Ho Chi Minh City – Coconuts…

Hustling remains in HCMC but in a subtler calmer sense compared to Hanoi. Feeling untouchable for almost an entire month, no scam would get me. I fell victim of a scam, particularly a coconut scam.

We were waiting across the street and a gentleman carrying coconuts. Willingly gave us advice about our cell phones by not using them out in the open because scooterists would snatch them as they ride by. Jamie, the coconut guy, and I, begin crossing the street. At this point I knew he wanted to sell us a coconut. Reaching inside his container, he pulls out a coconut and begins handing it to me. I told him no. I don’t want it. This is where things take a turn. Remaining nice, he stubbornly said “here, here, it’s free.” That should have been my first red flag. Silly me thinking, oh a free coconut, I take it without hesitation. Then he goes after Jamie. Gullable me at this point was like, Jamie he wants to give you a coconut. Keep in mind, he never said free or mention of any price. Hands her a coconut, pulls out a machete, opens both our coconuts. We were about ready to walk away and the coconut guy stops us and said 115,000 dong looking directly at Jamie and her coconut. Contributing to the idea of a free coconut to Jamie, I am defeated. Not only did I fall victim to the scam, we found out hours later, ordering lunch, the coconut juice from the coconut was only 18,000 dong. Now, I’m crushed. No longer untouchable and learned nothing is “free.”

Hue, Vietnam

The city of Hue, Vietnam is a quiet little city.  After going through Sapa and Hanoi, the city itself is a slower pace.  Instead of the food vendors walking around selling their delicious pastries, numerous people with motorbikes stationed in front of stores or riding around trying to convince you to rent a bike from them.  Sitting inside a coffee shop, one stationed himself in front of the shop. He began talking to the people at each of the tables, while they were enjoying their conversation or eating. Firmly, the gentleman is introducing renting a motorbike for the day or tour to Hoi An. To admit his defeat, he never encountered a sale during our stay. 

Entrance to the Imperial City

Aside from the continuous pressure of motorbike rental salesman’s, we head to the Imperial City.  Now inundated with locals pitching themselves as ‘official tour guides,’ we march toward the ticket booth.  We purchased a bundled ticket for the Imperial City and 2 Royal Tombs. Acclaimed one of UNESCO’s heritage sites, the city’s beauty is still under restoration and unfortunately some renovations during our stay. The Imperial City flooding with symmetry for the entire compound and each building.

Luckily, the bundled tickets we purchased allow 2 days of exploration. If we purchased the Imperial City with 3 Royal tombs, it entitles you 3 days.

Drenched from head to toe, we enter each tomb with my sandals and her shoes squeaking and water sloshing around.  Renting a motorbike is a terrible idea during monsoon season. Tu Duc’s tomb was the first.  Unfortunately, this tomb was not in our bundle.  Our bundle included the Khai Dinh King and Minh Mang Royal Tombs. 

Of all the tombs, the Khai Dinh King tomb was the most magnificent with the symmetry and delicate placement of mosaic dragons along with paintings of dragons with Chinese scriptures.

The most serene I thought was the Tu Duc tomb. Pleased with its serenity and beauty, I produced two photos. Personally, I enjoyed the Tu Doc tomb’s because it incorporated a nature aspect of many coy ponds and a Buddhist ‘island’ comprising miniature pagodas, mini statues, bonsai trees, and dwarven pine trees.

Khai Dinh King Entrance
Tu Duc’s Entrance

The Stele is Tu Duc’s autobiography of himself. The largest Stele in Vietnam.

Tu Duc’s Stele

The Minh Mang was wonderful as the Khai Dinh King without the detail and less serenity as with the Tu Doc’s tomb.

After a few hours in the rain, we retired and headed back to our hostel. We remained warm and continued on with our journey. Now preparing for a 2.5 hour train ride to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

Boarded two buses from Sapa heading toward Hue with a pit stop in Hanoi, the journey is almost 25 hours total.  Sapa is a beautiful town filled with enormous culture. Four tribes, four different languages, one thing in common, all of them meet in Sapa to introduce their culture, food, traditions, and way of life to the tourists.  Consequently, the tribes suffer from tourism to find a balance between old traditions and modern life. Speaking to a native born in Sapa, she mentioned that tourism is taking away their cultural identities.  Their own dialects are becoming extinct, trying to learn English, Spanish, and French to sell their products or tour their villages for a living.  On the other hand, their handcrafted dresses for both women and children, pillow cases, purses and other goods are gorgeous. One caveat of the tribal people are the tribal women when walking through town.  The moment you stand still, this becomes their moment to swoop in and speak to you.  They strategize their sales tactics with shopping and hiking. Responding no courteously knowing they want to sell something, now they begin a casual conversation. Evading several times, they stay persistent and follow for several minutes and up to several yards.  Working passed the tribal women, walking is the best way to get from opposite sides of the town because of the road structure.

Peak of Ham Rong Mountain

Plenty of attractions are found in and around town such as the Mường Hoa Valley, Fanispan Mountain, rice terraces, and Ham Rong Mountain.  Upon our arrival in late December midst monsoon season, Sapa was cloudy, rainy, and jacket weather cold. But the cloudy and rainy environment brought a mysticism to Sapa.  Floating mountainous islands in the sky are unforgettable moments. 

Trails of Ham Rong Mountain

While waiting for days for the clouds to clear, we drew our attention towards the rice terraces than Fanispan Mountain.  Though the mountains were lushly green, the paddy fields beautifully stacked and brown. Onward, we paid 70,000 dong a person and trekked up Ham Rong Mountain. While hiking up the mountain, we noticed the cable car operating to the top of Fanispan Mountain.  To watch the gondola lift, haul itself up the mountain and disappear into the clouds would be a bust to peak Fanispan. 

Trúc Lâm Đại Giác Zen Monastery

Travelling during monsoon season presents its challenges. Sapa presents its beauty even during monsoon season only through preparation.  As prepared as you are, the main attractions may not be ready for you because of renovations or under construction.  Wear the right shoes in December and possibly January is a must, otherwise water will soak through your shoes and sometimes sink into the soil. Overall, we had a pleasant experience with the short hike up Ham Rong Mountain and the cloudiness of Sapa.

– Walter