A Travellerspoint blog

Chau Doc

semi-overcast 28 °C

The friendly Vietnamese guy on the bus helped us communicate with the driver where in town we wanted to be dropped off exactly and we ended up in the middle of the very small town right near some cheap hotels. A friendly man brought us to a hotel he knew and within 10 minutes of getting off the bus, we were settled in a room and had purchased tickets for the slow boat to Cambodia, the best part was that the boat tickets were significantly cheaper than we expected! This left us in a great mood and we had the rest of the afternoon for to relax and enjoy the quaint riverside town.
We walked out to a local marketand grabbed a couple glasses of iced coffe, we met a friendly local woman who offered her seat but instead we inited her to join us, she couldn't really speak any English but she had a huge toothless smile and was constantly giving us the "thumbs up". We continued our walk to the river where there is a well maintained park area and a strange fish monument that we couldn't figure out the meaning of. Hawkers immediately started bothering us to take boat tours of the nearby fishing village and a Cham village nearby. We first goofed around with some local kids who wanted to practice their pretty decent English then found a boat guide who seemed friendly and we decided to take the 1 hour tour for only $3 total. The guide's name was Nam and we hopped on his small row boat first to a floating fishing village and then then to a fish farm that was connected to a network of floating houses by creaky wooden planks. We fed the fish and were amazed at how many there were! We continued on enjoying the views of the river life as the sun fell low in the sky. We made our way through the village and finally arrived at the Cham village. We got off the boat and crossed a pretty rickety wooden bridge to the village. There wasn't really much to see here, a few houses built on stilts and of course a shop selling various things. There were a handful of Cham kids who could speak really good English, the girls were trying to sell us some waffles despite the sign above them that warned NOT to buy cakes from the kids because they are really old. The girls tried several tactics to guilt us into buying saying things like " we are poor, you buy we are smiling, you don't buy we cry". They really couldn't pull off the whole line though without a smirk. One boy eventually read the warning sign aloud then simulated eating one of the cakes choking and dying. We goofed off for a bit more and then decided it was time to move on.
We hoped back on the boat and passed some more kids playing in the water, one little girl getting scolded because she was absolutely COVERED in mud. We started back to Chau Doc but on the way back we made an unexpected stop at Nam's house on the river. We were able to meet his wife and adorable little boy, Bi. They gave us fruit and water and we all played with the very entertaining Bi (which was a relief since we really didn't have any way to communicate with eachother). Unfortunately, our camera died when we got to the house and weren['t able to get any pictures but it ended up being a fun game for Bi who thought that if he pushed buttons on our camera it would make the screen turn blue (it was actually me turning the power button on and off) he was screaming with delight wioth this game for at least 20 minutes. We finally headed back to town with Nam and his family as they needed to make a run to the market. We felt quite honored to have been invited to his home so paid him a little more than the $3 he had asked for which he seem extremely grateful for.
It was dark by then and most shops had closed, we found one tiny Vietnamese restaurant that had OK food and then headed to bed since we needed to be ready to go by 6AM the next day

Posted by heidigras 03:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

sunny 32 °C

In usual fashion, the bus moved slower than a snail to Saigon and even though it was only 120 miles, it took 5 hours! Once we got into the city, you could feel the energy of the big city and we remembered how much we like places like this! The bus dropped us off right in the middle of things and we found a hotel quickly. We were eager to walk around and explore! Our hotel was nice enough, even had aircon for $11! We found a restaurant that advertised Tacos, Enchiladas and other Tex-Mex favorites and we knew that was where we were eating, the food was pretty good (no Taco Fiesta or Village in, but passable). We walked to a park area where we found lots of locals hanging out playing games, badminton, sepa, BMX biking, skateboarding, it was really busy with activity! We wandered the crowded streets and found a little bar, whose customers where literally spilling out onto the street and decided to sit down for a couple 25 cent draughts, we watched the street life for a couple hours and finally called it a night!

