Category Archives: Vietnam

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Vietnam – A Land of Many Faces (Top Tips)

Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam – pineapple seller

Vietnam is a land of many faces and places.  I say this because it was a huge surprise to me how big it was and how much it changed over our month of travel there.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi – Hue – Da Nang – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Now you can do this route, like us, from North to South or from South to North.

The first thing that hit me in Hanoi was the incredible movement of this city – we stayed in the old quarter and just dealing with the ‘how to cross the street’ was a steep learning curve. The traffic and, especially, all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I liked to time my crossing of the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping.

Currency

You pay everything in Vietnamese Dong, but, often, you will find things priced in US dollars and they will take them as well.  I suggest you use the local currency when you can and for those Aussies and Kiwi with ANZ bank accounts, there are lots of bank machines in Hanoi and Saigon where you can withdraw money out with no ATM fees except of course the bank haircut with the  exchange rate!  (warning: check this before you go, as things can change with banks at any time!)

Safety

I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and, of course, you take the usual precautions: do not leave phones anywhere or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as I did, as it was a small back pack style bag.

Back Pack purse

How I carried my small back pack purse.

Transport

In Saigon, we found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on at a higher rate than was legal or being taken to any back streets or shady destinations and the drivers were all polite. Between Hue and Hoi An, I hired a private car and Cong, our driver was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An. We stopped at several sites along the way, which included the new Dragon Bridge in Da Nang which breathes real fire and water.

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang – it breathes fire and water

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via the hotels we stayed. You pay a small commission but, we got a soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue.

You can take some snacks and water with you on the train or there are food trolleys.  I ate the food and didn’t get ill.  My husband had a coffee and he liked it.

There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train costs to Saigon were less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.

Be polite

We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When people did approach us, a polite no thank you, keep walking on and a smile always worked. We, also, learned a few Vietnamese phrases such as ‘Hello’ and ‘thank you’ which, always, went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.  This is a general rule of thumb throughout all of South East Asia, being loud and having arguments in public is not the done thing and considered very rude.  Please do not confuse South East Asia with mannerisms that maybe more typical of other parts of Asia.

King and Queen Banquet

King and Queen Banquet meal

Food and drink

The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls through to restaurants. In the restaurants, they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We, also, carried a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash our hands.

Beer is cheap in Vietnam and they have excellent fruit juices. Also, a tip, drink fresh coconut water from the coconuts themselves – this is the best way to rehydrate and replenish lots of fluids, even better than drinking water.   Motto: a coconut a day will help keep the dehydration away!

Depending on where we ate, the meals can range from a few US dollars up to $30. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off the street.

Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Saigon. My favourite was Noir, in Saigon, where you eat in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause brilliant.

Cau go Vietnamese Restaurant – Hanoi restaurant we loved
Cherish Hotel Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Samari Kitchen Hoi An restaurant
Coffee CongVien Hon Chong Nha Trang cafe – we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

Tours we loved doing.

There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the XO Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.  In the height of the travel season book all these tours in advance, otherwise you may miss out!

  • Halong Bay Cruise

    There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel.  I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.  Plus, it makes the four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back worth the narrow seats and rather uncomfortable ride.

Hanoi kids is a charity where young university students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guided tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a resident guide, as they take you to some of their favourite places which may not be on any tourist tour and it is free, yes free!  At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis, lunch and entrances for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi.

My husband was a bit wary of this tour which I had booked, he quickly changed his mind. It was a great morning, whizzing around Saigon, seeing the sights and I never felt unsafe.  It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and included a few snacks and drinks along the way.

Good luck on your trip to Vietnam!
Any questions, please submit through the comment form below and I will do my best to get back to you within 72 hours of posting!
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Lanterns

11th month – May Video Blog

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from May:

Nha Trang

Week 47 – A City with Two names and a Beach – Saigon and Nha Trang

‘People cry, not because they’re weak.  It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Nha Trang Dragon Bridge

Nha Trang Dragon Bridge – shoots out fire and water

What a week!  Fire and water shooting dragon bridge, a beach with the locals, and a city steeped in the last centuries’ wars.

On our drive to the train that would take us to Nha Trang, I was keen to make one quick stop to see the new bridge which breathes fire and water – it’s so cool.  They have the show on Saturday and Sunday evenings for about 20 minutes in Da Nang  (Be sure to check out my video blog for May to see the action!)

