A Travellerspoint blog


Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City & a quick trip to the seaside

by Kt

So, flying down from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City as again the buses didn't look too tempting. The roads around the mountain are pretty hairy and the journey to do just a few hundred kilometeres was going to take 7 hours. Vietnam airlines are just too good and cheap not to use.

We were prepared for chaos in HCMC as some people had said that the traffic there was crazier than Hanoi. Not true. It's definitely still crazy in places but there's way more traffic lights and crossings so walking into swarms of traffic was pretty rare. I was a bit disappointed - I've become a real adrenalin junkie for walking into the road! It's still got the traditional sights and sounds though and Mark wasn't overkeen but I loved it.


It's a much more modern city and seemed much larger too than Hanoi. We were staying in the backpacker area as that's where pretty much all the accommodation was. It was great when we first got there as everything is on your doorstep but it wore a little thin pretty soon as most places to eat or drink were a rip off and not that good. Eventually we found some good ones, hiding down lanes or leaving the area.

There was a small cafe in our alleyway called the Asian Kitchen which was great and while on a touristy day we stumbled across an amazing restaurant called Nha hang khoai (near the war remnants museum at 3a le quy don)
We'd stopped for a cold drink after a long hot walk and seeing the interesting menu and the prices, made sure we came back. Simply not being in the middle of tourist trap meant this v modern, stylish and tasty restaurant was great value. The food was central Vietnamese I think.
Mark was very adventurous and ordered sea snails - now these were nice but they were huge and there was tons of them so I think unless you were gonna share between 2 or more people - not great idea for a wussy westerner. It was a lot of snail to munch through.


The sea snails:


We also had crispy pancakes, which I wish I'd had more of in our time in the country and I won the smug award by ordering crab glass noodles which was mind blowingly delicious.

Another good feed, back in the touristy area was Le Pub (one of 2 in the country - the original being in Hanoi) - fantastic Bun Cha there and we went to my first ever ice-cream cafe, 'Fannys'. I so wanted to order the ice-cream that looked like sushi but went for taste instead of style.

The best part of our stay, and is what returned us to the backpacker area even though I wasn't that keen on it, was our guest house. The Vietnamese family that ran it were lovely and sweet. They had an 18 yr old poodley dog that hung out at the front not up to much, bless him and there was another one in back room that we never saw but he did yap like crazy when heard us. Apparently he only does it for foreigners - just doesn't like em!!
The place was called Ly Lyon and I can highly recommend - they are lovely people, it's very safe and cosy and comfy. Nice little homey touches. Great price too.





My favourite thing about HCMC is the green spaces. There are large park areas in the city centre where all life goes on.
People walking circles around the park to get their exercise, little fitness areas setup with things to step on/swing on etc, aerobics classes, teenagers practicing dance routines, people sitting with guitar singing, the soccerish game involving kicking a shuttlecock high in air - that was super popular. Sundays were best - the park was bursting with life.

People watching is fun in HCMC - sitting on a street corner watching the crazy traffic and comings and goings. Although when in the backpacker area you of course have a lot of idiots. It seems to be a real hub for people coming and going at the starts and ends of their trips. Huge buses turning up all the time.

One of the first things we did was go to the War Remnants Museum. Not a cheerful day but an important one none-the-less.


Out the front of the museum are some tanks and planes, including ones abandoned by the US army. You can see most of the blokes around like this bit in the way that boys do, but once you move into the museum any excitement and enthusiasm they had for war is quickly dispelled (unless they are complete pyshcos). It is the quietest place I had ever been to as people walk alone contemplating what they see.


It is also a very fair museum. There is no condemnation for the US troops, only for the war itself. It was fascinating to see information on the extent of the opposition around the world which I'd never realised the extent of. In fact there are many instances of acts of bravery and of stand out acts of humanity from US troops and it also highlights the many US children of soldiers who have been affected by the horrors of agent orange. Kids with extreme deformities with smiling faces. I think my biggest shock was that there's so much contamination still out there, these children are still being born - I naively thought it was only kids from the 70s affected - not now still. In a happy coincidence the day after we visited, it was announced that the US government was going to pay millions (not in compensation - haven't got there yet!) but to remove a huge load of agent orange contamination in central Vietnam near Da Nang.
It was an interesting visit but of course very hard and depressing. It's the recentness of it all and the pointlessness (as is most war) - fear of communism and then fear of losing face. It's amazing how Vietnam has bounced back from a devastated country to be thriving as much as it is today. And they are still communist - threatening? hardly!

So, after I'd picked my sad heart up off the floor we needed a little light relief so I found out about a place called the 'Up Cafe'
This is a cafe out near the airport used mainly by locals which is based on the film 'Up' in that it's designed to look upside down.


It was a fab little place - service was a bit odd but food was simple, tasty and it was just cute sitting with a piano hanging over your head.

We went to an art gallery that we stumbled on which was in a stunning old building and had some great modern works. Vietnamese art seems to really have taken it's own route and has some very unique styles.


Vung tau - off to the coast
We knew that it didn't have the most amazing beaches as there are lots of oil rigs and stuff off the coast but at an hour and a half by a cheap hydrofoil - thought would be a nice mini-break!!! The journey was really good - a little choppy at the end but took you off on the Mekong and past lots of Mangroves to the sea.

We stayed on Back Beach so we weren't on an area pointing at the oil rigs/boats anyhow. Immediately the beach looked nice but it was initially a bit strange as it was almost 100% Vietnamese tourists only. It would get incredible choppy. Was quite nervous when went Mark went out a couple of times and he did say it was a little bit scary at times. Surfers would suddenly appear from time to time!


