25 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that the stuff that are booked and planned go by fine but when I give options on what to do but nothing confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. I think whoever Im travelling with should have a clear picture of things to do per city besides the main things we book beforehand. Everyone needs their own space. I don’t know why I have to lead everywhere we go especially when they know I will be shooting over anything else. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless its a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. Ive heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. HCMC is very populated so just be cautious when it big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
Ho Chi Minh
Hot and humid – Its grungy, tons of motorbikes, don’t trust taxi cabs and stick to Mai Vinh and Vinasun cabs. Its rather easy to cross the street if you have no fear and stare them down. Its humid and full of people everywhere. People watching is great and the french influence in architecture make it beautiful. People stare. PJ and rice hats everywhere. Crocs rule this place as well as sandals and croc imitations. If they need to move anything around the city, it can fit on a motorbike including 2 old people with 2 ladders or bags of rice and other things. There are road rules and lights but not everyone abides by the rules. Its built with french influence – everyone eats on the sidewalks and people watch but on plastic stools and tables rather than wicker sets. Each restaurant specializes in one or two particular dishes so you eat at one place and move on. Sidewalks also become roads and parking lots. No age limit for drinking – babies drink beer.
Humid but rains and cools down a tad bit – Taxi’s are better than in HCMC – more regulations. Love the history of the old city where the streets were named after the product they specialized. I love that its such a mix of nature and city. There are so many random alleys that you can just turn your head and look at and its a small vignette into a smaller world; a smaller moment that I absolutely love and look for on all my trips. The people are different here form HCMC… a little more refined. From the looks of things, Hanoi looks more educated. Reminds me of Hong Kong – Humid as hell. Slightly calmer traffic but still amazing little streets to walk through. If it wasn’t for our food tour there would be so many foods we tasted that we would’ve missed out on.
Ha Long Bay
Hot – Beautiful pinnacle of islands to sail through and live aboard a boat was a great experience. Sunrise was so serene. I hear good things about Ha Long Bay but I hear Sapa is a dream… next time.
It’s a dream world. A little village like city. Weather reminds me of Hawaii – hot but not humid. Mix of old and new but now with a huge mix of expats. Buffet street, morning market street and alms giving were great. Wish I had more time there. Kuangsi falls – spectacular!
Hot with normal humidity compared to Vietnam. Tuktuk will be cheaper options and can grab one outside the entrance of airport – Haggle down the price but check inside first what a taxi costs. A look into normal life – a small city that has great land nearby that produces one of the worlds best coffee. The people are lovely. Made new friends playing volleyball.
Small little village but even on the van ride over, the people were just so kind hearted waving and smiling. The jungle was awesome. Wet but it only rains for a short time then it can be nice. I love being outdoors and this was definitely a workout and a half. Zipllining was awesome too but wished it was a little safer like Whistler nonetheless still a great experience
Hot and humid. Not all roads are built of concrete so they will be bumpy. Tuktuks will be your main choice in transportation. Full day tuktuk will be roughly $25USD + feeding your driver. Tickets for temples can be purchase morning of first day of temple running – $20USD for single day up to $40 for 3 day. Angkor Wat at sunrise is nice but everyone goes so its crowded and gotta be patient to not get another tourists camera in your shot. Bayon even though we didn’t go inside because it was so hot of a day and we had already visited at least 4-5 was by far the prettiest. Its hot… drink water – heat stroke is real. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt and cover them knees. Phare Circus is awesome and is a great asset to the community helping low income individual strive for better. The show is awesome too! The kids are so adorable here but when you’re closer to temples – tons of poor families and kids will approach you to purchase things – don’t buy from kids! If you want to purchase prescription glasses – this is the place to do it and haggle down price! I got mine for $38USD with lenses.
Hot but not too humid. Hawaii like weather. Best time to go is April-March. #1 source of income – tourism. Very commercialized. Central Festival mall is pretty nice and has night market stalls outside overnight with cheap food and other. The night market by the water sells all souvenirs you want. There is also a volleyball / basketball court at the very end past the chewang food court market. Recommend staying in a resort beachfront near Chaweng. Sandalwood was great but hassle to be on top of a hill and needing to be driven down and then work within schedule for drop off and pick up if you don’t want to pay for your own taxi.
Taxi from airport is relatively cheap. Tuktuk as well. Hot with little humidity. More cultured – I see more style and edge to the people here. Laid back but very safe and nice. Sunday walking market is long and huge in a t format. Tons of temples to goto. The old city holds a lot of the culture and things you want to see. Top of the north wall – stalls – street food for locals – thai cowgirl – 30baht – best khao kha moo. Good Khao soi nearby stall. The Central Plaza – Chiang Mai Airport mall is nice too. Goto north village and all the way to the bottom to their foodcourt for cheap meals indoors in AC. Coffee trending here – Ahka Ama, Ponganes, Clay Studio Coffee, Graph Cafe, Natwat Home Cafe, Mao Coffee etc. Elephant, karen long neck tribe, tigers etc tours all can be done here.
