War Museum, Saigon

5 Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. The city was known as Saigon for many years until it was renamed after the end of the Vietnam War. Interestingly, locals still often refer to it as Saigon. This is Vietnam’s largest city with about 10 million inhabitants.

Ho Chi Minh City view

View of central Ho Chi Minh City. The central tower has an observation deck for tourists.

The first thing we noticed on our drive into the city from the airport was how different it felt from Hanoi! Ho Chi Minh City felt much more vibrant, fashionable and modern – with lots of marquee international stores and young people on scooters going everywhere.

Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

View of Ho Chi Minh City from the observation deck mentioned above.

We spent two days here. Our first day was spent exploring the sights in the core downtown area (on foot) and on our second day we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about 70 km (45 miles) outside the city.

War Remnants Museum

This is the main tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. It tells the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese people and their Communist regimes.

War Remnants Museum Saigon

Exterior view of the War Remnants Museum.

War Remnants Museum Saigon

The courtyard of the War Remnants Museum is filled with various U.S. Military equipment.

Of course, horrific tragedies occurred on both sides and no one was innocent in this conflict. The whole war was an unfortunate disaster that caused pain and suffering on both sides.

War Remnants Museum, Saigon

A sign post in the War Remnants Museum.

Saigon War Remnants Museum11

Prisoner cages.

Vietnam War Map

This map shows the areas of heaviest fighting during the Vietnam War (areas in black).

Saigon War Remnants Museum12

A display inside the War Remnants Museum.

The museum is large and well organized, with exhibits on several floors and outside the main building. Plan at least two hours for your visit, and if you want to read everything, even longer.

 

Jade Emperor Pagoda

This temple takes the cake for weirdness for those of us less initiated in the Buddhist and Taoist religions – with crowded, smoke (incense) filled rooms.

Jade Pagoda, Saigon

Exterior of the Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Exterior detail at the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

It’s hard to describe, although Lonely Planet does a pretty good job: “this is one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in Ho Chi Minh City, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes”.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Interior view of Jade Emperor Pagoda with a variety of figures.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Another view in the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

One other view of the interior of the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

The temple is not old, having been constructed in 1909 in honor of the supreme Taoist god (known as the Jade Emperor), Ngoc Hoang. It is crowded with strange-looking figures and jumbled rooms. Definitely worth a visit!

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

This basilica was built between 1863-1880 by the French during the period of French colonialism in Vietnam. One of the vestiges of their occupation is this beautiful (and out of place) cathedral located in the heart of the city on a pretty square.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica

A view of the Basilica in Ho Chi Minh City. The statue of Mary in the foreground supposedly shed tears in 2005, stopping traffic in this busy area.

All of the materials for this cathedral were imported from France.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica1

Interior view of the Basilica.

Central Post Office

Right next to the Cathedral is another relic of the French era, the Central Post Office. This building was constructed in the late 1800’s and contains two beautiful paintings on its walls (maps of Saigon and the larger region) and a variety of shops.

Central Post Office Saigon

Exterior view of the Central Post Office.

Central Post Office Saigon

Interior view of the Central Post Office.

There is a tourist office here where we arranged for our tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels (see below).

Cu Chi Tunnels

These relics of the Vietnam War are less than 45 miles outside the city, but took about 90 minutes to reach due to traffic getting out of the city. They are well worth the effort. We did this as part of a day tour (our group had about eight people).

Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City

Entrance to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The extensive tunnel systems served as communication and transportation networks to aid the Viet Cong in fighting the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. There are two main tunnel areas that can be visited: Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh, our tour went to Ben Dinh.

Cu Chi Tunnels

A main entrance into one of the bunkers at Cu Chi Tunnels.

Some rooms were large enough to be used as conference rooms and hospitals.

Cu Chi Tunnels

One of the war rooms in the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Hospital display at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

There are 250 km (155 miles) of tunnels here, some are two levels deep. It must have been quite an engineering feat to dig these tunnels and lay out the system in a stealth manner.

We were shown secret entrances, disguised air vents, and treacherous booby traps.  We had the opportunity to crawl on our hands and knees through tiny tunnels that had lovely bats flying around you!

Hidden entrance to Cu Chi Tunnels

A hidden entrance to the tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels

A typical corridor in the tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City

Cramped space in the Cu Chi Tunnels!

Cu Chi Tunnels air shaft.

Concealed air shaft to the tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Booby trap – watch your step or you could end up falling on these huge spikes.

Be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty! After spending time crawling on our hands and knees in the tunnels in a damp humid climate we gained an appreciation for what it must have been like to live in these conditions for months or years.

Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to visit, be sure it’s on your itinerary in Vietnam.

