A Travellerspoint blog

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First days in Saigon

in one word, steamy!

sunny 90 °F

Arrived in Vietnam about 11:30am via Taipei on EVA Air. Very good flights, but near 100% full, and painful on the bum. The heat was a shock, but people move slower here in this climate, and I went straight to bed at my old homestead, the Bich Duyen Hotel.

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Meat Dept. at Ben Thanh Market, Saigon

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Fast food at Ben Thanh Market, Saigon

The second day was a bit easier, with the help of Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt and my new internet friends at dinner and drinks. We were a group of 5 (USA, Scotland, Australia and Vietnam). I picked the BI Saigon Restaurant with it's book of a menu (everything from Vietnamese to Mexican + Thai and Italian).

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That's Brett, an Aussie internet friend and me, at the Reunification Palace (Saigon Hotpot tour)

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This is Long, our Hotpot Guide, and me on the Saigon Hotpot Tour at the very elaborate VNPT (main post office)

I'm off on my Saigon Hotpot Tour today, and I'm preying for cooler temps. It's only about 90F out, but the humidity must be near 95%. One thing about this time of year, everything is still lush and green here. This town is a bit too big and frantic for me, and I'm looking forward to flying up to Hanoi tomorrow.

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Click for these blogs: March 2008 trip
and March 2009 trip

Posted by Daawgon 10.27.2009 18:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hanoi, the third time around

rain 80 °F

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Hoan Kiem Lake

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Typical scene at Hoan Kiem Lake

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Fruit platter at the Tamarind Cafe

I flew into Hanoi this afternoon, but without one important item - my bank card! I took the Vietnam Airlines' shuttle, checked into the Especen, and was walking down to the Old Quarter when I remembered the mistake. I immediately returned to the hotel, and with the help of the desk clerk, called Chanh on the desk of the Bich Duyen in Saigon. Thank God that Chanh is such a helpful soul, because he knew all about my mistake, and promised to Fed Ex my card PDQ.

This time I'm on the fourth floor of the Especen, and this room not only has wrap-around windows, but also a very long, wrap-around balcony. It was raining lightly when we landed, and the rest of the day was much much cooler than Saigon had been (even in the dark). I just had a couple of beers at the City View Cafe (my Hanoi hangout), and walked up Dinh Liet for sour fish soup, sweet & sour pork and a pineapple shake (quite nice).

I drank those beers a little fast, so I'm heading back to the hotel (now at the Hanoi Visitor's Center), and a little TV and relaxation before bed. Susan reports that Spud is getting on well with a female, Daphne, at his Oregon City doggie resort (Day & Night Dogs).

Posted by Daawgon 10.29.2009 05:58 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Fantastic Sunday in Hanoi

sunny 90 °F

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Students love to practice English with the foreigner

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Walking home from the Foodshop, I came past this park fountain

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Students coming from school at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi

What a day! It started early with breakfast at the Rainbow Cafe on Hang Hanh, continuing with bike races around Hoan Kiem Lake, and an iced tea at City View Cafe. Off to a shower at the Especen, and a very relaxing foot massage at Van Xuan on Ly Quoc Su (80,000VND for 70 min - bargain price). Then back to the Lake to get a shoulder bag and converse with several English students for 2 hours. By this time I'm half starved (17:30), so another half hour to find a Mai Linh taxi (the most trusted company in Vietnam) to take me to Truc Bac Lake for dinner at Foodshop 45 (Indian). Did I ever pick the right place to eat - a most romantic and relaxing atmosphere in a room open to the lake breeze. Best waitstaff I've yet encountered in country, and the food was sensational (onion fritters with 3 dipping sauces, Chicken Biryani rice and Prawn Curry - all with Halida Beer on ice, and to top off this fantastic meal I chose fresh fruit slices (banana, mango and watermelon) - 204,000VND, but well worth every Dong! I walked all the way back to Hoan Kiem Lake (2 miles) since I couldn't get a Mai Linh car, but it was very colorful - this town is abaze with lights on a Sunday, and at least 1 mile of the walk was through the Night Market.

I'm off to the Especen to pay my bill and an early bedtime - have to be up at the crack of dawn for the Haiphong train and then on the hydrofoil for Cat Ba Island. Just a day or two on the island and then back here and on to the NW Highlands next weekend. Diep generously gave me free train tickets RT to Lao Cai for the trip - can't beat that for generous!

More next time w/a few more pictures. I'm adjusting to the heat better now, and only sweat by the pint instead of the gallon.

