A Travellerspoint blog

Saigon, Vietnam (3rd - 7th November)

Before you point it out to me, I know it's not actually called Saigon any more, it's Ho Chi Minh City. Hardly anyone actually calls it that though - it's Saigon to the locals, so that's what I'm calling it.

As our bus arrived in the city, it seemed a lot more modern than Hanoi. We drove past an area with a lot of skyscrapers, though in amongst them was an old temple and pagoda. I loved the juxtaposition of it. I thought all of Saigon might be like that, but the area we were in was a lot more similar to Hanoi. And that included the traffic!

We stayed at Vy Khanh Guesthouse, which was just a short walk from where the bus dropped off. It was a much more basic looking place than the other places we'd stayed in Vietnam, plus breakfast wasn't included, but the staff were really nice and our room was totally fine.

On our first full day we went for breakfast at ABC Cafe. Infact we got our breakfast there every morning as they had a great selection of pastries and other baked goods. We then booked on to a tour for the following day, plus our onwards bus tickets to Cambodia.

After that we headed to the War Remnants Museum. It's incredibly biased, but still very interesting, albeit in a slightly harrowing way. I remember learning about the Vietnam war at school and hearing about the effects of Agent Orange and just being horrified that people could do that to each other.

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After the museum we tried to go to the palace, but it was just closing. So instead we headed back to the hotel. Sadly it was here that I got a message from my Mum asking me to contact her urgently. I knew it couldn't be good news, so I phoned her quite nervously. She'd unfortunately been tasked with telling me that my Dad had died. You can imagine this was quite a shock. I'm not going to talk any more about it here, as it's not really the place, but I couldn't not mention it either.

To be honest, it helped that I was travelling. Although it was constantly on my mind, there wasn't really time to dwell on it too much or let it consume me. Having a tour booked for the following day was a welcome distraction. I did also get some wonderful messages of support from family and friends, for which I'm incredibly grateful.

Anyway, the tour the next day was to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are tunnels that were used by the Vietcong during the war. You're guided around the area (above ground) and told about the history. It's incredibly popular and busy, so we sometimes had to wait a while before we could get to see specific items. You see some old traps, plus some entrances to tunnels, which you can squeeze in to if you like. It probably doesn't sound like much, but it was enjoyable. You can also pay to fire AK47s and stuff (which isn't cheap) but I wasn't interested in that. Even from a bit of a distance they were unpleasantly loud.

At the end of the tour there's the option to go through part of the tunnels. It's a section that's been widened for tourists (as the Vietcong were so small), but it's not been widened enough for me to want to go through it. I can get a bit claustrophobic. There are a few escape routes along the way, in case you do want to get out, but still, I'd read a few reviews online beforehand and knew it wasn't for me. Jamie went part of the way through but then came out an escape hatch. He confirmed I'd have hated it!

On our last day in Saigon we went to the palace. The building itself doesn't look very palatial but it has some nice rooms in it. I think the most interesting part was the bunker type area in the basement.

For dinner on our last night we went back to an Indian place we went to on our first night. It was really really good, so I feel like I have to mention it. It's called Baba's Kitchen -if you find yourself in Saigon and you like a curry, check it out.

From Saigon we got a bus to Cambodia. We spent a while researching the best company to go with and we ended up choosing Mekong Express. They were decent - we got free water and a snack. The border crossings were slightly confusing, as their communication with us wasn't brilliant, but they got us through and didn't leave us behind, so that was fine.

Posted by chantalpatton 12:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mui Ne, Vietnam (2nd - 3rd November)

We only stayed in Mui Ne for one night - it was just to break up the journey to Saigon. Like Nha Trang, it's a beach resort place, though it doesn't have much of an actual town to speak of.

It was a longer walk to our hotel from the bus stop than we'd realised. Lesson: just because something's on the same road, doesn't mean it's close by. We were very hot and sweaty by the time we arrived at Xin Chao Hotel. It was a decent place with nice staff and a pool. Check-in was as fast as handing over passports and getting a key, so we could happily shower as soon as possible and feel a bit less disgusting.

We had lunch at the hotel restaurant and then went to check out the beach. It's a very long and narrow beach. It was cleaner than Nha Trang and the sand was nicer, but there was nowhere shady to sit unless you were staying at one of the resorts that backed right on to the beach. We therefore didn't stay long and went back to the hotel instead. We got some beers, went in the pool for a bit and got chatting to a couple from Australia. Despite us both getting headaches, for some reason, it was a nice afternoon. We went to a nearby bar for dinner and then had a fairly early night.

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The following day it was back to the Sinh Tourist office for our bus to Saigon. This time we didn't walk though, we took a taxi. We then happily got on our full-sized bus and headed to Saigon.

