Trip report Vietnam Christmas 08

Jan 8th, 2009, 01:07 AM
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Trip report Vietnam Christmas 08

We have just returned from two weeks in Vietnam which covered the Christmas and New year period.

My husband served with the Australian Airforce over there and was keen to return, our 18 year also gave it the thumbs up so off we went. I have travelled to Asia many times throughout my life, mostly for work and have to say it is not my preferred holiday destination. Anyway I knew it was important for my husband and I had heard so many positive things about Vietnam I thought I would go along and see for myself.

We flew with Vietnam Airlines from Sydney direct to Ho Chi Mihn City. They were very efficient and there was plenty of leg room in economy. Without sounding up my self, it has been a long long time that I have travelled in economy and was certainly not looking forward to it, but as it was only an 8 hour trip we figured we could do it. Anyway we survived and landed in HCMC.

I had organised a car from the Grand Hotel to pick us up. However it failed to arrive and they reckon they knew nothing about it. There had been several emails and even a credit card number sent. Anyway, we got a taxi for the same price US$25 which of course was way over the normal taxi price. We arrived at the Grand where they were very helpful and friendly.

I had booked two rooms, one in the old section and one in the newer section for our son. The old room 203A was really nice, very high ceilings, lots of space and lovely furnishings. We were very happy. Our son also thought his room was great. It lacked the high ceilings and olde worlde atmosphere, but it was very pleasant and roomy and clean.

It was nearly midnight Aussie time but we were still hungry and as it was only 8pm HCMC time we decided to duck out and try the local fare.

We went to a restaurant very close to the hotel, it seemed busy with locals (good sign) and in we went. We perused the menu and it certainly was local fare!! Lots of eel, frogs, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful stuff. However, when we saw the special of Cat's Womb we looked at each other and decided that for our first night maybe it was just a tad too much the real thing. We left and went next door to Restaurant 19. This was a basic local resto and the food was pretty good. My husband had lovely prawns with salt and lemon and our son had a pork sizzling thing. I only wanted a soup which was actually very bland.
Back to the hotel for sleep.

Day two.
Woke early HCMC time as of course we were running 4 hours ahead. The breakfast was very good at the hotel, extensive choice or local and western food.

We went off to see the sights, walked to the main market Ben Trahn (I think that was the name)very interesting, crowded with shops but at that time not too many people. The wet market was amazing, again all sorts of indescribable things.

They cyclo drivers were on the hunt and of course pounced upon as we exited the market. What the heck, let's grab some cyclos. I had read the guide book and knew we must get the price right beforehand, we got three cyclos for 100,000dong, to the War Museum. It was fun going along within all the traffic. They said they would wait for us at the museum and take us to the palace and then for a drive past Notre Dame etc. This they did, before we got back on I tried to get a firm price, oh no worries, no bullsh&^%. It will be OK, you make me happy etc etc. I persevered to try and get a price. We should have just walked away but the main guy was so friendly and of course we went along with him. Sure enough we got driven around for another 45 mins perhaps, that included a 25min stop at the palace, which was like stepping back into the 1970s.

Anway when we got off near our hotel, they got quite aggressive demanding heaps of money. We had given him 100,000 per cyclo which we thought for just over an hour fair enough. No, no you pay 200,000 each cyclo, that equated to nearly $20 aussie dollars each. You knew you were being ripped off but it just unfolds in front of you and you feel powerless to do anything. I walked away but my husband ended up giving them the money. It just left a really bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. I checked the guide book when we returned and they suggested about US$3 per hour, huh, had we been had!! Warning, do not get on the cyclo until you have negotiated the price no matter what they say.

We had organised a Cu Chi tunnel trip with Jason Superstar for the afternoon. Jason was actually busy but had organised a driver for us. He first took us to Lemongrass restaurant which was just up the road from the hotel. Excellent food, we had the Vietnamese pancake, fresh spring rolls and fab squid with chilli and our son had the beef pho. Voted the best in HCMC. We then took off for the tunnels. Really the "tour" is only transport to the tunnels, you pay your own entry and there is a guide who materialises and takes you around on a personalised tour (the three of us). He was very sweet and helpful. The tunnels were fun but if we had been adults only to be honest it wouldn't have been a great loss not to have gone. Our son of course bought some bullets to put through the M16 after the tour. I would have preferred to have spent the day looking around HCMC which was actually very lovely.

Back to the hotel for a feet up as we were meeting Jason Superstar for an evening tour at 7.00pm.

Jason arrived and we went to a restaurant he had chosen, unfortunately I don't have the name. The meal was good and there was local music.

