At 8 am we should have been alongside the Da Nang pier but due to heavy fog we were still about ¼ mile short, proceeding ahead dead slow, and sounding the ship’s whistle periodically. I went to the observation deck on Deck 6 and could scarcely see the bow of the ship, let alone anything beyond. The visibility was a little better behind us, but thick as pea soup to the front. The deck officers were peering into the pea soup looking for any hazards or a glimpse of the pier.
The fog finally lifted and we moored around 8:30. The ship was cleared shortly thereafter allowing the passengers to go ashore. Every passenger was required to carry a Vietnamese landing card and keep it with them throughout the visit. If you were staying off the ship overnight or leaving the country, you were required to get an individual visa and take your passport with you. If you were staying in the Da Nang area and spending the night on the ship, you would be covered by the ship’s group visa. Since we would be staying overnight in Hoi An and then traveling to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City later we received the individual visa at a cost of $90.
I looked into getting a Vietnam Visa before we left but I kept getting conflicting information from the Vietnam Embassy in the USA about how much it cost and what information was required. Once I learned that HAL would be able to get the individual visa, I elected to let them handle getting the visa for me. A Visa service company could probably figure it all out as well, but they would probably charge as much or more than HAL.
Seven of us, from our cruise critic roll call, scheduled an overnight tour in Da Nang with Halong Bay Tours – Vietnam Package Travel Company at a cost of $232 per person. There are a lot of options for this port and it pays doing some research in advance to understand what is available and what you would like to do.
Details here on the blog under a new tab called Shore Excursions under World Cruise Reference
Our group assembled near the Ocean Bar to go ashore together and meet our guide. First we had to go to the front desk and retrieve our passports with our Vietnam Visas and entry stamps. Our passports were ready to go, but the rest of our group’s passports were not ready. One and a half hours later their Visas were finally straightened out and we could leave the ship. Later on we learned that the authorities changed their clearance requirements several times causing confusion and delays all the way around.
Once off the ship we had to go thru Vietnamese immigration which was set up in a tent on the pier. With 4 officials working two lines with 2 stations each, the line moved pretty fast. They took your landing card, stamped it, and handed it back, rarely even bothering to look up.
A money changing kiosk was right behind immigration where they sold Vietnamese Currency, the Dong. The ship would not be buying back Dong and I wasn’t sure how much we would need so I elected to stay with USD which are readily accepted everywhere. Every shop keeper we came across used an exchange rate of 20,000 dong to one USD. They would usually give you change in dollars as well.
The true exchange rate is 22,000 Dong so you pay a 10% surcharge for using USD. Credit cards are accepted in many shops and the more you spend, the more likely they will take credit cards. They may also tack on a 50 cent surcharge for the convenience of using your credit card.
HAL had arranged for vendors to be on the pier selling souvenirs, but at the last second, they were not allowed on the pier. We learned from our guide later that getting access to the pier can be very political and difficult for the locals requiring the use of “middle men” and paying fees.
At 10:30 am, our group along with our guide, “Danny” and our driver, left the port and headed down the road for our 2 ½ hour drive to Hue.
Along the way we had an opportunity to discuss life in Vietnam with Danny. We learned that the Vietnamese refer to the Vietnam War as The American War and that most people in still refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon. People are looking forward trying to improve their lives and do not dwell on the war or hold any animosity as it is counterproductive. Vietnam has a long history of foreign occupation by various foreign countries.
We saw many military memorials and cemeteries along our route but they are only honoring soldiers who fought for the North. There aren’t any memorials to soldiers or cemeteries for soldiers who fought for the south. Danny went on to say that about 8 years ago, they started to allow Vietnamese who fled to the USA back in 1975 to return to Vietnam for visits.
Danny was recently married and has a 5 month old baby. His dream job is to get work on a cruise ship but that is difficult because you have to apply in person in Saigon and must know many “middle people” to even get an application. He now works as a freelance tour guide, picking up work as he can from the steady stream of tourists visiting Vietnam.
There was a stretch of road, maybe a mile, where every roadside business displayed a yellow fluid for sale in a variety of repurposed plastic bottles. We learned that this was body oil made from the bark of local trees that is used by pregnant women to keep their skin soft. It’s quite popular and only available in this region.
Most of the roads we used today were, paved 2 lane roads, well aligned. There were some stretches that were filled with bumps and holes, needing repaving. Work crews were present in a few spots making repairs and they appeared to be making or mixing the asphalt in larger containers right on the side of the road.
Leaving the lowlands of Da Nang we drove up a winding mountain road to the Hai Van Mountain Pass, right on the border between Da Nang and Hue. We stopped for a break near a large arch that used to be the gate between these two provinces or cities (I never did fully understand the political subdivisions here now). A few shops and restaurants were on the side of the road and this spot was a very popular stopping spot for locals and tourists. Across the street we hiked a couple of hundred yards up the old Hue/Da Nang Road (quite steep) and climbed some steps up to a scenic overlook. Low clouds obscured the view below, but that didn’t dissuade a few brides and grooms, dressed in their wedding clothes from walking up the old road and finally using a ladder to climb to the top of a stone pedestal to pose for pictures. Too bad it wasn’t a clear day as the view of the South China Sea from here would be spectacular.
