Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Saigon. It’s hot (thanks Captain Obvious!)… I wouldn’t even dare to venture out in the open between 10am and 3pm anymore. The first two days were ok b/c we were hanging out somewhere indoors at a restaurant, the pool, or the War Remnant Museum. The third day however, I was completely exposed out in the sun on my way to “The Lunch Lady” a la Bourdain. My shirt was completely drenched and it took me forever to cool down once I get into an AC environment.

image

I flew down from Hanoi to Saigon (about 2hrs) to meet up w/ my friends Margaret and Barry who flew in from the US. My flight got there a little late and theirs got there a little early, plus the hoards of people waiting to pick up passengers outside the international terminal was really intimidating and I was worried at first I wouldn’t be able to find them.

Margaret used her points and we stayed at the Renaissance Riverside, where we had super nice breakfast, pedicure (first time ever), or just hang out at the pool. Definitely not roughing it. The 2nd part of our time there I checked into a budget hotel on the southwest part of District 1 near Ben Thanh Market.

image

image

We met up an acquaintance of Margaret, Troy, an expat working in Saigon who gave us quite a few good recommendations (I love recommendations from locals!). We went out to eat at nicer restaurants and drank a lot more than I had planned (which is my nice way of saying I didn’t plan for it at all). I think I blew through my budget for the week my first night. We went to Zan Bar, a really nice middle eastern restaurant w/ hookahs for dinner, some random bar called Xu, the roof top bar at The Rex Hotel, and Apocalypse Now.

image

Apocalypse Now was not what I expected. Troy had described it as “good clean fun” but it was pretty weird. There are a lot of expats of course, but judging by the amount of security guards in there and the fact they told me to turn my camera off while I was taking a short video, I wouldn’t be surprised if prostitution, drugs and other funny business go on there.

Blew through the sights in Saigon pretty quickly. Opera House, Notre Dame, Post Office (really cool w/ the French influenced iron work and architecture), Ben Thanh Market, War Remnant Museum, walked by the Reunification Palace but didn’t really go in because we had enough of anti-America kool-aid by that point.

image

(Whoever recommended Pho 24 to me owes me an apology. This is the worst bowl of pho I’ve had in Vietnam. Never eat at franchised restaurants even in Vietnam. The broth was bland b/c they don’t take the time to let it develop flavor and just churn it out to the customers. My spring rolls were dry to the point the wrapper was hard… seriously… it was probably some gwailo friend that was too scared to eat anything other than Pho 24 while he was here in Saigon)

image

(I love the fruits in Southeast Asia. Normally I’d punch myself in the face for ordering a drink like this, but it’s lychee!!)

image

(Jaspas for brunch one day, another one of Troy’s recommendations. Sit out on the balcony with some eggs benedict and iced vietnamese coffee to take Saigon in slowly)

image

image

image

image

(Pho 2000, right across from the Ben Thanh market on the southwest side. Famous because Bill Clinton visited there. It was good, but the best pho I have is still in Hanoi)

image

(First banh my in Vietnam. It’s more of a southern Vietnam thing. Saw bunch of people lining up across from Ben Thanh, grabbed one for 20,000d and bunch of other drinks from a convenient store for another 40,000d)

image

(Banh xeo and pork dumplings at Wrap & Roll. Haven’t had banh xeo until now. This one was way too oily.)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Hanging around in Hanoi

image

image

image

Not to be negative, but I didn’t find Hanoi to be that interesting while I was doing my research prior to the trip and while I was here. I know it’s the capital and all but other than the Ho Chi Minh Mauosleum nothing else really caught my attention (and I didn’t even make it to the Mausoleum b/c they close at 10:30am during the week!). I basically used Hanoi as a base for Halong Bay and Sapa.

The very first thing I did on my very first day was to get food recommendations from the hostel staff. I’ve asked more than one person and they all said a pho place at 49 Bat Dan. It did not disappoint. In fact, I met couple of girls from Yorkshire later and took them to this place and they loved it as well. It’s a smaller bowl than in the US, for 35,000 dongs, which was more than I thought b/c people have told me a bowl of pho is like 75 cents. I hear Saigon is cheaper tho.

image

I hesitated a bit to eat some street food, not for sanitary reasons but b/c the stools in Hanoi are all really short and small. I was afraid if I sit on it and break it they would make me pay for it. When I do sit down though, my knees are higher than the table. I felt like Alice in Wonderland where all the furnitures are all too small.

image

image

After wondering around the first half day I am in Hanoi and the bus ride back from Halong Bay I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the city, at least I have these mental signposts of where everything is. The opera house, Hoan Khiem Lake, etc. I was very content to just spend my time wondering around. Even if I got lost I just sort of walked toward the genral direction of where I want to go. I would just randomly sit down in a coffee shop w/ locals playing Chinese chess and young people inside, or a pho shop filled w/ local office workers or kids getting out of school.

image

I would’ve gone to the water puppetry show w/ the Yorkshire girls except the day we want to go was sold out. They got tickets for a matinee show the next day but I wouldn’t be able to make my shuttle to the airport if I went. I was gonna go to the Mausoleum on my last day but then I found out how limited the visiting hours were so I only ended up going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and around the complex. I did pay 10,000 dongs to go into the Temple of Literature, but partially it was so I can use the restroom. I would’ve gone to the Ethnology Musuem too but it was 20 minutes by bus and I wanted to stick to walking.

