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Trip Report - March 2024 Vietnam and Siem Reap

Trip Report - March 2024 Vietnam and Siem Reap

Old Apr 4th, 2024, 08:30 PM
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Trip Report - March 2024 Vietnam and Siem Reap

Having just returned from a 3-week trip planned with the wonderful information of all of you on this forum, thank you! Our wonderful time went off without a hitch! Since I started planning this trip six months ago, I am afraid I can no longer personally acknowledge each of you who helped me with useful details not only for this trip but for others in the past. Please know that I appreciate you all immeasurably.

Although I am an experienced planner and traveler, DH is not; thus, I felt responsibility to make our journey as simple and stress-free as possible while still covering the things we wanted to see. Also, he is a veteran of the American War as the Vietnamese call it, and it was his request that we venture back to the scene he fought in when he was 20 years old. And so, 57 years later, I wanted him to have an experience that would hopefully, bring back some of the beauty of what he remembered while not awakening too many of the horrors.

We are older now--in our seventies- but fortunately in good health and fit for our age. We are past the times when we enjoyed really roughing it, but I am still conscious of the value of a dollar even if DH is somewhat less practical. We particularly enjoy exercise, museums and history, eating and drinking in local food and culture, meeting other travelers, and place a premium on comfort and leisurely, low- stress ventures. So with that as background, here is my lengthy (sorry) chronicle of our trip. I hope it helps those of you lucky enough to visit these wonderful countries in the future. I can’t wait to go back and include Laos next time.

Regarding flights, we flew from Denver to SFO on United, and then on EVA Air from SFO to Taipei (14 hrs), and from there to Ho Chi Minh City (3 more hours). Coming back, we reversed this, flying from Hanoi to Taipei to SFO and then home. Unlike many who travel north to south, we went south to north to try to hit the coolest possible weather in the south, and then the warmest possible in the north at the end of our trip. I picked our flights because they seemed shortest, though certainly not the least expensive. Also, my research revealed that EVA is the ninth-ranked airline (Who knew? Not I), so I decided to try them out. They did not disappoint! I expect that, like I, many of you have been on long haul crowded flights, with lousy meals, cramped seats, and dirty restrooms. Not on these flights! I found the EVA flight attendants to be exceptionally vigilant in making sure passengers were comfortable and well taken care of. Also, rather than selecting preferred seating with more leg room, I opted for exit row seats in the main cabin, and so observed the number of times that the restrooms were inspected and tidied. Add to that, the meals were decent for airplane food, and included free wine, liquor, and soft drinks even on the 3-hour Taipei to Vietnam legs, an unexpected, pleasant surprise. As to the Taipei airport, I found it exceptionally clean and efficient, though for a 3-hour layover, drink and dining options were extremely limited; there were no bars and only a handful of Oriental food court choices.

A word about the airplane seats I chose: though I appreciated the ability to stretch my legs in the exit row of the main cabin, after inspecting the seat configuration of the EVA planes, if redoing it, I would choose their preferred seating option with expanded legroom. If I could get them, I would opt for the seats in first row on the far side of the plane, since the preferred cabin is quite small, has a 2-4-2 configuration, its own restrooms, and larger seats. This eliminates lights from the restrooms going on and off and people standing in front of you waiting to get into them like in our main cabin exit seats.

Our itinerary was designed to minimize the need to move around a lot like I find on most tours. Also, we like to go at our own pace and do our own thing in a leisurely manner. As advised on this forum, I found it exceptionally easy (though time-consuming) to plan and do exactly what we desired, all without the help of a tour guide or agency. This was our 20-day schedule:

Fly to Ho Chi Minh city – 4 days – Garden View Court Suites

Fly to Siem Reap – 3 days – Chateau d’Angkor La Residence

Fly to Da Nang and taxi directly to Hoi An – 4 days – La Siesta Resort & Spa

Private taxi over Hai Van Pass to Hue – 3 days – Pilgrimage Village

Fly to Hanoi – 3 days – San Grand Hotel

Fly to SFO and stay overnight at the Grand Hyatt on SFO property – 1 night

Fly home to Denver.