We then walked down to the ferry and chose a smaller boat to join for a cruise down the river. It was quite funny as the boat was absolutely full with all locals having a great Saturday night out with their families. The "management" quickly put a table right at the front, next to the entertainment area, we felt a bit silly sitting right at the front almost pushing out everyone else. Oh well, they seem to know Jason well so we didn't complain. There were singers and then the fire dancer came on. She was very good. We travelled down the river for about 30mins and then turned around and came back. Jason was happy to take us to see more things but as it was now 1.00am aussie time and we were still out of kilter we chose to go back to the hotel.

Day three:
We were picked up by Jason's driver, Mr. Kiet and driven down to the Mekong delta. We stopped at a couple of things along the way. We arrived at My Tho where we boarded a little boat with a driver and an english speaking guide - Tony. He was very funny and his english was great. We puttered around the canals and to a small floating market. We also went to a village where we wandered around and got a closer look at what goes on. We then went to the coconut candy tourist trap along with everyone else and saw them making certain sugary products! Right up my alley. AFter this we headed off to Ba Duc homestay where we had lunch. There was only the three of us, I know some other tours go here as well but on this day it was just us. The food was pretty good. After this we headed back to base and to the van where we then drove to Can Tho crossing the river by ferry.

We checked into the Kim Tho hotel where we shared a large room with two queen size beds. It was a lovely room, clean and bright and the bathroom was great, separate shower and bath. I tried to run a bath but the water was so slow it took forever and the hot water had run out by the time there was four inches of water in the bottom. Admittedly it was a very big bath. I floundered around in the water for a while reading my book which was great as we had really been setting quite a pace.

We went out for dinner to Hoy Pho across the road which Jason had recommended. We sat for a while, the service was odd, finally we ordered a drink looked at the menu where nothing appealed. No one came to take an order which was good so we had our drinks and left to find somewhere else. We found Nam Bo on the main drag and went upstairs and got a table on the balcony. The food was very good, Vietnamese and some western if you wanted.

We had a wander along the waterfront and then headed back to the hotel as we had a 5.30am start the next morning. Yikes!

Day four:
Up at 5.30 with a pick up from Mr. Kiet at 5.45am. We walked to the jetty and our personal boat arrived at 6.00am. Again there was only the three of us. It was really great to get going to the floating markets at Cai Rang so early before any of the other tourist boats arrived. We saw the sun rise and really enjoyed seeing all the market boats loaded with their lovely pineapples, melons, etc. We were given some pineapple which was very sweet and delicious also some mango and other bits and pieces were thrown to us along the way.

We stopped off at the fish markets on the way back and wandered around, there were other stalls as well to look at. We had some lovely little cakes that had just been made, we bought some fresh bread and munched on that as we still hadn't eaten brekkie.

Back down to the hotel where we had breakfast. This was the only negative about the hotel, the breakfast was very ordinary, no juice, cereal etc but there were eggs. We showered and checked out and put our bags in the van.

We took another boat (I have to say we were rather boated out by this stage) to an island where we fed the crocodiles and saw some poor monkeys. Unless you have kids I would miss this bit and ask to see the temples in Can Tho instead. This exercise only took an hour which was plenty long enough by this stage. It was back in the van and off back home. We stopped for lunch on the way back and arrived in HCMC at 5.00pm It was a long drive back.

We did enjoy the delta and of course if you want to see the markets at dawn then you have to spend the night. I know a lot of people do the day trip and if you are short of time I would say this would give you a taste of river life for sure.

Back to the Grand Hotel again for two more nights. Our new room in the old section was by the pool. It was no where as nice a room, small and noisy with staff wheeling trolleys around at the crack of dawn. Also there was a fan light which let in lots of light and we found it hard to get to sleep. We were not happy with this room so we asked to change for the last night. Our new room was back near the original one, this time room 303. Better, no light and quieter but still no where as good as our favourite 203A. You obviously need the A to get the big room.

I will leave this here for the time being. If people want to hear more, let me know and I can continue with the Vung Tau and Hoi An section.

schnauzer is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 02:30 AM
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Yes, we want more. Very detailed report. It's helpful and informative. Your frankness is welcome. No penalty.
Gpanda is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 03:38 AM
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Nice report so far. Thanks.

Ouch, $25 for a ride to the Grande. Yes, you were had, but it happens often. Last time I came home, the taxi driver told me I should give some $$ to the guy that fetched the taxi for me. My wife and I just laughed and said lets go!

BTW, taxi to the Grande s/b around 75,000VND.
Bisbeee is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 06:21 AM
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Yes, we want more. Did you end up going to Hanoi and doing the Halong Bay cruise?
Craig is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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i too would like to hear more...
rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 06:40 PM
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Thanks for the responses. I will keep going then! Bisbeee, we paid 75,000 for the return journey to the airport! funny that.