An Overnight train later, we arrived in NhaTrang – a beach resort area.  We wanted to not be in the ‘downtown’, so we went to the second bay in the area where there are mostly locals and Russian tourists.  It was great to be out a bit from the main tourist area to just relax and catch up on travel fatigue.

Nha Trang Beach

Nha Trang Beach

Nha Trang Beach

The Rocks – Nha Trang Beach

It’s a beautiful beach with locals only coming out in the evening.  There is lots to do here – mud baths, islands and temples, but we decided the beach was enough for us.

Then, a day travel to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon.  This is mostly a modern city with a few older buildings still intact, like the main post office,

Post Office

Post Office

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

and temples.

Oldest Temple

Oldest Temple in Saigon

A lot of the older buildings have either been lost in the Wars or modern development – seems they make more money tearing them down rather than preserving them – it’s the same the world over.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Saigon

Alter to 1963 monk

This is the city where the monk in 1963 set himself on fire and the last helicopter left for America with a que of people which was much longer than what they could carry – 2 very famous black and white photos from this time can be found on Google (or through the links above.)

Helicopter

This is the building where the helicopter landed.

One experience we had here was at a restaurant called ‘Noir’.  It’s where you eat in the dark while being served by blind waiters/waitresses.  A really great experience and not one I can show any pictures of – sadly.

Ao Dai

Ao Dai – traditional dress, which I had made for me and worn to ‘Noir’ Restaurant

This marks the end of our time in Vietnam, as we head to Cambodia.  I’ve learned so much about that notorious Vietnam War and seen a country and people of great strength, friendliness and a quick smile.  I’m so glad we came and hope we’ll be back soon!

What country/city has surprised you the most in your travels?

XO Tour

XO Tour through Saigon on moped

Love

Debx

Mural

10th month – April Video Blog on You Tube

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from April:

Lanterns

Week 46 – Walking in the past – UNESCO World Heritage site – Hoi An

‘Live like there is no tomorrow’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Most of this week has seen us in a city called Hoi An – a world UNESCO Heritage site for its old town.

Fabrics

Some of the fabrics I chose from.

Also, its well-known for its tailors, so I got some, much-needed, clothing made, as its hard to buy clothing, of any quality, that would fit a Western sized person.  So my first few days focused a lot on getting the clothing made, priced and fitted.  I was lucky to have met some New Zealand women on my cruise in Halong Bay who recommended the tailor I used and, so far, the clothes are great and very comfy (Photos of outfits at bottom of blog.)

The Old Town of Hoi An is beautiful.  Twice a day they shut it down to all mopeds – cars are not allowed at any time – and it becomes very peaceful and old worldly.

Reaching Out Tea House

View from Reaching Out Tea House – run by people with no hearing or speech disabilities

Old House Quang Thang

Old House Quang Thang

The buildings are 300 years old with some gorgeous architecture.  You buy a 10 day pass into the old town which includes 5 sights of a possible 22.  I was lucky and saw 7 of the sights.  They have old houses where people’s families live intergenerational for hundreds of years and you can walk around and take photos – like an open house.  I got to 2 of these homes – Old House Dec An and Old House Quan Thang – both beautiful.

Old House Duc An

Old House Duc An

Burial Urn

Burial Urn at the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture

I went to one museum – Museum of Sa Huynh Culture and visited the Japanese bridge with a temple.

Japanese Bridge

Japanese Bridge

I went to 2 Assembly Halls which are very similar to clan houses in Malaysia – a cross between a temple and a shrine to the ancestors of a given family.

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My favourite of the sights to visit was the Traditional Art Performance which was a 20 minute show with singing, live players and dance.

Musicians

Dancers and Musicians

There are a lot of tourist shops, but I didn’t feel overly hassled and a polite ‘no thank-you’ was enough.

There are some stellar places to eat and drink, such as: Reaching Out Tea House, Samurai Kitchen, Miss Ly’s Restaurant and Hoi An Roastery.

I have a real passion for tea, what is something you seek out when you are traveling, as a must experience, when you can do it?

Love

Debx

Photos of outfits made:

Week 45 – Moving Southwards – Hanoi, Hue & Hoi An, Vietnam

‘The World is for me today; nothing is personal.’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

John and I, I believe, are slow travelers – that’s our favourite way to go.  So, often, I feel like we don’t do much in a week and I fear I’ll have little to write about.  So when I sat down and wrote the list, once again, I’m amazed at how much we have done.  Yes, we would do more in shorter time and filling our days, but that’s just not us.

