Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and Can Tho, Vietnam

We stopped in Mui Ne, a fishing village/beach resort for two nights on the way to Saigon. Plenty of dragonflies, fishermen and empty restaurants. Oh you can’t beat the low-season!
Having the time!

Having the time!

Little freaky

Little freaky

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City/HCMC
Arrived in Saigon on Wednesday 15th June. I know it’s HCMC on the maps etc. but that’s pretty much the only place. All the locals say Saigon and all the buses are marked Saigon. Sorry Uncle Ho. It’s a great city for meandering, we spent our days visiting markets; Cho Ben Thanh – lasted about twenty minutes here as our ear-drums were nearly decimated by “you want T-shirt/sunglasses/hat…” and the women kept grabbing John’s arm to get his attention. Pretty funny actually. We also went to visit the Russian Market which was supposed to have all these real designer items at knock-down prices as they’re from the end of the factory line. Now I was excited – until I saw all the Old Navy gear. I did purchase a rain-jacket though 🙂 There was also this market called ‘Thieves Market’. It was just another market. Saigon has plenty of shopping centres with air-conditioning too. Oh and they have Mango. Saigon has some pretty good architecture (yes, I’m now an architecture buff) including the Reunification Palace – the last place to fall to the North Vietnamese in 1975 (google it!), the Notre Dame Cathedral (all the original building materials were brought in from France) and the post office is also pretty epic. Except for their prices to send packages…
City Hall

City Hall

Bến Thành Market

Bến Thành Market

Totally safe

Totally safe

Nice wiring!

Nice wiring!

Financial Tower

Financial Tower

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

We also went to visit the War Remnants Museum which is actually a really interesting ‘attraction’. There are a few planes outside (don’t know what type, I’m a girl), a howitzer, some bomb parts and many, many photographs of the faces (including children) behind the war. It’s very disturbing. On a positive note we found a Gloria Jeans Coffee Shop and the most amazing yogurt place you could possibly imagine. It’s called Yoghurt Space and you pump your own frozen yogurt (which tastes exactly like ice-cream) and add whatever you want from their buffet-style counter. We also visited this really cool jazz bar called Sax’n’Art – nightly jazz sessions from the resident band. This American guy went up to these Vietnamese jazz players – who are really popular and unbelievably talented…and asked them to play some South-American jazz. We’ll leave it at that.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

Sax N' Art Jazz Club

Sax N’ Art Jazz Club

Can Tho 

We took a bus after taking a first bus to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. We decided on a visit to Can Tho as it has a floating market. We got up at 6am to hop on a boat for three hours to buy some coffee. We did make our way back through some little canals at the back of some local houses. Lots of smiling, waving kids which was lovely.
Can Tho

Can Tho Floating Market

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Dalat (Central Highlands), Vietnam

Decided to try and see a bit of ‘real’ Vietnam and spend a few days inland. Interesting journey inland to say the least. I thought we had potholes in Ireland, we were basically travelling on a two way road with only one way…half the road had fallen down a cliff at one stage. Amazing scenery though…and some interesting travelling companions – had never met a female Australian drover before, pretty cool (no it was not Nicole Kidman but she actually looked like her!). Stayed in this home-stay place called Phuong Thanh, very nice.
On the street market

On the street market

The town of Dalat

The town of Dalat

Kiddies having a right good time

Kiddies having a right good time

The happiest little chap

The happiest little chap

Dalat dragon?

Dalat dragon?

There’s this company called Easy Riders who bring you on motorbike tours of the countryside. We took a day tour for $20 each with Chuong and Tuan, mighty men! Left at 8am and had a quick breakfast in the Peace Cafe, where every Westerner seems to congregate. Took in some pagodas and learned a whole lot about Buddhism from Chuong (our 46 year old veteran guide). Did you know that Hitler studied a bit of Buddhism and the swastika is actually a Buddhist emblem? Believe it! Then on to see some of the Dalat countryside; flower gardens and vegetable plantations. Dalat gets some pretty wet weather so has some of the best flowers and vegetables in the country. I actually couldn’t believe the weather – it was just like Ireland. Nice to have a break from the heat and wear a cardigan. Yes I realise I sound 140. 