Though many may already know this, it was new to me, so I wanted to mention phone plans. Most providers have international calling plans for $10 per day. These are extremely easy and convenient, but so expensive relative to other options, especially if you use WhatsApp texting most of the time. I did some research and found that the AirAsia plan on Airalo got good reviews and only cost $37 for 10 Gigs of data over 30 days. Most phones these days come with eSims, configurable with a downloadable vendor app. Note that your phone eSim must be unlocked by your vendor to use this, which means your phone must be fully paid for. On an iphone, look under Settings/General/About and then Carrier Lock to check this. The eSim Network is just below it. As I was already on planning overload, I decided not to pursue it. But my sister, travelling in Europe at the same time, found it to be a dependable, cheap option, easily refillable, that took just a little tweaking to set up right before leaving for her international flight. There are many vendors with different plans. I will do that next time.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around 11:30 am. The line at customs took about 25 minutes but I had obtained 2 single entry visas online at home so it was problem-free. (Note that the visa office in Vietnam closes for a week around Tet, so plan ahead if you purchase an online visa at this time). I asked around and had no trouble locating several ATMs just outside security, and easily extracted three million dong (there was a service charge added to the amount I received). Next, I headed outside looking for the Popeye’s Chicken at the end of the terminal arrivals area, just like a wonderful poster on this forum had advised. And right in front of it was a stand of taxis, which I found were metered. Taking this as reassurance, we hopped in. Whoops! It turns out that some set the meter higher at the beginning than they ought, and as a result it cost about 680,000 dong (about $27) for the 20-minute ride to Garden View Court Suites just south of Reunification Palace. This was probably about $10 USD more than it should have been, but oh well…the beauty of travelling in SE Asia I learned, was that with everything so inexpensive, even my missteps turned out to be small in the grand scheme of things. I could have taken a Grab for lots cheaper, I know, but after reading about difficulties meeting up with drivers in the parking garage, even the few extra dollars I spent felt well worth the convenience. Most drivers understood a bit of English even if they didn’t speak it well, so showing the driver my hotel’s address on Google Maps did the trick. It was so easy.

I heartily recommend Garden View Court Suites. We had booked a 1-bedroom, 1-1/2 bath suite, with a full kitchen, and it did not disappoint! The front desk people spoke English well, and were exceptionally helpful. Included breakfast was good with lots of choices. I was worried that the location would not be as central in District 1, but this turned out to be a non-issue to us seasoned hikers. The wonderful Ben Nghe Streetfood venue was just a block away, and provided easy eat-in and carry out options in their myriad booths filled with overwhelming healthy, delicious options. It was our go-to eatery. We met many other travelers by just asking them what they were eating and which booth sold it. Also, it was an easy walk to Annam Gourmet in the basement of Saigon Center where we purchased cheese, sausage, bread, wine, beer and snacks for our apartment. Ben Thanh market was just down the street, as was an open-air (no AC) Pasteur Craft Brewery outlet. An ATM was around the block. And the reputed best Banh Mi place in HCMC (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa as recommended by XO motorbike food tours) was an easy though longish walk, as was Dong Koi, the tony shopping street.

Since there are few traffic lights in HCMC, it took no time at all to learn to wait for the slightest lull in traffic before heading across a street determinedly without stopping. No one wants to hit anyone, and so everyone just goes around everyone else. The result is an amazing disorganized orchestration – especially left-hand turns - that somehow mostly keeps moving, and when it doesn’t, a citizen steps in to get things sorted and moving again. We quickly found ourselves greeting all the smiling, friendly Vietnamese with “Xin Chao” (Hello) and “Cam On” (Thank you), and holding up 2 fingers and asking for “hai bia” (2 beers). Mostly, the Vietnamese wanted to practice their English with us, but we quickly found that anyone who initiated a conversation, usually wanted to sell us something. A simple, firm “no” was all it took for most to move on unphased.

On our first morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we walked to the War Remnants Museum. It was warm – 87 degrees F – making me glad of the cool clothing I’d packed. I was surprised at the size of a Chinook helicopter in the courtyard, and it was interesting to see things from the Vietnamese perspective. But we came away a bit depressed since there were many pictures of Vietnamese victims of war. On the way back, we walked through the lovely parks that adjoin Reunification Palace grounds. Except for a few beers and spring rolls, we saved out appetites for the XO motorbike food tour I had booked for that night before leaving home, since I had heard that they fill up quickly during the busy season.

