August 14-21, 2015
It had been a great and crazy time in Cambodia, but it was time to say goodbye and move on to Vietnam.
Alex and I got up in the morning, ate breakfast, and then took a tuk tuk to the Siem Reap Airport for 5USD. Almost half of the airport was under construction so it was loud, dusty, and unorganized. I checked-in and discovered that my flight had been pushed back to 10:40am. Thanks a lot airport. I am now convinced that airports are out to destroy my quality of sleep and happiness. I went through immigration quickly and then waited for my flight. When it was time to board I was surprised to see that I would be getting on a small propeller plane.
It was a short flight thankfully, but unfortunately gave me motion sickness. Even thinking about the descending makes my stomach turn. I didn’t feel very good for the next few hours, but was okay enough to still go out and do things. In the Saigon Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) I discovered that the approval letter I had paid for (19USD) and the Visa information I had filled out actually needed to be turned in and made into an official visa sticker along with a 45USD fee. I was so thankful to my past self for printing out all of the documents attached to emails in Vietnamese. Through immigration and out the door with my luggage I took a taxi to my hotel (11USD) and checked into the Duc Vuong Hotel. I decided to stay at hotels in Vietnam to treat myself. With fairly cheap prices I got super lucky with this hotel. The staff was immediately friendly and joking around with me and the room was clean and comfy. I rested in my room for just a bit and then went downstairs, asked for a taxi (2.50USD) and went to The Independence Palace (Reunification Palace). Before I went inside I desperately needed some food. I walked around a bit before I found a place called Passio. I ordered a frappicino and Thai chicken salad, ate it quickly and then walked back to the palace.
I had limited amounts of time to see things since it was already 3:00pm. The Palace (30,000VND) reminded me of the White House, but Vietnamese style. It was made as modern as possible for the time it was created and had some beautiful interior design within it. Plus, who doesn’t love a protective bunker, helicopter pad, and bullet proof glass for added protection. After walking around the palace I looked at the time and realized if I walked quickly I could tour The War Remnants Museum.
By this time I was also brave enough to walk through the city with my map. The War Remnants Museum (15,000VND) had aircraft, vehicles, machinery, and hundreds of pictures from the Vietnam War. I hadn’t realized how much protesting against the war had actually occured. Some of the pictures were absolutely heart-breaking and forced me to hold back tears. This war had greatly affected Vietnam, to astronomical extents, and it affected the individuals and families who fought on the US side as well. I left the museum feeling somber and wondering whether the war against communism and control over Vietnamese resources was really worth it.
I walked to the Ben Thanh Market and tried my hand at bartering with Vietnamese sales people. They are tough! Or Taiwan has really put me out of practice. I bought a pair of lounge shorts and a Vietnam tank for 350,000VND (16USD), later a bracelet 30,000VND (1.38USD) and a Coconut Shake 20,000VND (~1USD). Really not wanting anything else, especially after the shopping spree I had in Cambodia, I left, headed towards my hotel.
Or so I thought. Not paying too much attention to my map I headed in the opposite direction of my hotel. My random directional challenge brought me to the beautiful Ho Chi Minh City Hall and the monument of former president Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh.
I walked around a bit more and then finally realized where I was. Being a bit lazy I took a cab back to my hotel (it was vacation after all) 60,000VND (3USD). I immediately walked across the street and ordered Pho Chay and a drink 105,000VND (4.81USD).
It was delicious! I like to joke that the only reason I came to Vietnam was to eat Pho, and not just the bleh stuff but the good stuff. Was I really joking though…? With my first day in Vietnam coming to an end I made last minute tour plans for my Sunday and then got ready for an early morning.
Up bright and early for a tour around Mekong Delta I attempted to drink some coffee and had no time for breakfast. I was supposed to get picked up at 6:15am, but didn’t get picked up until 6:50am. We were going to be driving for awhile so I took full advantage of my nap opportunity. We stopped at a rest stop and I bought one of the best mango smoothies I have ever had and a doughnut that tasted like it would back in America, 90,000VND (4.13USD). Our tour guide Frank, or Mr. Phuc in Vietnamese, was awesome and did a great job explaining some cultural things in Vietnam. For example, back before the government was more stable people could come in and take over someone else’s land if they had more money. People would bury their dead loved ones in their rice fields. Because Vietnam is very superstitious the people trying to take over their land would back off because they don’t want the spirit to haunt them and bring them bad luck. We arrived at the Delta and got onto a boat, much sturdier than the one in Cambodia, and it took us towards the Cai Be Market. Frank explained that in a few years this market will probably gone because the fishing community has really died down. I could see what he meant. In Cambodia, the market had been busy and fully of boats going back in forth. This river was calm and there weren’t as many boats. I thought that maybe the reason it was so low was because everyone had gone to Cambodia! In the market, we attached to a boat that was selling fruit. I got to try Jackfruit and Rambutan for the first time and the two American guys behind me tried Durian. Next, we stopped on an island in the Delta area and went to a bee farm. We got to taste test the honey and it was fabulous! Then we watched people make rice paper treats, coconut products, and rice popcorn. Most of these businesses had been in the family for three generations and were now being preserved by the tourism committee of Vietnam.
