Back to HCMC

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Alas we have to say goodbye to Mia Resort today with a flight to HCMC.  After breakfast,(please Mia do something about your bread!), a dip in our pool and packing we check out and wait for the transfer to the airport.  It is a slow trip to the airport … not because of the traffic (there is none) but because our lovely driver does the whole trip in 3rd gear.  All goes as planned and after a 50 minute flight with Vietnam Airlines we are on the ground again grabbing our suitcase.

The taxi ride to Rex Hotel is pure symmetry.  The taxi driver effortfully glides us in and out of spaces between the other vehicles that defeats physics.  With absolute efficiency and no aggression he delivers us safe and sound for less than A$5.  We stayed at the Rex Hotel at the start of our trip and are returning here for our last night in Vietnam.  Apparently I am now a preferred Rex guest and we are upgraded to the Governor Suite, room 363.  Its just the style that we would love to become accustomed to!  The bathroom is bigger than our last hotel room in Singapore.

Our room at The Rex

Our room at The Rex

Sitting room

Sitting room

Next is a bit of therapeutic shopping.  H has spotted some really well made crocodile skin belts in a shop just around the corner from the Rex.  One for Howie and one for Gene! That done we head off for a wander, a snack and a few beers before dinner.

Leather shop

Leather shop

The hotel has a roof top garden bar that we check out for a couple of cocktails (Siagon Smile for me) and beers (Saigon beer for H).  It is well worth the time even if you don’t stay at the Rex Hotel.  It has great views of the newest and brightest buildings in HCMC and overlooks one of the busiest roundabouts.  The four drinks cost as much as our snack, beers and dinner put together.

Rooftop bar lanterns

Rooftop bar lanterns

The neon of this building constantly changes colour

The neon lights of this building constantly changes colour

More HCM neon buildings

More HCM neon buildings

During our wanderings earlier we spotted a noodle bar with a chef preparing fresh noodles  by hand in the window.  We return to the restaurant around 8.30. We are the only customers, I figure they must get busier later because I count about 11 staff standing around.  The freshly made noodles are fabulous especially the mushroom noodles.  A few more drinks and we navigate back through the traffic to enjoy the luxury of our suite.

Scuba diving and lobster Vietnam style

Tuesday 8 October 2013

As part of the booking I made at Mia Resort we both get a relaxing 30 minute massage and a free scuba diving lesson in the resort pool.  Massages at 1:00 pm and dive at 3:00, that’s the afternoon sorted!

At breakfast we try a couple of items from the menu (rather than the buffet menu).  My spicey eggs with beef are cooked on a cute cow shaped hotplate.  The beef for once is tender (all the beef we have had so far is so chewy it is like a gym workout) and the spicey tomarto sauce is just right.

Chilli eggs with beef

Chilli eggs with beef

The massages were the best we have had during this trip, we wish there longer.

Now for the scuba lesson.  Instructions are brief:

“You snorkel before?”

“Yes.”

“OK just like that, breath slow.”

Scuba diving in the pool

Scuba diving in the pool

I’m up next, there is not much to see at the bottom of a pool, but you get the feel of it.  H is very keen to do a course, I guess I’ll give it a go.

We head back into Nga Trang for dinner, we have decided to take advantage of the free shuttle to town.  We wander around for a while enjoying watching the streets come alive as the sun goes down.  Just as we pick a seafood restaurant – Tru’c Linh 3 – the skies open up and the rain pours down.

Once seated and supplied with a drink, Howard starts quizzing the staff on their seafood and what is fresh and what is frozen.  When we ask to see a lobster they say “You buy? Not just for looking!”  Apparently they can get a live lobster but someone has to go to the fish farm to get it – ummm this may take a while.  No worries, we have booze, we are out of the rain, we can wait.

And boy is it worth the wait.

Lobster ... before

Lobster … before

After

After

We also order the most amazing looking papaya salad, presented in a deep fried rice paper that looks like a huge oyster shell.  Its pretty yummy too.

Green papaya salad with prawns

Green papaya salad with prawns

Our lovely tiny waitress stands at our table for at least 40 minutes carefully digging for treasure, making sure we get our money’s worth. Delish!

Binh carefully extracts every delicious morsel

Binh carefully extracts every delicious morsel

Binh and Janet

Binh and Janet

 

The art of doing nothing

Monday 7 October 2013

Today is incredible hazy … you cannot see the horizon as the light grey of the sky blends perfectly with the light grey of the sky.  It is the transition period between monsoon and dry season.  In the south monsoon is from May to Sept and in the north it is from Oct to April.  We are in the south but the sky is hidden by the cloud and haze. Although I do catch a glimpse of sun just after dawn.

