March 8th
Port of Hue for Chan May, Vietnam

I had the alarm set for 7; & when I looked out, we were just coming into the harbor of Hue (pronounced whay).  It was very foggy, 83* & very humid outside.  There were quite a few small fishing boats about, already pulling in their nets; having been at it for hours by now.  I saw quite a few of these round woven bamboo boats.  I wonder how they are able to ‘seal’ the bottoms so they will stay afloat; & the least bit of movement makes them look terribly unsteady.  I suppose if one can’t afford a real boat, these floating ‘bowls’ will do in a pinch.

I had granola & yogurt from room service; & was ready for my full day tour to Chan May & Da Nang entitled “Chan May Museum & Market Places” (HUI-CW) which started at 8:30.  I was on bus #13 with our guide, Dung (pronounced Yung) & guest lecturer, Dr. John McMichan as our escort.  All guests had been given a Vietnam visitor’s card that we were to carry with us at all times.  This morning was the first time anyone ever asked to see it.

The area around the port is truly ‘old’ Vietnam with potholed, dirt roads & cows roaming unattended by the roadside & later walking on the sidewalks. We passed several impoverished looking rural towns until we finally reached a real highway.  Our drive into Da Nang took us through the Hai Van Tunnel; four miles long blasted through a solid mountain of granite that took 12 mins to cross.

Once on the other side, we passed long stretches of beautiful beaches.  Some views were obscured by rows of pine trees; but the divided highway we drove on was landscaped with stately palms & (bonsai-like) topiaries.

The city of Da Nang is a lot like any other major city: pollution, too many vehicles operated by kamikaze drivers, sidewalks lined with street vendors & fighting a losing battle with litter.  While shooting photos from the bus window, I noticed that the older generation would look at the camera with a sort of blank stare.  While those under 30(ish) would break out in a big smile & sometimes wave.  Maybe post-war babies have known nothing but happier times; while their ancestors still bear the scars of their pasts.

The first stop on this tour was at the Cham Museum.  I’m not one to get excited about museums, especially those which focus on ‘stone age’ art; but this one was quite interesting (even though stifling hot).  All the ‘art’ were sandstone sculptures & temple décor from the 4th – 14th centuries.  Each of the four time periods (My Son, Tra Kieu, Dong Duong & Thap Mam) were showcased in separate rooms against stark white walls.  A little bland; but very effective in featuring their simplicity.  Our guide was presenting a lot of info on each period; but I’m afraid his audience was moving faster than he was.  We were desperate to get outside where at least the air was moving around a bit.  Although I did not pull my trusty thermometer out today; & I know the heat index was at least 100*.

While we were on the theme of stone carving, the bus made an obligatory stop at a stone carving factory.  Everyone except me got off the bus; no one came back with any purchases.  We were parked in a shady spot; & I took some nice photos from inside the bus.

A little further outside of Da Nang we headed toward Hoi An, which was the highlight of this whole day.  It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Someone had told me this would be a photographer’s paradise; & it was.  The bus parked along a strip of shops & restaurants; & we were to cross over this elaborately decorated foot bridge to the pedestrian-only, historic district.

We immediately came upon a photo shoot; a beautiful Vietnamese model being tended by hair & makeup artists while the photographer sat close by.  As we walked a little further we came to the famous Japanese covered bridge.  I was a little surprised that the rose colored paint was so ‘tarnished’ looking; but I guess that’s intentional so that it shows its true age.  Our guide walked us through the streets for about 90 mins., taking in this slower paced way of life.  I was surprised at just how many other American-looking tourists there were; some young to middle-aged couples & some traveling as families with young children.  Our guide told us that prices at the smaller ‘boutique style’ hotels are dirt cheap; & Vietnam draws the younger, adventurous travelers.