I forgot to mention that the weather was very pleasant. Pretty warm about 28-30oC and not too humid. Ideal really, however I would not like to be there in their summer with the addition of all the noise and traffic I think you would go mental. All the traffic is a laugh at the beginning and getting across the road is a hoot but after a couple of days the noise of all the horns did start to wear a bit thin.

Back to the report:
Day five:
My husband had organised a day to Vung Tau and Nui Dat to return to his old base etc. This was his day of organising!! He had found it quite difficult to get someone to take us on a tour of where we wanted to go rather than the "standard tour". Fortunately I had just read a novel by Di Morrissey an Australia author and it was based in Vietnam anyway to cut a long story short there was a contact mentioned in the book and he followed this up and we discover Ahn who runs the Ned Kelly pub in Vung Tau. She has a lot to do with the Aussie veterans and took us with a driver to everywhere we wanted to go.

Firstly though I should mention the ferry situation from HCMC. I had read in the guide books that there was a fast ferry which went at 6.00am and at 8.30am (and later) and then there were the slower ferries. Anyway the night before we went to Vung Tau my husband went off to find the ferry terminal and see the times. He was either given the wrong info or wasn't tuned in properly but thought there were ferries every half an hour, and wanted to go at 7.00am. I baulked at this since we had been up at 5.30am the previous morning, this was meant to be a holiday! We compromised and planned for the 7.30am ferry which was meant to take 1.5hrs. Trying to get the 18 year old up for all these early mornings was getting harder each day. He is a very late riser normally anyway we managed, had an early breakfast and was at the ferry terminal at 7.20am. However, we were the only ones, no other people and no ferries. hhmmmm, something not quite ringing true here. Finally some fellow comes up to us and says "Vung Tau??", and points to the next ferry terminal along, which certainly looks more active, boats and people. We walk there to find of course that the only ferry to Vung Tau leaves at 8.30am (as per my guide book), needless to say my son and myself are non too impressed at getting up so early and having to wait another hour! grrrr. It is a good thing my husband only had to organise one day!! We asked at the Majestic Hotel (across the road) how much a taxi would cost to VT, they reckoned about US$80 so we gave this idea the flick and had a horrible coffee at the Masjestic. We figured if anyone could make a decent coffee it had to be here. Alas it was not the case. Very expensive and ghastly, so don't bother if you are trying to find a decent coffee which we didn't the whole time.

We jumped on the ferry for yet another boat ride for 1.5hr to VT. All very straightforward. Ahn met us and off we went for our day. It was very interesting and I found Long Tan very moving even though it had been over long before my husband had arrived. Vung Tau is now basically a tourist area with just masses of high rise apartment blocks along the beach.

We had dinner that night in HCMC at La Forchette a french restaurant opposite the hotel. It was very ordinary, wouldnt' rush back there again. We walked around the main district looking at the bedlam that prevailed. As it was only two nights before Christmas everyone had come out to look at the decorations. The roads were absolutely chockers with scooters, three, four and five people on each scooter! The noise was deafening as they all rode around tooting at each other. Crossing the road was a scream but we did it.

Day six: (Christmas Eve)
We checked out of the hotel and took at taxi back to the airport for $7 this time!!!much better deal.

We flew to Hoi An,(Da Nang) Vietnam Air and arrived to much cooler weather, - hmm. where has the sun gone? It was starting to drizzle as we drove to the hotel. We had chosen Hoi An as our rest period, just to mooch around, ride some bikes, sit and read etc. The weather was not looking good.

We stayed at the Ancient House Resort which was about 1.5km out of town. It was very pleasant, not flash but clean, traditional in decoration and the staff were very good and friendly. They had a lovely pool area but of course at Christmas time it was far too cold to swim. We had booked two "special rooms" which were very spacious, queen four poster beds with mozzie nets, tv, dvds, kettle etc. There was not a lot to do at the resort, there was a pool table and internet.

We wandered into town to get the lie of the land. Every other store is a tailors with dummies dressed in what can only be described as seriously outdated clothes which look they have been on the dummies for about 30 years, all faded and falling apart. I can't imagine actually getting anything made here even though I know a lot of people do so. How you would choose a tailor is beyond me. Try and get recommendations before you arrive if you really want something made. Why they wouldn't have some new clothes which they could have copied from recent commissions on the dummies I wouldn't know, it would certainly attract people. Every shop had exactly the same styles!!! Quite funny really.

We had a lovely lunch at Nhu 7 - The Mermaid restaurant and grill at 2 Tran Phu Street. A very basic looking place but the food was gorgeous. We had the "white Rose" a local speciality, the best we had in Hoi An, and I tried it everywhere I could from then on. We also had the squid in chilli and lemon (something like that) which was also great. Definitely recommend eating here.