HUMID. disregard the taxi stand right outside the arrival gate. head to gate 8 at Don Meuang airport and line up for a cab there. metered taxi. If you take the highway – tolls that need money up front at each toll. Don’t take an unmetered taxi unless you negotiate price first. Ride into downtown is about 35-40 minutes. HUMID. tuktuks are little pricer here but can negotiate price. Grand Palace is 500baht to enter. Was Pho is 100baht plus free water. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt & cover knees. Visit Chinatown to see what the city use to look like years past. Khaosan Road – touristy but cool to see/experience once. Buy all your souvenirs here. Get a thai massage in an AC place – 250baht for an hour is standard.
This morning, I awoke to a huge thunder crack that seemed inches away at 4-5AM. We got packed and had breakfast and booked a airport transfer with our group of 5 to the airport. $18USD for 5 people isn’t bad. We got there and literally walked up to front desk and then off we went. The airport is pretty decent but everything you purchase in there is USD. This must be the most efficient experience I’ve ever had from checking in, security, flight and customs. We had to go downstairs to where we were transported via shuttle bus to the small plane that pretty much loaded us up and off we went. We flew with Lao Airlines. The plane lifted off smoothly and we were even served a mini snack and Adam and myself had Laobeer – Not my taste in beer. The landing was by far the smoothest of all the flights so far on this trip. We got off and lined up for the arrival visa. The process is pretty smooth. You fill out the forms on the plane then hand off to stage 1 with your passport and 1 passport photo; if you don’t have one then you pay $1USD for a photo on the spot. Next you goto another line where you get your passport back with the sticker visa and pay. Canada pays $42+1USD (service fee). USA pays $35USD. The final line you just stand on the footprint stickers as they look at the papers you filled out. Our main purpose of going to Laos was to do the tree top trekking in Pakse but I have been told by many that Luang Prabang is a place that you cannot miss especially if you are in Laos. We made it happen and only had about 17 hours in Luang Prabang.
We came out and awaited our ride. We exchanged about $20USD and whatever leftover Viet Dong we had. We had been waiting for awhile so we decided to check in with the info desk to see if we could call them and turns out there was another gentleman named Song Hu who’s from San Francisco waiting for Jimmy as well and was also staying at the same guest house. He used to work for Twitter and is a liberal arts guy who can’t really code. He’s been on a whirlwind travel adventure going from China to India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and currently Lao. He is in fact Korean born in America but the first dark Korean. We booked a RT airport transfer with Jimmy for $25USD for the three of us. Our one night stay is at Apple Guest House (Xatikhouman Rd 01 / 05 Xiengmoun Village) where Robin – an expat originally from the mountains near Golden Coast in Australia is now living with her adopted son Jimmy who is originally from Laos. She is retired and now runs this hostel with her family plus she runs a free english class for people in Luang Prabang. She came back to Laos because of her son. He was having trouble finding love in Australia so he came back to Laos originally in Vientiane working for the Australian embassy and was unsuccessful until he came to Luang Prabang where within a 2 weeks he found love with a beautiful women and are currently about 3 weeks awaiting the arrival of their first child is born. The guesthouse itself is very quaint and is tucked away from the main street by a block and is very quiet with timber slippery dark wood floors and a little balcony. It is essential to take off and leave shoes at the front door before entering into the building.
We quickly un-packed and changed into our swim wear. Robin had suggested this one particular tour that she has connections for (started at 1PM and we arrived at 1250) so it would be $25USD/pp and it was a elephant ride (wash was extra $5USD), visit the black moon bears and a free trip to Kuang si Falls including tuktuk. By the way TukTuk is pronounced took-took. We opted out of it as we really want to experience the waterfalls experience. Robin called up a tuktuk for us right away and Johnny picked us up. In the tuktuk already were 3 guys from Brighton, England. Connor, George and Peter who were all chefs back home in a mexican restaurant who recently quit and have been travelling for awhile. They were a fun group. Johnny could definitely drive Tokyo drift the way he drives. The roads outside of the main area are a mix of cement, wooden single lane bridges to mud/dirt with potholes. We got to the falls in good time. From what I’ve seen so far of Laos; most particular Luang Prabang, some places they live in are reasonably decent looking homes but also there are those homes on the side of the road. Definitely different experience than Vietnam where the people selling products aren’t as intense in your face but also the way they work, it’s lax but more civilized if that makes any sense. Anyways back to the falls. It costs 20,000 kip to enter the falls. The falls themselves are gorgeous but there are multiple layers to walk to. I only recommend watershoes for the actual swimming portion if you really want or at least wearing crocs as the steps can be sharp or all of a sudden there isn’t a rock to step on and just drops.
