Back from Two Weeks in Vietnam....

Old Mar 7th, 2007, 05:33 PM
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Back from Two Weeks in Vietnam....

So this probably won't be a true trip report but I really feel that I owe you guys something as you always help me plan our trips.
We landed in Hanoi and that was about February 3. It was pretty chilly the week before so we had stuffed a few more sweatshirts in our bag. Low and behold there was a warm snap and it was really warm all of the time that we were there. It was probably in 80's F or the high 20's C and we loved every minute of it.

The first day we walked from our hotel the Hoa Binh, which was really Ok. It is old but the location is great. We were at the front of the hotel and for our first day in Vietnam it was a little noisy. Vietnamese drivers really do drive with their horns I think. It got noisy quite early but we were jet lagged so it didn't matter much. The hotel is a little old fashioned but has a mini-bar with reasonable prices and is centrally located and the restaurant isn't bad....breakfast is just fine. We were pretty happy. The first day we headed out for Hoan Kiem Lake and from there to the old quarter so we had a pretty good day although on the first day the old quarter is pretty confusing...though very interesting. Talk about a busy place. We wandered out about noon and per the map headed over towards the Ba Dinh area as we didnt' really find anywhere to lunch in the old quarter. We didn't think we would fit on all those plastic kindergarten chairs and stools on teh street corner. We ended up at, I think, A Highland Coffee shop which turned out to be next door to the Military Museum. We bought our ticket...the museum tickets are really cheap and did the tour. It was pretty extensive for a war buff like my husband. He follows all of this stuff so he found it very interesting. They have all sorts of captured planes and helicopters etc. Finally we made out way back...again through the old quarter, which was still confusing but we got to our hotel eventually and were pretty satisfied with our first day in Hanoi. We ate in our hotel that night and couldn't believe the price of an acceptable dinner with appetizer or soup and a main course and a bottle of French wine for about $25. Not bad for the first day.

The second day we started with a cyclo tour which eventually took us back to the old quarter. Back at our hotel around lunch time we ventured out for a very interesting lunch. There are many neat restaurants within walking distance of the Hoa Binh. In the afternoon we had a little tour lined up of a ton of temples including of course the Temple of Literature, the Ngoc son on Hoan Kiem Lake and the Tay Hoa Pagoda over on West Lake which was an interesting part of the city. We were getting a little templed out as this was a tour but ended up with the Water Puppets which was kind of fun and then back to our hotel.

Out second night in Hanoi I think we settled for fast food at the recommendation of our afernoon guide and had Pho 24 which was a fast food noodle place. I think the 24 indicated that all the noodles were priced at 24,000 dong which was about $1.50 and forgive me if I am wrong. I only remember it was really really cheap.

We took a cab back to our hotel as it was the first night and we weren't sure about walking around. We asked at our hotel if it was safe to walk and the receptionist replied "Don't worry. Just don't take a lot of money". As it turned out later, when we were more aware, I think the 5 minute walk would have been fine. We ended up getting ripped off by a taxi driver. When we came out of the restaurant a Vietnamese fellow who had just exited the cab told us not to take us as the guy was a crook but we were anxious to get in and back to our hotel. As it turned out he was a crook and charged us about 10 times as much as we had paid to get down. It still was only about $5.00 USD so we let it go as it was our first night out on our own and we were just glad everything went really well. Anyway all for now. I will continue. Not sure anyone finds this very interesting...sorry to be boring. Nonetheless I have to continue because I really owe you guys. Soon....
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 06:37 PM
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its great...keep it coming
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Old Mar 7th, 2007, 07:18 PM
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Enjoying your trip report.

I think it is the price of every country one visits - to get ripped off by a taxi - at least once!!!
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 03:29 PM
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So Day 3 in Hanoi. Today we headed out to Halong Bay for our boat cruise. It was pretty neat driving through the fields of flowers. Some farmers, were wre told, are choosing to grow crops other than rice. I guess rice is pretty tough in the North because of the short growing season although it is better now with new innovations. We saw the rice fields being planted. We saw all sorts of strange things on scooters... I know they are motorbikes but to us they seemed scooters. What babies we are in North America. The Vietnamese can carry anything on a motorbike. We didn't see a water buffalo on the back of one, though our guide told us this really happens, but we did see 4 full grown pigs on their backs, being transported to market. Wow this was unbelievable and we actually got a pretty good picture. We drove through some small towns that looked pretty grim as they were making bricks from coal...now if that sounds crazy it is my memory as I am not a techinical person but the entire town looked like it had a layer of black dust.