I went that afternoon to a spa place and had an hour long foot massage!! very nice. also I had a french paint job on my nails. I was going to have a pedi but ran out of time as that night there was a compulsory Christmas dinner by the pool. Fortunately the rain mostly held off, a couple of tricky moments with umbrellas were short lived. They had organised a Gala Night for us. They had professional entertainment, singers, dancers and musicians. After they had finished the staff put on a turn. They had obviouly been practising for weeks. They were so cute! Some could actually sing and dance but others...... we had Mr and Mrs so and so from housekeeping, the girl from the front desk sang Jingle bell rock, the bar man sang a rock and roll number and the restaurant girls did a dance number. They were so into it you couldn't help but get involved - it was very special.

We liked Hoi An, lovely old buildings of course. The rain put a bit of a dampner on things as the next day it really came down.

Day 7: Christmas Day!!
Had lovely breakfast. A bit of a non event for us really. We hadn't taken any presents except for a dvd pack for our son. We exchanged cards and that was it! All the shops were open and it was business as usual.

We wandered back into town again our son dragging the chain a bit by now. We walked over the red bridge and looked at a few things, he just wanted to eat so we went into Fai Foo cafe. The food was good, he ordered a pizza as he needed a break for local fare. We had also ordered the local speciality wontons, white rose and Cao lau a lovely noodle soup. When the wontons arrived we thought it was the pizza and were cracking up. However we were corrected and felt suitably chastened. The pizza was rather soggy but what do you expect if you are silly enough to order such food?

Our son went back to watch his new DVD and we went to the Hai Scout Cafe to book for the Red Bridge cooking school for the next day. They were full for the 8.00am session (good!!) so booked in for the 11.00am class which worked very well.

The rain was really coming down now so we headed back to the hotel for a read and nap. As it was raining so hard we stayed at ate at the hotel which was a bit lame for Christmas night, but that's what we felt like doing.

Day 8: Boxing Day
Still raining, this was not on our plan at all! dang. We took a taxi into town and everyone met at the Hai Scout cafe for a drink before we headed in small groups to the market where food and veges were explained. We bought some Vietnamese cooking tools. Back onto a boat for the trip up river to the restaurant. The class was very good, the chef was funny, he had a great sense of humour. We cooked rice paper and made fresh rice paper spring rolls, the vietnamese pancake (my fav), an eggplant hot pot and we did some shonky veg decorations!!! We then took our hot pot to the restaurant area and ate that and they gave us a lovely fish dish and rice as well. It was US$18 per person which represented really good value for the lunch and the 4 hour day.

Back to the hotel for a read and a cuppa. Back out to the town by taxi that evening for dinner at the Hai Scout Cafe 98 Nguyen Thai Hoc. We were getting the feeling all we were doing was eating!!! And fab food it was too. Our son had been trying to find some sizzling beef - cooked on the hot plate - at last Hai Scout came up with the goods! The food was really, really good here. We had all the barbecue specials, squid, pork rib and the beef, cooked at the table. In fact we ordered two plates of the pork as it was so good. Definitely recommend eating here.

We went over the road to the Cargo club for a dessert. They have a restaurant which looked very western (we checked the menu)and also a french patisserie. OUr son the specialist in chocolate mousse voted this mousse the BEST EVER in his life. I had the brownie which was a bit dry. It was a fun place with music etc. Still raining so taxi back.

Day 9:
Still damp but not raining anywhere as heavily. We borrowed bikes from the hotel (free) and rode off to the beach area. You cannot take your bikes on the beach itself and they stop you as you approach this area and ask that you park your bikes for a small fee. (very small) the fellow at this area was very amusing by singing aussie songs etc. We walked along the beach which coming from Sydney was a bit ordinary I have to say. Rather grey and not particuarly clean, - it was OK just nothing spectacular. Every 10 metres someone approaches you asking if you want to hire a chair and sit at their bar/resto area. No thanks, no thanks, and no thanks again.

We saw others cycling so retrieved the bikes and explained we wanted to ride, that is OK, so unless you actually want to go onto the beach you can hang on to the bikes and keep biking. We went past all the big resorts down to the village, cycled around that and then stopped off on the way back for a coffee at the Golden Sands. Fab looking resort with fab prices to match. We had three coffees which cost US$20 and were horrible (again) we were desperate for a decent aussie coffee by this stage. Not to be, (again!)

Back on the bikes and off to a restaurant along the river on the way back to Hoi An. Lovely looking place, actually hangs out over the water but the slowest service ever!! it took them 35 mins to bring a bowl of soup and 50mins for a beef dish. We had to ask about 3 times - where is the food. When it came it was nice, not cheap either. Oh well.

