HOT INFO
On The Road Stuart

June 6 1999 - August 3, 1999

China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Now in Australia


Back to the On The Road Index
Email #4, Dec 06, 1999

CHINA

27/6
THE THREE GORGES
- Are impressive but the fact that they are about to be flooded makes them stand out that much more. Since you're cruising, just kick back and enjoy.
THE THREE LITTLE GORGES - Even if its foggy its worth going down to see these, the mist may clear by the time you start the return journey, and unless its really thick fog, you can still get a sense of the scale of the gorges. Don't bother to get out of your boats at the first stop but do at the second stop, which is at the far end of the gorges, and have a look at the stalls and snacks on offer. (Hmmm, Chicken on a stick!)

28/6
YANGZTE DAM SITE
- We had a foggy day so we couldn't see much but judging by the model I'm sure its worth seeing!
ACCOMMODATION - Overnight train to Guangxi Province. The worst train of the trip! Hard sleeper with no A/C but a fan that cycled round and was probably worse than having no A/C!

29/6 - 2/7 YANGSHUO -
This town is near Guilin and surrounded by the bizarre scenery of limestone karsts. It meant to be cheaper than Guilin, you'll have to take a bus there as Yangshuo has no train station. I saw more westerners here in one afternoon than in 3 weeks in the rest of China. West Street is where the tourist area is centred, its here you'll find the art shops, cafes, tailors and general tourist stuff. (Including cheap CDs)
ACCOMMODATION - Lisa's Cafe, it has 24hr hot water but only because each room has its own boiler which requires working out! The staff are a good laugh too.
FOOD - All the cafes are pretty much the same, good, standard, although service tends to be pretty slow. You might get a bit excited to see pizza and lasagne on the menus but don't get too excited, they aren't quite the same as what you are use to.
ACTIVITIES - I thoroughly recommend hiring a bike and a guide, he can lead you all around the area and take you between rice fields and crops of peanuts and corn, we even got to use a manual rice threshing machine. Our guide also cooked us lunch at his family home and took as to the normal sights of Buddha Water Cave and Moon Hill.
We also went up river in a boat to see some more of the scenery and take a cooling swim with tractor tyres. J What seems to be the main activities though (apart from being sold stuff) is sitting in the bars and watching western films.
The night of the 2nd was on a hard sleeper from Guilin to Guangzhou, on a train which was as good as the Beijing-Xian hard sleeper.

3/7
Took a hydrofoil from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, very comfy but just a little cold. (That's HK A/C for you.) They put on a Chinese movie which I'm sure was really cool but I could only read about a third of the subtitles! The trip was kinda like being on a plane, what with passport control, the movie, the layout of the seats and all.
Food - Dinner was had at The Peak on HK Island. Pricey but with a fantastic view of the harbour and excellent food. We treated ourselves as it was the last night of the trip!

4/7 - 11/7 HONG KONG
I had only planned to stay a few days but it turned into a week! Even with all that extra time there are things I didn't see although I did lose a couple of days due to changing hotels, saying goodbye to the rest of the group and recovering from a hangover
 I mean the previous 3 weeks. I was apparently unlucky as I was there for a bad week of weather - rain and fog!

ACCOMMODATION
EVERGREEN HOTEL
- the last night of the trip was spent here and it was in keeping with the standard set by the previous hotels. Good location for Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) but in general it's not so good. They don't change travellers cheques though, only cash which can cause problems if your arrive on the wrong day!
YMCA SALISBURY - This place is fantastic. I stayed in a dorm room with only 3 other guys and you get a cupboard and a safe to yourself. It's very clean and the building has plenty of facilities including pool, gym, restaurant, barbershop, etc. It cost HK$200 a night, so not the cheapest place in TST but I was impressed.
YHA MT. DAVIS - DO NOT WALK TO THIS PLACE! I did and it almost killed me! The location is very poor (out in the middle of nowhere) but there is a shuttle bus from the near the Macau Ferry Terminal, which is the best way of getting there and back. The hostel is OK, the dorm rooms sleep about 30 odd people and the shower room isn't great but the price is only HK$65 a night (85 if you include 2 shuttle bus trips). However you do have to do a cleaning job each morning but its small (ie change the bins) and easily done, there's also a curfew. On the plus side you will meet other backpackers to share stories with as you sit on the patio looking at the spectacular view of the islands and boats.
CHUNKING MANSIONS - I saw inside one of these and its not nice. Not nice at all. But it does have a perfect location if you want a nightlife. I met 2 couples who were paying HK$100 each for rooms to themselves so maybe its worth it.
Of the places I stayed at I preferred the YMCA.