Precisely at 5:20 pm, our two au dai-clad, motorbike hostesses showed up at our hotel. DH’s guide and driver was Gaio, and mine was Laura. They were delightful and spoke English pretty well! Like many others who have recommended this tour, we loved it! It was one of the highlights of our trip—a little expensive but great value for the money! Your driver is your personal guide for the evening, so we talked a lot not only about food, but their daily lives and challenges. We toured all around the city, hitting districts 1,4,5,7, and 8, I think, so it was a wonderful way to see all the different parts of town and the way Vietnamese live, work, and trade. We sampled four different restaurants with wonderful food and as much beer as desired. The best part, I thought, was the night market of district 8, which went on for blocks and included more fruits and vegetables than I have ever seen and can’t begin to name. There were also lots of live birds, fish, and shellfish. Finally, we saw district 7 where we were told most of the expats live. It was remarkably different and more upscale than the Vietnamese neighborhoods, and looked pretty good to me. The next day, wonderful pictures of us, our guides, and our group arrived in our email.

The next day, we walked Dong Koi Street, saw the Post Office and the cathedral which was swathed in scaffolding, and window shopped. Goods here are upscale and priced high, not like the rest of town. We stopped in at Pasteur Brewery for lunch. It was a challenge to find having just a small sign and being down an alley but it was small, atmospheric, and lunch was good. Using Google Maps, Siri often told us that we had arrived at our destination to our right or left, leaving us wondering where exactly it was. Usually, we found it down an alley.

The last day we wandered Ben Thanh market, which is overwhelming with the amount of goods to be sold. Like all markets and shops in Vietnam, I saw an amazing amount of inventory, but few buying customers. Life must be difficult for these merchants.

The next morning with the help of our wonderful hotel staff, we headed to the airport in a taxi ($16 w DH’s generous tip), and on to Siem Reap and an even more steamy climate. Get to the HCMC airport early for international flights! We waited in huge lines to check in, for passport control, security. We arrived at 9:00 and got to our gate at 11 for a noon flight.

We arrived at the new Siem Reap airport on time, and getting through customs was a breeze due to the fact that I had purchased our visas online at home and printed them in black and white (color not required). The majority of other people, I noted, did visa-on-arrival which meant they had to fill out forms while we just showed our visas and hurried through. A note about using Cambodia Angkor Air, however. Although their flights were fine and on time, don’t count on getting a change or refund from them even if you book what looks like a refundable fare. Their customer service is nowhere to be found. When I asked about cancelling a mistakenly booked flight at the Siem Reap airport, the agent told me I had to go to their Phnom Penh office!

After picking up our bags, we exited the terminal and found our guide Sok waiting for us with our name on a sign. Another big thank you to all of you on this forum who recommended him. He and his driver Polly were wonderful to us. I had texted him from the US on WhatsApp before leaving home, and arranged for pick-up and drop-off at the airport, as well as 1 day of guiding us through Angkor Wat, TaProhm, and Bayon. He answered my texts very promptly and was extremely reliable and thoughtful. I can’t say enough good things about him. His number on WhatsApp is +855 92 752 722. The ride from the new airport was interesting and did take all of the 40 minutes folks on this forum said it would.

Upon arrival at Chateau d’Angkor, we were delighted to hear that they had upgraded us at no additional cost from my reserved 1 bedroom suite to a 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite. It was huge! It had a full kitchen, a washer and a lovely balcony overlooking the pool. The included restaurant breakfast was very good, the pool with bar very pretty, and the service was impeccable. Note though, that our building had no elevators so we walked up to the third floor to our suite – no problem for us but it may be for others. I can also not say enough about the service. We washed one day in our washer (soap provided), and called reception to ask about drying our clothes. Within minutes, a woman arrived with a clothes rack and many hangers that we were to put on our balcony. Our clothes dried quickly. Also, whenever we sat down in the reception area to wait for check-in, check-out, or Sok, a glass of water instantly appeared like magic. There was a wonderful grocery about a block west of the hotel where we stocked up on beer and snacks.

That evening we walked about 15 minutes to Pub Street and had a wonderful time, drinking $.75 beers, eating wonderful food, and watching all the people from our outdoor seats in a number of different places we just selected from the menus outside. On the way home, we browsed the goods for sale in booths on the streets.

At this point, I need to say a few words about currency. Cambodia uses the USD. But for reasons no one in Cambodia seems to be able to articulate, only the most new-looking, unfolded, unmarked bills are honored at the banks for full value! Even a small mark or fold we in the US wouldn’t notice, can result in a 20-25% decrease in value at the bank. Therefore, in consideration of the hard-working Cambodian people, please try to take the newest, most pristine currency you can find to Cambodia.

