Several visits to Vietnam: pictures, observations, notes and thoughts

Created 2008/07/18, last edited 2024/01/29
Contact: David K Clarke – ©

The photos in this page in most cases were 5MP Canon Powershot S2 IS camera.
A few of those taken in 2008 were from a 6MP Canon Powershot S3 IS.

Halong sunset
Vietnam's unique Halong Bay
Saigon temple
Temple interior in Saigon's Chinatown


The Vietnamese people had many years of war in the twentieth century: the Japanese, then the French, then the 'American War' (they call it that, to Australians like me it was the Vietnam War, to the USians it was the Vietnam Conflict). The American War was followed by years of corrupt and repressive communist maladministration. (Perhaps a classic example of a war that nobody won!)

However, since the 1980s Vietnam has been economically advancing as private enterprise was first grudgingly tolerated, then allowed, later encouraged. In the 1990s the country started opening up to foreign visitors from the relatively wealthy West; in the first decade of the twenty-first century the stream became a flood.

But Vietnam has not (yet) been spoiled by all the attention, and for those who want to get away from the foreign tourists there are many places that are well worth visiting and where 'white' faces, if not rare, are out of the ordinary and where the local kids treat us as a novelty.

My wife and I have visited Vietnam three times, a few days in October 2004, about a month in October and November of 2006, and another three weeks in June and July of 2008. At one time or another we have travelled by land (bus, minibus or train) all the way from Cantho in the Mekong delta in the far south to Lao Cai on the Chinese border in the north.

The Vietnamese people are exceptionally friendly. You will occasionally find one who wants to take advantage of you, but to get a surly or rude response from anyone in Vietnam is very rare. (Some taxi drivers in Saigon and Hanoi are not to be trusted.)



I've no doubt that for those young people who like night-life Vietnam's two main cities, Saigon and Hanoi, have their attractions, but for older people like myself, a visit to Vietnam would be better if they could be avoided.

Unfortunately avoiding Saigon and Hanoi is impractical. Perhaps an alternative would be to pre-book whatever one wanted to see and do in the big cities, and then get out into the regional centres and relax?

Vietnam is a beautiful country. Much of it is mountainous, and much is flat coastal deltaic plane; there seems little in between.

The climate is variable, from hot and humid in the lowlands of the south, warm in the central highlands at Dalat, warm to hot seasonally at Hanoi, and cool seasonal in the northern highlands around Sapa. The country is entirely in the tropics, so visitors from the temperate regions are much more likely to suffer from excessive heat than excessive cold anywhere.

This page will cover the bits that we visited starting from the south and moving northward.


Perhaps the most striking thing that I, as an Australian, noticed about Vietnam that was very different to my homeland was the almost ubiquitous smog in Vietnam compared to the clear air in Australia.

To the shame of Australia, much of the smog in Vietnam would come from coal exported from nations such as mine. Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world.

We are very fortunate in Australia, we export much of the coal that we mine (at enormous profit) to pollute other country's air, not our own. Of course this is a terribly selfish and unethical thing to do.

Of course aside from the air pollution, the burning of fossil fuels, very much including the coal that Australia mines and exports, is widely recognised as the main cause of climate change, ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise.

I've written on another page of the shame that Australians should feel about the way in which our nation has shirked its responsibilities as a global citizen. Many of our governments, and the majority of the people with wealth and power, seem to care far more for profits and income than for ethical standards. In fact probably the majority of Australian people don't care much about Australia's terrible standing on climate change action.


One contrast between Vietnam and Australia that struck us was in the building that is happening in both countries. In Australia money is going into mines, new houses, pleasure boats, recreational four-wheel-drives and caravans. In Vietnam the money is going into building new roads, bridges, factories, and businesses.

The implications for the future economic potential of both nations are obvious.

Place names

Vietnamese break multisyllabic place names into single syllables; eg. The Western usage, Hanoi becomes Ha Noi, Danang becomes Da Nang. I have probably used both styles on this page.

Mekong Delta

Mekong boat
Lady with a 'long-tail' motorboat on the delta
Mekong Houses
Houses on the Delta, note how little they are above the water level. Flooding must be a part of the way of life.
Floating market
A couple of the many boats at a floating market on the Mekong delta in Cantho.
Flat, low-lying, and with interconnecting waterways, the Delta is one of the most fertile and densely populated places on Earth. (Of course its people will suffer as the sea level rises, see the note on climate change and Vietnam on this page.)
Denece and I had a (US$20) two-day tour of the Mekong Delta on our first visit to Vietnam in October 2004. The tour included travel in boats in the Saigon area and the Can Tho area, as well as busses between those places. There were visits to various places of interest such as a coconut candy 'factory' and a rice noodle 'factory', and a short performance of Vietnamese traditional music and song was included.
The weather was hot, but the boats had protection from the direct sunlight, and from the occasional torrential downpour (which lowered the temperature for a while).