 

Grand Canyon Toroweap

Toroweap, the Lesser Known Observation Point at Grand Canyon National Park

Boasting close to six million visitors, Grand Canyon National Park was the second most visited National Park in 2016. In fact, the Grand Canyon has been the second most visited National Park since 1990, with numbers ranging from 4 to 5 million visitors per year. And why wouldn’t people want to see the Grand Canyon? With stunning views and breath taking heights, the canyon is a marvel to behold! However, for those of us who like to enjoy nature’s splendors in relative peace and calm, making the more traditional visit to the North or South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be slightly dissatisfying. Dealing with busloads of people at every observation point, fighting the hoards for the perfect photo op; somewhere along the line the spiritual experience that comes with beholding something truly magnificent is tainted.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

Looking East from Toroweap Overlook on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

There is one observation point along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon that is still widely undiscovered, a place where visitors can enjoy the Grand Canyon in complete solitude, Toroweap, also known as Tuweep.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

You don’t want to fall from there! The Colorado River lies 3,000 ft below

The names Toroweap and Tuweep are used interchangeably when referring to the area. “Tuweep” is the Paiute word for “the earth” and is used to refer to the general area. “Toroweap” is the Paiute word for “dry or barren valley” and refers specifically to the valley and the overlook.

Tuweep Grand Canyon

At the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park

In 1870, John Wesley Powell was led to Tuweep by a Paiute guide. He spent time mapping out the area and naming many of the prominent features.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

With my mom, Robyn, and my Grandma, Donna. We visited in the Spring and had beautiful weather.

Despite not being very far from civilization as the crow flies, Toroweap is a very remote area, with no amenities, so visitors need to be prepared with whatever they need for the excursion, water, food, gas for their vehicles, etc.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

Looking West from Toroweap Overlook

From St. George, Toroweap is roughly an 80 mile drive on unpaved roads. Taking the final Utah I-15 exit before entering Arizona, head South on County Hwy 5. The paved road becomes a dirt road the moment you cross into Arizona. Follow County Hwy 5 South to the old Mt. Trumbull Schoolhouse. Originally built in 1918, Mt. Trumbull Schoolhouse is a fun stop along the way to Toroweap. From the Schoolhouse, head East on County Hwy 5. You will be driving over Mt. Trumbull. Continue to follow the road as it turns South and into Grand Canyon National Park. Total driving time from St. George to Toroweap is between 3 and 3 ½ hours.

Note that the last 3 miles before arriving to the observation point are very rough. There is parking available at this point for vehicles with low clearance. Only vehicles with high clearance are suited to continue.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

Taken from the 4-wheel drive section of the trip. Toroweap, dry or barren valley, was certainly named appropriately.

There is no entrance fee to enter the National Park at Toroweap. Near the overlook, there are several hikes to explore. There is also a campground with several available campsites, however, backcountry permits are required for camping and there is a small fee to spend the night. As I previously mentioned, there are no amenities. Be sure to bring sufficient water, food, clothing, gas for your vehicle, etc. Also be sure that your vehicle is in good condition, that you have a quality spare tire, and that you are ready to change a flat tire if needs be.

Toroweap Grand Canyon

Nothing more fun than exploring nature’s beauty!)

For information regarding current conditions at Toroweap, hiking and camping in the area, etc. the National Parks website is very helpful.

Visiting the Charming Village of Hoi An (with a Day Trip to My Son ruins)

From Hanoi, we flew to Da Nang, a city on the central coast of Vietnam and kind of like the “California” of Vietnam – the winter weather here was sunnier and warmer than Hanoi. The setting is quite pretty with green mountains surrounding the city and long stretches of beachfront and resorts along the South China Sea coast, making it somewhat of a vacation destination. Da Nang is the 5th largest city in Vietnam and a major port.

Da Nang, Vietnam

A snapshot of Da Nang from our taxi.

Our purpose in coming to Da Nang was to visit the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An, a picturesque village just about 30 minutes south by taxi. Several centuries ago, when Vietnam was just being “discovered” by European explorers, Hoi An was a major port and trading hub for much of Asia.

Hoi An, Vietnam

A view of the village of Hoi An with the river boats.

Japanese Bridge. Hoi An, Vietnam

The 18th century Japanese covered bridge, the symbol of Hoi An.

Hoi An, Vietnam

A temple in Hoi An.

Hoi An, Vietnam

A street scene in Hoi An.

Hoi An is now a primary tourist destination—with well-preserved 15th-19th century architecture and lots of shopping and restaurants along the Thu Bon River. Speaking of shopping, good values can be found here – I got a wooden ship (junk) model for $25 and my daughter bought a couple pairs of custom made leather sandals and my son bought a leather wallet, made overnight after they copied the best features of his current wallet!

Hoi An18

My ship model. A bargain for $25.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Some fashionable shoes for sale in Hoi An!

The Thu Bon River is the lifeblood of Hoi An – providing a highway for transportation, access to the sea and sources of food. We took an hour tour along the river – very enjoyable, with views of homes, boats and daily life along the riverfront.

The Ban River, Hoi An, Vietnam

Demonstration of how to cast a net on our Thu Bon River cruise.

The Ban River, Hoi An, Vietnam

Our river boat guide.

Thu Bon River, Hoi An, Vietnam

View along the Thu Bon River.

The evenings are when Hoi An shows its best, with the decorated lights along the river, and lively sounds coming from the restaurants, shops and bars around the town.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An comes alive at dusk, with the tourists looking for food and drink after the day’s adventures.

Hoi An, Vietnam

A dusk river boat ride.

Hoi An, Vietnam

One of the many tailors in Hoi An.

My Son Ancient Hindu Temples – A Good Day Trip from Hoi An

Another thing we did while in Hoi An was hire a taxi to take us out to the My Son ancient ruins, another UNESCO World Heritage site, which was about 37 kilometers (20 miles) distant. These are ancient Hindu temples, constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

View of the ruins of My Son.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

One of the better preserved temples at My Son.