Walking further around the island we got to see a short show of traditional Vietnamese songs with traditional instruments. To move to a different part of the island we got into small row boats and this little lady rowed three Americans, with what Frank called our KFC bodies, around the island to another location. At one point the water was so low that when we were passing other boats I thought we were going to get stuck. The lady rowing our boat was so nice and even picked a flower off a tree for me. When we got out of the boat I paid her 20,000VND (1USD). Frank recommended we each give her that much because the ladies practically live off of tips.
With our short ride over we went to our cooking class and learned how to make Fried Spring Rolls and Papaya Salad. I think I might actually be able to make them at home. As long as I don’t burn them! They sat us down for lunch where we ate a lot of food: Elephant Fish, Papaya Salad, Fried Spring Rolls, Hot Pot Soup, BBQ Shrimp, and Watermelon for desert. It was so much food but it all tasted so good. It had started to rain while we were on our last course. Despite the drizzling of rain a small group of us biked around the village in the area. The villagers were very friendly waving and shouting “hello” at us. The kids were the best though. We even got to see the villagers version of a toilet before plumbing came to the island. The toilet was located right over a stream leading to the river and it looked like if I ever had to use it I would fall in instantly. With our bicycle ride over we had to say goodbye to our cooking class hosts and get back on the boat.
We got on the bus and drove back to Ho Chi Minh City. Frank was so nice and gave us tips on how to deal with scammers in Vietnam. I was the last one to be dropped off. Too tired to go out and search for food I went to the rooftop restaurant in my hotel and got a Strawberry Rose Tea, Vegetarian Noodles, and a Honey Crepe, 120,000 (5.50USD). It was a great way to end the evening, overlooking the city and enjoying the night sky.
I was up and ready to start tour #2. I had booked a day-tour for 300,000VND (13.75USD), which I kind of got what I paid for I found out later, and was on the bus by 8:15am. We made a short stop on the way to a ceramic shop where people affected by Agent Orange worked, and then went to the Cao Dai Go Ken Pagoda.
We barely made it in time for the noon-day service. Caodaism is a sector of religion that encompasses qualities of all sectors of religions. In just this one temple I saw Christian-Catholic, Buddhist, and Islamic influences. I was told there were even more. People who are not Caodaist can watch the service, but they must stay clear of the front of the temple because the Caodaist believe that the spirits of the dead come into the temple during service through the front door. The service was 40 minutes long and I got to watch almost all of it. I wanted to walk around the temple grounds but our tour guide didn’t give us enough time to. We left and drove awhile before we stopped for lunch. It was a really random stop with no significance besides probably some connection with the tour guide service. We ordered lunch and this is where I found out my lunch was not included in my tour package, although it clearly said on the description (that I had stupidly left in my hotel room) that lunch was included. I paid the 90,000VND (4.13USD) bill and thought how lucky I was to be in a cheap country when a mistake like that is made. Back in the bus we finally reached our last destination, The Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels had been created during the Vietnam War to hide Vietnamese Guerrilla soldiers from American soldiers. These tunnels were small! Our tour guide told us that they had actually been smaller, but they made them bigger so Americans and Europeans could fit in them and Vietnam rebuilt them so that they were more stable. We got to see all the types of traps that the guerrilla soldiers had made. It made me very grateful that I have never been drafted because the whole time I was there I was kind of internally terrified. We watched a very old video at the beginning that was super old and obviously propaganda. The video mentioned how gentle and nice these villagers were and how they so bravely tried to survive during the war while the ruthless Americans came in and tried to destroy their village. I agree that warfare tactics are bad, but I am pretty sure no one wanted to be in Vietnam fighting; it wasn’t just the Vietnamese Guerrillas who didn’t want to fight. We got to try out a hiding spot and a go through a segment of the tunnels. There were points where you could get out. I made it a whole 20 meters before I got out. It was so small and so dark that I immediately felt panicked, and I am not claustrophobic at all. I am only 5’5″ and I had to crotch almost all the way over. Some really tall French guys went almost the whole way through the tunnels. I was so proud of them because I couldn’t even think about making it that far. Along with the Cu Chi Tunnels you could shoot large guns. I was not impressed and instead went to the tourist store nearby and bought a bracelet and water. We didn’t spend much time in the tunnel area before we had to leave.