Lotus Water Puppets

Lotus Water Puppets
Hanoi, Vietnam

So, this week, we left Hanoi, with our India visa acquired, but before leaving we watched another and, in my opinion, better water puppet show.

Then we had a few days in Hue – much quieter than Hanoi.  We took an overnight train which was an experience in itself,

Overnight sleeper train

Overnight sleeper train

as Vietnam is Communist, they have no first class on the trains, so we shared a berth with 2 other Vietnamese men.

Once in Hue, we did an all day tour of the highlights of the area.  This included visiting 2 amazing tombs – Minh Mang & Khai Dinh tombs, a very old Pagoda where the 1963 monk’s car was – who set himself on fire, then we went to a day market and saw how incense is made.  A full, hot day. (Photos of this day of touring can be found at the end of the blog.)

The next day, we had a King and Queen banquet meal and took it a bit easier, as we were off again the next day to Hoi An.

King and Queen Banquet

King and Queen Banquet meal

Our drive to Hoi An included a tour through the countryside so we saw old army bunkers, Red Beach – where the Americans first landed and the beautiful Marble Mountains. (Photos for this tour can be found at the bottom of the blog.)

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here over 2 weeks.  It’s the shoulder season as they head into the low season of summer.  Everyday is very warm with high humidity, at least the hotels rooms are well air-conditioned, so we sleep very comfortably each night.

Vietnam is a great place to be!

Debx

Photos of our tour in Hue:

Tomb of Minh Mang

Tomb of Khai Dinh

Perfum River/Incense making/Dragon Boat/Day Market:

Hue Imperial City

Imperial Museum:

Thien Mu Pagoda:

Photos from Day tour to Hoi An:

Drive through Da Nang – including Marble Mountains, Buners, Red Beach, etc.

Week 44 – Feast for the Senses – Hanoi, Vietnam

‘Just because something isn’t happening for you right now doesn’t mean that it will never happen.’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Flags

Flags of Hanoi, Vietnam

This week in Hanoi, Vietnam has been a real treat.  We are right in the heart of the old quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake – there’s a great fable about this lake (check out the link.)  Each morning they do all sorts of calisthenics around this lake and surrounding streets.

During the day time it’s a city of never-ending noise from Roosters crowing to horns honking – I love it.  It has such energy and seems to be always moving – even if crossing the street can feel like mayhem on wheels.  There seems to be a gentle understanding of fluidity – horns honk, but there’s no real aggression expressed – not like a New York cabbie!  Just a gentle warning and then move on – swim around you.  I like it, as there seems to be a good awareness.  You can’t become complacent and assume you know what will happen, but need to be flexible to step aside or stop as needs be.  It looks and sounds worse than it is.  It’s better than in Western driving when you are always second guessing who will ‘run that traffic light’ – here they just do and you just go around it.

Hanoi

Crazy Streets of Hanoi

Re-Unification

Celebrations for the Labour Day and Re-Unification of Vietnam

This has been a week of holidays – they’ve had Labour Day and Re-Unification Day, so it’s been a lot of flags

Flags

Communist flags of Vietnam

and fireworks.

Fireworks

Fireworks

We’ve managed to see some of the main tourist sites – Temple of Literature (1,000 years old),

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

the ‘Maison Centrale’ or ‘Hanoi Hilton’ or Hanoi Prison (interesting political history of Vietnam),

Hanoi Prison

Hanoi Prison

Water Puppets,

Water Puppets

Water Puppets

Night Market,

Night Market

Night Market

Temples,

Temple

Temple

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

and one-pillar pagoda,

One Legged Pagoda

One Legged Pagoda

Ethnology Museum (great place for cultural history of Vietnam)

Village Hut

Village Hut – this is a matriarchal home, with 2 entrances the one with the breasts is for ladies and guests. It’s polite to grab the breasts when you enter.

and an example of an old house in the old quarter.

Old House

Old House

Part of this we did on our own and part was with Hanoikids – a free tour guide run by local students to help them improve their conversational English.  Really great opportunity to meet and talk with a local and see places you wouldn’t normally see.

Hanoikids

John with our Hanoikid guide – Lê Phương Vũ

This is the first place we’ve been where theft, haggling and dodging cons is just a part of the tourist life.  We’ve had people who try to fix our ‘broken’ shoes to taxis with quickly rising fares.  So far, we’ve managed to dodge, but none of it takes away from the wonderous world that is Hanoi!  Such a great place to be introduced to.  What are some of your nightmare experiences with travel?

Communist

Communist freedom fighters statue

Debx