Most of the temples were built out of brick rather than stone. There is a large visitors center and interpretive signs in English at the major temples. The ruins are some distance away from the visitor’s center, and you can either walk or take a cart ride provided by the park.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

Another temple at My Son.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

This ruin has been restored; the UN is providing some funds for restoration of these temples.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

Detailed carved writing (with some bullet marks) can be seen on this stone.

While this site in its current state does not compare to the ruins found in Siem Reap, it is nonetheless interesting, partly for the history and partly because there was significant fighting here during the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, much of the site was destroyed during bombing runs by the U.S. Evidence of this can still be seen in the bomb craters.

My Son Ruins17

Bomb crater (the mud hole at bottom of photo).

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

Some ruins are still covered by dense jungle foliage.

Unexploded land mines are still in the area too, so don’t wander off the main paths.

My Son Ruins, Hoi An, Vietnam

Going out on patrol in this dense jungle must have been no fun (some ruins can also be seen).

It was rainy the day we visited and I can only imagine how miserable it would have been to slog through the humid, wet jungle for days and weeks on end constantly in fear of being shot or captured. Plan about 4 hours for the round trip from Hoi An, which leaves about 2 hours for the site visit.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Descending into Black Canyon of the Gunnison

In his book, Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Duane Vandenbusche put it best by saying, “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.” With depths ranging anywhere from 1,800 to 2,722 feet (at Warner Point) and a width of only 40 feet at its narrowest point along the river, Black Canyon of the Gunnison owes its name to the fact that some places along the canyon only receive 30 minutes of sunshine each day. Black Canyon of the Gunnison was made an official National Park in 1999 so that visitors could enjoy the spectacular views, the daring climbs, the breathtaking (literally) hikes, and the Class V rapids that the canyon offers. The National Park encompasses 14 miles of the 48 mile canyon.

Black Canyon, Sunset View

A view of the Black Canyon, looking North West, taken from Sunset View

In our recent adventure to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, my father and I somewhat tiptoed the line between bold adventurer and casual sightseer. We decided to descend into the canyon following the Gunnison Route, which is the most popular, and supposedly the “easiest” route to the bottom.

Black Canyon, South Rim Visitor Center

Black Canyon of the Gunnison as seen from the South Rim Visitor Center

Permits for the descent to the river are required and are issued (free), on a first-come first-serve basis from the visitor center. To that end, we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center when it opened (8 am), applied for our permits, and got an early start to, what we figured to be a physically exhausting day.

Gunnison Route, Black Canyon

Taken along the descent into the Black Canyon

The Gunnison Route begins at the South Rim Visitor Center and initially follows the Oak Flat Trail for 1/3 miles until you reach a sign, “River Access. Permit Required.”

Gunnison Route, Black Canyon

The Gunnison Route follows the drainage seen on the far right side of the photo

At that point the true descent begins. The descent is steep, but very doable, we just made sure to take it slowly, and followed a drainage nearly the entire way to the river.

Descent into Black Canyon

My father, Paul, using the chain to help with the descent

About 1/3 of the way down, there is an 80 foot length of chain to hold onto. Although the chain isn’t necessary to use, we found it helpful for extra balance.

Black Canyon chain descent

I too, found the chain to be helpful

As we descended closer to the river, the temperature began warming up and it seemed as though we were entering a lush paradise, complete with thick foliage and stunning views of the rushing river and towering cliffs.

Black Canyon

Our view as we neared the bottom of the canyon

Along the river there are several backcountry campsites available. Although we had originally thought about camping in the canyon we decided to camp at the South Rim Campground and descend into the Black Canyon as a day hike.

Gunnison river in Black Canyon

Taken near the campsites along the river

Total, the hike took us about an hour and a half each way. Remember that the descent into, and the ascent out of the canyon is about 1800 foot change in altitude, so be prepared with good hiking shoes, water, snacks, knee braces, ankle supports, etc. We also found it extremely helpful to use gloves while descending/ascending the portion of the trail that has chain.

Gunnison River in the Black Canyon

My dad and I near the campsites. Happy to have successfully descended into the Black Canyon, but nervously awaiting the ascent.)

The South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is roughly 15 miles from Montrose and 64 miles from Gunnison. To get there from Montrose take Colorado State Highway 50 (Main St. in Montrose) heading East. After about 7 miles you’ll exit onto Highway 347 heading North East. Follow the highway for about 7 miles into the National Park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

One more view of the paradisiacal setting along the Gunnison River in the Black Canyon

There are several campgrounds with access to water and electricity within the National Park. For more information regarding amenities, weather conditions, visitor center information, trail conditions, etc. please see the National Park website.

Black Canyon descent

A view the Black Canyon, not far from the South Rim Visitor Center

 

Biking in India

10 Exhilarating Biking Trips in India

In this article our guest writer, Rohit Agarwal, explores 10 great biking adventures in India. See his bio below.

For the biking enthusiasts among us, India can prove to be a wonderful destination to take amazing trips because of the differing levels of challenging terrains across the country and the breath-taking view of the landscapes it has to offer. Here are ten of the best trails within the country that are sure to provide you with a delightful experience.