Posted by chantalpatton 12:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Nha Trang, Vietnam (30th October - 2nd November)

As we'd arrived with a different bus company to the one we booked, we were dropped off in a different place to where we'd been expecting. We'd thought we'd be dropped off at the Sinh Tourist office, which was a handy 5 minute walk from our hotel. But instead we found ourselves at a bus station. Most annoying was that the maps app on Jamie's phone was playing up, so we couldn't even find our location on GPS and work from that. Jamie had read that the hotel wasn't far from the bus station though, so we set off walking anyway. Initially it was slightly aimless, just hoping to pick up Wi-Fi, but we then used the sun to at least check we were walking in the right general direction. It took quite a while before we were able to pick up some unsecured and functioning Wi-Fi, but that finally allowed Jamie to get the map loaded back up and find our location on it. We were going the right way, thankfully, but we were still quite a way from our hotel. Turns out there are two bus stations! But hey, we kept on walking and arrived about an hour after our bus had gotten in.

We stayed at Mojzo Inn. We arrived pretty exhausted, partly from a night on a bus and partly from the hour's walk. It was far too early to check in though, unfortunately. We paid to get an extra day's breakfast and then napped in the lounge area until our room was ready. It was a decent hotel - the staff were really nice, even though one of them misread my passport and called me Marie (my middle name) for the duration of our stay.

The important thing though - breakfast! That was really good actually, so long as you skipped the coffee and went for passion fruit juice instead. The menu initially seemed a bit stingy as you could only select one item, unless you paid extra. So there was no having eggs and pancakes, like we'd had in our previous couple of places. But the dishes were a decent size and filling on their own, so that was fair enough. On the first couple of days I had poached eggs and bread. You got 3 eggs and 3 slices of baguette, so pretty filling. Then on the last full day I went for a banana pancake, which was also pretty filling, even though it didn't look like it should be. It was technically a pancake with some banana slices around it, rather than a banana pancake, but still, it was really nice.

Nha Trang's a beach resort kind of place, though there are a few historical sites in the area too. We didn't do a huge amount there - mostly chilled out. It was cool to sit on the beach and watch the waves - they were pretty big. Although the beach itself wasn't that nice really - it needed some cleaning. Especially as we found a used needle on it - ew!

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On our last day we checked out quite early to get the bus. It was about a 5 hour journey to Mui Ne. This time we were actually on a Sinh Tourist bus, which was progress, except it was a minibus with no leg room at all. For 5 hours. I'm not even very tall and my knees were pressed against the seat in front. One poor guy was taking the bus all the way to Saigon - a 10 hour journey.

Posted by chantalpatton 12:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, Vietnam (26th - 29th October)

Hoi An was my favourite place we visited in Vietnam. It's very touristy but still incredibly nice.

We stayed at Hoang Trinh Hotel and they arranged a free pickup for us from the bus station. Yet again the staff were lovely and the service was good. We were given a few free plates of fruit while we were there. Our room was incredibly nice, with lots of thoughtful little touches. On arrival our bed looked like this:

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Breakfast was included and decent, though not as nice as at our previous hotel. Again you could select as many things as you wanted, plus you were given quite a few random things (most of which we didn't want and just took up table space). The food was a bit greasier, plus the pancakes were deep-fried. They were nice, but still, a little greasy. I didn't like the coffee, there was no option of tea, so I had the orange juice most mornings, though that wasn't great either. Still, overall it wasn't bad and the hotel itself was lovely.

Tyneil and Daniel, who we'd met on our Ha Long Bay trip, were also in Hoi An, so we met up with them for dinner. We went to a vegetarian restaurant, which was the number 1 rated food place on TripAdvisor. We were sat at a table right next to 2 British couples, so we chatted to them a bit as well. The food was good and really cheap, plus a glass of beer was about 30p!

Afterwards the 4 of us went to a nearby pub called Moe's Tavern. It wasn't as good as you'd hope a Simpsons inspired place would be, but it was still a fun night of drinking and playing Giant Jenga. A lot of drinks were 2 for 1, plus we all got a free rum and coke on arrival, so we had quite a few drinks for not much money. There was also a free pool table, so we made use of that.

Hoi An's a fairly small place, but nice to walk around, particularly in the old area where you don't get all the traffic. The area by the river gets lit up in the evenings too. There are also a few temples and such like strewn around, so we checked out some of those, walked around, stopped for drinks and had a nice chilled out time. There was a really nice tea house that we went to a couple of times - Reaching Out. It was set up to help people with disabilities and is mostly staffed by deaf mutes. Everything's done silently - you order by paper and pencil, the waitresses mime how things work and you can hold up word blocks to convey common expressions like 'thank you'. It gives the place a nice ambience, plus the staff will offer to take a couple of photos for you as well. We ended up going there a couple of times.

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There was only one place we went for dinner though. Yes, we went back to that veggie place every day. It was so cheap and the menu was so varied that it just seemed like the best option. On our third night there we'd arranged to meet up with Daniel and Tyneil again. We got sat at the same table, which wasn't hugely strange (it was quite a small place), but we had to laugh when the same 4 Brits arrived and got seated next to us again.

