Danang, Hoi An, Mukdahan, Bangkok & Poi Pet
23.10.2010 - 03.11.2010 21 °C
Next was the Danang and Hoi An day trip on the motorbike. It was rainning again just like the other morning since my arrival at Hue and I was rather worrisome that I may not able to continue with the trip as the rain looked slightly heavier than that of the previous day. Even if I would continue with the trip, it may be dangerous due to the road condition on heavy rains and that the fact that the journey to Danang will pass through the hills at Hai Van Pass may even pose further danger due to slippery and wet pathways. When I went down to checked out the rain, I spoke to one of the staff and his advice was, I should abandoned the idea of travelling, surprisingly, not because of the danger that may arise, but the scenes may not be as beautiful as it should have on sunny days. With that said, I felt, I should ignored the risks of the rain because the reason I am here in Hue is to experience the travel adventures with whatever risks or dangers that may come with it. Furthermore, the motorbike driver himself had not been saying that he will not be able to continue with the trip, which means, the trip is still safe for as long as road is not flooded. I was told that he was waiting the journey to start at 8.00 while having his usual morning coffee at a nearby coffee shop. So, I told the hotel staff that I shall continue the tour as planned. Prior to the start of the trip, I had my breakfast at the hotel but this one is not without charges, unlike most others in Hanoi of Ho Chi Minh city that would have provided one for free, most hotels and guesthouses in Hue do not seem to have such policy in place. A bowl of hot Bun Bo Hue, a traditional Hue noodle sup that comes with slices of pork and a chunk of pork ribs (can be substituted with beef) with lots of greens, herbs and mints thrown into the soup with little bit of spice added as well and a cup of vietnamese coffee completed by breakfast for the long day to Danang and Hoi An. As with what I had mentioned earlier about the food quality at Why Not, they are definitely recommendable as they taste really good and the prices are fairly reasonable with the portions that come with it. This Bun Bo Hue is of no exception but I found out the coffee is rather to small a cup for a good taste on a vietnamese coffee.
After breakfast, as 8.00 approached, the tour guide for the day, Mr Quang turned up and I was introduced to him by the hotel staff. Quang looked sterned at the beginning but I can see that he was somewhat a friendly person from the way he spoke and his physical gestures while a brief introduction of himself confirmed that further. He briefly summarised the itinerary of the day before he puts on the rain coat over me which signals the start of the adventure of the day. Not many would have done such a trip to Hoi An on a day basis. Most would travelled To Danang or Hoi An by bus and stayed on for a day or 2 before they go on south to Nha Trang and then Ho Chi Minh city. Due to limited time and that I would like to venture at speed to central Vietnam after exploring Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi, I was too determined to be at Hoi An at all cost I supposed. As the journey started, the rain didn't seemed to show any sign of stopping but heavy downpours were in fact expected from the cloud conditions and the trend of the rain patterns over the last hour. I thought I would survived the journey and there we went on a rainny, wet tour to Danang and Hoi An. Quang first filled up his vehicle with the gas before we get out from the city centre and for about 2.5 to 3 hours, we were travelling mostly of flat roads but the danger didn't seemed to be the rain or the road conditions. In fact it came from the heavy vehicles plying the route but I was lucky enough that most of such vehicles actually went on the opposite direction from Danang to Hue instead of from Hue to Danang/Hoi An. But Quang is a safe and courteous motorbike driver and I observed that he drove in a very careful manner and has not been speeding throughout most of the journey. The first sight was the Elephant Waterfalls prior to reaching the Hai Van Pass. To get to this area, we passed through some village homes into the forrested area on a muddy terrain due to rains. The falls can be seen along this terrain and the water from the upper levels were seen gushing down quite fiercely supposedly due to heavy water level from the hills as heavy rains experienced over the rainny seasons. Once we reached the area where motorbike cannot be accessible, Quang parked his vehicle and we walked up through some rocky paths which were rather slippery since they were wet, to reach the site to view the most beautiful part of the falls as well as an elephant sculpture being located. As we reached, the falls were swollen with heavy water running down from the hill but the area was marvelous with the picturesque water gushing over from the higher level but require extra cautions in view of the wet conditions. On dry or hot season, visitors can have a swim down the falls with some strategic tents set up for picnicking and there was a small entrance fees charged but this was waived on wet season such as now. After some photoshots, we walked down to continue with the next journey to Hai Van Pass.