1. Iruppu To Ooty

Biking in India

Photo by Zigg-E, CC BY-ND 2.0

  • Distance Covered: 4 h 35 min (157.0 km)
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Lakeview in Ooty & Tropical Blooms in Iruppu.
  • Bike Rentals: From Royal Brothers Bike Rental in Coorg (1 hour away from Iruppu). One way rental not available.

A trail that takes about 4 to 5 days to complete, the places the trip of Ooty covers are absolutely stunning. The glorious sound of the mountain streams and lush greenery of the Nilgiri Hills will make you gaze in wonder at the beauty of Mother Nature.

2. Bomdila To Tawang

Biking in India

Photo by Bobinson K B, CC BY-SA 2.0

  • Distance Covered: 5 h 48 min (170.2 km).
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Tashi Ga Tsel in Tawang & Hotel Seagull in Bomdila.
  • Bike Rentals: Rent a bike from Guwahati via Rentrip, Awerides or The Highland Outback Riders etc. One way rental not available.

With the snow-clad mountains peeking in at almost every point of this trip to Bomdila, this is a trail that offers a moderate difficulty level and unlimited views of Nature’s exquisiteness. The rice plantations and gorgeous forests the trail takes you through are truly sights to behold.

3. Shimla To Manali

Biking in India

Photo by _paVan_, CC BY 2.0

  • Distance Covered: 7 h 4 min (247.5 km).
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Sidharath in Shimla and Hotel Greenfields in Manali.
  • Bike Rentals: Rentrip offers one way rental services in this route.

The trails of Himanchal Pradesh are absolutely stunning and the Spiti Valley offers many challenges to get the blood pumping in your veins as you travel to Manali through the charming valley as the rich vegetation surrounds you with its splendour.

4. Salem To Kolli Hills

Biking in India

Photo by Sodabottle, CC BY-SA 3.0

  • Distance Covered: 1 h 13 min (61.8 km).
  • Places of Stay: Nallathambi Resort in Kolli Hills and Hotel Ashwa Park in Salem.
  • Bike Rentals: Self Drive in Salem, A 1 Tour & Travels and many other options available. One way rental would require extra charge.

Not only are the impressive Kolli Hills known for the amazing view of the extravagant landscapes but also for the 70-hairpin bends that offer a real challenge to all those biking junkies with prior moderate experience.

5. Mumbai To Daman

Biking in India

Photo by Jugni, CC BY-SA 3.0

  • Distance Covered: 2 h 54 min (176.9 km).
  • Places of Stay: Silver Sands Beach Resort in Daman & Hotel Transit in Mumbai.
  • Bike Rentals: Ziphop, GetSetWheel and many more. One way rental would cost more.

This is a calm and quiet trail filled with beautiful forts, fun casinos and striking beaches. It takes about 2 to 3 days to complete the journey to Daman and is an ideal choice for those looking for a modest trip to appreciate the quaint town out in Daman.

6. Pollachi To Chalakudy

  • Distance Covered: 2 h 43 min (129.3 km).
  • Places of Stay: Pollachi Classic Club in Pollachi and Bethania Resorts in Chalakudy.
  • Bike Rentals: From Coimbatore via Rentrip or Royal Picks. One way rental not available.

Rated as one of the most breath-taking journeys to take, this trail passes through the amazing Vazhachal Forest, with numerous waterfalls, streams, dams and reservoirs along the way to make the experience that much more memorable. The evergreen forests and stunning flora along with the thrilling terrain creates an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

7. Jaipur To Jaisalmer

Biking in India

Photo by Jorge Láscar, CC BY 2.0

  • Distance Covered: 9 h 19 min (558.9 km).
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Tokyo Palace in Jaisalmer and Hotel Kalyan in Jaipur.
  • Bike Rentals: Rent Set Go, Rentrip, Wicked Ride etc. One way rental would cost extra if the bike rental is not in the end destination.

What makes this trail unique is that it takes you through astonishing deserts and beautiful views of the landscape of Rajasthan. You also get the chance to experience the colourful local food, the jaw dropping architecture and the inspiring lifestyle of the people inhabiting the rural parts of the state.

8. Darjeeling To Sikkim

Biking in India

Photo by MithilaConnect, CC BY 2.0

  • Distance Covered: 4 h 36 min (126.2 km).
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Shangri-La Regency, Darjeeling and Hotel Saikripa, Gangtok.
  • Bike Rentals: Adventures Unlimited and Darjeeling Riders. One way rental would cost more.

A trip to Darjeeling, that is sure to mesmerise your senses and get your adrenaline rushing through your veins, this trail offers a fantastic view of the mighty Himalayan mountains all throughout the surreal journey and the various cultures and religions you get to discover and explore along the way are unique and impressive in their own rights. Add to that the hospitality and warmth of the local people and what you have is a beautiful collection of memories and lovely experiences to take away.

9. Delhi To Nainital

Biking in India

Photo by Ekabhishek, CC BY-SA 3.0

  • Distance Covered: 6 h 50 min (301.0 km).
  • Places of Stay: Hotel Delhi Darbar, Delhi and Treebo Cloud 7, Nainital.
  • Bike Rentals: Rentrip, Rent Set Go and Wheel Street. One way rental available.