FOOD
After 4 weeks of Chinese food and with 4 weeks of Vietnamese food ahead of me, I was not ashamed of eating in McDonalds. A lot! Compared to Britain its dirt cheap plus its quick and it has familiarity.
PIER 4 OPEN AIR RESTAURANT - has good but nothing special food although the view is nice, when it's not raining. (Near the Macau Ferry Terminal, walk towards Star Ferry on the walkway.)
MAD DOGS - (Lan Kuai Fong) serves a lovely Roast Beef although it may have been lovely simply because it was roast beef.
OLIVERS - Sandwiches and baked potatoes, which are good mainly because you've missed them so much! (Just like the beef.)

THINGS TO SEE
MACAU -
Take your passport, because you're going to Portugal! (Unless its after the hand-over.) Also get a good map as it is easy to get lost on the narrow, winding streets that are a big change from China. Worth seeing is the Monte Fort with its museum and the ruins of St Pauls. Apart from that, just walk the streets and see what you see.
LANTAU - The bronze budda is worth seeing (when it's visible) but don't bother eating at the monastery unless you're really hungry. Take a bus down the other side of the island and visit TAI O, a village with interesting stilt housing that shows how much the rich/poor gap is in HK.
STANLEY AND ABERDEEN - I was so glad I went to see the southern side of HK Island. It shows you that HK is not all skyscrapers and there is greenery and open places. Stanley has the Stanley Market which is full of tat for souvenirs, while Aberdeen is a fishing port and thus has hundreds of junks in the harbour. You could spend a day seeing these places but you could do it in less if you wanted to. Taking the bus round is probably a good idea because it's easy to use and getting on the top deck provides some great views as you go over the top.
KOWLOON PARK - Is worth walking through if you're nearby - get away from the roads and check out the sculpture park.
HONG KONG PARK - Very pretty and makes a nice break from the streets. Like Kowloon Park, go there when you're passing.
VICTORIA PEAK - Has to be done to see the amazing view but there's also all the tourist aimed shopping and amusements which may interest you. The tram is a good way of getting up there but factor in plenty of time for the queue as it can take some time to get on the tram!
LI YUEN STREET (East and West) - I must have had the wrong streets, L.P. describes them as having lots of shops etc. which they don't.
TEMPLE OF 10,000 BUDDHAS - I didn't get see this but I was told it's very good and worth seeing.

CINEMAS -
I went to 3 different cinemas, the Miramar (behind Miramar Mall, Nathan Rd. TST.) was the cheapest, HK$50, but the most expensive (UA Times Square) was only HK$10 more. For listings of films and cinemas as well as other cultural events pick up the free HK Magazine from places such as HMV.

PUBS AND BARS -
"Jousters II"
is friendly but there aren't many westerners.
The "Australian Pub" is fun but its all westerners.
"Delaney's" is also fun but has better decor and a very cool barman by the name of Kumir.
"Chasers" is the place for all night drinking with live music.
Remember to carry some ID for getting in to any pub.

ROUTE TO HANOI 11/7 - 13/7
Having spent so much time in HK I needed to take the direct route to Vietnam. I took the express train to GUANGZHOU from Hung Hom station, in Kowloon, for HK$190. I was late for the overnight train to NANNING so I grabbed hold of my courage and took a sleeper bus. It cost me Y120. I got lucky and didn't get a sleeping partner but I'm not sure if I took the best form of transport - its either hot, because there's no A/C, or its cold because some one opened a window! If you do take a sleeper bus, don't look at the bed too closely and travel with someone you know, unless you want to share a bed with someone you don't know and possibly can't speak to.
Once I got Nanning I was determined to keep going, so I went to the train station but I couldn't get a train for Hanoi. What I could get was a train for PINGXIANG, which took longer than the lady said it would so I ended up in that border town for my last night in China.

Pingxiang is a good place for a last night, plenty of places to eat - just pick one that you like the look of, there's no way to visually distinguish between them all! The hotel I stayed in is called Qui Yang Bing Guan in pinying but there aren't any pinying signs. (I had the name converted for me. Thanks Marcella.) As you leave the train station head over the bridge then turn right, its way better than the Luoyang hotel but that isn't hard! Pingxiang has a large market and some interesting (modern Chinese?) scenery: bland buildings in front of limestone karsts. For some reason I noticed a lot of barber-shops in this town which I hadn't noticed at all before, they don't do a bad job on the hair but the shaving is a bit poor. If you want to change your money, make sure you go to the main branch of the Bank of China, it's the smallest one and nearest to the train station. Don't get it confused with the large one that's down the main road!