Continue walking and you get a glimpse of the bottom of the falls where we see a few people swimming. We decided to continue to the top first and make our way back down to find the best place get in. The water is extremely cold and a green blue colour and definitely not clear but it is indeed freshwater! I went barefoot in but be careful for sharp rocks and parts where the rocks drop into nothingness. We swam around one waterfall for awhile before moving onto another section. And then it happened… Amy ended up tossing Adam’s GoPro at him in one of the deeper areas thinking there was a floaty device on the handle but unfortunately she threw short and Adam dove under trying to find it but two different currents were swishing around and it’s not clear water and that is the end of life for his GoPro as it sits in the caverns of the Kuangsi waterfalls. There were tons of rocks and trees around the area so it couldn’t haven’t gotten past that area but it massive sunk deep within one of the caverns never to be seen again unless some wonderful soul finds it one day and gets to experience the last 6 days of our adventures. The section we lost it in for future reference of any friends that are strong swimmers/divers go there one day and attempts to find it (bring goggles). It’s the second section of the top level just underneath the tier that people aren’t allowed to swim. Where there is an angled tree in the middle that has two medium sized branches that you look at and want to climb which your can. Just in front of the area where people can sit on the edge in the middle. It is in the middle of that area that out now lives. It’s a GoPro hero 4 with an LCD back on a waterproof selfie stick with a rugged handle with metallic green on the bottom of the handle with a wrist strap attached. Adam gave up looking as the water was just too cold to stay in longer and down we went to the next tier where there is a rock out tree ledge people can jump off of. I wonder how many devices get lost in this waterfall.
Back onto the tuktuk to head back. We didn’t get to see the sunset on the Mekong Delta but on the back of a tuktuk. We got back and Song Hu found us. We walked over to buffet street which is what it is named after. About 10 stalls with a huge selection of dishes to choose from. You pay 15000 kip for an all you fit into one bowl meal with grilled meats as a separate fee. We thoroughly enjoyed all of it but wished there was a breeze.
After dinner, we walked dessert street and the night market street. Be warned tall people, your neck will hurt as it’s tents that you will need to bend under. After awhile they are ask selling the same merchandise. I never thoroughly liked night markets because it’s all the same things. After the market, we decided to head towards The Hive (Kingkitsarath Rd) (as of Jan 2016 – has closed down) which Robin suggested. The hive is owned by an Aussie expat and they run a fashion show that showcases fashion from the last 100 years or so. It was also suppose to have a hip-hop dance performance but we either missed it or it wasn’t happening that night.
Woke up early yet again but this morning woke up to rain which sucks. We packed up and went down to the second floor for breakfast buffet before getting picked up by Sun Legend Tour to take us on our journey to Ha Long Bay. We booked the 2 day and 1 night tour for $143.45USD/pp.
4 hour car ride. First van shuttle to have free WIFI. One other couple – Wendy & Vincent from Malaysia joined the sticky rice crew. Luckily the weather turned out to be spectacular outside of Hanoi. Our tour guide is Kien who also runs a Hanoi biking tour with Sun Legend and is the poster boy for it. Driving here is crazy but makes sense. Some highways are two lanes with 60km/hr but people float on the lanes and just honk when they want to pass to let them know. Gasoline is expensive over here for them at 84 cents per litre.
We arrived in Tuan Chau a little early so we had a stop at a pearl store. Then we began our adventures to the cruise ship. They had civet coffee (weasel poo coffee) but it was almost $100 USD. We gathered our belongings and took to the dingy which brought us aboard our ship. I being the odd one out got my own room with a double memory foam bed. We got settled in and off we sailed into the pinnacle of Ha Long Bay. These giant islands are made of limestone and look like they just separated and kind of remind me of the 12 Apostles or Loch Ard Gorge in Australia.
We had lunch then went on our way to kayak Luon cave. Once again odd number, I got my own two person kayak and I killed the kayaking on my own. Cool experience gliding through a tunnel into a safe haven surrounded by the limestone with monkeys everywhere; very serene. The next best thing was that on this pier, there were guys playing their version of volleyball on the pier! Asian volleyball at it’s finest which Amy and myself joined for a point or two before we had to go back to the ship.
Next event was Ti Top Island with a lookout point which was named after the Russian man who gave Vietnam their first airplane which was a great thing but no one in Vietnam knew how to fly it. It was about 500 steps to reach the top of this island and it was steep enough to make all of us breathe hard. We were all glistening by the time we reached the top but the view was definitely worth it. We rushed back down and practically jumped into the water at the beach and of course there was a volleyball net so we were obligated to play but that ball was heavy and the court not on even grounds. 4×4 with sort of shooting method of play but obviously Adam owned it. One of the guys was trying to block him but he kept OT-ing him so he switched spots with me. We got back to the boat just in time for sunset and had happy hour time then dinner and squid fishing and karaoke.
Some information about Hanoi from Kien:
–7 million in Hanoi.