We stopped in at the Phung Hung house, a local national treasure where 8 generations of a local merchant’s family has lived.  This home is furnished with lovely antiques, displaying fine embroidery & other décor items that the family has traded in for hundreds of years.  We climbed steep open stairs to a 2nd & 3rd floor, which housed the kitchen/dining area & finally the bedrooms.  Although ‘gussied-up’ for show, it did give you some idea of the layout of the typical family dwelling.

Up & down the streets were vendors selling their home grown produce.  There was one elderly woman, that I will never forget, that had the most vacant stare in her eyes.  Among the goodies she was peddling, was a whistle type toy.  She would blow into it; & occasionally you’d see the tiniest hint of an almost toothless smile.

One of the stops the guide insisted upon during our walk was at a silk embroidery factory.  A few of the men & I had no interest; so we sought out a shady spot on the steps to wait.  There was so much interesting foot traffic passing in front of us that the time went by quickly.  Directly across the street was a doctor’s office that had a waiting room full of people.  Mother’s would step outside occasionally to appease their fussy but precious children.  Although I never had the ‘mothering gene’, the adorable faces of the children in this part of the world have had me spellbound.

We walked passed, but did not go into, several beautiful temples.  This one is the Phuoc Kien Temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea (Thien Hau).

As we made our way back to the bus, we walked past the bustling market selling things I would dare to imagine what they were.  Some people would shop & leave balancing their purchases precariously on their bikes & scooters.

We drove outside the city to a lovely restaurant in a beautiful garden setting called Nam Long.  They had a tantalizing buffet spread out for our enjoyment.  A few of the early bus loads were able to eat outside on a patio area that had ceiling fans; but we were delegated to the indoor, non-air conditioned dining area.  I won’t go into all the things I had on my plate; but as you can see everything was Asian.  And much to my surprise, they had the Vietnamese version of lychees.  The exterior looking more intimidating that the trees we see in the U.S., & the fruit is not quite as sweet.

After lunch, I was kind of surprised to see that the bus took us back to Hoi An for those who wanted to do a little shopping.  By now, a few of us were only interesting in 2 things…..somewhere shady to sit & something cold to drink.  So, my newfound friends (Arthur & Bob) & I found a sidewalk café (Dac San) with a little breeze & some outstanding iced Vietnamese coffee (the kind with sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of the glass).  It was so refreshingly good, I had to have 2.  Would you believe 3 iced coffees & 2 ginger ales for a total of $4.00 US?  In a short while another lady got tired of shopping & joined us.  While we chilled for that hour, we had a lovely conversation with 3 young Swedes at the next table, who were backpacking their way across Vietnam for a month.  Ah, to be so young & adventurous.

On the long bus ride home, I was shooting into the houses of the typical VN family.  The guide had described how the houses were laid out; but I wasn’t able to visualize it until I transferred & edited the photos.  Most are built like rectangular 2 or 3 story boxes.  Most of the small, narrow houses are inhabited by 3 generations; the little kids, their parents & the grandparents.  The wide open ground floor would be like the living/gathering room.  Very little furniture, stacking chairs or stools & possibly a small TV.  Some people cook outside.  If not, the cooking would be done on the 2nd floor.  Sleeping would be on the 2nd or 3rd floor on mats/bedding that can be rolled up & put out of the way during the day.  Most have nothing more than what is absolutely necessary.

There would be small clusters of villages/towns broken up by large expanses of rice fields or mountains.  Two that are prominent on the horizon are Marble Mountain & Water Mountain.  There is a lot of marble in this area; & therefore marble or other stone carving is a HUGE industry.  EVERYONE has some sort of home temple in the front yard.  And they put a lot more emphasis on what adorns their outdoor temple than they do in what they put in their houses.  We made a short photo stop at the Xa Loi Temple on top of Water Mountain.

As we got closer to Da Nang, we passed the U.S. Army headquarters & some surviving bunkers.  Across the street now stands elaborate Vegas-style casinos & resorts.  There are still some stretches of prime beachfront property that have dilapidated tin roofed houses.  But signs show that they are about to be bulldozed to make way for luxury home sites.

A lady Buddha statue….the Goddess of Mercy.

