Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #11

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #11…

16 October 2014

That dreaded day.

That dreaded day, that seemed so far away 4 weeks ago, was here.

That day that I was not looking forward to.

Up early…ish, downstairs and into next door for our final breakfast.

One last opportunity to watch the world go by from ‘our’ balcony.

And once again, it didn’t disappoint.

I don’t think it ever would.

Breakfast done and it was back to the hotel to check that the kids were getting themselves organised.

They ‘kind of’ were……

“We’re going for one last walk around. Want to come?”

“Nah…..”.

“But it’s our last……”

“No”.

“This is the……”

“No”.

“Fine”. Eyes doing plenty of rolling……

Not really sure why I bothered. I knew what the answer was going to be…..

So it was just Lisa and I…….for a change….

Back downstairs and out the front.

Up to the corner…….and there he is.

He sees me.

“Aaaahh, hello!” With a huge smile on his face.

“Good morning”. I say with as big a smile on my face.

He is eating something. Might have been a banh mi. I didn’t really take much notice. I was too busy looking at his face and noticing how happy he seemed to be.

I wondered if me buying that book last night had anything to do with how he appeared this morning. I hadn’t seen him like this before.

It may have had nothing to do with it at all. But it did make me think.

He comes straight up to me and shakes my hand.

Again, one of those little things. Insignificant even.

But it means an awful lot to me.

He goes his way, we go ours.

We walk. Wherever.

Again, doesn’t matter.

I have in the back of my mind that I might like to buy a bottle or two of scotch or similar to take home. I’ve seen it cheaper than at the duty free shops at the airports.

In the end I lose interest in that idea. I just want to walk around and soak it all up one last time.

Back up to ‘beer corner’ for a final look and then we make our way back towards the hotel.

Around the corner, and yep, there he is. My mate.

Exchange of pleasantries again and we say good bye for the last time.

I’m actually going to miss him. And I do!

And here is my one regret for the whole trip. Apart from taking the kids….

I didn’t ask him if I could have a photo taken with him.

Not bad for four weeks. But I still think about that moment.

Oh well, I’ll just have to try and find him next time….

Lisa goes on ahead and I stop out the front to take a couple of photos of the hotel.

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The Artisan Boutique Hotel
VN28
Breakfast / afternoon beer balcony.

The doorman sees me doing this from across the street.

He moves out of the way.

I wish he hadn’t.

I walk into the foyer and he and his mate say they want to take some photos of me, with them and Angela the receptionist.

“Ok, no problem”.

Two cameras, four phones and 5 minutes later I make my way upstairs to pack for the final time.

VN28-004
Lovely hotel, but even lovelier people!

Another one of those little things.

I love them, but they’re making it very difficult to leave…..

Packing done; that moment has arrived; we make our way downstairs for the last time to fix up our bill.

We actually have a small issue with this. It was more a bit of a misunderstanding, or miscommunication, than anything.

I was of the understanding that our private car transfer to the airport was included in our package. They were of the opposite understanding.

I let it go very quickly. There was no way I was going to make an issue out of it. The time we’d had, the things we’d done, the things we’d seen. For the sake of twenty dollars it really wasn’t worth the potential uneasiness it could have caused.

Hugs, handshakes, and maybe a tear, done, we were now on our way to Noi Bai airport.

Nose pressed up against the car window. Camera at the ready.

Not going to waste one last opportunity to see these beautiful people go about their lives.

All too soon we were there and our holiday was, essentially, over.

Queued up for what seemed like ages; probably because it was; to check in our baggage and then it was off to the happy, smiling faces that Customs officials wear so well.

HCMC, Hanoi. Arriving, departing. Doesn’t seem to matter. They all have that demeanour.
To be fair, it was the same in Melbourne too.

Are they born like that? Or is it something that happens after they get their uniform?

Anyway, manage to make it through that process, and then make our way to the ‘bubble’ that is the departure lounge.

The ‘bubble’ that is multinational brands, crap ‘authentic’ souvenirs, and highly inflated prices.

Sterile, characterless. Made even worse when you’re on your way home…..

Upstairs, and it begins.

“We’re hungry”.

“Should have had more for breakfast then!”

It’s a lost cause. Lisa, the boy, and the girl, are off.

Where to?

Burger King!

Aaaarrgh…….I will not be a party to this.

I’ll take my chances with looking at crap souvenirs while being followed, ridiculously close, by the store assistant.

I’m sure they think they are just being helpful, but it just makes me uncomfortable. Personal space and all that, along with ‘trust me, I’m not going to steal anything’.

I return to Burger King. They’re enjoying their burgers and fries.

Enjoying them a little too much for my liking. It annoys me.

They also have smiles on their faces. That annoys me more.

KFC before the flight...
Their happiness annoys me.

I need to remove myself.

Oooh, there’s a place that sells Vietnamese iced coffee. Bit of a McDonalds looking one, and more expensive than anywhere outside the ‘bubble’, but at least it’s not American hamburgers and fries.

I want to feel like I’m still in Vietnam for as long as I can.

Finally the boarding call comes through.

Fortunately I hear it. The burgers and fries have obviously affected their hearing.

“Get on the plane!”

“We didn’t hear the call”.

“That’s because you weren’t listening”.

“Get on the plane!”

So, as the happy family we are, we’re off.

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur for a three hour layover.

VN28.37
It’s now become real…

Three or so hours later and we’re in a different airport. Same ‘bubble’, but different airport.

Lisa and the kids want coffees and hot chocolates, or something.

No prizes for guessing what I want.

How much for a beer!?

Bloody hell, back to the real world…..:-(

A big Malaysian electrical storm, this could be fun…., a few beers, and we’re boarding our plane for our final journey.

One final ‘experience’ with a Customs official and we’re waiting to be pushed back ready for take off.

And here was my final ‘Wow’ moment.

It wasn’t anything that I saw or heard.

This was about me.

For the first time since we’d left Melbourne, I found myself thinking about what we’d done over the previous four weeks.

Sitting on that plane, gazing out the window into the Malaysian night, I was able to recall each day of our trip. Right back to day one.

Things that we’d seen, things that we’d done, places that we’d travelled to.

The highs, the ‘moments’, the experiences.

Yep, Wow!

But it wasn’t just about what we’d done.

It was how we had done it.

With the help of TripAdvisor, and the amazing people that frequent it, we had done it ourselves.

Yep, a couple, and their kids……, who had never been overseas before, managed to organise a four week holiday to a non-English speaking Asian country.

Had ridden on the back of motorbikes through the crazy streets of HCMC on day one, caught a public bus down to the Mekong on day three, negotiated various taxi scrums, organised a non-standard Halong Bay cruise, spent another two days on motorbikes exploring Ninh Binh, saw the most amazing scenery in the country town that is Mai Chau, and then finished it off totally immersing ourselves in what I consider one amazing city, Hanoi.

And that was just some of what we did.

Something that seemed so foreign, so daunting, and so scary, less than six months earlier, had now been done.

And not just done, but embraced.

I look back to that very first day when we arrived in HCMC. What we knew, or more to the point, what we didn’t know. We must have looked like startled deer in the headlights.
And we were. It was just unbelievable and I really did wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.

But, as time went on, it became easier. We started to feel more comfortable.

And then we reached the stage of actually feeling confident.

The fear of the language barrier; of not being able to communicate; was no longer a concern.

In fact, I actually enjoyed being in that type of situation more than communicating with someone with very good English skills.

It was fun. And you really knew you were in someone else’s country.

Yep, it was fun.

So, what would I do differently if I knew then, what I know now?

Nothing.

Not a thing.

Apart from the missed photo opportunity, there is absolutely nothing I would change.

Would I return?

Absolutely! And that is the plan. Hopefully next year. Minus the kids…. 🙂

 

I suppose a quick summation of the places we stayed to finish it off.

HCMC – At the time we probably didn’t appreciate it enough. The culture shock was huge. Would love to see it again through more experienced eyes.

Mekong Delta – Would definitely return. And quite possibly stay at Green Village again. It’s not just the place, it’s the people.

Nha Trang – Been there, done that. Happy to have seen it but once is enough.

Hoi An – Loved it. Touristy, busy; all that. But has so much character. Yep, loved it.

Hue – Hmmmm, yeah…. Probably didn’t get as much out of it as we could have. Again, glad we saw it, and did get the train experience along with it, but not sure about returning. Perhaps…..

Halong Bay via Cat Ba Island – Great experience! Now that I’ve seen the Bay I probably wouldn’t bother going back, but, if I did, I would go through Cat Ba again.

Ninh Binh – Loved it. And loved the way we did it. Toan really is fantastic.

Mai Chau – Yep, loved Mai Chau too. Great little town with scenery that is spectacular.

Would re-visit both Ninh Binh and Mai Chau but would perhaps do it a little differently next time. Probably incorporate a couple of homestays and would get a little further out of Mai Chau to see the surrounding villages.

Hanoi – Ahhhh…….., Hanoi. What a place. Suspected I’d like it before we’d even arrived. It lived up to it, and more. Would return in an instant and would spend more time there.

Yep, loved it!

So there you go, final instalment done and dusted.

Again, thank you to everyone who gives up their time to help others with their questions.
Without you all, there is no way we would have been able to achieve what we did.

To have the adventure we were able to have.

And to anyone thinking about a trip to Vietnam and not sure if they can organise it on their own…..

Give it a crack.

Yes it’s daunting at the beginning.

Yes it’s a lot of work.

But it is oh, so rewarding.

And finally, The Artisan Boutique.

Would I stay there again?

Yes! And more than likely will.

Great location, great rooms, great people.

Just happens to have a nice little balcony next door as well……

Cheers,

Scott

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Almost home!
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Our first Australian sunrise in 4 weeks.
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Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #10

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #10…

14-15 October 2014

Second last full day in Hanoi.

Second last full day in Vietnam.

Trying not to think about it….

Up early. Real early! 5.30am in fact.

Well, early for me. Especially when you’re on holidays.

And why were we up then?

Because of Tripadvisor.

Someone had posted something about getting up early and walking around Hoan Kiem Lake. Something about seeing the locals exercising, walking dogs, doing Thai Chi. That sort of thing.

Apparently, it’s interesting.

So we’re up, and down at the lake before 6.00am.

So, is it interesting?

Oh yeah!

The first thing you notice is how quiet the streets are.

VN 26-018
Streets look far different early in the morning!
anti clockwise thank you
Early morning runners.

Most of the shops are still closed. There are very few cars and motorbikes on the road. And it’s very quiet.

For the first time, we could actually get to a road and walk straight across it without waiting.

It was a bit eerie…..

Down to the lake; like I said; interesting. Fascinating, even.

26 Up early! 5:50am!
Proof that we were actually up at that hour!

I seem to use that word a lot. But it is. I just find the whole place fascinating.

Thousands of locals walking, or jogging, around the lake. Most of them (mainly the males) wearing white singlets and shorts.

People walking their dogs – one memorable one was the little black poodle, wearing red shoes.

socks!
Maybe all dogs should wear shoes.

Of course……

Thai Chi groups.

Aerobics.

People using park benches, or anything else that was available, for stretching exercises.

Yep, fascinating.

aerobics class
Organised aerobics.
VN 26-007
Using whatever’s available!

We did a lap of the lake and then headed back towards the hotel. The long way.

Again, it was just interesting to see the locals beginning their day. The fruit and vegetable vendors just starting out, the shops opening their doors for the first time, the street food breakfast places setting up.

And it’s just so quiet. So different from later in the day.

Yep, well worth the early start.

Back to the hotel for an earlier than normal breakfast. Our usual spot on the balcony.

Could sit there for hours.

Later that morning we decided we’d go for a walk.

Just the two of us, of course…..

Out the door of the hotel and around the corner.

There’s the guy with the books again.

“Want to buy books?”

“No thank you”. Same answer as yesterday….

No particular plans but we thought we’d walk towards Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum.
We had no desire go in; and in the end we couldn’t anyway as he was off being ‘serviced’? or whatever they do to him each year…..; but we thought we’d just walk up there to see where it was and to see whatever else there was around.

It’s a fair walk. But it’s a good walk.

Apart from having to put up with the cyclo riders every so often.

“You want cyclo?”

“No thanks”.

“Where you going?”

“This way. Doesn’t matter”.

“You want cyclo?”

“NO”.

“Mausoleum closed!”

“We know”.

“You want cyclo?”

“NO!!!!!!”

It’s all part of it but it does get a little tiring at times…..

We eventually got there.

And apart from a couple of policemen on guard duties, we were the only ones around.

A large impressive looking building in the middle of a very, very empty square.

I understand it gets incredibly busy there, but it’s hard to imagine with what we saw.

A quick walk around, posed for a ‘selfie’, seeing as our young photographers were having a sleep in, and then headed back in the same direction from where we’d come.

VN 26-027
Well there was no-one else there to take our photo…!

Came across some sort of demonstration. A group of 20 or 30 people walking peacefully down the street carrying a large banner.

Had no idea what they were trying to raise awareness of but decided that we were possibly better off on the other side of the road just in case the authorities took exception to them.

We got back to the Army Museum, which we had passed earlier, and decided that we’d have a look around.

Spent probably an hour and a half there and ended up getting kicked out because they close for lunch. That was ok, we’d seen most it by then anyway.