The trip which starts from the enthralling capital and leads to the exquisite city of lakes via Corbett-Mukhteshwar is a journey filled challenges and thrills. The winding roads, orchards lining the sides of the trail and lavish woodlands filled with various types of flora are truly sights to behold.

10. Siliguri To Gangtok

Biking in India

Photo by Christopher J. Fynn, CC BY-SA 4.0

  • Distance Covered: 3 hr 45 min (116.1 km)
  • Place of Stay: Hotel Saikripa Gangtok and Hotel Sharda, Siliguri.
  • Bike Rentals: Darjeeling Riders, Adventures Unlimited, Rentrip. One way rental available.

One of the most popular trails in the North-Eastern region of the country, the journey is quite challenging due to the steep route that is sure to test your skills. The astonishing culture present here is a lovely mix of both Hinduism and Buddhism.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick up your gear, choose the destination and set on a trail that challenges the biker in you. With the rush of adrenaline pumping through your body and the exquisite scenery you get the chance to visit, any journey you choose is sure to be unforgettable and full of lovely memories to take back home.

Guest Author Bio: Rohit is an adventure sports junkie and enthusiastic traveller residing in India. He enjoys writing content for Trans India Travels and hopes to inspire his readers to join him on the numerous trips he takes across the country.

Cruising Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Our main reason for visiting Hanoi was to have a launch point for a Ha Long Bay cruise. Ha Long Bay is one of the most scenic locations in Vietnam.

On the morning of our cruise departure, we were picked up at our hotel at 8 am by a transportation service that took us to Ha Long City, a 3.5 hour drive east of Hanoi. We enjoyed seeing the countryside and towns along the way. The transportation van was first-class, very comfortable with amenities such as wifi and water.

Ride to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi, Vietnam

Our comfortable ride to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. The van has wifi!

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, with a new ferris wheel being constructed in the background. The goal is to make the town a tourist destination in its own right and not just a transfer point for the cruises.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

The crowded port with the launches lined up for the waiting junks.

Upon arrival in Ha Long City, we completed some paperwork at the cruise terminal and then took a small launch to our boat (the ‘Prince Junk’). We had purposely chosen a cruise company that offered a smaller boat (see featured image above). There were just four guest cabins, or room for 8 passengers total. After getting settled in our cabins, we were offered a welcome aboard lunch and an orientation to our cruise itinerary. A young man was our cruise director and in addition to him there were 3-4 other crew, plus the captain.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Dining area on our ship.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Our cabin. Since there were only four rooms, all have large windows with a view.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam

The large shower and bathroom in our cabin.

Since it was January, the weather was overcast most of the time, with just a few sprinkles and the air temperature was probably in the upper 60’s F – just a bit warmer than Hanoi. Because of the gray skies, it looked colder than it actually felt. The water was quite warm and perhaps was a bit warmer than the air.

Ha Long Cruise, Indochina Junk, Vietnam

Enjoying the Ha Long Bay view from the lounge deck.

In addition to enjoying the passing scenery that first afternoon, we went on a kayaking adventure with our cruise director, one of two kayaking tours during our cruise.

Kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Kayaking in Ha Long Bay, with the beautiful rock formations and islands everywhere.

Ha Long Bay Kayaking, Vietnam

Another view of our kayaking – our cruise director is in the first kayak. We each had a watertight container for cameras.

On our 2nd day we went on another kayaking adventure and also to an island with a large cave and lovely beach–this was one of the few places where we ran into other cruise ships.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

The island with the cave, about halfway up the hill.

Cave, Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Inside the island cave, Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

A view of Ha Long Bay from the cave island.

Also, on the 2nd day we were treated to a beach-side lunch at a quiet cove on another island where we were the only people on the beach.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Setting up our lunch on the beach.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

A panoramic view of the beach where we had lunch. Our boat can be seen in the distance.

On our third day, we went to a floating fishing village in the morning, where the local women rowed small boats for a tour of the village (the men are fishermen) and then a stop at an oyster pearl farm.

Floating village, Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Our tour guides for the floating village. These women work very hard and row a long way!

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam

A view of part of the floating village.

After our tour of the floating village and pearl farm, we had an early lunch as we cruised back to port for disembarkation at around 12 pm. On the way back to Hanoi, we stopped (along with all other cruise passengers from multiple cruise lines) at Yen Duc village, for a water puppet show, which are unique to north Vietnam. At the show, the hosts provided a wide array of fruits and snacks; the whole event lasts about one hour.

Practical Details

We arranged the cruise several months earlier and were overwhelmed by the choices of cruise companies. We learned that most cruise companies complete the same general itinerary and activities, even though prices for the cruises vary a lot. The junks vary in size from two to 20 cabins.

Ha Long Bay Cruise, Vietnam.

Example of a larger cruise junk in Ha Long Bay.

We choose a more expensive, small cruise junk option, so that we could have a smaller number of passengers and (likely) increase the quality of the food (the food is well prepared and presented, the cuisine is mainly seafood with a few other meat and chicken dishes too. Bring some snacks/fruits along if you wish to supplement what is provided). Given the immensity of the bay, we were largely out of sight of other cruise vessels. Most cruises are one or two nights. We opted for the two night cruise. Tips are provided directly to the captain (which he distributes to the crew) and cruise director at the end of the cruise, so be sure to bring cash. I don’t recall the specific amounts, but the equivalent of $10-15 per person (guest) should be sufficient.

