Central Vietnam

Newly Opened Dragon Bridge in Danang

Newly Opened Dragon Bridge in Danang

Danang, Hue, and Hoi An

We arrived in Danang airport at night and were met by our new guide, Huan. Huan was friendly and overflowed with exuberance and enthusiasm. Together with the driver we took the windy mountain road to Hue arriving at our hotel at 10:30 p.m.

We stayed in the beautiful La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue. From the moment I stepped into the lobby I felt I was transported back to the 1930’s Art Deco Hollywood era.

Hallways in Hotel La Residence in Hue

Hallways in Hotel La Residence in Hue
Art Deco Inspired

The hotel was originally built during the French colonial period and has been enhanced with two additions that match the Art Deco design. The hotel sits on the banks of the Perfume River across from the Hue Citadel Imperial City.

Hue was once the Imperial City and was a very important cultural and historical center. Our first stop was the Hue Citadel.

The Hue Citadel

The Hue Citadel
Ngo Mon Gate – Outside Fortress
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Emperor Gia Long who ruled between 1802 and 1820 established The Citadel in 1805. It is an immense fortress made up of three concentric sections, the Civic, the Imperial, and the Forbidden Purple Cities. The architecture of the Citadel was influenced by both Chinese and French design. Although it endured heavy damage during the war you can still appreciate its grandeur. It is currently undergoing restoration and will be even more amazing to visit in the future.

Part of the Purple Forbidden City fashioned after the Forbidden City in China

Part of the Purple Forbidden City fashioned after the Forbidden City in China
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Newly Graduated Students Visiting the Citadel Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Newly Graduated Students Visiting the Citadel
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

The countryside of Hue is dotted with tombs of many emperors. Our schedule allowed us to visit the most magnificent one, the Tomb of Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh ruled between 1916 and 1925, and was the penultimate Nguyen Emperor. He was also the last to be buried in Hue. He started construction of his tomb while he was still alive.

Part of Tomb of Khai Dinh

Part of Tomb of Khai Dinh

Our Wonderful Tour Guide Huan

Our Wonderful Tour Guide Huan

Huan stopped at one of the local bakeries and bought us delicious Vietnamese pastries to try.

Sampling Delicious Vietnamese Pastries

Sampling Delicious Vietnamese Pastries

From Hue we took the scenic route to Danang. Today, Danang is one of the country’s most important ports and is the country’s third largest city. Danang served as a major American military base during the war. Danang felt very modern, clean, and progressive as we drove through it. We went over the newly constructed bridge shaped like a dragon.

We also stopped to visit Da Nang beach nicknamed “China Beach” by the American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

"China Beach"

“China Beach”

Huan brought a wonderful perspective to our trip. Huan was very versed in many world topics. As a practicing Buddhist he was the personification of positive thinking, optimism, and kindness. He is very enthusiastic and positive about Vietnam’s economic future.

Listening to Huan's Every Word

Listening to Huan’s Every Word
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Huan taught us about ancestor worshipping and how people set up small altars with offerings for the ancestors. Many Vietnamese are also very superstitious so they set up offerings for the ghosts and demons to help keep them away.

Ancestor Worshipping  An altar is set up and offerings are placed there for the ancestors.

Ancestor Worshipping
An altar is set up and offerings are placed there for the ancestors.

Notice the small toy size boat in front of the house. It is set up with offerings for the ghosts and demons to appease them and keep them away from the home.

Notice the small toy size boat in front of the house. It is set up with offerings for the ghosts and demons to appease them and keep them away from the home.

On our way to Hoi An we stopped to visit an amazing collection of pagodas built into Marble Mountains.

One of the many Happy Buddha Bellies I rubbed.

One of the many Happy Buddha Bellies I rubbed.
Marble Mountains

We arrived in Hoi An in the afternoon and checked into the lovely hotel the Life Heritage Hotel located on the banks of the Thu Bon River. The Old Quarter in Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Life Heritage Hotel - Hoi An

Life Heritage Hotel – Hoi An
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We were walking distance into the Old Quarter and minutes by car to the beaches. Hoi An was quaint and peaceful. Our family was able to enjoy bicycle riding in the village.