Interesting place and worth a look. Particularly the tanks, planes and helicopters on display outside. The Flag Tower is also impressive.

Flag tower at War Museum
Hanoi Flag Tower at the Military History Museum
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Hanoi Military History Museum
VN 26-038
The scale of this sculpture is impressive!

On our way again, back towards the old Quarter.

And another “Wow!” moment.

A woman, squatting down on the footpath next to the gutter.

A meat cleaver in her hand, and a chopping board in front of her.

And a plastic bag beside her.

In the bag. Frogs. Very much alive.

On the chopping board. Two neat piles.

One pile. A stack of headless frogs.

The second pile. A stack of, not quite surgically removed, frog heads.

Someone was certainly going to enjoy an incredibly fresh plate of frogs for lunch.

Again, just so natural. So real.

Unfortunate for the poor frogs, but fascinating none the less.

frogs for lunch
Lunch.

Back in the old Quarter we found a small ‘café’ that specialised in banh mi and fruit smoothies.

Simple stuff but oh so good. And cheap too.

Actually, lunch was one of the things that we often struggled with from time to time.
We didn’t actually need that much as we had often eaten a fairly big breakfast. What we wanted most days was just a snack or perhaps a sandwich. At times we found it difficult to find something like that.
There was certainly no shortage of food available but a lot of it was large bowls of steaming hot pho or similar. And the Vietnamese love that. They have it for breakfast and then again at lunch. But for me, when it’s 32 degrees, I don’t find a boiling hot bowl of something overly appealing.

Lunch done, we made our way back to the hotel.

Kids had been experiencing the real sights of Vietnam by sitting on their beds watching movies. Then venturing out to purchase the traditional Vietnamese food of a chocolate bar and a can of Coke.

It really was wonderful to see them getting so much out of it……

Time for a little shopping; and surprise, surprise, the kids are interested.

An hour or so of that, and I’m done.

It’s also very close to beer o’clock.

“See you later, I’m off. I’ll meet you on the balcony next door to the hotel at around 5.00pm”, I said.

Repeating myself 5 times to ensure there was no mix up and thus alleviate my need to apologise again for Lisa’s inability to listen properly……

So, off towards ‘beer corner’.

Arriving at the particular intersection I’m faced with two immediate possibilities.

One, a largish establishment with maybe somewhere between 50 and 100 people sitting on plastic chairs out the front.
Ok, obviously popular. But they’re all tourists.

Second possibility is opposite the first. Half as many people but a few locals sprinkled amongst the group.

Neither overly appeals.

Turn to the right and begin walking down the street.

Ahead is another bia hoi place.

A local standing next to his keg. A sign indicating bia hoi for 5000 dong.

And the best bit; about 15 to 20 locals sitting on the footpath drinking his beer.

He sees me and acknowledges me with a smile.

This is the place.

VN 26-066
My beer man.

I sit and he pours me a glass of fresh, and very cold, beer.

For 25 cents, it don’t get much better than this.

It really is a great way to relax at the end of the day.

And it’s so interesting to soak in everything that’s going on around you.

From the guy on the motorbike dropping off kegs to other bia hoi places; another guy carrying more crates of beer on his motorbike than I thought was possible; to the food vendor who would crouch down in the gutter and cook something (not sure what it was) on her little portable stove with charcoal.

VN 27-068
Road side cooking – not sure what though…

Here I go again…..fascinating

I think I sat there the whole time with a silly smile on my face. I just loved it.

It was funny though. Every so often a couple of tourists would walk past me. I’d smile; they’d smile; and they would continue on their way. Quite often, into the tourist oriented bar across the street.

I just didn’t get it.

You come all this way and you end up sitting in a bar, just like the one you sit in at home, with people just like you.

Yep, just didn’t get.

Anyway, couldn’t stop at one so ended up having a few. After all, at 5000 dong it really was a case of – the more you drink, the more you save.

Did the right thing and left with enough time to get back to the ‘balcony’ by 5.00pm.

Turned into the street the hotel is in……

“Would you like to buy a book?”

Geez……

“No thank you”.

Enjoyed the last hour or so of daylight on the balcony and then headed up to get ready to go out for dinner.

Had no plans so just walked till we found something.

Then we found it.

A mass of people, more importantly, locals, sitting on the footpath in the usual chairs. On each table was some sort of hot plate, like a little barbeque.

Turns out you cook your own food.

“Would we like a table?”

Kids look a little horrified.

That helps with my answer.

“Yes!”

They fire up our barbeque and a large plate of meat and assorted vegetables arrives.
Instructions are given and the cooking process begins.

And guess what!?

The kids get into it. They did all the cooking and they loved it.

Who would have thought!

Unbelievable…..

VN 26.11-3
It’s a pity they don’t do it at home…
street food barbeque
Tasted as good as it looks!

The food was beautiful and the beer was cold.

It was a fantastic night, and a great way to finish off what had been, a really good day.

The next day……unfortunately, our last full day…..

Started the day in the usual way.

Downstairs and into next door for breakfast. Grab our usual balcony seat.

Watch the locals go about their morning.

Absolutely fascinated by it.

VN 26-022
The pho stall over the road.
the ice vendor
Ice lady.

Breakfast done, we drop into the kid’s room on the way back up to ours.

“Morning!”

Grunt…..

“We’re going for a walk. Assume you’re not coming?”

“No”.

“Ok, breakfast finishes shortly so get yourselves organised. Here’s 100 000 dong if you get hungry later. We’ll be back when we’re back.”

We’re happy. Kids are happy.

Back downstairs, Angela, the hotel receptionist, asks us where we are going.

We’re not really sure but we mention Dong Xuan Market.

“Is it worth having a look at?”, we ask.

Yeah, she says, but certainly not ‘selling’ it to us. It’s a wholesale market apparently.

Ok, that’s where we’ll head.

Out the front door and up towards the corner.

“Would you like to buy a book?”

Sigh……same answer as the day before…..

Eventually, we get there.

Oh my…….

Wow!

What a place!

It has everything.

Everything you see in the shops around town comes from here.

All the tourist souvenirs.

The coconut bowls, the placemats, the t-shirts, the hats. Everything.

But it’s not just souvenirs.

Clothes, material, food, hardware, shoes.

Anything and everything.

It’s crowded, it’s cramped, it’s busy, it’s vibrant and it’s just so interesting.

VN 27-005
Just so much!
VN 27-001
Dried food galore!
VN 27-011
Bucket of eels.
VN 27-013
No, they’re not pets.

Being a wholesale market I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to buy anything there. We actually assumed you couldn’t.
We stopped at a souvenir type stall run by a little old woman. I picked something up to have a closer look and she motioned to me indicating I could buy it.

In the end we bought quite a few things from her and had a lot of fun in the process.

And it saved us a few dollars. More importantly though, it saved us heaps of time.

But the real highlight was just walking around the whole place.

Yep, incredibly interesting, and here’s that word again, fascinating.

Oh, and another first….only took the best part of 4 weeks….I had my first sugar cane juice. I’d wondered what it would be like but never had the guts to try one. Assumed it would be really sweet. It’s actually not too bad. Quite refreshing with a large block of ice in it.

Yep, ice……oooohhh. Living dangerously…..

Reluctantly left the market and headed towards the Long Bien Bridge. Only because we were reasonably close to it. Then headed back to the hotel along that busy road we’d crossed the day before.

VN 27-028
Long Bien Bridge area; I did actually help her.
VN 27-030
You’d want to make sure they were secure…!
VN 27-037
Walking on footpaths is not always easy!

Eventually back at the hotel to meet our now incredibly knowledgeable movie reviewers to drag them out for lunch.

Lisa was keen to return to our lunch place from yesterday and show the kids what they had been missing out on. I suspected that they would feel that they hadn’t missed out on anything.

I was half right.

The boy enjoyed it but did a reasonably good job at hiding it.
And the girl just sat there with that face she does so well.

VN 27-042
She didn’t even try to hide her displeasure.

Bit more shopping followed before the call from my bia hoi mate became too strong.

One last visit before that dreaded final day arrives tomorrow.

“Meet you at the balcony at 5.00pm”.

I’m off, out the hotel and up to the corner.

You know what’s coming.

“Want to buy a book?”

But quickly followed with –

“Hey, I keep seeing you and asking you the same thing!”

“Yes, yes you do”. “And no thank you, I really don’t want a book”.

The penny well and truly dropped….finally….we both head on our way with smiles on our faces.

Sitting in my usual spot I have my last few bia hoi’s.

VN 27.16
Love it.
VN 27-054
I pray that it doesn’t end badly!

Just as good as yesterday. Just as much fun as well.

It’s at this point I started to realise that this is unlikely to be the only time we visit Vietnam.
I’d sent my aunty, who was back in Melbourne, a couple of texts while I was sitting there drinking my beer, as well as several during the preceding 4 weeks. She’d sensed that I’d fallen in love with the place and that I’d probably want to return.

I hadn’t actually thought too much about it up until now.

I suspect it was the first time I’d had a chance to reflect on what we’d done.

Beers finished, I headed back to the hotel.

Surprisingly, even though it was essentially our last day, I felt good. I felt content.

I’d had a fantastic day, I’d loved Hanoi and now I realised that at some point, hopefully not too far down the track, I would return to this wonderful country.

Back to the street the hotel is in.

There he is.

He has the biggest smile on his face when he sees me.

I burst out laughing and shake my head.

He tries one more time.

“No….., I don’t want a book”.

He laughs. I keep on walking.

Then this…..

“How about a Vietnamese phrase book?”

He has me. Almost. If we’re going to return, a phrase book could be handy…..

Mmmm…..I stop. I almost ask him how much.

But I’ve been here for 4 weeks. I’m much more street smart now. If I ask him, he’ll have me.

“No, no thank you”.

Back up on the balcony with Lisa, doing what I love. Just watching the world go by.

VN 26-073
Open air convenience store.
VN 27-076
Recycling bike!

I look down. There he is again. Further down the street than usual.

He looks up and spots me.

He laughs. I laugh.

He holds up his little phrase book.

I’ve lost it.

“Ok! How much?”

I have never seen a bloke move so fast.

All of a sudden, he is on the balcony with us.

It’s funny. We’re all laughing.

We haggle back and forth and in the end I give in. I probably pay a dollar or two more than I should have.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

I bought a book that I can use, and along with that I got an experience. It was nice.

He disappeared off into the night happy with his sale and, like I said, I was content.

It had been a great day.

Time for dinner.

Like last night we had no plans. Worst case scenario we would go back to the same barbeque place. Not a bad scenario at all.

So we walk.

And there it is.

A big place, or more to the point, area, filled with the usual tables and chairs.

And busy!

Lots of locals as well as a fair few tourists. It’s pumping.

This will do.

VN 27.55-002
Last night but still smiling!
VN 27.57-003
Good. And cheap too!

We sit down and order. Can’t remember exactly what we had but it was a couple of meat and noodle dishes. Doesn’t matter. It was beautiful and there was plenty of it.

A couple of Hanoi beers. With ice of course. It was just a fantastic way to spend our last night.

While we were sitting there a western couple sat down beside us. They seemed to be a little lost and actually pointed to our food when the waiter came up to take their order.

Turns out they were French and they had arrived in Vietnam only 6 hours earlier.

I asked them what they thought so far, even though I knew the answer.

They looked the same as we did 4 weeks earlier, when we first arrived in HCMC.

They were stunned. The culture shock had whacked them over the head. They were struggling.

I gave them a few tips from what we had learned and I think they were happier by the time we had left. I think they were grateful for the chat.

It was a nice feeling knowing that I had helped to put their minds at ease, too.

Back to the hotel to drop the kids off; apparently there was a movie on they wanted to see…..

We, on the other hand, were not quite done.

Back up to the big round about and into the building that overlooks it. There’s a bar on the top floor.

Very touristy, very western, and of course much more expensive.

But, I was going up there for the view.

And again, what a way to finish your last night.

Watching the madness that was still going on below; even at 10 o’clock at night.

A fantastic day that had turned into a wonderful night.

Yep, a great way to end it.

So that was that.

I think there might be one more report.

A bit of a summation to finish it off.

I’ll include the last half day in that as well.

Cheers,

Scott

VN 27-051
Happy family!
VN 27-045
Shoe Street.
VN 26-059
Best to look before you walk out your door…!

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #9

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #9…

12-13 October 2014

Time to say good bye to Mai Chau.

The only thing that makes it slightly less difficult is the fact that we are going back to Hanoi.

Having said that, it is our final destination. And I hadn’t been looking forward to reaching that…….milestone.

Four full days still left of this amazing adventure; don’t look too far forward.

Make the most of every minute. Live the moment.

So, Sunday morning in Mai Chau, head reasonably clear after the “local water” the previous night. Good start.

Unfortunately the trip to the market didn’t happen. Duong was extremely busy that morning at breakfast – think he had quite a few people checking out at the same time.

There may have also been a bit of a mis-communication. Oh well, never mind. We’ll just have to come back again.

So, what to do……

Went for a walk with Lisa (that’s right, kids stayed in their room…..) round to the contrived tourist village to show her. Lots of visiting Hanoians dressed up enjoying themselves.

Interesting, but…..

VN24-041
Hanoian girls enjoying a weekend in Mai Chau.

Then got back to the hotel and just sat out the front and people watched. Almost as much fun as a market anyway.