To get to the border crossing you can either take a minibus or a motor-trike, for a laugh I chose the latter and it was fun. The checkpoint was easier to cross than I expected, no bribery or being stopped to unpack or any such scare story. Once across I was approached by a guy on a motorbike who didn't speak any English but managed to tell me he could get me to the train station! He was also willing to change my final Yuan but I have no idea if I got a decent rate! In Dong Dang I found out the train wasn't for another 6 hours so the same guy took me to Lang Son for a bus. It was a 15-minute ride and before I had even got off the bike a kid came running up shouting "Hanoi". If that doesn't happen to you then wait around, the busses drive around town calling out their destination so its fairly easy to get transport.
After sitting at the front of the bus (the driver and conductor-kid insisted) for a few hours I had arrived in Hanoi! It was as easy as that! ;)


HANOI

The time of year I was in Hanoi was very hot and incredibly humid. It's just about bearable but I recommend avoiding it if you can.

THINGS TO DO
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM -
Should be at the top of your list of things to do in Hanoi, the experience of the deep respect and solemness is astounding and bizarre. Remember to wear trousers/long skirt and follow the rules strictly. Nearby are the HCM Museum and HCM's Stilt House which are worth going around as part of the experience. The museum is also quite unusual, being part shrine to the work done by Uncle Ho in "freeing" Vietnam and part modern art gallery.
HOAN KIEM LAKE - If you are going for a walk, you'll probably come across here anyway. It's a good place to see life passing by in Hanoi, locals playing badminton or people just hanging about. But prepare to be hassled by postcard sellers who can be very VERY persistent. (They can also be found out side your hotel and most places in Hanoi, they just seem to be more prominent here.)
ARMY MUSEUM - Has interesting exhibits, including a mangle of American tanks, jeeps and jets as well as other pieces from the American War. At the time I went they had a photographic display of the war, which may be gone by the time you go, most of it was also on in HCM City though. The flag tower is meant to give a view of the city, if you're fit enough to get up it in the heat, although it had actually closed by the time I got around to climbing it. The nearby Lenin Monument is worth walking past as it's in a little park that gets you away from the roads.
TEMPLE OF LITERATURE - A thousand-year-old Confucian temple, it is well preserved and a good break from the busy streets. I really enjoyed my time here, studying the lay out of the buildings and the steles that are laid out.
WATER PUPPETS - Great for half an hour. Unfortunately they go on for an hour! Cleverly done and some nice vignettes played out wordlessly but it gets dull after a while, plus you're never quite sure what is going on.

FOOD
KOTO -
(27 Quoc Tu Giam Str.) has amazing sandwiches, drinks and cakes. Its all made and served by former street-kids, who are being taught a trade other than selling postcards. It also has the cheapest Internet access I found in Hanoi.
KINH DO CAFE - (252 Pho Hang Bong) serves good but small portions with matching small prices.
RELAX BAR - (60 Pho Ly Thuong Kiet) is recommend by friends who enjoyed the beers and atmosphere.
Generally, there are plenty of places for eating in. The Vietnamese use a lot of bread in their snacks, something left over from the French occupation.

14/7
Joined the Vietnam Adventure tour in the evening. The hotel was the VICTORY HOTEL (9 Nguyen Nhu Do Str.) near the train station and it has a fantastic city view from the roof top patio. They actually put on an optional day trip to the Perfume Pagoda for those who had arrived in Hanoi early, which I couldn't take because I slept in L but reports from those that went say it was worth it.

15/7 - 17/7 HILL TRIBE TREK with HOMESTAYS
On the Thursday morning the group bundled into a minibus and went up to the hills of NW Vietnam. The walks themselves were fairly easy (although the heat made them tough) and only lasted a few hours each. You get to see some fantastic scenery up those roads and tracks. The village people are very friendly and welcoming, serving some great food and providing entertainment, although they cant speak any English. You actually get to sleep in the stilt houses, sharing the main room with the owners, so make sure you follow the customs, which the tour leader tells you about. Also, you have to use the squat toilets - unless you can hold it in for 3 days!
A warning - Be careful with the rice wine that the hosts provide with the meals - its lethal stuff.

18/7
Returned to Hanoi for about 2 hours and then got aboard the hard seat class of the train for HAIPHONG. We spent little time in this city so I can't really say much about it, other than we stayed at the Navy Guest House, 27C Dien Bien Phu Str.

19/7 - CAT BA ISLAND
Took a ferry to the island in the morning and arrived at CAT BA TOWN pretty early. We had a couple of hours to ourselves in which to check out the main street and its shops, which mainly sold tourist tat, and the dozens of places to eat at. The service is very slow but the banana pancakes are excellent and the fruit shakes delicious. The cafes are also the places to book day trips around Ha Long Bay and the island itself. For the afternoon, we took motorbikes around the island, the idea of our guide and a break from the itinerary. It was fantastic! Scooting around the island at high speed, over the hills, past the national park and between shrimp farming pools (I think). We visited a market and a N. Vietnamese Army hospital, built in a cave to hide it from US planes, that has just been opened to the public with former army officers as guides. The beach is worth visiting, although you do have to pay for access. It's also cool for some night swimming but there isn't much else to do at night, other than karaoke.

