Category Archives: Vietnam and Cambodia

October 2019 Trip With Dad

Day 9 – Mekong River Delta

Away early for 2 hour bus trip to the Mekong River Delta. As it crosses Vietnam the Mekong divided into 9 branches, each one enormous. The first part of the tour was on a river boat, transporting us to farms and jungles where we would spend the next few hours on various forms of transport. First stop was a coconut farm and coconut lolly production shed. The coconut lolly was like a cross between fudge and a mintie (not the taste, just the texture).

We then jumped into tuk tuk style motor bike contraptions for a spin through the jungle, with narrow paths, farms and canals twisting this way and that. We stopped at a broom ‘factory’, but no production today and then into a small village where a wedding was being held. (The wedding might explain no workers at the broom place). The wedding guests were as interested in us as we were in them, coming out the front to take our photo and inviting us to taste their rice wine. Very strong – quite like Saki.

We were then ushered into canoe style boats and paddled through a narrow canal, which became narrower and choked with water hyacinth to the point where we needed to get involved in propelling the canoe through the blockages.

It was then a short walk to lunch – whole fish made into rice paper rolls, and back on the river boat to return to our starting point, then back to Saigon by bus.

After a short rest we headed to Koto restaurant for our final Vietnam group dinner (tomorrow the Vietnam trip officially ends and the Cambodia trip officially begins, with a change of group leader and a change of group) and a Secret Santa.

Day 8 – Saigon

Up at 5, but a phone call from Bruce at 5:30 – our planes been cancelled and our new booking means we can leave the hotel an hour later. So we went for a walk, around the near deserted streets of Hoi An and to the local market, which was in full swing. Returning to the hotel we had a leisurely breakfast before jumping on the bus to the airport.

The flight to Saigon was about an hour then off to the War Remnants Museum, which was really interesting but very confronting. It wasn’t the type of place you wanted to take photos. Next was a brief tour of the town – the Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral, post office and Reunification Palace.

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City? The locals, and even the government, use both although they aren’t interchangeable names. Saigon refers to the inner city whereas Ho Chi Minh City refers to the greater city and surrounding rural areas. Who knew!

Once rested up for a while, and the obligatory beer before dinner, we headed out for a walking tour of some of the night-time ‘highlights’ of Saigon. Through the crazy busy, crowded  backpackers area, then on to Nguyen Hue – the ‘Walking street’ with loud, very loud, music attacking from every direction and neon lights to give Las Vegas a run for its money. Bailing out of there as quickly as possible, Bruce found a small quiet restaurant with a 20+ page menu. We suspect that as we ordered they were calling the Vietnamese version of Uber Eats to deliver. No kitchen could stock everything required for the menu. Again the cost was mind blowing. Dad had a chicken, pork and beef stir fry which came with a separate salad and rice. He also had a beer. Total cost – 75000VD or about $5.

Saigon is by far the busiest, noisiest, youngest place we’ve been. It seems to be very much the young people’s city. The traffic is still crazy, but in a different way. Faster, more aggressive, not as much ‘flow’. It’s hard to describe the ‘flow’ in the other places we’ve been. The closest I can come is to think of motor traffic moving like pedestrian traffic in a busy shopping centre. Everyone gives way to everyone, but keeps moving all the time, even threw busy intersections or roundabouts. It is fascinating to watch.

Day 7 – Hoi An

Hoi An is amazing.  It’s the type of place you could come and stay a week and relax and shop and eat (and eat and eat and eat) This morning we had a trip highlight – a cooking class which included a market tour and a tasting session where we sampled common dishes as well as some more exotic food – steamed pig brain, tiny spicy snails, duck embryo, pig ear salad, silk worm salad, jelly fish salad and stir fried frog. The frog was the pick of these, but all were pretty good. We then moved to the kitchen and did a 2 hour cooking session with 4 dishes.  It was fantastic. For future reference, it was Vy’s Cooking School. Highly recommended.

Green Mango Salad with chargrilled chicken

Dad’s had a pair of boots custom made – they are fantastic. $US63 with a 24 hour service. I’m sure there would be more bootmakers, dressmakers and tailors in Hoi An than in all of Australia and the dress designs in particular are really nice. I’d like to bring my entire Year class here a week before their Formal. You would love the dresses being sold here.

After the cooking class we had some time to relax (we haven’t stopped much until today), so I hit the street to check out some of the local crafts and markets, followed by a few drinks – happy hour, 2 pina coladas for 70000VD (about $5) or a round of 4 beers for 80000VD ($5 – $6). – with most of the group and dinner at a small, less touristy restaurant where I had the local staple, Cau Lau for the outrageous cost of 35000VD or about $2.

Early night tonight as we’re flying out to Saigon in the morning, so we need to be up by 5:00am.

Day 6 – Hoi An

The day started with a bus trip along the coast, then over the Hai Van Quan pass, then down into Na Dang and onto Hoi An.

