies on either side of the narrow streets, children saying “hello” as we passed through, carefully weaving around cows meandering in the road. These are the things that I’ll remember most. The later part of the day we made our way up to a small town on a mountain: Khe Tre. We stopped at a waterfall and went swimming in a small, cold spring before finally riding to our accommodation for the night: a two-star eco-lodge catering mainly to Vietnamese tourists in the summer – we were the only people there.

Day 2 was packed full of beautiful scenic stops along the way to Hoi An, our ultimate destination. This day was a little bitter sweet for me because somewhere along the way I ate something that was twisting my stomach in knots and giving me a mild fever. Surprisingly though, while riding on the back of a motorbike left me to the mercy of the sun, the wind in my face felt cool and soothing. As long as we were riding or swimming I was ok, and that’s what most of the day involved.

First Elephant Springs. This place is packed during high season but it’s low season in Central Vietnam so we had the place mostly to ourselves. Lots of jumping off rocks, swimming in the clear, cold water, and sliding through the rapids where a natural “slide” had been carved by the water. And, while the Vietnamese are very creative in seeing animals and other shapes in rocks, the namesake of these springs had been enhanced to really look like an elephant.

A couple of beaches and a beautiful ride through Hai Van pass later, we arrived at Marble Mountain. We didn’t get the full history on this place, but we did explore the natural caves in the side of a mountain mostly made of – you guessed it – marble. In the caves, carved right into the rock were massive Buddha statues. You walk into the cave, water dripping slowly from the ceiling, bats squeaking in dark corners, and then often openings at the top of the great cave letting just enough light in to see the statues and alters. Nate and I agreed that this is one of the greatest things we’ve in Vietnam and we thought places like this only exist in Indiana Jones movies.

The motorbike tour was quite an experience. Everyone here rides motorbikes, there are hardly any cars, so being on one is traveling like a local. Nate and I are looking in to getting one to take these adventures on our own – they’re cheap! $1000 for a brand new Honda – but we’re running into a lot of red tape. The great thing about going with a guide though is learning all the little things about the culture that you would see and not understand otherwise, and to share some of the traditions they shared with us calls for another entry.

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Mid-Autumn Festival

by becca on October 10, 2009

This is what traveling is about. One minute you’re walking down the street, the next minute you’re following a parade of children dancing to an orchestra of pots and pans.

The energy in the air was palpable and it didn’t take us long to follow the drumming and find the dancing. In busier areas, traffic was stopped with loads of people on motorbikes just standing there watching, smiling and laughing.

For this celebration, kids travel in packs through the street, with a “band” (most times on wheels), a dragon (or 4), a Lucky Buddha, and plenty of others along for the ride. The dragons have big colorful heads and bodies made of 2 or 3 kids who are quite coordinated and make the dragon come to life. The Happy (or Lucky) Buddha wears a mask with a big happy pink face. From what we saw, kids are running the show, no adults necessary – just children having a great time making music in the street and entertaining the crowds.

It’s good luck for the next year when the dragon dances in your home or shop. So when the parade approaches, the dragon dances in a circle in front of the shop – sort of like asking permission to go in. Then the drag0n “goes to sleep” by kneeling on the floor. Happy Buddha enters, bringing good luck with him. The dragon then wakes up and dances all through the shop. Often times shopkeepers will give the children a little bit of money.

It gets really interesting, when the dragon climbs up to the second floor of a building (or sometimes they just do it in the middle of the street) by using a tall bamboo pole with little steps sticking out the sides. The group holds the bottom while the dragon climbs up. When he gets to the top, he breathes fire (with aerosol and a lighter).

One of the highlights for me in Vietnam so far was when the procession made its way to our dinner table. They did the dance for us and Happy Buddha posed for a photo with Nate. When they asked for money, I took a $2 bill (which is considered very lucky in Vietnam) and gave it to the dragon through his mouth. When the kids realized what we had given them they were elated! I mean, after a brief look of absolute disbelief, they were literally jumping for joy. The Buddha ran half way down the block back to us to bestow even more luck upon us by fanning his leaf from his mouth towards us repeatedly.

Everyone we spoke to called this celebration the Children’s Festival or Children’s New Year. When we looked it up, wikipedia calls it the The Mid-Autumn festival. Wikipedia also tells us that what I refer to as a dragon is actually a lion – but we were told they were dragons, so that’s what I’m sticking with. What ever the proper terminology, we were lucky to have this experience.

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Tombs and Pagodas galore

October 9, 2009

Hue is a great city for visiting tombs and pagodas until you can’t take seeing old stuff any more. Everything is really spread out, so one day we walked around on our own to see what we could see. The next day we hired guides/drivers. For $10 each we got taken to the highlighted sights […]

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Exploring the DMZ

October 6, 2009

Nate and I took a small tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Central Vietnam. It was just us, a couple of German guys, a driver and a Vietnam War vet as our guide. We had hoped to feel brought back in time understand a bit more what the war was like, but instead we […]

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