The next day, we arranged for Sok and Polly to pick us up in an air-conditioned car at 8:30 am, and Sok was waiting for us when we reached the lobby. He provided us with all the cold water we could drink. Though Sok said we could get our Angkor Wat tickets at the ticket booth ($37 USD ea), to speed things up, I procured them online for us both the night before. Note that to do this, I had to use the scans of our passports and passport photos that I had stored on my phone in a hidden album before leaving home. It took about ten minutes for them to arrive on my phone after I completed the process on their website. We had to show them at each temple we visited.

After a 15-minute ride, Polly dropped us off at the east gate of Angor Wat, and we proceeded east to west rather than west to east like most tourists. Before proceeding to the temple, Sok first gave us a wonderful introduction to Cambodian history and the origins of Angkor civilizations, and the importance of Tonle Sap Lake. Then, as we went, he pointed out and explained the details of what we were seeing, and took wonderful pictures of us. It took until about 12:30 PM for us to tour the temple and finally walk the west esplanade and exit Angkor Wat. From there, we drove about 10 minutes to TaProhm. It took about 1.5-2 hours there and was well worth it, though I was dripping sweat since it was about 95 degrees F and very humid. At that point, DH mentioned that he could use a cold beer, and Polly pulled 2 out of his cooler! Then we were ready for lunch, so Sok took us to a very good air-conditioned restaurant on or very near the grounds of all the temples. After several hours of walking, it felt food to relax, cool off, and re-energize. Afterwards, it was on to Bayon and its amazing bas-reliefs. Again, Sok was invaluable and insightful, telling us the stories sculpted on the walls. By 3:30 or 4, we were tired and ready to relax. On the way back to our hotel, unbidden, Polly stopped briefly and came out of a shop with several more beers and lots of ice for his cooler. As mentioned before, I cannot say enough good things about Sok and Polly.

After relaxing and cooling off in the pool back at the hotel, eschewing the fancier places recommended on the forum, we took a tuk-tuk to a restaurant on the other side of the river called Sambo Khmer and Thai. It was very good and we had a nice time talking to other patrons, and seeing a new area of town. From there, we hoofed it a mile or so to Pub Street and then back to the hotel. I think we walked about 7 miles that day so we slept well.

The next day, after a scrumptious breakfast, we got a late start, and leisurely strolled around, visiting the Made in Cambodia Market just across the street from the hotel, and then north toward the King’s Palace and ended up at Raffles Grand Hotel Angkor for a late lunch. It is a lovely hotel and a reminder of colonial history. There was also a street market we browsed on the way home, and once again, we relaxed at the pool. For dinner, we just grabbed a good, light meal at the hotel restaurant which was very satisfying.

The next morning, (alas!) we checked out and headed to the airport. I think our bill for 3 nights was less than $300 including DH’s generous staff tip. Sok was once again waiting in the lobby for us, and we talked about the politics and Cambodian life on the way to the airport. Cambodian life sadly seems very hard for the majority of the people. I can’t wait to return and see more of this interesting country.

We arrived about 1-1/2 hours early for our international flight from SEP to Da Nang, and had a snack at the Burger King (!) while we waited. The new airport is lovely and citizens of Siem Reap hope that it will expand tourism and work opportunities for them.

Our flight was on time again (remarkable!), and we touched down in Da Nang on schedule. We quickly got through customs using our second single entry Vietnam visa I had purchased and printed at home. Exiting the terminal, I found my name on a sign held by our taxi driver arranged through our hotel, La Siesta, and charged to our room. It was about $20 not including tip and took about 30 minutes. It was interesting to see bustling Da Nang as we passed through on our way to Hoi An but we opted not to spend time there. DH and I discussed a day trip to Quang Tri and Khe Sanh in the highlands where he fought, but ultimately, we decided against spending a whole day in the car, with not so much to see at those sites today.