20/7 - HA LONG BAY
Spent the day cruising and swimming around the bay, between the karst scenery that's like a sunken Yangshou. Jumping off the boat was fun and the water clear. Basically, a lazy day. By night fall we reached HA LONG CITY but, like Haiphong, we didn't do much (it's a bit crap!)

21/7
Returned to Hanoi and had a free day. In the evening we attended the water puppets after a trip around the old quarter in cyclos, which was good except I can't say where we went because I got so totally lost.

22/7
The morning was a group visit to the mausoleum and the museum, whilst the afternoon was free. That night we slept on the REUNIFICATION EXPRESS, sleeping in the hard sleeper which was just that, hard boards with no mattress or mat or anything. The train was slow, not particularly clean and whilst in the station incredibly humid but that eased when the train got going, so take a sense of humour, its not like it can kill you or anything.

23/7
At a very early hour we got off the train at DONG HOI, got breakfast and climbed aboard a minibus and headed into the former DMZ. The area is an eerie place, with little vegetation and lots of craters. The VINH MOC tunnels here weren't used for fighting (such as the Cu Chi tunnels) but rather for the local villagers to try and escape the US bombardment. Its worth visiting to get a glimpse of the conditions people were forced to lived in. We also went for a swim (to wash after the train journey) at the beach where the tunnels exit, although when you look back you can't see the tunnels, they were so well built into the cliff side.
In the afternoon we arrived in HUE and after a brief rest, hired some bikes and went cycling around the historical city that was the seat of the last Vietnamese emperors. There's plenty to see, such as the city wall and gates and other buildings that go with the history, alongside modern sights like the compound displaying a variety of military vehicles and equipment. Cycling in Vietnam is great fun, going amongst the locals, trying to go the right way and guessing which way the traffic will head. It's very easy to get around by bike as the area is flat and the traffic quite slow. It's well worth doing because you learn about the roads better than from a bus seat. I kept the bike for the evening and went out around Hue on my own, just picking streets at random and seeing where they took me and what they had to offer.
ACCOMMODATION - Hue Hotel 15 D Le Loi
FOOD - Duong Hung Vuong has plenty of places to eat at whilst there are also places up near the DMZ bar, which is a fun western style bar, if that's what you are looking for.

24/7 HUE
Using motorbikes again we went out into the countryside around Hue, visiting a colosseum (used by the emperors for lion v. elephant fights) and an elephant tomb (some of the emperors liked elephants) which aren't in the guidebooks, before boarding boats to go up the river and visit Thien Mu Pagoda. It was the home of the monks who protested against the Catholic government of S. Vietnam of the 1960's by self-immolation but looks and feels just like any other pagoda which makes its history somehow more prominent. On the boat ride expect to offered something to buy, namely little metal statues of buffalos and old men. After the boat ride, we continued on the bikes, seeing the countryside, battlefields, the tomb of Emperor Thieu Tri and the abandoned holiday home of S. Vietnam's Catholic president. The back of a motorbike really is the best way to get around.

25/7 HOI AN
Hoi An is a Vietnamese Yangshou, with plenty of shops catering for the tourist dollar. It has a great deal of history to it and plenty to see when walking around, such as the Japanese Covered Bridge, Chinese Assembly Halls, the market place and the river life. Near the Japanese bridge are plenty of art galleries, whilst tailor shops are everywhere, selling just about any kind clothing you want. If you want something made for you, just pick any shop you like the look of, I used Shop TU'O'NG, 27 Hoang Dien St.
ACCOMMODATION - Thien Trung Hotel, 63 D Phan Dinh Phung, isnt the best location but is still clean and comfy.
FOOD -
Restaurant King
(next door) has lovely spring rolls, although I'll admit I never found a spring roll I didn't like.
Mermaid Restaurant - good, standard fare in a nice environment.
I don't know the name of the other restaurant but its next to the back entrance of the Champa Bar and Cafe, facing the river.
Champa Bar and Cafe - has a large choice of music to choose from and provides pool and Jenga for some fun with the drinks, including good fruit shakes.

26/7 THE CHAMPA KINGDOM RUINS
If you're going to visit the ruins at MY SON (and you should) you have two options - morning or afternoon. For the morning, when its cooler, you can book a bus trip through your hotel, or they can tell you where to go to book one. What I recommend though is going in the afternoon, when there isn't any bus groups tramping around. Four of us used Honda Om (motorbike taxis) for the trips out there and back and it was well worth it, seeing the ancient ruins of temples and altars in the seclusion and quiet.