We know that not many westerners visited but it was unusual to see in a beach resort. It's proximity to HCMC means that lots of people from the city go for the weekend. This was very noticeable. It was incredibly quiet all week then when the weekend came, bus loads came in and it was packed!!

We did discover that the westerners tend to prefer the side near the ferry terminal. We went over there to buy a ferry ticket in advance and headed for a lovely looking bar to get out of the torrential rain. It was a cool looking bar - Kurt Cobains face was carved into the brick and there was a lovely pool table so Mark was happy. Only downside was a couple of drunken idiots being loud and annoying - one English one Oz. When they disappeared we were relieved but when it got to 6pm the whole place changed.



The lights went down, the music went up and a bunch of girls with dresses as short as possible appeared, as did some unpleasant, sad western guys. The guys were very delighted to find these girls loved talking to them *coughs*. I was sat on my own while Mark was playing pool and he quite quickly came running back over as he was a bit scared. The girls had thought he was on his own so had descended on him. So we left & were so happy we didn't stay in that part of Vung Tau. There did seem to be older guys with younger wives sprinkled about in other areas - but that's not unusual anywhere in South East Asia. Most hotels don't allow Vietnamese girls to stay in room with anyone unless married so it can be a real pain for genuine couples.
It is by all accounts a small area/part of the town and easily avoided so I would still highly recommend this town for a chilled out visit.

We did move from our hotel after a few nights to a super cheap, better one up into town as there was a fair ground setup opposite the hotel. Well, opposite a really wide road and a few hundred yards up the road. But from 7 until 10pm this was so loud it not only shook the room, it shook your eardrums and your brains. We are not usually fussed about noise but this hotel was pretty pricey and so it was ridiculous to put up with having to stay out all evening to avoid the noise.

We did venture into the fair one night on our way back from a little beach bar we frequented. Mark was a little 'happy' and so very enthusiastic. Zero foreigners so we were a bit of a spectacle. Mark had a couple of the games which were so blatantly fixed that it was just funny. Throwing a ball at a can in the hope it'd fall off - but it just ricochet'd off the solidly stuck can (and after hitting someone behind us - I decided it was time to leave!).

We had a bit of a splash out on most days paying to stay by the pool at the Imperial Hotel. This was a great pool on the beach and most of the time we shared it with only one or 2 sets of people. It was well worth it but we learned early to bring water with us - what they charged was extortionate! We also ventured to eat in there one day, only to be horrified that in this plush hotel, the 'chefs special spring roll' was like a potato croquette crossed with a findus crispy pancake. Hideous! So we were happy that we were enjoying the pool by day, while paying a pittance to stay in a guesthouse down the road.


Something that I noticed a lot in the food in Vung Tau was there was a lot of use of black pepper in the food. It was so good - the Pho here was way better and cheaper than most of HCMC.

The beach area we didn't venture into until near the end of our trip was much busier and you could really see the 'localness' of it all. There were tons of deck chairs, shacks and small food sellers. It burst into life at the weekend. It reminded me of Brighton on a sunny weekend - when it seems like the whole world descends!



We also met one of my favourite people of the trip. The incredible laughing old lady. We went to buy some water from her and she just rabbited on and giggled and chuckled her way through the encounter. I think she'd initially told us it was one price and realised her mistake and then told us the correct price but was tickled by her mistake. Have to say - most people wouldn't have corrected themselves or even given us the 'real' price she did in the first place. It was the way that she was rambling on that made me laugh the most - just a really sweet encounter. She was like a nice, Vietnamese verson of Catherine Tate's 'Nan'.

We did have one sticky moment - we were attacked by a huge (and heavy) floor standing umbrella. We weren't quite sure how it happened - there was no-one near it and no-wind but it had been raining so whether that had weighed it down somehow. It just pretty much fell on us as we walked past but luckily didn't hurt too much. It landed on our backs rather than our heads!

Back to Ho Chi Minh City....

Reunification Palace


This place was built in the late 60s when the previous one had been bombed (I think) and was to be where the South Vietnamese government would sit. But when the North Vietnamese tanks rolled in, marking the end of the war, it stopped being used and has been preserved pretty much exactly how it was. So for me - a vintage lover - this place is not only a blinder in terms of architecture but the interiors and the little bits and pieces were just amazing.

There were conference rooms and a very cool retro lounge and underneath the whole place were the enforced rooms in the basement where the big wigs could flee to (these were creepy). There were map rooms, office and even a cinema and a party space on the roof. There was some interesting taxidermy and artwork.
The 'state of the art' industrial kitchen of the time was cool too.


I could have hung out in the this place for days on end but after many hours Mark had had enough. He was particularly getting annoyed with my insistence on photographing every instance of vintage phones we'd see. I must admit, in the end, even I gave up as there were so many - but we got plenty - for the record!!!


This made me laugh - the kitchen equipment generally needed a description - but thought that 'table' was a given.


Highlights & Notable

"You're knicked!"

One of the Vietnamese TV channels seemed to show daily episodes of The Bill from the 80s. For those who don't know The Bill is a recently cancelled London based police drama. A classic - especially these old episodes with Bob Cryer, June Ackland etc. It was dubbed over in Vietnamese but the weird thing with some of the dubbing here is that they don't blank out the original speaking so if you listen really hard...

ABC bakery

Found this gem of a place a little too late. It was 30 seconds from our guesthouse but we didn't go in until our return to HCMC where we only had a day to play.
The food was amazing - lots of great cakes but for savoury toothed me, the pizza slices and savoury bakes were my thing.
Funnily enough when we caught our bus to Phnom Penh, our provided breakfast box was from there - so that was a thumbs up!!