Dawn

Dawn

Walk to breakfast

Walk to breakfast

Mowing the roof

Mowing the roof

Sandals Restaurant

Sandals Restauran

Poor Howard has woken up with a rumbling tummy, so he is very cautious at breakfast.  But he starts to explore the intricate world of vietnamese coffee.  A mini coffee filter is brought to the table.  Already in the glass is condensed milk, when the coffee is finished dripping through a filter the milk and coffee are mixed together then ice is added.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Vietnamese pancake and dumplings

Vietnamese pancake and dumplings

We then head down to the beach.  It is 10:30 and the sand is already scalding hot, there is a vicious shore dump and only a few brave souls are in the water.  The cool, calm waters of the pool are much more popular.

Beach and Sandals Restaurant

Beach and Sandals Restaurant

Pool

Pool

Kiddies pool

Kiddies pool

We seek the cool depths of our pool to cool off, and then proceed to laze the rest of the day away – reading, sleeping, taking dips in the pool, sipping vodka.  It is wonderfully relaxing (“Janet has a PhD in relaxation!” … H).

We head back down to Sandals for dinner.  Howard is asian-ed out and has a chicken burger and fries and I have small BBQ prawns and tasteless noodles.

It is amazing how doing nothing can be so exhausting and its not long before I’m curled up in bed asleep.

 

Nga Trang

Sunday 6 October 2013

I wake up at dawn and gaze out through the sheer curtains and across the pool to the horizon.  Today it is raining lightly and has all the signs of a hot muggy day.

At 9:30 we walk down to the restaurant for our buffet breakfast.  It is pretty impressive except for the bread … its dreadful. Doughy, crustless, dry.  Howard lodges a complaint about the standard of the bread. But it falls on deaf ears. If this place was run by the French you can guarantee the bread would be great. But the pho ba, dumplings, Vietnamese pancakes, eggs, hot dishes are great.

We over indulge then grab a lounge by the hotel pool for a while. The heat on the beach which is presently isolated from any breeze is stifling.

Mia Resort is not actually in Nga Trang it is situated half way between Nga trang and Cam Rahn where the airport is.  It is very isolated without any of the shacks that customarily pop up near resorts selling just about anything including water, souvenir trinkets, laundry services and day trips.

Mia Resort offers a free shuttle for the 1/2 hour trip to Nga Trang 3 times a day.  We take the 2:00 shuttle and set out to explore Nga Trang.  We quickly come to the conclusion that we are happy not to be staying in town.  It is a large town with hotel towers lining the beach.  We could be in any seaside town in any country in SE Asia with its rubbish piles on the side of the road, cheap bars, massage parlors and souvenir shops. If you have been to Patong Beach you will know what I mean.

The not so nice side of Nga Trang

The not so nice side of Nga Trang

There are some differences … cyclos instead of tut-tuks, offerings in the street (very much like Bali), not as much traffic, a greater focus on street food and green hotels.  There is also a very strong Russian presence here (must be the communist link) and there are more signs in Russian than in english.

Cyclos

Cyclos

Street offerings

Street offerings

Street food

Street food

Vietnamese style sandwiches

Vietnamese style sandwiches

Seafood BBQ on the street

Seafood BBQ on the street

Why didn't we stay here?

Green Hotel, why didn’t we stay here?

Its very hot and sticky, especially in the backstreets where all the action is.  Contemplating     dinner we grab a couple of drinks at Truc Link Restaurant.  But when I see a cute turtle in the fish tank at the front that is going to end up on someones table I decide to move us on.

Truc Linh 2 Restaurant

Truc Linh 2 Restaurant

Howard gives some BBQing tips

Howard gives some BBQing tips

Tonight we are having a chicken hotpot for dinner … a delicious chicken broth with chunks of chicken leg cooked right at our table, fresh spouts and vegetables are added and a squeeze of lime juice.  Then spooned into our bowls over fresh rice noodles.  Delicious.

Chicken hotpot

Chicken hotpot

 

 

Died and gone to heaven

Saturday 5 October 2013

We have a 10:10 flight from Da Nang to Nga Trang so its boots and saddles early in the morning …. one of the hotel staff ask if they can hitch a ride with us to Da Nang to take her little girl to the hospital.  She is a sweet little girl happily sitting on her mothers lap in the front seat – neither the driver nor the mother and daughter wear their seat belts. We belt up!

