Vietnam Part 1 – Marble Mountain

Were should we go on our holidays?

A question asked by so many wives just wanting to get out of work and embark on either an adventure or relaxation. To be honest I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to spend time away form a job that absorbed so much of my time and anywhere sounded good as long as I didn’t have to organise the trip.
“Jet Star has cheap deals to Vietnam”. I heard from the kitchen. “I can do a cheap deal through work”.
“Fine, book it then”. I mumbled back not really interested as I buried myself into the TV and what ever was on to escape the endless barrage of thoughts about tomorrows work load.
 “Well, do you really want to go? I’ve reserved the seats and it’s getting full I need you to make a decision”. “OK, do it. Sounds like fun, how long should I ask for?”
 Over the next couple of weeks Elena tirelessly worked on our holidays as I worked on in my own little world, oblivious to what we would be doing and where we would be going. All I know was I was going on holiday – to Vietnam.
 For the next 8 months I knew holidays were coming and working 6 and 7 day weeks I just worked toward the break that I knew seemed just around the corner. I was so blasé toward the trip I didn’t study anything about the culture.
 Time was upon us, time to embark into lands unknown and I guess since I knew nothing I wouldn’t be disappointed if the country was not up to my expectations.
 All I knew was Elena had planned 4 days in Vietnam and an overland tour through the heart of Cambodia via the Mekong Delta to Thailand. It all sounded like a great adventure. At last I was interested.
Vietnam – Place where America lost a war. Where Robin Williams made a saying famous – again! “Good Morning Vietnam!”
We arrived in Ho Chi Min city and since we got here late in the evening we went straight to the Novotel hotel for a good nights sleep. The hotel was about a 10-minute drive from the International airport, which was great, as we would be leaving very early in the morning.
We had a wee bit of trouble when we got to the hotel; our tickets that the local travel agent that Elena had arranged to meet and was supposed to be bringing us was not there! Apparently we missed him by about 5 minutes so after a panic and a couple of quick phone call by the concierge we arranged for him to come back to the hotel. Unbeknown to us this would be not the first of many small interruptions to make our journey a little more interesting along the way.
Never mind this gave me the chance to sit in the bar and enjoy my first of many local beers! Getting drunk here is cheep! .80c per 400ml! But no time for that this night – we do have an early flight out to the city of Da Nang.
0430am feels the same anywhere in the world after a late night. The head is up but the body is on another planet let alone the same room! Wake up calls are always that, inconvenient noises that are designed to nudge you just at the moment that you’re just nodding off to sleep fearful that you will miss your wake up call.
Flying to Da Nang is quick a 1 hour flight in early morning light I finally start to get a glimpse of this foreign land forbidden by social and political arenas now laid open for the world to wonder and ponder who is right and who is wrong. Da Nang, a city well known as an American rest and relaxation area of troops during the war, made even more famous by the TV series China Beach.
Elena had studied the tour book well and this book and I became good friends during our travels.
Marble Mountain, Da Nang- Honestly this magical place should have been called Marvel Mountain. These massive out crops of marble dominate the Da Nang skyline and as the sun raises the colours rival that of other great rock formations strewn around the globe. This place is breathtaking in more ways than one. 156 steps later we reached the summit that overlooked China Beach.
It was on top of this mountain that the Viet Kong hid from the American soldiers. With an elaborate system of tunnels and natural caves etched out through the ages of time that Vietnamese were able to escape and elude the Americans through several kilometres that ran to the waiting boats and allies on the river.
The Mountains are home now to monks temples and pagodas. Far above the now waking city, away from the noise of traffic the air seems so tranquil and peaceful, it’s hard to believe that American forces tried to take this place, yet the constant reminder of the bullet holes in the temple walls tells a tale of not long ago. There are several mountains to climb here but as this was only a pit stop on the way to Hoi Ann we had to move on. A little advice to anyone travelling to this place, go early in the morning for two reasons –it’s quiet and you have the place to yourself and most importantly, it’s going to get hot!
Our driver who had waited patiently with our bags at the bottom of the mountain asked us if we would like to see anything else on the way to Hoi Ann and since we had our trusty guide book with us I asked to see China Beach.
To be honest China Beach is literally nothing to look at – just sand, and not even good sand at that! The Vietnamese Army now owns the land and almost by design there is nothing there. It is as if the Vietnamese have erased every trace of foreign occupation of the beach. We drove on without stopping and just peered through the window as we looked back on time.
After arriving at Greenfields and checking into the quaint hotel booked via the good old Internet from Australia we decided that we would go and explore the old part of town. Greenfields Hotel is located at 423 Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoi An Quang Nam, Vietnam. Our Insight Book mentioned a good restaurant. So with a little help from the hotel reception and us not taking directions very well we set off in the wrong direction.
5km later we arrived back at the hotel! Exhausted yet determined we set off again, this time in the right direction and the midday heat! Late lunch at Trung Bak was well worth the journey, the food was fantastic! Trung Bak is situated on 87 Tran Phu St located in the old city of Hoi Ann. Here you’ll find a Vietnamese landmark that all locals are proud of – Chùa Cầu Bridge. I felt like stepping back in time as we trod across one of the oldest bridges in all Vietnam. Chùa cầu Bridge dates to the 6th century and is world heritage listed. Built by the Japanese it stands as a testament against time weather wars and political campaigns to show its beauty and architectural ambience.
After gorging ourselves on our first local meal and buying what can only be described as peanut brittle we staggered off through the ancient part of the town to find another little treasure, TAN KY HOUSE. The house has been in the same family for seven generations and is it incredible condition considering its age and the fact that it has been flooded many times. If you ask the family who now act as guides (and still live in the house) they will show you the marks where the water surged up to. This was the first old house certified as part of Hoi An’s national heritage and is the only historic house visited by national and international leaders. It consists of three unique styles of architecture – Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese and is open 8am- 12 and 1230-530pm daily.
In this ancient part of the city there is so much to see. Little art and craft shops are everywhere and it was here that we started shopping for gifts to send back home, a hat for Kirill back home staying with friends and a liquored set of coasters for Dan & Julia. The lacquered craftwork was amazing. If I weren’t travelling so light I would have bought a lot more.
After all this walking we thought it best to head back to the hotel for a swim.
In the evening we thought we would go to the beach. I managed to get a motorbike and took Elena for a ride, this turned out to be the highlight of the day. We got to the beach and parked the bike. “Where you from sir?” I explained the parking warden that I was born in New Zealand and to my surprise he broke into song in Maori and saying GIDAY MATE, CHOICE BRO! Listening to a Vietnamese parking attendant singing in Maori was hilarious!  We walked on the beach and decided to sit for a while, the next thing we were having a foot massage and were surrounded in ladies trying to sell us fruit, necklaces and all sorts of stuff – remember if you buy from one – YOU BUY FROM ALL – best not to buy!
Motor Bike - Hoi An
The massage was heaven! As we rode home we stopped and watched the sun set over rice fields and dreamed that we too could be so lucky to live in a land that is uncomplicated by the fake necessities that are luxuries that most of us pretend we possess yet slave all our lives to own.
After another quick swim dinner by the poolside was a romantic moment ruined only by the persistent mosquitoes that plaque the air. And since the American took with them the napalm it was time for germ warfare and break out the deet.  So much in one day it was hard to switch off for the night and I lay awake my mind racing of adventures yet to explore tomorrow.

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