We drove all the way back to HCMC and instead of dropping us off back at our hotels we could get off at two points. I was not impressed by this one bit because I was by myself, it was nighttime and dark and I didn’t want to walk back to my hotel by myself. I caught a cab and took it back to my hotel where I relaxed for an hour trying to not let the frustrations of the day bother me. I walked to a place nearby my hotel that was called La Casita. I enjoyed a Mexican Bowl and Mango Smoothie, which were both very good, 159,000 VND (7.29USD).
Back in my hotel I booked an airport taxi for the following morning and packed up my bag. As much as I wanted to see more things in Ho Chi Minh City I was also ready to leave and be in a more relaxed area.
I woke up and got ready, ate breakfast, and checked out of my hotel.
My bill for two drinks and an airport taxi was 236,000 (10.82USD). I got dropped off at the Domestic Terminal of the Saigon Airport. I was so glad to be out of that taxi because it was so jerky and spastic. It took no time at all to check-in, buy luggage tickets (20USD), get through the gate and wait for my flight. I had forgotten about my two small water bottles in my backpack and they didn’t even say anything to me about it.
An hour or so later we were landing in Da Nang, the central part of Vietnam. I could see the ocean and mountains. It brought a homey feeling to me since it kind of reminded me of Taiwanese nature scenery. When I went to get an airport taxi I found out there wasn’t any and I needed to take a taxi that would be metered. Hoi An is 25km away so I could only imagine the meter bill I was going to rack up. I could try to find the airport shuttle that wouldn’t take me straight to my hotel. I chose convenience over cost and got into a taxi. My bill ended up being a little under 600,000VND (27.50USD). It wasn’t horrible and I was at my hotel, Loc Phat Villa. I checked-in, lounged around for a bit and then decided to relax the rest of the day and go to the beach. I rented a bicycle for 1USD. Before I got to far I decided to stop for lunch. The guy that was working at the shop I stopped at was actually born and raised in Minnesota, so we were talking about Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and America for a bit. I had ordered a chicken sandwich with chips (fries) and fresh passion fruit juice, 120,000VND (5.50USD). They were all delicious!
I only had to bicycle a mile before I reached the beach. I parked my bicycle and then some man came up to me and said the cost was 5,000VND (.23USD). I was a little annoyed at first. Really?! You are going to charge me to park my bicycle, but I didn’t feel like arguing and 5,000VND was practically nothing in comparison to what it probably meant to this man. I chose a spot under the palm trees and spent the following hours switching between reading, napping, and wading in the water. What a hard afternoon ;).
I reached a point where I wanted to get out of the heat. I rode back to the hotel, washed off all of the sand on my body, and then lounged again. Around 7:00pm I figured I would bicycle into town and go to the night market. I only bicycled a few blocks before I realized I didn’t want to bicycle around in the dark by myself when I didn’t know the streets yet. I stopped at one of the restaurants along the way, sat down, and then a little bit later a couple asked if I wanted to join them. I was surprised at first, but agreed. They were both teachers in Germany and were on vacation for a month in Vietnam. We had a nice talk about me teaching in Taiwan, their travels, and the European Union. Around 8:00 or so we said our goodbyes and paid our bills. I had Cao Lau Noodles, a Snickers milkshake, and a glass of Siagon Beer, 80,000VND (3.67USD).
The noodles are a dish that originated in the Hoi An area. They were really good too! I bicycled back to my hotel and called it a night. I decided I would spend my time around the Hoi An Ancient City the next day.
I tried to get up earlier, but I couldn’t. I kept hitting my snooze button until I saw a text from my friend, Alfredo, asking if we could Facetime. I quickly ate breakfast and then we chatted. It wasn’t until about 10:00am when I finally started biking into the city center of Hoi An. I wanted to get to know the Ancient City. I stopped at a temple and assembly hall (there are many of both in the city), and then I got to the walking and cycling part of the city. I bought the ancient home pass for 120,000VND (5.43USD). This pass gets you into 5 historic sites around Hoi An. One of my favorites was the Japanese Covered Bridge. It was really hot by this time. I biked to another part of Hoi An and then thought that I could bike to a pottery village outside of Hoi An. After only biking a little I decided that it would be a really bad idea with the heat. I stopped at what I thought was a cafe, but they didn’t have almost anything available on their menu. I bought the Asian version of a Gatorade, drank some of it, and then left. I went back to the riverside area, but before I could get there I spotted a beautiful looking temple/assembly hall. It was free to get in and practically abandoned, but the ceramic details on it were so beautiful.
