A Travellerspoint blog

May 2008

Good Morning Saigon

the food is great and so is Ho Chi Minh City


(from the balcony of my room at the BI-Bee Saigon Hotel, Pham Ngu Lao)


(Saigon traffic)

Best flight of my life - Asiana Air transpacific (SF to Seoul) - those flight attendants never sit down, and the 777 was very comfy too. After prolific apologies for being 20 min late in landing at Tan Son Nhat (Saigon) we arrived in country. Immigration went quite smoothly and my hotel pickup man was waiting for 3 guests (myself and 2 Japanese girls) right outside the Customs gate. Seven flights up the narrow steps brought me to the Wagner Suite - not exactly the Majestic, but very spacious and comfy with large balcony and separate bathroom hut. I got about 3 hrs sleep before the Bun Bo Hue (spicy noodle soup) breakfast with lime juice. Later I walked down to Vietnam Airlines (past Ben Thanh Market and the fancy Rex Hotel). Bought my flights to Danang (Hoi An) and Hue to Hanoi for later in the month. Came back to the hotel past thousands of hawkers (you name it, Saigon sells it) for a rest. Woke up on the balcony to my first tropical monsoon - (BOY CAN IT RAIN IN VIETNAM!!!) Well, enough of the boring stuff, just wanted to get the ball rolling folks. I'm meeting Saigonkids (free guide service) tomorrow and then having dinner with the founder, Huyen. Vietnamese are so very friendly - maybe too friendly, have to keep watch for the ungenuine!


(me after mailing postcards at the Main Saigon P.O.)

Next time from the Mekong Delta.

PS - Susan reports that Spud has adjusted very very well. When I called on Wednesday, he was sitting on the couch with the housecat!

Posted by Daawgon 12:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Cyclo ride to Cholon

is it too late to buy that travel insurance?

I'm still in Saigon, and after 2 days, it feels like home. I live in the Pham Ngu Lao, or Foreign Town, where all the backpacker hotels are - a 24 hour place of commerce and hard drinking. It's crowded and not too pretty, so I was glad to get out and see more of town today. I was on my way to the docks of the Saigon River to buy my boat ticket for Tues when I was approached by a cyclo driver (Viet version of a rickshaw only with bicycle). He wanted 100,000 Dong to go to the dock, I was a little tired, so I talked him down to 70K (VN Dong @ 16,000 to the Dollar). He was a little older than most Vietnamese (52), and we got along well - his English was good - this was Thanh. After getting the ticket, and my first experience riding in this little cyclo in heavy Saigon traffic (Sunday here is almost the same as a weekday for traffic - 6 million Saigonese all seem to be on Honda scooters at the same time + a few thousand city buses + taxis), we struck a deal to tour Cholon (Chinatown) for another 150,000 Dong. Sidewalks are seldom used for walking - there is damn little room with all the commerce that goes on there, so most walk at the side of the street. It all turned out quite well, and I saw much of the town (Saigon outside of the Pham is actually very interesting and much better looking). Stopped to look at fruit sellers at the Cholon market - they pile all the fruit up in perfect pyramid shaped piles, and much of the fruit is brand new to me. Talked with a couple from Amsterdam, bought Thanh a fresh coconut juice, and sat down for a Tiger beer (Singapore) myself. On the return trip to the Pham, Thanh passed his wife selling cut fruit on the street, and grabbed a slice of ripe watermelon. I came back to my hotel for a siesta and cold shower.

Posted by Daawgon 12:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Can Tho City, Mekong Delta

who knew they had expressways and cities in the Delta?


(My great Swedish friends - Anitha Helgessen and Kaj Ekberg)

Read their blog too (http://koa4245.blogg.se/) - it's in Swedish!

