*Vietnam Travel Letters, part 2 (read part 1 here); sent on August 31, 2009*

The east coast of Vietnam borders the South China Sea and the southern peninsula is interrupted by the Mekong Delta, which flows through Cambodia and Laos. Being by so much water has allowed us to experience several boat trips.

boat, mekon, vietnam pop rice, vietnam, mekong

The first was a day trip down the Mekong, where we passed by the locals on their boats stacked with harvested goods such as yams and fresh fruits. Arriving at a floating market, we watched as people made pop rice (similar concept to popcorn), rice paper, and coconut candy and then was ushered onto a smaller row boat where we were asked to don the infamous conical hat.

After a 10 hour bus ride to Nha Trang, one of the popular beach destinations, we embarked on the Funky Monkey boat cruise, where we island hopped, tried to snorkel with sub-par equipment, indulged in Tiger beer, swam in the South China Sea, and was entertained by our singing tour guide (the Funky Monkey himself!).

south china sea, swimming
We then basked in the sunset on the Tran Phu Bridge, over the Cai River.

Tran Phu Bridge, Cai River

(On the subject of bus rides, I must interject here and curse the Lonely Planet for giving us a faulty sense of the true condition of South East Asian buses. The LP states that foreigners are treated as perishable goods, and kept cool in snazzy air-con equipped buses…this has not been the case! Imagine a sweaty 10+ hour overnight bus with 40 smelly tourists.)

At over the vertical halfway point of Vietnam, we got an intense dose of culture in the historical city of Hue. Called the dragon boat trip, this tour putts along the Perfume River. Along the riverbank, families as big as eight or nine are quite poor, earning less than 20,000 Dong as a day, and live in this fishing village.

Perfume River

From there we visited Thien Mu Pagoda (resting place of Thich Quang Du, who burned self to protest vs. president Ngo Dinh Diem); Hom Chem Temple (one of the emperors had 400 wives, and 132 kids); Ming Mang Tomb (a giant park, which from the air resembles the shape of the emperor’s body); Khai Dinh Tomb (boasting a mix of Vietnamese and French architectures and my favourite of the three tombs we visited); Tu Duc Tomb (set along a lake, nestled amongst trees).

temple hue, vietnam
hue, vietnam hue, vietnam
hue, vietnam

The highlight of the day was probably at the Phu Mong Garden house where we saw a crazy showcase of Vietnamese kung fu (remind me to show you the videos!).

Reading reviews about shady Halong Bay tours (i.e. bed bugs and rats on the boat) made us weary, so we decided to splurge and go for the higher end Amber Gold Cruise (highly recommended!). Named as one of the natural wonders of the world and extremely hyped up by travel books and tourists, I was a little underwhelmed (edited to add: I don’t know why I said this – it was still a surreal and beautiful place!) but still appreciated the scenery and enjoyed the tour of one of the limestone caves.

halong bay, vietnam, cave
We kayaked in the bay to a little cove and were fed like queens with meals of fresh seafood. As the sun set, the stars appeared and it was absolutely beautiful.

halong bay, vietnam