16/12/2003 - The Mekong Delta day 2

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We spent a lot more time on the boat on day 2, cruising along the giant Mekong river and its much smaller branches. We passed endless houses built by the waters edge, and waved at endless happy children shouting hello at the foreigners. The locals throw all their rubbish and sewage into the river, then wash themselves, their clothes and dishes in it. Not too hygenic!

15/12/2003 - The Mekong delta

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Rather than just go to Cambodia by bus, we thought we would take a leisurely 2 day trip through the Mekong delta by boat. Unfortunately we spent most of the first day on a bus.

14/12/2003 - The reunification palace

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A lovely 19th century palace used to stand on this spot, until it was bombed by the airforce in the early 1960s, trying to kill their own president (they hated him that much). He survived, and ordered a new palace to be built, although another murder attempt succeeded before it was completed.

It really is a 60s building. The inside looks like something from an Austin Powers film in places (especially the casino).

It was bombed again during the war, but the bombs didn;t explode. The pilot that flew the plane is now a director of Vietnam airlines!

14/12/2003 - Cyclo

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A cyclo is a nice way to get around town, if it wasn't for the traffic! The cyclo riders just go straight through junctions without slowing down (usually even if the light is red), somehow dodging all the traffic.

Clare is at the back, and Kay, who we travelled through Vietnam with, is in the middle.

14/12/2003 - The Cu Chi tunnels part 2

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The original tunnels covered 250km! There is now a very small section that has been enlarged for tourists to go down. Still only 120cm high and about 60 wide, but still a lot bigger than they were. We were glad to get out after 10 minutes down there!

14/12/2003 - The Cu Chi tunnels

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These are the more famous tunnels that were used by the Viet Minh in the 1940s war, and then by the Viet Cong in the war against the US and the South. Not as luxurious as the ones at the DMZ we visited before. These ones were tiny, and they lived down there for weeks at a time, whilst being heavily bombed. This area has been described as the most heavily bombed area on earth. This unmodified entrance to a tunnel was so small I could barely fit through it.

14/12/2003 - Firing an AK47

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At the Cu Chi tunnels they have a wide array of guns that you can fire on a shooting range. Everything from a Colt 45 pistol to a huge M60 machine gun. I wanted to give it a go, and chose the Russian AK47 rifle, at a dollar a bullet. I think I missed the cut out animal targets with all five of my shots. The kick wasn't as bad as I had expected, but the noise was far worse. I'm glad I did it as now when I watch war films I'll have a slightly better idea of what it was like!

12/12/2003 - Cake!

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Not only did Hoi An have lots of tailors and great restaurants, it also had some lovely patisseries. Croissants and Pain au chocolat for breakfast. Yum. Afternoon tea and cake every day too!

You can see why we liked it there so much!

Can;t carry on like this or none of our tailored clothes will fit anymore.

11/12/2003 - My Son

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This was the capital of the Cham kingdom from the 4th century to the 13th. They cleverly built in an area surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, making it easy to defend. Probably why they lasted there so long!

The area was extensively bombed by the US (as most places), otherwise there would have been even more to see. The monsoon type rain that we have had for the last few days didn't let up, and we had to wander round in our ponchos through the mud.

11/12/2003 - Tailors galore

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Hoi An isn't that large a town, but it has around 200 tailors. Most of them have the Next catalogue and will tailor anything from it. Alternatively you can get an item of clothing copied, or just make something up!

We bought rather a lot of clothes (surprise suprise). This cashmere wool suit cost about 30 quid! And that was at the most expensive place in town. We could have spent longer than 3 days there, but it was too risky for our bank balance!

10/12/2003 - Petrol station

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In Hoi An. No 24 hour shop here!

10/12/2003 - Restaurants in Hoi An

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The locals in Hoi An like to hang out lanterns at night. Once a month at full moon they have a festival where they decorate the whole town and party. We missed it by two days. :(

These are two riverside restaurants. We tried them both, and they were equally good.

08/12/2003 - Ran, rain, rain, go away

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The weather here is a bit stormy. It absolutely chucks down one minute, and then clear and sunny the next.

08/12/2003 - Minh Mang Tomb

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The former royalty in Vietnam liked to build vast tombs in which to be buried. And by vast I mean more than a few acres housing all manner of temples, lakes, formal gardens, pagodas etc etc. With no expense spared!

08/12/2003 - Thien Mu Pagoda

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Another day, another tour.....

This time on a boat along the perfume river. First stop this pagoda, whose most famous member was Thich Quang Duc, a monk who travelled to Saigon in 1963, sat down, and burnt himself to death in front of the world media.

07/12/2003 - American base

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Our last stop was Khe Sanh Combat Base on the Vietnam / Lous border. This was the site of a major battle which ended with the withdrawel of the American Troops. Although not strategicaly important to the North Vietnamese, the attack was used to draw American forces into the area, to distract from the TET offensive which started one week later.