Hai Van Pass is in fact a mountanous roads that overlooks the Lan Co Beach, a fishing village and is very scenic area, which makes the effort to go through this road to Danang interesting and not to be missed. Hai Van (means Sea Clouds) Pass is filled with beautiful landscapes and marvelous sights of green mountains and the great sea views and reportedly being the highest peak in Vietnam. The view from the peak of Hai Van Pass was truely amazing where both the North and South of Vietnam can be seen from here with the bending roads cutting through the mountains can be visible clearly from the high levels of the pass. There is an old bunker used by the North Vietnamese Army and American soldiers during the American/Vietnam War at top level of the Hai Van near the Danang border. Formerly this area was a border between Vietnam and the Champa Kingdom and was a heavily forrested area prior to the America/Vietnam War. There are some locals who will bugged visitors for exchanged of small notes as well as ladies persistently hard selling their souvenier items. Otherwise the visit here should be filled with good memories of great natural landscapes of Vietnam in your mind for some time if not rest of the life. The Lang Co beach view from Hai Van Pass can be visible as we ascending the hilly roads up on Hai Van Pass prior to reaching the top of Hai Van Pass. Small fishing village homes can be seen dotting the edge of Lang Co and the view was magnificent. Quang stopped at one of the site for me to have a view and to take photographs of the beach and the fishing village. From Hai Van Pass and Lang Co, as we descended the pass, we reached Danang city not long after. The rains have stopped after passing through Hai Van Pass and the sun was shinning through a little and Quang told me that the weather should be fine in Danang and Hoi An and from what I could observed, it should be. The next destination is the Marble Mountain. This is actually a karst hill in between Danang City and Ho An, where at the base of this hill, there are many retailers or shops that sell items produced from marbles. The highlight of the visit to Marble Mountain is the Xa Loi Pagoda and the several caves with some that also house the Buddha and Quan Yin statues. Reaching the main entrance of the Marble Mountain, Quang told me that he will be waiting me down here while I take about 1.5 to 2 hours tour up the mountain. Well, climbing the mountain can be a challenge as there are several steep stairs around the mountain to be ascended to reach several nice and interestiong points scattered around the mountain. The very first point is the Xa Loi Pagoda. This pagoda is a beautiful structure with a Buddha statue sitting inside it but cannot be accessed by visitors, with overall architecture reflecting steeply on chinese style design. From here, one can see the marvelous coast landscape which is the China Beach. Several property or hotel/resort development were taking place on the shore of China Beach which can be seen clearly from here. Further up there is a view point site (Vong Hai Da) for one to catch the scenic China Beach. As I walked further into the mountain I came across the cave (Van Thong) that housed a Buddha sculpture and a narrow pathways that leads to somewhere of the open cave mouth as I could see light came through at the end of the cave. This is the smallest cave among all the other caves available at Marble Mountain However, I didn't go through the cave as it was too dark. Then as I ventured from here, I then reached Hoa Nghiem Cave, a cave with a large Quan Yin sculpture and a further walk inside through a passageway on the left of Quan Yin, there is a temple (Huyen Khong cave) inside with staircase that leads down to it. A Buddha sculpture can been seen on one section of the cave wall of this temple and on the top of the temple ceiling there are 2 open chimneys and water was seen dripping from the staglatites. After that I was at Linh Nham cave which an open cave with an altar. The most interesting point at Marble Mountain would be the Vong Giang Dai which is the peak of this mountain and the view of the China beach was so panaromic with a 180 degrees viewpoint of the beach and many other landscapes around Marble Mountain. The memories was just as good as the one at Hai Van Pass as well as when I was in Pha Taem, Ubon Ratchathani last year where the Mekong River was most beautifully viewed from the peak.
