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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.

VN13-003
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

Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #1

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 where it all began…

 

19-20 September 2014

Ok, Trip Report time.

Trip Report doesn’t sound exciting enough. Sounds mundane….

Maybe “Summary of an Incredible Adventure”?

Call it whatever…

So, a quick summary of how we ended up here.

Around 18 months ago some friends, who had visited Vietnam previously, suggested that we should all go tour Vietnam together.
Lisa, with a couple of wines under her belt, says, “What a great idea!”

Well over the next 12 months not a lot of progress is made. The friends decide they can no longer go and we realise that with kid’s sport / school we really only have a small window of opportunity to do this. And that window is the beginning of September to mid October.

Lisa wants to do an organised tour.

I don’t think I like that idea.

My problem however, is I know nothing about Vietnam. I don’t know where it is on a map and I don’t even know what the country looks like. It was time to start researching.

And this seemed an incredibly daunting prospect. Made even more daunting by the fact that I had never been overseas in my life.

Vietnam?

Was it really a wise choice to use as my very first overseas journey?

Well, I was going to find out, as I made my way towards the deep end….

So after countless hours on the computer, pretty much all of them on this website, and more reading than I ever did in school, it started to feel a little less daunting.

So much so, that the idea of a guided tour just seemed to be an unnecessary thing. The extra money wasn’t the issue. It was the thought of being lead around by a guide, with a group of others like us, spending a predetermined amount of time at a predetermined place.

I wanted a bit more of a say in what we did. And when we did it.

Once a very rough itinerary was pencilled down it was time to book the flights.

Days available, price and stopover time lead us to book with Malaysia Airlines.

Then MH17 happened.

Which was after MH370.

Concerned?

Thought crossed my mind once or twice….

But like putting your money on the wrong horse before the race; you don’t change it.

Now finally, the trip….

Left Melbourne at 12.05am on 19 September bound for HCMC with a short stopover in Kuala Lumpur.
Thankfully, a pretty uneventful flight.

KL
Looking slightly the worse for wear at KL airport.

Arrived HCMC around 12.00pm on a Friday.

After clearing Customs (gee they’re a happy bunch….) we were met in the terminal by our pre-arranged driver. It was a nice feeling not having to worry about potential taxi issues.

So, the drive to the hotel.

I expected, from what I’d read, been told, seen briefly on a short Youtube clip, HCMC to be busy. To be crowded. To be noisy.

It was all of those things. But about 10 times what I expected.

I was blown away.

After checking into the hotel it was time to venture out. And after seeing what I had just seen, I actually wasn’t really looking forward to doing that. And I knew Lisa and the kids were also a little concerned. Scared even.

HCMC Bizu. Stunned.
Nervous, apprehensive, terrified.  Yep.  Not that keen about heading outside.
HCMC from Bizu hotel
Perhaps the reason for the apprehension….

Anyway, off we went. That deep end again…..

Wow! Just Wow!

The people, the bikes, the cars, the noise, the smells.

Almost overwhelming.

And then added to all that, the cyclo drivers, amongst other vendors. It was at this point all the TA advice I’d read came flooding back. It was, at times, quite intimidating. Fortunately I felt reasonably equipped, information wise

Anyway, we just walked. Not sure where, but after consulting our map, we found we weren’t far from the War Remnants Museum. We took the opportunity to have a look. Very interesting place and well worth a visit. Some of the photos are a little hard to look at. Very moving.

 

WRM
War Remnants Museum

Time to head back to the hotel. I don’t know how long it took us but it took far longer than it should have. Walking in the wrong direction will cause that. We got lost. A lot. But it was all good fun. Sort of….

I think by the time we got back, if someone had been standing there with return tickets to Melbourne, we may have taken them.

Completely, and utterly overawed by the whole experience.

An hour later we were back downstairs in front of our hotel. We had a booking with XO Tours for a Foodie tour.

What the vast majority of people say about this tour on TA is absolutely spot on. It is a wonderful experience.

So friendly, so professional, so well run. So much fun.

It’s one of the more expensive things you’ll do in Vietnam, especially when there’s four of you, but it is worth it. And the kids loved it too.

If you’re in HCMC, just do it!

HCMC XO foodie tour
The rain just added to the experience!
HCMC XO foodie tour
Looking glamorous in the ponchos!

So, it had been an interesting first 6 hours.

We had gone from the excitement of having finally arrived in Vietnam, to the “what have we got ourselves into” and “have we made a big mistake”, to a feeling of absolute joy. It really was a fantastic night and a wonderful way to begin our holiday.

Next morning we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. Interesting place to see and certainly worth a visit, but the whole thing seemed to take far longer than it should have.

When we did finally get back to the hotel we just spent the rest of the day relaxing.