The next morning we got a good start to the day and decided to do a walking tour of this busy city. We started off at Pho 2000 for a great bowl of pho (we also noticed that President Clinton ate at this restaurant as was obvious by the sign which said "Presidential Pho"& a huge picture of the event on the wall!) This day we did ALOT of walking around teh Dong Khoi area, noting the colonial architecture of many of the buildings and enjoyed lingering by some of the cities many green areas. We walked past the Reunification Palace and decided not to go in, instead we continued to the War Remnants Museum, unfortunately it was closed for lunch and we found we had about an hour to kill. We walked back for some ice cream at a place called Fanny's that we found in the book, the building was adorable, with an open seating setup, their icecream was all quite creative, with some shaped like cyclos (the pedicabs in Vientnam). After a refresing break, we headed back to the museuam which was really interesting. There were many captured military relics from the American War and the displays inside followed the tregedy of the war in Vietnam. There were several moving exhibits one which had pictures of all the photo journalists who died in the war. There were also some informational displays including ones that showed all the American bases in Vietnam along with their symbols and nicknames. There were also some horrifying exhibits including one about the My Lai massacre and the lingering effects of landmines (its still dangerous over here, there were photos of victims dated as recently as 2006) and Agent Orange (which still causes birth defects in many areas). After the museum, we needed a break and decided to see a water puppet show at night. We bought tickets and then had another hours or so to kill beofre the show so we found some street food, Nate had a delicious sandwich on a fresh baguette for only 50 cents! We also did some internetting. Finally it was time for the show, it was a really cute show, they had little puppets dancing in a small pool of water accompanied by traditional music, it was narrated in Vietnamese and eventhough we couldn't understand it, the show was quite funny!

After the show we went to dinner at Quan An Ngon, a restaurant with traditional Vietnamese dishes. The place was crazy busy with locals and tourists which seemed to be a good sign. The set up of the restaurant was really interesting, there were little stations all around the garden like seating area, each station was in charge of a different kind of cooking and you could watch them make your food or just wander around before eating and pick whatever looks good. We were not disapointed with the food, we got some delicious vermicelli with spring rolls, beef salad, chicken satay and pork with broken rice. As usually we ordered way to much but it was worth it!

On our way back to the hotel, Nate found some lightweight zip off pants for sale so we did a little shopping, getting him a couple new pairs of pants and a few new T shirts, all things that will come in handy as we hit higher temperatures! After a long day of walking, it felt good to hit the sheets!

Our second day in Saigon we began the day by heading out for some breakfast, we had tried one famous Pho shop the day before and today we wanted to find another. We went to Pho 24, which is supposed to have the best in town, we thought it was only okay but certainly not the best we ever had. After eating we decided to head to the CHolon District of town, which is the "Chinatown" of Saigon. We took a taxi, but quickly discovered that it was the rip-off kind as the meter was jumping eratically and VERY quickly, it ended up costing us $5 to go about 3km and we didn't even get all the way there, we made him stop after we realized what was happening. We walked the rest of the way and headed to Quan An Pagoda. It was a Buddhist Temple that was different in many ways from temples we had seen in China but it had some familiar characteristics too (gaudy gold decorations and insence sticks everywhere. We wandered some more though Chinatown and found that people were really friendly and some seemed to get a kick out of the Beijing Olympics shirt that Nate was wearing. It felt a little like home in this area, with traditional medicine shops, Chinese restaurants and of course a KFC (which we just had to stop in, it was much nicer than those in China, real plates for the chicken and soda was served in real glass!). Nate got to practice his Chinese reading skills on many of the signs. But it was a hot day and pretty soon, we were ready for some iced milk coffee and found a tiny little cafe and relaxed for a bit.
We decided to walk back rather than get ripped off again so we strolled for about an hour, stopping for a street sandwich, until we made it back to our hotel. We did some major interenting (put pics up on picasa) then stopped for some pizza and finished the night off with 25 cent beers!