Just watching the locals doing what they do. Now that’s interesting.

Eventually our car and driver arrived and we were off.

Back up the hill out of the valley. Typical winding road but at least it was made. Didn’t have to worry about being bounced around but did have the usual anxious moments of overtaking trucks and cars on blind corners.

Gee there was some clenching going on.

Didn’t worry Lisa though…..she just went to sleep.

The drives from Mai Chau to Hanoi, like Ninh Binh to Mai Chau, are good examples of how slow travel in Vietnam can be. Hanoi is around 140 kms from Mai Chau.

We were told it could take around 4 hours. In the end it took us a little over 3 hours. We had a good run, maybe because it was a Sunday.

A similar drive in Australia would probably be around 1.5 to 2 hours.

Yep, takes time.

Usual sights on the way back. Cows on the road, road side vendors selling…..stuff. Didn’t recognise most of it…., apart from the oranges, which are actually green. Didn’t matter. Never dull.

enroute to Hanoi
Just another typical day on the roads.

Finally the country road gave way for the wide open space of the freeway.

Woohoo! We were getting close.

The freeway gave way for narrower roads and at about the same time the number of people around steadily grew.

And then the unmistakable Old Quarter appeared.

We had arrived!

Got back to the Artisan Boutique early afternoon and were reunited with our luggage that we’d left behind a week earlier.

In hindsight, we probably could have left most, if not all, of that in Melbourne. Live and learn…..

Time for lunch so we headed out round the corner to a small “café”.

On the way, a street vendor – “Want to buy some books?” he asks.

“No thanks, not really much of a reader”.

Especially of books that were written 25 years ago….

The rest of the afternoon was spent re-acquainting ourselves with the streets of the Old Quarter. This time in daylight and with far fewer people (still s#@*loads though) than the week before. A stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, and guess what….., the kids came too.

Probably prefer it when they stay in their room…..

VN24-077
Nice to see Hanoi in daylight for the first time!
VN24-071
Turtle Tower, and the red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake.
VN24-066
The gardens are well looked after at the Lake.
bridge to the Temple
Huc Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake
roundabout at Hoan Kiem Lake
At the big roundabout near the Lake.

That night we got a phone call from our Ninh Binh friends and we decided to catch up for dinner.

It was suggested we meet at the big round-about near the lake. Not too sure why that particular spot was mentioned. It’s not like it’s a busy place or anything……

Anyway, in amongst the 27 000 people there, we found them.

Like us, they had arrived from Mai Chau during the afternoon. And like us, they had also loved Mai Chau.

And as it turned out, the duck didn’t end up being a pet.

It did however, end up being delicious, apparently.

Went to a restaurant around the corner and had a great meal while we caught up on what we’d been doing and what we’d seen on our respective journeys.

After dinner we walked around the night market. Amazing sights. So many people. So vibrant.

Bid our friends farewell; they were leaving for HCMC the next day; and promised to catch up when we all returned to Melbourne.

Up early-ish the next morning to have breakfast in the restaurant next door (part of the hotel).
It seriously does not get better than this. Sitting on the first floor balcony, overlooking the street, eating probably the best hotel supplied breakfast we had had in Vietnam.

But it wasn’t the food that made it so good.

It was the setting.

And again, it was watching the locals go about their day.

The two women over the road that set up their kitchen in the narrowest of laneways and served breakfast to those that were obviously regulars.

25 Breakfast
Breakfast across the road from the Hotel.
safe way to paint
Safety rope?  Check.  Shoes?  Oops….

The woman on her bike selling bags of ice to the shop owners in the street.

Another woman setting up her little stall selling drinks and snacks.

The fruit and vegetable vendors walking along selling their wares.

Amazing sights and just so wonderful to watch.

And the best bit?

Finding out that I would be able to finish my day the same way I started it.

Sitting there as it’s starting to get dark, watching the world go by. But this time with a beer.

It would become my afternoon ritual. Happy days indeed.

That morning we had a booking with Hanoi Kids. Our guide duly showed up to the hotel at 9.00am and asked us what we would like to see and do. Wasn’t overly fussed. Was just looking forward to spending some time with a local while looking at something.

He suggested Hoa Lo prison. Perfect, it was something I wanted to see anyway.

“Did we want to get a taxi there or walk”.

“How far?”

“10 minute walk”,

“Pffft……we’ll walk”. Partly to annoy the kids……

Sky, our guide, is a 21 year old university student who is studying tourism management. Lovely guy, very friendly and came across as really knowing his stuff.

Once again, it was great to just talk to him about his life and about his plans for the future.

And the prison?

Very interesting.

Would not be a place that you would want to have had to spend time in.

Depressing, soul destroying, scary.

We spent around 1.5 hours looking around and it was well worth the time.
Having a guide enabled us to get more out of it too.

On the way back to the hotel we walked past St Joseph’s Cathedral.

What an amazing building. It just comes out of nowhere and has so much character.

Great photo opportunity.

St Josephs Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral.  Imposing!

Finally back at the hotel Sky grabbed a map and noted a few places and things for us to go and explore.

Two of them grabbed my attention immediately.

First, where to get the best egg coffee.

And second, beer corner.

Seeing as it was only 12.00pm, beer corner would have to wait.

It was time for egg coffee.

“Egg coffee Lisa. How about that?”

You’d think I’d said, “Fried goat testicles and chicken feet”.

“Trust me, I’ve read about it on Trip Advisor”.

She’s not convinced. She has that look.

Doesn’t matter; we’re doing it.

“Kids?”

“Kids?”

Already gone up to their room.

So off we go; trusty, non-drawn, map in hand.

We have the address and we’ve been told what the front looks like.
We’ve also been told you have to walk down a narrow passage way, so don’t be nervous.

That was good to know. I’m not sure I would have been game enough to go in.

Eventually we get there.

Sure enough, there’s the passage way.
In we go.

Lisa still has that look.

“Trust me”.

We get to the end and the guy tells us to go upstairs. Getting even more interesting.

Upstairs it’s quite open, very bright and pretty warm.

And there’s no one else like us up there.

This is good!

Lisa still has that look though.

The waiter arrives,

“Egg coffee please”.

“Hot or iced?”

“Iced please”. It’s hot up there. Has to be iced.

Lisa still has that look.

Fair dinkum, she’ll be left home with the kids next time as well……

It arrives.
It’s in a glass.
It’s yellow and a little frothy.

egg coffee!
The famous Hanoi egg coffee!  Much, much nicer than it sounds!

I’m excited.

Lisa’s…….nervous.

First taste.

I had no idea what to expect, but Wow! I like it!

Lisa tries it.

That look disappears.

“That’s nice!”

“Seeeee, told you so”, said in that annoying voice I’m so good at.

Ahhhh, enlightenment.

Even if you have to be dragged kicking and screaming……

Another thing ticked off the list, we head out to explore more of Hanoi.

Heading further away from the lake we get to Tran Quang Khai street.
It’s wide (3 or 4 lanes each way?), it’s on 2 levels and it’s busy.

Very busy.

Is it worth risking life and limb to see what’s on the other side?

We’ll find out.

So what’s over there?

More of Hanoi.

Different Hanoi though.

How is it different?

No one tries to sell you anything, there’s no one else that looks like you and the locals are just as curious about you, as you are of them.

I love it.

It’s so real.

So we just walk.

Where ever. It doesn’t matter.

Yep – I just love it.

We cross “that” road one more time and head back towards the lake.

Eventually we end up somewhere around ‘beer corner’.

Still a bit early for one so we find something to eat.

A traditional Vietnamese meal of French fries and fried cheese is ordered…….yum……hmmmm…….

lunch. French fries and fried cheese sticks!
It was just easy…

Lunch done, it’s probably time to try out some parenting, so we head back to the hotel.

They’ve spent their 100 000 dong lunch money on soft drink and chocolate bars.

Surprisingly……they’re still hungry.

We head out to do a little shopping and I offer to get them a snack to tide them over till dinner.

Five minutes later we’re standing in KFC.

I feel dirty…..

What the!
You’d think they ‘d look happier.

Souvenir shopping done Lisa has promised the girl a hot chocolate from the multi-national coffee chain place thing near the round-about.

Lisa wants one too and the boy is also interested.

“Knock yourselves out, I’m off”.

“See you back at the hotel”.

It’s this part – “See you back at the hotel” – that is disputed.

I’ll get to that later.

Off I go, just doing my people watching thing and exploring the streets.

VN 25-037
Typical Old Quarter street.
VN 25-047
Old Quarter scene.
VN 25-030
Well, it’s quicker than walking with it.

Eventually I get back to the street the hotel is in. The same bloke that tried to sell me books the day before is there again.

“Want to buy some books?”

Still, “No thank you”.

Can’t blame him for trying I suppose…

Back at the hotel I discover they haven’t yet returned.

That’s ok, I’ll go next door and do my beer on the balcony thing.

Now this the life. Yep, what a way to finish the day.

VN 25-052
The old lady with her stall across from the Hotel.
VN 25-048
Recycle lady.

Well into the second beer and I’m thinking Lisa and the kids must be out doing some more shopping.

Then all of a sudden, a thought pops into my head.

They’re not waiting for me at the coffee place are they……?

Nooo…….surely not……

A few minutes later…….Oh, here they come.

“Hi Honey!”

If looks could kill….

Time for another beer….

Beer finished, it was time to head back and apologise to Lisa for her not listening to me properly…… 🙂

That done, it was off to dinner.

An Italian / Vietnamese restaurant opposite the previous night’s restaurant as it turned out.

Can’t remember what I had, but whatever it was, it was ok. And the kids were happy.

So it actually probably wasn’t that good after all…… 🙂

It was just nice sitting on the first floor balcony, within touching distance of tangled power lines, watching the world go by.

VN 25.53
Always something to look at.

First full day in Hanoi down; two to go.

The days were flying by now…… 😦

There you go, told you it would get out of hand again…..

Till the next one.

Cheers,

Scott

view from Artisan Boutique
View from the balcony of the Artisan Boutique.  Love it!
Made entirely of roses!
Flower arrangement at Hoan Kiem Lake.
sucked in!
Lisa gets scammed again. The pineapple was nice though…. And the photo is pretty good!
VN24-080
The big roundabout at night.

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #8

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #8…

9 – 11 October 2014

Ninh Binh continued…..

Last full day in Ninh Binh.

A day off.

And it had been a while since we’d had one. Day before we left Hoi An was the last.

So, what to do…..?

Walk. Just walk and see where we end up.

Breakfast done. Kids woken up. We’re off.

Kids not interested in our plan.

They’re going to have a day off in front of the television. Could have done that at home.

Oh well, see you later….

First stop, an electronics appliance store.

Cameras, phones, televisions etc, etc.

And loud, very loud, promotional music / advertising over their PA system.
I have no idea what’s being said, but whatever it is, it apparently needs to be done at a really high volume. Working there would drive you nuts.

We’re heading in the direction of a market we’ve been told about. Not totally sure where it is but that’s part of the fun. It’s quite often the things you see on the way.

I said a few times when we were over there, and I’ve said it quite a bit since we’ve been back; Every day I saw something that made me go – “Wow!”

goldfish!
Goldfish anyone?
recycler
Recycle lady.
fresh bread - sour, chocolate, communion!
Box? man.
VN21-012
What else do you expect to see on a city street?

And usually it was just something that would be a normal thing to any Vietnamese local.
But to me, it was Wow!
A motorbike rider carrying far more stuff than you would think possible, an old lady – no taller than 5 foot – walking along the street carrying something that I would struggle with, chickens walking on the footpath of a busy city.

Just random things that are normal in Vietnam.

But to me – Wow! Just fascinating.

And here comes the next “Wow” moment.

A woman walking towards us carrying a white mesh bag over her arm.
I’m trying to work out what’s in the bag. She notices me looking at the bag so she puts it out in front to give me a better look.

21 scorpions anyone?
Not something you see every day!  Well not in Australia anyway…

It’s full of scorpions.

She motions to me, with a smile, would I like to buy some?

Ummm, no thank you….but may I take a photo?

Absolutely.

Photo taken, we both wander off on our way.

Me with another “Wow” moment; she happy because she knows she’s shocked a silly western tourist.

Win, win.

Eventually we find the market.
It’s funny, I’m not a shopper. I go into supermarkets and shopping centres only if I absolutely have to. I don’t go to markets in Melbourne.

But Vietnamese markets. I love them. Fascinating sights.

Fish, crabs, eels, chickens, ducks (that have had a really bad day along with ducks that are going to have a really bad day), fruits, vegetables.

market. Frogs front left.
No, not pets…!
VN21-005
Food can be very colourful.

And this was all, like a lot of markets, down either side of a suburban street.

Could easily sit there for hours and just watch. So interesting.

I may have said before, one of the things I thought I’d struggle with before we left was seeing live animals at markets destined for the plate.

Surprisingly, it didn’t affect me. It is what it is. It is the way they go about things and who am I to come to their country and judge.

Perhaps not a warning; maybe more of a heads up; at one end of this street there is a building where cuts of meat are sold. As we walked past I said to Lisa I had a feeling about what they sold in there. The type of meat. I’m not sure what made me think that. Perhaps it was all the Thit Cho signs we had seen on the way down to Ninh Binh. Anyway, I decided that I needed to go in and have a look. I didn’t really want to, but it was something I felt I needed to do.