We got to Halong Bay. We were just doing a day trip because I am not big on boats and very claustophobic and wasn't sure how a night on a junk would sit. I was little sorry that we didn't stay.

Our boat was nice. We made a stop at the Halong Caves and that was pretty big hike to the top for an "out of shape" person like me but worth it nontheless.

We were served meal on our boat. The food was "second to none" that we had been served thus far on our trip though I fail to see who needs a 6 course lunch. We had mussels and crab and fish and shrimp and spring rolls and salad and so many other things that I cannot remember and which we mostly could not eat. We took a taste of everything and it was wonderful but we had had a big breakfast which is not our norm at home and were just not that hungry. Also it was very warm out... I am not sure of the temperature but it was in the mid-twenties celsius or in the eighties fahrenheit, which is unseasonably hot, we were told for early February in the Hanoi area. We couldn't wait to get outside on the boat as it was -25 degrees Celsius back home in Ontario, Canada. It was a perfect afternoon . The scenery was absolutely magnificent. We had seen the karst formations a few years back on the Li River in China but unluckily that day it rained endlessly so Halong Bay did not let us down. It was beautiful. I bought some cultured pearls (I hope that is what they really are) on the boat. We were caught up in the moment and loved every minute of our boatride on Halong Bay.

Back in Hanoi, quite late, we had dinner at the Nam Phoung Restaurant which was only a couple of blocks from our hotel. It was mostly Vietnamese food and we sat outside and it was lovely. We were still grappling with how much to tip...or not to tip. We did leave a tip at the restaurant as it was a nice meal and the service was great. We felt a little guilty as the tip seemed low by North American standards. We were walking back to our hotel and were about three blocks away when a scooter came upon us and the people called out. You get a little used to ignoring people begging and bugging etc. so at first we did not look. But then we saw that it was our beautiful Vietnamese waitress. My first thought was...oh my God we didn't leave enough money for the bill and they are coming after us....the bill was charged in Dong and those big numbers can be confusing. But no..we had left our jackets on our chairs and she apologized that she could not run fast enough to catch us in her little tiny floppy shoes so she had one of the doorman take her on his motorbike to catch us to return our jackets. What a lovely surprise.
How nice is that?
So far we are absolutely loving every minute in Vietnam.

More later. I am so sorry to take so long. This is definitely not the best trip report but my duty nonetheless.
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Old Mar 10th, 2007, 04:02 PM
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Wednesday our last day in Hanoi. The plan for the day was Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace area and the Fine Arts Museum.

We did go to see Ho Chi Minh, who looks pretty good for someone who has been dead more than thirty years. You have to behave while you are there. If you chew gum or have your hands in your pockets, the guards make sure to give you a warning, quite nicely I might add. It is solemn and fairly quick walk through.

We then toured the presidential area, walking by Ho Chi Minh’s early house and his final home, the House on Stilts, and then off to the One Pillar Pagoda. We are pretty impressed with the Ho Chi Minh stories and our guide tells us that the Vietnamese people all loved this seemingly simple man. We reserve judgment as after all this is the north and we will see how things seem as we move south.

We ditched the Fine Arts Museum, not because we don’t love Fine Arts, but because our guide offered to buy our ticket and drop us at the Museum of Ethnology, which we really wanted to see. We did a little tour of the museum, not spending as long as we could have and back to our hotel. It was pretty interesting.

In the afternoon we took a walk over to the Hanoi Hilton, the Hoa Lo Prison, and further around our area and that back for a little rest. That day was our 37th anniversary. Sorry now all the kids stopped reading because they know we are too old to be interesting.

