January 8 – January 12, 2020
The morning we were to leave Hanoi, Ana, Simon, and the kids returned back from Europe. We crossed paths for only a few minutes, but enough to exchange a few words, some hugs and for Nina to look through their passports (his current obsession).
From Hanoi, we flew to Da Nang, a coastal city in central Vietnam, halfway point between northern capital of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon) in the south. It is known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port.
We were in Da Nang for only 4 days. Pedja and Petra continued their early morning expeditions while boys and I took it a bit easier as I was still short on energy, recovering from flu. There was a small swimming pool at the hotel and the boys were happy to spend most of their free time playing there. Da Nang still seemed somewhat polluted, disorganized and dirty like Hanoi.
Here is where we came across the most expensive fruit we’ve seen on this trip – $5-9/lbs apples, $11/lb cherries and whooping $15/lbs grapes.
I ended up watching a sobering PBS Documentary series called College Behind Bars. It’s a 4hr program that shows the lives of dozen incarcerated men and women working on turning their lives through college education at one of the country’s most rigorous prison education programs (the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). With the presidential elections coming up, the topic of criminal justice reform is another initiative desperately needing attention, with the spotlight on banning private prisons and returning federal funding for the education of inmates.
We spent one day visiting the Marble Mountain area, a cluster of five marble and limestone hills with a network of cave entrances and many tunnels containing Buddhist shrines. As far as tourist sites go, we really enjoyed this outing as it gave us an opportunity to roam around this network of caves for several hours, completely relaxed, without much of an agenda or even an attempt to turn it into an educational opportunity.
A couple of days later, we went up to Ba Na Hills, a theme park located on top of a mountain with a cable car ride of over 5km in length. We all love the cable car ride especially since it was super long and a portion of it went through the thick fog that made the whole experience a bit spooky.
The park itself was done as a French village with numerous restaurants, wine cellars, wax museum, flower gardens, etc. This was another one of those easy family outings, no rush, no big expectations. Either we got better at doing things together or the things we are doing are easy enough that we are not going through them feeling the usual pressure of the crowd.
The famous Instagram photos of the bridge held up by hands (Golden Bridge) are taken at this theme park and although the place is quite crowded, it was still cute to see. The entrance tickets to this park were expensive when compared to the cost of other activities in this part of the world but still a small fraction of the cost of any theme park in the US.
Even though we had a good day there, I am not sure that I would actually recommend it as a ‘must-see’ stop for tourists with limited time in Vietnam. Pedja might have a different take on it since it seemed that he truly enjoyed this theme park more than the rest of us.