And what better way to relax than sitting on the footpath with a beer watching the world go by.

It was a nice way to just soak it all in.

Saigon Bu Vien St
Nice way to finish a day.

The next day it was up early to say goodbye to HCMC.

Our next stop was the Mekong Delta.

Cheers,

Scott

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 18

Ho Chi Minh City – Melbourne

Alarm wakes me up.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

One, it means that I was actually asleep, and two, I still had the ability to actually wake up.

So, how do I feel?

I feel woeful.

Absolutely woeful.

I’d given up on hopefully feeling better, but I hadn’t expected to feel this much worse.

Although, having to spend half an hour on the toilet at 3.30am, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised.

A quick shower, and I force myself to go downstairs for breakfast.

There’s plenty to choose from, and it looks magnificent!

Pho, rice paper seafood rolls, other assorted delicacies, fruit.

There’s just heaps of it, and, appearance wise, it’s probably the best we’ve seen.

But I just can’t stomach it.

The thought of eating any of it just makes me feel sick.

I hate that.

I hate that I feel this way.

The guy who helped us with our bags yesterday, is here in the dining room helping the other guests with their breakfast.

He greets us as we walk in.

“Good morning”, he says, in the most cheerful of ways.

And with the most cheerful of expressions.

And with not an ounce of insincerity.

Gee, I envy ‘morning’ people…..

“Please, would you like to try our pho?”

“Good morning……..ummm, no,……….sorry……..no,…….I can’t……. thank you”, I somehow stammer out.

“Okay, what about our rice paper rolls with prawns?”, as I pick up a slice of bread.

“I’m really sorry, I’d love to, but I just can’t…….. I don’t feel…….”, I try to reply.

He doesn’t really want to hear, ‘no’.

I don’t want to actually say, ‘no’, but I don’t have a choice.

I hate that.

I place my bread in the toaster.

I’m having toast for my last breakfast in Vietnam.

Toast!

I just can’t believe it.

I’m so frustrated. And I’m so disappointed.

It was never meant to finish like this.

I feel like crying…..

I force myself to eat my toast with strawberry jam. It’s hard work.

The breakfast guy comes back.

“Would you like Vietnamese coffee?”, he asks, with his same cheerful manner.

“Uhhhh,……I…….ummm, I can’t. I’m really sorry……., I just….. can’t. I don’t feel well…..”.

I can’t believe it. I can’t even stomach a drink; not even a caphe sua da; a drink that, apart from beer, I have enjoyed more than any other drink while we’ve been here.

I just can’t believe it.

He gives up on me.

I suspect he thinks I’m one of those people that are too scared to try something different. Only interested in eating the same things they eat at home, and not prepared to experience something new.

That hurts me. But I don’t blame him if he does.

He just seems so passionate about his job. He was the same yesterday.

He looks so happy; always has a smile on his face. Nothing ever seems to be too much trouble.

But I think I’ve broken him.

And I really, really hate that.

The agony finally comes to an end, and we head back to the room to complete one of the jobs I least like doing; packing for the final time.

Once done, we head back downstairs and leave our bags at reception.

We still have two hours before we need to make our way to the airport, and as much as I really don’t feel like going outside, I really feel like I need to salvage something from our remaining time.

We head out and make our way up to Tao Dan Park.

The park was also on my list of things to do and see. Mainly for the bird café, but as it’s now 10.00am, I suspect we’ve missed that.

It’s already incredibly hot, which also isn’t helping. Walking the wrong way at one point, just adds to it.

Damn maps…..

Finally, we get to the park.

It’s nice. It’s a little cooler, and it’s kind of calming.

I’m not sure why I think that; maybe it’s just because we’re in HCMC and it’s nice to get away from the traffic and the noise.

Not sure I’ve ever felt that way in a park before.

There’s not too many people around, in fact there are quite possibly more park workers than visitors.

They really do spend a lot of time and effort on keeping their parks looking good. And there really is something about a freshly swept lawn. 😉

IMG_4202
A little weird, but very effective!

We eventually get to the bird café, and yep, as expected, there’s no one really there. Damn it, missed seeing it.

IMG_4203
The Bird Cafe – I’m sure it looks vastly different when the birds are actually there…!

We head back out on to the streets and make our way down to the Bui Vien area for one last look. We also need to find another place that sells those neck pillows.

I can’t go back to the same place from yesterday.

Swallowing food at the moment is an issue; swallowing pride would be worse…..

On the way down, the usual sights come into view, as well as the familiar smells that waft around you, from time to time.

While in the past I’ve found them a little unpleasant, I notice that they’re actually making me feel worse, now.

We get to Bui Vien and drop into a Circle K to get a couple of Cokes. Yep, so many other options, and we end up with Coke…..