Check-in was smooth at La Siesta and the grounds are lovely abutting beautiful verdant rice fields on the far west side of town. Once again, I was unsure how I would like being outside the center of town, but it certainly provided a quiet, relaxing respite from the hustle of downtown, and was an easy $2 cab ride to the action. Our room was lovely with a nice balcony for morning coffee but seemed very small after being so spoiled in our previous large digs. Though still warm – 85 degrees F – it was nice to escape the intense heat of Cambodia. We spent a lot of afternoons at the lovely La Siesta pools, and ate at both their restaurants and they were good but much more expensive than local small eateries. Breakfast each day was wonderful. But it wasn’t cheap – about $225/night including restaurant, bar, and the 3% surcharge.

We tried to eat an early dinner at Little Faifo the first night, but were turned away for lack of a reservation. Instead, we walked the town from far west to east (2.75 miles) to a Tripadvisor-recommended place called Tuan Restaurant and Café. The sign looked sketchy, advertising Vietnamese food, spaghetti, pizza, etc but it turned out cheap and great and we were glad we made the effort. They even called a taxi for us for our return trip to the hotel.

As experienced cyclists, each morning we used La Siesta bikes to explore. The first morning we went west toward the rice fields, and less populated areas, but gradually we gained confidence and rode toward and into town, doing Cam Nam Island (more residential particularly farther from the bridge), and then central Hoi An toward the beach but not all the way there. Once again, we found that cars and motorbikers went around us, and we felt very comfortable riding the town. One day, we took the La Siesta shuttle to the beach, which took about an hour round-trip with a stop downtown. It was fun to see the broad beach (cold water!) and we think we may stay out there a couple days should we return to Hoi An again in the future.

Each evening, we explored downtown Hoi An, window-shopping, eating and drinking. It was mobbed! Learning from my mistake the first night, I made a reservation for Little Faifo restaurant for the second evening. DH had duck and I had pork; he loved his dish but mine had an unidentified woody vegetable whose texture really turned me off. As a result, I don’t recommend it, but it gets very good reviews. The lanterns on the boats on the Hoi An River were very picturesque but we declined to take a boat ride and admired them from the bridges.

After 4 nights in Hoi An, we were ready to move on. Our taxi driver to Hue over Hai Van Pass picked us up as promised at La Siesta at 11am. I had arranged this at home through the Pilgrimage Village in Hue. It cost $86 versus the declined $103 that the La Siesta driver requested.

The private taxi ride over Hai Van Pass was wonderful and well worth the money it cost. Our driver was great, though he spoke little English. Luckily for us, the weather was pretty clear with just a few clouds so we were able to really see the landscape of Da Nang and Hue from on high. We began with a scenic drive by Marble Mountain which we declined to visit because it sounded touristy. Next, we proceeded along Da Nang Bay. It was very pretty and fun to see the city beaches. Then our climb started in earnest on a narrow, 2-lane road with lots of switchbacks. There were lots of petroleum tanker trucks, which added some excitement but our driver proficiently passed them all safely. At the top, our driver stopped for restroom, pictures, and to give us a chance to look around, and of course, for the vendors to show us their wares. The views and pictures were great and everyone was friendly as usual. The view of Lang Co Bay on the way down was just as spectacular as that on the Da Nang side. We made one last stop at a place called Thanh Tam Resort, 1 hour from Hue, which amazingly seemed deserted (low season, apparently) but the beach was huge, empty, and gorgeous. Finally, we arrived at our hotel in Hue, Pilgrimage Village, after a 3.5-hour trip – a nice, leisurely way to spend an afternoon.

As we checked into Pilgrimage Village and were shown a map of the resort, I realized that the room we were assigned was located along the busy road near the entrance. I asked if a quieter room was available, and voila! – within 20 minutes our quiet, new deluxe twin room of almost 500 square feet with 2 double beds and a balcony deep in the resort was ready for us. Ahhh… My impression of wonderful Vietnam service was yet again confirmed. Also, my concern that this hotel was located away from the action in central Hue was a non-issue. Unlike in Europe, being a few miles from town for us seems to be a good way to go; transportation is so cheap and easy in Vietnam, and the resorts are so luxurious and relatively inexpensive, why not live it up a little? Pilgrimage Village is lovely, and drips Vietnamese ambiance--the staff all greet you with “Xin Chao”, the pool has a swim-up bar, the restaurant has good food, and the breakfast is exceptional. We called about having our laundry done, and almost before we could get it in the bag, a man arrived to take it away; three hours later they called to deliver it, all done and folded for a very reasonable price. I’d go back to this place in heartbeat. It’s not cheap at about $225/night including all our laundry and room service, but it provides so much more than a similar US or European resort for much less money.