Monkey bridge
My wife Denece and two others on our tour crossing a 'Monkey bridge' across one of the minor waterways of the delta.

Rice ready for transport

Bagged rice waiting on a minor waterway apparently ready to be picked up to go to market.


Floating market

Early morning floating market on the Mekong delta

Floating market

River traffic and river-bank houses near the floating market

Photo 2004/10/03


Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Scooter load
Four on a scooter is not an unusual sight anywhere in a Vietnamese city, although not easy to capture on a photo.
Crossing the busier streets in Ho Chi Minh can be a bit daunting until you get used to it.
A very small part of a market in the Pham Ngu Lao area of Ho Chi Minh. All the larger cities in Vietnam have very well stocked markets where prices are very low and, it seems, you can buy almost anything. Some of the most interesting, and cheapest, eating is available in the markets, although language can be a major problem.
Commonly called Saigon outside of Vietnam, but officially Ho Chi Minh City, this is the biggest city in the country and the commercial hub. (Officially, Saigon is a relatively small section of Hi Chi Minh City.)
You can pay a lot for accommodation, or you can get a very pleasant and comfortable air conditioned double room with en-suite bathroom and toilet for around Aust$20 per night (including breakfast). We stayed at Hotel 64 in both 2004 and 2006.
General shopping opportunities are probably Vietnam's best, or at least most extensive, in Saigon.


A miner ally in a busy Ho Chi Mihn market


Vegetarian Restaurant
A part of the excellent vegetarian restaurant Phien Tinh Tien, 17 Huynh Thuc Khang street, Dalat

Restaurant de Famille
Vintage motorbike in Restaurant de Famille; one of many restaurants with excellent food

A bakery photographed from both ends. It was on the river that runs parallel to Phan Dinh Phung street. I just happened to notice the beautiful fresh bread as I walked past the door. It seems to use waste wood as fuel for its ovens.

Delicious fresh bread from a very ordinary looking source.


Part of Dalat market. Most of it is in the buildings on the right side of the photo.

Note the pastel colours of the buildings in the background; very typical of Vietnam.

Also interesting is the Araucaria tree; (right of centre) these were fairly common in the Dalat area.

Dalat market

At Dalat Flower Garden

We saw plant sculptures such as this many places around Vietnam. They would be quiet impractical in Australia's low humidity, too hard to stop them drying out.

Dalat Flower Garden
Dalat is at an altitude of 1500m. You might think that it would be cool, but in June (summer) it is quite warm during the day; the nights are comfortably cool. We did not have air conditioning in our hotel (Dreams 2), and found that the room was quite comfortable so long as we opened the window for an hour or more in the early evening. See also accommodation.

Dalat is much less on the tourist map of Westerners than the more popular of Vietnamese destinations. On the other hand, it is one of the most popular destinations with Vietnamese holiday makers; and the locals are not silly.

Of all the places Denece and I stayed in Vietnam in 2008, the management of Dreams 2 hotel in (Phan Dinh Phung street) Dalat, Luyen Nguyen and his mother, were the most helpful and it seemed, honest. Both spoke good or workable English, and gave advice that seemed to be aimed to advantage us, rather than them. The breakfasts too, at Dreams, were impossible to fault.

The front door of the hotel was opened at 0600hrs each day. I rise early, and would have liked to go out around 0500hrs. I mentioned this to Luyen early in our stay and he told me that all I had to do was to knock on the door to the foyer and a lad who slept there would let me out. Although I tried this once, I didn't get any response!

There are many interesting places that can be visited both in and around Dalat. There are a number of pagodas, a cable car ride, the Crazy House (aka Hang Nga Guesthouse ), several waterfalls, ethnic minority villages, coffee plantations, commercial flower gardens, a short and quaint train journey, a palace of the last king of Vietnam, and other attractions.

We travelled by bus from Dalat to Nha Trang. In the vicinity of Dalat the great majority of the trees were conifers; as we travelled north broad-leaved trees began to dominate.

I inquired in Dalat about the pine trees, thinking that they seemed unlikely to be local natives, but could not get any definite answer. It is possible that they were planted after the USians had denuded all the hills with herbicides during the war.


Modern hotel
A hotel in Dalat.

I know little about architecture, but the style of this place looks to me to be Chinese. I find it attractive.

Unfortunately the great majority of the architecture of large buildings in Australia is very unimaginative and also unattractive. 'Big boxes' seems a fair description of much of it.

Fusion architecture

Again, some interesting and attractive architecture.

How very unfortunate that the red box has been built right up against it! A disastrous clash of styles and an affront to the eye.

