Thursday, April 8, 2010

Holidays in South Vietnam

After ten weeks of hard work, it is time to go on a holiday again! We flew by Tiger budget airline and the flight took one and a half hours to Ho Chi Minh City.
All the preparations and reading before the holidays stood us in good stead. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh at around 4.30pm and took the airport bus into town. We reached town in half an hour and what greeted us was a horde of motor-bicyles that whizzed by all around us. Learning to cross the road was the first thing we had to master on our arrival. Our hotel was in a busy area where lots of backpackers stay. It took us half an hour walking in a circle before we finally found the street we were looking for.
Ho Chi Minh City looks chaotic, dusty and dirty at first sight and we wondered why we had chosen this country for our hard-earned holiday.
We found our pre-booked hotel in an alley which looked dingy at the main entrance but we soon found that it was in actual fact on a quiet street away from the noisy traffic on the main roads.
There were lots of pubs, bars, tourist agencies which offer trips to the different parts of Vietnam from south to north. After a simple but delicious meal of beef noodles, we were ready to check out the the vicinity of the famous Pham Ngu Lao Street.
The next morning after a simple breakfast of baguette, eggs, coffee and bananas, we were ready to make our way around.
We walked to Cho Ben Thanh, the big market place where all kinds of stuff were put on sale. Nearby was the bus station where all services seem to ply from here.We boarded Bus 1 and soon found ourselves in Cholon, the Chinatown of HCMC.
We bought some fruits and soon decided to check on the bus interchange at Mien Tay. We found ourselves pestered by some ticket sellers who tried to sell us tickets to go to the different parts of the Mekong Delta.
We were a bit apprehensive if we could make it to the place Caibee and back in time in the evening. We were assured that there would be buses to take us back on the same day.
However, two hours later, the bus journey ended in a rather secluded place with no sight of piers or bus terminus. A woman who spoke Cantonese advised us to return to HCMC as we were in no men's land with people who speak only Vietnamese. We took the motorbke taxi, changed into a van and later from Mytho took a bus back to HCMC.
The lesson to learn here is to be better prepared and find out a little more before venturing out. Nevertheless, God has kept us safe in spite of our recklessness.
Back at the hotel, we talked to a Malaysian couple from KL.

On Day 3, we decided to check out on the sightseeing places, beginning with The Reunification Palace. We then made our way around to Notre Dame Cathedral, the General Post Office, and the HCM Museum area. We had a simple chicken rice and noodle lunch and soon found the famous wrap and roll restaurant.
We bought some to take away to the HCM Domestic airport as we had a flight to catch to go to Nha Trang.
We arrived at Nha Trang at 6pm and the sky was already pitch dark then. We were grateful that the people at Perfume Grass Inn sent a pickup to pick us up from the Airport.
The owner Mr Huan was there with his family to receive us. We went out for a little dinner and checked on transport to Dalat, our next stop. It rained heavily that evening but we managed to return to the hotel after going to the supermarket to purchase some bottles of mineral water and vodka orange.
Next morning, we had a simple breakfast, before hiring a motorbike to go to the various sightseeing places.
The hotel gave us a good map and with it, we could find the various places quite easily.
We went to the Po Nagar Cham Tower after stopping at the Hong Chong Promonitory. A University student was our voluntary guide and she spoke good English as she explained to us the significance of Po Nagar and gave us a little information of the Cham people and their religion.
After that, we went a bit off looking for the Thap Ba Mud Bath. From there, we went to look for the Long Son temple to look at the majestic white Buddha on the hill and the reclining Buddha too. A woman tried to sell us some postcards at an exorbitant price but we managed to shake her off. After a little local lunch at a coffee shop, we rode to the park where some secondary students were having a picnic. They were too shy to speak English to us even though they might have understood a little of what we said. We then went on to Vinpearl land to check on the prices to take the cable car to the island.
In spite of the little downpour, we had good fun riding the motorbike.
In the evening, we walked along the beach and had hotpot dinner at a restaurant.
The next day, we took the four island boat trip to Mieu,Munn, Mot and Tranh. We were in the same group as Federica and her brother Mike from Tasmania,Diana and Steven from Canada, and some Chinese nationals from China as well as many Vietnamese, that being Saturday.We had fun on the boat when the organisers got ready a makeshift stage to sing, dance and clown around. For the first time, I dared to get into the water together with Lek and the rest.We even had red wine at the improvised bar in the water!
Mr Huan was kind enough to help us book a hotel in a government guest house in Dalat and arranged for the open bus to take us there.
The next morning, we met a French lady who travelled on her own and had returned from Siem Reap.
The open bus took four hours before we arrived at Dalat, which is on the central highland. The day was hot while the evening was freezing cold. We could not get much information from the receptionist at Dinh two where we stayed as she knew just a little English.
Anyway, she recommended a friend who rented a motorbke to us from 1pm to 6pm.
We rode around town, negotiating some undulating plain. We took a rest at the beautiful Yersin garden. We later learnt that Yersin was the man who founded Dalat.
It was disappointing to find the famous lake all dried up and some construction work was going on.
The next day, we took a tour to some popular sightseeing places. We went to the Biet Thur Hang Nga, the famous crazy house, the Bao Dai summer palace, the Nha Tho Domain de Marie, The Cremaillere Railway Station, the Dalat flower garden, At the Robin Hills, we took the cable car to Bamboo Pagoda temple. We then went to Thac Datanla waterfall and finally to the market. We had some lunch,changed our money and went to book a flight back to HCMC as we decided not to take the arduous eight-hour bus ride back.
Dinh2 was indeed a very beautiful place and perhaps if the lake had not dried up, we could venture out a little more.
Back in HCMC after half an hour flight, we went back to the same hotel that we first stayed, cleaned ourselves up and went to the An Dong Market.
Back at Bui Vien, we had some Indian food for dinner and bought our fifth and last pomelo on this trip.
On the last day, we went to Chua Ngoc Hoang, a chinese temple by bus no.18. We also managed to visit the Ho Chi Minh City museum.
After a simple lunch at Ben Thanh Market, we returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage and took the airport bus no. 152 to go to the airport to take the flight home.
The nine-day holiday had come to an end and we had a good time planning for the holidays and looking for places.
We had a good and cheap holiday, we got to put our map reading and research skills to good use and most of all we got to meet various people on this trip, the Vietnamese and the other tourists, not forgetting the chance to ride the motorbike in both Nha Trang and Dalat.
We will return to Vietnam some day to go to Hoi An, Dalang and the beautiful Fu Quoc island, not forgetting the Chu Chi tunnel and Mekong Delta which we missed on this trip.

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