27/7
Didn't do much on this day except take the train from Danang to Nha Trang, an 11hr journey. Fortunately we were in the soft sleeper class, which meant that we could relax pretty well, although there was pretty terrible (western) music and food provided, so make sure you have your own food and entertainment! In the evening we arrived at the beach resort of Nha Trang.
Accommodation
- Hai Au II Hotel,
No. 4 Nguyen Chanh St., we were given rooms that opened out onto a joint balcony, shame there was no real view.
Food
-Hoan Hai Restaurant,
6 Phan Chu Trinh St. has amazing beef marinated with pineapple.
-No. 58 Ice Cream Shop (Quang Trang/Thanh Ton) has lovely sundaes and offers plenty of travel services.
-Bombay, 15 Biet Thu, provides great Indian food for a break from noodles and spring rolls.

28/7
We had a lazy day, cruising around the islands off Nha Trang and lying in a deck chair on a secluded beach. We got to see the Vietnamese idea of tourism by walking past a tacky aquarium, shaped like some kind of pirate ship, that no one suggested visiting! The boat tour company was Papa's and claimed to be "the second best in Nha Trang" (Mama Hanh is the main one for drinking and smoking it up.) and it provided plenty of food and drink as well as equipment for snorkelling, although you had to be careful of jellyfish.

29/7
Had more free time for wandering around and seeing the sights, which I did by bike! Surprise surprise! As always, it's the best way to get around when you're not in a rush. Worth cycling out to are the Po Nagar Cham Towers, similar to My Son but on a smaller scale and still in religious use, and the Hon Chong Promontory, which provides spectacular views and the opportunity for a cool drink. Both places provide bike parks for leaving your bike at.
That afternoon we flew down to HCM City, which we had to do because the train times had changed and it wouldn't have been possible to spend a decent amount of time in Saigon.

30/7 - HMC
The morning provided a cyclo tour of the city, taking in the post office, Notre Dame Cathedral, the War Remnants Museum, Cholon and the river (so polluted its black in colour and very stinky) amongst others. The afternoon was free time and a couple of us checked out the CD shops. For more details check out the Saigon section at the end.

31/7 - 3/8 MEKONG DELTA
Accommodation
- Thuan Loi Hotel
, 18 Tran Hung Dao, Chau Doc
Food
- Lam Hung Ky
, 71 Chi Lang St. Has a great atmosphere and will offer a good meal.
The Market Place (Near the hotel)
The hotel has a terrace out the back that overlooks the river, giving a great view of the delta life, its also right near the market stalls and other shops.
We had 4 days in the delta, about 3 days when you take out all the travel time,
Chau Doc is near the Cambodian border so it is on the far edge of the country. The first night we were there, I went walking around the market and down streets. I ended up finding an arcade of sorts, a collection of Playstations set out in a shop, you pay per hour and the selection of games is extensive. I had great fun playing games with all the local kids who seemed very keen to play against me. It's a great way of mixing, even though you don't speak directly.
SAM MOUNTAIN - This is an excellent place to view the sunset and look out across the delta into Cambodia. The road up is decorated with bizarre dinosaurs and shrines, both of which should be seen, after all the Vietnamese put both there, so surely both are valid?
BA CHUC - Due to the state of the road out to this village, you will have to take motorbikes and even then you will have to be prepared to get off the bike and walk past the mud puddles that cover most of the road! Ba Chuc is the site of a Khmer Rouge raid in 1978 where over 3000 people were killed. There now stands a "Skull Pagoda" housing the skeletons of most of those killed, plus you can visit the temple where some of the villagers tried to hide but were still murdered, you can still see the blood stains on the walls. What really strikes you is that while you are learning all this, children are running around you laughing and playing.

Our time in the delta also included a cruise, which is a very cool way of seeing it, going down man-made canals and across vast stretches of open water. The sights of Cham villages, floating markets and all the churches and temples that dot the banks are well worth seeing. We took the boat back some of the way towards Ho Chi Minh City and stayed in a homestay, in the middle of nowhere, for the last night.

HO CHI MINH CITY
ACCOMODATION
- EMBASSY HOTEL
, 35 Nguyen Trung Truc St., Good hotel except it is a little far from the main places you want to visit, so you'll be relying on cyclos or motorbikes.
-HOTEL 64, Bui Vien St., Cheap, clean and plenty of coffee, although the food isn't great. Its right near the Backpacker Alley of De Tham St. so the location is pretty good.

FOOD
-RESTAURANT 13
, Ngo Duc Ke. Great food, at normal prices and with excellent service.
-TAN NAM, 60-62 Dong Du. Pricey but the food matches it, although service was slow (though we did have a large group.)
-SAPA RESTAURANT & BAR, 26 D Thai Van Lung. Quiet place with large servings.
-LEMON GRASS, 4 D Nguyen Thiep. Got good reports from other guys on the trip but not the tour leader.
-BASKIN ROBBINS, 128A Pasteur. Only if you really want ice-cream and have spare money.
-PHAM NGU, LAO ST./DE THAM ST., have plenty of places to eat in, mostly offering western food along side Vietnamese food. Also has plenty of bars for the nightlife.
-HARD ROCK CAFE, 24 Mac Thi Buoi. Impressively fake bar with music that doesn't quite match the name.
-APOCALYPSE NOW, 2C D Thi Sach. Always busy and fun, although the music is the same each night, ie in the same order! Drinks are relatively expensive.
The bars are interesting experiences, some more so than others, due to the hookers (both the number and their age) that operate in most of the bars.