We spent most of yesterday on the maze of rivers between HCMC and Can Tho aboard the Thanh Nhan Jet Express.The pilot had a heavy foot and that boat could travel, but broke down (overheated I suspect) quite a few times, and we finally pulled over to a tiny dock and boarded a Mercedes minibus for the final run to Can Tho. Who knew that the Mekong had between 8 and 10 million people? I was floored when we started down what appeared to be an expressway complete with toll booths. My companions for the day (Kaj Ekberg and Anitha Helgessen of Munka Ljungby, Sweden and their guide, Matt) and I had a great time though, and we all stopped for a late lunch once on the road. Matt even tried to pay for my beer and lunch even though I was not his client!

Can Tho finally appeared (not as the sleepy Delta town the guidebooks tell ya, but more of a Delta city of some size). My 3 friends checked into an upscale hotel, but I insisted in looking for something more flashpacker style (i.e., cheaper), and after some hunting found the quite respectable Thai Duong 2 @ 150,000 VND (approx $9.) My mistake here was to try and negotiate Can Tho (no small settlement) without a proper map (guidebook maps are almost useless!) Tried the Can Tho version of Italian pizza last night - not bad, but far far from the real thing. Also checked out my first VN supermarket - large, but heavy on the dried and packaged foods (no wonder open air markets are the real markets in this country).


(This is the lovely Huyen and the unlovely me on the Floating Market Tour)


(The floating market, Mekong Delta)

Can Tho has some pretty good places to eat, and today I had super Pho ("fur") noodle soup and later a set menu 4 course lunch (best so far at 100,000 VND) at Nam Bo on the riverfront. I booked a boat tour of the floating markets for Thurs and then on Fri I'll be back on the Express boat bound for Saigon once again. I was wrong not to book a tour of the Delta from Saigon, but I had heard that it was quite easy to get once in Can Tho (maybe so, but I probably just never found the right agent?)

I'm trying all the foods and drinks that look good. A few minutes ago I tried fresh pressed sugar cane juice (comes iced with lime) and is not as sweet as I had thought - quite good. This is the place for fresh fish, but just haven't found anything that looked good. You see people at street bars eating small cooked clams or cockles? with their beer.

People in the Delta appear somewhat kinder and more patient than the Saigonese, and it's certainly far less stressful crossing the street here. Last night, a guard just walked over and helped me cross a street (I had heard that they think kindly of the old folks in VN). Far fewer English speaker here, as I've found out asking directions before I purchased a decent map. Weather is near perfect here today - even a slight breeze. Where are the mosquitos? Snake meat on the menu this am, and not exactly sure what my buffet lunch meat was yesterday???

Posted by Daawgon 12:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Enroute Hoi An

the next Bali of SE Asia


(Chanh, the best hotel manager in Indochina - Bich Duyen Hotel, HCMC)


(foot massage at Than Son Nhat, Gate 6 Domestic)


(Vietnam Airlines, HCMC to Danang on A333)


(the cab that broke down outside Hoi An Town)

Got up with the crows for my cab ride to Than Son Nhat airport and my Vietnam Airlines flight. Stayed at the excellent Bich Duyen Hotel last night and ate for the 3rd time at the Coriander Thai last night. The personable Bich manager sat down with me at breakfast and we discussed language and stuff (his English pronunciation of "juice" needed help), then he called me a cab and gave me a great send off - quite some little (12 room) guesthouse - for Vietnam it would be classed with Best Western at least @ USD 25. with breakfast.

After life threatening rush hour traffic, I checked in with VN Air at the airport, and since I had some time, I gave myself the luxury of a foot massage at Gate 6 Domestic (my flight to Danang/Hoi An was #8). What an experience (do not pass through Than Son Nhat without trying this!!!) - hot scented towels and warm scented oils (was this Saigon or Tokyo?) - hot and strong herbal tea, eye pillows, neck pillow and then came the foot massage, but it also included the lower leg (after the foot bath). I was impressed @ 130K VN.