We find a souvenir shop a little bit further on, and sure enough, they have neck pillows.

A total of 200 000 dong for two of them, is agreed upon.

So yeah, a good deal, in the end.

Was going to have to pay 180 000 dong yesterday……

We continue down Bui Vien and then start making our way back towards the hotel. But this time, seeing as we still have a bit of time, we head back the long way.

And yep, once again, the map lets me down. Different city; same result…..

Kind of ironic, in a way. Finishing our 40 something day in Vietnam, just like we did on our very first day in Vietnam 18 months ago, by getting lost.

Yep, even though we’ve come a long way, some things never change……

Map, and or, map reading skills, finally come good and we find our way back.

The air conditioning in the hotel foyer hits you in the same way that the heats does when you go outside. Only difference is that one helps the recuperation process, and the other doesn’t.

We spend the next 20 minutes just relaxing and getting our breath back, while watching the comings and goings of hotel visitors.

Including the local guy wearing a lovely pair of pink shorts, with matching pink shirt. Along with a pair of very unattractive sunglasses.

He looks a million dollars. Well, he thinks he does…..

Finally, the time arrives, and we ask our bubbly doorman / breakfast guy to arrange a taxi for us.

He obliges with a smile, as I’m sure he always does.

I always dread this part. The leaving bit. I hate it.

But this is a bit different. I just want to get it done.

While I’m absolutely dreading the next 15 or so hours; and I mean seriously dreading; to the point of being scared; I actually want to leave.

And I really, really hate that I feel that way.

It worries me, too.

I actually wonder if this will be the last time I visit Vietnam. Will I return as I always thought I would.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

And I hate that, too.

We bid farewell to quite possibly the friendliest hotel staff we’ve encountered, with the final bit of advice that the taxi fare should be no more than 150 000 dong, and we’re on our way.

The traffic is both madness and quintessential HCMC.

It’s fun, but also a little frustrating.

I spend the whole time soaking in the sights, but also wondering if this is the last time I’ll experience it.

Geez, I’m pissed off……

I start to see familiar sights, and quickly (which is a little unusual for; particularly today…..) realise we’re coming up towards the bridge, that goes over the canal, that we were stayed opposite just two weeks earlier.

I think about texting Pierre and telling him to wave to us as we go across.

We should be easy to spot; we’re in a Vinusun taxi!

If you know the bridge, and the traffic, then you’ll realise that I am well and truly taking the urine.

There seem to be three types of vehicles that use that bridge; motorbikes, Mai Linh taxis, and Vinusun taxis.

I end up not bothering. I can’t type that quickly, and I’m not sure I can look down for that long…..

We finally get to the airport, neither scammed nor overcharged, and make our way inside.

The check in for our flight has not yet opened. So we sit and wait. And wait….

Lisa’s happy; she has a book.

I don’t. Not that I’d read it anyway.

Instead, rather than sitting there doing nothing, I decide to go and sit and do ‘nothing’ in the toilets.

I am seriously worried about the next 15 hours, so much so, that I’d even go so far as to say that I was sh*tting myself.

But that would be a particularly bad pun…..

Finally, there’s movement at our check in counter. Mainly on our side of the desk, though, as the queue continues to grow.

Lisa then remembers how much quicker it was, when we left Melbourne, after checking in on line, and then proceeds to do the same on her tablet.

Check in complete, queue avoided, bags dropped.

Hmmm, knew there was a reason I brought her along….

We make our way to smiling, happy people, that are immigration, and make our way to the departure gate.

I’ve never left Tan Son Nhat airport from the international terminal before, but it seems really busy. A little chaotic, even.

A big storm has just hit, and I suspect that that may have something to do with it.

Lisa sits; and reads; as Lisa does, but I can’t.

I walk.

Aimlessly, around the airport.

But aimless walking around an airport, has nothing on aimless walking around Hanoi.

And once again, I wonder if I’ll ever do that again…..

I can’t believe I’m thinking that, and I can’t believe it may well be a possibility.

I’m so pissed off.

Eventually I tire of the sterile nature of the airport, along with the overpriced souvenirs marked in US dollars, and head back to annoy Lisa.

The plane due at our boarding gate, before our flight, has only just arrived. Which is just wonderful…..

Sure enough, a call comes over moving us to another gate.

Just getting better…..

Finally, eventually……., finally, we’re on the plane and up in the air.

Only about 45 minutes late, but feels so much longer.

But then the time watching begins. We only have a couple of hours stopover in Singapore before our flight to Melbourne.

Was all going well, until we ended up in a holding pattern over Singapore….

Eventually they found room for us make our way down to the ground, and once again we were back in quaint little Changi Airport.