The typical Vietnamese street mix of power lines do nothing for the view.


These wonderful bonsai trees would be the highlight of any garden in Australia and surely their surrounds would be tended with great care.

While the trees here have been looked after with TLC, the grass beneath them has, incongruously, been neglected.

An Australian can't help being greatly impressed with bonsai like these. It seems that they must be much easier to keep alive and thriving in the wet, warm, humid climate of Dalat than in most of Australia.


A side ally in Dalat.

I feel that it makes a pleasing composition.

As a record, the rubbish and the luxuriant growth of moss are notable. Moss doesn't grow like this in Australia's dry climate.

What this moss says about the Dalat climate helps to explain some of the gardens.

Crazy House, Dalat

Crazy House
Crazy House (aka Hang Nga Guesthouse) is well worth a visit while in Dalat.

Apparently it was designed by "Dang Viet Nga, a Ph.D. holder in architecture from Moscow State University and the daughter of a former Vietnamese president".

A Web page that gives more information about Crazy House is Strange Buildings.

Crazy House garden

A part of the gardens of Crazy House


Crazy House garden

Another view of the grounds and garden

Crazy House garden

My wife, Denece, in the Crazy House grounds


Eating (Dalat and elsewhere)

Denece and I ate at many more places than those listed below, but did not make (decipherable) notes on them. The simpler places aiming at the less well-off Vietnamese were extremely cheap by Western standards, and, in our experience, had good food. The more comfortable places, those with a door, air conditioning and with table settings, were more expensive, but still much cheaper than you would pay in any Western country. Language was more likely to be problematic in the simpler places, but one advantage was that the food was more traditionally Vietnamese.

Restaurants in Dalat
Vegetarian restaurant Phien Tinh Tien on 17 Huynh Thuc Khang street; near Crazy House Good food, great setting – you can eat in the garden or indoors if you prefer 2 main cources, 2 beers, 82 000VND (~Au$5.50)
Hao Vi Cafe, 219 Phan Dinh Phung Aimed more at locals than foreigners, good food; we ate there often Excellent value
Trong Dong Vietnamese Restaurant, 220 Phan Dinh Phung St. Very good food More expensive than some
Restaurant de Famille Very good food, the waitress was very chatty and informative Excellent value

Also see the note on Hoang Huy Seafood restaurant in Quy Nhon and the Huu Nghi Restaurant in Hoi An.

Nha Trang

Sunrise on the waterfront at Nha Trang
Park scene
In the Nha Trang sea-front park, late afternoon
On the very long eastern coast, Nha Trang is a very popular beach resort. We visited it in 2006 and 2008.
The beach is sandy and clean, but sometimes the waves can be dumpers and make swimming in the shallows unpleasant and getting beyond the breakers difficult. Still, the hotels are good and many have swimming pools.
Nha Trang is not one of our favourite places, we much preferred the relatively undeveloped Quy Nhon.

Boats on beach
Boats pulled up on the Quy Nhon beach for maintenance
Discussion group
An old bloke's discussion group
Getting through the surf
Getting through the surf

Quy Nhon

The part of the beach where the fishing boats are repaired is not where you would want to go swimming. It seems that quite a few people live on the boats, and crap on the beach nearby – one of the facts of life in Asia. There is a much cleaner section of the beach further along to the east.

In July Quy Nhon is hot! From around 1000 to 1400 hours it's best to stay inside with the air conditioner, if you possibly can. When you go out walk slowly, avoid the sun if you can, and have breaks for iced coffee (I found eating the ice from the iced coffee helped to cool me down). The sea is cool, but if your hotel is not very close to the beach you will be just as hot again before you get back.

I swam in Nha Trang at 1630hrs; there were hundreds of people in the water. I swam in Quy Nhon at about 1030hrs, I was the only one in the water in sight. This was at least partly, I suspect, because no-one who doesn't need to be out after 1000hrs would be – it's simply too hot. There were many more swimmers in Quy Nhon at other times of the day.

The best restaurant that Denece and I ate at in Vietnam in 2008 was Hoang Huy Seafood (Nha Hang), 18 Xuan Dieu (next door to Barbaras Kiwi Cafe). The service was unbeatable, prices very low, setting great – a quiet part of the street on the beach front – and the food was top. (Geographic coordinates, N13.77180, E109.24121) Also see eating.

The round basket boats are used to get from the shore to the fishing boats. They seem remarkably well suited for their use; they skim over the water rather than cutting through the water as does a conventions dinghy.

The coastal strip in this section of Vietnam is quite narrow, as can be seen by the mountains visible in the background in these photos (taken 2008/06/25).

A beautiful hotel (probably out of our price range) in Hoi An.
Vietnamese architecture is much more imaginative and decorative than is Australian.