-Oldest bridge was built in 1901 but had to rebuild part of it due to the war.
-People don’t move out of Hanoi but tons of people come for university and never leave. They expanded to the other side of the red river to accommodate more people. The north is definitely had more wealth than the south from what I’ve seen. The people seem friendly here and not as judgy just a little.
-The old buildings with green and yellow colouring are old French buildings. I really love the architecture here even when it’s dingy looking but also quite clean and I absolutely love the marble flooring in some of the homes I’ve seen.
-The king moved the capital to Hanoi with 36 items and wanted to make it easier for everyone to purchase products such as copper to one street called copper street.
-Lifestyle – very flexible in terms of life, way of working, way of driving, way of eating etc. I the people here especially in Hanoi are hard working folk who may take their time like I’m sure I would in this kind of climate but nonetheless, working hard at their craft especially agriculturally. People’s homes are a combination home and shop front which makes it very homie everywhere.
-For beer – International Bia Hoi corner. The tour guide likes to go there as local girls don’t drink beer at any other beer halls except there because it’s a mix of locals and foreigners there.
-People aren’t suppose to occupy the pavement as that breaks the law and only use it for walking so a coffee shop owner would need to goto the police officer and ask for space on the pavement and the police are flexible and bribe them with free coffee and money. They can bargain.
-54 ethnicities but 80% Vietnamese.
Some knowledge of coffee for Hanoi & Vietnam:
-Coffee here is very strong; stronger than the south.
-For different seasons in Hanoi. So they automatically offer you coffee with ice there but have options in Hanoi for hot coffee and coffee with ice. People drink coffee for new ideas. Coffee for the inspiration.
-Coffee with yogurt
-Coffee with egg
-Trung Nguyen is the most popular brands.
Awoke at 530AM to watch the sunrise which at 530 looked like nothing and it was cloudy. I returned to my room but then outside my window, I saw a gleam of light around 6-630AM which was primetime for beautiful morning light. Everyone skipped yoga and taichi. We had breakfast then went to Sung Sot cave which is one of the 7 wonders of nature as this island has limestone tunnels inside into another world practically. They used this cave during the American war to hide from invading soldiers and to hide weapons and it’s interior is massive. It somewhat looks like that secret new world they found in Vietnam that has it’s own ecosystem. Back to the boat where we packed and made spring rolls and had lunch before heading back to Hanoi.
We checked back into our original hotel but in a 5 person suite which is actually pretty nice minus the fact there is one bathroom with low water pressure. Since Adam, Amy and myself are going to be on the move from Luang Prabang straight to Pakse straight into a jungle then off to Siem Reap, we needed to wash our clothes so we used body gel and hand washed them in the sink. Luckily there was 18 hangers in the closet in the hotel room. There is a ledge where the ceiling lowers slightly which came in handy to hang the hangers to air dry all our clothing which reminds us of an open market selling clothing.
For dinner, we walked over to a Quan An Ngon – 18 Phan Dinh Phung – which was a slightly higher end version of street meats but better service. We ordered a bunch of items to share including: ben cha, pho, ben thang, seafood /springroll, mango salad, green onions with garlic, fresh spring rolls, some type of fish thing. Everything tasted great, service was great and the place was booming and clean that we got seated upstairs. From there, we walked back over toward the pond Ho Hoan Kiem and made our way to Highland Coffee to check out the view and buy coffee. Unfortunately the smallest bag of beans they had was a size of a baby so I opted to go outside just around the corner to Trung Nguyen (coffee chain) and purchased a bag of espresso beans for 140.000VND. We walked around looking for dessert so we ended up walking back into the direction of the dessert place we went to 2 nights previously and had more dessert there. 95 Hang Bac. We arrived home shortly after and said our final goodbyes to Emily and James.
I keep waking up early – 530AM. Grabbed breakfast at the hotel buffet and then off we went to the airport one last time to head over to Hanoi via Vietnam Airlines. They are very flexible in timing here as my original flight to Hanoi was scheduled for 930AM but then they rescheduled us to a later flight which actually got pushed back in timing. The flight itself was pretty easy and we also got a full meal there. We touched down to see rain. We hopped in a random taxi although we wanted to take a Mai Linh or Vinasun but I believe Hanoi taxis are more regulated and won’t cheat you out of a ride. It was raining hard and takes about 45 minutes to get into the city from the airport which is roughly 300.000-500.000VND. The hotel we stayed at was Royal Palace Hotel 2 (95 Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội). We were greeted by a young boy who was the bellhop who brought us refreshments and then the lady at the front desk – Hang, who was very professional and informative. She told us that the street we are staying on is also known in english as cotton street because in the old quarters back in the day, this street was where people sold cotton.
First looks at Hanoi, it looks very old world in terms of architecture with old structures buildings. A mix of modern with a little more design flair. Reminds me a little bit of Hong Kong with buildings built narrow and high. Very jungle meets city incorporated. HCM did have giant trees embedded into sides of the streets but here, the vines and trees just take over certain parts. Plus I absolutely love walking down each street with so much character and all these narrow alleyway / corridors that create dynamic vignettes.