The flight to Nha Trang is on a small propeller plane, so we have to boot Howard up with his happy flying tablets to get him on the plane.   Turns out to be the best flight we have had so far … go figure.

Flight VN1943

Flight VN1943

Our hotel pickup fails to turn up but a driver scouting for business rings the hotel for us and arranges to take us there instead.  Twenty minutes later we walk into the most impressive hotel reception we have seen in our Vietnam travels.  Perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean is the spectacular Mia Resort.  Nestled in a quiet bay, surrounded by jungle, it has its own beach.

Mia Resort reception

Mia Resort reception

Welcome drink

Welcome drink

We are ushered into the lounge bar and given a welcome drink (sugarcane juice) and welcome desert (cream custard) while we wait for our room to ready.  A short buggy ride along the ridge we are taken to our cliff pool villa.

I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Villa entrance

Villa entrance

Wedding anniversary swans

Wedding anniversary swans

Pool lounge

Pool lounge

Outdoor shower

Outdoor shower

Bathroom

Bathroom

Pool view

Pool view

Private pool

Private pool

We break out the bottle of vodka (and the complementary bottle of champagne) by our private pool and pretend we are in life syles of the rich and famous.

Napping by the pool at dusk

Napping by the pool at dusk

Its Saturday night and they have a seafood buffet down at Sandals Restaurant on the beach.  We brave the steep flight down the cliff to the restaurant and feast on lobster, prawns, clams, mussels, salads, hot dishes and a selection of other dishes to make you cry.

La vie est belle!

Boat ride on the Thu Bon River

Friday 4 October 2013

We have a late start and an extended breakfast at the hotel, then head back to the old town to pick up my trousers (high quality job) and check out the 16th century Japanese bridge that crosses a small estuary by the river.

16th Century Japanese covered bridge

16th Century Japanese covered bridge

Just around the corner at the bridge over to one of the many islands in the river there are boats lined up taking the tourists for jaunts up and down the river.  Not having anthing better to do we grab a ride.  The muddy yellow of the houses match the muddy brown of the flooded river.  Where previously a street lined the river, now the river laps the steps of the houses creating instant waterside restaurants.

Bridge of An Hoi Island

Bridge of An Hoi Island

Boat ride

Boat ride

Flooding by the rivers edge

Flooding by the rivers edge

Restaurants by the river

Restaurants by the river

We see a nice place for a drink.  As we chill in the shade of a tree a disturbance erupts on the street, two neighboring families are having it out in the middle of the street.  Lots of yelling and screaming, brandishing of wood, pushing and shoving.  Everyone comes out on to the street to watch.

Cafe down by the river

Cafe down by the river

Typical menu

Typical menu

On way back through town we spot this shop.  Apparently these swallow nests are built  from the saliva from the birds and is highly prized for its aphrodisiac qualities.  Seriously!

Hoi An Department of Managing and Gathering Swallows Nests

Hoi An Department of Managing and Gathering Swallows Nests

Swallow nests for sale

Swallow nests for sale

At 2 we have appointments at one of the street spa’s for a massage, manicures and pedicures.  The massage is pretty good, but the manicures and pedicures are rubbish. Oh well.

We relax in our room for a while then go down and grab a couple of drinks before dinner.  I’ve been checking out tripadvisor and we have decided to grab a taxi to a restaurant a couple of km’s out of town named Red Dragon.

A quite drink at Memory Cafe before dinner

A quite drink at Memory Cafe before dinner

Full moon offerings

Full moon offerings

Everywhere on the streets are religious offerings it is end of month (Chinese calendar) and full moon.  Fruit, flowers and beer are offered up to the gods and paper money is being burnt at little alters every where.  It makes the already humid air hazy and thick.

Red Dragon restaurant has the smallest, unimpressive menu we have seen, the wait staff cannot speak any english and the place is deserted.  Oh no.  Luckily the food turns out to be really good. We order white rose (rice noodles sheets shaped like a rose and topped with deep fried shallots and dried prawns), grilled tiger prawns with a special salad and green papaya and fresh mango salad with chicken.  The tiger prawns are particularly good.

Red Dragon menu

Red Dragon menu

A word about happy hour.  So far we have had lots of happy hour drinks – some places have happy hour drinks all day, one place advertises happy hour drinks from 10:30 am to 10:00 pm, happy hour massages – 20% off all of the day, happy hour book marks (buy 4 get 1 free) and happy hour boat rides (no actual discount).