Accommodation in Vietnam

All but the very cheapest hotels in the lower parts of the country have air conditioned rooms; we didn't have, or need, air conditioning in our room in Dalat (altitude 1500m). Room prices didn't vary greatly across the country. Of course there was hardly any limit to how much you could pay if you wanted to, but, in general, a good room could be had for around Au$25 per night in the more touristy places, going down to Au$10-$18 in the less visited places (like Quy Nhon and Danang).

Breakfast is usually included in the price of the room. This usually means a cooked breakfast if you want one, but generally you eat so much and so well at lunch and dinner you will welcome a light breakfast.

Many hotels provide limited Internet access at no extra charge.

Also see the note about Dreams 2 Hotel in Dalat.

Hoi An

Hoi An river, early morning 2008/06/30
Boat on Hoi An river
A woman paddling a wooden boat on the Hoi An river in the early morning
Hoi An has at least two main attractions to Western tourists. Shopping for tailor made clothes is probably some of the best in the world, quite probably the best in the world if you consider value for money; and then there is the fascinating and historical architecture.

In addition, the food is excellent, a boat tour on the river is well worth-while and can be instructive, and there is a good beach about four kilometres away. (Jellyfish stings can be a problem at the beach.)

We were visiting Hoi An in 2008 so that we could buy clothes for my daughter's wedding which was later held in Penang, Malaysia, 1600 kilometres to the southwest. We had visited it previously, in 2006, and visited it again in 2011.

On the Hoi An river, 2008/07/05
On the phone
Mobile phones are all the go in Vietnam too! Note that the bloke is smoking and talking on his phone while a woman is doing the work of paddling; this seems typical.

Hoi An river

At the city the river is very much a delta, with a number of channels and many islands. The main roads running parallel to the coast are seven kilometres and more inland, toward the west.

Consequently, there are a great many boats in use, ferries, fishing boats, tour boats.

Intricate wooden panel in the Trieu Chau Assembly Hall, 2008/07/05
Carved panels
We heard while we were there that Hoi An had been added to the UN World Heritage list.

One of the best, and best value, restaurants in Hoi An in our opinion was Huu Nghi Restaurant, 56 Bach Dong Street (on the river).

Hoi An is one of the most tourist developed places in Vietnam.

On the Hoi An river, 2008/07/03
Hoi An
A general view of the Hoi An waterfront in the early morning
Hoi An would be nothing without the Hoi An river. This view shows the fish market, which is open only in the early morning.

On the Hoi An river, 2008/06/28
Tour boat on Hoi An river
Captain Dan's Tour Boat

A tour boat on the Hoi An river; note the buildings in the distance.

On the Hoi An river, 2008/06/28
Hoi An river view
The Vietnamese seem to be enthusiastic about sculptures. We saw sculpture parks in a number of places, and, of course there were many sculptures around temples and shrines. Here the sculptures are floating on the Hoi An river.

The little thatched hut built on a boat mored adjacent to a clump of palm trees is interesting.

Woman washing baskets
The baskets that this woman is washing in the river were used to contain many different things, including fish at the fish market not far from where this image was captured.

Photo taken 2008/06/28

Sculling a small boat
This woman is 'stern sculling' the little boat.

Wikipedia: "Stern sculling is the process of propelling a watercraft by moving a single, stern-mounted oar from side to side while changing the angle of the blade so as to generate forward thrust on both strokes."

The technique is commonly used in Vietnam.

The mountains in the background are never far away from the coast plain in central Vietnam; the coastal plain is very flat but usually quite narrow.

Photo taken 2008/06/29

Ferries like this were kept busy taking people, bicycles, motor scooters and produce across the Hoi An river.

Note the lifebuoys and life jackets on the rack above the passengers.

Photo taken 2008/06/29

Small boat at morings

I think that this boat at it's moorings, with the tall tree in the background, made a pleasing composition.

Photo taken 2008/06/30

Loading sand
Loading sand onto a barge.

Machinery like this was not common in Vietnam. Labour was cheep, machinery would have been relatively very expensive, but one backhoe like this could take the place of many labourers with shovels.

Photo taken 2008/07/01

Boat and ducks
Flocks of ducks, like this, are common throughout Southeast Asia. I suppose that they have had their wings cut so that they can't fly.

The man seems to have been doing some sort of fishing while looking after the ducks.

Photo taken 2008/07/01

Cabinet maker

We did a day tour from Hoi An during which we saw this cabinet maker at work.

Holding the piece he's working on with his foot while sawing using a bow saw!

Still, no more dangerous than using power saws as Western joiners do all the time I suppose.