As I have seen elsewhere - weddings are big news. I saw some more fantastic brides and I also liked this sweetly decorated car:


French bread

Something that is synonymous with Vietnam are the streetcarts filled with french bread rolls.


The independence anniversary artwork

This was slightly different to that in Hanoi but still really cool.


Chewy Cream Puff

This amused Mark immensely - simple things eh?



Still funny :)



These were used all over the place, but the funniest thing was how often they were setup over an entire path, so you have walk into the road to avoid them.


Sleeping on mopeds
You see this all the time - impressive!



Common all over in South East Asia but in HCMC they seem to take this to a whole new level. There is the ones with wings out to the side. And they wear them on the beach ???!!!!! Each to their own but the point of this drives us mad. I mean - sweaty face.


Our stalker

This is the Vietnamese airlines life size cut out lady. She stalked us all over Vietnam. Everywhere we went. Sinister gal!


Posted by KtandMark 05:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - Central Highlands, we liked it Dalat

by Kt

So, we set off early from Hoi An to fly to Dalat from the spanky new Da Nang Airport. It was a fun waiting time as the electricity in said spanky new airport kept going out. Oh well - another cheap and super efficient flight from Vietnam Airlines. We then got a cheap bus from the airport into the city (just to show we're still backpacking and despite electing for flights sometimes, are generally still good budget kids).

Dalat is up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. A totally different location and climate than we have been used to for so long. Meaning it was cold. We knew this and I had frankly been looking forward to it. Just to feel cool for a while seemed nice after being in the heat for so long. However, upon arriving we couldn't check in for ages and as we walked about to find somewhere to have a hot drink, the wind kicked in and that cold didn't feel so great. Mark had his usual - new location moan but by the late afternoon we'd sussed out that our hotel was in good location and the room was great and we'd eaten an amazing 'mystery' meal of rice and pork at the place next door and had dug out some warmer clothes (but not much warmer - we were gonna have to go with layers!

This is a place that not many foreigners go to - it's a holiday destination but mainly for the Vietnamese and funnily enough for Honeymooners. The big lake near us had swan pedalos and there were a few kitschy things about town which had drawn me to it.

There's a busy market in the centre of town and one of the things I loved about the area, which sounds strange, but they had the most amazing vegetables. The Pho there was stunning because the produce was just so good. Everything with vegetables in was just so amazing. They were also big on milk which is unusual for South East Asia but I never really got into what that was about - I had milk in my tea but it was like the fullest cream milk ever - too creamy and too sweet. Too strong for limp, weak Lipton teabags.





Crazy house
The first place we visited on day 2 was the Crazy House which was in walking distance and I'd been dying to see. I'd stumbled across an image on Pinterest about 6 months ago of this crazy, twisted tree looking building and on further investigation discovered this was in Vietnam. This was part of the reason for putting Dalat on the itinerary. And I wasn't disappointed. In fact - the place was more crazy/bigger than I had expected and they're still adding to it. It is the brain child of a lady architect who's father was apparently very high up in government so she managed to get around the usual strict building regulations and create this twisty, curvy, kitschy building extravaganza.

There's round rooms with build in beds and funky little bathrooms. Chambers with glittery, drippy looking walls.
There was an incredibly high, narrow bridge over steps over one point which Mark tentatively climbed. I stayed at the bottom and took his photo - I'm not afraid of heights but this was v narrow and v high!

I loved the cute enchanted garden with sunken lounge, ponds and hidey holes. I started to daydream about building my own crazy house one day.



Valley of Love
This was a kind of theme park or gardens on the edges of town. It is set in a stunning valley and just has funny plastic sculptures sprinkled around the place. Big with the honeymooners obviously.
Our first impression was interesting to say the least as we had been there for about 5 minutes when we noticed a scuffle or should I say a full on fight going on. Some bloke was fly kicking someone and it was all a bit crazy - we weren't sure what was going on. The guy doing the kicking - which looked full on martial arts was literally landing on this skinny kid and we assumed he was the aggressor but then someone told us that that guy worked there!! and in fact the young bloke (there was also another one about somewhere) was a 'gangster' and had been punching people indiscriminately. We wandered off a bit further away but then saw a policemen come in with another lanky 'yoof' (with black eye) hand cuffed to him and picks the other kid off the floor (he'd pretty much decided to play dead at this point - wisely i would say). The policeman picks the other one up and cuffs him and drags them both off. We made a mental note to not mess with anyone in Vietnam!

So, that over and done with we wandered over to look at the child's caterpillar roller coaster and at all the silly statues scattered around. It was great just to watch all the couples taking pictures of each other in front of EVERYTHING! It was such a funny little place.


As is the way on most of our excursions, it poured down after a while so we had to dig out the ever attractive ponchos. We went down the bottom of the valley and ended up traipsing past a huge group of teenagers, on a school trip presumably. Wow, now did they ever stare!! And laugh!! And it was pretty much at me - Mark was in the back being amused by the whole situation. At one point a couple of them even asked to have their picture taken with us. By this point I was getting really paranoid.



Woolly hats
I think this was possibly the holiday makers, but although I said it was cold, it was only because we didn't have coats or any normal attire. But, loads of people were kitted out with thick, knitted, woolly hats. I mean it was cold, as in an April day in England (or an August day for that matter). Just chilly but not thermals time by ANY means!

People seem to eat yoghurt as a snack. A lot. Like they'll go into a cafe and have a coffee and a yoghurt.