From Marble Mountain, we moved on to the China Beach. From Marble Mountain to Hoi An, we passed through the long stretch of China Beach and many resorts, hotels and golf clubs were seen either newly completed or under renovations taken place along this coastal resort city. Most of the developments on the beach fronts cater to either rich investors or rich travellers with most of them can be seen as top class property developments. Those with lower to mid range budgets guesthouses and hotel can be found within Danang city of across the road of the beachfront which of course would be less attractive due to their location which are far off the beach. However, many accomodations properties are seen sprung up all along from Danang city right to the end of China beach prior to reaching Hoi An. Over at China beach main point, Quang stopped at the one and only backpacker hostel and a small restaurant for me to take a quick view before our next stop at Hoi An. The beach was rather deserted due to the wet season and it wasn't a holiday season in Vietnam but it was a long stretch of beach, good enough to get a nice relaxation with whole beach for oneself. Nevertheless, the waves were too strong for a good swim, a wind surfing will be rather more suitable at this point of time. From China Beach, we then moved on to Hoi An which was only about 20 to 30 minutes journey. Hoi An is a very small town as compared between Hua and Danang city and the landscapes here are filled with small old traditional houses mostly 2 storeys and resembled strongly on chinese style. This town can be best seen or experienced through a walking tour as most of the street here are tiny with only one lane for one direction. Most of the shops here sell vietnamese textiles and garments as well as footwear shops and small restaurants. When we arrived at Hoi An, it was closed to 14.00, so I told Quang perhaps we can go for a lunch break after long hours of travelling. We go through the town and the came across the wet market near the Bach Dang street parallel with the Han river. Over here at Bach Dang street, there are many restaurants and shops that you can see lining up the streets and also a good way to view on activities along the Han River. Quang and I stopped at one of the restaurant and I ordered the Pho Ga (chicken noodle sup) and fresh vietnamese spring roll and 333 Beer, HCM city brewery production while Quang ordered a dry noodle with Bier Larue (a beer with Tiger head), A Dang brewery production. We had a small talk over lunch and Quang tells more about himself. According to him, he doesn't work for Why Not Hotel but in fact has his own fleet of motorbikes that he rents to travellers on day charges while he himself also doubled as a motorbike taxi driver. Most of the guesthouses or hotels operators would engaged him should they need his services and he was reportedly a well known taximan at Pham Ngu Lao Street in Hue. He spoke broken english but as I mentioned earlier, he is a friendly guy who put on smiling faces at most times and never hesitated to provide assistance should a need arised. He get a pay of VND500,000 from the VND600,000 I paid to Why Not, so, its best if one could approach him directly as you can avoid paying the extra VND100,000 which was a form of commissions for the hotel operators. After lunch, we then had a look around the town and I managed to snap some photos of the old shops and houses around the city. It will be good to have at least a night stay to explore the city and purchase some local items as souveniers of for own use. The weather was good throughout our visits right after Hai Van Pass right down to Hoi An town. Leaving Hoi An town, I thought, a 2nd visit will be inevitable since there are still many sights to get on hold in and around the city. From Hoi An we head back to Hue from where we came from, Danang and then to Hai Van Pass onwards to Hue. Nevertheless, we will not go through Hai Van mountain but instead take the van taxi, where Quang's motorbike will be transported with the small lorry over the few kms stretch of Hai Van Tunnel. But before that, our last stop was the Cham Museum just before we reached Hai Van tunnel. This cham musuem displays some of the cham sculptures, artworks and paintings as well as cham ancient tools where from Danang downwards to Ho Chi Minh city, this entire area was formerly a Cham Kingdom under the rule of the Khemer kings but was later sacked by the Vietnamese and annexed as part of Vietnam. Over at Hai Van Tunnel, as we waited for the van to arrived to take us to th other end of the tunnel, Quang's motorbike was being placed into the lorry that will follow the van that we took to the other side. Once we reached over the other side, the weather seemed to have changed quickly and it started to rain again. So, Quang asked me to put on the raincoat for about a 3 hours journey to Hue from here. We were now back to square one from where we began, as the rain started to pour heavily just as Quang went on. I must say the raincoat helps hugely because it really covered me from head to my knee, thus, I was kept dry most of my body parts couple with Quang's driving, I was just so relieved. But again, the traffic of huge lorries and buses were the most nuisance and dangers posed for this return trip yet again. Prior to reaching Hue city, Quang stopped at one of his friend's sundry shop and we relaxed by the roadside short table and chair, similar to those found in Hanoi street stalls and had some vietnamese tea while he chatted with his friend. I took the opportunity to buy some vietnamese cookies "Ban Dau Xanh" which was rather cheaper than the one in Hanoi I reckoned. It was all the way back after about 20 minutes, to Why Not Hotel and Quang commended that I was one of the too little survivors of such a long hour trip as he mentioned that many had suffered pain on the buttocks and some couldn't evencontinue with the journey. I don't know whether this would be true but I thanked him for being such a great guide throughout the day and hopefully there will be another opportunity to have him as a guide other times.