Adam and Amy are in a different room as I was rooming with Lixin and Yu Ling. The hotel is very quaint and french inspired which is so lovely. We decided to walk a bit of the town as we awaited their (Lixin & Yu Ling) arrival from the airport. Lixin and Yu Ling were Amy’s roommates back in London in uni . Amy’s friend Emily and her fiancee James also joined us for this little portion of our trip (Hanoi – Ha Long Bay) who are originally from Carolina but Amy met Emily in the Sahara Desert and now Emily and James live in Singapore.
We walked to the centre of town by the big river/pond – Hồ Hoàn Kiếm then returned to the hotel to meet with them. We walked over to Hanoi Street Food tour (74 & 76 Hang Bac Street at Kim Tour’s Building) where we met Emily and James. It costs $23USD but lasts 4 hours or so and includes multiple stops and different local cuisines. Our tour guide Phuong aka Phoenix is a 22 year old university student who was very friendly, social, knowledgable and spoke english pretty well. She would yell Stickyrice and that was her signal for us when we crossed the street so we would stick together and not get hit especially in the very crowded areas.
Our first stop we had ben cha (boon cha) – rice vermicelli + pork. Thanh Hop – 12 Dinh Liet.
Second spot we had banh cuon nong – hot rice crepes that we made ourselves! The lady put down the rice flour and we used a long flat bamboo stick and you push against it then turn the stick to the left against the surface a few times then pull up. The other lady filled them up with shrimp or something which is similar to churn fun. Banh Cuon Nong My Van Than-Mien Luon – 14B Bao Khanh.
Third Spot – we had tea chanh – lime tea, tra quat – kumquat tea, bo bia – coconut rolls – Cafe Giai Khat Tra Chanh – 26 Nha Tho. We also ate sunflower seeds here that are non salted and you pretty much throw the shells on the ground.
Fourth spot we had nem cua be – sea crab spring rolls, banh goi – pillow cake, banh tom – shrimp cake, banh ran man – savoury donut, & banh ran ngot – sweet donuts. – Banh Goi – 52 Ly Quoc Su.
Fifth spot we had Nom thit bo kho – papaya salad. Long Vi Dung – Nom Thit Bo Kho – Gia Truyen — Banh Bot Loc – 23 Ho Hoan Kiem
Sixth spot we had Caramen thap cam – caramel mixture, kem coi – sticky rice + ice cream, caramel nep cam – caramel + black sticky rice, caramel sua chua long noon – caramel + longan + yoghurt, sua chua nep cam – black sticky rice + yoghurt, chedau xanh – green been soup, sua chua mit – jackfruit + yoghurt. Banh Cuon Nong – 95 Hang Bac
Seventh spot we had banh mi – bread rolls that were heated and pressed. But we also had a specialty of Hanoi – ca phe bung – egg coffee & tico trung – egg coco. Hanoi Street Food Restaurant – S07 Cho Gao
And our final spot was a corner where we had the best beer from Hanoi for 5000vnd and we had great entertainment as the streets are pedestrian only where 12 year boy and girl were dj-ing hardcore with speakers and a iPod where tons of little kids just danced on the street. Bia Hoi Pho Co – 1 Ma May, Hang Buom
I think my favourite flavour that we ate was when we sat down at Cafe Glai Khat Tra Chanh on the corner across from the cathedral to have kumquat or lime green tea with sugar cane. They had this thin crepe/rice paper-like wrap with sesame and filled with sugarcane sugar and coconut.
Facts about Hanoi:
-Hanoi – Legend has it that a dragon formed the islands.
-There aren’t many supermarkets as majority of people go out to eat at restaurants that make specific dishes if not just one dish in particular that they specialize in. If its their livelihood I can understand. They eat that particular dish then hop on over to the next spot for something else. Also, smaller portions – not american sized portions here.
I think the reason everyone likes to eat outside on the street is because it is very similar to the way of life for the French; it’s all about the open concept people watching style but instead of wicker furniture, it’s small plastic furniture but same idea of tables facing outwards into the streets. Very different I’m so glad we chose to do this walking food tour on a weekend because all the locals are out late including children. Phuong brought us to so many places that oozed the energy of Hanoi with food as it’s fire.
We booked a private Mekong Delta tour with with Mekong Delta Tourism – TNK Travel. $50USD – 6AM pick up then off to Cai Be after an hour of delays waiting for the 15 in total group we had. The group of 4-5 from the Phillipines slept in and made us wait 30 minutes before we left them behind but then they caught a ride to catch up to our van as we collected the others on this tour. We stopped by Minh Tri for a rest break where we shared a bowl of pho and I got a banana shake – 30.000VND. Mr Thang was our tour guide who learnt english off of youtube and western television shows.