In the end we both walked through. It wasn’t as “grisly” as I thought it could be but if it’s something that you would struggle with then it’s probably best to avoid it.

This market also had non-food items. Clothes, hardware, household items. You name it.
It’s great fun to haggle with the stall holders too. And even more fun when they don’t speak a word of English. Make an effort and you’ll find it very easy to have a laugh with them. Lovely people.

Continued our walk around town and managed to take a photo of something that you are not allowed to take a photo of. That could have ended badly……

Then headed back to the hotel to practice some parenting skills. This involved dragging them away from the TV with the promise of lunch.

Five minute walk down the road and we found the Pho restaurant that Phuong, the hotel manager, had recommended. Great food and oh so cheap. Perfect combination!

Bit of a walk around……until the whinging became too much, and it was back to the hotel to cool down and rest up.

Later that afternoon, parenting skills once again put on hold (even Lisa stayed behind) I went for another walk. This time around the streets behind the hotel near the football stadium.

Found another market!

This one much smaller and bit more temporary looking. But still a lot of fun and very interesting.

Once again, very local. No other tourists. And by the way they reacted to me, I suspect very few tourists are seen around here.

They seemed as interested in me as I was of them. Even had a couple of laughs with some stall holders who tried to sell me food……that wasn’t actually yet food….

And then one of those “little” things happened.

Walking through the crowd a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, saw me and made a bee line towards me. My initial thought was, what is he going to try and sell me.

Nothing as it turned out.

He just wanted to shake my hand.

As quick as he was there, he was gone.

He made my day.

Again, just a small thing. But gee, it made me feel good.

Raced back to the hotel to get Lisa to show her but by the time we got back it was almost dark and the stall holders were packing up.

Walked up past the stadium and came across something that we hadn’t really seen in Vietnam before.

A supermarket.

Just like a supermarket you’d see back home. Lots of processed food and lots of over packaged goods. It just seemed so out of place compared to what we had been experiencing.

That night we took the easy option of eating over the road at Chookies. Kids more than happy with that decision.

The next morning we were picked up at the hotel by our driver to be taken to Mai Chau. It was the same driver that had driven us from Haiphong to Ninh Binh and had been organised through Toan.

On the way out of Ninh Binh it was interesting to see all the places that we had seen on the back of motorbikes earlier in the week.

Two things stood out; one, how far we had actually been. We seemed to drive for a long time before we stopped recognising places we had seen previously. Probably explains why our bums were so sore after riding. 🙂

And two, how much better it was seeing all these places on the back of motorbikes rather than in a car. Bum wise you might be more comfortable, but seeing it all on the back of bikes really is the only way to go.

So, the drive to Mai Chau.

Will remember that for a while.

A fair section of it was along a road….actually, road is not an accurate description.
More like a dirt, potholed track. Again, track is probably not terribly accurate either.

It was fortunate the car had a roof……, as well as seatbelts.

It was undoubtedly the worst “road” I have ever travelled on. It was that bad, it was funny. You just had to laugh.

It did make you think though. The poor people that either lived along it, or had businesses on it, and even the poor school kids that had to ride along it.

It was so dusty that the banana palms were actually brown.

dust everywhere
Yep, brown banana palms.
VN 22-001
If the dust wasn’t enough, the trucks just added to it.
VN 22-006
Have to feel sorry for the locals.
VN 22-007
More dust!
VN 22-004
Just something else to look out for on the roads!

Can’t imagine what it would be like in the wet.

It made for a long, slow trip, but there was still plenty to see on the way.

Finally arrived in Mai Chau around lunchtime so we stopped at a local restaurant for something to eat before making our way to our hotel down the road.

Our accommodation for the next two nights would be the Mai Chau Valley View Hotel.

Very apt name too.

It’s in Mai Chau. Mai Chau is in a valley. It is a hotel. And it has a view.

And does it have a view!

Looking out the window, or standing on the balcony. The view.

Another of those “Wow” moments.

Rice paddies from the block next door to as far as you can see, with mountains in the background.

Yep, Wow!

VN 22.44-002
No words.

Separate rooms again; everyone’s happy.

See ya kids, we’re going for a walk. (Don’t bother asking anymore…..)

Off up the main street, essentially the only one in Mai Chau, to check out the place.

It’s a country town; and a fairly small one at that. But it’s nice. Not touristy and seems pretty quiet. Well it would be if not for the trucks going up and down the main road. Apparently there is a dam being built a bit out of town, hence the trucks. They’re a bit noisy but we’re in Vietnam. Be a bit weird if it was too quiet….. 🙂

Up the road we come across a small market outside a school and in the school grounds there are two games of soccer (football) being played. Stop for a few minutes to watch that before heading on. There’s not a lot in Mai Chau but it has a nice feel. People are friendly and there are plenty of kids about calling out “Hello, what your name”.

Mai Chau - kids' soccer tournament
Local soccer match.
hey!
They were so keen to say hello!  Love it.

On the way back we passed a place that did iced coffee. Well the picture looked like some kind of iced coffee thing.
I suggested we have one.
Lisa is reluctant.
It’s not going to kill you.
Ok then…..

The guy is a bit surprised to see us. Suspect he doesn’t see too many westerners. But he’s very keen to help us.

Our iced coffees arrive. Now these aren’t your traditional Vietnamese iced coffees.
It’s in a large plastic cup, with a lid and straw. It has whipped cream on top with brightly coloured syrup and sprinkles.

VN 22.10-1
She was so brave….

I suppose you could call it a “McDonalds” type of iced coffee.

But Lisa loves it. So much so that we have to take a photo of it.

“See honey, you need to try things. Be daring. Take a chance occasionally.”

“Shut up!”

That night we ate at the restaurant at the hotel. Under cover, but outside, with rice paddies an arm’s length away.

And the food?

Good. Very good. Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. What a setting.

Next morning we decided to take a bike ride. We hired bikes from the hotel and Duong, the owner, gave us a hand drawn map and explained where we should go.

Here we go again, another map. Hand drawn too.

25 – 30 km round trip apparently.

With a hand drawn map I suspect we’ll be doing more than that…..

So off we go, heading out of town. We have to turn off to the right a bit further up. It doesn’t look that far on the map so I make an educated guess (first mistake) at which one to turn.

VN23-012
You can tell it’s still early in the ride; everyone’s smiling…
VN23-008
The view is helping the “happiness”.

Down through more rice paddies and across a bridge. Beautiful scenery. So far so good. Road gives way to a dirt track. Not sure this is it. Keep going. Track gets narrower and forest gets thicker. Reasonably convinced now that this is not it.

I start to get “Are you sure this is the right way?”

“No!” count to 10………

“I don’t think this is the right way”.

“Well you look at the #$%@ing map and work out where we should be!”

Toys are still in the cot. But only just…..

We turn around and start heading back to the main road.

The boy sees a snake.

We now cycle quicker.

Finally back on the main road the temptation is to return to the hotel. It’s hot and I’m really not sure if we’re going to be able to find where we’re supposed to be going.

Resisting the temptation, we decide to give it one final crack. So on we ride.

Through a couple of tiny towns / villages, past a huge wedding set up on the side of the road and past some lovely country side.

Just as the map starts to make some sense, we get lost again. Well sort of. As it turned out we were going the right way but we got nervous and backtracked a little.

Then we found what we were looking for. There was no mistaking it.

VN23-026
The camera doesn’t quite capture it.
vilage near Mai Chau
Just so different to what we had seen previously.

An ethnic minority village. Stilt houses with flowing water in their yards that makes its way out to the rice paddies. Cows being walked along narrow paths, chickens roaming freely and just the most amazing scenery. Absolutely unbelievable.

VN23-051
Intruding on local life.  But so glad we did!

And guess what? The kids were impressed. They actually struggled to maintain their indifference.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before their indifference returned, but for now, I had won! Haha!!!!!

VN23-023
Still happy-ish, I, however was starting to lose it.

Did a big loop through the village and then came back onto the road that we had been on earlier. Back to the hotel via a different road, and surprisingly, we did it without getting lost.

VN23-061
One is not trying as hard as he was, one is trying too hard, and the other one is not trying at all.
VN23-068
Seriously considered losing them and heading off in the opposite direction.

I win again!

Finally back at the hotel, hot and exhausted, but very content. It had been a memorable morning.

Back to the same restaurant for lunch, that we’d been to when we arrived, and we bumped into our friends from Ninh Binh. Ended up having lunch with them and spent an hour or so catching up. They’d done a homestay the night before and were doing another one that night. Their guide was off getting supplies for dinner that night and he soon returned carrying a couple of bags. In one of them was a duck. It was actually quite a funny sight with the duck peering out over the top of the bag.

We tried to convince the kids, and ourselves, that it was going to be a pet.

Later that afternoon I went for a walk by myself through the rice paddies (which were in the process of being harvested) around the hotel and eventually found a small tourist village. Apparently local Hanoians come to Mai Chau for a weekend away and stay around this particular place. Like I said, very touristy but worth a look.

VN23-085
Kids being kids!
VN23-079
I don’t know, it just seemed to sum up the place.
VN23-100
Their water moving fascinates me.
VN23-078
View from the hotel is brilliant; looking back towards the hotel is pretty good too!

That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant again. Got chatting to Duong and it was interesting to hear about his life and how he’d worked hard to set up and build the Valley View.

He then offered us some “local water”.

“Why not?” “Actually, what is it?”

“Corn spirit. 40% proof”.

Whoa…..! Strong stuff.

Nice, but you wouldn’t want too many.

The next morning it was time to pack up and say good bye to Mai Chau. It had been a great couple of days and we had only just scratched the surface. I would like to go back at some stage and really try and immerse myself in the culture of the people that live around Mai Chau. I suspect there is a lot more to see.

So, would I stay at the Valley View again? If we ever stay in Mai Chau again, absolutely.
Good size rooms, great location, extremely friendly staff and unbelievable views. And I mean unbelievable.

And while I’m at it; the Ngoc Anh 2? Yep, definitely recommend it. The room we stayed in was probably the biggest room we stayed in during our whole trip, and while the kid’s room was a bit smaller, it was still ample.
Good location, friendly staff. Yep, definitely recommend it.

So next stop is Hanoi. Our final destination.

Should only be one more instalment but I suspect Hanoi may come in two parts.

Considering my tendency…….

Cheers,

Scott

VN21-001
Ninh Binh street life!
interesting acroprops..
Is there anything bamboo can’t do?
VN21-009
Vietnamese school kids seem to care so much about their appearance!
VN23-035
Not a bad view.
VN23-119
There are worse places to drink a beer.
VN23-122
Relaxing after a hard day on bikes. Hopefully they’ll go back to their room soon!
VN 22-019
When the time comes, half the work seems to have already been done…!
VN24-038
Just quintessential.

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #7

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #7…

6 – 8 October 2014

Arrived in Ninh Binh around 6.00pm just as it was getting dark.
My initial opinion on the town, actually…., city, as we drove in was one of,….ummm…..not much to be honest. It just looked like a big rural city; and one that wasn’t overly interesting.

Don’t make a judgement yet, said that voice in my head…..

We arrived at our hotel, the Ngoc Anh 2, and checked in.

Once again we had separate rooms but this time the kids were on the same floor as us.
Bit closer than I preferred but there were still 2 doors between us and them. Much better than no doors…..

Bear in mind we’ve been away for 2 1/2 weeks by this stage…..

Our usual ritual of a quick unpack and then it’s off to have a look around Ninh Binh.
Surprisingly, the kids decline the offer to explore with us…..

So back out the front and we get back onto the main road. The plan is to see what’s around and to find somewhere to have dinner.

So my initial thoughts…….? Pretty much confirmed. It is a big rural city. Touristy is one word I wouldn’t use to describe it. In fact, on our 30 minute or so walk we didn’t see too many westerners at all. That’s good; not unhappy about that. But the place doesn’t grab me at the moment and I’m wondering if Ninh Binh was such a good idea. It has a different feel from any other place we’d stayed. Different shops, different traffic feel.

Still lots of bikes, lots of cars….and lots of trucks. Lots of trucks….

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Big trucks.  Noisy trucks.

It seems that every truck in the country drives through Ninh Binh. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if they even go through Ninh Binh when they drive from HCMC to Danang. Check a map if you don’t get it…..

And they’re noisy. Very noisy.

Anyway, I listen to that voice again. You’ve been here 5 minutes, give it time.

We don’t really find anywhere that grabs us for dinner. Actually, we found one possibility. A fairly plain looking place about 3 or 4 blocks away.

I’m not looking forward to the prospect of telling the kids how far we’ll need to walk…..

As we come back to the hotel there are lots of people sitting on the usual plastic chairs at the three or so food / drink places next door to the hotel. One of the owners motions to us, and one of the few tourists we’ve seen tells us the food is good.

The kids have been saved a walk. I’ve been saved a lot of whinging.

We retrieve them from the hotel and make ourselves comfortable…..? on our cubby house chairs…..

Can’t remember what we had, but while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t that bad either. It was some kind of soupy noodle dish with beef and these little roundish white coloured balls that had a meatish texture.

Lisa reckons they were exactly that. Yep, balls. Testicles.

It wasn’t something I had initially thought of.

