Saturday, 17 May 2014

Good Morning Vietnam!

We left Bali on the 12th of March 2013 and flew to Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon). We checked into a very friendly boutique hotel called Yellow House Saigon.

Dinner with friends in Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh was a shock after Bali. The traffic was absolutely crazy. There were millions of motorbikes and sometimes we had to wait a couple of minutes before we could cross the street. It was very polluted. Definitely not my favourite city in Vietnam.

Alex’s friends Anne and Florence from Paris, who were on holiday in Vietnam, were waiting for us at the hotel. It was nice to catch up with them again. On the same night, we met Paulette and her boyfriend, Daniel. Paulette is also a friend of Alex who lived in Cambodia before moving to Vietnam. She works in a travel agency and helped us to discover this huge city and the best restaurants in town. That night, we tried a traditional Vietnamese pho (soup) in a local restaurant.

Alex with her best friend
On our second day, we booked a 2 day trip to Can Tho and My Tho in the Mekong Delta, not far from Ho Chi Minh City. The trip was amazingly cheap. We paid around $35 USD per person including all the bus transfers, boat rides, guides, lunch, home stay and dinner. There are many travel agencies in the city, so ask around and bargain to get the best price. 

Tripadvisor is a wonderful website full of information about hotels, tours, agencies and restaurants to find out the best deals. It is a traveller’s community where people post their opinions about places they visited to help out fellow travellers. It helped us a lot in planning our trip.    

Child selling bananas on a floating market
During the tour, we visited a floating market, a bee farm, a noodle factory and some other historical sites. In the evening, we stayed with a local family and learned about the local cuisine. It was great to witness warm Vietnamese hospitality and try their delicious food.

Upon returning to Ho Chi Minh City, we said goodbye to Anne and Florence who were short of time and had to fly to Hoi Ann. We spent a couple of more days visiting many temples and catching up with Paulette and some of her friends. It was wonderful to have a friend to guide us in this busy city. 

After 5 days in Ho Chi Minh, we made our way to the next town. Dalat is a serene city in Vietnamese highlands which was set up by the French during colonial times. We were lucky enough to book a bike tour with two founding members of the Easy Rider Tours. You have to be careful as everybody claims that they are the original deal and it takes some effort to find an authentic guide. Our excursion included the Elephant Falls, a silk factory, a couple of pagodas, coffee plantations, the Crazy House and the Dalat Palace. Our guides, Joseph and his friend, were full of joy and information on Vietnamese history, culture and traditions.

Our guides from Easy Rider Tour
Vietnam has a very sad, war stricken history. After the French colonisation, Japan invaded the country during the 2nd World War. Then between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam War (Vietnamese call it the American War) claimed too many lives. You can certainly feel the pain of many conflicts when you talk to these brave people. It was wonderful to see this beautiful country reunited, and living in harmony. I wish them a peaceful future.

Before we left Dalat, we visited the Truc Lam Zen Monastery where we met a monk who was living there for over 15 years. He asked me if I could help him to improve his English by reading him parts from an English conversation book. I agreed, of course. He recorded my voice while I was reading. We were given tea and asked to stay for lunch which we kindly declined because we had a bus to catch. The friendly monk gave us 3 books as a present as we said goodbye. It was a touching experience.

At the Truc Lam Zen Monastery

After a 3 hour bus ride we were already in Nha Trang. We did not like this town from the beginning. First, the taxi driver tried to rip us off by bringing us to a different hotel than we mentioned. Then, he wanted more money than we agreed. Not a good start overall!

In addition, the town was extremely touristy. The beach was nice but we did not like the vibes and decided to leave the next day. That’s the beauty of travelling. If you don’t like a place, you simply move on to the next one. The next morning, we were already on our way to Quy Nhon.

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