We had thought about going to My Son to see the ruins, we hadn't wanted to go in the rain and thought that maybe this afternoon could be a goer. As lunch had taken so long we arrived back at the hotel to ask about drivers discover we really hadn't enough time and the rain was coming back in. I wasn't desperate and neither was my husband or son, so we decided against it. On a sunny day it would have been a lovely day out but not in the drizzle etc. Back on to the bikes with rain coats and headed off the CAm Nam Island. We just rode around looking at all the houses and veggie gardens.

We went to the Brothers Cafe for dinner that evening. The atmosphere is beautiful. (we had booked which was a good idea) lots of fairy lights etc, quite magical. We wanted to sit outside even though it was still raining slightly. They rearranged the umbrellas to try and give us cover. This worked sort of, but afte the starter we gave in and went inside which was a shame.

The food was fantastic, expensive for sure. The starters would have served two people they were so huge. We had the best Vietnamese pancake and the spring rolls were good too (fresh). The only disappointment was the fish in tumeric. very dry tasting and just horrible (to us). This was a lovely restaurant for either lunch or dinner for a special meal.

Taxi back for last night in Hoi An.

will continue with Hanoi and Halong Bay later.
schnauzer is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 07:35 PM
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hope the weather improved....
rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 08:20 PM
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Nice report. Thanks for continuing.
Kristina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 08:37 PM
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I'm always interested in cooking classes so I googled the Red Bridge.
One of the links I found was to someone's blog. I think they were there on the same day you were! Day after Christmas, right?
How funny is that?
Kristina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 09:39 PM
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Hi Kristina

well done for finding that blog. It was the same day but we didn't do the whole day class just 1/2. however we also ahd Hip as our market guide, she was a laugh.

I love Leigh's photos, (nearly as good as mine - ha ha)

Hope you are enjoying the report. I will do some more tomorrow.

schnauzer is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 06:29 AM
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Enjoying your travel report. I did have clothes made in HoiAn when I was there about 5 years ago. I have enjoyed the items -dress, pants suit, and blouse. Sorry you have had the rain. That does not make things as enjoyable. I was disappointed when we drove up Hai Von Pass that very scenic area as it was rainy. I have bee fortunate to go to Vietnam from South to North 3 times so I am always interested in other traveler's impressions. I agree about crossing the street. That is the hardest thing to have confidence when you cross.
I stayed in the Majestic Hotel my last visit,but I do not remember the coffee being that bad. I also enjoyed the food at the Lemongrass.
Keep writing as I will be reading.
Your details are so interesting and helpful to others I am sure.
maryanne1 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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Thanks for the report. I'm a little surprised about your reaction to the coffee, though. I love Vietnamese coffee, and actually bought some Vietnamese coffee and the little metal drip cup when I got home from my first trip. I drink it hot and black, though, not with ice and condensed milk.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 09:21 AM
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love this report. I'm leaving for Vietnam in two weeks and will be at the same locations as you're mentioning. Although we've already booked our sightseeing, our meals are left to our own devises. So, I especially love reading about your restaurant choices for dinner. I'm taking notes and adding to those I've been reading about. Keep them coming. I can't wait to find more of your restaurant choices in Hanoi. Did you also go to Hue?
lovingretirement is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 10:50 PM
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Hi All

back with the next installment. Just a mention on the coffee. We found the coffee to be weak, bitter and rather moca in flavour! Apart from that it was great!!!ha ha. My husband makes the best coffee using Blue Mountain style coffee and a plunger. I guess it is what you are used to. I don't know where you live but we find the coffee in the states pretty gruesome too! fussy, fussy, we can't help it if the Aussie coffee is the best.

Day 10: Ok, we left Hoi An, and flew up to Hanoi. We stayed at the Elegance 3 in the old quarter. They had been fantastic with arrangements, they picked us up at the airport and dropped us of course at the hotel. Such a warm welcome, drink and all! We had read all the reviews on Trip Advisor and wondered if this place could be for real. It is, the rooms were great, not huge, but spotless and very pleasant. Free internet in each room, our son was in heaven and with the 50 channel TV it just got better!!! We paid US$75 for a double (queen bed) and US$60 for the single, which actually had two double beds in it.

There had been a bit of friction between my husband and our son the night before and things were still not going well. It was now 3.00pm and we hadn't had lunch and our son hadn't had breakfast either (his choice) flight at 12.00 so no time for lunch as such and nothing on the plane.