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

We stopped by a coffee plantation and walked around the coffee trees. Chuong asked if we knew what he was showing us and when we said coffee he was shocked! He asked where we had seen them before and we were like Google. As we were leaving there were 2 little kids just playing (on the road might I add) and I said hello and waved to the little girl – I’ve never before seen somebody get so excited by a hello! She gave me this massive smile and wave. So cute. Then we went on to a waterfall which apparently had some stones in the shape of a fallen over elephant at the bottom, which I couldn’t quite see. Next stop: a silk-making factory; cocoons and worms included. The girls working in factory (apparently men don’t have the patience for this job) boil the cocoons (worms and all) and find the beginning of the silk thread by stiring the cocoons with chopsticks. They then use loom-type machines to spin the silk into a spool of raw silk . The best worms are kept and sold to some elderly people in the area…for snacking on. Nice. The rest are sent on to make animal feed. We then stopped at this random guys house – he was making rush brushes (which they all use over here) and he gave us some avocados to munch on. Nice guy. Next on to this guesthouse called Hang Nga or the Crazy House. Basically this mentalist (probably related to Gaudi) has designed a house which is like something from the Flintstones, lots of nooks and crannies and looks a bit like a haunted house. Very strange.
Working with silk cocoons

Working with silk cocoons

Really hot and humid work

Really hot and humid work

So much silk!

So much silk!

Nha Trang, Vietnam

We took an 11 hour sleeper bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang. Got to the hotel we had booked online and was totally different to the website – “if you don’t like it then you can find another hotel”. So we did. We moved to a spot called the Perfume Grass Inn and the staff were so nice, makes such a difference. It was only a 2 minute walk to the beach so we spent our day in Nha Trang on the beach. Such a hard life!
There was a Sea Festival on so plenty to see around the place in the evening, after an epic ice-cream in an Italian spot. There’s just no beating those Italians for ice-cream! Lots of stages with singing, dancing and fairy lights.
 
Had some amazing Peach Bellinis in a bar called Guava which also had a great band, the whole package.
 
And that’s Nha Trang in a nutshell. Not very memorable.
Nha Trang Beach

Nha Trang Beach

Hoi An, Vietnam

We arrived in Hoi An on Thursday 2nd June and ended up staying a week. It’s a beautiful old town recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s basically a town with three parallel streets and lots of old buildings preserved from 16th and 17th centuries. Hoi An is FULL of tailor shops with a few tourist shops and the odd ‘pharmacy’ thrown in. We went in to this one ‘pharmacy’ to get some tiger balm for our monster mosquito bites and this pretty respectable 50+ year old walked in with his wife looking for marijuana – what now?!
Japanese covered bridge

Japanese covered bridge

Hoi An in the evenings

Hoi An in the evenings

We spent our time wandering around, cycling the streets and eating whilst watching people walking the streets. Pretty relaxing. We found this beautiful beach about a 3km cycle away from the main town (thank you Rough Guides). On your way in to the beach  these people pop out from every angle screaming and waving, saying you HAVE to park your bicycle with them (and pay) and you can’t bring it any further. Full stop. I nearly fell for it! You pass them and there are people saying you can park for free in their restaurants. Oh these Vietnamese. Spent a few days lounging around this Aussie place on the beach called the Soul Cafe – you can use their sun loungers for free for the whole day – just buy a few drinks. (So ya, not free I know but better than Spain’s €12). You do get hawkers pretty often though, trying to sell you jewellery/food/newspapers…
Now that's a beach

Now that’s a beach

Oh the relaxation

Oh the relaxation

I’ve also decided to refer to Hoi An as Hoi Scam/Sham from now on since I had a pretty negative experience in a bloody tailor shop. Let’s not get in to it but if you go there do not use ‘Nhi Nhi’ tailors on Le Loi. Oh and don’t get a Vietnamese person angry! We also lost all of our photos so far as the computer crashed, I lost something and broke something else – both things that meant something. Had to spend a day re-taking photos in Hoi An. Good times 🙂 We were in a restaurant one night and this little girl was staring at John from up close for ages, then came up and touched his arm and kept staring! So funny! Red heads are a rare breed here alright.
Bit of character here

Bit of character here

Pretty boats

Pretty boats

So lovely!!

So lovely!!