Back by the riverside I had a good mango smoothie and papaya salad before I went back out into the heat.
I walked around the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. It was cool because the museum was full of artifacts that were found in the area from the Sa Huynh, dating back nearly 2,000 years. The museum was very small though. It had one floor of artifacts and that was it.
I went back outside and tried to find the history museum in the area. When I couldn’t that was all it took for me to make-up my mind and bicycle back to my hotel. I spent an hour or two inside and then I went to Cua Dai Beach. Before reaching the beach I stopped to schedule my private car to My Son for the following morning, 600,000VND (27USD). I had really wanted to motorbike out there, but I was unsure of how to get there, didn’t trust my phone enough without data on it, and really just wanted to avoid getting in an accident while on vacation…at all costs. At the beach I got to relax and read my book.
Bicycling back to Hoi An I stopped at a place called Coco Restaurant. I ordered a Vanilla Ice Cream Cafe, Hoi An Fried Wontons, and Mixed Fruit with Yogurt, 188,000VND (8.51USD). All of them were not what I was expecting, but all very good. The restaurant was located right next to the river so I had a great view, and got to watch the sun slowly go down. The rest of the night I relaxed some more and prepared for my early morning the next day.
As suggested by an American living in the area, I had a private car take me to My Son at 6:00am. We arrived there a little after 7:00am. I bought my ticket for 100,000VND (4.53USD), and then started walking into the ruins area. I had read online that while this area was amazing it has also been severely damaged by bombs that were dropped during the Vietnam War. Parts of the ruins were just a pile of bricks, and other ruins had been restored and looked amazing. I had forgotten about the bomb craters until I read something on a sign. There were holes everywhere around the ruins. They were not just part of the scenery as I thought they originally were. It is amazing how close some bombs came to completely wiping out a part of Vietnam’s ancient history. Even at 8:00am it was already really hot and I was dripping with sweat. My driver gave me enough time to look through the small My Son museum.
I think he was surprised that I walked through everything so quickly. It was too hot not to look and then keep walking. Back at the hotel I rented a scooter for two days (5USD/per day). The scooter they gave me made me appreciate my scooter back in Taiwan so much more. I noticed that hardly anyone in Vietnam has both mirrors on their motorbikes. It now makes sense when everyone turns without looking, how can they!? This scooter also reminded me of the scooters that elderly people use in Taiwan. Every time they turn their turn signal makes a loud beeping noise, like beep beep watch out for me! My Vietnamese scooter made the exact same noise, so when I went to turn I almost fell off my scooter because it surprised me so much. At this point I was way too hungry to be able to take a nap just yet, so I stopped at a place called Dingo’s Deli and had a delicious breakfast burrito and coffee, 95,000VND (4.30USD).
Afterwards, I went back to my hotel room and took a nap. A few hours later I was up and off to An Bang Beach. This beach was so quiet compared to Cua Dai Beach. Although there were people under almost every umbrella, they were all reading or just speaking quietly. It was a relaxing afternoon with the sun, my book, and the ocean.
I ordered a White Iced Coffee (twice) because the first one I didn’t get and the other one came as I was getting ready to leave. Despite my annoyance with the slowness it was pretty tasty for 30,000VND (1.36USD). Back at my hotel I washed off the sand, cooled down, and then went out the door again. I wanted to spend my evening in the Ancient City by the river walk. First, I parked, 10,000VND (.50USD), and walked to Morning Glory. My hotel had recommended this restaurant to me and I understood why after I walked in. It has a very relaxing ambiance and the food was good. I got a Mango Banana Smoothie, Fried Wontons with Crabmeat, and Cau Lau Noodles (again, they are so good!), 188,000VND (8.51USD).
My most expensive meal yet, but so good nonetheless. It was really beginning to start to get dark. Walking along the river and the Ancient City at night is a must. It was lit-up and so beautiful. I took this chance to buy some postcards, coffee, and tea for myself and my friends. With a full belly and backpack full of gifts it was time to head back to my hotel.