We had a special dinner that night at the most expensive restaurant that we came across in Hanoi, The Emperor, which I understand is one of the most highly recommended restaurant in Hanoi. We were a little disappointed as it seemed something of a tourist trap to us. Maybe it was that the clientele that night all seemed to us to be Caucasian, if not necessarily North American. In some of the upper rooms the waiters were singing Happy Birthday to someone in English, which seemed odd at the time, though now we understand it is not that unusual. The restaurant is truly beautiful and the food is good thought it is all comparatively pricey.

I guess it is one of the best restaurants but sometimes when we are on holidays we get too caught up in “authentic” and get a little turned off when there are only tourists around us. Anyway a fitting anniversary dinner and back to the hotel to get ready for out flight to Hue the next morning.
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Old Mar 11th, 2007, 05:50 AM
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Hi Sprig, Thank you for posting your trip report. I am planning to do a 2 week trip to VN in the future, so I am finding it both informative and interesting. I am looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Mar 11th, 2007, 05:56 AM
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We saw a water buffalo on a scooter, but never saw more than 5 people. I understand the record is 7. Halong Bay was also a very good one day trip for us. Since it was too cold for swimming (late Dec.) a day was enough. We also had an excellent meal and bought pearls. Been there..done that and the Vietnamese help you do it all.
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Old Mar 12th, 2007, 07:11 PM
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So the next day it was a flight to Hue late in the morning. We toured the Imperial Citdadel there and that is about all we saw of Hue. We learned a little from our young guide and later more from the guidebooks about the extreme damage and loss of life in Hue during the Vietnam war. The citadel is being restored but has a long way to go. The young man's father fought for "the American Army" during the war while his uncle, his father's brother was in the North Vietnamese army, only because of where they lived. He was a nice young man but had a few issues I think with the war, and the effect on his father afterwards, and the communist party. He was a friendly fellow and joked a lot but it was a little sad to hear his stories although of course we encouraged him to tell us how things were.

After the visit in Hue we were off to Hoi An and our hotel The Victoria. We had wanted to stay at the Life Resort in town but things got messed up and it was too late when we tried to book. As it turned out The Victoria was very nice and worked out just fine.
The next day we went to Danang to see the Cham Museum and the Marble Mountain and then for a little walking tour around Hoi An to see all the ancient sites. It was nice.
Later that day we relaxed by the pool and walked on the beach in of course the South China Sea. The weather was actually unseasonably warm for the time of year so it was beautiful for sunbathing. That night we ate at the Full Moon Restaurant quite close to the hotel and it was very nice.
The next day we caught the shuttle from the hotel into Hoi An and we walked around the town and didn't get any clothes made. I know that is a very popular thing to do. We walked through the market and had a 20 cent beer at one of the "very" local restaurants. After awhile we hired one of the boatmen in the river to take us back to our hotel. It was probably the highlight of our time in Hoi An. Although he spoke very little English he wanted to ensure that we had a very good trip. We went by some fishermen spinning their net and he drove around so we could get good pictures. It was great fun and took about 45 minutes so we had a good ride for our money. When we got back to the hotel he couldn't pull up to the dock so let us out in the ditch on the side of the road and river of course which was a pretty short walk. Later that night we went back into town to the Hai Scout Cafe for our cooking lesson. It was fun and we made Squid Salad, Fish wrapped in banana leaves and Spring rolls. When we were done they supplied a couple of other dishes, of course with secret recipes and that was our dinner. It was a lot of fun as well beefore we returned to our hotel for our last night in Hoi An. Five nights in Hanoi and three in Hoi An. The time was just flying by.
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Old Mar 13th, 2007, 09:48 AM
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I'm also making mental notes for my upcoming trip. Thanks for the report.
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Old Mar 13th, 2007, 11:59 AM
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Sprig thanks for posting. I did not find it boring at all and in fact enjoyed reading about your trip. It brought back good memories for me and rekindled a desire I have to return to that fascinating country.
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Old Mar 13th, 2007, 08:35 PM
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So on to Saigon. We were staying in the Continental Hotel which is one of the most historic hotels in Saigon. WE always like to stay in the centre of the old town because there is so much history and usually lots of places to shop, eat and visit. You can't be the Continental for that. It is front and centre....right next to the Opera House. Approaching Tet it must be the place to be...not the quietest for sure. When we arrived the first thing my husband noticed were the large speakers around the Opera. He said to me " These are making me very nervous". The first night it was pretty loud right till 10:00 a.m. We had been up for an early flight and had traveled around Saigon a little..to the Market in China Town...to the War Remnants museum and all after being up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight. The New Years Celebrations next door caused the windows of the hotel to shake...I mean literally. It was awful. (Only the first night when we were tired...after that we worked at being in the streets until after 10:00 but those windows really did shake) We wandered around in the afternoon and looked for an Internet place near our hotel as the Internet was totally not working there. We had encountered the same problem in Hoi An and always try to keep in touch by Internet. Now we had been out of touch for several days. We found a place around the corner from our hotel where we could access high speed, relatively, internet for approx. %.50 U.S. per hour. It wasn't bad and really cheap. On the same street we found a neat Australian restaurant. WE had been eating almost strictly Asian food up until now..and loving it but felt it was time for a little change so we checked out El Frescos. What a hoot. It was definitely different, lively and a good price.
Hanoi was turning out to be a lot of fun.