Racing cars
On on of our first nights we found a bar that was up the hill and overlooked the road below and over to the market beyond. This turned out to be a great decision as it was Sunday and in the evening they shut the road off to traffic. Then we had people racing remote control cars - really fast remote control cars - Mark, typical boy, was in raptures. We also had teens coming down the (very steep) hill on blades and skateboards at a great speed holding on to each other in a train stylee. We also had people shooting down, fast, on the tandem bicycles that you can rent in the city (ideal for honeymooners of course). Cute kids in woolly hats (see above) watching all the goings on and maybe going down on their own little trikes. Was just a really lovely, relaxed scene. Kind of reminds me of Italy when the kids are out late in the evenings and everyone's just having a nice safe time. I don't think it would occur to anyone there to be paranoid about hovering over their child in the way we kind of have to (or maybe we don't - but better safe than sorry) in the West - was just nice.

A sweet exchange
One night we met a guy who was with a group of his family and was trying to keep his little toddler boy happy. The little boy was quite taken with Mark and although neither of us could converse a single word, this man was delighted at the idea of us and his little boy. He kind of gave him to Mark to hold at one point which Mark did looking slightly uncomfortable but the little boy just giggled at him. Put him near me and he just looked rather concerned/freaked out.
Anyway, this went on for a good hour or 2 while we had drinks but was just a really sweet, genuine encounter and it makes me realise why people get so much from getting off the beaten track sometimes.


Chain Realisation
My suspicions from the first 2 weeks of Vietnam were confirmed here - there are no McDonald's in Vietnam *does a little happy dance* Burger King has snuck in at airports and Starbucks will weasel its way in soon apparently. KFC is in but haven't seen one yet. It's weird going to cities without these places. Very jolly nice. Think they should b restricted to airports (we do have an odd Burger King at the airport. It's a habit we've developed).

Interesting architecture
There was a lot of interesting looks to buildings in the city. It very much had the feel of somewhere European - Swiss or French alps for instance.
Then there were houses painted in quirky colours - I guess fitting in with the kitsch, honeymoony feel.


I found a house which is absolutely my style - from an era I adore.


This sign
Just odd!



Being the centre of attention
So it started slowly and at first I really thought I was imagining things but by the end I was properly paranoid because I kept getting stared at!! Totally gawped at. Not just an interested glance - someone on a bike looking at me, so cycles into a lampost type staring. And the younger one's would say hi as they wanted interaction with this strange girl. I mean it wasn't everyone but it happened enough that I kept questioning what on earth it could be and once Mark clocked on, he of course found it hilarious. I wondered if it was my size - but then there's a fair few Vietnam big girls about. I wondered if it was simply being foreign but I then began to study other western tourists I spotted and it didn't seem to be happened to them. So maybe my penchant for bright coloured eyeshadow and my leopard print cardigan? At one point I thought I saw someone point at their head while blatantly talking about me so I am going to satisfy myself that it's my curly hair - and think no more about it!! Because I really hate being the centre of attention and I now realised what it must be like if you go really, really off the beaten track, into remote villages etc and there's no way you could prevent being the focus of everyone's attention. It occurred to me that I don't think I'd like that very much. Anyway, that was me - famous for a week!

Sharing our shower
We weren't in a hotel with shared bathrooms, we had our own lovely room with our own lovely bathroom. But one night we came home after dinner and drinks to find someone was in our room - the hotels keyring was in the door. A young lad came out and kind of pointed at his shower gel and kind of said sorry and headed off. We were dumbfounded to be honest. We didn't know what to do really other than just laugh. It made us feel a bit concerned and a little insecure but we couldn't really do much about it except go to sleep. I did a check that all our stuff was still where it should be. Thank god we lock our decent stuff in our 'packlock' rucksack lock contraption. I was a bit worried when I found one of the windows unlocked but I think it had been like that before and it just made no sense - who would come in and steal or unlock windows for someone else and then have a shower!!??? And he clearly worked there. Oh well!!!
Next day, we did mention it to the owner when we went down in the morning and as we did, said 'culprit' walked along looking sheepishly and raised his hand. I just laughed at him as he did look rather guilty. They had a bit of a convo and then the guy explained that they were having problems with their hot water and the lad had wanted a shower. Oh ok then!!! I mean it is a homestay guesthouse in that the family live in the middle floor but this was our own room with our own bathroom and I just can't believe they did it. It was ok though, we weren't freaked out and felt safe there as they were nice people. Plus we got to tease the lad for the duration of our say, so it wasn't really a lowlight :)

Overall, Dalat is a lovely place with lovely people (fighting and room invasions aside). I'm glad we went somewhere a bit different, even if it was because of my quest for some kitchiness!

Posted by KtandMark 01:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Vietnam - The Hoi An lows of central Vietnam

by Kt

Hoi Ann is, I think one of the nicest, if not THE nicest, laid back place I have ever stayed. Our accommodation wasn't, budget choices here aren't that great, but this even didn't detract from how much we loved our stay here.


I already had fallen in love with Vietnam in Hanoi and Hoi An pretty much sealed the deal. We chickened out of the train in the end and by-passed one of our planned stops, Hue, and flew Vietnam Airlines down to Da Nang, a resort in itself and 40 mins from Hoi An. The internal flights were crazy cheap, Vietnam Airlines were great and we arrived in the brand spanking new airport of Da Nang with the sun shining and everything sparkling.