Because we’re a little pushed for time, we head straight to the gate that we need.

Much to Lisa’s annoyance…..

She wants something to eat, and when Lisa wants something to eat, well……

I’m happy to get something, even though I really don’t need anything, or want anything, for that matter, but I need to find our gate.

It was a good idea. Well, I thought it was a good idea.

It turns out that it was at the other end of the airport. I’m not sure there were too many gates further on, after ours.

In fact, I think we were now closer to HCMC airport than the gate we landed at…..

Gate found, we head back to feed the disgruntled one. I also partake in some overpriced, and overrated, airport food.

We stop in at one of those airport shops that sell everything, and buy some ridiculously expensive almonds to eat on the plane as a snack.

Still cheaper than what they’d be charging on our low cost carrier service, however.

Almost didn’t happen though; the shop’s eftpos machine wasn’t overly enamoured with Lisa’s eftpos card.

That’s okay, though, I wasn’t overly enamoured with Lisa at that point, either.

The feeling may have been mutual…..

But seriously, it just seemed that everything we did today, seemed to take extraordinarily longer than it should have.

Probably starting at 3.30am this morning……

Finally, back at the gate, and just for good measure, a little more waiting, awaited.

And then!, the boarding call comes.

We let the impatient go, and then make our way up.

I go to place my wallet in a tray to be scanned, and the security guy tells me I can leave it in my pocket.

“Oh, okay”, I think, and walk through, slightly perplexed.

The metal detector alarm goes off.

The security guy comes up to me.

“What do you have in your pocket?”, he says, in a fairly serious tone.

Now just a little bit more perplexed, and wondering if I’m being set up here, I answer, “Ummm, my wallet……???”.

He asks me to take it out, and I then get free ‘pat down’.

I want to tell him we could have saved a bit of time here, but I don’t.

Maybe he just liked me….

It just seems to continue how everything else has gone today, and, to be honest, I’ve given up caring.

Anyway, I actually found it quite funny.

Finally on the plane, finally pushed back, and finally in the air.

Apart from this last leg, the holiday is done.

The two and a half weeks; six months in the planning and thinking; is done.

I can’t believe it.

And at the moment, I’m struggling to remember much of what we’ve done.

I’m annoyed, actually no, I’m angry that something else came along and impacted my enjoyment of something that I’d been looking forward to so much, and for so long.

Yep, I’m really pissed off.

Fortunately, the flight goes better than I thought it would. I actually get a bit of sleep (with the help of my 100 000 dong neck pillow) and also manage to keep away from the smallest room on the plane.

The other passengers have no idea how lucky they were……

We get home without incident; although Lisa was concerned that she should mention to the customs guy (who was surprisingly happy and pleasant), that the shoes that she wore in Pu Luong, ‘may’ have a little dirt on them, even though they didn’t.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

Which, like finding a happy and pleasant customs guy, was kind of surprising….

We get home by 8.00am, and within a few hours, I’m driving the boy down to play football.

What holiday……

Cheers,
Scott

 

Footnote –

So, how did the sickness pan out?

I hoped it would clear up after we returned home.

It didn’t.

I put up with it for another week, before I relented and went to the Doctor’s.

He asked me what I had eaten over there, and where we had eaten.

The street food shocked him, and the snails appalled him.

I was happy with that.

He gave me two choices on how to treat it.

One – I could supply a sample and have it analysed.

I instantly dismissed that, as trying to ‘catch’ it would not only be problematic, it would be downright messy.

Or two – he could prescribe an antibiotic that would kill whatever it was that I had. He suspected that it was just a bug; traveller’s belly, or something; from something that I had eaten. Not actually food poisoning, but some bug or parasite that I’d picked up.

As I wasn’t overly concerned about knowing exactly what it was; as well as not being remotely interested in getting up close and personal with what was coming out of me; I went down the antibiotic path.

A week later, and a fairly long week at that, I was pretty much back to normal.

Well, as normal as I can be…..

IMG_4199
Lisa – smiling or gritting her teeth?
IMG_4201
Happy looking dragon!
IMG_4204
Very manual work, and they do a great job.

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 17a

Waiting for take-off

This is an attachment to the original, Trip Report 17.

It’s the bit that I wrote while sitting on the plane waiting for boarding to be completed.

Feeling far less than average, my tolerance levels weren’t terribly high.

A touch of self pity; in that not believing that this trip was finishing with me feeling as bad as I did; may have had a little bit to do with the way it’s written.

But, it was the way I felt at the time.

 

Thursday May 26, Noi Bai domestic terminal, Hanoi.

Vietnam Airlines flight travelling Hanoi to HCMC. Departure time – 7.00am

6.45am –

We’ve found our way to our seats; 28B and 28C. The emergency exit door, row.

