A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

Written by Tom

sunny 32 °C

We left the strange, 4 mile beach strip town of Mui Ne at midday on the 8th November (my birthday) with a hangover from the night before where we celebrated my birthday at midnight with beers and cocktails. It was a 5 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh (the commercial hub of Vietnam and previously known as Saigon).

When we arrived at the backpacker / traveller area of the City we went in search of a budget hotel. The place was like Hanoi in a way, with loads of scooters dashing around which meant crossing the road an interesting experience, eventually we found a room for $12 but it happened to be on the 6th floor of the guesthouse (no lift) so the air con was needed to cool us down everytime we got into the room.

Dinner on my birthday was interesting, having had noodles or rice for most meals for the last 4 weeks we fancied some Mexican food. It is never quite what you ask for out here in SE Asia but still tastes good. My enchilladas were fine but Coralie's fajitas had 4 small triangular crisps instead of a flour tortilla...(still it tasted fine).

The next day it was up early and off to see the Cu Chi Tunnels about an hour from Ho Chi Minh. These were the famous tunnels used by the Viet Cong (VC) to gradually wear down the Americans. They are a massive network of tunnels, usually three tunnels running one on top of the other, at 2m, 5m and 10m deep. The tunnels used to go all the way into Cambodia. The tunnel entrances were only 20cm by 30cm wide, only very small Vietnamese soldiers could fit in to them. Some of the tunnels had been widened to fit tourists into and you could venture into them for some 100m in the dark if you liked. It was so hot and claustrophobic and dark in there that Coralie & I only shamefully managed about 10m before exiting at some strategic exit point.
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Also on show were some of the booby traps the VC would use to snare the American Troops landing by parachute or walking through the jungle. They were all simple traps but with pretty horrific outcomes.
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Later that day it was back to Ho Chi Minh for some drinks and mooching about. We also booked our bus for the next day which would take us across the border and into the capital of Cambodia (Phom Penh) in about 5 hours (we were told...)!

Pictures for this entry will follow soon when we find a new camera memory card reader.

Posted by tomcoralie 02:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - Nha Trang & Mui Ne

Written by Coralie

semi-overcast 32 °C

We left for Nha Trang with huge anticipation, having been told about the beautiful beaches and great night life...our arrival wasn't quite so exciting - 6am, having had a dodgy nights sleep on a night bus (the 'beds' are about 1/2 meter wide so you can lie flat on your back and that's about it). And it's tipping it down with rain. Anyway - we made it to our hostel - probably the nicest place we've stayed in so far - it had a BATH!!

Due to the rain we spent the morning catching up on sleep and then ventured out in the afternoon. Determined not to sit around doing nothing but with grey skies above us, we decided to go to some mud baths! So much fun! We spent a couple of hours swimming around in mud tubs and then in thermal hot springs...it was bliss, despite the weather.

In the evening, my Dad had very kindly treated us to a nice meal so we glammed up (as much as you can do whilst travelling!) and found ourselves in a lovely little French restaurant where we indulged on liver paté, steaks and the most delicious stinky cheese for pudding - utter bliss! And all washed down with some champers and wine - I was in heaven, having had to drink beer for the past month I was craving wine...although I think it may have slightly gone to my head...ooops!
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We then found ourselves at a bar called Why Not Bar - it's open from 9am - 4am and the 'Happy Hour' is from 9am (oh yes!) until midnight...it's total carnage...they do buckets of a cocktail with vodka, rum and red bull for about 80p...we may have gone slightly overboard on that one...
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not sure what time we got home but we certainly had sore heads in the morning to show for it!

A couple of leisurely days ensued - the weather didn't improve which meant a lot of playing backgammon and pool. Mark and Laura (who we met in Hoi An) turned up, so we hung out with them and managed to find even cheaper buckets of cocktails to drink...ensuring that everyone's game of pool went slowly downhill, but hilarious nights had by all.

Finally, we left Nha Trang having had a great few days - it was such a shame about the weather, but the night life and the atmosphere was excellent. I relished being able to have a bath for the first time in a month! We were definitely sad to be leaving but looking forward to our next stop at Mui Ne, which again, the guidebooks all rave about the 'amazing beaches'.

Disaster no. 1 happened on the way there - we realised that Tom had lost his camera in Nha Trang - we think it must have been pickpocketed as he's always been so careful about knowing where it is all the time. These things sadly happen and we called the hostel etc in the hope that we may have left it there, but no luck. Sadly, it has most of our photos from Vietnam on it, but the best are at least on this blog or facebook. Anyway, you can't dwell on these things and luckily we still have mine that we can use, but none the less, it put a bit of a dampner on things.