We decided to head out for a bite to eat to keep us going and asked at the front desk for something quick and local close by. She suggested the cyclo bar which was close but very touristy. Cute old cyclos turned into seats and tables etc. Our son wanted a proper meal, ie steak and chips and we just wanted some pho. Anyway there was another huge argument about not letting him eat a big meal as he hadn't bothered to have breakfast etc etc and it was his fault he was hungry and he should just be happy with soup. Which of course he wasn't - so he stormed out of the restaurant eating nothing and we had the pho.- oh joy of family holidays. There was a lovely platter of fruit in our rooms which our son ate instead! I thought he would have ordered room service just to spite us but he didn't.

My husband and I wandered around the lake which was pretty much shrouded in mist. Then back to the hotel.

I tried to calm things down and our son said he didn't want to eat that night with my husband and wanted it to just be the two of us. I posed this thought to DH and it was agreed that this is what would happen. By this stage we were ready for some western food, we had done well, every lunch and all but one dinner had been Vietnamese but you know how it is, you just get the urge for "normal".

I had read about this Italian restaurant near the Cathedral called Mediterraneo so off we went. 23 Nha Tho Street. Son had the lasagne and I had a lovely sausage, walnut and cepes ravioli. It was hot and delicious. We had lashed out and had dessert, choc mousse, not as good as Cargo Club, and I a creme caramel. He had a beer and I a San Pellegrino. The bill was 600,000. It was a lovely restaurant except for people smoking inside. We found this a bit in Vietnam and struggled from time to time with the smoke. This street seemed have some good restaurants and coffee places and looked good at night. Just had a "feel". (Not so much during the day when we returned for coffee another day.)My husband had wandered around for an hour trying to find somewhere he wanted to eat and had ended up back at the Cyclo Bar and had eaten duck which he said was lovely.

Day 11:
We had set the room alarm clock to go off which it didn't of course!! Whilst the room has a "window" it isn't one really and the room was so dark we thought it was still the middle of the night. I lay there for ages thinking why can't I get back to sleep, husband thinking the same things. We finally decided that each other is awake so check the time to find it is 9.50am!!! No wonder we had been lying awake!! Breakfast finished at 10.00. We raced down stairs having woken the boy!! They didn't appear too chuffed but were gracious in cooking us omlettes etc.

Our son had decided he needed some time alone - I guess at 18 to be spending every breathing moment with your parents without any peers to talk to get can a bit wearing. He stayed in his room and we walked to Ho Chi Minh tomb. It was closed as it was a Monday. We wandered around getting told off for loitering looking through the palings at the residence. We walked down to the Temple of Literature. Tip: Find out where the entrance is (easy enough to read guide book - guess what we didn't do) otherwise you end up walking for ages round and around as there is only one entrance on the south side of the complex. It was a very peaceful place, old and full of culture etc. A lovely refuge in this noisy city. We spent over an hour just wandering and looking and then walked to the French quarter to find a resto for lunch.

I had imagined the French quarter to be very French - a bit like when people say Tasmania is like England!! Well they ain't in my book! Sure there are some french looking buildings but Paris it is not!! Maybe I was too hopeful!!! We found the restaurant had changed names and instead of Hanoi Bangkok it was now Sawadee. We had red duck curry. The duck was a bit tough but the flavours of the sauce were just yummy. Mopped every bit up with rice.

We had arranged to meet our son for coffee - the best latte in town, said the guide book, at Moca 14 Nha tho - opposite the Mediterraneo from last night. It wasn't bad!! he of course hadn't had lunch (not another argument pleeease) husband Ok'd the club sandwich which he reckons was delicious. The milkshake was a bit ordinary. Nothing is very cold in Vietnam, I know the ice situation is tricky but often the drinks were luke warm, even the cocktails and certainly the milkshake.

Anyway he was fed and watered and we wandered off again. We saw the Metropole Hotel and the Governor's Residence which is a glorious old building. Complete with bullet holes in the paling fence from the revolution. That added a bit of excitement to our day!!

They were starting display preparation for New year's Eve and it was great to watch two dragons constructed of oasis foam and completely covered with Anthirium flowers being made.

We were on the hunt for fake sunnies and they were duly found on what I had dubbed Sunglasses Alley - Luong Van Can, down near to the lake end of the road. It is just wall to wall sun glasses booths and shops. They vary in price so it was worth checking around. He was decked out in Ray Bans and Georgio Armani and looking very flash! How cool can one 18 year old look!

I hadn't really bought much and money was starting to burn a whole in my pocket. Husband went back to the hotel and son and I continued to look at the shops. I really struggled with the pestering, I can't stand being hassled and would rather walk away, which of course is what I had been doing thus the limited purchases!! I didn't find the silk to be of a particularly good quality but found a kimono style dressing gown for all of US$17 which I bought along with a couple of brightly coloured silk scarves for gifts.

