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6 September 2012
of system but our journey was comfortable.”
Hue was the national capital until 1945 when emperor Bao Dai
abdicated and a communist government was established in Hanoi in
the north. During the Tet Offensive in 1968, the city suffered a lot of
damage during the Battle of the Hue, with American bombs destroy-
ing important historical buildings. And after the war, many of these
buildings were apparently left to decay as symbols of a ‘reactionary
and feudal regime’. However since then, policies have changed and
there are now a number of buildings undergoing renovation.
Hue is on a river whose name translates as ‘perfume’. Here, Pete
and Sally hired bikes again for the afternoon and spent the time
exploring the local market and ‘grazing’ for tasty tidbits.
“You can buy everything there; clothes, food,” says Pete. “They
start in the very early hours of the morning but I think we were there
about 3pm and there were still loads of fish and vegetables on sale.
I was trying to film the whole thing from the handle bars of my bike
without jolting the picture too much as well as avoiding other people,
it was relief to stop and relax,” he laughs.
“But bikes made the whole trip for me. You’ve got to be a bit
brave and pick your time, but it’s definitely the way to see things.”
Something that surprised them both was the efficient use of public
land for growing things, he says.
“We saw lotus farms, rice paddies, fish and duck farms, all in
areas that in New Zealand, would have been wasteland, like by the
side of highways.”
About 95 million people live in Vietnam, making it something
like the world’s 13th most populous country, so every bit of space
has to be used productively.
A place they both say they could have stayed much longer was
Hoi An, an ancient town that used to be a 16th century merchant
trading port called Faifo. Located on the banks of the Thu Bon River,
it was considered a major international port in Southeast Asia from
the 17th to the 19th century and is one of the best-preserved places
in the country; mainly because it escaped the destruction caused by
the subsequent wars.
Its old buildings, temples and pagodas have given the place the
reputation of a living museum and while once occupied by western
traders, is now a major tourist drawcard.
“I would recommend people spend at least a week in Hoi An,”
says Pete. “There is just too much to see; great tailor shops, shoe
Clockwise from above – Pete and ‘Tiger’ on
the cycle trip in the Mekong Delta; The market
at Hue; You can get just about anything on the
back of a scooter if you try hard enough; Cu
Dai Beach at Hoi An –‘Say no to plastic bags’.
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24/08/12 11:05 AM
shops, lots of restaurants and spas. It has a very posh area where
the footpaths are in good condition and the private cars are actu-
ally parked on the owners’ property, rather than the road, which is
The couple stayed at a place called the Orchid Homestay where
pushbikes were provided for no charge and it was in Hoi An that
Sally met her match in the bargaining stakes.
“It was really funny,” says Pete, “because Sally was used to
doing well with bargaining but this woman, who was selling the
delicious local passionfruit, just literally took the money out of her
purse. Sally was laughing about it afterwards.”
And the purchase almost became a problem at the end of their
trip as she wasn’t allowed to take the fruit on the plane so had to eat
it in the airport.
Apart from the heat, and the odd rubbishy beach, their verdict
was that Vietnam was such an extraordinary place, two weeks could
barely do it justice.
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