However, we arrived in Mui Ne at lunchtime and managed to find a hotel right on the beach with a private pool - all for $12! We realised that we didn't have any cash on us so started to make our way 'into town' - in the sweltering heat....only to realise that the town is basically one long 4 mile road with nothing but random little shops on one side and hotel beach resorts on the other. There's no centre or anything - very random...finally managed to find an ATM, after much grumbling on my part - I wanted to be sunbathing after all the rain we'd had!

We had a pretty relaxed one on our first night - so we played some doubles pool - having played shockingly badly for the past couple of weeks and being completely useless at pool, I managed to double the black up and down the table for the winning shot - Tom almost fell off his chair!

The next day I got my way and we spent the day lounging by the pool, reading and relaxing - we spared a thought for you all at work! In the evening we then had an amazing meal of fresh prawns stuffed with garlic, butter and coriander and cooked on the BBQ...utter heaven! We had about 20 prawns and dinner with drinks, rice, veg etc came to 7 pounds! There was a bar down the road called Pogos so we went there after dinner and had some beers, played cards, pool etc. Midnight arrived and we celebrated Tom's birthday sitting on a wall, overlooking the sea with the moon and palm trees on one side, the sound of the waves thundering underneath us and hundreds of stars above us - it was amazing!

The following day we left for Saigon - our final stop in Vietnam before heading over to Cambodia.

Posted by tomcoralie 23:49 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - Hoi An

Written by Tom

all seasons in one day 32 °C

After a five hour rainy bus journey from Hue we arrived in the town of Hoi An. Hoi An is about half way down the coast of Vietnam. We checked into our hotel and then went out for some dinner (it was still raining hard).

The next day it was still torrential rain so we donned the rain macks and headed into town. Coralie got her much craved pedicure (I think that is something to do with feet) and we wandered the streets for a bit. Inspite of the rain it was still very beautiful. The town is made up of very old french colonial buildings with ornate carvings and pretty coloured lamps hanging everywhere and a river running through the middle. Unfortunately because of the rain over the first couple of days we didn't get many pictures of the town itself.

After wasting a few hours wandering around the town we headed to one of the thousands of tailors in the town. Hoi An is famous for its tailoring and cloth making (which excited Coralie just a little bit!). She decided to have 2 tops, 1 pair of trousers and 4 dresses made. I gave in as well and had a fantastic navy blue pin-stripe suit and white shirt made for me and all for about 100 US dollars....BARGAIN!!!

Later that afternoon we found ourselves playing our first games of pool in Vietnam. We played doubles and then made good friends with a couple from Bournemouth called Mark and Laura. We ended up having a big night out in some cool bars called "Treats" and another called "Tam Tam Cafe".
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Luckily when we awoke it had stopped raining. We decided to leave our hotel and go and check into the same one as Mark & Laura as it was only $8 a night. Then the 4 of us headed to the beach (after going back to the tailor for our first fitting of our new clothes). The beach was beautiful - soft clean sand and warm sea water with decent waves to jump and body surf.
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The sea food was sooo cheap so we had prawn noodles and fresh crab for lunch (I went and chose the unlucky crab from the tank in the restaurant) and all for about $5 US.
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The next day we all went on a day trip to the ancient Cham ruins of My Son (1 hour from Hoi An). My Son temples were built by Hindus from the 8th to 13th Century which makes them older than the temples of Angkor Wat. Most were falling down badly but some were still in good condition and they are built of special bricks that use almost no mortar and stick together magically.
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Our last couple of days in Hoi An involved:-

Coralie having another 2 tops tailor made;
More games of pool;
More time at the beach;
More inexpensive delicious food.
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Posted by tomcoralie 21:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - Hue

Written by Coralie

semi-overcast 30 °C

Having got back to Hanoi at 5am, we made our way back to our hostel and were able to take our first shower in 3 days - utter bliss after trekking and sleeping in the same clothes for our time up at Sapa. We then found ourselves eating pho (noodles in a bowl of stock with fresh herbs and chicken - delicious!) on a street corner at 7am before hitting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and generally lapping up our final hours in Hanoi. It's a crazy place - there is no doubt about that - but we had a great time there and it was a hilarious first introduction to what the Vietnamese pace of life is like...having said that, it was pretty touristy and we were both definitely looking forward to getting a bit more 'off the beaten track' and doing our own thing - frankly, I just wanted to get to the beach!

Thankfully we flew down to Hue that evening - a much more relaxed town further down the East coast. Our first evening was a pretty early one - we were both shattered from so much travelling so a quick dinner and drink then bed...