And I would have preferred she hadn’t mentioned it while I had one in my mouth….

Anyway, whatever they were, they were nice. Not quite as nice as before Lisa mentioned it, but still ok.

The next morning we were due to meet Toan, our tour guide, outside the hotel for day one of our two day exploration of the outskirts of Ninh Binh.

At breakfast that morning we met another family from Melbourne. Turns out they were doing similar things to us. They too were doing the motorbike thing, as well as a homestay near Mai Chau and then a return to Hanoi.

It was now time to meet Toan. It was great to finally put a face to an email address.
After a quick introduction, he asked us what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see.

My answer – “I don’t care”. “Show us what you think is worth looking at”.

Him – “Ok, no problem”.

So, we were off.

It was great to have the wind in our faces once again. It truly is the best way to see the sights.

First stop was a boat ride in Bich Dong to see just a few of the limestone karsts.
The boy and I were in one boat while Lisa and the girl were in another. Didn’t see any other tourists on our way out and only saw a couple on the way back. Very scenic and very quiet and it was quite an experience going through a couple of caves. Not much room at times.

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Bich Dong
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The caves are low and dark!
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Stunning scenery!
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Local life at Bich Dong.

We knew when we had got to the end of the first leg of our paddle, as the bag containing the souvenirs made an appearance. Ahhh, so that’s what that bag was for…..

Bit of a captive audience….

So a little lighter in the back pocket and we were off on the return leg.

Almost back to the start and our lady started calling something out. I didn’t understand at first but eventually got it.

Tip!……of course…..

Glad we didn’t buy more stuff…..

Our next stop was Bich Dong Pagoda which is built into the side of a cliff. Interesting place with good views.

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The view from Bich Dong pagoda.

Back on the bikes and it wasn’t long before we were off the main roads and in amongst the fields.

I have no idea where we went but it didn’t matter. This was Vietnamese countryside and I loved it.

Eventually we got to the end of a dirt track. In front of us was Tam Coc River and beyond that was this huge mountain with some kind of lookout on top.

Tam Coc
Tam Coc River, with Hang Mua behind us in the distance.

Turned out it was Hang Mua – and it’s 500 steps.

Again, the scenery!

Time for lunch.

Toan and his mates took us to a very local restaurant just down the road from Tam Coc.
A nice meal and the chance to have a bit of a rest before our afternoon challenge; those 500 steps.

Again, through the back blocks and there they were.

Those steps take you a looong way up.

500 steps...
Yep, they go up a long way!

The boy raced off (think he just wanted to get away from us), I tried to keep up with Lisa (but I can’t walk that slow) and again, surprisingly, the girl stayed behind.

Couldn’t have been bothered putting up with her whinging anyway….

Finally we had all made it.

I’d asked a few people on the way up, that were on their way back down, if the views were worth it.

They said yes.

They were right.

Absolutely stunning!
Absolutely worth the effort!

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Stunning view from the top.
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Certainly worth the effort.
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Overlooking Tam Coc.
Are we there yet?
Coming down was hard work too!

Our next stop were two temples in Hoa Lu.

Lovely architecture and a very interesting story to go with it, that Toan explained to us.

Can’t remember the finer details but it involved poisoning and a little adultery.

We had time to see one more pagoda but that involved more steps.

I was all stepped out, Lisa even more so, and to be honest, I was pagoda’d out as well.

The kids even more so.

Back to the hotel and it was time to try out the little plastic chairs out the front again. But this time it was for beer, not food.

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Great way to end a day.

I think I’ve probably said this before, there’s just something about sitting on the footpath, beer in hand, watching the world go by. I could still hear, and see, the noisy trucks up on the main road going past, but it didn’t matter. It’s all part of it and watching the locals do their thing quickly takes your mind away from all that.

It was now around this time that I started to feel something for Ninh Binh.

Starting to understand it.

That night we ate at a restaurant over the road (Chookies) owned by an Australian girl and her Vietnamese husband. It’s tourist orientated but it does very good western style food. The Vietnamese dishes aren’t too bad either but I think the western stuff is better.

The next morning we began our second day of adventure and exploration with Toan.

Before we left he suggested we might do things a little differently today. I think he’d sensed that the kids weren’t overly enamoured with pagodas and excessive walking.

He’d summed them up quicker than I ever had…..

He also suggested, as we had discussed beer the day before, that we could perhaps finish a little earlier and spend the last hour drinking Beer Hoi.

What did I think of that he asked?

I almost kissed him before I said Yes!

Our first stop was Trang An.

He suggested a toilet stop before we got into our boat.

I said I was Ok.

But he was quite insistent. The trip takes 3 1/2 hours.

3 1/2 hours!!!!!???

Toilet thing done and off we went.

Four of us in the one boat, our Vietnamese man in the back doing all the hard work.

 

rowing with feet!
When his arms got tired he used his feet!

Ten minutes in and I notice another boat about to pass us.
Gee, their paddler must be faster than ours, I think.
Hang on, two of them have their own oars.
I look down, I’m sitting next to an oar. So is the boy.

I motion to our guy – “Can we paddle”? “Can we help”?

Well, he was never going to say no, was he…..?

Now we’re motoring along.

And I feel much better because he’s not doing all the work.

We go through several caves, some quite long and low, and just generally take in the scenery.

Again, just stunning.

We get to the turn around point and decide not to get off. Our guy actually seems to encourage us not to, so we turn around and begin the journey back.

We’re still assisting with the paddling and we’re still flying along.

We have some fun with a few of the other boats and end up having a race with a couple of them.

Half way back we stop at some sort of temple or pagoda that just happens to have a snack and drink cart near it. Time to reach for the wallet again….

The lady there suggests I buy our guy a drink too.

Yes, I was going to do that anyway.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been set up?

So we all sit, and we rest, while they chat. And chat…….and chat.

I suspect we made up too much time by helping with the paddling and he doesn’t, or can’t, be seen getting back too early.

Eventually we’re back in the boat. It’s been fun, and the scenery is amazing, but by this stage I’ve had enough. My bum is really sore – not sure if it’s recovered from the train – and I just want to get back.

Finally the finish is in sight and I’m ready for the tip request.

Sure enough, it comes.

I don’t have a problem with it – it’s been great – but I’m wondering if the tip should have been coming from him.

My arms are almost as sore as my bum…..

Back on land it’s time for lunch
Toan takes us to a different restaurant this time. Again, very local.
They seem to specialise in goat. All different parts of the goat.

Yep, there it is, the goat testicles (yes, plural) dish.

Mmmm... lunch
At least they use all of the goat.

I see a photo of a goat. Wow!

I’m now wondering if a goat testicle (yes, singular) dish wouldn’t be more than enough.

You learn something new every day……

Lunch done, Toan suggests we just ride around. Yep, more than happy with that.

Along narrow tracks and laneways only a bike could get through, past locals harvesting rice with their non-la’s on, along roads covered in rice which is being dried in the sun.

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Our preferred mode of transport, and rice drying in the sun.

It was an afternoon of amazing sights.

This was exactly what I wanted to see and I loved every bit of it.

We travelled through a fishing village, rode past Van Long Nature Reserve and even stopped for a closer look at a water buffalo and her twin calves lazing in a river by the side of the road.

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Mum and the kids cooling off.
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Nice family pic but the scenery is more impressive!

Yep, amazing sights.

It was now time for that beer, so back to Ninh Binh we went.

A little non-descript place, not too far from the hotel as it turned out, under cover, but out in the open, the usual plastic table and chairs.

Beer never tasted so good.

But it wasn’t just about the beer.

It was the experience.

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Just brilliant!

An opportunity to spend time with new found friends and to experience the real Vietnamese culture.

What a way to finish our two days with Toan.

Perfect!

That night we went out to dinner with our fellow Aussie travellers. We ended up going to a restaurant that one of the guys at the hotel recommended.

Following a short taxi trip we were ushered into a rather empty looking building and then into a lift. Reaching the second or third floor we entered another rather empty looking large room. We were then directed to a smaller, again empty, room which we then had to ourselves.

A few minutes later a waitress appeared and we ordered drinks.

Warm beer, warm coke and plenty of ice in glasses soon turned up.

Managed to, well kind of, decipher the menu and the food was ordered.

The food was good. Not the best meal we’d had, but it was Ok.

The chicken dish – which somehow we’d managed to order two of – was not really what we were expecting.

I’m not really into heads and feet, and unfortunately, the two plates came with both.

It really did look like some kind of chicken jigsaw puzzle.

Umm... yeah. Claypot chicken
The only thing missing is the feathers.

As we were finishing dinner the boy (need to mention here that he’s 6 foot 2) needed to use the toilet.

Fifteen minutes later he finally returned.

Me – “Where have you been?”

Him – “Standing out there having my photo taken by all the girls that work here. They’ve been giggling and calling me a giant!”

Our friend’s two daughters (8 & 16) along with the girl, decided it might be fun to see what sort of reaction they drew.

Yep, same response; photo after photo.

They were absolutely fascinated by these “strange” western kids.

It was funny to watch.

They even wanted me in the photos too.

I did have to walk past several times though before they noticed me…… 

There’s still another day left in Ninh Binh but I’ve just stopped and read what I’ve written, and once again, it’s gotten out of hand.

I’ve said before that I have a tendency to crap on a little…..

I’ll leave the last day till the next instalment which includes Mai Chau.

Cheers,

Scott

long way up
Hang Mua
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Bich Dong
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Lotus flowers
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Tam Coc River with Hang Mua in the background.
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Bich Dong

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #6

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so prior to the previous trip reports!

Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is Trip Report #6…

4 – 6 October 2014

 

While leaving Hoi An had been difficult, I didn’t have too many issues with leaving Hue.
It was time to move on and I was looking forward to our next destination – Hanoi.

In the back of my mind I was a little concerned about Hanoi. Or more to the point, my opinion on what I thought Hanoi would be like.

I was expecting a lot and I expected to love the place.

I was now worried that it may not live up to these expectations.

First, a quick mention of our Hue accommodation. We stayed at the New Star Hotel.
Nice hotel, good location, big size rooms, good breakfast, friendly staff and good size pool on the second floor.

Yep, nice place.

But like the city, it didn’t grab me.
And like the city, I’m not really sure why.
It was just a bit characterless I suppose.

Like I said, it was time to move on.

Another uneventful flight (the best kind) with Vietnam Airlines and we arrived in Hanoi around 5.00pm.
Our driver, organised by our hotel The Artisan Boutique, was waiting for us at the airport. Gee, it makes life easy.

So, those expectations?

About to find out.

I found the drive into the city really interesting. The way it changed the closer we got.
Wide roads, open spaces, lots of cars.
To bit more built up, lots more cars, a lot of people.
And then, bam!

The old quarter.

I’d heard, and read of, the old quarter many times. But I didn’t really know what to expect.

There was no mistaking it. I knew when we were in it because it just looks so different from the rest of the city.

The buildings, the cars, the motorbikes, the people. Wow!

I loved it and I hadn’t even got out of the car yet.

Finally arrived at the hotel, a quick check in, and it was time to go out and look around.

Did I mention the people?

We didn’t realise it at the time but that particular weekend was the 60th anniversary of Hanoi’s Liberation Day.

It was madness. The noise and the crowds.

Just madness…..

To be honest, while it was interesting at the beginning, it did become quite irritating. It was just too much.

It’s funny though. If that had been our first night in Vietnam I’m not sure how I would have coped with all that. HCMC had been a huge culture shock on day one, but now, a little over 2 weeks in, it was just what it was. I think it was around this time that I realised that I had gone from completely out of my comfort zone, to then feeling reasonably comfortable in this “strange” country, and to now actually feeling confident.

It was a nice feeling.

Anyway, we walked.

And got lost. (two weeks in – some things never change…..)

But it didn’t matter; it’s all part of it.

And in the end it all worked out.

We were trying to find somewhere to eat.
Not really interested in a ‘typical’ restaurant.
Looking to be a little more adventurous. A little more ‘local’.

It didn’t take long to find somewhere.

Actually, it wasn’t us who found it.

It was them that found us.

From across the street we were dragged in to a street food place.
It was packed with locals sitting on the footpath. Not an empty chair to be found.

But that didn’t matter. We could sit upstairs.

So before we know it we’re walking up the narrowest, steepest stairs I’ve ever seen.

Finally at the top, we are now in a room no bigger than a small bedroom.

Two people are already sitting there; a local woman and her young teenage son. (Hers seems happier than mine….)

They smile and move along to make room for us.

We smile….., nervously….., and sit on our small plastic chairs.

I now have time to think…..

I have no idea how we ended up here.
I have no idea what we are about to eat.
I have no idea how much it will cost.

I just have no idea….

I look at the boy. And the girl.

There’s that look again.

The same one from the train.

Shock. Disgust. Disappointment. But mainly disgust.

Yep, I must be doing something right.

kids not impressed!
The blurriness of the photo doesn’t hide their displeasure.

Manage to order some beers. Beer’s easy to do.
And some Coke. Coke’s more difficult.

The food arrives. There is heaps of it.

Big bowls of some kind of noodle and beef soup, along with more spring rolls than I could eat in a week.

Good food?

Magnificent!

And what a great experience.

The kids?

They still have that look. But it’s not quite as severe.

We negotiate those stairs again and head off back into the madness.