Syncline Trail Campsite Canyonlands

Backpacking Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

At over 500 square miles, Canyonlands National Park, in southeast Utah, covers a vast area and offers visitors a wide array of activities, including hiking, backpacking, off-roading, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, etc.

Mesa Arch Canyonlands

A view of La Sal Mountains from Mesa Arch

On our most recent adventure to Canyonlands, my father, Paul Terry, and I chose to explore the Upheaval Dome area in the northwest corner of the National Park, also known as the Island in the Sky District.

Upheaval Dome Canyonlands

At the entrance of the Upheaval Dome crater

Of the many incredible sights in Canyonlands, Upheaval Dome is one of the most intriguing. Upheaval Dome is a massive (three miles in diameter) almost-perfectly circular crater cut deep into the many rock layers. In the center of the crater there are enormous rocks and many layers of sediments pushed vertically upward forming a dome. While no one actually knows the origin of Upheaval Dome, there are two main theories of the formation, the Salt Dome Theory, and the Impact Crater Theory. You can read more information about these two theories on the park brochure.

Syncline Loop Trail Canyonlands

Descending from the high plateau into the canyon along the Syncline Loop Trail

Our backpacking adventure consisted of an 18 mile loop starting at the Upheaval Dome Trailhead and finishing at the Alpine Spring Trailhead, where my dad had parked the car (it is about a 0.5 mile walk between the two trailheads). We took three days and two nights to complete the loop, although we met a few people along the way who did the same loop in only two days.

Upheaval Dome Canyonlands

Paul, with a view of Upheaval Dome, taken from inside the crater

We took off around midday on the first day from the Upheaval Dome trailhead and worked our way along the southern portion of the Syncline Trail. The trail down into the canyon is steep, dropping roughly 1300 feet into the canyon, but well-marked with cairns, and very doable (just take your time). We set up camp for the night at the Syncline Campsite (see featured image), at the entrance to the Upheaval Dome, and spent a couple hours that same afternoon exploring the crater.

Upheaval Canyon Canyonlands

Looking westward from inside Upheaval Canyon

The next morning we packed up and headed down Upheaval Canyon, west to the Green River. The Green River is approximately a 3.5 mile hike from the Syncline Trail. From there we followed the White Rim Road north for about a half of a mile looking for a good place to fill up on water. The river is very muddy, and even after finding a spot where the water flowed very slowly, our water pump got clogged after only pumping out about a gallon of clean water. Not knowing how much water we would need for the rest of the journey, we collected another gallon of river water, for cleaning up, cooking, and boiling it to drink if it came down to it.

Panorama Upheaval Canyon Canyonlands

Taken from near the Green River, the Canyon to the right being Upheaval Canyon

Green River White Rim Road

Taken along the White Rim Road, the Green River flowing in the background

After collecting our water, we headed east from the White Rim Road into Taylor Canyon for another five miles, passing the picturesque Moses and Zeus pinnacles.

Moses and Zeus Taylor Canyon

Taylor Canyon with a view of Moses and Zeus in the background)

After a short rest in the shade of the Taylor Campsite outhouse, we cut off to the southeast following the Alcove Spring Trail for about a half of a mile until we found a suitable spot to set up camp. As long as you are out of the sight of the campers at the Taylor Campground, and 100 feet off of the main trail, you are free to set up camp anywhere in Taylor Canyon.

Moses and Zeus Canyonlands

The stunning Moses and Zeus spires

On the morning of the third day we broke camp early knowing that we had a long ascent in front of us. Total, it was about a five mile hike from our campsite to the Alcove Spring Trailhead, however that included a 1300 foot ascent to get out of the canyon. Unfortunately, most of that elevation is gained over the last quarter to half of a mile. Once again, we just took our time, took plenty of rests, and by midday we were able to reach the trailhead.

Alcove Spring Trail Canyonlands

Our campsite along the Alcove Spring Trail, with a view of Moses and Zeus in the background

We finally reached the car – thirsty, sunburned, sore, tired, and with hundreds of bug bites – but we had an amazing time. The scenery in Canyonlands is absolutely stunning. Walking through the desert canyons, seeing the incredible rock formations makes you feel as though you are a part of some old Western movie.

Alcove Spring Trail Canyonlands

Ascending Alcove Spring Trail

On a practical side, water is a must! We each brought a gallon and a half of water, hoping to be able to replenish our supply at the Green River. Always plan to have extra water, sometimes we forget that in addition to drinking it, water is very useful for cleaning up, for cooking, etc. While water can be pumped out of the river, make sure that you bring a pump with a filter that can be cleaned out easily, on the spot, or bring some other filtration system that can better handle the thick mud and silt in the river. There is some accessible water, that has seeped up from the ground, along the Syncline Trail. Once again, you are going to want to have some sort of filtration device to drink that water. Also make sure to pack plenty of energy replenishing foods, sunscreen, bug repellent, etc.

Alcove Spring Trail Canyonlands

A view from the plateau near the Alcove Spring Trailhead

We visited Canyonlands during Spring and had beautiful weather (temperatures in the mid 70’s during the day and reasonably warm at night), and I would highly recommend to others to visit either in the Spring or in the Fall as Summer temperatures can get extremely hot.