Just before we arrived back at the ship, a heavy sea fog rolled in.  Visibility was so poor, we barely missed a few cows crossing the road.  Back at the ship about 5 pm, I got ready for tonight’s big event…..”Viva Vegas-Nam”.  I was finally attending my first world cruise event!  The bar staff was dressed in long VN robes & ‘teepee’ hats (as I call them).  The stage set was a cross between Las Vegas strip signs & a VN honky-tonk.

Rick & Elise opened the show as if they were doing their usual TV morning show on sea days.  They asked a trivia question & a couple in the audience (actually 2 from the entertainment staff) answered the question correctly & won a tour of VN.  Elise pretended to be their tour guide, took them to a nightclub revue & beauty contest.  It was a little farfetched; but you just had to go with it.

It was an outstanding display of costuming, dance & music.  Elise got to strut her stuff; & did an amazing job in the dance sequence.  The show ended with an Elvis impersonator working the audience.  What a great night!

I had placed my dinner order with Liz before I left; & asked that it be delivered about 8:45.  My first course was a terrine of buffalo mozzarella, basil, sundried tomatoes & pine nuts.

Second appetizer was a sweet corn salad with green beans & hazelnuts on red leaf lettuce with a citrus sauce.

And my entrée was the always delicious tortiglioni pasta with fresh tomato, sausage, cream, asparagus, prosciutto & parmesan cheese.  The entire meal was outstanding.

It was a thrilling & exhausting day; & the heat really wiped me out.  With my legs swollen as big as tree trunks again, I propped them up on pillows; & I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

BTW:  Although I was ashore when Capt. Glenn gave his thought for the day, it was too good not to pass along…….”Do not look where you fell, rather where you slipped”.


drtee said...

Becky, Did you ever explain why so many people have their faces covered? I'm assuming the pollution, but I can't believe it would make a difference. I'm intrigued.

Anonymous said...


This is the best blog you have done to date. You do an outstanding job of capturing life in VN.


Anonymous said...

Love the update!

Did you have enough warm clothes packed for the Great Wall??

Anne Fasfous (Jayayeff) said...

Hi Becky

Pleased you made the excursion to Hoi An - it was me that said it was a photographer's paradise. Sorry you struggled with the heat on that segment as I loved Vietnam (especially the 'south') and have since been back on a land vacation (a girls golf trip actually)and enjoyed it just a much the second time around..Enjoy the rest of your amazing journey, your blog and photos are both great...

Best Regards - Anne

Unknown said...

Yes, I remember it was you who got me excited about Hoi An. I could spend days there if it were 70 instead of 90 degrees. I've imagined that Hoi An is now what all of VN must have been long before the war. Those visual memories will stay with me forever.

Unknown said...

You will get different answers from different guides on the subject of wearing the masks. Yes, the smog is serious in southeast Asia. You see older people & youngsters wearing them while walking or riding scooters. You see some middle aged men wearing them.

As for the female population, especially those under 40, some say it's to prevent exposure to the sun. Although times have changed, their culture tells them that if you have tanned skin, you are poor (a laborer). Pale skin denotes wealth. I'm not sure what motivates some of the more 'fashion forward' masks I've seen on some of the women. But I kinda like it!

Unknown said...

Message to Anonymous re warm clothing.....short answer is NO!

The clothing I brought with me would have served me well through Hong Kong (where temps should have been no colder than mid 50's).

I did bring a pair of thick ankle high socks to wear with suede tennis shoes. I had mostly short & 3/4 sleeve blouses & a long sweater coat. Thank God for the waterproof windbreaker they gave to all the world cruisers. I've borrowed a pullover sweater from another Passengers & bought a pair of fake leather gloves from a VN street vender. That's gonna have to do me.

Too bad I don't have all that cold weather gear I bought for the Antarctic cruise 2 years ago. I would love to take the K-9 Kennel & Lodge tour in Petropavlovsk, Russia. There will be heavy snow & a snowmobile ride.