As we were walking around a group of riders on Harley Davidsons arrived to take a break and hike up to the arch to see the clouds instead of the view.
Continuing up north toward Hue, we encountered several double decker truck trailers stuffed full with live pigs heading to a slaughterhouse somewhere or to market.
Yellow Chrysanthemums were everywhere and almost every driveway and business had some on display. These flowers are displayed during the Lunar New Year holiday, one of the biggest events of the year which had occurred recently.
We arrived at our first official tour stop, The Tomb of Minh Mang, at 1:35 pm. Due to the fog and immigration delays we were 2 ½ hours behind schedule. Minh Mang was emperor from 1791 to 1841. Leading up to his burial mound, which was behind a locked gate, were numerous pavilions and courtyards surrounded by a pine forest. Even though there is a marked burial mound, no one is really sure if that is where he is actually buried as he died two years before the tomb was completed and the location of his body has never been fully resolved. This tomb was modeled after the Ming tombs in Beijing, China. Most of the structures are in poor condition, badly needing restoration. The weather was perfect, almost cool and we had a chance to sit by a pond and enjoy some soft drinks before moving on to our next stop – Lunch.
Our Lunch was in the Phuoc Thanh Garden Restaurant in downtown Hue. Since we didn’t get there until 3:30, the place was empty and the seven of us sat down in wooden chairs around a rectangular table where we enjoyed the followed fixed menu.
- Pho Soup
- Hue Pancake
- Crispy Fried Noodles with Vegetables
- Sautéed Shrimp
- Fish Baked in a clay pot
- Grilled Pork
- Steamed Rice
- Fried Banana
Service was excellent and the food was all very good.
It was now 4:20 and the nearby Citadel/Imperial City closed at 5pm so we had to hurry to get inside before they closed. The Imperial City is surrounded by a moat and an outer wall. Marking the entrance are several cannons and a huge Vietnamese flag which stands 121 feet above the ground, which we learned is the tallest flag in the country. The Citadel/Imperial City was built from 1804 to 1833 – and was severely damaged during wars in 1947 & 1968 but was restored afterwards each time. After we arrived we watched a 10 minute video that shows the grounds and their current renovation progress along with detailed computer generated photographs of how they would look once complete.
Inside the Citadel/Imperial City is the Forbidden Purple City, the Royal Theatre and Library. One of the small manmade ponds inside the Imperial City was filled with Koi Fish. Food was provided to feed them. After tossing the fish food into the water, dozens of Koi would converge on the food, causing the water to bubble and boil as the Koi all tried to get to the food first.
As the sun was setting around 6pm we headed off to our last stop in Hue: The Thien Mu Pagoda located on the banks of the Perfume river. Our driver let us off at the base of the steps leading to the Pagoda, which were quite steep. After climbing the stairs to the Pagoda we walked around the grounds, but didn’t see much as the sun was gone and it was completely dark. The Pogoda is also home to an active monastery and much to our surprise there was group of young students playing soccer in a courtyard in almost complete darkness. The monastery still displays the Austin Car that was driven by Monk Thich Quang Duc to the spot in Saigon where he committed suicide in public by lighting himself on fire to protest the government’s discrimination against Buddhists and violating religious freedoms.
We returned to our van via a sloping path, avoiding the stairs, which would have been tricky in total darkness.
It was now 6:40 pm and we were facing a three hour drive to our hotel in Hoi An. This was going to be a long day and a late dinner.
There wasn’t much to see after dark on the way from Hue to Hoi An, but right before we went thru a 7KM long tunnel built by the Japanese we stopped for a break at a road side rest stop. Here we learned that motorbikes are not allowed to drive thru the tunnel so they are ferried thru the tunnel, for a small fee, on open trailers specially designed for this purpose. The bikes are loaded onto the trucks at this rest stop, then the riders pile into busses which follow the trucks until they are reunited on the other side.
At 9:40 pm we arrived at the 3 star Hotel Bach Dang where we quickly checked in, (they kept our passports at the front desk) and immediately went to dinner at the nearby Hoi An Silk Village Restaurant where we were served a fixed menu as follows:
- Pineapple Chicken Salad
- Hoi An Special Spring Rolls
- Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce
- Pan Fried Fish w Chili and Lemongrass
- Stir-fried vegetables
- Steamed rice
- Sliced tropical fresh fruits.
We were back in our rooms by 11PM, exhausted.
The Hotel was roughly similar to a Comfort Inn in the USA. The room had a tile floor and was a nice size with 2 double beds, TV, small refrigerator (stocked with coke, sprite and water) and fast, free WiFi. CNN International was the only English language TV Channel.
It was a long day and we were finally able to get to sleep.This entry was posted in Uncategorized