As we drove from Da Nang we saw some interesting things immediately. The traffic was a lot quieter for one - a totally different kettle of fish.
On the outskirts of the city, were some large buildings which we wondered if were hotels or Casinos - turns out they were designed just for weddings. They were really big and fancy so the idea being that the reception type thing can be held there and the pictures will look great outside these grand buildings. I was really curious as they kind of stood in these not particularly impressive grounds, set back from the main road. But I have come to learn that the Vietnamese are quite wedding obsessed and bride spotting is one of my favourite pastimes.
Another architectural curiosity was the stadium build to look like a UFO - who knows why - and it really did.
The next thing to notice was how development has started in this area BIG TIME!!! Huge resorts have bought up all the coastal land and if there's not a resort there already, they have big board/wall up along the length of them so as you drive, you can't see the sea but you can see their logo and promises of luxury and pro golfer designed golf courses - just what the world needs more freakin golf courses! It's sad but I guess that's life, I just wish planning was a little stricter - not that there's older buildings to save but maybe just limit the size of places and keep them lower rise. These huge resorts are like their own islands and that's what they want - to trap the customer in there.

Anyway, we reached Hoi An and it didn't look especially interesting as we checked in to our rough and ready hotel (with a mini pool in the lobby - why? In our time there - not one person ever went near it!). Our room was small and pokey after our luxurious one in Hanoi but it did the job so no problem there. Mark as usual was totally unimpressed and asking why I'd brought him there as he looked out of the balcony at, well a road and an odd, big disco building opposite us.
Once we headed into town and hit the riverfront, he realised why as it was just simply gorgeous. The old town is made up of a grid of mainly wooden shop house lined roads - not pokey alleyways but fair sized and with little traffic (and in the evenings with no traffic). Luckily the local government, a long time ago, slapped on laws to protect this - thank god! Lots more bikes than mopeds and cars. The river which comes in from the sea not far away means lots of interesting boats to watch and a lovely cooling breeze. They pipe low key/quiet classical music through the streets which sounds awful but isn't.


As the lights go down there are lanterns lit and put onto the river to float away. On the full moon - the whole river front switched it's lights off and used only candles and absolutely loads of lanterns are put on the river. Was just lovely.

Vietnam_Ho..Lantern.jpg Vietnam_Ho..y_Misc1.jpg

There are a couple of food specialities in Hoi An which Mark and I became smitten with. Cau Lau which was thick noodles with pork slices, greens (locally grown amazing tasting leaves), crispy pork (hence Mark's adoration) and a sweetish sauce lightly coating the noodles. White Rose was my obsession. This was a pork/shrimp paste centre in a rice dumpling type encasing which is steamed. Kind of like a dumpling/dim sum and then sweet dried onion sprinkled on top. I had White Rose everyday and even had it 3 times in one day. I am still totally obsessed with it and guttingly have not found it anywhere outside of Hoi An. The other thing you could have is their version of won tan - a huge one covered in a tomatoey sauce. This was nice but sometimes the sauce was a bit sweet for my liking. I could have eaten them more happily without the sauce. There is also something divine which is shrimp paste (which I think is mixed with pork mince - a pairing which seems quite common) and wrapped around sugar cane. Our 2nd day we discovered this food by trying a 4 course taster menu which is available at a lot of the restaurants. This is always a great idea to try new things and is what started off our obsession.
There was also a place we went to which was not very Vietnamese but they did great 'proper' wine and we shared a cheese board - you've no idea how much I enjoyed that, I nearly fainted with the joy. Blue cheese and brie - oh i hadn't had that in so long!


Two restaurants I would definitely recommend if ever in the area, would be Wan Lun, a street or two back from the river - great classic looking restaurant and great food (with all the above done very well). Then there is the Sunshine cafe which is 15 minutes or so out of town, very close to where we were staying. The food was fair bit cheaper than in town (where it wasn't expensive anyhow) but was also really tasty and the woman who runs it is so lovely and friendly - a real sweetheart.

The weather was beautiful. Blue skies and sunny nearly all the time. This was a really big deal for us. Despite being away for so many months now we have had a heck a lot of rain. Even though it's been hot, the rain has scuppered so many places, this was such a treat.

Something huge in the town is also tailors. This isn't just like the tailors you see in all the tourist towns in Thailand with 'Armani' signs outside (we've never understood this - why mention brands when you're making something from scratch) These were places with really lovely examples proudly on display. I began to wish we were going home to the cold just so I could have one of the gorgeous coat designs that I'd seen. We hadn't intended on getting any clothes made but after a couple of days I realised that it might be a good idea. We both needed trousers and shopping in Thailand in Western sizes and *coughs* for Mark and I's size was near impossible. So we took the plunge after I'd looked a few recommendations. We didn't go to the cheapest place but it was pretty good for the money. They just had catalogs that you could look through and pick designs., then you flicked through swatches to pick the material. I decided to get a top made too and just kind of discussed an idea of what I might like with them and then got to pick the fabric. We then got measured, which was a little interesting and public but hey ho. Next day we went for a fitting, which was pretty much deciding where you wanted tighter or looser or shorter etc, then you picked up later that day. Was really great and I wished I done this sooner - being so blinkin' short, trousers are a pain for me. Definitely something will try again in the future. Will be interesting to see how long the stuff lasts but seems really good quality. Mark's had a few problems - his are already too big for him which we reckon might be because it was so hot when we tried things on - things seemed tighter than they were, but I'm good at hand sewing so I can do my little house wifey bit there.


Now let me tell you about on of the things that is very funny about the restaurants here. A lot of them are converted shop house style and old fashioned and work the way they always have. The frontages are often dark wood and shady - cosy feeling while being open and cool. But the toilets on many of these, not just the cheap ones - many of the more expensive river front ones are out the back in the family residence. This means that you're often bypass an old relative asleep on a bed as you head out to the toilet which will indeed be their 'bathroom' with all their paraphernalia and generally not very modern to say the least. It's quite startling the first time you do it but then it's just quite amusing and you just get used to it. Then it's just amusing watching the faces of people who are doing it for the first time.