The next day was my last full day in Hoi An. I couldn’t believe how fast my time in the area had gone and how much I was enjoying just being around the culture and the people of Vietnam.
I wanted to relax my last day in Hoi An, so I only planned to do a couple things and then I was going to go to the beach. I ate breakfast and then scooted to the Thanh Ha Pottery Village located only a couple kilometers out of Hoi An. I arrived at the ticket desk, 25,000VND (1.13USD), and then proceeded to drive around the village. It was a little confusing because you could stop at multiple houses within the village. I could only distinguish between the homes and the pottery stops by the houses that had pottery outside of them and the ones that didn’t. I stopped at two houses. The first one the ladies actually showed me how to make a pot and then helped me make one. I bought two bowls from them, 100,000VND (4.53USD). The next house I stopped at was Mrs. Hues. When you stop at her house you can use your ticket voucher and receive a whistle she has made. Her pottery was amazing! She had dragons, animals, bowls and more bowls, and beautiful tea sets. If I had a harder suitcase I would have bought a tea set, but I only had my backpackers backpack. I bought another bowl from her for 40,000VND (1.81USD). Mr. Hues was so nice and even though we could barely talk because of the language barrier I still had this odd sense that I wanted to hug her. Not to mention how talented she is.
Before I left the pottery village I stopped at the Terracotta Museum. It had different types of pottery inside and a little bit of history on how the village became focused on specifically only the pottery trade. The outside of the museum was my favorite though. It had different famous monuments from all over the world, but in pottery form.
I left the village and drove towards my next stop, the Japanese Trader’s Tombs. The only problem was I couldn’t find them. I looked for the sign and I even looked for some resemblance of what the tombs could look like, nothing. It was hot enough that I scratched that idea and went back to my hotel. I changed into my swimsuit and then stopped for lunch. I ordered a Vietnamese Coffee (G7), but no one could tell me what the G7 actually meant. I also ordered Vermicelli Fried Noodles with Crab meat. It was alright, but I have had better.
I drove to An Bang Beach again, but this time I went to a different section of the beach. In no mood to pay to be in the shade I laid out in the sun and then eventually laid alongside one of the fishing boats that was pulled onto shore. Free shade! I spent plenty of time on the beach and then I went back to my hotel to wash the sand off and get ready for dinner.
I went back to Dingo’s for dinner. I had noticed all the western food on their menu when I had been there earlier and I couldn’t pass it up. I went back for a delicious meal and left very full.
I went back to my hotel and packed my bag. I was going to have an interesting day of flights and cabs the following day so I made sure to pack well and get a good nights sleep.
I slept in as late as I could and got ready to leave. My airport shuttle picked me up at 11:00am and I was in the airport by 12:00pm. I had plenty of time to drink some coffee, lounge around, and eat lunch. I’m a little ashamed to say I ate Burger King. It was the first BK burger that I had had in a year, or at least that was my excuse. I finally got on my plane shortly after 2:00pm and was back in Ho Chi Minh City by 3:25pm. By the time I got out of the airport and near the taxi area I knew I had no time to go to the History Museum. With my flight not being until 1:ooam I wasn’t just going to sit around in the airport! I hired a taxi to take me to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. The pagoda was a bit of a downfall. It wasn’t that large and I couldn’t really tell what the jade part was supposed to be. I almost wondered if I was even in the right place. The pagoda was so small that I walked around it very quickly and then kind of felt like “now what?”.
I decided to just walk around and look for a place to eat and chill for a few hours. I walked around this area for so long, but couldn’t really find a Vietnamese restaurant that I could spend a long period of time in. My bag was heavy so I was ready to just sit down. I finally stopped at a Korean cafe called Waffles. Guess what they served, yup, waffles. I ordered a cream cheese waffle and a passion fruit smoothie. They were both amazing! I couldn’t finish the waffle it was so filling. Yummm
Like most Korean cafes it was chill and adorable. I spent a few hours there until I figured I could just go back to the airport and check-in. I caught a taxi and was back at the airport within 30 minutes. Unfortunately the airport will not assign a counter to check-in at until three hours before one’s flight. I had to wait way to long to finally check-in and when I did finally check-in I had to wait another two hours for my flight. By the time I got on the plane I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. Four hours later and I was back in Taiwan and could travel back to my own bed.
The last part of my trip was kind of boring with flights and flight changes, but I had a great time in Vietnam. You can tell the people have worked very hard to better their country and create a culture that is open to tourists and foreigners. If I wasn’t already established in Taiwan I would have definitely loved to move there and live there.
My trip was over….where to go next?