After an hour or so; getting lost takes time; we find our way back to the hotel.

I’ve had enough.

Too many people. Too much noise.

It’s been a long day and we have to be up early the next day to get to Halong Bay. Well, Cat Ba Island to be exact.

We decide to travel a little lighter so we leave our big suitcase at the hotel and take two bags between us. We’ll be back in a week.

Our driver taking us to Haiphong City is due to pick us up at 6.30am.

He’s late.

I’m getting worried. Maybe we should have just done the ‘usual’ Halong Bay tour.

A phone call to Cat Ba – all is good. He’s on his way.

Apparently there were some streets barricaded for the anniversary celebrations last night.

He eventually arrives and we’re off.

The plan is to get to Haiphong and then take the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island.

We get to the hydrofoil about 5 minutes before it leaves.

That was close…..

Fifty minutes later we’re on the island.
A little bit of paperwork at Cat Ba Ventures’ office, a quick visit to the shop to get some drinks and within the hour we’re on our boat.

Too easy.

And when I say our boat – it is just that – our boat.

Just the four of us along with the captain, the cook and the guide.

So, initial impression of Halong Bay?

Stunning! What an amazing area.

feeling crook...
Lisa’s sea legs still yet to come in…
Cat Ba
Amazing colours.
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Local life on the bay.
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Typical scenery.
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Even in misty rain, just stunning.

We spent the first hour or so making our way through Lan Ha Bay and up to Halong Bay.

We pulled up next to a small fishing boat and the three crew negotiated a price for our lunch.

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Negotiating a price for our lunch.

Some type of fish along with 5 crayfish.

Half an hour later we were eating them. Now that’s fresh.

lunch! Fish, chicken, crayfish, tofu, weeds, rice, spring rolls
Can’t get much fresher than this!

After lunch it was time for a swim. Ohhh,……the water. Beautiful!

We then moved off to another area.

Time for kayaking.

canoeing is harder than it looks
They seem happy…!

Around islands, through caves. Pretty special.

We even came across a colony of monkeys.

Our guide managed to get their attention and they actually made their way down their island for a closer look at us.

Amazing experience.

One final swim before heading back to Lan Ha Bay where we would moor for the night.

this lady was selling drinks!
Sadly I didn’t have any money on me to buy a drink.  She did ask nicely though…
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Yep.  Life is good.

Another magnificent meal for dinner. Again, so fresh. I’ve never eaten this well in my life.

Up early next morning to make the most of our final day.

A big breakfast – just so much food – and we were off to look at a cave on one of the islands.

great selfie!
Quite possibly the best selfie I’ve ever taken.  Quite possibly my favourite photo.

Then it was back up through Halong Bay and on to Bai Tu Long Bay.

Dropped in to a floating fish farm, had another couple of swims – including jumping off the top of the boat (just a big kid really) and just generally lazed around and took in the scenery.

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Fish farm. 
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There’s something about jumping into Halong Bay!
nice morning
Nice to sit and watch the scenery go by!

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Amazing place.

After lunch, and one final swim, it was time to head back to Cat Ba Island.

We needed to be on the 2.00pm hydrofoil to get back to Haiphong as we had organised a driver to take us to Ninh Binh.

We made it. Just.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Our driver met us, as promised, and we began our 3 hour journey to Ninh Binh.

The drive itself was pretty good and while it’s not overly scenic, it is interesting. Well I found it interesting.

It is very rural and you do drive through a lot of small towns and villages.
It is very different to the big cities.

And for the first time I saw ‘those’ restaurants.

Thit Cho and Thit Meo.

I didn’t see anything I didn’t want to see but it was something that I was now aware of.

We finally arrived in Ninh Binh just as it was getting dark and checked into our hotel for the next four nights.

That will have to be in instalment 7.

So, our “Halong Bay tour”.

When we were researching this trip Halong Bay was something that we were always going to do.
But the more I learnt about it the less I wanted to do it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see the place, it was more that I didn’t want to see it the way all the tour operators want you to see it.
All the tours sounded the same and seemed too regimented.
I really had no interest in getting up early to do Tai Chi…..

Eventually I stumbled across Cat Ba Ventures.

Their attitude is that it is your boat. Your trip.
You decide what you want to do and for how long you do it.

If we wanted to swim all day…..then we could.
If we wanted to fish all morning…..then we could do that.

It was up to us what we did.

It was far more appealing to me than the ‘typical’ Halong Bay tours.

So, glad we did it the way we did?

Absolutely!

No regrets whatsoever and would, and will, happily recommend Cat Ba Ventures to anyone.

Cheers,

Scott

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Local life.
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Even dogs live on the bay.
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Lan Ha Bay
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Fishing boat
Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Amazing.

 

 

 

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #5

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!

Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is Trip Report #5…

1 – 4 October 2014

 

So, the Hue bit.

Leaving the Lantern Hotel was tough. We’d loved our time there and felt like we’d made some really special friendships.

Oh, and I did forget about our Vietnamese language class.

Probably because I’m not that good at it.

But then again, how could I possibly expect to be? English aint me strong point either…..

It took me the best part of the 4 weeks to get “cam on” right.

And the only other two words I remembered were “bia” and “ba”.

Notice the connection?…….ba ba ba bia

No problems remembering the important stuff……

Anyway, the Lantern Hotel.

Would I recommend it?
Would I stay there again?

Yep. And yep!

So, with our train tickets at the ready, it was time to head back to Danang.
The car we had booked the day before arrived on time and we were off.
No issues with time, we had plenty to get to the station.

Well we would have, if our driver had a little more strength in the leg that rests on the accelerator…..

He was most definitely not related to our driver in Nha Trang.

Watching the road, and constantly looking at my watch, I wondered if we were going to make it on time.
I also wondered if we were being set up.
You know, “Sorry, you’ve missed the train, but that’s ok, I can drive you to Hue”.
“For extra money of course….”

It’s funny what goes through your mind.

I also wondered what Dirty Pierre (from TripAdvisor) would say.

Anyway, needn’t have worried. Arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare.

Around 3 minutes to be exact…..

Jumped out of the car, grabbed our bags, kicked a local out of the way that was offering to “help” with our bags and headed into the station.

The train was already there.

Scampering across the tracks, it was at this point that I sensed the kids might not have been too happy with the particular mode of transport we had chosen.

“Is that our train?”, said in that teenager tone.

Yes. Yes it is.

Into the carriage. Look to the left. Mmm, nice looking seats. Air conditioned.

Look to the right. Timber seats. Bars on the windows. This is us.

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Slightly prison like….

Carriage is barely half full.

Not too many tourists either.

Actually, when I say not too many, I mean none.

Got the feeling we were a bit of a novelty too.

Finally got our stuff sorted and sat down.

Took a look at the kid’s faces.

Yep, not happy. Actually, more disgusted than anything.

train to Hue. Riley really impressed!
He’s actually more annoyed than he looks.

But that’s ok. If they’re not happy, then I must be doing something right.

This train trip is a good idea. Isn’t it…..?

I’m not completely sure…..

Bloody Dirty Pierre.

Train conductor comes over.
Motions to me to stand up and go with him.
He points towards the soft seat, air conditioned carriage.
In broken English, and with hand gestures, he tells me we can sit in there instead.
For extra money of course.

Thank you, but no thank you.

How would I explain it to Dirty Pierre….?

I go back to my seat.

The boy looks at me. Still has that look on his face.

“What did he say to you?” he scowls.

“He offered us seats in the other carriage”, I say.

“And?”

“I said no. I told him we’d prefer to stay here”.

That look on his face?

It’s much worse now. Much….worse.

Yep, I must be doing something right…..

Finally, we’re on the move.

Manage to open the window and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Conductor comes back. Motions to me to put my window down. More to the point, the bars / mesh part of the window.

Grrr, don’t recall Dirty Pierre saying anything about this.

Ten minutes goes by and there’s no sign of the conductor. My window is now open again.

Anyway, why are we travelling on this train?

That’s right, the view.

Dirty Pierre raves about it.

And so he should.

It is stunning.

And you can add any more superlatives you like. Just beautiful.

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Photo doesn’t do it justice.
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Still doesn’t do it justice.
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Looking back at Danang in the distance.
Lang Co
Just amazing. 

The first half of the trip is easily the best. Partly due to the scenery and partly due to the fact that your bottom is not yet painful. Those seats are hard.

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The seats were starting to take their toll.

The second half is not as scenic but still interesting.

Worth the sore bum?

Absolutely. Not sure I’d do it again but extremely glad we did it. A life experience.

The kids may have a slightly different opinion….

You’re off the hook Pierre. Thanks for the recommendation!

Finally pull into Hue and off we get.

Walk around the corner……arrrgghhh……50 taxi drivers.

Bugger this, be assertive.

Older bloke in a Mai Linh uniform. He’s my man. We’re off.

Short trip into town (which I knew it would be as our helpful travel agent in Hoi An had printed a map for me showing the station and our hotel. Made sure our taxi driver saw it as well…) and we arrived at the New Star Hotel.

Quick check in and then it was off to have a look around Hue……while the kids stayed in their room….

Walked out the front door…..”Want a cyclo ride?” No thanks.
Walked around the corner…..”Want a motorbike ride?” No thanks.
Walked down to the river…..”Want a boat ride?” No thanks.

Not sure why I thought Hue would be any different…..

Ended up at the DMZ Hotel for a fruit smoothie and a little respite from the heat.

On the way back to the hotel we found a travel agent and took a chance.

The only thing we really had in mind to do while we were in Hue was the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

Turns out we had two options.
One, a group tour that included the tunnels, Khe Sanh, Ho Chi Minh Trail, a couple of bridges and several other places. The bus left at 6.00am and returned 12 hours later.
That is a loooong day. No thanks.

Or two, a private car to the tunnels and a stop at the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River. Could leave at whatever time we wanted and the trip would take around 6 hours.
Much better idea. Tour booked for the next day!

That night we had dinner at a place around the corner. Can’t remember that name of it.
Don’t want to remember the name of it. Trying to put it out of my mind.
Apart from the hamburgers we had at Vin Pearl Island it was the worst meal I had in Vietnam.

It’s funny how things work out. One of the reasons we did this trip was to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
And what day was our anniversary?
Yep, that particular night.

Memorable for all the wrong reasons…..

Fortunately I survived the night and we were able to set off on our trip to Vinh Moc.
This required a bit of time on the dreaded Highway One. Interesting experience.

enroute to Vinh Moc tunnels
This little piggy went to market…!
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Fish drying in the sun. Oh my, the smell!

This particular stretch of Highway One is in the process of being widened to two lanes either way.
The result of this is that travel is extremely slow. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing.
Less likely to have a head on with a bus……?

Anyway, it was a long trip – around 2.5 hours.

Arriving at the tunnels we were taken in to a building to watch a 20 minute video on the history of the area. Once that was done it was time to go underground. Well three of us would do that. Someone’s claustrophobia kicked in before we even got there and, not mentioning any names……Lisa….., decided to stay above ground.

The tunnels were nothing like Cu Chi. You could actually walk through them reasonably comfortably. Most of the time they would be a little under 6 feet high and there were parts that were a little higher than that. Our guide was very informative and I found the whole thing very interesting. It really was remarkable what the locals managed to achieve all those years ago.

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If it looks cramped, it’s because it is.

On the way back we stopped at the Hien Luong Bridge. This is the bridge that separated the north from the south. There’s not much there but it was well worth a look.

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Had to resort to a selfie as no-one would come with me!  Note the bridge changes colour half way across.

Finally back in Hue we had time to relax by the pool. Apart from walking through the tunnels we hadn’t really done much but it was nice to be able to have some down time. Again, it’s the travel that wears you out.

So the verdict on the tunnels?

Very interesting and happy I saw them. But….it is around 5 hours of car travel. I’m not totally convinced it’s worth it.

Went back and saw our travel agent friend who suggested hiring push bikes and taking a boat ride up the Perfume River.
Seemed like a good idea for the following day.

Out for dinner again that night, at a different restaurant this time, and we were back on track in the food department. Much happier!

After picking up the bikes the next morning we headed down to the river.
The plan was take the boat to Thien Mu Pagoda and then back on the boat to Minh Mang Tomb. We would then go by bike to Khai Dinh Tomb, then on to Tu Duc Tomb and then make our way back to Hue.

Our travel agent had even given us a map so we wouldn’t get lost.

Unfortunately, the map was one that he had drawn.

For some reason I didn’t hear the alarm bells…..

So the boat trip. It started well and we were soon at our first stop. Lots of history and plenty of photo opportunities.

Thien Mu Pagoda - 7 storeys for 7 gods
Thien Mu Pagoda

We then stopped at some other temple/pagoda thing (wasn’t on the map), and had to pay for the privilege. Now I have no issue paying to see something. But something has to be there that is worth seeing. There wasn’t.
Back on the boat again and we were headed towards Minh Mang Tomb. Shouldn’t take too long I thought…..looking at my hand drawn map.

Map lied.

It seemed to take forever. And all I could think of was how long the bike trip back was going to take.

Finally arrived at our stop and somehow managed to get the bikes off the boat without falling in the river.

Found the tomb and…….cracked it. Yep, cracked it.

Had decided I’d had enough.
The boat trip annoyed the ….. out of me, the kids were starting to do the same, it was stinking hot, I was sick of putting my hand in my pocket and the “good” quality bikes (travel agent’s words…) were……not. Yep,…..cracked it.