My favourite example of this was at a restaurant which has an amazing reputation for the chef, Mr Kim, who runs it is a bit of a character. You turn up and you have a choice of taster menus - meat, fish or vegetable - he decides what's to cook. And he is quite a character indeed. He plays old french folky/jazz music which was actually amazingly cool. He has some odd things on the wall and a huge old tv, which had the tennis on when we were there. The food was great - there was one course which was a disaster for us as it was just a type of fish that I really hate and it was massive so Mark had to wolf much of it down on his own. Before desert, I popped upstairs to the floor above, which has a balcony which is the prime spot for people to eat with a view over the river. There was a posh french couple up there who'd clearly booked based on the place's reputation. At the back end was the bathroom. The door was locked so I walked back to near the stairs to wait and the waiter seemed surprised and went and knocked on the door and said something to whoever was in there. He then asked me to wait just a minute so I moved nearer the toilet only to be met with Mr Kim in a towel - I'd interrupted him having a shower!! This is not hidden from anyone eating on that floor let me add. I thought it was hilarious and having seen a po-faced couple come down from upstairs earlier I guess this style bathroom (it was def rough and ready in there with shower cap hanging on side and half used toothpaste lying around) was not to their taste with their evening meal. Unfortunately I didn't hang around long enough to try to read the faces of the posh French customers. I guess you can't assume, just because a place has a good reputation or is written up by travel writers, that it means that it is what you would expect as 'normal' back home. In reality, it is I guess the practicality of the situation. They only have the one bathroom. These are old buildings - not easy do work on and if you're going to spend money on things - it's front of house you're going to make look attractive.
It's also quite handy I find if the place is a bit larger and you're not share where to go, to have an old nana or grandpa out there to show you the way :)


Mind you, the toilet on this boat doesn't look too tempting either...


We'd been gotten by the 'let me be your friend' tactic in Hanoi so didn't want to do it again here. To be fair there was very little of it, but there was one incident which I think was a reflection on how much I have changed since coming away. I was walking quite far ahead of Mark for some reason and a youngish guy on a bike kind of slowed up next to me and said something like 'hi, where are you from' - I just knew where this was going - this is the classic, open ended convo started and I was hot and just couldn't be bothered and so without thinking I just bluntly said 'I don't need a chat thank you'. Now he could have been not wanting something from me but he looked a little stunned and just cycled off so successful I thought. The thing is, for anyone who knows me, I am such a wimp with people normally. I don't complain in restaurants. My mother drummed politeness into me and I will always apologise to the person who's barged into me. Bloody English politeness! The idea of not replying to someone who talks to you was unimaginable. That doesn't work in South East Asia - or anywhere someone want to sell something to you frankly - as they'll start with a leading question and you feel it's just too rude not to answer. In Thailand we definitely toughened up and generally just reply No Thank You - to everything. It's also the two words I now make sure I learn in new languages. That sounds awful I know and it's not like you're being swarmed with hassle - people just approach you and rather than ignore them, which I still can't do as feels too rude, I find a 'No Thanks' does the job ( even if it has to be said 5 or 6 times). But this was a whole new level of honesty that I didn't expect from myself and I was really quite surprised at myself (as was Mark) and if I'm honest a little proud. I didn't beat around the bush. I knew what he was going to do. He knew what he was going to do. I politely firmly just cut this off at the pass. Get me!!!


The Market


Now this became Mark's utter obsession - how cheap he could find the beer and how it was cheaper than water. This amazed him, like a child and a big lollipop. On average, even in great positions on the riverfront we were drinking draft beer that was about 12p (19c US) and we saw it for even cheaper elsewhere. Luckily it wasn't very strong and unusually for me, I really liked it, so we did spend a lot of time on the waterfront supping our (CHEAP!) beer watching the world go by. Did I mention it was really cheap?


Mark's street game
Half way between pin the tail on the donkey and piƱata hitting. There was something - a coconut I think, hanging in the air a few metres ahead of him. He could go up to it once to work out the steps and the height. Then he was blindfolded and had to go up to where he thought it was and hit it with a stick. Simple but very funny to watch.


The Dude
We saw this guy about town a lot. He just looked like a real cool dude.


Lecture salad
Not sure what this was, but it's my favourite mis-spelling/odd translation to date.


We've seen this ever since we have come to south east asia and as so many public toilets are 'squat' toilets - i.e a holes in the ground - it makes sense this is a position one should familarise one's self with! To be fair, we'd encountered very few on our travels. But you also see people sat like this and just eating or hanging out outside their shops. We have decided we are going to get our bodies better acquainted with this sitting style. We have found that the getting up is the worst bit :) We've a long way to go!


Vietnamese coffee
This is Marks favourite thing ever. It is strong, knock your socks off, coffee which drips (slowly!) through a filter into a cup which has sweet milk (think evaporated milk/carnation type thing) - then you mix it up at the end. Heart attack in a cup I think.


They are soooo cheap in Vietnam. We almost felt like starting again just because they were so crazy. This is why you'd often see them in the offerings along with the usual food and incense.


Amazing school buildings
All the nurseries and schools I have seen are just adorable.