Sunday Nights are a good time to be in Saigon as hundreds of people go out riding around the streets on motorbikes, bikes or cyclos. What it is actually like on an ordinary Sunday I can't say because the night I saw it Vietnam football team had won a match in the SE Asia Soccer Tournament. This meant that thousands of people were out waving flags and cheering, so many that I couldn't cross the street! It was such an incredible sight to witness.

THINGS TO DO
XA LOI PAGODA
- Has an interesting history but there isn't much to see.
NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL + Main Post Office - Both are odd sights and right next to each other. Theres nothing particularly special about them, although the former is odd to see in Asia and latter looks like a train station.
By this point in my trip I had had my fill of temples, so I didn't bother seeing that many.
REUNIFICATION PALACE -
Going on a guided tour is the best way to see this building and learn its history. Worth visiting, even though it does look like something out of Stingray.
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM - This is the one museum you have to see in Vietnam. Admittedly it is a little one sided but the pictures (from western sources) are horrific, the results of chemical herbicides on both vegetation and unborn babies. The displays of weaponry and equipment and the prisons used by South Vietnam all add up to a scary and singular experience.
HISTORY MUSEUM - If the Champa ruins were your thing then this will be cool for you. It gives a history of the beginnings of Vietnam 3000 years ago, right up to modern eras but not so much the 20thC. Displays include a 1000-year-old body, vignettes of western forces attacking in the 19thC. and pieces of Champa culture.
ART MUSEUM - Will fill your attention for a few hours, unless you can look at a single painting for 30 minutes. It is worth visiting, with its collection of propaganda paintings and other categories of Vietnamese art to see.
CONG VIEN VAN HOA PARK - If you get here early enough in the morning you can see people carrying out their Tai Chi practice. It's quite a large park so you can escape the traffic but you won't escape the curious children who want to check you out or practice their English.
SAIGON WATER PARK - This place is so good and so much fun that I went twice! If you've been travelling for a while or you have a load of time in Saigon then spend an afternoon here and kick back. It has loads of slides, (some with rubber rings, some that are amazingly fast) a wave pool, western and Vietnamese food stalls (not the best value of either in Saigon) and plenty of deckchairs for sunbathing. This is what the Vietnamese do - when I went there were about 6 other westerners but a couple of hundred locals, so join in as the locals relax as well. Busses run to the water park from the bus station near Ben Thanh market. There are lockers but if you don't get there early on a busy day then you'll miss out.
BEN THANH MARKET - Is the main market for District 1, a large concrete structure, with adverts around the top. (Mobile phones when I was there) It mainly sells everyday items such as food and household items. There isn't much for the tourist souvenir but you get to see something of everyday life.
ANDONG MARKET - Has a fair amount of stuff that could serve as a souvenir, ie paintings or ornaments. Plenty of clothing and material is also available, along with food in the lowest level. When buying souvenirs be careful - I almost bought something made of elephant ivory!
The other markets listed in L.P. aren't much cop, although if you're in Cholon then Binh Tay Market is worth a visit.
DE THAM STREET - Offers plenty of stuff for the backpacker (naturally) from T-shirts to backpacks to CD's. Everything is cheap, especially the CD's which go for US$1-2 and are pretty good quality, so people say, the sleaves are the only really dodgy part. De Tham street also has the cheapest Internet access (300dong/min ) found in the country.
CU CHI TUNNELS & CAO DAI TEMPLE (Sinh Cafe Tour)
Sinh Cafe is based on De Tham and offers a variety of trips, ranging from 1-3 days in the Mekong Delta, to busses heading north. Two of us booked onto the Cu Chi Tunnels/Cao Dai Temple day trip and joined the massive number of people doing the same. We all crammed onto 2 coaches and 2 mini-busses and went to see the Midday Mass at the Cao Dai Great Temple. The temple needs to be seen to be believed, a massive riot of gaudy colour and pictures, although the mass itself is not that great.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are the main part of the day. The tour around them is well presented and conducted (they split everyone up into about 3 groups to make it easier for us to get around, although that made it a little rushed as the other groups always seemed to be right behind us.) At the beginning you do have to sit through a video, which is a bit fuzzy, and there is a totally unnecessary caged bear at the end of the walk. Apart from that, the display of traps and entry/exit points for the tunnels and the (widened for Westerners) tunnels are interesting insights into what the VC did for their cause.