The next day we took a taxi into Hue to meet our Citadel tour guide, David, at the Lac Thien restaurant. While waiting, we chatted with the wonderful family that owns the restaurant, and learned that they had been in business for over 50 years. When David arrived, we walked the 2 blocks to the Citadel and spent the next 3 hours getting the detailed description of the Citadel. We were glad for the guidance since the Citadel is massive, and David spoke good English and gave a competent tour for $22 each.

Afterward, we walked southwest through the park along the main thoroughfare on the north side of the Perfume River, and came upon a Coop Market that was very fun! It was like a Super, Super, Target with all kinds of food, clothes, everything… We purchased a couple 12-ounce beers for 15,000 dong each ($.60 USD) and then drank them on a bench watching the river go by. When we wanted to go home, we returned to the Lac Thien Restaurant and enjoyed another beer while they called us a taxi. What nice folks! While we didn’t eat there, Tripadvisor gives their very small, simple, establishment very good reviews, so you may want to try them.

That evening we ate at the Pilgrimage Village restaurant, and enjoyed it. The next night we texted our same taxi driver from the previous day, Hung (we got his WhatsApp #), to get to town on the south side of the river. It’s really jumping in that neighborhood! Though busy, it might be a good area to stay in if you like action. We ate at Banh Ganh, a small, local establishment, and once again had cheap, wonderful Vietnamese food along with good conversation with our server. Afterward, we did the Nightwalk on the south side of the river, but it started to rain, so we texted Hung at +84 98 8355692, and 10 minutes later, headed back to the hotel. The next morning Hung picked us up on time and took us to the Hue airport, a 20-minute ride, for a price I can’t remember, but much less than the $26 USD the hotel had quoted. 3 days in Hue was the right amount of time for us. Now on to our final stop, Hanoi.

The flight from Hue to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines was 1.5 hours, on time and fine. Our taxi driver, Tho, picked us up as planned just outside the terminal. He was arranged through our hotel, the San Grand and the 40-minute trip cost $23 billed to our room. We liked the San Grand, especially the location near the northwest corner of Hoan Kiem Lake, and our room, a 1-bedroom suite on the ninth floor, had a great view of the lake. San Grand also has a good Sky Bar with live music duos on the weekend but the drinks are expensive for Vietnam. The small drawback is that their included breakfast is just okay, but their service is very good.

The afternoon we arrived, we did a 20-minute walk around the west side of the lake to Hoa Lo Prison (Maison Central aka Hanoi Hilton). It was a very sobering tour with the audio guide but worth it to see what our American POWs endured. Walking along the lake is fun—there is so much action with dance groups, etc. That evening, we walked to Era Restaurant and had good food at a reasonable price (most entrees about $9). BTW, after visiting Hoa Lo, we watched the Paramount Plus show, “The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton”. It is intriguing to see how the downed, US pilots communicated clandestinely with the CIA. Having been to the prison, I could really appreciate what they endured.

The next day we purchased tickets to the Thanh Long Water Puppet Show. It’s located on the northwest corner of Hoan Kiem Lake, a block from the San Grand. We purchased our tickets to the 45-minute show around 10am for the same day, and at that time, all that day’s shows were sold out except the 3 PM show. So you may want to plan ahead if you really want to do this. We bought the highest price tickets (200,000 dong each) though the medium ones would be fine too. Though I enjoyed the puppetry, I thought the musicians were the real stars of the show. It was fun to see them play the native instruments and sing native songs. We spent the afternoon, window shopping and walking the east side of Hoan Kiem and the French Quarter (much more upscale than the Old Quarter). That evening we walked north about 15-minutes and ate at Hoang’s Restaurant. It was very good and inexpensive (about $7 each). Try the Banh Xeo, lots of meat and vegetables wrapped up in large lettuce leaves.