I’ll preface this by saying that I always find it fascinating sitting on a plane, watching all the other passengers getting themselves organised, prior to take off.

And when I say fascinating, you could easily replace that word with amazement, surprise, frustration, annoyance, disbelief, and probably several other words that I can’t think of at the moment.

Yep, I’m continually amazed at how long it takes people to find their seat, put their carry on luggage in the lockers overhead, and then finally sit down.

It really shouldn’t take that long, and judging by the looks on the flight attendant’s faces, they are of the same opinion.

I have much sympathy for them.

So, these were my feelings and observations at the time.

There may have been one or two small edits to what I wrote, but that was just to protect the truly dumb, selfish and / or ignorant.

We’ve already done the ‘queuing’ at security this morning, and as I’ve said before, the Vietnamese don’t do queuing terribly well.

And that’s in general; not just at airports.

But that’s okay, that’s part of them; their culture, if you like. I’m a guest in their country, and that’s something that I’m more than willing to accept, and deal with.

So, sitting here now, watching the usual ‘luggage stuffing’.

Same old, same old…..

But now, it’s the couple with the two kids that have just walked all the way down to the back of the plane; row 36, or something; only to turn around and push their way back to their correct seat, in row 18.

Yep, row 18.

How does that happen….????

Or the bloke that is now shoving his bag, with considerable force I might add, into the locker with no regard to the soft bag, belonging to someone else, that is already there.

But wait, he has another bag to put in there.

Seriously, if he pushes it any harder, he’ll push the bloody thing through the wall of the plane.

This will be the same bloke that would push a kid out of his way, to get off the plane first, if the plane gets into trouble.

I’m sure, in his eyes, he is the only person on this plane at the moment.

I’m struggling to work it out.

I really love the Vietnamese. They’re kind, friendly, generous, and genuinely interested in you, if you give them the opportunity.

It’s one of the reasons I desperately wanted to visit Vietnam again; for the interactions with the locals.

But these ones?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…..

Maybe it’s just that I’m so tired.

Maybe it’s because I just feel so crap.

Maybe it’s because the young mother sitting behind me is allowing her young child to continually kick the back of my seat.

I don’t even have the energy to turn around and make my displeasure known.

And even if I did, I don’t want to make a scene.

Aaaaargh……, it’s been a long day already, and it’s only just begun……

Scott 😦

 

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 17

Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City

The alarm goes off.

It’s loud.

But things are always loud at 4.30am.

My early morning, fuzzy brain, slowly begins to kick in.

First realisation; I feel like crap.

I feel like absolute crap!

My wish from the night before has not come true.

I now feel worse. Significantly worse, too.

Second thought enters my head;

Oh well, at least we go home today.

I’ve had enough and I can’t do this anymore. And while I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to stay any longer; not feeling like this.

Then, the second realisation kicks in.

Aaaargh……we’re not going home today! We still have one more night to go!

We’re flying down to HCMC and we’re catching up with Stefan and Mark (from Sydney), tonight.

It’s something that I’d been so looking forward to, and now, I’m not sure I want to do it.

I’m not sure I actually can, do it.

I’ve been trying so hard to not let this beat me. But I think it has.

And the thought of having to now fight it for another 24 hours, just……, well, it just fills me with dread.

I can’t believe I feel this way, and you really have no idea how much this pisses me off.

I struggle out of bed, and we get ourselves organised.

All packed up, we head down the lift for the final time.

Once again, we wake Sophia and the doorman who are sleeping on the couch.

And once again, I feel guilty about that.

We bid our farewells, thanking them, and apologising, and head outside to our car; which is already there.

Hang Hanh street is dark, and it’s empty. And very, very quiet.

It’s comforting, but slightly sad looking. Maybe even a little eerie….

4.50am, and we’re on our way.

Eighteen months ago, I hated the drive to the airport.

Eighteen months later, it’s worse.

Driving past the lake, and Hanoi is already starting to wake up.

People riding bikes, people walking and jogging, female street sellers wheeling their, fully laden, bikes.

It’s different; strange even. Maybe even surreal.

And it makes me feel sad.

Not sure why.

Partly because of the way I feel? Partly because we’re leaving? Partly because I feel sorry for all these people who are having to start their working day at this hour? (yep, learnt something from the Women’s Museum)

Probably all of those things.

The CD that our driver is playing isn’t helping either.

It’s some sad love song, that while it’s making it worse, seems kind of apt for the situation.

We’re finally out of the Old Quarter; which doesn’t make it better; and I realise something about the car we’re in. While this is a day of ‘final’ things, this car is actually a first.

It’s an automatic!

After a total of six weeks in Vietnam, I don’t think we’ve ever been in an automatic.

