When we went for the Perhentian trip, we met a Dutch couple who complained that their worst trip so far was when they visited Vietnam. Just because of that Sarip was apprehensive of going there thus. However, while scouring for nearby destinations on Virtual Tourist, it was noted that HCMC and Hanoi were in the top 10 list of places to visit in Asia. And just because of that Sarip responds “why not?” Fickle him.
We initially planned to head to Hanoi rather than HCMC. But due to time constraints, we decided to head to the south first. We planned to spend for at least one week and head to HCMC first, then proceed to the highlands of Dalat, then to the bustling port town of Nha Trang, after that head to the quiet town of Mui Ne and finally head back to HCMC.
HCMC – Day 1
We booked flights via JetStar. Flights start off at waaaaaay unusual times. Our flight departed at 7am morning and reached HCMC at 8am (1 hour behind SIN time). Once at the airport, we head to Pham Ngu Lao (PNL). Needless to say our first experience of getting conned in VN happened with the cab driver. He was so insistent of carrying my bag and charged a whoppingly USD$10 cab fare when it should have just cost us USD$6. And to rub salt to the wound, he dropped us away from the intended destination.
Once we reached PNL, we booked bus tickets to head to Dalat the next morning from the reputable SinhCafe agency. Tickets cost USD$15 and all buses leave at 730am.
Once done we settled to stay at Quyen Thanh Hotel at the intersection of Bui Ven Road. Nice and very good location and costs USD$14. However, rates will increase depending on peak season. The rooms are large with high ceiling and satellite TV.
After settling down and with time to spare, we decided to tour the city. Most of the city’s major sights lie within a short walking distance of one another in District 1. You can engage a tour company but we decided it is better to walk around, and experience the humongous traffic that envelopes the city. But it’s all fun. We visited the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Hotel Intercontinental Saigon, The Opera House, City Hall and Rex Hotel. Not much, but fulfilling, especially the War museum where it showcases the horrific remnants of the after effects of the Vietnam War.
Sarip has heard about the famous Vietnam Coffee. It IS the second country in the world to produce coffee. The coffee here is unique where it comes with a tin lid which houses the beans. The filter will drop bit by bit and normally will be done after a few minutes.
Add this with the condensed milk and ice and whoa boy! it puts down to any other gourmet coffee to shame. No wonder there is not a SINGLE starbucks joint in sight.
We headed down to Ben Thanh Market as heard by a lot of people to visit there. If you are looking for shoes or anything else like what was available in Chatuchak Market, you’ll be disappointed. BUT! if you are looking for home decor and stuff, you’ll be delighted to the max. Vietnam is well known for its lacquerware and prices are cheap (for now). Sarip got himself sets of TinTin lacquerware to hang on the wall. Yessah! The only other reasonable wearable items available here are its *Vietnam* T-Shirts and women handbags.
The Book recommends Pho 2000 to try VN’s national dish. The place was made famous by Bill Clinton’s visit in 2001. The special seafood Pho was excellent to say the least. And the chilli, my oh my, can break even the hardest soul i kid you not. All in all a superb meal.
People have said of VN’s horrendous traffic. And its true. In a city of 7 million people, there are 5 million bikes on the road. Do the math. How to cross the road?
Easy, just follow the locals and you shall be fine. We were so addicted in crossing the roads, that we make every opportunity to do a lot, challenging ourselves to more heavy traffic each time.
The rest of the night was spent away lazing around Allez Boo to prepare for the next day’s trip to Dalat.
Dalat – Day 2
The journey from HCMC to Dalat took about 10 hours. Dalat was originally the playground of the French who built villas in the clear mountain air to escape the heat and humidity. We did not believe at first on the temperate climate and boy were we wrong about it.
We stayed at the famous backpacking hotel Peace 1 for the first night. Rooms are cheap at USD$7 with cable TV. Rooms are OK with double beds but the view from the veranda was interesting to say the least.
Once settled, we started to venture out the city and headed to the quaint French restaurant Le Cafe de la Poste on the colonial district of Dalat. As compared to other joints in Dalat, the prices here are a bit steep but the food is excellent and the chocolate mousse is amazing.
Dalat – Day 3
We booked the famed Easy Rider tour for a day to venture out Dalat’s interesting sights around the surrounding hills. For the company of 1 guide and rental of 2 bikes, it costs us USD$26. Our guide, Mr Thai, brought us to varied places that includes the Elephant and Datanla Waterfalls, the silkworm factory, monuments around Dalat and much more.
Not surprisingly it was the most enjoyable as Sarip loved the biking around the countryside and acted upon his best Mat Rempit impersonation.
And for all the stupid things Sarip did here (walking in flip flops in 13 degrees, causing painful feet cramps while walking at night), he left the city with a (very) heavy heart.
The journey from Dalat to Nha Trang – the nation’s beach party central – took us about 6 hours (USD$6).
Once there, we were greeted with this irritating uncle who keep following us in his cyclo and promoting his hotel. After much dismay looking for a good place to stay in while fending off his heckling, we came about to Aloha Inn.
First thing off after that, we head out to the hot spring that was talked about in the book.
For a price of USD$9, we got to take the mud bath, hot spring and massage. The only surprise was when the masseuse immediately demanded the tip after that.
The night was spent prowling the streets looking for seafood. Even though Nha Trang is stated as an epicurean dream, it was hard for us to find with the right price. Everyone was doubling, sometimes tripling up the price knowing that we are not locals.
Nha Trang – Day 5
The next day we booked a boat trip tour. We did not expect much, but the trip was the best by far in this trip as it only costs us USD$6. The trip includes meals, snorkelling and the most surprising of all, a floating bar.
While on board, we made friends from a myriad of places. We met up with Won who came to Vietnam from Korea to study. Nice chap, and we talked about his travels to India. We also met up with Matthew, a German who married a local and his very enthusaistic and interesting stories. And of course Mr Number 4 and his crew who kept shouting SINGAPOUR! to us whenever possible.
The trip lasted us the whole day and by time it ends, we were so tired that we just ate beside the road together with Won.
Mui Ne – Day 6
The morning after we head immediately to Mui Ne, a coastal town 4 hours down the road from Nha Trang. As compared to Nha Trang, Mui Ne is much quieter and, cheaper. The beaches though are not as nice as Nha Trang, what with leftovers from the previous storm and really, really high waves. However, there are still some nice sights to see, especially the White Sand Dunes. The dessert stretched for miles and it is still a mystery how can such a place exist in the middle of a tropical climate.
HCMC – Day 7
We only stayed at Mui Ne for one day and left for HCMC around midnight. The next day we head off to Cu Chi Tunnels on the outskirts of the city. The trip costs USD$6 and can be booked at any agency.
The tunnels were used by the NLF guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters during the American War.
Sarip spent only 20 minutes in the tunnels and got claustrophobic. How they managed to stay in them for 6 years is beyond his imagination.
The rest of the day was spent on shopping with whatever remains that we had. Sarip decided to get some tailored clothes while Ann made 2 pieces of Ao Dai. All of them costs us USD$100. Not bad, considering the workmanship. Forgot the shop’s name but it is along the same road as Quyen Thamh Hotel.
HCMC – Day 8
The last day was just spent waking up late and having lunch at an eatery we least expect to be very good. Located at the end of PNL, the stall serves killing Pho and chilli for half the price of Pho 2000.
The trip was excellent. The views we managed to see, the experience we managed to get, the friends that we made, the food and drinks we consumed to our delight will always be kept. We love VN and will definately return again – this time to the Northern area of the country. Till then, từ biệt ai…