On our final day, we did the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Temple of Literature. Note that the Mausoleum is only open certain days from 7:30 am-11 and admission to the mausoleum is free. We took a taxi to the south side and had to walk far around the complex to the north side where the huge lines start. Get there as early as you can if you want to do this; it was mobbed the day we visited. Take only small purses or fanny packs, since security is tight and you may need to check your belongings if large. We got in line about 8:20am and finally got to see Uncle Ho at 10:15! Be sure not to wear shorts or tank tops. They ask you to put away phones (no photos of Ho) and take off sunglasses as you approach the mausoleum. The school kids are very cute, and DH had a great time chatting them up. They kept asking how old he was, and replied with wide eyes and mouths agape when he told them. There was a 40,000 dong admission for the President’s House that Ho never lived in, and a long line again for the free Stilt House where he did live. That was neat to see. By this time, DH was spent, and wanted to have lunch so we did not go inside the museum. We walked 25-minutes from there to the Temple of Literature, hoping to grab lunch on the way, but we thought the options sketchy, so just had beers instead. In retrospect, I’m glad we had this experience, but it was long and hot negotiating the long lines. If it had been sunny and hotter, I’m not sure the wait would be worth it.

Temple of Literature was interesting but difficult to really appreciate on your own without an audio or other guide or advance research. There are signs to read, however, and it is interesting to imagine the education that took place there. I think it was about 100,000 dong entry per person. We left there after about an hour, and caught a Grab back to our hotel. Not being experienced with Grab, I didn’t notice the option to pay by cash or card, and I gave the driver the 70,000 dong agreed to. When I later checked my credit card bill though, I noticed that Grab had charged the 70,000 dong to my card. Oh well, the driver got a nice $2.80 tip!

That evening, looking for a change from the Vietnamese food we’d gobbled for the last 3 weeks, we opted for an early dinner at 4P’s Pizza in Bao Khanh Alley, a short walk from the NW side of Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a more modern concrete and metal setting, so different from all the places we’d eaten during our trip. Although we had no reservation, we were seated in about 15 minutes. We ordered their menu’s beef pizza, but asked them to pile every vegetable they had on top of the usual. It was the tasty change we were looking for, and the crust was very good. The cost was a bit more that the Vietnamese restaurants we’d frequented but still very reasonable at about 350,000 dong for a pizza that satisfied us both. Beers cost a bit more here too, still very reasonable by US standards.

The next day we left for home, arriving at the airport and checking in relatively quickly, unlike our HCMC experience. We arrived about 3 hours ahead but cleared customs and security with much time to spare. Our EVA flights left on time as did all our Asian flights –amazing! Given the flight troubles other posters have noted, I count myself extremely lucky.

We arrived back in the US at 4PM at SFO and took the Airtrain two stops to the Grand Hyatt. The Grand Hyatt was nice but VERY expensive. With dinner, I think we spent as much there in one night as we did in our beautiful 3-4 day stays in Vietnam. Oh well, after flying so long, I was glad not to have to wait around and fly into Denver late at night. I guess that’s what I paid for.

Since being home, I’ve reflected on our Hanoi experience in light of comments by other posters that they’d found the people of Hanoi to be more reserved and less friendly than those of the South. I have to agree. It seems that English-speaking is less prevalent, and that social skills and generosity are too. As a result, the service, while still very good, lacks the extra warmth and eager communication of the South. We found the young children in line at the Mausoleum, however, to be curious, smiling, and excited to talk to us. I can only hope that time will heal some of the wounds that the war seems to me to have created.

And so ends our saga. Though we sweated quite a bit, we had rain only one night, liked everything we did and saw, did not get sick (we drank bottled water but had ice in our drinks), and all our flights were smooth and on schedule. We could hardly ask for more.
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Old Apr 5th, 2024, 06:52 AM
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Wow, that is pretty rare when someone can say it went off without a hitch! Congratulations!

It might take me some time to read through all that.... thank goodness for paragraphs!
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Old Apr 8th, 2024, 11:03 PM
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I enjoyed reading your TR, thanks for putting in all the effort. After this year, I will start to think about Vietnam (plus Siem Reap) as my next big destination.

I am wondering what impression your husband had after so many years returning to the scene of his military involvement....

And did you say what airline you took to and from Siem Reap? Sorry if I missed that.
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Old Apr 9th, 2024, 05:45 PM
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Siem Reap is really worth a do and if you have time, add Phnom Penh.
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Old Apr 26th, 2024, 02:21 PM
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Thank you for compiling this wonderful report - headed there next week!
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Old Apr 27th, 2024, 08:16 AM
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This was fun to read; I’m glad you had a good time! It brought back memories of my own trip to Vietnam - more than ten years ago. I was less experienced with travel and travel planning then, and while it was an excellent trip, the one big thing I didn’t do well on that trip was the food! I need to go back, Vietnamese food is delicious!
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