Talented bunch here

Talented bunch here

Hue and the DMZ, Vietnam

Last Sunday at 19.00 we boarded the train from Hanoi to Hue. Sounds so easy doesn’t it? If only. After contacting the special ‘tourist train’ office operated by a group called Livitrans and receiving no response we decided that we’d book our train in a Sinh Cafe which is basically a privately operated tourist office. Except we’re in Vietnam and everything is fake!! There are about sixty Sinh Cafes in Hanoi as they have a good reputation and once you’ve a good reputation in Vietnam everybody wants in on that action! We eventually found one which we thought looked genuine and so booked with them. All fine. Got to the train station about two hours early (just in case!) and all was fine until we tried to board the train – only to be waved off in the general direction of the main door. Lovely. Some guy eventually told us that we only had coupons which needed to be changed in a hotel near the train station and we’d have to bored the train via a platform within the hotel. Of course! Up until 18.55 we were the only ones in our ‘lovely’ sleeper cabin, kitted out with four beds and a mini table with bottles of water and toothbrushes. Three Vietnamese men joined us just before we ‘take-off’. God damn it! And cabin for 4 (not 5) I hear you say? Doesn’t matter to these boys!! Think one of them hated Westerners too, you wouldn’t believe the looks I was getting for the entire journey (15 hours) EVEN THOUGH I offered him biscuits. Well.
 
At 19.20 the train came to an abrupt stop. Turns out we had hit a car at a level crossing. Looked out the window and you could see this car squashed under the front of the train and train personnel pulling bits of the train off and just throwing them to the side. We’re thinking “how much hassle is this going to cause now ?” Answer: 50 minutes + 1 crane and we’re off again. No matter about half the front of the train they just threw around the place. P.S. Nobody was hurt in the making of this paragraph. Except that organ I like to refer to as my heart. Oh and P.P.S. There are cockroaches (and snoring moody men) on Vietnamese trains.
 
Hue
We checked in to our hotel in Hue (central Vietnam) at 9am the next morning (after another altercation about change with a taxi driver). Great! Wandered around Hue’s 200 year old Citadel for a few hours. The entire city of Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some beautiful architecture in the Citadel but that’s about all there was to see in Hue. Except ‘La Carambole’ restaurant, which had the most amazing spring rolls in the entire world. I believe they’re actually a Hue specialty so had to be sampled! As we were walking back to our hotel we bumped into the English couple we had met in Nanning. Sure you can’t go anywhere!! We had a resident gecko in our bathroom. Freaked me out a little I have to say! John christened him Gordon and he seems to be following us everywhere!!
Such beautiful architecture

Such beautiful architecture

Kids playing some board-games

Kids playing some board-games

Such prettiness :-)

Such prettiness 🙂

DMZ/Demilitarized zone
We decided to go all cultural and take a 9 hour tour of the DMZ which we organised from the Stop&Go cafe. We hired a car with guide, driver and 2 other girls, Jenny from Oslo and Jess from Shakespeare-land. The DMZ is basically the area which separated the North Vietnamese territory from the South Vietnamese territory during the war. This was really a John thing which I didn’t think I’d enjoy at all. Wrong. Anh, our 64 year old veteran guide, was a member of the South Vietnamese Army and worked as an interpreter for the Americans. We had an 8am start and we didn’t stop for lunch until after the tour! Oh sweet mother, shouldn’t we really have had breakfast and not gone out the night before? 
 
We went to see a Catholic church (apparently 3% of people in Vietnam are Catholic) where 24 Vietcong (North Vietnamese Army) were held by South Vietnamese Army for 81 days and then shot/blown-up/killed. Take your pick. Then we literally trekked through rubber trees, briars and an old dirt track to see an old American bunker. The 2 girls were freaking out that Anh was bringing us somewhere crazy and wanted to stop. In all fairness though who wants to trek on totally overgrown ground in Vietnam? We survived, all limbs intact. Anh also brought us to the National Cemetery which was actually very poignant. There were many cemeteries along all the route though. It’s pretty awful. We also went to see the Vinh Moc tunnels which were built by North Vietnamese people in order to provide shelter from incoming bombs. They’re 2km in total and have 13 entrances, 6 on top and 7 towards the China Sea. They include many family rooms, weapons storage – even a maternity ward! There were 17 babies born down there!! They were comfortable enough to walk around. John couldn’t stand but us girls were good. The Vinh Moc tunnels also came with one crazy lady wandering around collecting firewood and scaring tourists. Watch out!
Map of the DMZ

Map of the DMZ

Vinh Moc Tunnels

Vinh Moc Tunnels 

US Bunker

US Bunker

Entrance to a graveyard

Entrance to a graveyard

So many graves

So many graves

Overall: Not sure I’d recommend a long trip to Hue, 2 days is plenty but the DMZ is definitely worth the trip – particularly if you have a veteran guide.