And that is that. I've covered just about everything I did on my trip through China and Vietnam but if you have any question of any kind, I am more than willing to answer them or discuss anything you like.


From Editorial
Thank you very much for excellent report. We really enjoyed it. Especially as you covered a lot more areas which we have not. I think this report will help many travelers.
Thank you very much again from all member of ITIS.

Email #3, July 22, 1999

20/6/99 CHENGDU
Arrived after lunch but did get to RENMIN PARK, a relaxing place after such a long train journey. The wandering masseurs are a good bargain at 10Y and really help to get rid of the train jorney from your back.
ACCOMODATION - SAMS BACKPACKER GUESTHOUSE - aka RongCheng Hotel, ignore Lonely Planet and get a room over the courtyard out back, this place is amazing, with a pond and plants and plenty of tabels and chairs.
FOOD - LYNNS COOKING - On the same street as Sams, it has cheap, slightly western style Chinese food. It is a backpacker haunt because Lynn organsises plently of trips around the area, just check the walls for details.

21/6/99 PANDA BREEDING RESEARCH BASE
- Well worth a visit between 8-10am as thats
feeding time, so you will see some activity. But only some, afterall Pandas arent known for being speedy creatures.
SICHUAN OPERA - If you want to experience Chinese culture then go see an afternoon showing of opera but you really want to see it. The singing can be very high pitched, the music played loud and the violin type instrument is not what Westerners would call "tuned". And its not in English so youll have to guess the plot. You can get a guide at Lynns - but wheres the fun
in that?

22/6/99 Took a bus to EMEI TOWN
at the foot of EMEI SHAN, a Buddhist Holy Mountain.
It was a public bus but the group took over the whole thing :) We broke up the jounery by stopping in Leshan to see the Buddha there, the biggest Buddha in the world. And he is big. Well worth going into the park to see him up close and then wander around the park. Be careful though, it is easy to get disorientated and lost.
ACCOMODATION - BAOGUO MONASTERY. Comfortable beds, TV's and showers that run at amazingly high pressure although the temperature waviers. Expect to be woken by the monks chanting, it is an active monastery! What may seem bizarre is the presence of Swastikas but they are a Buddhist symbol which Hitler took.
FOOD - TEDDY BEAR CAFE. Western style food and Chinese food, so there is a backpacker flavour here. The chips arent so good but the fried egg plant is yummy, along with the banana and chocolate pancakes for breakfast.

23/6/99 Went to the top of EmeiShan by bus.
It took a very long time to get there because of roadworks but they should be well gone by now. Apprantly the view from the top is stunning - IF the cloud clears, which it didnt. I didnt go to the top because I had decided to walk down the mountain. Only
do this if you have good string legs - its steps all the way and its all uneven and slippery when wet. Its also a 2 day trip so plan to sleep in another monastery with the legions of pilgrims, we were recommneded Hon Ching Pin and it was a good place, with stunning views from the toilets! You wont need reservations, I doubt its possible but whats cooler than rocking up to a monk and saying "Can I have a bed please?" Also take a walking stick (cheap ones are sold on the walk) for waving at the monkeys,
although they are brave creatures just be firm.

24/6/99 Completed the climb down and then relaxed
- a much needed sit down after descending several thousand stairs

25/6/99 Bus to Chongqing.
It was cramped for us Westerns and the locals did spit but its only for a few hours. I'm sure Chongqing is a lovely place but we
had heavy rain so exploring was out. If you want English language fiction then check the Foreign Language Bookstore on Minzu Lu (south of Liberation Monument on left hand side.)
This was the first night on the Yangzte River cruise boat. (TAKA - I DONT
KNOW WHAT BOAT WE USED, SHOULD I BOTHER TO REVIEW IT?)

I have a lot more to write but Im running out of time.
Byebye Stuart


Hong Kong: Email #2, July 8, 1999

For the next 21 days I joined a small group tour, The Essence of China run by Intrepid of Australia (Imaginative Traveller in UK). I know some people are against these but I went on it because I was travelling alone and I had never been to Asia before, thus I wouldn't be thrown in at the deep end with all the difficulties China puts in your way. I'm going to write the daily part normal and save a review of the tour until the end, accommodation however will be a review of the hotel without consideration of the price, because I wouldn't know the price.

14/6 BEIJING
ANCIENT OBSERVATORY - is cool and well worth a look, especially as its got easy access from the two major roads that run by it and a cycle park next to it.
ACCOMODATION - CHONG WEN MEN HOTEL - Good location (central, next to a subway station and close to Tiantan and Tiananmen Square) and very smart.