Photo taken 2008/07/01

Foot powered potter's wheel

On the same tour as the one in which we saw the cabinet maker we visited a potter. Her wheel was powered by a second lady's foot.

I would suppose that the wheel would be quite heavy and its inertia would keep it spinning at a fairly constant speed.

Photo taken 2008/07/01

Newly built wooden boat

Further on in the tour we visited a boat builder's yard.

This boat has apparently been finished apart from whatever paint or varnish is to be applied.

It is hard to see from the photos whether the frames along the side have been made from naturally curved pieces of timber; ideally they would have been.

The boat is built in the carvel style, with the outer timbers butting against each other (as against the clinker style where they would overlap).

My Son, Ken, is on the right.

Photo taken 2008/07/01

Keel laid for the next boat

On the right here you can see an upturned boat that has the its planking attached.

On the right just the keel that has been laid for the next boat.

Photo taken 2008/07/01


Danang kids
Foreigners and cameras are still a novelty in Danang.
A narrow quintessentially Vietnamese house across the river from central Dalat. Although narrow, it was long; the length was hidden in this end-on photo. Danang house
Danang is only 30km from the very touristy town of Hoi An and most of the tourists who visit Hoi An go through Danang. Yet very few of them spend any time in Danang which, consequently, provides a refreshing change from the tourist hordes. The children of Danang are fascinated by Western tourists and their cameras; they love having their photos taken and collapse into giggling helplessness when shown the photos.
Denece and I only had a part of a day in Danang. If we go back to Vietnam we'd like to spend more time there.
We stayed in Xuan Hung hotel, 56 Phan Chu Trihm street. (Very good room, Au$19, including breakfast – but coffee was an extra dollar if you wanted that at breakfast!) It was a fairly short walk from the water-front of the river, where many of the locals walk in the relative coolness of morning and evening.
One minor problem we had was getting out of the hotel early in the morning. We had to wake one of the staff, who was sleeping in the reception area; then he had to go down to the big front roller-door, bang on the door and wake the man who was sleeping on the street in front of the door (the big door could only be opened from the outside).
We ate dinner at a restaurant on the esplanade by the bridge (Nha hang Sao Do, 50 Bach Dang street). The food was excellent, and the menu exotic; it included – if I remember rightly – horse, crocodile, ostrich, camel, and "muscle of cow". Unfortunately we did not record the name of the restaurant.

Throne room of the last king of Vietnam
Palace grounds
A little of the grounds of one of the Hue palaces
Incence sticks
Died sticks ready to coat with incence


Once the capital of Vietnam, there are more palaces in and around Hue than you can poke a stick at.
Hue is also conveniently close to the Demilitarised Zone of the American War with its restored Vinh Moc tunnels where Vietnamese lived to escape the bombing and several important and historical American war sites.
Gekkos on an illuminated sign in Hue

Halong Bay

The Cruse starts
Halong Bay boats
Which boat is 'ours'? There were a crowd of boats at the pier. I don't recall how we found the right one.
Photo 2006/10/27
Halong Bay (Latitude N20.8°, Longitude E107.1°) is a maze of steep limestone islands in the north-east of the country. It has been given World Heritage status, and is the biggest tourist attraction in Vietnam.

When Denece and I visited with our family, June 2006, the visitor numbers were being handled without spoiling the area; I hope that remains to be the case.

Halong Bay
Boats, service centres(?) on stilts among storybook mountains!

There are karst landscapes and mountains (geomorphology composed of limestone, which is slightly water-soluble, particularly in acidic water) in a number of places around the world. Guilin in China is one of the most famous. They are also in Kraby, Thailand and Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

View from cave
Photo 2006/10/27

The tour we did included a visit to a cave in one of the islands. As caves go, this one was not out of the ordinary, but this view from the cave entrance was quite something.

I think the boats with sails were permanently mored in front of the cave climb for the photo opportunities. I doubt that they go anywhere.

Hazy mountains
The silhouettes show the fantastic shapes of the mountains to good effect.

The air in Vietnam, unfortunately, is usually very polluted and hazy. It makes one appreciate the clear air that we normally have in Australia. I would think that the Southern Hemisphere air is usually cleaner than the northern hemisphere because of the lower populations and less heavy industry in the south.

Weird island

The dirty air does provide some interesting views.

Here the strange little island with its crowning tree stands out strongly against the hazy more distant mountains.

A boat like ours
This boat is similar to the one that we were on, as I recall.

Our bedrooms were on the lower deck and the shared common dining room on the deck above.

Notice how the stone of the island on the left is undercut. The increasing ocean acidification that is related to, but not a part of climate change will increase the rate at which the limestone dissolves.

Common room
The common room/dining room in the boat that we were on.

From left to right the people were, our daughter Julia, her husband Shayne, our son Ken and on the right his wife Claire.