Facts aboutMekong Delta / Vietnam as told by Mr Thang:
-Mekong delta was actually owned by Funan under control by the Khmer people but Vietnamese people occupied areas around the delta and expanded the country which is long and skinny country like Chile.
-40% of people are named Nguyen.
-Ho Chi Minh freed people against Japanese communist and Americans thus the name change from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho – father.
-Saigon wasn’t the actual name but over time it was named Saigon because people couldn’t pronounce the original name.
-It was under control of a French colony thus explaining the architecture especially in and around the flower district.
-Since 1976, an election is held but there is always one winner because there is only one group that runs.
-Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) looks more oriental as Saigon (Southern Vietnam) looks more western because of French and American invasion / influence.
-Vietnam – means strong country in the south because China is the central capitol of Asia.
-There are 11 million people in Saigon and chinatown here spanned multiple generations mainly from Canton and Fukien so they speak Cantonese. Near district 8. Government built government housing where they turned the slums into new housing and built a highway. Some still live in shacks though.
-In Vietnam, government offices and elementary school are closed weekends but university and high school run on weekends.
-Many don’t have drivers licenses but if they get pulled over, they just pay them off with money (200.000-500.000VND).
-Mekong delta is flat so they plant rice. They can plant 3 harvests per year. It’s fruit and seafood are the main exports. 75% work in agriculture. May to October rainy season
-The Mekong Delta is known as the river of nine dragons with nine different branches as the legend told them the Dragon is God of river. But they mistook a crocodile as a Dragon. Cuu lung.
-In the delta, they bury people in the middle of rice paddies (above ground on pedestals) as the water levels rise so when it’s risen, they either put the dead people in plastic bags and hang them in trees or attach rocks to sink.
-Students in Mekong cross the river by going into plastic bags and pulling themselves across. But overtime, this gets difficult and many leave school early (grade 8-10) and work instead.
-The floating market isn’t regulated. You just need a boat license and government doesn’t care what you sell. They start their business at 4AM and finish around 2PM. They don’t gather together and are all their own business.They are only closed the days during lunar New year. They advertise their products by hanging them on nearby trees. Most of the people who sell on the market live far away from conventional markets and are poor. They also go by lunar calendar so depending on the days, big events cannot happen such as funerals or weddings.
-They also follow zodiac signs so a pig and snake can’t marry as the snake wool eat the pig.
Ok, back to our trip. We drove past through the town of Tan An which overlooks flat rice fields where our first destination was Cai Be. From Cai Be, we boarded a tour boat that fits all 15 of us and motored down the Mekong Delta to a facility that makes crispy rice snacks and coconut candy. It’s an interesting experience seeing it made as they use black sand in a giant wok, use the rice husks for fire and then through rice into the sand and mix quickly then they sieve the husks from the popped rice. They also created some version of rice crispy treats. We also got to see a local painter paint, watch them make rice paper which is pretty cool. They take rice flour and water and cook it on a drum and pulling off the paper with bamboo. They can make a crispy version of this using rice flour and throwing in coconut milk, coconut shards and sesame if you like (which is so delicious!) We also had a shot of banana liquor but we could have also tried snake scrotum shot but didn’t. I feel like this tour is very scripted but I also know this is what happens when you want a “cultural” tour.
We hopped back on the boat and went over to Tan Phong Island where we sat and enjoyed the stylings of Vietnamese singing. I definitely prefer chinese opera over theirs.. we have a little more flair and high pitched emotion. From there, we took he boat over to Rustic Mekong where we did a “cooking” class. We were all given tasks to cut up / shred carrots, sweet potato, papaya etc which resulted in us making our own fried spring rolls and papaya salad. The meal was accompanied by fried elephant fish (a little meatier fish) which they a also took some of the meat and made spring rolls and also hot pot. After we filled our gullets, we hit the trails with our bikes (bamboo rice field hat optional and off we went. It was a fun ride although narrow paths and not so fast bikers in front made it difficult but also the fact my bike seat wouldn’t adjust and part way through my chain just wouldn’t pull (local men came up to me with a tile and just kept hitting then kicking it until it worked). Another girl was having difficulties because she was riding on a flat tire. One final activity to do: cruise the upper Mekong Delta through small canals with ladies paddling us through in 4 seater boats. I gotta admit my time here, I take for granted all that Toronto has to offer and for the same position at home, we get paid at least quadruple the price for these things.