So out with the trusty map to work out how to make our way back.

Five minutes later I’m not convinced we’re going in the right direction.

Stop. Ask someone. Concerns realised.

I now have an urge to do something nasty to our travel agent.

Back on track we continue. Until we get to another intersection.

Time to ask for directions again.

Lisa is now not very happy. Her knees hurt.
The girl has cracked it worse than me. Toys have been thrown from the cot…..
The boy is actually going along ok. He does however have the best bike.
And me? At this point the travel agent is in great danger.

Happy days……

about 30 degrees, kids no hats. Riding back to Hue
Hot, sweaty and annoyed.  Me; I’m hot, sweaty and REALLY annoyed.

Eventually we get back to town.

Fortunately for the travel agent, and me, he is not there.

Off for some lunch and a cold drink to cool, and calm, down.

The next morning we (no kids…..surprisingly…) headed off to look at the The Citadel.
We planned on walking in the general direction and perhaps picking up a taxi when one went passed. Before that could happen though we had a guy on a motorbike offer, actually, insist we use him and his mate to get us there.

Oh well, bit more interesting than a taxi.

The Citadel – what an amazing place. It is massive.

We didn’t organise a guide, and in hindsight we should have. I think we would have gotten far more out of it. Still, interesting none the less.

16 Citadel entrance
The Citadel.

Got back to the hotel and started packing up. We had a mid afternoon flight to Hanoi.
Incidentally, this was the only internal flight that had a time change and that had happened a month before we left.

A quick lunch and we were off to the airport. The private transfer had been arranged by our travel agent mate. And he even managed to balls that one up. Sent us a four seater when he intimated that it would be a seven seater.

So my opinion on Hue?

My initial opinion was that I didn’t really like it.
But I’m now unsure as to why that is. It may just be me.

I had no preconceived ideas about the place and didn’t really have anything planned apart from probably seeing the tunnels.

I think I was surprised by what I found when we first arrived. I didn’t know what to expect but it wasn’t what I expected. If that makes sense…..?

I was surprised by the number of tourists there. And in particular, the type of tourist. They seemed very young and Hue to me doesn’t come across as a young persons’ place. Maybe it was just the area where we were staying?

For a place that has so much history, I found it a little characterless.
Big wide roads (in parts) with large uninteresting buildings.

I don’t know, it just didn’t grab me.

Like I said, it’s probably just me.

Anyway, waffled on too long again.

Till the next one,

Scott

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Guy on the right is blind. His mate helps him beg for money….
dried squid...
One of the sellers at the half way mark on the train trip. Think it’s dried squid…
leaving Citadel.
It will be transported, whichever way!
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The Citadel. It’s huge.
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Yep, it’s quite gold in colour.
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The Citadel.

 

 

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #4

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!

Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is Trip Report #4…

25-30 September 2014

So, time to leave Nha Trang and the Carpe DM hotel.

The hotel?

Good hotel. Spacious rooms and very clean and tidy. Location was also good with no noise from the street. Although, there is a bit of noise from behind the hotel in the morning. It backs onto, I believe, some sort of army / airforce base, which during the day is no problem at all. No noise apart from occasional games of soccer / football being played by groups of young men. Like I said, no problem at all.

But, in the morning, some kind of music is played over the loud speakers. A short blast at 5.00am followed by a much, much longer rendition at 6.00am. It’s not terribly appealing music either. With the windows shut it’s barely noticeable but if they’re their open, well….you’re going to be up in a hurry to close them.

I can’t really say that I’d stay here again, only because I wouldn’t visit Nha Trang again, so I’ll just say that I would recommend it. So….., helpful staff, good location, good size rooms. And very affordable. Recommended.

Anyway, our pre-arranged private transfer back to the airport arrived and we were off for our flight to Danang.

As it turned out, it was the same driver that had delivered us to the hotel a few days earlier.

Seemed like a nice enough guy but this particular morning he was either in a hurry or he’d had a really bad start to his day.

Umm, the best word to describe his driving? Downright dangerous!

On the plus side, we made good time. The down side, I had to change my pants when we got there.

Really was appalling and the hotel was notified of our concerns.

After another uneventful flight with Vietnam Airlines, we arrived in Danang. Promptly met by our driver, we began the drive to Hoi An to spend the next 5 nights.

I was interested to see what Danang was like. I’d read before we left that Danang is “just” another city. Now it’s unfair to have too much of an opinion on a place you are merely driving through, but it does seem to be just that, another big city. Apart from a pretty big impressive bridge, there wasn’t much else going on. Even on the outskirts on the main road to Hoi An there wasn’t much to see. I knew the beach was to my left, and pretty close, but you can’t see it. There seemed to be kilometres of fencing clad with building companies and resort names on it. The type of fence they put up when they’re building, or about to begin building.
I get the feeling there will be a lot more resorts here in a few years’ time.

We arrived in Hoi An late morning and checked into our hotel – The Hoi An Lantern Hotel.

First impression as we pulled up?

Wow! What a great looking place. Heaps of character.

VN9-001
Such character!

Inside we were given cool drinks and made to feel extremely welcome.

Taken to our rooms; kids again had their own – woohoo!; and our first impressions were still on the money.

Not big rooms, but big enough. Very happy with our choice.

Time for lunch so we headed into town for something to eat. And a bit of a look.

The place seemed very quiet; not a lot of people around. It wasn’t until later that we found out why. Hoi An virtually goes to sleep at lunchtime.

VN9-017
The streets look completely different during the day, compared to at night…!

Understandable when you see what time they start, what time they finish and how hard they work.

So, our first day was spent walking around exploring.
This was done both with the kids (if there was something in it for them, like food or an ice cream) and without the kids.
Still frustrated and annoyed by this at this stage but getting to the point where it really wasn’t worth the fight.

VN9-012
A random guy in the street offered to take our photo.  While smiling, I was also ready to start running if he took off with our camera…
HA ferry
Little local ferry.

Met the lady at the “shop” a couple of doors down who sells beer, soft drink, chips etc. She tried to charge me more for cans of Coke after she had told me the price. I questioned her and she quickly apologised.

I smiled, she smiled (sheepishly) and all was good.

Now this is one of those little things that you remember. Those little things that end up being special moments.

I could have decided then that I wouldn’t return to her because she had tried to rip me off.
Instead, I went back again later to make another purchase. She remembered me.
She added up my purchases and it came to something like 97 000 dong.  I gave her 100 000 and she went to give me change. I told her to keep it. She seemed surprised but very appreciative.

I continued to return to her at least twice a day and there were times when she gave me a token discount.

We developed a relationship over the time we were there and she got to know our family and we got to know hers. Whenever we walked past she would wave and say hello.

Like I said, it was just one of those little things but it is something I will remember.

Our first full day (which happened to be a Saturday – AFL Grand Final day as well) we did much the same as the day before. Spent a fair bit of time walking around the Ancient Town; which incidentally took us a while to actually figure out where it started; where Lisa got sucked into having a dress made. She also had her first experience at bartering for things.

Let me just say……she’s not very good at it.

Had lunch at the hotel (to appease the kids) which was nice but not something I really enjoy doing. Much prefer to be out and about.

Saw a few minutes of the Grand Final and then had a swim in the pool.

pool at HA Lantern
A lazy afternoon.

So, around 24 hours into our Hoi An stay, I have to say I was a little disappointed.
We had heard so much about the place – all positive – and had spoken to people who, when they visited Vietnam, only ever stayed in Hoi An exclusively.

Maybe I was expecting too much. At this point, I didn’t really get it.

And the street hawkers and shop owners were starting to get to me a little.

That night we ventured back into town. As we entered, it seemed different.

There were more people around and the place was lit up.

It was more vibrant.

We found the bridge that takes you across to the island so we headed over there.

We found the night market which is set up down the middle of the road.

The people. The activity. The lights. Yep, the lights!

Wow!

It was like we’d come to another place.

VN10-102
Perhaps what Hoi An is best known for.
VN10-108
Happy kids and Lisa.

Spent some time walking around the market and it was here that I found out, that while Lisa struggles with the bartering thing, I’m actually not too bad. It was more by accident than anything.

I picked up a little Buddha for a closer look and the stall owner pounced.

Offered me a price.
I put it down and said I was just looking. (Bare in mind that up until this point we hadn’t really bought anything. We were still only a week in and we didn’t want to be lugging stuff around for another 3 weeks)
He came back with a lower price.
I said no, I was just looking and wasn’t interested.
He came back with yet another price as I was walking away.
Thank you, but no thanks…..again.
As I kept walking he came back with yet another price.
This one made me stop. Too good to refuse so I bought it…..even though I really didn’t want to.

I enjoyed it. It was fun.

Lisa and the girl were in their element too. So many things to look at. So much to buy.

Unfortunately the girl follows in her Mum’s footsteps when it comes to bartering.

After my Buddha experience, I was promptly made Chief Barterer person.

I had read that it’s best to do it with a smile. Be light hearted about it and have some fun with the whole thing.

It’s true. I had many laughs along the way.

Had some dinner near the market and just spent more time wondering around people watching. It was a great night.

VN10-111
The Japanese covered bridge, lit up at night.

When we got back to the hotel I said to Lisa that I now ‘got’ Hoi An. I now knew why people raved about it.

Yes, it’s very touristy, but it has character. And class.

The other thing that I think it has, and is probably the reason some people spend time only in Hoi An, is that it’s easy.
Plenty of tourists to interact with, plenty of English speaking locals and none of the intimidating traffic that HCMC and Hanoi has.

It is an easy option. But there is something about the place.

The next day we visited My Son.
Did the bus – My Son tour – boat back to Hoi An thing.
Very interesting place and I think it helped that we had a guide that was extremely passionate about it.

VN10.41-001
My Son
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While it’s been cleared, you can see how easily My Son could be swallowed up by the jungle.
VN10-053
Boat ride back from My Son.

Arrived back at the hotel mid afternoon and relaxed in the pool for a bit before going back into town for dinner.

Next morning I was up early and back in town just after 6.30am. I’d been told watching the local traders setting up their market stalls was worth a look.

Worth the early start?

Absolutely!

Amazing sights.

Amazing energy.

Not some contrived touristy thing. Just real life. So interesting.

The fruit, the vegetables, the seafood, the meat. The smells.

People going about their lives.

Fascinating.

VN11-004
Eating while working.
VN11-001
Love a Vietnamese market!

Loved every minute of it and felt sorry for Lisa and the kids who were back in bed still sleeping.

Oh well, their loss.

Finally got back to the hotel and it was decided we would spend the day at Cua Dai beach.
Hired bikes from the family next door to the hotel (20 000 dong each) and we set off for a leisurely ride.
Took us 15 – 20 minutes; we weren’t going quick; and as we approached the beach we were directed to a shelter shed on the left side of the road.
You aren’t allowed to take the bikes to the beach itself, you have to leave them here apparently.
We locked the bikes together and paid the storage fee (5000 dong per bike…..I think…)

Headed over to the beach, hired deck chairs, had some lunch and spent several hours there.
Lovely beach with a great view and it was nice to have some down time.

VN11-022
Cua Dai beach.  Didn’t realise it at the time, but sand erosion was becoming an issue.  Apparently, and unfortunately, it looks vastly different now…
bike ride back to HA
After cooling off at the beach, it was time for the hot ride back.

Later in the afternoon went and organised the train tickets to Hue with a travel agent down the road. It was the same agent that we had used for the My Son tour. The young girl was extremely helpful and nothing was too much trouble.

Although she couldn’t for the life of her understand, firstly, why we wanted to go by train and not bus, and secondly, why I insisted that we have tickets for the hard seat carriage.

I think she thought I had something wrong with me.

I stood my ground (had Dirty Pierre constantly on my mind – couldn’t let him down….) and eventually convinced her that I was quite, well reasonably anyway, sane.

Our last full day in Hoi An was spent, initially, hanging around the market watching one of the stall holders plucking hairs out of various parts of Lisa.

Not for the first time she had been ‘lured’ in. Slow learner……

Oh well, it gave me an opportunity to try what I thought might be impossible – find size 12 thongs (flip flops for the non Aussies apparently….) for the boy. His broke the day before.

Well, took a while, but achieved the ‘impossible’.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and people watching with the now slightly less hairy Lisa.

Our Hoi An adventure had come to an end and the following day it was time to make our way to Hue.

I intended to do Hoi An and Hue together but the Hoi An story has gotten a little out of hand.

It will have to be in instalment 5.

Cheers,

Scott

morning market HA
The colours, the smells, the vibrancy!

 

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #3

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!

Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is Trip Report #3…

 

23-25 September 2014

Time to leave the Mekong. And that wasn’t easy.

What was even harder was saying goodbye to the people.

Not just the locals, but the people – now friends – who had made our stay over the previous 2 nights so enjoyable.

So memorable.

One last bike ride to soak it all in before our taxi arrived at 11.00am to take us back to Can Tho.

Xeo Tre village
Because it’s so flat, the Mekong is a great place to ride around.
rice drying - Xeo Tre village
Rice drying in the sun.
Xeo Tre village
Vietnamese power pole….

A final piece of advice from our host, Thy –

“Go straight into the bus office / station when you get there and ignore anyone who offers to take your bags. They will try and take you to another bus.”