15/6
FORBIDDEN CITY
- Not what I was expecting, its basically a series of courtyards, some large, some small. Most of what was contained has been destroyed, which just leaves the buildings. Its still worth seeing though, don't get me wrong. The guide that came with us was good, able to talk in English very well, although he did seem to say the party line a bit.
SUMMER PALACE - What a place to spend an afternoon! Especially the day we got there (blue sky and full visibility, apparently rare for Beijing.) So much history here and so much to see, not as sterile as the Forbidden City and all the better for it. Climbing the hill is well worth it - on a good day!

16/6
THE GREAT WALL, SIMATAI
- Its a long way out of Beijing but since its quiet its worth the drive. Not a very easy climb though but the view and experience is worth it.

17/6
TIANTAN (AKA TEMPLE OF HEAVEN)
- There were a lot of people around, especially at each of the buildings. If you strolled around the park you could get away from them but that's not what your are there for, so just grin and bear it, the buildings and structures are worth it.

18/6
XIAN - MUSLIM QUARTER
- has plenty of food stalls and hundreds of souvenir stalls lining its streets so its worth wandering through. THE GREAT MOSQUE isn't so special though. THE PROVINCIAL MUSEUM is a good place to visit although it does get fairly boring after a while. On display is the findings from archeological digs and it is good to see the development of China through these but the environment is very staid (Andrea - Id like to use 'sterile' but I think Ive been using that too much!)
ACCOMODATION - GRAND HOTEL - forgotten the address buts its near the South Gate, on the road from the bell tower. Its good, (clean and well located) with good showers (which you come to appreciate.)
There is an internet cafe near the bell tower that works well and is fairly cheap.


Beijing: Email #1, Jun 14 1999

7/6 - CULTURE SHOCK - is actually quite a scary thing to suffer. If not for my cousins family I would've hidden away all week! Do not underestimate culture shock and think things will be fine when you get there. I did that and finding yourself in a place where no one speaks your language, at all, is very scary.

8/6 - QIANMEN DISTRICT - Xian took me here and we just walked and walked.
Lots of alleys with hutongs off them, far from the busy streets. This is when I first discovered that Beijing (and China) is a very friendly place.
I would never have gone down those streets myself but with my cousin I realised that its OK to walk past people sitting on the street side playing cards and other games.

BEIHAI PARK - An artificial lake with an island connected by two bridges, its serene and a nice break from the dusty streets. Climb to the top of the island and you get a great view of the city. If you go around the side you wont have to pay to reach the top, although you cant get into the dagoba.

9/6 - I borrowed a bike, cycled the city and thoroughly enjoyed it! Cycling in Beijing is so easy because it's so flat, the streets are easily to follow due to the grid layout and the speed is slow. If you're worried about getting across junctions just put yourself in the middle of a group of other
bikes and do what they do. They also provide good buffers from cars!
Although driving skills are poor in China the speed is quite slow so people are able to stop before hitting something.

10/6 - LUOYANG - aint a great city. Just use it as a base for Shaolin (which I did) and Longmen Caves (which I didn't and by all accounts missed a real treat)

Accommodation
TIANXIANG HOTEL
- Far from the greatest hotel in the world it's near the train station and is cheap: Y90 per night for a twin with bath and air conditioning or Y40 for just a single room.
Food
- turn left out of the hotel and the first set of tables you come to is where I ate, they have menus in English and the fried noodles are excellent.

11/6 - SHAOLIN - From Luoyang, make sure you get a bus that goes direct or you'll be seeing run down temples and film shops. Also get a one way ticket, I met up with a Swiss couple going out and we couldn't find our bus for the return journey.
If youre a real martial arts fan then stay over night, that way youll have time to watch the hundreds of kids being trained to attack punching bags with their hands, feet, sticks and swords! . The monastery and the Forest of Dagobas where the prominent monks are buried, are worth seeing although you may not want to go out of your way to come here unless you have an interest in Kung Fu. (I do btw)

12/6 - QUFU - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. This is the first place I have been to in China where the sky was blue. No smog at all just a proper sky! On the way out to the forest is a gate over the moat (its not marked in Lonely Planet) this gate is the highest vantage point in the town and you get a fantastic view - except to the west which has a smokestack, although its only one.
Hire a bike to reach and go around the Confucious Forest. The Tomb of Confucious is very tranquil, once the tour groups and
their megaphones move on! Confucious Temple is amazing with the number of trees among the stele and pagodas and pavillions for the worship of the philosopher.
Confucious Mansions can be dropped if you are short on time.
Taking a walk around the inside of the moat is recommended though, you can get away from the roads and find some peace. If you tried really hard you could think that it hasn't changed since the Great Sage held his teachings! You'd have to try REALLY hard though!
Food - I ate in Yanzhou waiting for the train. The restaurant was called Miss Yangs (I think) and everyone was very friendly and willing to try and talk with me. Its on the left as you stand in the car park and look at the station.

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