Must know for Vietnam and Cambodia
Hanoi...We stayed mostly in the Old Quarter. Took trips to perfume pagoda and Halong Bay from Hanoi. Hanoi is a great place to start your vietnam journey. Culture shock to the extreme! Busy, crazy traffic and shopping epitomise the experience. Be brave with the street crossing and move steadily, and slowly, across the street without stopping, jumping backwards or running...all very natural human behaviours in this environment but not advised.
Check out the water puppets and the lofty restaurants around Hoan Kiem lake. Don't be afraid to eat the street food but use common sense. We followed the guidelines that if it was steaming hot and fresh we would eat it and we never had any tummy issues. The Pho (noodle soup) is to die for!
We stayed at the Hanoi Elegance II. Highly reccomended. Good price and internet in your room. Ask for a balcony room on the front side. Big, sliding doors are double glazed so sound is minimal and the view of the morning and evening street life along Ma May street is excellent. Good food, good service, clean, modern and well located and they can book nearly any tourist excursion going for a good price..
Perfume pagoda...a pagoda built into a mountain. Kind of cool but a longish trip to get there. However part of the trip is an hour row along a river with the rowing being done by very fit women. The scenery through authentic Vietnam life in more rural area is worth the trip.
Halong Bay...if you go to vietnam you MUST go to Halong Bay...surreal, peaceful, dramatic, exquisite...do an over nighter on a junk but choose your boat wisely. We chose a junk through Tropical Sales...research said they were one of the best. Expect $100 for overnight per person. Worth every cent. You can get cheaper but there are horror stories out there about some of the economical options. On this junk you get a king bed, your own shower, great meals (included) and they make great cocktails which are reasonably priced. Hoi An...We spent 6 nights here and I wish we would have had a few days longer. Charming, slower, beach, UNESCO heritage buildings, friendly people, tailored clothes and great shopping are here. We stayed at the Hoian Beach Resort which I think was, by far, best value for money. This hotel is on the river and across the road from the beach (10 min drive into town and free ferry service to town). Perfect location. Ask for a riverfront room on the 2nd or 3rd floor and watch the local fisherman in action. If you need laundry done, skip the hotel service and go directly accross the street for a fraction of the cost. Recommend a boat ride on the river. Book at the Veggo place by the bridge. Excellent experience. Give yourself plenty of time for having clothes tailor made. My experience was having to go 4 times before my clothes fit just right. Only rec. for tailors are to go to the side streets...same quality and much cheaper. If you need a break from vietnamese food, pop into the Cargo Club for Mexican, Caesar Salad, decent pasta and good atmosphere.
Seam Reap/Angkor Wat..What can I say....WOW! Angkor Wat blew me away. I won't go into details but this is a must on 'places to see in a lifetime' list. Not hard to imagine you are Lara Croft from Tomb Raider here...And the food...Khmer cuisine is the best I have experienced. You haven't lived until you have feasted on amok and Khmer curry. Siem reap is like a little ole wild west town. Wide, dusty streets and The people were so lovely. Three days there seemed enough but I could have easily done another couple. One full day at Angkor Wat also seemed enough.
Finally...vietnam airlines...sufficient but not outstanding. Very poor entertainment system, average food and seemed to be always running late. on flip side...generous with drinks. It saved us a few hundred dollars over Singapore airlines but just depends on what you want and need for an international flight.
I had my booty....free, finally free
It was one of these temporary street food stalls that exist only from late afternoon until the food runs out. And they did in fact have bun thit nuong, the tasty barbecued pork dish I had sought for weeks now. My driver did the ordering and I was happy to get a very local price for the prized take away. He then whisked me back to the beer joint just as quickly. I tired to pay for the ride but he explained it was already taken care of. Our new friend had hired him to take me on this little food adventure.
I had my booty, but it was all in plastic bags with no utensils to eat it with. Our buddy took care of that too, asking the proprietors of the bia hoi hangout to bring out plates and chop sticks. We dug in with full gusto. It was just what we had been looking for and our obvious enthusiasm had him glowing over his accomplishment. We bought the next round of beers and thanked him heartily, but it was time for him to head home. And stuffed, it was time for us as well. We saw him one other time at our rendezvous point but he was with friends and we had made a few new ones too that evening, so we never spoke. But we exchanged smiles. And this is what I will most fondly remember about my time in Vietnam, someone going out of their way to make my stay that much better. His smile and, of course, the wind blowing the grime and sweat from my face. Free, finally free.
Vietnamese House in the Country
I was lucky enough to be invited to a Vietnamese farmhouse outside of HCMC. The house was amazing. The peak of the roof was probably 25 feet high and very steeply pitched. The front half of the house was the living room. The walls only went about half way up to the roof so you could look over the wall into the next room if you had a ladder. In the living room, they had a wide wooden bed with no mattress, a couch, two chairs, and an ancient TV. This house like many others in Vietnam has "video disks" similar to DVDs, but less expensive.
The next room was the kitchen. It had no table or chairs, and the back part of the room was curtained off for a bedroom. To wash my hands I had to put on slippers and go out to the cistern (a concrete tub to store rain water). There was a small faucet near the ground to get water.
The bathroom was even more unique; as they had a squatter and a plastic scoop for "flushing" the toilet. Again I had to put on slippers for my visit to the toilet. Did I mention that Vietnamese have very small feet?
Next to the bathroom at the back of the house was the other bedroom, again, curtained off from view.
The house was very airy and cool, despite the hot summer sun. I think the high roof really helped ventilate the living areas. I guess you would figure out how to build a house most efficiently after thousands of years living in the tropics.
Vietnamese Dong is the currency of the country and is the means of payment for some supermarket and some local businesses. The US dollars serves as an alternate currency for most small local businesses thriving on tourist trade.
Dongs are in thousands and millions with (.) as the separator.
200.000 would be translated to two hundred thousand dong.
Seems to be following the European Euro format.
Snugglin' up to a 2m long Python
I got up and close and personal to a new Vietnamese friend. Yes, all 2 metres of a HELLUVABIG PYTHON SNAKE!
This female python, whom I'll call Penelope was put on my shoulders when I visited a honey bee farm in Mekong Delta. Of course, the first sight of Penelope was shocking. I mean, how often do you encounter a 2m long creature with a slithery tongue in Singapore? The only wildlife we'd encounter in the S'pore heartlands are probably cats in heat and the occasional lost poodle.
Other than staggering around with her weight and knowing darn well I don't have a phobia for snakes anymore, I found out that creatures like Penelope are kept as pets in this region. Mainly for luck and for keeping the rat population down.
If you're keen to share this lurverly experience, go for an excursion to Mekong Delta. Sinh Cafe tours are pretty well - organised
For more wierd stories and pictures, visit b'packer's hcmc page