There is not much left of the original base now, but there was a good museum with amazing photos, and a few left over pieces of artillary.

07/12/2003 - Ethnic village

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Another stop on the tour was at an ethnic village. Not a lot to see, but a chance for the children of the village to earn some tourist dollars.

07/12/2003 - Tunnels

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Our next stop was to visit a network of tunnels, which villagers had taken 2 years to build, and housed between 300 and 700 during the 6 years that it was in use. The "rooms" were caves dug into the walls of the tunnels, at most 2 metres by 2 metres. There was 1 toilet, the maternity room which saw 17 births wasn't in any way distinguishable from the other "rooms". The villages used to only come out of the tunnels at night to farm enough produce to live on.

07/12/2003 - Frame of a church

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We spent a day travelling around the de-militarised area in central vietnam. Our first stop of the day was this shell of a church, where Vietcom soldiers had been hiding on their retreat from Hue. Many, many bullet and mortar holes were all that remained.

05/12/2003 - Junk

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We didn't take a picture of the ouside of the junk on the digi, so can't show you that. But here is the top deck. Great place to relax and enjoy the view.

05/12/2003 - The reunification express

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We caught the express train down the coast from Hanoi to Hue, a mere 12 hour journey. The beds were comfy though.The complete line all the way to Ho Chi Minh city is 1726km long. After the bombing during the war, 1334 bridges, 27 tunnels and 58 station had to be repaired.

05/12/2003 - A new record!

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We got back into hanoi on the night of the opening ceremony of the South East Asia games. The streets were filled with even more motorbikes than normal, with most of the riders wearing red headbands and carrying flags. We have seen bikes carrying a family of 4 before, but this is the first with 5 that we have seen!

04/12/2003 - Monkey Island

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One of the islands we visited in Halong Bay. We lounged about on the beach while the monkeys attempted to steal anything they could get their hands on. This one took a particular shine to this beer bottle.

04/12/2003 - Huge caves

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As if the scenary wasn't enough, quite a few of the islands contain enormous limestone caves, with gigantic stalagtites. They were the biggest caves I can remember ever going in, and were very impressive. Quite a few were used during the war, to hide hospitals and troops.

03/12/2003 - Halong Bay

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Definately one of the most beautiful places we have been. We went on a 3 day trip, spending the first day on board a junk (old wooden boat) cruising around and having swims in secluded bays. There are 1979 islands in the bay, all of which are rocky and rise dramatically up out of the water. It was amazing!

02/12/2003 - The temple of literature

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This was the site of the first university in Vietnam. Nowhere near the number of Buddhist temples here as in Laos and Thailand. We haven't seen one yet, or any monks. The main temple here contained a statue of Confuscious.

02/12/2003 - Uncle Ho's Mausoleum

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Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as he is affectionately known, now rests in this huge marble lined building. He is in a big glass case so that everyone can come and have a look. Once a year he goes off to Russia for a couple of months for a bit of restoration. He has just returned now and looked better than when he was alive! No photos allowed inside, and plenty of armed guards to make sure. You weren't even allowed to put your hands in your pockets.

Ho Chi Minh is just one of the 50 or so names that he used through his life, and means bringer of light.

02/12/2003 - Ho Chi Minh museum

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The museum was a bit odd. It was more like a modern art display. If you took away the explanations it could easily have been one. Take this part for example. The explanation said - "The symbols of nature in it's beauty contrasted with the image of industrial plants in this hall represent Uncle Ho's expectation that Young People shoulder the responsibility for the protection and preservation of peace and the environment, and prevention of destructive and aggressive wars."

Obvious eh?

01/12/2003 - Hanoi streets

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The streets of Hanoi teem with motorbikes. They are everywhere. I think every one of the 3 million population has one, and they all ride around all day beeping their horns. Makes crossing the road rather tricky. There are very few gaps in the constant stream of bikes, so you just need to confidently walk out. The bikes will then turn to one side of you or the other as you slowly walk across the road.

01/12/2003 - Water puppets

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Described by the Lonely Planet as Punch and Judy in a pool. The puppeteers are inside the pagoda behind waist deep in water, and the puppets are operated by rods under the surface. There were fire breathing dragons, jumping fish, and dancing women. The hour long show with live band was very entertaining, even though we couldn't understand a word of it.

01/12/2003 - Thap Rua in Hoan Kiem lake

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In the centre of the old quarter of Hanoi. The lake allegedly has giant turtles living in it, over 2 metres long and weighing quarter of a tonne. There is a dead one on display somewhere but we didn't go to see it.

01/11/2003 - typical street scene

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Near the main market in Hanoi. People everywhere trying to sell things. The shops spilling out, and the bikes parked on the pavemtnt mean that you usually have to walk int he road.