Since we had a late start, we got stuck in rush hour traffic and even at one point got pulled over by police. I think we had to pay but Mr Thang showed the cop the papers in english and asked him to read it (which he couldn’t) and we were on our way. Got back around 6PM and just relaxed a bit before heading back out for dinner. We decided we wanted pho (In Vietnam why not!) and went around Ben Thanh to Pho 2000 (1 – 3, Phan Chu Trinh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1) which Bill Clinton visited back in 2000. 3 regular pho + 3 shakes cost 327.000VND. It was a better soup broth than previous day at Pho Hoa Pasteur. I ordered a sapodilla shake. Sapodilla looks like a coconut mango hybrid but has a banana-ish taste to it but its a tropical fruit and it was delicious. It was a Saturday and the streets were booming with the weekend market and people. The main area we were in the previous day became a pedestrian and motorbike only area and the foundations lit up with people selling trinkets everywhere reminded me of the gypsies in Europe. We went through the night market and kept getting pressured to buy stuff obviously. Similar to HK ladies market and all other night markets I always find myself never wanting to be hassled and buying stuff plus Im horrible at bargaining. Some of the stall markup like crazy and their asking price is still relatively cheap in USD but to the standards of SEA, since they are made there for .50USD you bargain the hell out of it. The best part of the day is showering. Also note that common products such as contact solution and cases were no where to be found so bring from home!
HCM is a relatively clean city as there are people cleaning the streets constantly. In the central part, it’s present that there is security police patrol. It’s always congested with motorbikes, cars, trucks and bicycles everywhere. There are a few traffic lights but not all pay attention to it. The waterfront that we were nearby in district 1 is actually being developed and mass production of more condos and land is being made so district 1 will be no longer exist in a decade. People are relatively nice but one again, we stayed and walked around very touristy areas so the image is skewed. Tons of food carts just setup on side of roads with little stools and food is produced. Males can be topless but women are suppose to be covered. Tank tops aren’t really seen around on women. I’m unsure if I’m feeling stares because I’m wearing tank tops or because of my physique. I am more toned/fit and taller than the men in HCM. Flip flop fashion is on point here as everyone in the city wears them for everything including riding their motorcycles.
We got a decent deal on flights ($1024CAD) with United Airlines from Toronto to arrive in Ho Chi Minh / Saigon and fly home from Bangkok however for this trip to be slightly cheaper, there were multiple stopover: YYZ->IAD;IAD->EWR (really UA.. you can’t just fly us to New York instead of detouring out to Washington); EWR->HKG;HKG->SGN. Flight home will be BKK->NRT;NRT->DEN;DEN->ORD;ORD->YYZ.
The flights weren’t actually that bad and I think because it was so broken up in the beginning it didn’t feel as gruelling until we finally made it to Hong Kong and awaited to board one more flight. The airport in Ho Chi Minh is basic. We lined up at the visa counter and handed in our visa approval forms (that we already booked online -$19.99USD ($27.16CAD) – http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/) then had to complete another form with the same basic information (you can leave passport info blank as they take your passport) then fill in your address, profession, accommodation location etc. Then you line back up and hand in that completed form with a passport photo (1 only) then sit down until they call your name. When they call your name proceed to the counter and receive your passport with the visa ticket inside and give $45USD and you are all set. One final bag screening and then out the door you go.
I exchanged $20CAD right away for cab fare and Adam did $20USD. We got swindled off the bat – NOTE FOR FUTURE: STICK WITH MAI LINHS AND VINASUN taxis and negotiate fare before hopping in. There is a exit fee of 10.000 NOT 100.000 which our driver showed us who probably did a switcheroo. When we got to our destination, the meter read 83.0 which is 83.000 but he kept insisting it was 830.000 which we didn’t have enough of anyways but we did give him nearly 700.000. We got ripped off completely but it was also our fault in the beginning because we told him its our first time there… All in all, we are down about $35 already on one taxi ride. If you can arrange a airport transfer, it could be cheaper or same price but less hassle.
We stayed at Hosen 2 Hotel – 4A Thi Sach with a double and a single bed. We ended up falling asleep around 230-3AM and I had set my alarm for 10AM. I easily awoke to 530AM and the sun rises around that time. We started our day around 645AM with our hotel’s buffet breakfast. It wasn’t bad at all as it included normal western food such as omelette, sausage, potatoes, egg, cereal etc but also noodles in soup, custard steam bun, rice, noodles, DIY banh mi, fish, meatballs, squid etc.
After breakfast, we went out to exchange money while trying to spot certain places such as Nhu Lan Bakery and Ben Thanh market. We walked by the water and experienced our first traffic jam with motorbikes, cars, vans, taxis and humans crossing through. I learned how to cross the street by just literally watching an old lady cross the road. You go slowly and keep eye contact with one hand sort of out; this way you and the motorcyclists know whats happening and both can adjust. We found Nhu Lan Bakery but then remembered we didn’t have any cash on us at that point so we went nearby to exchange currency. They round up here in terms of money and also don’t use coins. They barely even use their small bills (500,1000,2000,5000).