The next day we were off to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was interesting but I can only note that if you are the least bit claustrophobic, you should under no circumstance consider walking underground in these tunnels. I really, really hated it. The walk was not that long but you couldn't see anything and it was very claustrophobic so why bother?

Back in Saigon that night there were again lots of parties in the street for the coming of Tet. We were a little lagged from the heat and the holiday pace so we ended up wandering around and eating a little dinner at our hotel. It was an Italian/Asian restaurants so there were good choices and it looked out on the chaos at the opera house with live music playing so it was OK...not perfect but fine.

The next day we traveled to the Mekong Delta. We enjoyed boat rides, and fruit tasted at orchards, a bee farm with honey tasting and homemade candy and even a snake farm.

That evening an associate from my work took us out for a real Vietnamese meal. We ate upstairs from the Temple Club. I wish I knew the name. The place was just packed.They have BBQ's in the mddle of the table and you cook your own meat and seafood. The food was wonderful and reasonable and the place was packed with Vietnamese, Ex-pats and some tourists too. It was great. I am sure if you ask around someone will be able to tell you the name as I am sure it is very popular with the Vietnamese.

Last day in Saigon we had nothing to do but buy some souvenirs and bum around. We went to Ben Thanh market in the morning to finish our souvenir and gifts to home buying. It is a crazy place. I know the locals think it is too touristy but we had a lot of fun. A little bargaining and you can get almost anything.

Afterwards we wandered around and had lunch at the top of the Rex and then we visited the Revolutionary Museum. We were really hot and had walked endlessly so this was a little break. We ended up at the top of the Saigon Trade Center, which I think is still the tallest building in Saigon. We had a couple of glasses of wine and an ice cream sundae and took great scenic pictures of Saigon, particularly on the riverside.

This was also our last night in Hanoi and also VAlentines Day so on the recommendation of a friend we went to the Majestic Hotel for their Valentines Special Dinner. We really chose it becuse it was recommended but also because of the location on the river. Until our view from the top we had not realized that we had totally missed the area along the river in Saigon so it was a lot of fun.
We went back to the hotel a little late after stopping into the Sheraton for a drink from their scenic bar at the top. In our hotel the really noisy music only carried on till 10:00 p.m. bu the music played on a little more quietly till 1:00 a.m. the next day. Queen for Tet...go figure.

The windows really shook early on. In the morning as we started to pack up to leave my husband looked out and said "go figure...the speakers are all gone" which only proved to me that the celebration was not so much about Tet as it was keeping us awake. Just our little joke. Time to leave but we have had a great time wandering around the streets of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City.
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Old Mar 13th, 2007, 11:56 PM
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The BBQ restaurant on the floor above The Temple Club is "Quan Nuong".

We were also in Saigon but left early Monday morning, Feb. 12. We had watched for days as they decorated the center of Nguyen Hue Boulevard. Could you believe that they closed the entire center of that huge street and transformed it into a flower garden? It was supposed to be finished on the 12th, but they were still working away on our last night. Was it completed by the 14th? They had just finished the pin wheel display and little bridge vignet. Did the add any more whacky displays?
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