 

Bike rides and kaoroke

Thursday 3 October 2013

We wake up early to the sound of rain … its rained all night and looks like it has set in for the day.  The breakfast buffet here also has a great selection and once again I’m hitting all the weird and wonderful Vietnamese selections available … well not all of them.  I draw the line at rice gruel and chocolate cream cake.

We are resigned to an enforced lazy day when all of a sudden the clouds disappear and we have brilliant sunshine.  Unsure of how long it will last we grab two of the hotel bikes and hit the road for the beach.  It is about 5 km through villages, paddy fields and along the flooded river bank.  It is an easy ride (well it would be easier if H could raise his seat about six inches) with only an occasional incline over a bridge or two.  There are many bicycles and motorbikes on the road and only the occasional car and truck.

Crossing a river on the way to the beach

Crossing a river on the way to the beach

We have been warned that the beach will be rough and true enough its pretty wild and dirty.  It is vastly different to the pristine beaches we have seen in photos.

Not the most inviting beach I have ever seen

Not the most inviting beach I have ever seen

A  short detour into one of the many tailors and by the time we make it back to the hotel it is blistering hot and we shower before crossing the road to a little spa for a massage at $A14 each.

Next we head downtown to get a better look of the old town.  Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a thriving trading village since the 15th century and the buildings are dilapidated but well preserved (if that makes sense).  If you want to get some clothes made or a new pair of shoes Hoi An is the place.  Every second shop is a tailor or cobbler. The river is still flooding and some of the streets are still covered with the brown water of the river.

Hoi An street

Hoi An street

On of the many traditional houses now a museum

One of the many traditional houses,, now a museum

Flooded street

Flooded street

Another Hoi An street

Another Hoi An street

For lunch we stop at Morning Glory which has been recommended to us by the Hotel, tripadvisor as well our friend Greg.  The interior is cool and dim and we order Three Friends Spring Rolls (fried spring rolls self wrapped in rice paper), Hoi An Chicken and Rice and Shredded Chicken and Fresh Mint Salad.  Yummmm!  Washed down with the local beer – Biere Larue. The meal cost 300,000 dong or about $15.

Lunch at Morning Glory

Lunch at Morning Glory

Back at the hotel our nap is interrupted by loud Vietnamese rock music blaring from behind our room.  In an attempt to get away from the noise we go the bar for a drink.  Alas it is even noisier in the outdoor lounge.  After a while we hear happy birthday being sung  and then pure hell is unleashed when  karaoke sung in Vietnamese and done very badly begins.  One of the tailor shops just down the street has set up tables and chairs in the street and using the few steps up to the shop as a stage.  The party is in full flight when we walk past, heading downtown for my fitting and dinner.

We have ben told that Secret Garden which is 50 metres down a dark alley is good.  The ambience is great with luscious gardens, ponds and a traditional wooden building.  The food is pretty good too but the wine we order was ruined … exposed to heat and sunlight for a long period of time.  We don’t complain as we are sure they would not have any idea  what we were talking about.

 

Hoi An

Wednesday 2 October 2013

After a great nights sleep we hit the breakfast buffet at the Rex Hotel, up on the 5th floor in an ornate Chinese dining room.  There is a great selection of foods to sample, H goes for the yoghurt, fruit, omelette and croissant, baguette and everything else.  I on the other hand get stuck into the dumplings, rice cakes with dried shrimp, fried rice and beef with green peppercorns.  Ummm interesting flavours!

Peoples Committee and park

Peoples Committee and park

Next on the agenda is a wander around the blocks surrounding the hotel before we check-out and head to the airport for our flight to Da Nang with Vietnamese Airlines.  The shopping at the airport is interesting … everything from frozen snake and some strange looking objects that I later find out are swallows nests (just what you need to make the “delicate and delicious” swallow nest soup … ummm maybe not) to hand embroidered silk screens.  The flight is very bumpy due to rising thermal clouds, its very humid, but mercifully short and my nausea is over as soon as I hit the ground.

We are picked up by a driver from the Ha An Hotel (recommendation from Greg … great spot Greg).  It takes about an half an hour from the airport. During the drive to the hotel we see the new bridge, flying saucer soccer ground, gigantic wedding palaces, luxury beach resorts of Da Nang, dozens of roadside marble statues warehouses, paddy fields and small fresh food markets.  Da Nang is a thriving city and a lot of money has been spent here recently, the airport was only opened 12 months ago.