Well, what do you reckon happened when we got there….?

Good advice as it turned out.

So the plan was bus to the bus station in HCMC, then shuttle bus to the bus office followed by taxi to the airport.

Plan went well until we got to the bus station.

Couldn’t see our ‘saviour’ from earlier in the week.
And couldn’t work out where the shuttle bus left from.

Added to that, the stress levels were beginning to rise as 300 taxi drivers (ok, maybe not that many……felt like it though) vied for our business.

So, thinking on the run…..

1. We need to get out of here.
2. Time is running out to get to the airport.
3. Forget the shuttle bus – we’ll taxi it from here.

Trip Advisor posts appear in my mind……”Only Vinasun or Mai Linh…..”

Scanning the ‘mayhem’ in front of me – no green & white or red and white cars.

Gulp…..

Then off to the side……a Mai Linh uniform.

Saved!

Before he can say “Taxi?”; I’ve nodded and said yes.

We’re on our way.

(The reason for the original idea of getting the shuttle bus to the bus office, was to save a few dollars on the taxi fare. I can’t remember exactly how much the fare ended up being but I think it was around 150 000 dong? Seriously, in the whole scheme of things, sometimes it’s just easier to pay an extra dollar or two for the convenience.)

Uneventful taxi trip. Uneventful flight to Nha Trang.

Arrived Cam Ranh airport.

Assumed, for some reason, it may have been called Nha Trang airport.

There’s a reason for that. It ain’t in Nha Trang. It’s miles from it. (Possibly a little spoilt with HCMC airport’s proximity….)

Anyway, 45 minutes later (on a freeway and over a mountain) we arrive in Nha Trang proper.

It’s now around 8.00pm. We’ve been on the go since 11.00am. We’re stuffed.

Who said travel in Vietnam was slow…..?
Who said travel in Vietnam was tiring…..?

Turning off the street and into a laneway (fortunately I had read on TA that the hotel was down several laneways. If I hadn’t remembered that, I may have been a little concerned) we made it to our hotel for the next 3 nights – Carpe DM.

NT alley way to our hotel at end
The laneway to Carpe DM.   All the way down the end on the right.

A quick unpack; kids have their own room – much better idea; and we’re out to find somewhere to have dinner.

Back out along the laneways (hoping I can remember the way back later…) and we find a nice little restaurant down another laneway.

Bit of a walk around after dinner to see what’s around and to get our bearings.

An hour later I have an opinion on Nha Trang. To be fair I decide to keep an open mind until I’ve given it a bit more time.

First full day and Lisa and I go for a walk.

Kids are still in bed. Ummph, who would have thought….

Check out the beach, the sights, the town.

Nha Trang beach
Nha Trang – reminds me very much of Australia’s Gold Coast.

Mind is starting to close…..

On our round-about walk back to the hotel we find ourselves walking up a street that seems different. It’s not immediately obvious to me why. Then it hits me.

It’s like a Vietnamese street!

It’s full of local Vietnamese people.

No tourists. No tourist signs.

It just looks like a street you’d expect to see in Vietnam.

I like it. It feels right.

Mind opens a little. Just a little.

So after a quick bite to eat, and a couple of fruit smoothies (which Lisa manages to knock over, yes both…. – all over the table….and the floor….. waitress now really loves us…..) we head back to get the kids so we can spend some time at the beach.

They should be happy with this scenario. They had both said a couple of days earlier, that rather than walking around looking at sights, they would prefer to just go and spend a day at the beach.

Back to the hotel – kids still in bed…..surprise, surprise – we tell them of our plan for the day.

The response?

Ohhhh, do we have to?

This is the point where I count to ten.

This is also the point at which I realise that my head and that brick wall are going to get sick of coming together.

We did eventually get to the beach. And guess what? They had fun.

Who would have thought……

Day 2 – off to VinPearl Island.

Quick taxi trip and then hand over more dong than I have all week to the lovely girls at the main entrance.

This better be good.

Into the cable car to get across to the island.

The cable car is good. Great views of the island and of Nha Trang itself.

Finally on the island. It now occurs to me that I actually don’t know what VinPearl Island is.

So what is it?

It’s a theme park. It has rides, waterslides, an aquarium, a sandy beach and lots of tourists.

VP island rollercoaster
Never too old for a rollercoaster!

Just what I came to Vietnam to see……

Any good?

It’s alright. Bit of fun…..in between walking up the 200 steps of each waterslide….
And those steps are the hardest, sharpest and most uncomfortable things you can walk bare foot on……

Nha Trang
Looking back from Vin Pearl.
VP island
Yes, they are smiling!  No, really, they are!

But really, it’s just a theme park. And you can do that anywhere in the world.

And Nha Trang? And my open and closed mind….?

If you want beach, if you want to be around lots of other people just like you, if you like loud music, loud cars, tacky, garish lights. Then you’re going to love Nha Trang.

It reminded me of Australia’s Gold Coast

I even got the feeling that the locals weren’t that happy there.

And why I feel that way?

I sensed that the tourists didn’t really interact with them. The locals received nothing from them and as such tended not to give anything back.
Even walking back through the laneways to Carpe DM the locals tended not to make eye contact.
This actually made me work harder at making an effort, with varying degrees of success.

I just found it all a little sad.

Oh well, nice to see / experience I suppose but I wouldn’t go back.

But really, it comes down to what you’re looking for.

Next day we returned to that far away airport for a flight to Danang.

And ultimately Hoi An.

Happier days to come…….but you’ll have to wait till I write that one.

Cheers,

Scott

Mekong river
Contrasts of the Mekong.
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Fascinates me!

On our way back from Vin Pearl we walked past this building with a small crowd gathered at the front.  Workers were in the process of demolishing it, and it was being done in a very Vietnamese way.  It was both interesting and entertaining!

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #2

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!

Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is Trip Report #2…

 

21-23 September 2014

On only our second full day it was time to say goodbye to HCMC and make our way to Can Tho to explore some of the Mekong.

Therefore it was also time to say goodbye to the Bizu hotel and it’s friendly staff.

Why did we choose the Bizu?

The main reason was that it was one of the few places we found that would sleep four in the one room.

Back then we thought it would be nice to spend some quality time together as a family.

It didn’t take long for that concept to wear thin….

The hotel was nice, and as I said, the staff very friendly and helpful.
The room was a good size and had good views of the city and the street below.
Breakfast was in the building next door and was reasonable.

Gripes?

One.

It used the key tag in the wall arrangement.
Tag not in wall = no electricity.
No problem with that……however…..the fridge (with my beer in it) also switched off.

Problem with that?

Big problem!

34°C and 99% humidity.

Yep, big problem….

All in all, pretty happy with Bizu, but in hindsight, probably wouldn’t have stayed there if we knew what sort of area it was in; bit backpacker-ish.

Anyway, back to making our way to Can Tho.

We’d booked tickets for the bus (incidentally through the hotel late in the afternoon the day before. Cu Chi tour was also booked this way) which was due to leave the bus station at 10.00am.
This meant we needed to be at the bus office, from memory, around 8.30am to allow plenty of time to take the shuttle bus to the station.
Taxi arrived as requested and we made it to the bus station with plenty of time to spare.
In fact, we got there at 8.50am.
Bit of a wait ahead of us.

So, a public bus.

No easy private transfer this time.

Back to that deep end….

The bus station.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Not many people out here.  But in the waiting room…

Crowded. Noisy. Very local. Not too many tourists here.

Not confident of receiving much help either.

Suspect language barrier may be more like a wall.

Anyway…., enter a 60 ish year old bus line employee.

Wants to see our tickets.

Him – “Your bus is not until 10.00am. You have an hour to wait.”

Me – “Yeah, I know. That’s Ok.”

Him – “Ok, well just wait here and I will come and get you when it’s time.”

Me – (very surprised and very relieved) “Thank you!”

Five minutes later…..

Our ‘saviour’ returns.

Him – Pointing at the bus outside – “That’s the 9.00am bus to Can Tho. It’s not full and you can catch that one if you like?”

Me – “Absolutely! Thank you very, very much!”

What a gem of a find. A gem of a man! So unexpected.

I will remember him for a long time.

Now on our way.

The bus trip?

I really enjoyed it.
A great way to see the countryside as well as some really interesting things.

After a pit stop half way for a toilet break and a chance to have something to eat and drink, we arrived in Can Tho around 3 1/2 hours later.

A taxi met us at the bus stop (kindly organised by Green Village Homestay) to take us to our accommodation for the next 2 nights.

Green Village
Finally arrived!
path to Green Village
The path to Green Village!

Entering Green Village along a path, lined by banana palms, that leads from the road, I again wondered we’d gotten ourselves in to.

I also wondered what the kids thought.

Note; it was still early days into our holiday and at this point I did still care…..

Anyway, needn’t have worried.

Introduced to our host, Thy, and her housekeepers, we immediately felt welcomed and right at home.

wearing Non Las - Green Village
About to head off for a walk after just arriving.  Not really pulling off the Non-La (hat) thing…

Our accommodation was a bamboo hut with 2 double beds, a bathroom, mosquito nets, a fridge, no TV and was surrounded by banana palms and a small creek and pond.

Me? – I thought it was idyllic.

The kids? – There’s no TV. What do you think…..?

So, things we did in the Mekong.

A fair bit.

And not much at all.

And I loved every bit of it.

Green Village
Just a little bit relaxed!

Up early one morning (kids happy again…..) and off to see the Cai Rang floating market.
We did that in our own small boat with Thy’s cousin Hanh (lovely girl and a great tour guide) and Thy’s housekeeper driving the boat.
A wonderful experience full of incredible sights.
We all felt like we were right in amongst it and hardly saw another tourist in the process.

Cai Rang Market
The pole shows what’s being sold on each boat.
Cai Rang Market
Cai Rang floating market.

The other great thing about the day?

Just being able to sit and talk with Hanh. To find out about her life and the lives of locals.

It was a fantastic insight and we felt like friends, not just guests.

Bike riding –

Mostly just me, but sometimes with Lisa, and occasionally with the kids.

Riding along roads or paths beside rivers, the number of kids that ran out yelling “Hello” and “What your name?” was incredible.
Their enthusiasm and happiness was amazing.
It was just a joy to interact with them and we even managed a couple of photos with some of them. They also loved looking at their image on the camera as well.

Another bike riding experience –

Riding late one afternoon on my own.
A motorbike, carrying 2 males, rides towards me. It slows, does a U-turn and pulls up beside me.

The younger guy on the back is from the Philippines and speaks English well; but not Vietnamese. He seems very happy to meet me. The older guy driving is a local and English is not his thing; not surprisingly his Vietnamese is very good.
He also seems happy to see me.
Anyway, with a bit of translating going on, I am invited back to the older guy’s home for iced tea.
What an invitation!
And as far as I was concerned, an invitation that couldn’t be refused.

So, 10 minutes later I’m sitting in his house.

It turns out that the young guy, Tyler, moved to South Korea for work. He works with the older guy’s daughter and is now going out with her. They are on holidays and she has brought him back to meet her parents.

So here he is, a Philippino who works in South Korea, visiting his Vietnamese girlfriend’s parents for the first time, in a small country town in the south of Vietnam, drinking iced tea with an Aussie, who minutes earlier, had been riding a girls bike with a basket on the front.

And the reason he was so happy to meet me?

Because for the first time in almost a week he was able to speak English with someone.
What about his girlfriend?

No English. They speak Korean with each other.

Just a surreal experience.

And a brilliant one!

And one other memorable moment.

Maybe not a highlight though…..
One night Hanh offered to show us the sights of Can Tho. Following this we picked a restaurant to have dinner.

It was around this time that the boy began to feel unwell.

It wasn’t long before his stomach was no longer able to contain its contents.

Hanh was quite concerned and phoned Thy back at Green Village. She suggested we visit a doctor and even came into town with her husband to assist us.
(She really is an amazingly caring and generous person.)

It seemed a little extreme (I normally just send him to bed with a bucket) but maybe she knew something we didn’t.
Anyway, the doctor looked at him and suggested we go to hospital.

Can Tho doctor's surgery!
The boy was a little unwell…

Still thought it was unnecessary but a doubt was now in my mind.

So off to visit our first Vietnamese hospital.

And how did we find it?

Ummm, we’ll call it interesting….

Ahead of us in the waiting line was a guy that may, or may not, have now learned that thongs are not really an appropriate form of footwear on a motorbike.

And also, several young men covered in varying amounts of blood.
Suspect not all of their own.
Apparently there had been some sort of altercation.
And apparently both parties were there.

Hmmm, like I said, interesting…..

Anyway, Thy spoke to the doctor who told her it would be some time before the boy could be seen. He suggested another hospital.

It was at this point that my suggestion won through.

Bed and bucket it was to be.

Luckily, he woke up fine the next morning.

Which was really fortunate, as we were leaving Can Tho for HCMC by return bus. This was then to be followed by a taxi to the airport and then a flight to Nha Trang.

A long day ahead.

But that will need to be in the next instalment.

So my opinion of Green Village?

Loved it!

Would stay there again in a heartbeat.

Not just for the location but for the people there. Thy, her husband, Hanh and her housekeepers.

Just wonderful, genuine, caring people.

Till next time.

Cheers,

Scott