We decided to go back to the Meditteraneo restaurant which is something we don't normally do. I think we had raved about it and my husband was willing to give it a whirl. The second time it was not so good, I had the tomato based ravioli which was quite ordinary, our son had the same ravioli as I had had the night before and my husband the linguini with clams. I think it was just what we needed the previous night as a change but not for two nights in a row. We actually found it harder to find what we were looking for, food wise in Hanoi rather than Hoi An and Saigon. Lots of street stalls etc but not a lot of cute local restaurants. I am sure they were there in spades but we just couldn't come across them.

Day 12:

Set both mobile phone alarms and got wake up call from hotel just in case as we were off to Halong Bay today. I had booked the Red Dragon cruise through Tonkin Travel. This included transport in a 16 seater van. It was quite cramped, there was another family of four, the driver of course and three hangers on who appeared to be using it as a taxi (or free transport) to their own destinations futher down the track. This made it rather cramped and the drive seemed to go on forever. You know when your legs start to cramp from staying in one spot all the time. The drive was very slow, lots of traffic and road works etc. The driver was a bit erratic and there were a couple of close shaves early on in the piece. I think he got the message we didn't need to overtake into on coming traffic by the collective gasps from all in the van complete with a few expletives. It was not a good journey and my back was really sore by the time we got there at 12.15. (I sound like a right winge but it was not good)

We were allocated our boats, the other family ended up going on the other Red Dragon boat and we found ourselves with a dutch family and young pommie couple who were all very pleasant.

The boat was lovely, beautifully appointed and the cabins cosy but comfortable. The bathrooms all smelt of stale pipe water, we left the window open a bit but it only helped a little. We had a lovely lunch on board, it was quite cool and everyone donned their jackets and long pants. We cruised whilst motoring along. All the food was top notch and we had about five courses. you had to pay extra for all drinks, even water. At US$356 for a couple I thought they could have thrown in some soft drink at least. (actually it might have been even more than that)

We only motored for about 2hrs and then stopped to look in a cave and do some kayaking. Husband and son did this, hey someone had to take the photos from dry deck!! We then moored for the rest of the day. This seemed a bit of a let down as the area is huge and we had only been going for 2 hours. It was now really cold and unfortunately too cold to sit outside. The cruise would have been absolutely glorious in warm weather, swimming in this fabulous water but in winter time I really wouldn't recommend going as you don't get value for money. We just all retired to our cabins to try and keep warm it was that cold. The staff were walking around in parkas and didn't shut the doors or put on any heating.

Dinner was served at 7.15pm and at least we seemed to warm up all huddled together at the dinner tables. The dinner was sensational, the food could not have been better. Even the sea slug spring rolls had a certain je ne sais quoi about them!!! They were lovely until I realised what they were!!!

The chef and friends had spent four hours creating vegetable carvings which I cannot begin to desribe - fantastic. Dragons and a replica of the Red Dragon itself, sails and all. They then put on a turn and sang for us. We in turn reciprecated and sang Waltzing Matilda for everyone, the dutch kids sang a song and we helped the brits with God Save the Queen, I have to mention that the Aussie's knew the words whereas they were not 100% clear!!! Should be ashamed of themselves!!!

AFter dinner we tried a bit of night fishing for squid but we had no luck. off to bed.

Day 13:

We were woken early to go and see a fishing village, amazing the way these people live all their lives perched on these little platforms in tiny houses. One wag suggested it looked like a trailer park on water, which I am sorry to say it did certainly resemble to a certain extent. There was a tiny school and their handwriting left our kids dead. We were in little bamboo boats rowed by young girls. We ended up at an Oyster farm where they showed us how they made the pearls.

Back to the boat for cooked breakfast which was eggs and bacon but cold! hmmm. We showered and then really just sat around whilst we motored through another route back to Ha Long Bay. We had an early lunch which was also meant to be hot but was barely warm. After the fabulous lunch and dinner the previous day it was a little disappointing.

There wasn't much to do on the boat, unless the weather is warm I just wouldn't bother going. it was a very expensive exercise, sure the karsts are amazing but in winter time I don't think you get value for money. We didn't go far and there was a lot of sitting doing nothing - apart from trying to keep warm. That is my opinion for what it is worth, I am sure there are others that would disagree. Unless you can sit outside on deck it just didn't make sense. I would have preferred to go a bit further with the cruising as well. We did enjoy the experience and our son said it was fun, so that was good.

We were back by 12.00 and then back into the horrid van for the trip back home. It actually didn't seem as bad as the road works weren't there and it was 1/2 hour quicker. Still a long way. If you wanted to do this for a day trip I would suggest you got a really comfy car or mini bus. The other couple who had booked through Handspan Tours appeared to have a superior van/mini bus for their transport. This could be worth noting when you make your booking, what the transport is actually going to be.