Happy Howie and Buddha

Happy Howie and Buddha

The Ha An Hotel staff warmly greet us and give us a welcome drink (H is more interested in a welcome beer – but that will have to wait) and welcome fruit before ordering some lunch.  We have Spring Rolls (the best ever) and Pho Ba for lunch.  In our room we battle with a giant wasp and then after the staff battle to open our safe for half an our we are moved to another room where this safe does not work as well.  Solution … they give us the safe key and all is good.

Our room at Ha An Hotel

Our room at Ha An Hotel

Memory Cafe from our balcony

Memory Cafe from our balcony

We get the name of the best tailor in town – A Dong Silk, and head off down the street to the old town.  Its late afternoon and the markets are in full throttle … it is an assault on the senses.  The people, the sights, the smells … not all of them good.

At A Dong Silk I select my material and am measured for a couple of pairs of slacks.  It is now dark (and raining) and we wander off looking for a drink.  Across the river we find a number of bars and grab a seat on the footpath under a makeshift awning.  Its happy hour (I got the feeling happy hour goes for most the afternoon and all night) and the local beer Larue is only 4,000 Dong a glass … thats about A$0.25 … its watered down but hey for the price!

Bars down by the river

Bars down by the river

It is now raining steadily and there is king tide expected, the combination means that the low lying areas of Hoi An will be flooded overnight.  We trudge through the rain towards our hotel and stop to eat at White Lotus on the way.  We are served by a tiny lady who looks about 15 but is probably 30, Howard is taller than her sitting down than she is standing up.  We have a delicious meal of deep fried eggplant, Vietnamese fried rice and stuff squid then head across the street back to our room for a creaky nights sleep.

Squid stuffed with pork

Squid stuffed with pork

 

Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday 1 October 2013

We arrive bright and early in HCMC at 7:20 after a long night flying which went without a hitch.  The leg to Singapore is only a quarter full and we are able to grab a row for ourselves each, this is what Vietnam Airlines calls an economy flatbed.  From Singapore we are transferring onto a Jetstar flight to HCMC, with only 2 hour layover.

After the quickest passport and bag pick up we have ever had we are greeted by Tu and handed over to our driver from the Rex Hotel.  The drive takes half an hour and we are stunned by the seamless and unrelenting flow of the motorbikes surrounding us.

Checkin is quick and easy and our room is ready even though it is only 8:30 in the morning.  Our room (244) is  very nice and spacious and looks over the street and a lovely park. We freshen up and head out of the hotel into the steamy heat.  When we reach our first corner to cross we look at each other in despair and wonder how in hell we are going to get across alive.  We gather our courage, look for a break and step forward.  The motorbikes don’t slow down they just go around you.  Its the cars that you have to be careful of … they don’t slow or go around you.

The streets are a combination of littered rubble and immaculate paving.  There are people everywhere, sitting on bikes on the footpath, crouching by the wall, food vendors tending their portable coal fires, little ladies selling lotto tickets, security guards outside every semi-presentable building.

Mobile shop ... look at the traffic

Mobile shop … look at the traffic

The pollution is overwhelming, within an hour our eyes are stinging and we are looking for somewhere to eat and get away from the fumes.  We find an air conditioned restaurant and order a couple of Saigon beers – cold and refreshing. From the menu we order a Vietnamese pancake, prawn stir fry noodles and a beef pho.  The pancake is outstanding … a thin crepe filled with sprouts, fried onion, thin slices of pork and shrimp, served with lettuce and beetle-nut leaves and a dipping sauce.  You make your own rolls with the greens and munch away.  Fresh, light and tasty.

Vietnamese pancake

Vietnamese pancake

We are getting tired, so we return to the hotel for a quick nap, the nap lasts about two hours!  Time to head out again.  We wander off to play with in the fumes and traffic and explore a bit more of the streets surrounding our hotel.  We check out the Reunification Palace from the outside, Notre Dame Cathedral, the ornate colonial Post Office and the Opera House.  A large brass band is playing in front of the Opera House and there is a graduation ceremony going on inside.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Street food outside Notre Dame

Street food outside Notre Dame

Opera House

Opera House

We find an overpriced bar with a good selection of beers and settle in for a drink.

Tiger Beer

Tiger Beer

Later we return to the hotel, freshen up and head off for dinner at Lemongrass, a small restaurant we had spotted earlier. The food is good, beef and papaya salad, stir fried beef and rice noodles with  morning glory and garlic. Sated we cross the road for some coconut and chocolate ice cream and a slice of chocolate cake. That takes care off any hunger issues and time for some zzzz’s.