Hoi An is a UNESCO list world heritage area, dating back to the 15th century, with Japanese and Chinese Quarters. The town is crazy busy with bikes and people, but has such a relaxing feel. It has all the usual tourist trap stores, plus a huge number of tailors and boot makers. Dad has ordered a pair of custom made boots, which will ready by tomorrow afternoon. After checking in we headed for lunch, then an old town tour.

Time for a swim, a few drinks and dinner. The river front at night is ablaze with lanterns, including many gondola type boats on the river.

This is definitely a place you could come and stay for a week and just relax. Everything is so cheap, the food is great and the atmosphere is buzzy but relaxed.

Day 5 – Hue

Motor bike tour day! After breakfast we were straight out and about on our motor bike tour of Hue and surrounds. Each of the 15 of us in the group drew a set of keys from a helmet to sort out who would ride on which bikes. With everybody organised we headed off through crazy traffic. We were quickly out of the town and riding down narrow lanes, through banana plantations and farmland. Throughout the day we had stops at temples and pagodas, markets and craft shops where incense was being made, museums and markets. Lunch was a vegan affair at a monastery. Really nice food! It didn’t take long before everybody relaxed and enjoyed the bikes – crazy as the traffic may be. Dad made some friends at a local market, handing out Australian flag stickers to some kids.

Aluminium boat made from fuel tanks left behind after the war.
Duck dinner.

After we returned to the hotel we arranged an informal gathering at the rooftop bar in the hotel – whoever turned up turned up – and as it happened 11 out the 15 of us were there. After a few drinks we headed off to find dinner. We asked the concierge in the hotel for a recommendation, which he promptly gave us, only to find when we arrive that it was place we’d eaten at the night before. We quickly found another place where the staff spoke as much English as we spoke Vietnamese, so you imagine the chaos as we ordered. Eventually we ate something, but followed up with an ice cream at Baskin and Robbins. After a short walk back to the hotel and a detour to find a Channel hand bag at a small market near the hotel, we settled in for a relatively early night before our departure to Hoi An.

Day 4 – Wednesday – Hue

The train continued through the morning passing through rice fields with people ploughing with water buffalo, thick jungle in places and small villages.

We arrived in Hue (pronounced whey, when whey is pronounced properly with the ‘h’ sound) late morning. Our rooms weren’t ready at the Gold Hotel, so the group headed off to Mr Cu’s Mandarin Café for Brunch. Mr Cu is a semi professional photographer, displaying and selling his work. Dad bought a photo of a river scene.

After that we checked in, freshened up then headed off on our tour of the city citadel. By now it was seriously hot – about 40 degrees and about 80% humidity. The group was fading as we got the far-too-long explanation of every detail of the walled city and every emperor that had ever lived there. Dinner was at a family run restaurant with traditional Hue food. Messy finger food, but yum.

Getting an early night tonight after not much sleep last night on the noisy train, and the hot, humid day.

Day 3 – Tuesday – Ha Long Bay and south toward Hue

Early breakfast, then off kayaking – or should I say kacking as I local guide Mr Bihn (Yes – Mr Bean) was saying. The kayaking was, again, very controlled, but well worth the $12 or so it cost. We paddled through a hole in the rock wall into a lagoon several hundred metres diameter, totally enclosed by steep cliff walls. And monkeys. Works can’t do it justice, so I hope photos can (once I get the opportunity t upload some photos).

We then headed back to civilisation and the 4 hour bus trip back to Hanoi, this time stopping at a workshop for people affected by agent orange and dioxins. They were making intricate embroideries and egg shell mosaics. Both were incredible. Lunch was Pho Bo – Beef Noodle soup, a staple of the north of Vietnam. On the trip back the bus developed a gear box problem, appearing to have lost low gears, so every time the bus slowed down or stopped it struggled to get going again.

Once back in Hanoi we had a few hours until we needed to leave for the overnight train, so we decided to go to the water puppet show that we had planned for Sunday but didn’t get time for. Again, works won’t do it justice. Amazing.

We then headed to “Train Street”, where cafés and restaurants line a narrow strip of railway line, with trains running through every half an hour or so. Real trains. As the train is approaching the restaurant staff blow whistles and remove everybody from the tracks for the train to pass, then return to ‘normal’ after it has passed.

Next stop was a coffee shop for ‘egg coffee’, which was beautiful. Liquid tiramisu! Then back to the hotel to get the bus to the station.

After boarding we jumped off, bought a few beers on the platform (Yes – beers on the platform) and half our group settled in for a somewhat rowdy night of recalling the events of the trip so far, a bit of politics and general story telling. We were loud enough to be asked to quieten down by a German woman two cabins down from our party. We didn’t! Fun night with a diverse and really interesting group of people. Finally, around 1am we all headed of for bed.

The train: It’s a lot more up-market than I was expecting. Everything is clean, comfortable and air conditioned.

Day 2 – Monday – Ha Long Bay

Day 2 – Monday – Ha Long Bay

An early start for the 4 hour drive to Ho Long Bay Bay. On the way was a stop at a pottery ‘factory’ where large pots are hand made. Amazing skill. Continuing on we reached the bay around 1:00pm and headed out. It really was one of those pinch yourself moments. The bay is every bit as spectacular as the brochures portray, although it was quite smokey – hazy. Apparently its smog drifting in from china, which is quite close to the north.