We had decided to book into Hanoi Elegance 4 for the last night. The hotel had only just opened and we gave it a whirl. I had booked a suite U$80 and a single room US$30 for our son. His room was certainly very small and for one night only it was fine, any longer and I think you would need a bigger room. Our suite was 801, it was very spacious and beautiflly decorated, we actually had real windows this time which gave us a view over Hanoi rooftops. The bathoom had the most amazing looking funky shower, however, it didn't perform as I couldn't get any of the buttons to work and just had an ordinary shower, - such potential! I am sure there were probably instructions but I didn't find them and the porter didn't run through anything. Again the lovely fruit platter and bottle of local wine.

Our room ended up being a bit noisy, it was next to the staff staircase and baggage storage area. They were clumping around until midnight and then again dragging bags around at 6.00am waking us up. There was another suite at the opposite end of the corridor 805 (only two on the floor) this could be less noisy, so ask for this room if you can.

We had to go back to look for the final pair of sunnies so off we went. find the Armanis and look cool again!

It is New Year's Eve. The 18 year old is not happy to be with us when he would rather be with his friends on Sydney Harbour, however, he is gracious in his defeat and we go for dinner at the Hanoi Garden restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. Very good local food but the Abba tape, singing Happy New Year on loop every five minutes starts to wear a bit thin. Do they not have any other music? Even the other young couple sitting next to us have a laugh with us over the music. We order far too much food and end up leaving a plate of Singapore noodles. Everything we order from the menu is tasty and hot and fresh.

We walk around the lake to see what festivities are being offered. Everyman and his dog (Thit Cho) are out. (Actually some of the dogs were at the specialist road side restaurants on the way to Halong Bay- but wont' go there - can't bear to think about that) scooters, bikes and people galore. Shuffle our way around the lake looking at displays and watching the beautiful latterns being set alight and sent off into the sky. it was interesting when they got caught in the power lines!! They made a very pretty look in the sky. The Anthirium dragons had been completed and looked amazing. Huge, 6 metres long and 5 metres high.

We go and have ice cream at Fannys next to the lake.

We finally get separated and my son and I make our way back to the hotel in a round about way!! Husband arrives back an hour later.

The hotel is in Yen Thai street, which is on the map but some of the surrounding streets seem to be missing! It is harder to find than Elegance 3, but not so hard it would worry most people, just the navigationally challenged like myself!

It is certainly cold in Hanoi, the first day, before Ha long Bay was quite mild but since our return the temperature has dropped considerably.

Off to bed and then we left the next day to return home to Sydney. We had to fly to HCMC and then change planes and head home. The plane wasn't full and we all managed to get a row of three seats each which made a difference as it was a night flight.

We had a good time, to me the highlight was the food. Everyone had said how beautiful Vietnam was, but where we went I honestly could not see much classic beauty. I think one needs to get out into the hills and maybe further north into Sapa. it was our first time, (apart from the war experience) and we chose what we thought would give us an overview of the country. In hindsight I would choose only one big city, for me and my son we liked HCMC rather than Hanoi, which I know is the opposite to most people. I don't really know why, it just appealled to us more. Certainly I would recommend Hoi An and maybe if the weather had been kinder to us there we could have gone out into the countryside and seen more "beauty". Ha Long bay, but in warmer months.

As I prefaced, I am not a great fan of Asia, sorry. And I think that probably prejudiced my views, I like calmer places, but can't see the point of going to a beach resort which gives a false sense of place, when we have the most fab beaches in Australia. So that is why we didn't do resorts but more major cities and towns. Catch 22. Anyway, we have been but between you and me I wouldn't return, my husband said he would like to. I guess the beauty of this world is that there is somewhere for everyone. For me that is France!!! We are going in May for four weeks, so I will be back on the Europe board!!! I hope this report has been of help to some, it is of course just my views and we are all different. I tell it like I see it but through my eyes only.


schnauzer is offline  
Jan 9th, 2009, 11:28 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 4,121
Very cool report, schnauz, I really enjoyed it. Like you, I have no real need to rush back. But, maybe not like you, I carried a whole heap of Viet War baggage with me. Going there was an interesting process of dumping it. That done - I don't overly need to re-visit.
dogster is offline  
Jan 10th, 2009, 11:40 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,984
Thanks for your report.

VN seems to provoke different reactions from people. We often get questions about the Halong Bay cruise in the winter for instance, and your description is quite detailed. Also, I really enjoyed what you had to say about HCMC.
Kathie is offline  
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