Photo 2006/10/28

Water cave
Here the limestone at the base of this cliff had been entirely dissolved away leaving a tunnel that canoes could get through at low tide.

Eventually the rock above will have insufficient support and collapse into the water.

Here the strange little island with its crowning tree stands out strongly against the hazy more distant mountains. Canoes were provided by the tour operators. We paddled through one or more tunnels like this one into an area completely surrounded by cliffs.


Some of the people who shared our boat with us. Julia and Shayne in the canoe most to the left?

Again, the undercutting of the cliff by the sea water is conspicuous.

Tiny village
The tiny village at the foot of this vertical cliff is just above the high water mark.

Like so many of the Vietnames people who live on the two great deltas, the Red River in the north and the Mekong in the south. These people's homes will be very much at risk with sea level rise. Many people living in the low-lying land around the Hoi An delta in central Vietnam will also suffer.

The injustice in this is that climate change and related problems have largely been caused by the people of the wealthy West while it is often the people of the Third World who will suffer most.

Floating village
A floating village in which many of the people make their livings by fish farming or fishing.

I recall that we saw horseshoe crabs in some of the pens. These are creatures who have not changed a lot from their ancestors of 440 million years ago.

Our tour included being shown around some of the fish farms.

Topiary in Cat Ba
In the foreground, some impressive topiary, in the background some of the high-rise tourist accommodation of Cat Ba, a town (or city) that owes its existence to the tourism of Halong Bay.

Boat dwarfed by mountains

And so, farewell to Halong Bay.

This tiny one-man dingy is dwarfed by the karst mountains.


Before dawn
The local people walked and exercised around Hoan Kiem Lake in the cool of the early morning
Motorbikes on street
Now you see them...
Motorbikes on the street in the evening; they are there throughout the daylight hours too.
No motorbikes
Now you don't...
The motorbikes disappear indoors overnight; this photo was taken in the early morning at the same place as the one above.
Vietnam's second-biggest city and capital, Hanoi is where you will probably fly into or out of if you go to the north of the country.

Our first visit to Hanoi was in 2004 and did not give a good first impression of Vietnam. We had dropped in to Hanoi only to change planes on our way to Britain. There were signs in the airport that stated clearly that airport exit taxes did not have to be paid by those who were in transit. Yet we and others found that there was no way we could get through the airport without paying the tax. Did it go into the pockets of corrupt officials? We'll probably never know.

Denece and I went back to Hanoi with our kids (then in their late twenties) in 2006.

Hoan Kiem Lake is my favourite place of Hanoi. I start my day early in the morning. (Especially in a place with a hot climate like Vietnam, it is the best part of the day. Why not make the most of the part of the day that is coolest and most comfortable?) Many of the people of Hanoi (it seems the Vietnamese in general) also make an early start. Before daylight there were hundreds or thousands of Hanoiese walking around Hoan Kiem Lake; mostly in a clockwise direction (if my memory is correct).

Disappearing motorbikes

Another thing that I first noticed in Hanoi (and saw repeated in many other Vietnamese cities) was that the motorbikes that are so numerous on the streets during the day disappear at night. They are either being ridden on the streets or parked on the footpaths during the day, but are brought inside overnight. Two photos on the right show the same bit of street in the evening and again in the early morning. While many Vietnamese were out on foot, it seems that they wait until later before bringing most of the motorbikes out.


Hoan Kiem Lake on a misty-smoggy morning

Vietnam had terrible air quality when we were there. I wonder if it has improved at all since?

Photo 2006/10/23

Bonsai, pagoda and lake

Bonsai, pagoda and Hoan Kiem lake, again, with a thick smog.

Group at restaurant

Our group (other than me) at a Hanoi restaurant.

Pig on motor scooter

Vietnamese lady carrying a dressed pig down a street on the back of her motor scooter.

It is common to see a great variety of loads on motor scooters on Vietnamese streets.


Sapa city. We had some time in Sapa on the way to, and coming back from, our time in Tapas Echo Retreat which was some kilometres from Sapa.

Minority girls
Girls of the Black H'mong ethnic minority in Sapa
Tapas "Echo Retreat" in the hills of the Sapa region
Sapa is in the mountains near the northern border with China.

We got there by night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then minibus up the mountainside. Lao Cai is in a deep and remarkable straight valley that is conveniently positioned on a direct line to Hanoi; the railway, of course, follows the valley.

Sapa is built around rather steep hills and is interesting, among other things, for the several minority ethnic groups who live through the nearby hills and valleys.

