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Ho Chi Minh Trail by Bob, David & Tuan

In June I took my son to see the REAL Vietnam. It’s probably not the best time of the year there because it’s Summer, but since we were going to be in the Central Highlands much of the time, it was fine. Another bonus was that it was harvest time, so we saw plenty of rural activity.
Our plan was to drive Hanoi to HCM City following the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but before leaving Hanoi we toured the more interesting sites, including the War Museum and the Temple of literature. The tiny fresh-water shrimp were great and as usual we ate well throughout the trip.
The first day was a long one – about 650km to Dong Hoi, but we took a side trip to Cam Thuy (Thanh Hoa province) to see the masses of Carp in the stream and stopped off at Dong Loc intersection, the most bombed part of Vietnam, to see the memorials. It was a long day with the roads covered in rice husks drying in the sun and harvest traffic, not to mention the condition of the road itself on occasions.
In Dong Hoi we stayed at the Sun Spa Resort, a huge complex of apartments right on the beach with an enormous swimming pool. Summer being the Vietnamese holiday time, it was filled with families relaxing and enjoying the facilities. That evening we ate local produce at a beach restaurant.
The next day’s destination was Hue and we passed through the DMZ and crossed the old border between North and South about 100km south of Dong Hoi, through Quang Tri to Hue where we stayed at the delightful and luxurious French Colonial Saigon Morin Hotel and visited the Citadel and the Forbidden City and saw the progress made with its restoration since my last visit. We heard that we had escaped the weather, Hanoi being deluged after we left with local flooding.
We were aiming for Pleiku the next day, but the car had other ideas. Everything was fine as we passed the beautiful Cau Hai lagoon, but after negotiating the Hai Van Pass (on the new road and tunnel and that fantastic road stop ‘cafe’) the engine began to lose power and finally died just south of Da Nang. This had not been a planned stop, but we spent the night there until the local Ford dealership sorted out the fuel pump and this gave us the opportunity to look at the amazing beach developments and Marble Mountain before departing.
From Da Nang we climbed up into the highlands proper so did not go south to Hoi An, through Kon Tum and into the large city of Pleiku. I saw a long concrete stretch north of the city, parallel to the road, which I am sure must have been the wartime USAAF airfield. Here we stayed at the modern Hoang Anh Gia Lai Hotel, owned by one of the city’s favourite sons, and took a walk around the local area. I’ve never seen so many motorbike showrooms before!
The trouble with the car meant we had lost a day, so we activated Plan B here and booked ourselves on a flight into Saigon from our next stop, Buon Ma Thuot. This was only a comfortable 200km away so we had a relaxed start from Pleiku, but the road was particularly nasty and narrow and I’m pretty sure we busted a shock absorber in one of the many holes. It meant we missed Da Lat but we have left plenty for David to do on his own next time.
Saigon was only 350kms away, but we were flying out of Tan Son Nhut the following evening and wanted some time in the city to look around. After almost 2000kms of driving in 4 days we had had about enough of this mode of travel anyway so we said goodbye to Tuan, our guide and driver, and he headed off for Nha Trang to put the car on the train and return to Hanoi while David and I flew to Saigon, a mere 45 minute hop away.
We visited the War Remnants Museum and did some shopping in the city centre before retiring and the next day we searched out my old haunts in Cholon from more than forty years before as David wanted to see where the stories had originated.
This was not a relaxed trip as time constraints meant we had to push on and push hard to cover the distance. We were only in the country 8 days, but the Ho Chi Minh Trail would be a great trip if 12-14 days were allocated. Most tourists stick to a well-worn path, but with a little more time than we had would allow for a relaxing trip and extra stops which would take in most of what the standard route follows.

War Museum in Hanoi

War museum in Hanoi

Hanoi Outskirt

Hanoi Outskirt

West Lake restaurant in Hanoi

West Lake restaurant in Hanoi

Hanoi temple of literature

Hanoi temple of literature

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Stated into Ho Chi Minh Trail

Bridge links to Holyfish Pond in Cam Thuy

Bridge links to Holyfish Pond in Cam Thuy

Fish Pond, a local tourist attraction

Fish Pond, a local tourist attraction

Holyfish

Holy fish

Tuan & David

Tuan & David

Along Ho Chi Minh Trail

Along Ho Chi Minh Trail

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Memorials

Dong Loc War Memorials

Sunspa Resort - A local tourist relaxation in Dong Hoi

Sunspa Resort – A local tourist relaxation in Dong Hoi

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Forbidden City of Hue

Forbidden City of Hue

Inside the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue

Inside the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue

Another adventure day in Da Nang!

Another adventure day in Da Nang!

David in HAGL Pleiku

David in HAGL Hotel Pleiku

Pleiku at night

Pleiku at night

On the way to Don village in Buon Me Thuot

On the way to Don village in Buon Me Thuot

Don Village

Don Village

Elephant ride

Elephant ride

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

Written & photo by Bob Livingstone

Hue of Hue

Hue is considered as the most colorful city in Vietnam. It is not because of blue river of Huong and ancient red tiles on the roof of Tu Duc tomb or green path by trees along famous National High School of Hue. Hue has its own color – the purple city.

The purple color has been named to Hue for long. It is long enough to be forgotten. If you try to ask Hue people about history of its name, you may get your disappointment but if you want to describe the purple color, just simply say: Hue purple! I am sure everyone in Vietnam knows exactly what you mean!

Purple is related to Forbidden City (Citadel) in Hue. Following the ancient Vietnamese language, ‘forbidden’ means Purple. So, the older generation also call citadel of Hue as Purple City. Vietnamese think Purple stands for sadness, for something is going to the end like the sun going to be set. If you stand in front of Thien Mu pagoda in late afternoon when the sun slowly gets disappeared to Ngu Mountain you will understand why Hue people stated that sadness. The whole area covered by purple color. The scene makes people recall the ending time in 1945 of the feudalism dynasty that had ruined Vietnam for hundred of years.

I visited Hue when I just finished my high school. It was such a quick trip for me. There was an image of a female tourist guide on purple long dress with her conical hat that really urged  me to come back. I still dreamed of walking on Truong Tien Bridge to view down to Con Hen and endless Huong River. I have not done it yet because of being too busy even I have come back to this land many times and actually I want to see Hue as a wanderer rather than a busy tour guide with work. I just wanted to keep Hue for my own.

Hue is a ‘difficult’ place for tourist guide job like I did. History is not a hard part, city is also very small, but I found it so hard to explain to my customers about the soul of this land, the place that all Vietnamese love to travel to, even once! Sometimes I find language is not enough, it is all about the feelings and Hue is like a typical Vietnamese girl, she is elegant, beautiful, charming but sometimes she is so cold and discreet to confuse so many boys around.

I often say to people who going to Hue: if you find a place for entertain, Hue is not a place! If you are a ‘city boy’, Hue may not be suitable for you. Hue is for calm and experienced people. City brings the insight of past, the recall of time and layback of busy life. Most of travelers find Hue boring, it’s sad. Hue needs a better treatment, and customers have a right to know Hue better, understand Hue in the way it is.

I hope you have a good time in Hue, don’t forget to visit Dong Ba market, walk on Truong Tien Bridge, view the sunset from Thien Mu pagoda or dine on dragon boat along Huong River. I hope you will have chance to see local girls while school out, taking a photo of citadel from flag pole or laze in lazy coffee shop surrounded by smiling faces. I do hope you will see and feel Hue like the way I do, and confidently phase the word in Vietnamese: Tím Huế!

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