Joyce and Don's Trip Report SE Asia

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Feb 25th, 2006, 09:12 PM
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Joyce and Don's Trip Report SE Asia

Hi Everyone,
We have arrived in Saigon and thought we would use this forun to record our trip....maybe offering some new tidbits.

Day 1-2 Plane Travel:
We took ANA out of L.A. This is a nice, probably under-rated airline. At the entry of the terminal, an ANA securtiy guard took my bags and carried them to the counter. I have to admit, I was suspicious, and thought this was some scam. NO, it was somebody being nice. Business class lounge was a huge disappointment (especially if you've ever flown on Singapore Air.) That notwithstanding, the service on the plane was exceptional. The flight attendants were extremely gracious and helpful. (food was just ok....if you like Japanese you'd be in hog heaven, however.) The plane 777 300 series seats come down to a bed. There's even a massage feature.
The Narita to Saigon, however was a 200 series....not nearly as comfortable. Still and all, ANA was a surprise treat.
In Saigon, we're at the Sheraton. You know, I have to admit, we have enjoyed Sheratons....this one is great...especially the Club floor..worth the price for the amenities.
Saigon on a Sunday is nice. Families out. Less motor traffic.
The tourist sites are few and far between. But if you like people watching....the zoo was terrific. (Jugglers positioning large ceramic planters on their heads, to the delight of children of all ages.) The zoo itself is like a park-garden ...very nice. Forget the animals.
We went to Fodor's pics: The Post Office ( a throwback to the French colonial era..) and The history museum.(definately need a guide...and the fact that the relics were mostly reproductions didn't help! Don says "Nice"...I say we're looking hard for tourist sites.,..stick with the local culture.
More tomorrow.
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Feb 26th, 2006, 06:28 AM
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I don't think you'll fine many tourist sights in Saigon but it's a good base for exploring other areas. Are you going to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta? Two things very much worth doing. Saigon has some great restaurants, I may have mentioned these in another post, but Lemongrass and Vietnam House are wonderful and inexpensive (at least they were 5 years ago).
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Feb 26th, 2006, 08:31 AM
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If you're going outside the city don't miss the Cao Dai temple (usually included with the Cu Chi tunnels). I enjoyed the Reunification Palace and if you go over to the Cholon district there are plenty of ornate Chinese temples. I found the War Remnants Museum interesting... You're going to the Ben Thanh market, right? And I recommend the papaya and grilled beef salad at the Mandarine.
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Feb 26th, 2006, 03:12 PM
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Thanks, Laurico and Thursdaysd...
We are going to do the Palace and War Remnants Museum per your advice. We really wanted to get out to the Cao Dai Temple, but we are trying to do a slow entry (it's about 2+ hours each way, I hear and this is the beginning of our journey.) We leave tomorrow for Hue, and then going overland to Hoi An. Gonna pace the car experiences.
By the way, the Sheraton is really proving to be great. The Happy Hour is really dinner in disguise....wonderful food...great variety...Shrimp, salmon, mushroom risotto on and on....The exec floor is worth it.
We're off to the Ben Thanh market. Check in later.
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Feb 27th, 2006, 03:55 PM
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Still in Saigon...
Our visit to the War Remnants Museum, formally known as War Atrocities Museum or some other such derrogatory phase, was sobering. "We Get The Picture" sort of sums it up, with room upon room of gruesome shots of what war does to people (not to mention the downed helicopters and jet fighters set out in the front of the museum's front yard-reminiscent of those Flamincos or Graveyards that you can order to adorn a buddy's yard in celebration of a 50th birthday or some other auspicious occassion. This, however, was not an auspicious occassion.
From there we taxied to The Jade Pagoda, an over-the-top place of worship for several religious sects, including Budhism, Taoism, and other lesser known religions, all with their own iconic representations. (I liked the guy who looked like a Baker, with a lit up carnival-like spinning wheel behind his head. Still trying to figure out who he is) All and all, a neat place. A short taxi ride snaking through the city streets brought us back to the hotel. A few street lights exist, but mostly it's organized chaos with folks driving in all manner of transportation in all different directions...We've seen no accidents so far. Unbelievable. The manager at the hotel told us that when his mother came to visit, he told her these rules of the road. "1. Forget everything you ever taught me about traffic safety. 2. There's no such thing as "the wrong way". Everyone's going the "right way" for them. His thought is because there's no expectation based on pre-determined rules, drivers tend to be more careful for the sake of it. All in all, we have thoroughly enjoyed HCMC...We found it to be way cleaner than a lot of cities, and the people friendlier and more engaging. I think its "bad reputation", perhaps well founded at one time, is not as deserved now. There's some confusion about why the tourists aren't flocking in here (Hanoi being the Princess of Vietnam). I think part of it is the city's own celebration of the war--which can't help but make Americans feel bad (touting visits to the tunnels, the war remnants museum etc.) The city has way more to offer in the way of its own positive spirit.
The Sheraton Executive Floor, by the way, really has been a real find.
Onto Hue, where it's raining. We were forewarned, but we've got our raingear ready.
ps. forgive the typos and the rambling
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Feb 28th, 2006, 08:03 AM
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Tagging.

Enjoying your insights.