Later that night after a shower, I went over to the Why Not Bar to have light dinner as well as couple of cold beers. Since this will be my last night at Hue, I wanted to catch up with the nightlife here so as to get in touch with the other fellow backpackers. It was still early when I reached the bar and it was not packed yet, many would have still having their dinner elsewhere before the end up the night by chilling out at bars with some cold beers. Why Not Bar is not just a bar, but it serves few good authentic Vietnamese Hue specialties and as I mentioned before, the food here is really up to the mark. I had a plate of fresh vietnamese spring rolls and the portion here is all I could say, the western size. It rainned again that night and all the patrons had to moved into the bar for those seated outside and that was when I could see the crowds were soaring. Over here, patrons can also watch football matches over the TVs and also play pool. While enjoying dinner over Huda Beer, I met with a japanese backpacker. Earlier he had a pool game with a white guy where he lost the game, so here he was sitting on the other small table next to me with his beer ready to be sipped freshly arrived on his table. He told me he had been travelling for almost 6 months with South Asia and South East Asia countries. He quit his full time professional job just to embark on his travel interests. Being in his late 20s, he thought this was the right time for him to travel and enhance his knowledge about the diverse cultures around the world. Then came the white man where he asked whether I would like to have a game with him. He introduced himself as William. We had a great game and William was the better player at the end of it. He was just too good. Later William partnered with the japanese guy up against 2 Vietnamese guys, where one of them was at Hue for work trip. The next morning, it was time to pack up, check out and head to the bus station to catch the bus to Savannakhet. Bidding farewell to the Why Not Hotel friendly staff, I hope that I would be able to return to Hue for other travel adventures like DMZ in future and also to get to Hoi An for more detailed travel there. So, from Hue to Savannakhet, its back to where I started earlier where I travelled from Savannakhet to Hue and now on the opposite directions. The bus departed from Hue around 8.45 and arrived at Savannaket 9 hours later at 17.00. After the immigration at both the 2nd Friendship Bridge in Lao PDR and Mukdahan in Thailand, it was already 18.00. The bus from Savannakhet bus station go directly to Mukdahan bus station and it took abt 45 minutes to reached the Mukdahan bus station from the Mukdahan immigration border control checkpoint. Arrived at Mukdahan bus station I purchased the ticket to Bangkok for less than THB500. This fare was for the normal bus where along the way, it stop at several towns to drop and pick up passengers and it isn't a comfortable option since it take 10 hours travel distance between Mukdahan and Bangkok arriving at Mo Chit Station and the seat was small with less leg room. My 1st thought was getting the VIP bus which cost around THB800 but would be a more comfortable option. However, it was my fault because I couldn't see where the VIP bus booth was located. And there were these staffs of the other bus companies that will tell you all sorts of lies, the most common is there is no VIP bus service for the night. And this is a good experience. I found out about it when I could see so many big and new busses at the platform, so I went to the ticket booths area only to realised that there was a VIP bus ticket booth on the far right end of the ticket booth area. The bus departed at 1930 and arrived at Mo Chit Station, Bangkok at 530. The ticket include a pack of biscuits and a small bottle of drinking water.
Over in Bangkok, I took the minivan from Mo Chit to Aranyaprathet and then crossing over to Poi Pet, a notorious Cambodian border town infamous with all sorts of bad stories about several immigration scams. The journey from Mo Chit to Aranyaphrathet took about 4 hours. And true enough, if you are not well aware of the situations and the scams, very likely you will get scammed by several con artists. These scammers will traget on unsuspicious travellers and the most common scam will be directing traveller to some fake "custom" officials where they will demand for money prior to arriving at the border control checkpoint. Regardless of what these people say, just ignore them and head straight to the Poi Pet checkpoint after crossing over from Aranyaprathet immigration. The Poi Pet immigration is located after a big arch with the Khmer ruins replica with a welcoming words to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The casinos in Poi Pet are in fact located at "no-man" land which is between Aranyaprathet and Poi Pet immigrations which actually causing huge confusion for 1st time traveller who would never intend to go beyond Poi Pet. Because the Poi Pet immigration is located after these 4 casinos, one would never thought he/she require to get their passport stamped in to Cambodia should they just intend to stay at the casinos area where all 4 casinos incorporated a resort/hotel in their premises. Or those who had crossed the Poi Pet immigration where after passport was stamped in, for a day tour around Poi Pet, one would thought that he/she required to get the passport stamped out even if he/she chosen to stay at one of the casino resorts. The rule of the thumb is if you would stay in Poi Pet for some gambling fun or go beyond Poi Pet, you are required to stamped into Cambodia and then make a U-turn to the casinos while those headed to Siem Reap and beyond would move on ahead from there. The 4 casinos here are Golden Diamond Casino & Resort, Poi Pet Resort Casino, Tropicana Resort Casino and the Holiday Resort Casino. From my experience here, some resort incorporated a gambling credit into the hotel room bill, which during non-peak weekend can still be very affordable at less than THB1000. Over at Aranyaprathet, the Rung Kluea market is the place to shop for very inexpensive goods.