The next morning we had to wake up early for the minibus to Chau Doc. An SVU picked us up and acouple other passengers and brought us to the bus station. One of the passendgers was a really nice Vietnamese guy who spoke pretty good English, he was headed the same place as us so he helped us figure things out. The minibus was fine, only 6 hours, an hour less than we were expecting! Our driver, for the first time in Vietnam, reallyu hauled down the road, barely slowing for bumps (we hit our head on the ceiling a couple times =) The drive took us through the Mekong Delta area where there are many small rivers winding through towns built on stilts, the scenery was really interesting. Of course, we stopped at a cafeteria style restaurant on the way and had some okay (cheap!) chicken on rice for lunch both of us ate for $3! We finally arrived in Chau Doc around 3pm...

Posted by heidigras 07:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Mui Ne

32 °C

We arrived in Mui Ne around 2pm. This is a different city than any other cities in Vietnam, there isn't so much a city center but rather, the city is spread along one long road that follows the coast, hotels on the oceanside, restaurants on the other. We got dropped of at one end of the 4 mile strip and just decided to start walking looking for a hotel. They weren't as condensed as we had been hoping and after 20 minutes of walking, we hoped on some motorbikes who "knew a cheap place". This first hotel they took us to kind of sucked, really crappy room, no pool or beach so we had them take us to another. This one, the Hai Yen, was nicer, the room was cheaper than what we had been expecting, it had a little pool and a deck area that over looks the ocean. There is still no beach, but after looking up and down the coast, we determined that none of the hotels had great beach frontage. We quickly cleaned up from our long bus ride and hit the pool, the weather was amazing, blue sky, no clouds, palm trees everywhere and the sound of waves crashing along the sea wall. I have never seen water so clear and aqua it really looks like those pictures of paradise you see in travel agencies!

After a refreshing dip, we went out searching for a good meal, we were starving after only eating munchies on the bus. We went to Cafe Saigon which had amazing grilled mackerel, chicken curry and spring rolls. After dinner we found a bar on the ocean that had a buy one get one happy hour, we sat on hammocks and sipped drinks for a bit (until happy hour ended) then moved to our hotel where we went for a late night dip and then hit the hay, feeling happy and refreshed!

Our first full day in Mui Ne we decided to rent a motorbike, we got going around 10am, just outside of the resort area is a small fishing village, as we entered the village, we saw some commotion and stopped to investigate. We learned from a local that some sort of special fish had been found dead at sea. Each time this kind of fish is found dead, they bring it to shore, all the village people try to touch it for good luck, a priest blesses it and then it is given a proper burial. The whole ceremony was really interesting to watch, they had flags, drums, cymbals and incense. They put a special cloth over the dolphin-like-fish and carried it up the hill to the temple. It was a really great cultural experience that we just happend to stumble across!
Next we spent a couple hours just cruising the amazing coastline, every corner was a kodak moment! In this part of Vietnam, they have both red sand and white sand. We went to visit the Red Sand Dunes, they were pretty cool but we decided that the ones in West Michigan are probably cooler. We sat and had some ice cream, in hammocks of course, and after feeling refreshed we headed to the white dunes. These were less cool as you couldn't actually walk on them just look at them from the road, but the ride was beautiful and it was worth the trip. We headed back to the hotel for a bit to reapply some sun screen and then decided to check out the rest of the resort area. There are some amazing hotels here, all still relatively cheap, $80-$100 per night (way out of our budget for this trip!). We stopped along side the road when we saw a good spot and took a dip in the super warm water.
Then we had to head back to meet up with the guy we rented the motorbike from, we decided to rent it for the next day too, so he just let us keep it over night, which was great for us, we took it out to find a good seafood restaurant. We found one and Nate ordered 2 Tiger Prawns, which weighed 14 ounces, I couldn't eat them but he said that they were amazing! We also got some red snapper and chicken curry. Now, we are sitting at the internet bar trying to finish up all our past due blogs! We plan to spent one more day here in Mui Ne, tomorrow we will be laying out on a private beach for 2 =) then its off the Saigon!

