I recently spent three weeks in Vietnam for work and play. I landed in Hanoi and went to the famed Halong Bay, then flew to Danang in the central part of the country. From there I took a train to Hue, the nation's former capital before the French colonized the country. From there I went farther north to Quang Tri Province, which is where the DMZ (demilitarized zone) was during the Vietnam War.
Despite the horrendous legacy of war left by the U.S. -- millions of pounds of unexploded bombs and Agent Orange contamination that's still causing birth defects in the third generation born since it was dumped there by America -- the Vietnamese seem to have genuine warm feelings about America and Americans. They kind of view it as a moment of madness by the United States.
Too many pictures follow the jump. You've been warned.
Our boat took us to an enclosed harbor deep in Halong Bay that had several huge caves. I took this photo from inside one of them. We kayaked around this area.
This video shows some folk dancing that was part of a festival in Hue, Vietnam, in April. The last part of the video is a pedicab ride I took over the Perfume River in Hue. This gives you a little sense of what it's like to be on the road in a small Vietnam city. A few seconds into the video a pedicab passes on the left, which looks exactly like the one I was riding.
The view from a different cave.
It looks like King Kong is holding up the ceiling of this cave. He's about 70 feet tall.
A guide called this the cannon of the cave. In fact, there's a hole in the cave ceiling directly above where it's pointing. Tourists likened it to something else.
Locals live on floating shacks. They mainly make a living by supplying tour boat operators with seafood and water and by hawking bottles of water, beer and soda to tourists kayaking and swimming.
On a trail in Cat Ba Island National Park. Pure jungle, with all the bugs, muck and moisture you see in the movies.
Cat Ba Island is the biggest island in Halong Bay, and it has roads and a small town. There are seafood restaurants in the harbor that try to outdo each other at night with neon lights in order to draw customers.
We stayed one night at a very nice resort on Cat Ba Island. This was the view from the balcony.
Another view from the balcony.
A new, small hotel in Cat Ba village. This is Hanoi-style architecture: narrow, high, and heavily influenced by the French.
This guy was on the shuttle we took to Cat Ba village. The next day we saw him again and he told the tale of coming home late and a bit tipsy to his hotel, when he was attacked by a dog! Really bit him deep in the calf. He was heading back to Hanoi to see a doctor.
The following were photos taken while on boats in Halong Bay. April is one of the many times of the year when it's misty, cloudy and/or rainy there so expect no brilliant-sunshine shots here. More Jack-the-Ripper than Jack Tripper.
Which mannequin is happiest with her dress selection at this Hanoi clothing shop?
About a half hour drive outside Hanoi is Snake Village, where for about 100 bucks you can eat a cobra. We passed on it, but we did get to see the cobra as they tried to entice us to eat it. Judging by this sign, apparently the village offers other exotic foods.
Sunset over the Perfume River in Hue.
The Citadel in Hue. The grounds were being prepared for a festival.
A folk-dance performance outside the Citadel.
An ancient building on the bank of the Perfume River was converted into a giant stage for the festival in Hue.
Locals don't pay much attention to the scenery on the train from Danang to Hue, but it's breathtaking as it winds along the coast.
Tam's Surf Shop and Pub is near China Beach in Danang and is a hang-out for visiting Vietnam War vets and expat vets who've made the country their home. Tam was a teenager during the war, and she made a living washing clothes and cooking for Marines.