Cool ladies trousers
The ladies in Vietnam, the older ones in particular, I have found to have a certain kind of simple glamour. They often have outfits of matching shirt and trousers in a lively pattern and this just looks really cool and glam (although sometimes it can look like PJs). Match this with the hat and I'd never tire of looking at these lady's attire.

hoian_slr_lady.jpg hoian_slr_trousers.jpg

Gatecrashing a show
On the first or second night, I can't remember which, after we'd walked back from town we heard some really loud music going on somewhere and there was also flood lights flitting around the sky. So we decided to follow this and investigate. I was a bit nervous to be honest as it was clear this was a locals only thing but Mark had had a few so he had plenty of enthusiasm and bravado. We went in a side entrance of this huge outdoor stage/arena place. There were ticket stubs thrown all over the floor as we passed the first entrance so not sure if we were gatecrashing or not but no-one seemed to mind.
We are not sure what it was but I think it was local people performing but wow what a place to perform - the acoustics were insane and it was incredibly loud. There was some teens doing a pretty impressive dance routine and then some more singing. We were never entirely sure what was going on but I think it may have had something to do with celebrating the anniversary of independence. There was a sorry ending to the tale however, upon getting home and me doing some over enthusiastic boyband/glee style dancing in our room, I ripped my favourite top, pretty much in half. Hardcore eh?

Our guesthouse sucked
But other than that Hoi An is just too wonderful to find fault with!




Posted by KtandMark 04:14 Archived in Vietnam Comments (6)

Vietnam - Hanoi'd when we had to leave this gem of a city

by Kt


After only a few days I immediately love, love, love Vietnam and Hanoi has my heart. We stayed in the Old Quarter which is full of character and craziness and I adored it. The traffic is the most insane I have ever seen and having been to Bali and Thailand I have seen some craziness.
Our taxi on the way in, overshot the road he meant to go down a little and stopped in the crowded street to reverse back to make his turn - trouble was he had mopeds coming at him from every direction so he could only edge slightly. It took a while but we got there in the end. It was very amusing but it didn't bode well for us hitting the streets without the protection of a steel cage.
When we first walked out, we realised that although there were pavements, they were covered by goods and mopeds so you had to walk in the street with the hundreds of motorbikes coming at us from all angles. I think Mark wanted to go home then and there. I found it quite amusing still. To be honest the traffic is so busy that it's not going that fast so I suppose it's less dangerous that way.

Along with the crazy traffic comes the beeping. Like the Bali school of driving, they use the defensive method of driving. Beeping to let people know they are there. But with 5 times more traffic than Bali - this is a lot of beeping. All the time. Day and night. I found I could generally tune it out but sometimes you just wanted to scream SHUT UP! And of course there were people carrying the craziest things whilst driving said mopeds.


We hit the lake, which offered some respite from the traffic craziness. You could watch all kinds going on there. Old folk doing their long, slow daily exercise., kids on trikes, lots of sitting and chatting. Couples go to sit on benches and kiss apparently.

Then we went to cross the road at the top of the lake. We'd been told that you just have to walk out into the traffic and they will move around you. But there were hundreds of mopeds and cars. We stood and we looked. Then a young vietnamese woman who'd started to cross, noticed us, came back and walked across with us. We really did just walk out into it. Into deep traffic. And they moved around us. Cool!
So that was the way to do it. It is often pretty scary and you do need to have an eye in every direction but you just have to go for it. I really rather enjoyed it - think it was a bit of an adrenalin rush - who needs bungy jumping eh? Watching the traffic from higher floors of buildings is an afternoons entertainment in itself.


The streets in the Old Quarter were grouped together by what they were selling - silverware, hardware, shoes, decorations, bamboo. And the shops weren't just selling stuff, they were making it too. I could walk those streets forever (with lots of rests in between as it is hard work). So much character, so much going on. Some interesting things for sale too. Not tourist tat, though - everyday stuff. Of course there is the tourists catches - fake watches etc. But also some incredible, genuine old stuff - watches and cameras were especially tempting.
The grave stone selling street was interesting - they were so beautiful and detailed.


I was surprised to see everywhere, ladies with the traditional south east asian hats and sticks to carry heavy goods. You expect to see this out in the fields but wasn't expecting it to be all over the streets of a city. Occasionally the younger ones try to get you to perch one on your shoulder for a photo opportunity for cash - got used to ducking and diving. The older ladies wouldn't have dreamed of such a thing though, they were just getting on with it - moving or selling their goods.


Here more than anywhere else we've been, they wear the face masks. The girls also, in Hanoi, wear little hoodie style jackets, usually in a cute flower print - sometimes with mask to match:


Food wise we of course had Pho, the ubiquitous street food Vietnam is most famous for. We also tried some Hanoi specialities. Their spring rolls were a bit different with minced pork and other mushy stuff but were really nice.
My favourite was Bun Cha. This is small pork patties which you have with rice noodles, fresh herbs - some kind of bitter mint - all mixed in together in a sweet fish sauce. Mmmmmm.


Marks favourite was the Vietnamese Coffee - this was getting filtered coffee with evaporated milk in the bottom to mix in. Yuckity. With that and all the pork fat he's been having in Asia, he's so gonna have a heart attack soon.

Having been French ruled for so long, this affects not only the look and style of the city but also the food. There was lots of french touches and food available, though of course it tended to be a little pricier.
It was a nice treat to have French Onion soup for breakfast one day!

We did a little trip on the electric car tour. They are like oversized golf carts (with seating for maybe 9 people, that drive you around the old quarter area for about an hour stopping at some of the key stops for you to pop out and take photos. This was cheap and a really great way to get around because it was so slow, so you could properly look at things and take photos. It's generally too dangerous with the traffic to stop and take a photo on the busy streets. We found some great streets that we could then walk back to later so was great for orientation. Only downside was that being electric, it's really quiet, so people couldn't hear it coming so we had a few close calls and one little bump with a cyclist!