Taylor Canyon Canyonlands

Cooling off in the shade in Taylor Canyon, a half-gallon of river water in tote

Canyonlands is located in southeastern Utah, and is only about 30 miles southwest of Moab. For other information on Canyonlands, including campground information, refer to the National Parks website.

Huc Bridge, Temple of the Jade Mountain, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Visiting Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Hỏa Lò Prison (aka “Hanoi Hilton”)

From Siem Reap, Cambodia we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam for the last leg of our Asian trip. In Vietnam, we went from north to south: Hanoi (plus a cruise in “nearby” Ha Long Bay), Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Posts on these other locations will be coming soon. The first thing we noticed in Hanoi was the significantly cooler weather. Coming from Cambodia it was a real shock, Hanoi was in the 60’s F in January vs. 80’s F in Siem Reap.

Hanoi Old Quarter

We spent very little time in Hanoi itself. Our hotel was conveniently located in the Old Quarter, and within walking distance of everything we wanted to do.

Royal Palace Hotel, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Our hotel, Royal Palace, in Hanoi. Decent rooms and comfortable.

Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam.

Street scene in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The main tourist sites are in Hanoi Old Quarter, a densely packed section of the city with lots of little shops, temples tucked into hidden corners, and scooters everywhere! Scooters are the transportation vehicle of choice in Hanoi and Vietnam overall.

Hanoi, Vietnam Old Quarter.

Rows of scooters on the side streets of Hanoi.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

This lake and park in the Old Quarter provides a serene contrast to the busy streets nearby. There is a story of a Turtle God associated with this lake that is quite interesting. I won’t retell it here, but look it up on Wikipedia. There is a monument called “Turtle Tower” in the lake commemorating this legend.

Huc Bridge, Temple of the Jade Mountain, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Leading to the Temple of the Jade Mountain (18th century) in Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the pretty Huc (“Welcoming Morning Sunlight”) Bridge.

Temple of the Jade Mountain, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Temple of the Jade Mountain entrance.

Hanoi,Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Old Quarter, Vietnam

A view of the Hanoi skyline from Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

A pretty odd sight in Hanoi is this Neo-Gothic 19th century Christian cathedral. It is the oldest church in Hanoi and was built by the French colonial government. According to Wikipedia, it is the headquarters of Archdiocese of Vietnam which serves 4 million Catholics across the country. From the mid 1950’s until 1990 the cathedral was closed, during this era Christians suffered major persecution. I’m glad the cathedral survived. While it cannot compare to what one finds in Europe, it still has its charm situated as it is in Hanoi.

St. Joseph's Cathedral, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam

Exterior view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi.

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Interior view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi.

Hỏa Lò Prison (aka “Hanoi Hilton”)

If you do nothing else in Hanoi, take the time to visit the Hỏa Lò Prison, now a museum. This prison is famous for being the “home” of Senator John McCain, after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War. He was held as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years, from late 1967 to early 1973 and along with other American pilots, he suffered greatly. All American prisoners were released in 1973.

John McCain, Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

A photo of a wounded John McCain after his capture in October 1967.

John McCain, Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

John McCain’s flight suit on display at Hỏa Lò Prison.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Typical prisoner supplies.

Rather than focusing on the American prisoner era, the purpose of the museum is to tell the story of the suffering of the Vietnamese people (particularly members of the Communist Party) at the hands of the French during the colonization period beginning in the late 1800’s, which laid the foundation for what became the Vietnam War. The French built the prison in 1896. It was turned into a museum in 1993.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hỏa Lò Prison entrance.

The prison is located just south of the Old Quarter and is quite close to St. Joseph’s Cathedral (discussed above). The prison used to occupy a much larger area, and only a small portion remains, undoubtedly due to the value of real estate in this part of Hanoi. I am glad they persevered at least a portion of this prison for modern day tourists.

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A snapshot of the original Hỏa Lò prison. What remains is just the section facing the street on the lower left.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Vietnamese prisoner depiction, all shackled.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

Prison cell corridor, Hoa Lo Prison.

Prison cell door, Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Prison cell door, Hỏa Lò Prison.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Although a bit hard to see, looking into a prison cell at Hỏa Lò Prison, “bed” slab in background.

The pictures of American POW’s in the museum are quite interesting, they make it look like it was a social club!

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The current Vietnamese government attempts to show how well it treated American POW’s by showing them playing basketball and volleyball. Just a day at the gym!

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

Here are some photos of prisoner Christmastime celebrations!

Summary

As we visited Hanoi, my sense was that it’s less progressive and dynamic than Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and that turned out to be the case. I will share more on Ho Chi Minh City in another post.

Please note that Vietnam requires a visa, which is not difficult to obtain. Complete an application on line, print out the paper work, and take this information with you to receive your visa upon arrival at your point of entry.

Our main purpose in visiting Hanoi was to serve as our departure point for a Ha Long Bay cruise–our next Vietnam post!

 

 

Exploring Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Although Goblin Valley State Park is often overlooked by tourists who head to the more well-known national parks of south-east Utah, Goblin Valley is a beautiful park which offers a wide array of attractions for the casual visitor as well as the rugged explorer.