No rapid fire changing through the gears from first to fourth, before you’ve hit 35 kilometres per hour.

Yep, on of all days, a first.

Weird…..

We continue on, the Old Quarter now behind us.

Past a flower market that is a hive of activity; the two guys jogging over the very large bridge (no, not dangerous at all…..); as well as the couple doing stretching exercises on the side of the freeway. (no, not dangerous either….)

Before too long, we pull up at the airport, and our driver jumps out and grabs our bag from the boot.

He doesn’t speak English, but he seems like a really nice guy. I do something I don’t normally do. And I’m still not sure why I did it.

I give him a tip. Not much; 20 or 30 000 dong; but yes, I tip him.

Yep, I’m still not sure why.

Maybe because I feel so crap? Maybe because we’ve dragged him out of bed so early, away from his wife and family, to get us to the airport?

He’s surprised by it. But very appreciative.

I give him a smile, and shake his hand. He reciprocates.

Yes, I paid for that little ‘moment’, but it was still a ‘moment’.

Into the airport by 5.25am, and we actually have to wait a few minutes before we can check in.

Bag dropped, we head off to security.

The fun begins….

Yep, that queuing thing.

They just don’t do it well, at all.

And it’s probably impacting me more today. My tolerance level is significantly lower than it normally is.

Finally through to the departure lounge, and because she’s awake, and because she hasn’t eaten since last night, Lisa needs something to eat.

The thought of eating repulses me.

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The gloominess of Noi Bai airport, Hanoi, at 6:15am matched my mood.

Instead, I go off to spend some quality time in the toilets. Yep, the day is just going swimmingly…..

Eventually, the boarding call is made. And as usual, the masses jump up to queue.

And as usual, we don’t.

If I’m going to feel like crap, then I’d rather sit in the terminal for as long as I can.

The queue finally begins to shorten, so we make a move.

In hindsight, I would have been much better off sitting there for a bit longer.

Let’s just say that the ‘boarding’ thing, didn’t go terribly well.

Again, the way I was feeling, was not helping my tolerance levels. Little things, as well as bigger things, were really annoying me.

So much so, that I sat there and began writing a trip report on my phone, for this part of the journey.

I wanted to write it then, so I wouldn’t forget any of it. I also did it because I wanted to look back on it when the dust had settled on our trip, to recall how I truly felt at the time.

Looking at it now, it’s not that pretty, and in fact, it may actually be a little harsh. But it’s how I felt at the time.

I won’t put it in this report, but I will post it somewhere separately. Either here on TA, or just on the blog.

So, anyway, while everyone else was getting themselves organised, we sat there in our emergency row seats. Yep, got the extra legroom again.

But I missed out on the window seat. Damn it; forgot to ask when checking in……

Just not thinking straight.

Finally, finally, finally……, up in the air, and we’re on our way to HCMC. As we begin our descent, we get talking to the English business man sitting next to Lisa.

Yep, amazingly, we found someone like us that was happy for a chat. Nice bloke, too.

The plane eventually pulls up at the gate, and yep, you guessed it, everyone jumps up to get off.

Apart from us, and our English mate. We just looked at each other and conversed without saying a word.

Out of the plane, and bag retrieved, we headed out of the terminal.

No hotel organised transfer this time, it was either going to be a taxi, or the relatively new, yellow number 109 bus.

As we exited, sure enough, there’s the bus over to the right, just past the taxi rank.

Yep, feel like crap, but let’s forgo the comfort of a car, and go with the bus.

Need to add another new experience to the trip, anyway.

Two 20 000 dong tickets purchased from the woman standing outside the bus, and we’re on our way.

There’s not that many on it, but I choose to stand in the middle section with our bag. Bit sick of sitting down, anyway.

The traffic on the way into the city is bedlam. Seriously, even with the occasional stop, I don’t think a car would have been any quicker.

The ride in, goes well, even though the emergency button sounds at one point.

I really need to be aware of what I’m leaning on.

So much for blending in, and trying to remain invisible……

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If you’re not getting the bus, this is one of the recommended taxi companies to use.  The other is Mai Linh.

Half an hour later we pull up at the Ben Thanh market bus station, and head off on foot towards our hotel.

We’re back in District 1, and we certainly know it. The heat, the noise, the hustle and bustle, and the smell. Yep, parts of it have a particular smell.

A 10 minute walk later, and we find our hotel; the Thien Hai.

As we make our way up the stairs to the front door, the doorman; who we find out later does a little bit more than just open and close doors; comes out to help us.

He seems very keen to please, and really goes the extra mile.

We check in with the girl behind the desk; she too comes across as incredibly friendly; and as we expected, our room is not yet ready. It’s still only around 10.00am.