Lori
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Mar 1st, 2006, 06:24 AM
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Just a quick report on Hue:
A real surprise. We were expecting rain, yes. We were expecting limited hotel choice. True. We were not expecting such an inviting little gem...reminds of a bit of Guilin in China. Hue, the formal capital of Vietnam, has a great historical sense reminiscent of Beijing. The Purple Forbidden City in many ways is more inviting and encourages you to imagine what it was like to be an Emporor in Vietnam. The two tombs we visited were amazing. (One a beautiful park-like setting) the other incredibly ornate glass-china mosaic adorned...like you see at Wat Arun or Palace in BKK. I'm too tired to run upstairs and get the names of the two, but I'll post if anyone's interested.
We've eaten twice at the same restaurant. An unlikely choice in the Century Hotel. A bit stuffy Tourist looking, with formal linen tablecloths, etc. However, the food is outstanding. The best crab-mushroom soup I ever tasted and a beef wrapped in loi leaves or some such thing ($4.00 I believe) that we had to order twice. Not necessarily the most exotic tasting food I've ever put in my mouth, but soft interesting flavors and very moderately priced.
We're on to Hoi An tomorrow.
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Mar 1st, 2006, 07:13 AM
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Oh, glad you enjoyed Hue. I loved it - so atmospheric - but of course so damp too. Is the Tinh Gia Vien restaurant still there? And do you know about Brothers Cafe in Hoi An? Great setting by the river and good food.
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Mar 1st, 2006, 09:08 AM
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Enjoying your on-the-scene reports.

The Hoi An Hai San Restaurant in HoiAn has wonderful fried won ton.
http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/s...um=01RES290505
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Mar 6th, 2006, 07:34 PM
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Hoi An and Siem Reap...
This is the problem with waiting too long to reflect on things: you forget. Or at least old guys like us do. The highlight of our stay in Hue was walking the park along the river. There had been a sculpture exhibiit at one time and the sculptures remained. Beautiful marble and stone and metal pieces. I know there must have been a method to the placement, but it appeared to us as if they had been tossed in the air like rose petals and allowed to fall as they may. In the park we encountered a group of yound Vietnamese school girls practicing a French rock song....we became the audience and reviewers....got that all on film. Lovely.
Drove down from Hue to Hoi An...unfortunately misty (what else is new about that weather) That being said, the coastline was still beautiful. We stopped along the Pass at a lookout place...That was unfortunate. Our only really displeasure. We were literally being yanked from our car, and the female touts surrounded Don like a swarm of bees. Really felt that way...and unlike other areas where touts accost tourists, there was nowhere to flee unless you wanted to leap over the side (which at one point seemed appealing.) When we finally bought the obligatory post cards (shots of tourist buses by the side of the Pass), it wasn't over. We thought we could get a glimpse of the beautiful surroundings, but alas, a cat fight ensued between two touts fighting over a tourist. We fled. There's gotta be a better way to do that.
Hoi An was own disappointment. Some travel lessons have to be learned over and over until we get it right. (like spending almost 3 days having a poorly tailored jacket refitted rather than enjoying the beautiful countryside. Hopefully this lesson will stay with us for the remainder of our journey.
We stayed at the Riverside Hoi An because of makingthe Conte Naste top 500 list. We can see why it did...If you get the right room, which we did, the view is of farmers and water buffalo working in the rice patties, and fishermen tossing out their nets..
Tropical, small, lush boutique setting where everyone knows your name.
That being said, the room itself is quite drab and plain...furniture a mix of random equipment. Not pleasant to be in ....but then again all you had to do is look outside or walk around the grounds, where fishing ponds have little bait baskets for you to feed the goldfish. I'd probably stay there again. Oh, one other problem, we came in when it was very cold and rainy (Murphy's Law of Travel) and the restaurant and game area are basically outdoors. Couldn't get warm. Fortunately it warmed up the next day.
Onto Siem Reap. We are at the Hotel de la Paix. Will review this later. Do want to mention that Ponheary picked us up at the airport and immediately wanted us to go to a villiage school to deliver supplies. We really wanted to visit a temple first, but could see on her face that this was important. It was. March 6 is her birthday and we celebrated it at the school passing out uniforms, shoes, books. A great beginning. We ended collected way more from our "Flip Flp Fund" than expected (people were leaving $20 bills under our mat the night before we left) So we have some money to give away . Probably will donate a portion to teachers... Ponheary's father was a teacher, and for that reason was killed during the war. She cannot stop crying about the Killing Fields. We could not stop crying when she told us what happened to her and her family.
I think we give to the teachers.
Any other ideas?
We leave Thursday afternoon....I'll check back on this post tomorrow.
Happy traveling to everyone.
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Mar 7th, 2006, 12:13 AM
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Yes, give to the teachers - they get paid next to nothing and what they do is sooo important for the future of the children. Thanks for the report. Wish Ponheary a happy birthday from Craig and Jeane.
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Mar 7th, 2006, 05:08 AM
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Hi Joyce and Don

Glad you are having such a great trip. If you have extra money to donate, ask Ponheary about the cabinet they need at the school at Banteay Srei. Giving to the teachers is also an excellent idea. The $25 a month they get from the state isn't really commensurate with their dedication.

Can't wait to hear all about it.

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Mar 7th, 2006, 07:51 PM
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So far, so amazing....We distributed supplies, bought two teachers desks, and tomorrow we go back to the school to give teachers some extra. Today on our way to The Women's Temple, we just randomly stopped along the road...Ponheary was a bit surprised when I first asked her to pull over. Once, I was stopping to take a shot...The shot never happened, but I looked across the road to see many children, and a mother. I decided to give money to the mother.....back across the road there were other families. I asked Ponheary to give the money to the mothers for their children. Í gave the money, and Ponheary translated. The women were so happy. In the car, Ponheary confessed that she had "tricked" me. Told the women the money was for them because today is Women's Day in Cambodia. Of course we thought that was great....and a mile down the road another woman was selling rice and coconut mix to the local children from her bicycle. I made Ponheary stop and another donationwas made to the woman selling from her bicycle.(plus all the kids got food from the bicycle lady.) Great morning.
Happy Women's Day to you all.
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