So we woke up pretty today to get a good start on our laying out. We found a little restaurant that had excellent Pho (soup noodles with a special broth that makes or breaks the quality, this broth got an "A"). Then we headed off to find some quiet beach to veg-out on for the day. We found a decent place about 5 miles out of town, we were a little disapointed that it was difficult to find an area that was without litter, but we found a place that was acceptable and set up camp. We hung out and went swimming for a couple hours then decided to go a little further down the beach to see if we could find anything nicer.

We hopped on the motorbike, noticing that there were a couple of guys watching us do this, we didn't think much of it, people are always checking out what the "crazy foreigners" are doing. A minute or so later, the motorbike started to act a little funny and finally it died. We weren't sure what the problem was, we had enough gas and it had been running fine all day. A coupel minutes later, a couple guys stopped by to help us and they determined that it was a bad spark plug and they had an extra so they were just going to swap it out for us. After a couple more minutes, another guy showed up, one of the guys who had been watching us get started and we started putting 2 and 2 together, we were getting scammed. We knew for sure that this was the case after they had fixed the bike and asked for $12 for the spark plug! We were a little upset about the whole thing but were totally stuck, here we were in the middle of nowhere with a bike that didn't work, so we paid the ridiculous fee and left, not too happy that we had just paid more to buy our spark plug back than it cost the rent the bike in the first place!
We cruised the coast for a bit but neither of us was in the mood to lay out anymore, getting scammed always leaves a bad taste in you mouth for a while. So we decided to head back to the hotel and went swimming in the pool and tried to lay out although we were both restless. Finally we decided to get dressed and go out for some drinks, we just really needed a change of scenery! It really did the trick, we sat in some hammocks on the beach and sipped a bucket of vodka Red Bulls until dinner time, we went to Phat Burger to really top off the afternoon and then headed back to the hotel. The bad day was past and we spent some time reading and swimming until it was late and fell asleep with smiles on our faces again =)

Our last day in Mui Ne, we woke up early and got packed up, we had to check out of the hotel at 11:30 and we wanted to get some sun before then. We chilled by the pool until the last possible minute and then checked out of the hotel, we grabbed some lunch then headed back to the hotel to wait for the bus to pick us up. The whole bus thing was a little annoying, they picked us up and then 3 minutes later, stopped the bus for a "lunch break", not too pleasant for us since we had JUST finished lunch so we sat around a little bored but then we were off to Saigon!

Posted by heidigras 07:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An

sunny 30 °C

Arriving in Hoi An, we immediately liked the city. Hoi An is a huge tourist town famous for their tailors, it is also one of the few cities that was relatively unharmed by the war and as a result has alot of colonial style buildings with small streets and alleys. The whole city is only like 1 square mile so we wandered around until we found a hotel, surprisingly, lots of hotels were full and we ended up having to follow a motorbike guy to a hotel which ended up being really nice. It was reasonably priced and even had a pool! We decided to walk around the city for a bit and get some dinner. We just love this city, quaint little streets, lit up by lanterns and restaurants. There were a zillion places to choose from but we stuck with a place we had seen in the book, Cafe 96. We thought the food was great and the atmosphere, right on the river, was great as well. We saw they offered cooking classes and made a mental note to fit that into our schedule.

Our first full day in Hoi An was a lazy one, we basically just wandered around looking at shops and taking pictures. Nate bought a couple of t-shirts and a bathing suit. We stopped for lunch and drinks and had a really nice relaxing day. To finish the day off, we decided to eat at a restaurant on the river, we sat on the balcony and ordered a bottle of Dalat wine (Dalat is a mountain village nearby). We ordered a set dinner which had 5 courses, it was the perfect lazy dinner for a peaceful day!