She tells us it will be about an hour.

That’s fine we say, we’ll just sit on the big comfortable couches in the reception area and cool down. I’m exhausted, and anyway, I’m not sure I’m capable of using my legs anymore, at the moment.

Twenty minutes later, she announces that our room is ready.

Wow!

I was impressed the moment we walked in, but they just went up another notch or two.

“Thank you. Thank you, very much!”

We head up to our room, switch the air conditioner on, and collapse on the bed.

I’m knackered, and I just feel like absolute……. You know……

We have a bit of a rest, and then force ourselves to go outside. Have to try and get something out of the day……

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The sights of Ho Chi Minh City.

We head off, with a slight plan. To go and see the area around Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao. But it’s mainly about Bui Vien, because that’s where we spent the very first two nights in Vietnam, on our last trip.

The first two nights we’d ever spent overseas.

And those first couple of days and nights left an indelible mark on my memory, and perhaps even my life.

It was sheer culture shock, and in all honesty, it actually scared me. But I now needed to go back for another look.

We’re on our way, and it doesn’t take long, before it begins.

“Cyclo ride?”, comes the call.

“No thank you”, I call back, with a smile that was more of a grimace.

“Motorbike taxi?”, comes the next one.

Yep, we’re back……

We eventually find Bui Vien.

Damn map…..

It looks different, which I kind of thought it would.

Eighteen months, coupled with, now around 40 day old Vietnam eyes, will do that.

So, how does it look different?

It looks bigger; brighter even. It also seems less intense. Less intimidating. It actually seems friendlier.

So, is it different? Has it changed?

Nup, it’s me that’s changed.

Having said all that, I’m still not a rap for it. It just doesn’t do it, for me.

We grab a couple of Cokes; it’s hot, real hot; and continue down the street. We find ‘our’ hotel from last time, and are a little surprised to see that it’s now known as another name.

Turning down a side street, we head up to Pham Ngu Lao and find a shop selling those aeroplane head / neck pillows. It’s something that we’d planned to buy at the end of our holiday; so we didn’t have to carry them around the whole time; as our flight back is through the night.

I ask the shopkeeper how much.

“100 000 dong’, she says.

Hmmm, okay.

“How much for two?”, I ask, going down the ‘buying in bulk’ path for a better price.

“200 000 dong”, she comes back with.

Well, this is going well….

“150 000?”, I counter offer.

“No. 180 000”, she says.

“Ummm, I’ll think about it”, I say, as we make to walk away.

This’ll get her, she won’t let us walk.

She lets us walk.

Well, that didn’t go as planned…..

We head off……, pillow-less.

Back up Pham Ngu Lao, in the general direction of our hotel, and I almost trip over a street vendor selling bottles of water.

This is extremely fortuitous, as it reminds me that we need more water. And not only are they cheap; 6000 dong for a large one; but they’re also in ice!

And just to top off the experience, she’s incredibly friendly! Which, for some reason, surprises me.

A smile, as well as a ‘cam on’, and we head off.

Time to tick off another thing from our list.

Ben Thanh market.

Yep, never got there last time.

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Ben Thanh Market

I’m not really expecting much, and to be honest, my desire to see it isn’t exactly huge, but it is something that I think I need to see. Kind of for research purposes, if you like.

As we get close, I notice how quiet it is, outside it. And no cyclos, which surprises me.

We get to one of the entrances and notice a guy standing there, who looks like a police officer. But something doesn’t look quite right. He’s a bit scruffy looking, and it just looks a bit wrong.

I think back to TripAdvisor, and the reports of the fake cop tormenting tourists. Hmmm, could it be…..?????

We walk past him, and I can now see what is embroidered on his shirt. ‘Tourist security’.

Ahhhh!, that’s a good sign!

We enter the market.

Oh………my……….God!!!!!!!!

The pressure from the vendors to buy something is instant. And it’s intense.

They’re like seagulls on a chip.

It’s aggressive, and it’s full on.

We walk around the outside perimeter, before venturing in towards the middle sections.

It doesn’t get any better.

I actually find it ugly. There is just nothing appealing about the place, as far as I’m concerned.

And apart from all of that, it’s ridiculously expensive. The prices of some of the things in there are three times the price of things elsewhere.

So yep, most definitely not a fan.

I look over at Lisa. She has the same look on her face, as when we were in the cloth market in Hanoi, the other day. She’s gone downhill a little; probably a combination of the heat, the early start, as well as the madness of this market; and wants to head back to the hotel.

That’s fine, I’ve seen as much as I want to, and I’m heading down the same hill, she is.

Back to the hotel, air conditioner on, collapse on the bed. It’s going to have to be a fairly short recovery session, though. We’re meeting up with Stefan and Mark in less than two hours.