Riding Bicycles in the Quiet Village of Hoi An

Riding Bicycles in the Quiet Village of Hoi An

One of the first orders of business was to visit one of the 24-hour tailors that Hoi An is famous for. First they took my husband and son’s measurements. Then we selected fabric and styles. The next day we went back for the boys’ fittings. And about 2 hours later the goods were delivered at our hotel. Pretty Amazing!

Exploring the Old Village in Hoi An

Exploring the Old Village in Hoi An

We started the next day with a half day tour of the Old Quarter of Hoi An. We also visited the Japanese Covered bridge built in 1593 by the Japanese trading community.

The Japanese Covered Bridge - There is a pagoda on the bridge itself.

The Japanese Covered Bridge – There is a pagoda on the bridge itself.
Built in 1593

The highlight of the morning was visiting the market. We were surrounded with fascinating colors, smells, and foods.

Enjoying the sights in the market.

Enjoying the sights in the market.

Huan Shows Us Some of the Delicious Foods

Huan Shows Us Some of the Delicious Foods

Later in the day we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at the beach.

The Beach at Hoi An - Notice the round fisherman's boat in the front.

The Beach at Hoi An – Notice the round fisherman’s boat in the front.

After three wonderful days in central Vietnam it was time for us to continue on to South Vietnam. I left this region with hopes of returning someday to further explore and enjoy its beautiful beaches and villages.

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Mystical Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

The Islets of Ha Long Bay
Photo courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

We met Sunny, our guide, at 7 a.m. to depart to Ha Long Bay. The car ride would take us from Hanoi, due east, through the countryside, to our destination by the sea. Sunny told us the ride would take over 3 hours because although Ha Long Bay was not so far in distance, the road to get there was shared not only by cars, trucks, and motorcycles but by cows as well and he was not kidding.

Examples of Tube House Architecture Notice: Most of the time they leave the sides unpainted.

Examples of Tube House Architecture
Notice: Most of the time they leave the sides unpainted.

We passed through numerous villages, rice fields and farms. We saw plenty of cows and water buffalo. We were also introduced to the architecture of Tube houses. Tube houses were originally built between 1428 and 1788 but today continue to be the house design of choice in the northern part of the country. They can be as narrow as 6.5 feet (2m) but up to 262 feet (80m) deep. Some of these houses today have been made taller and are referred to as “rocket buildings”.

The Ginger

The Ginger

UNESCO designated Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage Site and its name translates into “descending dragon bay”. Ha Long Bay is a 580 square mile (1500 sq km) area dotted with more than 2,000 outcroppings of limestone and dolomite. We were mesmerized to see the mystical beauty of Ha Long Bay. The islets looked even more magical set against the misty bay. Upon our arrival in Ha Long Bay we boarded a junk, named the Ginger with Jasmine Cruises. We would spend the night on board the Ginger with 15 other passengers.

That afternoon we went on an excursion to visit caves that exist inside the numerous islets. The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to a floating fishing village. At the floating village we boarded smaller boats that took us closer to see the floating village homes and the villagers. One of the primary ways to make a living is fish farming.

The Floating Fishing Village

The Floating Fishing Village

The children of the village attend the local school also floating on the bay.

The School

The School

We were surprised to see that some of the houses had televisions. We were also surprised to see that some of the families owned dogs. We met a very protective dog taking care of  his master’s fish farm. He ran across the logs that supported the fish nets with amazing balance and speed.

This dog protected the fish farm and ran across the logs with great agility.

This dog protected the fish farm and ran across the logs with great agility.
Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

During monsoon season the villagers tie their houses together and float them closer to the islets.

The next morning we were invited to take a class of Tai Chi on a nearby beach followed by a short hike to the top of the island.

View from the Top of the Islet

View from the Top of the Islet
The Ginger in the bay.
Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After a wonderful breakfast we returned to the port. There we met up again with Sunny. He had bought Vietnamese snacks for us to enjoy. Among them were dried Jack Fruit. The flavor of Jack fruit tasted to me like a combination of mango and pineapple.

Jack Fruit

Jack Fruit on Tree

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Jack Fruit Chips

Fresh Jack Fruit

Fresh Jack Fruit

We said goodbye to Sunny and to North Vietnam and took a flight to Danang, Vietnam. Stay tuned for the continuing trip through central Vietnam.

For further reading about Ha Long Bay: http://wikitravel.org/en/Ha_Long_Bay

For further reading about Tai Chi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T’ai_chi_ch’uan