Posted by Daawgon 11.01.2009 05:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Monday, Monday...

Why did I pick Cat Ba?

sunny 85 °F

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Cat Ba Town on Cat Ba Island

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Cat Ba Town harbor from my hotel

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Hanoi traffic from my perch at the City View Cafe

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View from breakfast room at the Amazing Hotel, Hanoi

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Another view from the breakfast room

All went well as far as the Haiphong docks, but then my Mai Linh cab was met by these 2 ladies who misrepresented themselves as the official sellers of the Cat Ba Tourist jetboat tickets @ 300,000VND one-way!!!!! I did think this an outrageous price, but I guess my guard was down, because that's the price I paid. After ca fe and a cake, I looked at the ticket and guess what - 120,000VND was clearly stamped on it. I then confronted the ticket sellers and asked for an explanation - "oh, but that includes the jetboat + 2 bus rides". Still sounded a tad fishy, and I voiced my displeasure. An Aussie couple then showed up, and I warned them about the fishy prices. They then asked the ticket sellers for an explanation, and when no reasonable answer was given, they decided to walk down the dock and see what other boats were headed to Cat Ba. They soon came back, and said they bought tickets on a slow boat for only 80,000VND. As it turned out, as I was sitting on the bus for the ride to the jetboat dock, one of the ticket sellers came up to me and gave me 150,000VND??? What's going on here??? She just said something about my complaint, and left.

I finally made it out to the island and Cat Ba Town after one bus ride from hell on the Haiphong side, one fast but wet jetboat ride, and a rather interesting bus ride from the west side of the island to the southern tip at Cat Ba Town. I walked around town for 30 minutes dodging hotel offers, and was somewhat unimpressed with the lodging scene that I saw for flashpackers. Then I walked into the Huong Cang Hotel on the waterfront, and settled on a simple but cheerful room for the sum of $8. (could have been $6., but I thought I'd better get AC just in case). Cat Ba Town was sad - looked like a town in dire distress (damn few tourists on the street or in the hotels or restaurants). I asked for 2 nights, but then revised this plan and thought - " my God, I'll have trouble lasting 24 hours in this place". I did find a decent evening meal, and at least it was cool and breezy on the island.

Next morning, I had my pho bo with ca fe and watermelon juice, and headed back to the hotel to settle the bill. I thought, well, what else can go wrong, I'll just head back to Hanoi, and just forget Cat Ba ever happened. The desk clerk could not find my passport - she looked in several drawers and cabinets, and this went on for a good 10-15 minutes. Naturally, by the time she located the document, I was fuming!!! I grabbed the passport, and raced upstairs to get my things, and when I returned, I threw the damn key at the unoccupied desk. The owner and desk clerk ran out to the lobby and started giving me the business, but I was furious, and promised them I'd tell the world to avoid their establishment at all cost!

The return trip to Hanoi was quite pleasant (and that bus-jetboat-bus trip only cost 120,000VND this time), and I actually walked about 2 miles from the Hanoi bus station to the Hoan Kiem District. Stopped at the Tamarind Cafe for museli, tropical fruit and yogurt and ca fe sua da (iced). Then on to the Old Quarter, where I looked at a few lodgings before settling on a new place - the Hanoi Amazing Hotel - because it was so cheerful, friendly and just plain nice @ $20. for the first night, and $25. the remaining 2 nights for a balcony room. Enough of my rambling for one day.

Posted by Daawgon 11.03.2009 04:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Northwest Highlands

Sapa Town and Bac Ha Market

sunny 80 °F

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All of the above shots taken at the Bac Ha Sunday Market

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Two Dutch friends that I met on the Bac Ha Market trip

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Diep seeing me off at the Hanoi Ga (train station)

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The View from my hotel - the Cat Cat View Hotel, Sapa

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Banana blossom in Sapa

I caught the 20:35 King Express train to Lao Cai, and my namecard read:
Cat Cat View Hotel welcomes John Wagner, so on to the hotel in the wee hours. The room was nothing special, but the view was very nice, and I even had a balcony. I had developed a cold, so most of the day was spent in bed trying to knock it out, after buying tickets on the Pumpkin tour to the Bac Ha Market (leaving at 07:00 the next am).

The tour turned out to be fun, and I did lessen most of the discomfort of the cold by the next am. It was quite a long drive to Bac Ha (via Lao Cai), but we took several breaks in Lao Cai and at the Chinese border gate.

Posted by Daawgon 11.08.2009 18:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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