Hoodoos Goblin Valley

From Valley 2 looking westward

Hoodoo Goblin Valley

One of thousands of Hoodoos in the valley

In addition to many marked hikes throughout the park, visitors are permitted, and even encouraged, to freely wander and explore the more than three square miles that make up the Valley of Goblins.

Goblin Valley State Park

Within Valley 3 facing to the West

Goblin Valley

A small, picturesque opening in Valley 3

Goblin Valley State Park consists of thousands of hoodoos (mushroom-shaped rock spires) more affectionately known as “Goblins”, giving the park its name.

Molly's Castle Goblin Valley

Hundreds of hoodoos defending Molly’s Castle

Hoodoo Goblin Valley

A view of the “goblins” in Valley 3

The area was first discovered by cowboys, in the 1920’s, who were searching for their cattle and noticed the strange rock formations from an overlook. Others began exploring and photographing the area; and in August of 1964, the area was officially designated as a state park.

Goblin Valley Overlook

Valley 3 in Goblin Valley State Park

Depending on the time constraints, visitors can comfortably explore the park in a few hours. If more time is available, patrons could spend an active couple of days discovering Goblin Valley as well as the surrounding area.

Goblin Valley

Another view of Valley 3

Goblin Valley is about an hour drive southwest of Green River, Utah. From Green River you’ll take I-70 heading west until you reach Hwy 24 (roughly 13 miles). Then take Hwy 24 south (heading towards Capitol Reef National Park) until you reach Goblin Valley Cutoff Rd. Take Goblin Valley Cutoff Rd. west and follow signs to the visitor’s center.

Wild Horse Butte

A view of Wild Horse Butte from the Valley of Goblins

There are few amenities in the park so make sure you bring plenty of food and water. For those wanting to spend the night, there is a campground available with running water. For more information of Goblin Valley State Park visit the state park website and check out the park brochure.

Visiting Prague and Nearby Castles

Prague, in the Czech Republic, is a beautiful city with striking architecture and an interesting history. It is a city that lends itself to walking. The Vltava River (the same river that runs through Český Krumlov) divides the two main tourist hubs, Old Town Square and Prague Castle hill.

Here are just a few highlights of Prague along with two castles outside the city.

Prague Castle

As castles go, it’s a little hard to recognize Prague Castle as such from the exterior – it just looks like a collection of buildings, and yet there is a lot to do here – palaces, museums, churches and shops. The castle area surrounds a large square which includes St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral is so massive and “shoehorned” into such a small area, it is difficult to get a good close-up photo of this stunning structure.

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A view of St. Vitus Cathedral (begun in 1344 and finished 600 years later), along with various buildings of Prague Castle.

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Basilica of St. George and Convent. This red building is Prague’s best-preserved Romanesque church. It dates from the 900’s. The convent to the left houses an art museum. These buildings are part of the Castle Square.

Golden Lane. This is an old medieval street just below the castle grounds.

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Golden Lane. Little shops in old medieval houses. A quaint little area in Prague’s Castle Quarter.

Charles Bridge

This bridge was built in the 14th century by King Charles IV and was the only bridge in Prague to cross the Vltava river until 1850.

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On the Charles Bridge, with lots of tourists moving between the Old Town Square and Prague Castle. Artists and various vendors line the bridge along with statues. The tower (on the east end, near Old Town Square) was originally a toll booth.

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The Castle (west) end of the Charles Bridge.

Old Town Square

Located on the east side of the Vltava river, this square dates from the 11th century. It was once the center for executions of convicts. A lane, called “The King’s Walk” connects Old Town Square to the famous (and busy) Charles Bridge which then leads to Prague Castle.

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A view of Týn Church and Old Town Square.

The Gothic Týn Church is a major landmark of the Square and has been the main church in this part of Prague since the 14th century. Nearby is the 15th century Old Town Hall and astronomical clock, which is quite fascinating–it tells time in a variety of ways (with Roman numerals, Gothic numbers and planetary symbols).

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The 15th century astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall. It was damaged in World War II and largely reconstructed.

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Another view of Old Town Square and Týn Church (the astronomical clock and Old Town Hall are just to the left of the church).

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A street scene in Old Town Prague.

Jewish Quarter

Close to the Vltava River, the Jewish Quarter contains several synagogues and a Ceremonial Hall which can be visited. In addition, there is an old Jewish cemetery (which was the only burial ground in Prague allowed for Jews for 300 years). Centuries ago, the Jews were required to live separately from Christians. Of the 120,000 Jews living in this area in 1939, only 10,000 survived to see liberation from the Nazis in 1945.

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Old-New Synagogue. Built in 1270, it’s the oldest synagogue in central Europe.

Nearby Castles – Karlštejn and Konopiště

Twenty miles southwest of Prague is Karlštejn Castle, one of the Czech Republic’s great attractions. It is a bit of a hike up to the castle from the car park, but the route has lots of little shopping booths to keep you entertained along the way.

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Karlštejn Castle. Built in 1350 to house the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. Reservations are required to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross where the crown jewels were housed.

Konopiště Castle. This castle is 30 miles south of Prague. There is an interesting (and free) display of numerous statues of St. George “slaying the dragon” here.

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Konopiště Castle. Construction began in the 14th century, but the castle was largely modernized around 1900 by Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne. The castle houses an excellent medieval arms collection.