From Hoi An we went on to Nha Trang. Again we needed to choose between train and bus. Train would still have involved having to get to Da Nang first, which would have meant going back on ourselves a bit. However, that initially seemed preferable as it was quite a long journey so we were going to go overnight. But then we discovered there were overnight buses that had bed-like seats on them, so it wouldn't be like trying to sleep on a regular bus. That swayed things in the bus' favour. So despite our general dislike of night buses, we took one from Hoi An to Nha Trang.

If we'd actually gotten the bus we booked, it might have been an alright journey, but we got to the Sinh Tourist office and were told our bus was broken and they were therefore putting us on another company's bus. We were taken to the bus station by taxi and then quickly ushered on to this other company's bus, which was due to leave. The guy from Sinh Tourist told us to sit wherever was free, but the guy on the bus had other ideas. He made us all sit at the very back. The general layout of the bus meant that the seats/beds were all separated, so you had your own private space, with 3 beds across the width of the bus. The only exception to this was the back of the bus - there you had 5 seats/beds all next to each other, just like one big bed. Our seat bookings meant nothing as it was a different bus. At least Jamie and I got to be next to each other though - one couple got split up - the girl was next to me in the central bed on the bottom row and her husband was on the row above. It wouldn't have been so bad if they'd been the only available seats, but there were plenty of other ones near the front of the bus that stayed unused for the whole journey. The girl's husband tried to move to one after a while, as he said it was really cold on the upper level, but he got told off and sent back. It was ridiculous. We re-vowed to never take an overnight bus again.

Posted by chantalpatton 06:24 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hue, Vietnam (23rd - 26th October)

Hue's in central Vietnam. As a city it's kinda like a smaller and less chaotic Hanoi, which was nice.

We stayed at Jade Hotel, which was my favourite of all the places we stayed in Vietnam. When we first arrived, plus every time we'd return to the hotel during the day, they'd sit us down and bring us some fresh juice. They'd be really attentive as well - hanging around and chatting to us - it was sometimes a little too attentive and felt a bit awkward, but still, it was sweet. Our room was really nice too, plus the breakfast was my favourite of all the places we stayed in Vietnam. There were lots of options, cooked to order, and you could have as many items as you liked. It was also the only place that had coffee I could drink. I think most places served Vietnamese style coffee, which was really sweet and just not to my personal taste. Plus they had decent banana pancakes - properly cooked and everything - yay!

The weather wasn't great while we were there, we had quite a bit of rain, but we still had a good time and saw a decent amount. There's not a huge amount you can see by foot, aside from the citadel, so it's best to do a tour or two. There's one that goes out to the former DMZ, which would have been cool to do, but it was quite expensive. The city tour was cheaper and took in a lot of sites, so we went for that. We booked it for our second full day there. This meant there wasn't much to do on our first day, but we had a good walk around, trying to avoid the rain.

In the evening we went for a curry and then went to a bar that we'd been handed a flyer for (which I've forgotten the name of). The fliers entitled us to cheap cocktails - I think it was buy one get one free, though they were pretty cheap anyway, so we both had a cocktail for about £2 - maybe less! It was a while ago now, so I can't remember exactly. We also got a free welcome shot, then another free shot was brought around 15 minutes later. The tag line of the bar is that they stay open until the last person passes out, so I guess the free booze is to help ensure the staff get home at a reasonable-ish hour!

Not only did we get an impressive amount of free and cheap alcohol, but one of the bar staff came and sat with us and chatted to us for ages - we learned all about her. Plus she got us to play some games, which were finger dexterity things. It was a slightly surreal night.

The next day was our city tour. It started with visits to 3 different tombs, while our tour guide explained the history of them. Despite being Vietnamese, Jamie noticed how he sounded quite like Henning Wehn, which provided some added entertainment. We were also taken to watch a kung fu display, which was fun. The part where a guy smashed through some brick with his hand was the most impressive. I got it on video, but managed to accidentally delete it afterwards, which was annoying. There was also one routine where a guy demonstrated how to fight with a fan. It was quite difficult to take that one seriously.

One of the tombs:
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We had a buffet lunch included, which has been a standard thing. It was alright, though not great. It had started raining by this point. I was hopeful that it might ease off while we were having lunch, but sadly it didn't. Our next destination was the citadel, which contains the forbidden city and covers quite a large area. In nice weather it would have been a highlight, but in the rain it was somewhat miserable. At least we were able to easily buy an umbrella - women crowded around the bus as we exited, desperate to sell us all umbrellas and ponchos.

After the rainy citadel we went to the rainy pagoda! The rain started to ease off a bit though, thankfully. The tour then ended with a boat ride along the river. All in all it was a really good tour, it was just a shame about the weather.

From Hue we went to Hoi An. We'd originally thought that we'd travel most of Vietnam by train, but as you can't get a train to Hoi An, you have to get off in Da Nang and get a bus from there anyway, it seemed easier to just take a bus direct. We did some research into the best bus companies and decided to use Sinh Tourist. We caught the bus from their office, which wasn't far from our hotel, and set off to Hoi An.

Posted by chantalpatton 05:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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