Got up the next day to go on the much recommended 'Perfume Tour'. This is a trip down the river in Hue to visit temples and tombs along the way. We saw 3 tombs and 1 temple - it was really interesting getting the history on them and being able to walk around - these places are huge!!
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Beautifully done and built into the landscaped gardens, blending seamlessly with their natural surroundings...I don't think anyone would mind spending their days there.
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It was good to get some history as well on the various Emperor's that are buried there - one had 105 concubines (!) and another consumated 3 children in one night with 3 different women - not a bad life Tom thought!
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Got back to town at about 4pm and got ready to hit the town! Hue is pretty relaxed so we found a bar that did cheap cocktails (perfect!) and then had a delicious meal before hitting the DMZ bar, backpacker haven. Having thought we'd only have a couple, we didn't leave till gone 2am...Tom was in his element as they blasted out Daft Punk and the Red Hot Chillies...you can only imagine! I was praying that Michael Jackson would make an appearance but sadly not!

Our intention the following day was to go and visit the Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City but sadly it was pouring with torrential rain so we took shelter inside until our bus left for Hoi An at 1pm. Finally...I was going to be able to hit the beach - or so I thought!

Posted by tomcoralie 03:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - Sapa

Written by Tom

rain 25 °C

Wednesday
After a cheap but delicious dinner in Hanoi we headed off to Hanoi train station to get the night train to far North Vietnam to go trekking in Sapa. After getting through the madness of the ticket hall we found our train which to Coralie looked like a freight train and to me like a classic train from a Poirot movie.

We were unfortunately sharing a four berth cabin with two Vietnamese people who could just about say hello, so the conversation was limited and the cabin was small. Pulling out of the station at 9pm we soon got ready for a good nights sleep...or so we thought. The air conditioning made if feel like 12C all night and Coralie had to sleep with all her clothes on. On top of that the local guy snored SO loudly and the train sounded like it was about to tear apart.

Thursday
Arriving at 6am absolutely shattered we saw a very wet and foggy Lau Cai station. After one hour by bus we arrived in Sapa (still foggy and drizzley). It was not going well so far. We did however have a good size hotel room and after some breakfast we fell asleep and missed the 1st trek (half day)...oops!

Later that night we headed to the best local pub in town called Tau Bar. We met a great group of people and all had a few too many Tiger Beers, there were some very amusing stories coming from the Dutch couple.

Friday
After breakfast we were put into groups of 8 for the 2 day trek with a local H'mong tribe girl as guide. We were relieved to be in the same group as the crazy Dutch couple called Alex (6'9" basketball player) and Rachel as the other 4 people were old and boring with limited English.

We set off downhill towards the local tribe villages and rice paddies down some very steep and VERY slippy mud hills. A lot of laughter was had as most people fell over a few times combined with dodging the water buffalo. It was still foggy and wet and we had still not seen the amazing views every one talks about.
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After lunch we reached the local village.
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And later in the afternoon we reached our homestay. The homestay was made of wood and fairly new and spacious. The beds were mattresses on the floor upstairs with mosquito nets and downstairs was a place to eat. It was basic though.
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We chilled for a bit whilst being constantly hassled to buy trinkets from the locals (enough to drive us mad) then had a great dinner with the family and all 8 trekkers. After dinner the chef decided to bring out the rice wine which must be downed in one shot. The first few shots taste nasty and then it grows on you; it also warms you up as the girls discoverd, taking another layer of clothing off after each shot. 2am finish!
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Saturday
A bit of a hangover and not much sleep was semi cured by the delicious pancakes with bananas and honey and local coffee. After this we set off for the final leg of the trek. Thinking we had done most the hard work the previous day we immediately started by walking along the edges of the rice paddies.
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The edges are usually 4 - 12 inches wide and covered in mud so most people ended up getting very wet feet. Coralie at one point (supported by both hands by local tribe women) fell face first into the side of a rice paddy and managed to cover her right breast in mud!! I laughed a lot.

We reached a waterfall at midday then had lunch before making the short hike up to the road and the waiting mini bus to take us back to Sapa.
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It's market day on Saturdays in Sapa so we did some shopping with Alex and Rachel. Everyone bargained hard and Coralie ended up buying her 3rd handbag in ten days!!!

Later that evening we made the trip back to Lau Cai Station for the night train home. This time the cabin and bathroom were much more basic but without the snoring and broken air con we at least got some sleep before arriving back in Hanoi at 5am!
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All in all (despite the weather) a great trip!

Posted by tomcoralie 22:15 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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