Monday, June 1, 2009

Hoi An to Vinh, 600 km

My Son, Hoi An

My Son, about 30 km southwest of Hoi An, is the major site in Vietnam from the ancient Champa Kingdom which flourished between the 2nd and 15th centuries. In 1999 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Descendants of the Champa civilization still live along the coast of Vietnam though they are now fully integrated in Vietnamese society. The Kingdom at My Son dates back to the 4th century and remained fully occupied through until the 13th century which makes it the longest occupied of all the major monuments of Southeast Asia. It served as a religious and intellectual centre where Champa kings were crowned and buried.The site is often compared with some of the other great Indian influenced archaeological sites of Southeast Asia including Borobodur in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Ayuthaya in Thailand and Pagan in Burma.Unfortunately, events during the American War destroyed many of the site's temples, US bombing of the site leaving about 20 of the original 70 structures intact. Bomb craters next to some of the temples are clearly visible.

Driving to My Son was relatively easy with the help of GPS. However, the signage leading to My Son was somewhat unclear. We missed out a left turn a few km to the site and ended into the village with dirt road, 7 km away from My Son. Thuan had to ask the villagers for direction getting back. Finally, we got back on track and found My Son.

China Beach, between Hoi An and Da Nang
The most unspoiled white sand beach in Vietnam stretches between Hoi An and Da Nang. China Beach today is regarded as one of the preferred Vietnam tourist attractions with its white sand beach and friendly people. During the Vietnam War, thousands of American soldiers spent their leave surfing the 30-kilometer golden beach near the central coastal city of Danang. Getting here is easy. You can fly into Danang airport from either HCM city or Ha Noi.

These round boats are native to central Vietnam. Almost every family who owns a fishing boat here also owns one or two of these round boats. It can be used to bring the catches ashore especially when the fishing boat is not able to come near to the shore during low tide. These round boats are woven by cane and light weight. It can be carried easily and left it on shore. The inside of the round boat is coated with a layer of sealant to prevent leakage. However, these round boats have no stability, so they are only pratical in short distant usage and calm sea.

The distance from Hoi An to Ha Noi is more than 700 km. We broke the journey into 4 days and there were couple of nice stops in between, 2 days for Hue, 1 day for Vinh and 1 day for Ninh Binh. We wanted to visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture at Da Nang which is about 30 km from Hoi An. We arrived Da Nang at noon and lunched at Apsara (Lonely Planet's pick). The restaurant with Cham-influenced decor served excellent seafood and provided good service. We had clam cooked in wine and seafood in claypot. The Museum is only 5 minutes walk from the restaurant.

The museum was founded in 1915 during the colonial French era to preserve the finds of the ancient Champa kingdom and is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to this era. It houses the largest collection of Cham sculpture.

Shiva lingam at the Museum of Cham Sculpture


We arrived at Hue around 4 pm. and stayed at the Century Riverside Hotel, 4 star. We got 50% discount (low season) for the room with river view and Internet in the room. Normal price would be USD150 per night.

From the balcony in the room, we had a good view of the Perfume River. You can see the Vietnamese flag across the river. According to the Lonely Planet, this is the tallest Flagpole, 37m-high. This flagpole was destroyed and re-elected a couple of time. However, our guide, Thuan, thinks that this is the second tallest now.

Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue

The pagoda is situated on Ha Khe hill, on the left bank of the Perfume River, about 5 km from Hue city. It was built in 1601, and then Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan had it renovated in 1665.

A young monk talking to the locals. This monk still keep his hair until he passes the exam of the temple then he would shave his hair and be a monk.

In 1963, a monk drove to the city in this car. As soon as he got out of the car, he burnt himself to death protesting against the government. This car is now displayed at the temple.

Hue Imperial Citadel, Hue

The citadel was begun in 1804 and served as Vietnam's capital until around 1945.

A sizable number of its population reside within the 2m-thick, 10 km-liong walls of its Citadel. Begun in 1804 on a site chosen by Emperor Gia Long's geomancers, it was originally made of earth and later strengthened with brick.

Located just inside the Citadel ramparts, near the gates to either side of the Flag Tower, the Nine Holy Cannons, symbolic protectors of the palace and kingdom, were cast in 1804. The four cannons near Ngan Gate represent the four seasons, while the five cannons next to Quang Duc Gate represent the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth.

The main entrance into the palace. The door on the left was for foreigners and the center one for the locals. They charged higher entrance fee for the foreigners.
We have Thai Hoa Palace in the background. Thai Hoa Palace was used for the emperor's official receptions and other important court ceremonies, such as anniversaries and coronations.

To Mieu Temple was fully restored. Inside the temple are the shrines to each of the emperors.

Restoration work is still in process for the "Forbidden Purple City", the emperor's private residence. You need to imagin how the palace looked like in the old days.

Boat ride on the Perfume River, Hue

Thuan arranged for a boat ride on Perfume River in the evening for USD8 per hour. This boat could easily take 20 people. We set off from the jetty next to our hotel and cruised along the river for an hour. We had a chance to catch the activities along both side of the river.

We had a picture with boat captain and his assistance. She had been working on this job for almost 20 years. Earning about USD100 per month, she managed to put two children into collage. Other than service the tourist, she sold souvenirs and drinks to supplement her income. We bought some souvenirs from her.

Vinh is about 200 km from Hue so traveling was easy for us. Along the way, we had a chance stopping at Quang Tri and 17th Parallel DMZ.

The Quang Tri Battleground, Quang Tri

The Quang Tri Citadel (located 60 km North of Hue) was the bloodiest battleground between the Viet Cong and the US/South Vietnam forces in 1972. We took a detour to visit the memorial and their Museum.

The gate of the Citadel before the war and now.

Once the battlefield is now covered with grass.

17th Parallel, DMZ, Ben Hai

The bridge crossing the Ben Hai River. From 1954 to 1975, the Ben Hai River served as the demarcation line between the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). On either side of the river was an area 5 Km wide that was known as the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). Ben Hai River which is almost exactly at the 17th Parallel served as de facto border of North and South Vietnam.

We arrived at Vine around 5 pm and checked into Phuong Dong Hotel, the tallest building in town. Vinh is roughly halfway between Hanoi and Hue located twenty kilometres from the sea in the narrowest part of Vietnam. The Lam River loops round the south and east of the city, and the mountains of Laos are clearly visible to the west.

The views of the town , Vinh, from the rooftop restaurant of Phuong Dong Hotel


  1. your photos really made me want to be there especially the beautiful china beach:-)

  2. Yes, Neo Chian and I felt the same way. If our exit date of Vietnam were flexible, we would have spend a night there.