The boat was much more upmarket than expected and the food superb. Late afternoon we arrived at a cave where he went ashore and climbed the 400 or so steps to ‘explore’ the cave (very tourist oriented, so no real exploring. Everything here is VERY controlled to minimise risk.) After that we headed for another island where we could climb another several hundred steps to a lookout, then down again for a swim. Very refreshing after the steep climbing walk.

After that it was back to the boat for a few beers – most expensive yet at 50000VD (about $3.50!) and dinner (more superb food) and a quiet chat with the group. Great bunch of people – more about that later.

Day 1 – Sunday September 29 – Hanoi

Our bodies thought it was 3 hours later than the clock was telling us, so by 6:00am we wide awake. By 7 we were at breakfast – a breakfast that could have been at any hotel in the world – and by 8 we were out the door, heading south to the Old Town and Ho Hoan Kiem- a lake with a famous turtle and sword legend. Walking the streets of the Old Town was like stepping back in time, except for the constant threat of traffic. At times it was difficult to know if we were ever going to be able to cross a road, but the advice of walk steadily across and the traffic will go around you seemed to work. As we approached the lake an area was barricaded to keep traffic out. We soon discovered why, as a fun run strided past.

A short time later we were walking behind a group of young children in matching T shirts. “Hanoi English School” was written across their backs. We said hello, and struck up a conversation with their teacher. They were there to find tourists to practice their English language on. So practice they did, then photos, then more questions and more photos. Quite an amazing experience for both sides of the conversation.

We continued around the lake and found a bridge crossing to a small island. People were giving tickets toa guard on the gate, so we investigated and discovered it was a temple. 20000VD later we were in. A stroll around the gardens with amazing bonsai style plants, a temple complete with the usual offerings and an explanation of the sword turtle in the lake.

We then met and talked with lots more children – some school children, but others were mothers with very young kids who wanted the kids to practice English, and even a few uni students approached us to practice conversing.

Next stop was a coffee by the lake, then a stroll back towards the hotel through an area of hardware ‘stores’ that collectively would put the stock levels of Bunnings to shame. Back at the hotel we had a break for a while, before setting off again to explore the other direction from the hotel. By now it was approaching beer o’clock, so we had a Hanoi Lager at a very local looking café next door to the hotel (18000VD – about $1.30) then a few more at an Irish Pub (of course there are Irish Pubs in Hanoi!) where they cost an outrageous 40,000VD (still less than $3)

6:00 was the official start of our tour, meeting with our group leader Bruce, an expat Aussie who’s lived here and worked for Intrepid for 22 years. Our group consists of 15 people from Australia, Ireland, England, America and Germany. After the meeting we all headed off for a genuine Hanoi dinner (and a few more beers). Yum. Total bill for the 2 of us – 250,000VD – all of about $17 for 5 or 6 dishes and 2 beers.

A few other notable mentions: The electrical wiring in the street. OMG. The variety of shops, from up-market fashion shops to belt buckle shops to sidewalk noodle bars all within a few metres of each other. Lots of young women, dressed to the nines taking selfies in front of expensive hotels – building a portfolio maybe?

Day 0 – Saturday September 28, 2019

Early start today, after Carol brought us up to Sydney Airport Ridges last night – Thanks Carol. The hotel was a strenuous 50m walk from the International Departures at the airport, so we were there bright and early – around 5am. We were checked in quite quickly and equally quickly through emigration and security. As always I was stopped for an explosives swab, while dad had the full x-ray treatment. We both passed.

The plane was delayed getting away from Sydney by about an hour. It seems somebody forgot to get the plane out of the garage, but once underway the speedy pilot caught up the lost time. Several meals and a few movies later we were in Hong Kong – with no riots at the airport thankfully. We jumped on to Wi-Fi to check the AFL grand final score (GWS annihilated by Richmond) then headed across the tarmac by shuttle bus to Gate 509 to wait for our Hanoi flight. In Hanoi we picked up our pre-organised visa and were quickly out of the airport. Let the fun begin. We found the bloke with his ‘Intrepid Travel – Kevin Hunter’ sign, who promptly disappeared, presumably to get his car? A few minutes later a car arrived, we were ushered in and away we went. Leaving the car park, the guide wanted payment for the car park, but at this stage we had no Vietnamese Dong. No problem – they took us to an ATM where I withdrew 1,000,000 Dong with the smallest notes dispensed being VD500,000 – a bit difficult for the driver to change. A few minutes later the guide had a phone call. His customer was still waiting at the airport. He asked us if we were Mr [insert random Asian name here]. No! We had managed to get in the wrong car. A minute later we were back at the airport searching for our driver. Eventually all was solved and we were on our way – through chaotic, horns blaring traffic. We never did pay that car park fee. Whole families on mopeds, cars weaving this way and that, lane markings mere suggestions and traffic lights apparently semi-optional to obey. Somehow we made it safely to our hotel, the Hong Ngoc Cochinchine, check in and up to our room to get organised. A 21 hour day. Time for bed.