Our plane was a rented China Airlines (Taiwan) A333 wide body, and it was full this morning. The hour flight included a bento box lunch of ham and tomato sandwich, mineral water, Kit Kat bar and scented VN Air branded handi-wipes. It would have been an excellent flight except for the 2 infants who were screaming most of it.
Danang International is the #3 airport in country and has excellent services and I was in a cab for Hoi An within about 3 minutes. My young driver spoke little English, but we communicated well with sign language. Typical of most VN cabbies (forgot to say that my Saigon cabbie this AM grazed a female scooter rider - no damage) he was a bit of a lead footed, horn tooting maniac. No sooner did we enter the outskirts of Hoi An, and the cab broke down. I got out and tried to give a push start, but no go. He called for a backup, and soon came another, complete with a young couple from Jakarta + cabbie. Hoi An Town soon appeared, and I had my $15. guesthouse room at the Dai Long Hotel (with balcony). After a walk around = a really neat town (The Carmel Village of VN), I was heading back to my room when I saw this cyber cafe, and thought I'd try uploading my shots. It worked, and as you see, not too shabby for a first timer! It did take 2-3 hours as it was the first time using the memory card reader/USB cable and software to load to local files and then upload to my blog. (downright cheap for 17K VN - about $1.05 I figure.)

Time to edit this entry a bit after a dinner at Thang Bom here on the Hai Ba Trung - just 100 yds down from my hotel.
It was late (almost 8) so I wanted something fast but nice too, and the Thang Bom looked just the place - dinner among the palms and stars. However, this place offered none of the world famous Hoi An specialties, so I had to do some work and actually think what I wanted to eat. I was all pho'd out for the moment, so I chose hot and sour shrimp soup, squid with lemongrass and chili, mixed fruit for dessert, and Singapore Slings to cool off with. The wait staff were funny here, but fun. Looks like the waiter does the work (runs the bar as well as a sidewalk concession, and waits on tables as well. It took me a good 5 min to open the seasoned soy bottle, and the salt was completely out. The food was quite good - esp the hot and sour soup. The Sling was not too hard to take either (started drinking them in Saigon, and they're a nice refreshing change from Saigon Red beer. The squid looked more like an appetiser to me (small plate). I had the mixed fruit plate to end with (dragon fruit, mango, pineapple and banana).

Hoi An has 4 types of retail (hotel, restaurant, Internet cafes and tailor shops). This town is famous for custom made clothes at a low price, but from the samples that are shown outside the shops, they're a little behind the times. The men's suits look like cheap Chinese suits of the 1970's and the women's is even worse - sort of stylish Russian of the 1970's (seriously!)

Posted by Daawgon 12:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An Town

the best of everything


(My Aussie friends, Richard and Miriam Smith at the Bo Bo Cafe for breakfast - see you in Mandurah!)


(Hoi An Town)


(Cafe 96, Hoi An)

I'm eating very very well here - maybe a little too well! Yesterday lunch at Cargo Club, I had nicoise sandwich with tomato and shallot salad and a mango lasse. Last night I was at Cafe 96 for Cao Lai noodles, White Rose shrimp dumplings and fried wonton salad with a mango shake. This morning, I was at the Bo Bo Cafe for a great tomato and mushroom omelette, baguette, pineapple shake and Viet coffee. No wonder all the gourmets come to Hoi An.

I had the pleasure of meeting Richard and Miriam Smith (Mandurah, Western Australia) at breakfast, and we exchanged restaurant notes as well as addresses. They're off to Nha Trang and points south by sleeperbus. Finally found the Viet Post Office and discovered that I've been sending postcards with the wrong postage to the USA (it's 9,000 VN), so I'm sorry if some of them didn't make it (will be sending many more).

Hoi An is also a shopper's paradise, and an art center. Not just cheap souvenirs either. It's dusty too, and my shoes are taking a beating (not to mention my feet). Thinking of renting a bike for this afternoon (the beach is about 2 miles down the road). Since this area is in the flood zone of VN, both Hoi An and Hue have pretty serious annual floods. Mosquito nets are a must due to the amount of rice planting here. At my hotel, the net is tied up like a giant jellyfish covered in lace.


Posted by Daawgon 12:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)