And I’m really not sure how I’m going to do it.

I’m so pissed off.

Bit of a nap; which doesn’t really work; a shower to help freshen up; which works better than the nap; and we head off on foot to the Opera House.

We get there with no problem at all; this map thing is easy….; and wait for the boys.

We were here two weeks ago to the day, almost to the hour, actually, while we were waiting to meet up with XO tours.

Where did all that time go….???

Geez, I hate it when holidays are coming to an end…..

 

A few minutes later, Stefan pulls up in a taxi. It really is great to see him again.

But he’s alone. Apparently Mark is not well and won’t be able to make it tonight.

Must be awful when you get sick on holidays…… 🙂

We head off behind the Opera House in search of our bia hoi place from the week before last, and have no problem finding it.

And once again, there ain’t anyone else in there, that looks like us.

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No one that looks like us, and they seem more than happy for us to be a part of it.

Good, just the way I like it.

We settle in, and order what you order, when you’re in a bia hoi place.

And surprisingly, the first one goes down alright!

As does the second one. And the third. And the……..

Well, you get the picture.

Apart from Mark not being there, the afternoon was perfect. Drinking beer, chatting, about anything and everything, and just enjoying each other’s company.

Yep, with all things considered, it went far better than I could have imagined.

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Cheap beer, great company, good fun!

My second HAG (Hanoi Appreciation Group) meeting was most definitely a success.

As with all things that go into your body, at some point it needs to come out. No problem, Stefan pointed me in the direction of the establishment’s toilet.

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Yes, this is the toilet.  Not sure why Lisa was reluctant to use it…!

And while the toilet was certainly an experience in it’s own right, it was what greeted me on my return that will live with me for a very long time.

When I got back, there was a local sitting at our table with Stefan and Lisa.

He was getting on a little in age, and looked like he’d seen a fair bit in his lifetime. And there wasn’t much of him. ‘Little’, is a word that comes to mind.

And his English was as fluent as my Vietnamese.

While I would have loved to have been able to talk with him, to hear about his life, the fact that he came over to spend time with us was just priceless.

He seemed so genuinely pleased to be sitting with us, sharing a beer.

This wasn’t just another one of those little ‘moments’.

This was an incredibly ‘special’ one.

Several photos were taken; which he seemed as happy about, as we were; before he disappeared off into the night.

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Just a lovely guy.
img_6715
An incredibly special moment.
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He took a real shine to Lisa.

 

Yep, just such a memorable encounter.

Not long after, we also headed off, in search of dinner.

It’s this bit that gets a little hazy. Someone, who shall remain nameless, (Stefan) will say that it was I, who chose the restaurant.

If I did, then it was only because someone (Stefan), couldn’t make up his mind.

Anyway, regardless of who is to blame, (happy to pin it on Lisa to avoid any awkwardness….) we ended up at some overpriced restaurant, somewhere between the bia hoi place and the main part of District One.

And to make matters worse, the food wasn’t even that good.

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Stefan chose the best looking meal.  Unfortunately the taste didn’t live up to the appearance…

Not that food and I were getting along that well, anyway.

Dinner done, we headed back towards the backpacker area. Stefan and Lisa were after fruit smoothies; I was not yet done with beer.

While they did the fruit thing, I headed off in search of a Circle K convenience store.

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Impressive at night – the Peoples Committee Building.

Both parties successful in their endeavours, we returned to the 23/9 park on the Le Lai side, where we found a park bench.

Beer good, as too were the fruit smoothies, apparently, and it was nice to just sit and relax and watch the world go by.

As well as the rats.

Yep, there was the odd rat, or two.

But don’t worry, they’re not terribly big. There’s no way they’d be able to carry away a child over the age of ten.

Under ten, on the other hand……

But yeah, fascinating little creatures.

It was starting to get a little late, and I was now finding it more difficult to keep ‘going’. Well, I was still ‘going’, but it was now all downhill. Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye.

And that, was very, very difficult.

I hate ‘em at the best of times, but this was just that little bit harder.

I don’t care what others say about you, Stefan; as far as I’m concerned, you are a good bloke. 😉

Anyway, the ‘goodbye’ thing done, we headed back to the hotel.

Twenty four hours earlier, I had a wish that I wouldn’t wake up the next day feeling worse than I already was.

Well, that wish ended up being a waste of time.

No more wishes tonight; just didn’t see the point; but did have reasonable concerns about how I was going to get through tomorrow.

Sitting on planes, and in airports, for over 12 hours.

Actually, it was probably a little more than just, a concern.

It was more a fear…..
Cheers,

Scott

 

old-bloke-hcmc-drawing
He made such an impression on Lisa that she had to draw him.