Hello Hoi An & Hue

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The next part of our journey takes us to Hoi An for 4 days and then Hue for 2.

The last time we were in Hoi An, November 2017, we got the tail end of the Damrey Typhoon which did a fair bit of damage in its track. We saw the floods in the Ancient Town and surrounding areas and you can read more here

From Saigon we fly to Da Nang a city with over 1 million inhabitants. It is a coastal city with beautiful natural sandy beaches. You can see huge investment from China and South Korea to build 5 star resorts along the beaches and in a few years you can perhaps imagine it being like Miami. A drive through the city and you can see Skyscrapers, fancy bridges and wide streets being built, further signs of how well Vietnam is coming along. Hoi An is about a 45 minute drive from Da Nang.

Old Town Hoi An is an ancient trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The historic district is maintained a few streets back from the riverside and undoubtedly the nighttime illumination of the streets by its colourful lanterns gives it its great charm. At night boats lit up with lanterns sail up and down with tourists and paper lanterns are lowered into the river to give a beautiful perspective.

It is of course heavily commercialised with tailor shops (a particular attraction, there must be about a hundred around the town), coffee shops, restaurants and souvenir shops a plenty, and of course street vendors trying to sell you fruit, or hand made cards, or just posing for photographs for a small fee!

Nonetheless it is a very pleasant experience to wander up and down the streets, visiting some of the historical landmarks like the Japanese Bridge or a Pagoda or an historic house, or just perusing the shops, eating or getting a coffee.

My favourite experiences this trip were:

  • Just strolling around the Ancient Town, day & night, taking photos and absorbing it all in.

  • Dining in the Secret Garden Restaurant, a fantastic restaurant hidden in the side streets. Lovely setting and exquisite food!

  • Eating in Miss Lien Thao’s tiny street restaurant where we met Annabelle and Mike from London. Completely at the other spectrum of dining, where she had 3 long tables and cooked for 30 people on a tiny cooking stove with two rings! But great food.

  • Visiting the Precious Heritage Art Gallery Museum.

This museum was a great find, it featured the photography of Rehahn a French portrait photographer who visited Vietnam and who over a number of years from 2011 began taking portraits of Vietnamese old and young. It developed into a project where he drove on his motorcycle around the extremities of Vietnam to photograph all or most of the 50+ different ethnic races that make up Vietnam. He also collected samples of their native clothing, which are now very rare. Many of these costumes now appear in his Museum with portraits of the owners and a short description of the person, their regions and details on how the clothes are made and dyed. It is a fascinating gallery/museum and his photography is stunning and you can see how he makes a connection with person. Well worth a view:

https://www.rehahnphotographer.com/

He also has a very good mobile app you can use to get the experience and story without having to come to Hoi An.

We visited Hue for two days and stayed in a lovely resort called the Pilgrimage Village. Initially we intended to just chill out here for Sharon’s birthday but then headed into the Imperial City where we spent a very hot morning, but it was well worth the visit.

Hue of course played a very important part of the American/Vietnam war, where many parts of the Imperial City were destroyed, but now many have been restored.

Photos Hoi An

Photos from Hue Imperial Citadel

Bye Bye Saigon

Sharon In Bitexco building HCMC

Sharon In Bitexco building HCMC

Vietnam is an up and coming economy from, at one point, one of the poorest regions of Southeast Asia, to number 47 in the world pushing it up into the middle income range of nations.

No where is this more evident than the powerhouse that is Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. Signs of growing prosperity abound, new skyscrapers, we visited the impressive Skydeck at the Bitexco Building, high end boutiques, Versace, Christian Dior, Burberry, Channel, Cartier, Samsung has a big presence, the new Metro being built in a joint venture with Japan.  Large hotels with rooftop bars and swimming pools, especially where we stayed in District 1, where a beer can cost 98,000 VD (about €3.74) but locals can get the same beers for 13,000VD in residential areas. Simple things like being able to pay for food & drink with debit and credit cards. There are many more cars here than say Hanoi, and the infrastructure is advancing quicker.

However, from a tourist perspective Saigon doesn’t hold the same charm as, say, Hoi An or the Old Quarter in Hanoi. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our visit.  The War Remnants Museum is a powerful if somewhat harrowing experience showing the inhumanity of man to his fellow man. There is some beautiful colonial architecture like the beautiful Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and The Central Post Office.  There are some great markets to browse around.  Plenty of good restaurants and bars to frequent!  Further out you can visit the Mekong Delta for a different experience and the Cu Chi tunnels are famous, there are a few islands off the mainland popular as seaside resorts as well.

Happily we met with a young Irish ex-pat who has lived for the last two years in Saigon and it was great to get a his perspective on Saigon. He agreed that from a touristic point of view Saigon doesn’t hold the same charms as other places further north but as a place to live it can’t be beaten. The people are very friendly, it has a constant warm year round temperature whereas further north there are clearer seasons where it can get quite cold and houses, in his view, aren’t built to deal with the cold. He can live with the rainy season as long as he doesn’t have to put up with the cold. He loves the food, it’s much easier to live a healthier life style.  The cost of living is very low.  There is a buzz about the place and economically the place is doing well, he believes there are more venture capitalists and people investing in Vietnam than any other places in Southeast Asia.  What does he miss? Well apart from family, is live music in pubs and bars like back home in Dublin.  He certainly intends to spend another couple of years here before deciding where to next.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short trip to Ho Chi Minh City, apparently we picked the ideal time of year, although the temperature was in the low to mid thirties it was not humid and it was very bearable. This is the cool season !!😉 One highlight was a qualifying match for the U23 soccer team against Brunei. They had installed about 10 huge TV screens along Hue Walking Street and it was great to see the crowds out to watch the match. We also had a few lovely meals, Vietnamese food is special and I think it’s great!

Now off to Hoi An, the last time we were there, November 2017 we were met with the afters of a huge Cyclone/Storm that flooded many businesses/bars/ships/restaurants along the rivers edge and a few streets back. Flooding like this apparently is quite frequent and it is amazing to see how quickly they recover. Hopefully better weather this time!

To finish a few photos from Saigon.

 

Bilbao photography trip

It's been a very busy period the last 6 weeks and I haven't had a chance to say a few words about our trip to Bilbao at the start of June. Seven members from Malahide Camera Club joined Iñaki Hernandez-Lasa for a very successful architectural photography workshop in his home town of Bilbao, Northern Spain. Unfortunately the weather didn't play ball with us and the sun didn't shine for as often or as long as we would have liked. In fact due to lightening on the runway we had to have two goes at landing. However, once we made it there we had a fantastic time. Bilbao has amazing architecture and it is a beautiful city which is easy to get around. On top of that the food is world class. It was great to have Iñaki who knew all the best places to go. He had arranged a great itinerary although the rain did manage to upset a couple of outings! But the gang were determined to make the best of it and they did, but what happens on tour stays on tour!

So here are a few shots from the trip.