On Sunday, I dragged Mark around the Museum of Revolution was was fascinating to me and which he did enjoy some bits of. It's an amazing country which has been through so much and they have an amazing sense of pride. I particularly like the communist illustrations and imagery. You got a really good idea of the crap deal this country had had for so long - everyone's kicked it about a bit over the years.
We were there during the 65th anniversary of Communist independence from various control they'd been under for so many years and the advent of the Ho Chi Minh years so the city had flags and posters up everywhere which I was rather geekily excited about - they were a modern day take on the famous communist imagery.



The Cyclos (rickshaws) were hilarious. We got one down to the museum and that's a great fear inducing adrenalin rush. They ignore all the road rules and go up the road onto incoming traffic - with you perched out in the front. You can only laugh as you're hurtling towards certain death. They are also really small so Mark and I not being *coughs* slight people - it was a tight fit and the old guy impressively picked up a good old speed with us. The longer journey we did the next day, from a much younger guy, he struggled a lot more with - wimp!

Walking along the streets, on the way back from the museum, we were suprised to find badmington nets setup on the streets tied to trees and buildings and the markings painted on. This was not in the busy, old quarter area, obviously, but it places where they had wide pavements and were pretty quiet. Old folk and young kids alike, enjoying Sunday badmington was fun to watch.


There was also a little area cut into one of the park areas for people to practise their tap dancing. Fabulous!!!

This area had big grand buildings, including the opera house which is stunning and the metropole hotel with is gorgeous and I totally drooled over. They had a divine couple of old cars parked outside.


Another sunday activity was down by one of the large statues in town - all the kids had their skateboards and rollerblades/skates and were happily scooting around. Teenagers down to tiny, little ones. Really nice to sit and watch, though there were a few close calls with little ones wheeling out of view towards steps, being a little alarming! Not as alarming as the old legless, lady in the wheelchair being pushed across one of the busiest parts of the road by her small young grand daughter. You know it's not good when the locals look concerned. They made it though :)

I just found it to be always fascinating and oddly relaxing. Not sure I could put my finger on it and can so see why so many don't like it - maybe I have a slight masochistic streak, liking the lack of over-niceness. Maybe it's nicer when someone smiles because they really mean it or because you've made a bit of effort with the language or generally just not to be a rude tourist. Also, a lot of things (taxis aside) are really just straightforward and organised. So it's a strange mixture of mayhem, noise, order and calm!!


Our hotel room
We had been upgraded and the room was lovely and spacious with big, dark wood furniture, the hugest doors you have ever seen, a balcony and 2 beds. Considering when we'd booked it had said the room had no windows, this was a bit of a result. The main thing was though, that the beds where the most comfortable EVER! I never wanted to leave that bed. It was dreamy.

Driving the 45 mins from the airport to the centre of Hanoi, I was immediately impressed with the architecture. The tall, slim but long free standing buildings looks like they could topple. I've never seen anything quite like it before and I like the idea of living in spaces like that. Deep into the city you get them too - jutting out high about other lower buildings. All kinds of interesting balconies and roof gardens going on too.


Soviet icons
I was quite surprised to see the soviet scythe icon in so many places. I guess it made sense as that was their big support for so long but I guess it's funny with it not being something u'll likely see in Russia itself. There was also a big statue of Lenin by one of the parks. Am curious if there are any standing anywhere else. I know that there is a 'statues grave yard' in Hungary somewhere that has some of the former soviet statues.


We saw lots of brides and grooms posing for their pics near the lake and various other Hanoi sights. They were all lovely and it was interesting to see the different styles.


Pho jokes
That jokes never stopped being funny frankly


Police uniforms
It is such a lovely shade - a kind of peachy beige. So kitsch - am sure they don't like the idea of that but very 70s lounge musician (see Bob Downe!)


Train tracks
Pic explains it all



We were quite apprehensive about Vietnam as we'd heard so much about.

The absolute worst thing about Hanoi (and Vietnam to some extent). The taxis are notorious for ripping you off - driving you to hotels where they want to take you rather than you want to actually go, having shonky meters and charging ridiculous amounts. Even the locals complain it's a common problem and have gotten into shouting matches when they refuse to pay over what they know they should pay for a frequent journey. We booked our transport from the airport which was good so that was sorted but after that it was a real pain that there was no reliable way of getting about if it rained (we had no probs in the dry doing lots of walking or getting the rickshaw things). We had a great instance one evening when we were a bit worse for wear and got a bit lost in the pouring rain. A taxi picked us up and drove us about all over the bloomin city - I knew he was going further and further away from our hotel so it was quite disconcerting - in the end, after driving for 15/20 mins he dropped us at our hotel which was pretty much where we had started and charged us way too much. So that definitely didn't help with my lack of trust of taxis. It's a real pain!

There was lots of lovely cakes on display in a few shops about the place. We assumed it was the french connection and tried a few on a couple of occasions but generally found them to look way prettier than they tasted. The sugary, deep fried treats from the ladies selling on the streets were nicer but could be soo sweet - I couldn't handle them much - even Mark gave in.


Boy did it pelt it down. It was monsoon season and most days it would only do it for an hour or two but it was crazy hard - thank goodness for our sad ponchos

Not seeing Ho Chi Minh
I really wanted to go and see Ho Chi Minhs body which is on display each morning and people from every far corner of the country come to see him. The main reason we never ended up doing this was the two things above - rain and taxis. It was a bit too far to go on foot in the heat we were having so we'd have to either get a rickshaw, which turned out not to be possible in the bad rain which left us with the dilemma of having to get taxis which can't be trusted so it didn't work out in the end. But it's the first thing I'm going to do on my return to Hanoi (which I will definitely do), after getting some tasty bun cha of course.



Posted by KtandMark 02:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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