How to do it: cheap shuttle bus back to Hanoi No Bai Airport
Right across from the Vietnam Airline’s office down town they pick passengers up to the airport for $2 or 40,000 dongs. I walked by it the day before my departure and it was filled w/ locals. The mini-buses depart every hour, except for 5pm but there’s an additional one at 6:30pm for some reason. It takes about 50 minutes to get to the airport, maybe a little longer during rush hour. I liked it better than taxi which cost $15 to $30 if there’s a lot of traffic. Public bus to the airport is the same price but this is quicker and more comfortable.

Read Full Post »

Staying w/ the Dzao in Sapa

It feels like as soon as I got back to Hanoi I was whisked away on a train to Sapa. To get to Sapa, first you take a train to Lao Cai. The best soft sleeper cabin is about $30. There are cheaper hard sleeper options. We left just after 9pm and arrived around 5am the next day.

From Lao Cai to Sapa it’s about another hour by mini tour bus. I joined 5 other people in trekking around Sapa. Our first day was a 10km hike for 5 hrs and 7km for 4 hrs the second day. Overnight I stayed with a Dzao family.

image

image

As soon as our car turn into this smaller street where my tour guide was going to pick me up the local ethnic women selling articrafts started chirping to each other. It reminded me of the pelicans in Finding Nemo going: “Mine! Mine! Mine!” I was the first one to get out and it did feel intimidating as this fresh meat or chum getting tossed into the open water w/ all these sharks.

I feel like the word “hike” is very misleading here. Sapa is in the mountains and the routes we take is steep as hell. There are basically divots in the ground to plant your feet. At one point on the 2nd day we had to inch our way across the edge of a rice patty. Of course I lost my footing and my entire right foot went straight into that fresh Sapa mud and darn near took a H’mong lady with me.

Despite the fact it wasn’t raining, I was still slipping from time to time in my hiking shoes. Meanwhiles these H’mong old ladies in their little slippers are hopping around like bunch of mountain goats. I suppose this is one of those times that it pays to be smaller and lower to the ground.

The local ethnic people knows the tourists need help getting through these terrains so they just show up at the travel agency before you depart or at your homestay to accompany you. Of course when you get to your destination they pull out the trinkets they want you to buy. Whether you buy or not it’s up to you. I did the first day but more as paying for their service b/c I know I could’ve killed myself out there.

The homestay was really nice. Once we got there the 6 of us just sat, drank tea and chatted. No TV, x-box, facebook or any modern distractions. There was more than enough to eat for dinner. For breakfast the next day we had thin, blini like pancakes w/ honey, bananas, and sugar. The family also drank “happy water” with us, which is like this home distilled cloudy vodka. Hot water for shower and warm blankets. Just make sure you bring your earplugs b/c roosters don’t crow when the sun come up, they crow about as early as 2:30am.

You’re suppose to confirm your train ticket about an hour before your train. I didn’t know this and someone with the tour company just took my ticket and hopped on a motorbike to confirm it. Quite scary if you think about it… my only way of getting back to Hanoi just went off on 2 wheels.

Over time people in Lao Cai started noticing all the tourists with their muddy shoes and offer shoes cleaning services. If you can’t stand dirty shoes you can get them cleaned. I wish I could tell you what a fair price would be but I was quite proud and happy to have muddy shoes so I didn’t want them cleaned.

How to do it: trekking in Sapa
Tours are about $40 excluding train tickets. I definitely recommend the homestay option. There are stuff to do in Sapa like the market or get a massage but it’s quite touristy. Even just in Lao Cai the prices are so much cheaper than in Sapa.

Read Full Post »

From Hanoi to Halong Bay it’s about 3.5 hrs. This might vary depending on how many more people your tour group needs to pick up after you and how long you stop for restroom and shopping on the way there.

My hostel was very nice and booked a 2 day, 1 night trip for me via APT Travel. There are tons of other tour companies and you also have the option of doing just 1 day or 3 days if you like. I stayed overnight on a boat. Some people stay in a hotel on an island.

I was slightly disappointed by how foggy it is in Halong Bay. Nevertheless it is beautiful. It reminded me of Krabi or Phuket, but here you’re surrounded by it. Legend has it that a dragon rested here and he turned into the rocks, coming in and out of the water. If you use your imagination a bit, you can imagine yourself cruising in between the dragon scales.

Our itinerary included visiting a cave, kayaking, some swimming (if it was warmer), fishing and karaoke at night. The ship I booked was much nicer than I expected. We had an odd number and I ended up having a twin bedroom to myself.

image

 

image

The second day we just hung out on the ship. There was a demonstration on how to carve flowers out of vegetables. I got back into Hanoi around 5, 5:30pm, which give me just enough time to freshen up, grab some pho and off to Sapa by overnight train.

How to do it: Halong Bay
Ask your hotel or hostel or walk into any of the travel agencies around Hanoi and ask them to book one for you.  Depending on how many days you go and how nice of a ship it’ll probably range from somewhere between $50, $60 for 2 day/1 night.  You can also do it by yourself but if you get lost or missed a connection it’ll be pretty difficult to find yourself back on the right track. I heard a couple of horror stories.

Read Full Post »