In 2006 we stayed a couple of nights at an 'Echo-Retreat' called Tapas that was perhaps a half-hour drive away. Tapas itself was beautiful, comfortable, and very well run; it's only disadvantage was that we were told that we were not supposed, by law, to leave the resort without a local guide. This was apparently another strange law made by the local government with the expressed intention of stopping undesirable interaction between the foreign visitors and the local people, but perhaps really aimed at making the local officials feel that they are in control of where the foreigners can go and what they can do. This may have changed since 2006.

Sapa street

A back street in Sapa

Sapa is at an altitude of around 1500 metres close to the Chinese border in the far north of Vietnam.

We were driven from Lao Cai in the Red River Valley (altitude about 80 metres) to the Tapas Echo Retreat with a short stop for a look around in Sapa on the way.

Sapa is only 20 km from Lao Cai in a straight line, but the road was far from straight.

Sapa among mountains

A view of the central part of Sapa with some of the surrounding mountains in the background.

I had to do some editing of this image, using three source images taken at different exposures, because of the high dynamic range (high variation in brightness levels) in the scene.


Another view of Sapa.

Sapa is apparently a trading centre for the local ethnic minority, the Black H'mong. Many are to be seen in their traditional dress. They seem to be darker-skinned than the majority of Vietnamese.


Apparently two H'mong girls, on the left, and a majority ethnic Vietnamese girl on the right. They seem to be friends.

I hope that relations between the different ethnic groups are good in Vietnam. Something I know nothing about.

Tapas Echo Retreat

Tapas Echo Retreat
The Tapas Echo Retreat was very comfortable by western standards. It would have been enormously luxurious and probably a bit strange by the local standards.

This photo seems to have been taken on our arrival and as we walked the short distances to our individual cabins. My son Ken is on the left, my wife Denece to his right.

The building on the left would be the main dining and socialising area.

Tapas Echo Retreat

My daughter Julia in the foreground, her husband Shayne with the big pack further along the path. Our individual cabins are beyond the path and on the right.

If not for the smog the mountains would be visible in the background.

Tapas Echo Retreat

Denece is standing on the back porch of our cabin, Ken is on the next cabin along.

If not for the dense smog the view would have no doubt been magnificent.

View into valley

The valley bottom was just visible through the smog, if not so much the more distant mountains.



Solar water heating and photovoltaic panel behind one of the quest's cabins.

The very small panel would have generated a correspondingly very small amount of power. I suspect it was some sort of backup emergency supply for when the main power went out.

One of the nearer mountains in the background.


Some of the hillsides barely showing through the smog and cloud beyond two of the guest accommodation cabins of the Tapas Resort.


Tapas Echo Retreat common room
My family in the common room of the Tapas Retreat. Julia on the left, her husband Shayne seated facing the camera, my wife Denece with her back to the camera, Claire, Ken's wife seated near Ken who is the one pointing his camera at me.

One thing I particularly remember about the service at the retreat was that the staff knew nothing about serving tea or liqueurs. We had a green tea that had so many tea leaves in it as to be undrinkable and liqueurs served in large beer glasses.

Land slip
A land-slip in the hillside rice paddies.

Land-slips would be a major hazard in clearing and cultivating steep hillsides like these. It suggests that the clearing may have taken place in the not too distant past. It looks as though an area of another dozen or so terraces has moved a short distance downslope on the far side of the main slip.


A patio area for the guests of the Echo Retreat

Mountains barely visible in the background


Grass flowers and smoggy mountains
Flowering grasses silhouetted against the smog shrouded mountains.

Whole Tapas complex

The whole Tapas complex and some of the surrounding rice terraces.

We asked once, I don't know why, because we had never been confined in where we could move in Vietnam, what areas we could walk in. We were told that we should confine ourselves to the Tapas land without a guide. Perhaps this was thought to be just for our own good, so that we wouldn't get lost?

We did go for at least one walk around the local area, outside of the Tapas land.

Photo 2006/10/25

Back in Sapa

Tourist development

Apparently we only had the one night in the Tapas resort.

This would have to be a tourism development that I photographed when we had some more time in Sapa on our way back to Hanoi.

Vietnam in general, and Sapa specifically, must have suffered badly with the collapse of international tourism during the Covid years. Many people would have depended for their livelihoods on the income brought in by overseas tourists.

Photo 2006/10/26


These men were working beside the road we happened to walk.

As long as the ground was dry it would probably be stable, but following heavy or consistent rains it would become saturated and I would imagine that landslips in disturbed areas like this would not be unusual.

Road works

Roadwork on a hillside in Sapa


Moving stone for roadbuilding in Sapa

The two men in front of the barrow were holding a poll across the front of the barrow to control the rate at which it rolled down the slope.

This must have been very hard work. In the Western World it would, of course, have been done by machinery.