After that, we explored Ben Thanh market area which is very similar to every other night market Ive been to selling souvenirs, food and clothing. We walked around some more in the vicinity and ended up at Trung Nguyen Coffee where we sat on the second floor and people watched below and enjoyed some cold beverages. I had the green tea latte with coffee jelly (49.000VND). We then walked around more and ended up going to the Independence Palace which is their version of the white house then continued our walk back to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit and it was perfect timing as it started to pour really hard outside. We watched a little television and re-cooped then off we went to the airport to pick up Amy. This time, the fee was correct with roughly 122.000VND going in and about 155.000VND coming back due to traffic. Amy has been in Asia for 10-12 days prior with family and other friends. Since Amy came in later, we were unfortunately too late to do the Cu Chi Tunnels tour and we didn’t want to spend $52USD/pp to do a private tour since it was only half day and our Mekong Delta (full day) was $50USD/pp.
We got back to the hotel to drop off her stuff then off we went to get lunch at Nhu Lan Bakery (50-64-68 Ham Nghi St. Dist.1,) Trip advisor had this place highly recommended for their Banh Mi and they were pretty good. If you like hot then keep the pepper in but if not, either ask them to leave it out or pull it out. It left a tingle going on inside my throat and on my lips but it was very good. 20.000VND which is $1USD. We grabbed it and continued on our way to Ben Thanh Market with Amy. After visiting Ben Thanh again, we walked around trying to figure out what we wanted to see next since Cu Chi Tunnels wasn’t going to happen. We walked towards the cathedral but it looked packed with tourists so we went across the street to the Saigon Central Post Office (2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp.). From there, we ventured to Vincom Centre (70 – 72 Le Thanh Ton | District 1) where it is filled with UK brands and a store that sold some Canadian brands like Venque and Natives. We ate and drank at Mochi Sweets (72 Lê Thánh Tôn, Tầng B2 Vincom, Bến Nghé, Quận 1). I can’t turn down good japanese treats such as mochi! I got the Green tea ice cream drink – 49.000VND (started off just tasting like water until the ice cream melted. We also decided to get 2 mochis each. I got the durian (with real durian chunks) and peach cream – both were good! We also had green tea, chocolate mousse, apple and purple potato. 28.000 each.
We decided we should get pho for dinner and looked up the top 5 places; we settled for one of the top ones which was also one of the farthest. I suggested we go because it was getting dark so it was a little cooler out plus we wouldn’t be walking that far into that area otherwise and I wanted to walk unfamiliar streets to take in more. Pho Hoa Pasteur (p. 8, 260E Pasteur) where I had Tiger beer with a small Tripe pho bowl. Tastes different but nonetheless still really good! We then took our time to walk back and battled the traffic once again and made it back to our hotel for a good nights sleep as the following day we are to do a Mekong Delta tour which starts at 5AM.
8AM – Meet at Office (Green Discovery – Sales Office – No. 10 Rd & No. 46 Rd) – Store our luggage in the Office. Drive an hour to Tree Top Explorer at Jungle Hotel Paksong (Paksong); hike 1-2KM to site
11/14 – Pakse
-Tree Top Explorer
-4-5PM – Drop off at office/hotel
-HOTEL: Salachampa Hotel – Lakmeung Village, City Center
-Dinner option – Champady – restaurant off the main st – good pad thai; passion fruit and strawberry shake are amazing.
-Sunday street market – Nightmarket – 4-5PM-11PM – the market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes all the way along Ratchadamnoen Road until Wat Phra Singh in the center of the old city (about 1.5 km). This is the place for souvenirs, t-shirts, artwork, hand made items and just about everything in between.
-Siam Rice Cooking class – 800 baht – evening session
–Blue Elephant – Thailand Tours – One Day Chiang Mai Elephant bathing & riding bareback + Whitewater rafting + Longneck Tribe. 830AM pickup – 630PM drop-off – Mae Rim, Longneck Karen & Big ear Kayor Hill tribe village, Muang Kud Valley and raft along the Mae Tang River, Makha Elephant Village – 22000THB – 4c pp – BRING CASH TO PAY ON SPOT! (http://www.blueelephantthailandtours.com/package/tour-detail.php?id=107)
-Akha Ama – Ahka Hilltribe Coffee – Hussadhisewee Road Soi 3 in Santhitham or Rachadammoen Road near Wat Phra Singh
– Graph Café – one of city’s best coffee – nitro cold brew coffee on tap -9AM-1PM – Rathvithi Soi 1
-Mao Coffee – mao gafaae – drunk coffee -8AM-5PM – Kankhlong Chonprathan Road heading south towards Hang Dong
– Chiang Mai has a beauty contest as well that is preceded by the Loy Krathong parade that begins at Tha Pae Gate the first evening of the festival. The temples also feature their own private celebrations where the devotees release khom loy and float their krathong and they welcome visitors to share in this deeply intimate event.
-Tha Phae Rd / Praisanee Rd / Chaoroen Prathet Rd and Thanon Charon Mueang – epicenter for paper lantern festival
FLY – CHIANG MAI -> BANGKOK – $73CDNpp – Air Asia – 125PM-245PM