DAYS: 000 | MILES: 000

// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


HANOI NORTH VIETNAM My journey to Vietnam began in Laos, where I traveled by river boat many days, staying in remote jungle villages, dealing with power outages and floods, until finally crossing the border at Dien Bein Phu, where the Vietnamese famously defeated the Colonial French and gained independence from Europe. From Dien Bein Phu I took an overnight 'sleeper' bus to Hanoi (you can see this amazing bus in the final photo, it's basically a hostel on wheels). Hanoi was colorful and lively. The old quarters were a maze of alleys filled with commotion and commerce (and more than a few mopeds). I stayed three weeks here and discovered a new favorite: egg coffee, which you can see in the final photo!
TOT DAN NORTH VIETNAM As I traveled from Laos to Vietnam, I had made some friends along the way and was later invited to visit a village in the countryside, to stay with one of my friend's family and enjoy some traditional Vietnamese dishes (see photos below!). That village was Tot Dan and compared to the chaos of Hanoi, it was a charming riverside village with some of the most beautiful sunsets I'd seen in ages.
HUE CENTRAL VIETNAM When it was finally time to leave Hanoi after three weeks, I took an overnight train to the city of Hue (pronounced H-way) in Central Vietnam. Hue was the Imperial Capital until WW2, when the Japanese took Vietnam from the French. The French eventually took Vietnam back at the end of the war but an independence movement had grown during this time, the French were defeated, and the UN Geneva Accords divided the newly independent Vietnam into a North and a South (with a blueprint for bringing the two halves together peacefully but spoiler alert: that didn't work out as intended). As the Imperial Capital, Hue had it's own 'Forbidden City' with great palaces surrounded by a moat, not unlike China. Some of the ancient city still remains, but unfortunately Hue was the site of some of the longest and most brutal battles of the Vietnam War and much of the city was devastated. You can see a photo from the Siege of Hue below the military planes. Notice the rubble of the watchtower on the ancient city wall. Next to the photo is the restored tower as the city is slowly being returned to its former glory. Also below are photos from the house I rented here for two weeks. I had the whole house, which was two floors with a balcony (and even a Guanyin shrine) for only ten dollars per night!
DEMILITARIZED ZONE CENTRAL VIETNAM As I mentioned a moment ago, the Geneva Accords put in place by the United Nations divided post-independence Vietnam into a North and South along the 17th Parallel. This was largely because a pro-Communist faction was in control in the North and a more Western-aligned faction (members of the former colonial government) was in control of the South. But something had to be done, so the UN set a date for a national election where the Vietnamese people could democratically decide their own fate and the country would then be reunified. That never happened, however, as a Catholic dictator in the South refused to hold the UN mandated election and give up power. The North cried foul and a civil war broke out in the South (ostensibly the civil war was only occurring in the South but the North gave ongoing support to the anti-colonial forces there, even though they were legally not supposed to cross the DMZ line until after the country was reunified). This hugely unpopular dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem, would have been quickly overthrown (even the Buddhist monks were protesting against him) and Vietnam would have gone on to have its elections, but the United States stepped in (with the full might of the US Military) to defy the United Nations and prop up Diem (though they ended up hating him so much that they also supported the coup that would subsequently overthrow and kill him). The DMZ became very important during the Vietnam War as the North was feeding soldiers and weapons to their allies in the South and those soldiers and weapons had to cross the DMZ in a network of secret trails now called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I toured this historic border (and portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail) for three days on motorbike (there's a photo of me and my guide below). I was able to visit the tunnels where villagers lived during bombing raids. Those tunnels were three stories deep, complete with hospitals, a nursery (which you can see below, 17 babies were born in these tunnels), a movie theater, toilets, kitchens, and a tiny enclave for each family to live. You'll also see a Reunification Monument built at the bridge that connected North and South, a war hero cemetery, an ethnic village (the remote tribes of Vietnam, who had little stake in the civil war, were devastated all the same by the fighting), and some of the most beautiful mountain ranges imaginable, though sadly the legacy of the war still lives on in those mountains in the form of unexploded ordinance and mines dropped from the sky by the US.
KHE SANH CENTRAL VIETNAM Khe Sanh was a Marine Combat Base of the US Army located along the DMZ. The main purpose of the base was to prevent supplies from crossing over into South Vietnam from the North. It is perhaps most famous for a brutal siege that occurred during the Tet Offensive, which was a series of surprise attacks across the South during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Though the base survived the attack, it was abandoned shortly after the battle, allowing both sides to claim victory. Today it's a museum, with Marine and Army equipment left untouched in the fields where they were abandoned, now tended to by local farmers growing crops.
MY SON RUINS CENTRAL VIETNAM My Son is an ancient city built around 400AD with construction continuing until around 1100AD. It was part of a Cham Kingdom and the temples here are actually Hindu, most dedicated to the god Shiva (known here as Bhadreshvara). Hinduism in Vietnam would eventually be supplanted by Buddhism and Ancestral Folk Religion influenced by China, but for many centuries Hindu Kingdoms thrived in South East Asia (Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was dedicated to Vishnu, is another relic of these ancient Hindu kingdoms).
HOI AN CENTRAL VIETNAM My three day motorcycle ride through the historic border regions between North and South Vietnam dropped me off in the fairytale town of Hoi An, which one could almost call the Venice of Vietnam. The city center is well preserved and fortunately did not suffer as much damage as Hue during the war. Cute and touristy, I stayed a few days before hopping back on the Reunification Express and taking the overnight train south to Nha Trang.
NHA TRANG SOUTH VIETNAM I thought I should visit at least one beach before leaving Vietnam, so I stopped here in Nha Trang. It seemed very popular with Russian and Chinese tourists. I'm not much of a beach person, so it was what it was.
SAIGON SOUTH VIETNAM Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the country was reunified, though most locals I met still called it Saigon. I think I liked Hanoi more, though I really liked the neighborhood where I stayed in Saigon, which had plenty of energy, street life, cute alleys, interesting shops, cafes, bars, and lively markets (well maybe not so lively for the animals being chopped up there).
DALAT SOUTH VIETNAM Vietnam can be sweltering hot and I was tired of the heat and hoping to find a place I could stay a few weeks, work online, and rest after a whirlwind tour of Asia. I'd rested a little in Hanoi and Hue, but I was still looking for somewhere with better weather. And then I found Dalat. High in the mountains, it has that cool mountain climate I had come to love in the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau previously in China. It's also just really beautiful, sitting on a huge lake and full of interesting streets to explore. I rented a house here for a full month (and got my second Guanyin shrine of the trip, which you can see below). I also got to try civet coffee (the most expensive coffee in the world), which is coffee made from coffee beans those giant rats below eat and then crap out. Fun times.