Photo 2006/10/26

Vietnamese coffee

Street stall coffee in Ho Ann
The coffee in the glass
It is worth adding a bit to this page to talk about the sort of coffee you are likely to get at street stalls in Vietnam.

In my opinion, the coffee as the Vietnamese have it at the street stalls is even better than that served to tourists at most of the restaurants, not for the coffee itself, but for the way that it is served.

There was much variation in the serving styles at street stalls (and some of these may well have been regional), the most elaborate was that which I encountered in a stall, near the Japanese bridge on the waterfront if I remember correctly, in Hoi Ann. This is pictured on the right.

The pot is full of green tea, some of which has been poured into a glass; the other glass contains water (the far glass was left behind by another patron). The aluminium cup has hot water, apparently to keep the glass of offee hot. Tea and water came with the coffee, without me requesting them and at no extra charge; most street stall managers had little English, and I have no Vietnamese.

In the second photo the glass of coffee has been taken out of the aluminium cup; note that the coffee is very strong, the glass is quite small, and that there is a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of the coffee glass. Black coffee is an option, I think most Vietnamese drink it white, like this.

Coffee at a street stall was almost always 5000 Dong (Aust$0.40); once in Saigon they asked only 4000D.

Pottery whistle seller
A seller of pottery whistles in Hoi An photographed in 2006.
I believe it was the same lady selling the same pottery whistles in the same place in 2008.
Vegetable gardens at Lat village near Dalat.
The Lat village is home to a number of people from one of the Vietnamese ethnic minorities.
A part of Linh An Pagoda near Dalat
One of many beautiful temples and pagodas in Vietnam
Elephant waterfall near Dalat
Cao Dai temple
Mid-day service in the main Cao Dai temple which is within day-trip distance of Saigon
If you must indulge in religious delusions, this is a beautiful place to do it.

Train travel in Vietnam

Trains in Vietnam are comfortable, although not fast. The night trains are very convenient, so long as there is one when and where you need it. 'Soft Sleepers' provide comfortable and cheap travel, four bunks to a compartment; the toilets are at the ends of the carriages. If there is a well timed train, you can get a good night's sleep, a night's accommodation, and get to where you want to go – all in one.

In our experience, booking on the trains could be made much easier – this seems to be one thing that still suffers from the poor service that seems a characteristic of socialist economies.

There are also poor and desperate people who inhabit the stations hoping to be able to 'help' foreigners find their seats or bunks and carry the luggage; for a small fee. On one train a pushy man grabbed my case, without asking, lifted it up onto a high shelf in our train compartment, and demanded payment. I tried to point out that I didn't need, want, or ask for his help, but he would not leave until I took my case off the high shelf to prove that he was superfluous; I put it back up after he left looking for others to help before the train left.

We travelled by night train both directions from Hanoi to Lao Cai, from Hanoi to Hue, and again from Nha Trang to Saigon (this last train got us into Saigon around 0330hrs, rather an inconveniently early arrival.


ATM machines are easy to find in the larger or more touristy cities in Vietnam.

Internet access, likewise, is easy to find.

Laundry services are usually provided by hotels, but might be even cheaper if you take your washing to the easily found laundries yourself.

Posting stuff back home is very easy, at least in Hoi An where we needed to send a box full off. We took our stuff to the post office. The clerk found a box the right size, helped us pack it, and then helped us with the necessary paper work. We later learned that Post Office staff would have come to our hotel and done it all there had we requested it.

Climate change and Vietnam

Vietnam is hot. With climate change it will probably get hotter. Much of the highly populated parts of Vietnam is very low-lying. As the sea level rises, and typhoons become more intense and common, flooding will increase, especially in the Mekong and Red River deltas.

The Vietnamese are responsible for only a very small percentage of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that has been added to the atmosphere in the last couple of hundred years and is the main cause for climate change. Nations like Australia and the USA are much more to blame for the problem, but the Vietnamese will probably suffer more than we will.

This, and similar ethical considerations connected with the record of USA and Australia, weighs on my conscience and should weigh on the conscience of all thinking Westerners.

Religion in Vietnam

Vietnam has a very mixed bag of religions. Christian churches are common, Buddhist temples (and pagodas) are everywhere, ancestor worship and animism is widely practiced, Vietnam is the home of Cao-Diaism, and then, I believe, there are Taoism and Confucianism.

I had the impression that at least some of the Vietnamese mix their religions, praying at several temples devoted to different religions.

The Vietnamese people seem very tolerant with regard to religion, perhaps with such diversity they realise that to believe that whichever one they followed was "the one true religion" would be a highly questionable assumption.

The communist government, to their credit, tried to discourage superstitions (which of course includes all religions), but don't seem to have been very successful.

The Vietnam war

I have written on the Vietnam war in another page and, in regard to the USA, on my page The Real USA.