Day two in Hoi An we decided to be a bit more active, we rented bicycles for the day and decided to go to those cooking classes we had thought about earlier. We biked around for about an hour and then headed to Cafe 96.There was nobody else in our cooking class so it ended up being a private lesson. We did all the cooking, including cutting up the veggies. First we made some vegetable spring rolls, we made a ton of the them and ended up frying half of them and steaming the other half. After cooking them, we sat down and enjoyed our handiwork, they were awesome of course. Next we made a pork and papaya salad (supposed to be shrimp but we subsituted due to my allergy), this was a cold salad that was very simple to make but had a great flavor, we will be cooking this alot when we get home. Finally, we cooked our main course, lemongrass mackerel grilled in a banana leaf. Again we did all the work including fanning the flames of the tiny grill we cooked on. All the effort was worth it, we ended up having a great meal, we were both stuffed and we also had a really fun afternoon!

To work off some of our meal, we took a bike ride to the nearby beach, it was the first beach we visited in Vietnam, it was gorgeous but we couldn't linger long as we had a bus to catch. WE got back to the hotel with plenty of time to spare and ended our time in Hoi An with a Long Island Iced Tea by the pool.

We got on the bus and discovered that it was half seated, half sleeper. Since we had a 18 hour bus ride ahead of us to Mui Ne, we were really glad we got the sleepers! The bus took forever to get going, stopping for a break every 2 hours or so until midnight, we both slept pretty well and arrived in Nha Trang around 6am, about half of the passengers got off here, we had time for some breakfast then back on the bus for another 6 hours! The ride was nice, we slowly left the tropical region and entered a more desert landscape, we had been unaware that Vietnam had landscape like that. The highway followed the coast for a long time and our anticipation grew for our beach vacation!

Posted by heidigras 07:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hue

sunny 30 °C

Today, we are in Hue. It is a small city, very touristy with lots of good restaurants and LOTS of cyclos (like rickshaws but the guy pedals you with a bicycle). We got going around 10 am and crossed the Perfume River and walked to the Citadel. This is an old area of town that has a thick wall all the way around, the city used to be the souther capital of Vietnam (a LONG time ago, hundreds of years) and the Citadel holds lots of the ancient palace and temples. There was quite a bit of heavy fighting here during the war, so much of it has been destroyed, they are slowly working on repairing what they can, but most of it remains in ruins.

We walked around the main palace area for a couple hours, honestly, the buildings were not all that interesting, especially compared to what we have seen in China. What was really beautiful was the tropical landscape, the first we have seen since arriving in Vietnam. After awhile, we were getting pretty hungry and wandered around the Citadel area until we found a local restaurant (food in this area was scarce compared to the abundace of restaurants on the other side of the river). The shop owner didn't speak English and all we were able to comunicate was "soup noodle" so that's what I got. Nate looked in the book and was able to point to a dish he had been wanting to try, so he got the bun bo hue, or spicy beef noodles. It was a decent lunch and pretty cheap, although we think we still got over charged a bit for being foreigners, no biggy, we were pleased with the meal.

We wandered around a bit more and discovered that there wasn't really anything else to do, we went back to the tourist part of town and found a cafe with a balcony that overlooked a busting street. We sat and had a couple drinks, my first apple shake (many to follow, they are delicious!), I also got some chili and Nate got a buffalo chicken sandwich. The food was pretty good and it made for a pretty relaxing evening. We hit the hay ontime and decided that we would move on the next day, already feeling like we had spent too much time in this city!

The next day we were lazy feeling we had nothing to do until the bus picked us up at 2pm. We went back to the same cafe as the night before, they had free internet and we wasted a few hours there eating and surfing the net. The bus picked us up at our hotel and we had an uneventful 4 hour ride to Hoi An.

Posted by heidigras 07:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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