Hanoi, Vietnam

I’m going to go as far as saying that we had a fairly comfortable 8 hour bus trip from Nanning to Hanoi via the ‘Friendship Pass’. Super quick border control although five different people inspected our passports. Had read a few forums about this bus trip – we’d have to pay for lunch as well as a ‘health-check’ at border control and we’d probably be dropped about 2km from Hanoi – left at the mercy of taxi drivers. Well I guess two out of three ain’t bad. Free lunch (really tasty actually – we were being stared at the entire time mind – maybe because of the way we were using the chopsticks? Probably should have practiced before this trip… 
They see a lot of Westerners here but I think we still fascinate them. We had the ‘health-check’ – basically stand in front of a computer and nothing happens, very random…but we weren’t charged for that. We were, however, left at the mercy of taxi drivers about 2km from Hanoi. Cheeky pups! You’re basically picked up and they bring you to their family hotel or wherever they’re getting commission from – and then want you to stay there – John’s like “I’m not getting out of the car, take us to our hotel”. They eventually did. They then try to overcharge you for the taxi – pretending they’ve no change – even though John had seen him give change to a Chinese couple 2 minutes earlier and the driver’s wallet was stuffed with cash!! God the taxi drivers here hate giving change. I reckon once it’s in their hands they think it’s rightfully theirs. Ya lads…
 
Found a lovely hotel – The Especen – right in the Old Quarter so happy out. Most of the hotels basically have 3 buildings across the street or around the corner from one another and they’re literally 2 rooms wide with stairs in the middle. Found a cool Australian cafe, Kangaroo Cafe, so spend our first evening having a lovely Vietnamese meal here…not. We had milkshakes and a full all-day breakfast. Booked a tour of Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site, with the cafe – only 7 of us on the boat, will explain soon. 
Hoen Kiem Lake

Hoen Kiem Lake

This is ice cream!!

This is ice cream!!

Such pretty lights

Such pretty lights

We did a lot of touristy things in Hanoi; National Museum of Vietnamese History, National Military Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake, lots of street markets, Old Quarter, French Quarter, the Temple of Literature (Vietnam’s oldest university. Included a well of heavenly clarity. I’m still waiting… Oh and this girl was following me around for ages. I thought she worked there and I’m thinking “Back off love, I’m not going to steal a bloody staircase”, then she goes “Can I take your picture?” Random. Hilarious mind. Then she wanted one of John and I and went off all happy!), St. Joseph’s Cathedral etc. etc. Loved Hanoi from the minute we got to the hotel. It’s a really social city, lots of people sit outside a ‘Bia Hoi’ all day (I don’t think they work) – basically drinking this fresh beer that has a 24 hour shelf life. They sit on tiny little stools for hours blocking the entire footpath and munching on pumpkin seeds. You have to walk on the road instead of the streets here anyway – all the motorbikes and mopeds park on the street. You could spend days just wandering the back streets, stopping for coffee and ice-cream (and wifi). Everywhere has wifi access, they’re putting us to shame. Some excellent cafes too: La Place, Puku and Marilyn Cafe (for future reference!).
 
We had our first experience of a Hanoian thunderstorm one evening. I thought it rained in Ireland but this was unreal. Wind starts up and then the lightening starts. Plenty warning in all fairness, thanks Mother Nature. We were in a park so had to run in to a gazebo with all the locals for fear of an epic rain induced bruising. Poured heavily for about 45 minutes before it cleared for about 20 minutes so we made a run for it! 
Children playing everywhere!

Children playing everywhere!

Colourful houses

Colourful houses

Love them

Love them


Halong Bay

We took a 2 day/1 night trip on a typical junk ship to Halong Bay. It was great, just ourselves, an English couple on sabbatical from teaching and a family of three from Tasmania. They fed us so well and we had a guide and everything. Stopped at a beautiful little island called ‘Ti Top Island’ and then went kayaking into a lagoon where we saw loads of wild monkeys way up in the trees. Really beautiful (except we didn’t get rabies shots so I was trying to kayak away from under the trees!). Of course we had no camera so missing out on those Discovery Channel royalties too! Great day out. Back to the boat for more feeding and some drinks on the top deck (with a little rodent friend which was not so great). Went to the ‘Amazing Cave’ the following morning after a monster breakfast. In all fairness the cave was pretty amazing; rocks in the shape of loads of different things (if you use your imagination) and one rock in the shape of a turtle – which is holy to the Vietnamese – they all leave money around the turtle – it’s supposed to bring good luck. Pretty cool. Back on terre firme for lunch at 11.30am!!

Overall: Spent 8 nights in Hanoi and would definitely return. Loved it.

Junk Ship in Halong Bay

Junk Ship in Halong Bay

Halong Bay in all its glory

Halong Bay in all its glory

So darn beautiful

So darn beautiful