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Vietnam

Hectic Ho Chi Minh City!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

Our most recent stop has been Ho Chi Minh City, which I absolutely loved!! Along with fantastic bakeries and coffee shops, an exciting buzz and friendly people, the city has so much history on offer to explore - what's not to love?! I also found somewhere selling Pinot Grigio very reasonably (£1 a glass!!)
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We spent our first full day, after arriving the previous evening, walking around and exploring the city. We visited The Reunification Palace (photo below), which I found really interesting (but it bored Ben...). It's still in use today as an important meeting place for political purposes, but the higher floors and basement have basically been preserved since it was inhabited by Ho Chi Minh. Complete with seventies furnishings and war-esque electronics such as transistor radios it's very much like stepping back in time. It also has a heli-pad and mini-bar on the roof which was pretty cool!
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We also visited The War Remnants Museum, which has hands down been the most interesting and thought provoking place we've visited in Vietnam. It gives in-depth accounts of the horrors of the Vietnamese War. The museum also has a whole room dedicated to the atrocious after-effects of the agent orange toxic chemical the US used initially as a means of deforestation, with the intention of killing the VietCong's crops and with it their food for survival, but which had effects I think even they underestimated. Namely, the infection of several decades worth of gene pool, causing unspeakable deformities to not only those who came in to direct contact with the toxin but to their children and grandchildren too, whose DNA was tainted even before their birth.

Monday we took a guided tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels - an underground 250km labyrinth of tunnels, hand-dug by the VietCong in the Cu Chi region of Vietnam during the war as a means of survival. These innovative tunnels acted as home to many Vietnamese in the region during the war, where they'd have a kitchen space, a bedroom space, and lower down (10 metres) a space to hide during times of attack. The kitchen space would only be used at 5am so that if US military planes were flying overhead, they would mistake the steam rising from the tiny chimneys as morning mist. It's clever construction elements such as these which helped save so many lives during the war. Despite this though, many people died in these tunnels from starvation or disease.
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Ben in one of the tunnel's entrances - such a tiny space!!

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Slightly bigger tunnels, just 3 metres down. These have been widened for us tourists to go in, but even so they felt very cramped and claustrophobic. Cannot imagine what it must have been like to spend weeks, let alone months, down in them.

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Also at the tunnels Ben got the chance to fire a genuine machine gun, opting for an AK47!! He was like a little kid at Christmas!

On our last full day in Ho Chi Minh City (and Vietnam too!) we took a trip to The Mekong River. Despite thinking it would be picturesque and a lovely traditional Vietnamese experience, the whole day felt like a tourist trap and was a bit disappointing! Despite this, we still saw some cool things.

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Watching bees make honey for honey tea, it was really sweet and delicious! Yes this is me holding a tray covered in bees!!

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Women making coconut candy (which sounds tastier than it actually is!) This would have been interesting had it not felt like a trap just getting us to buy some of the disgusting candy.

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Taking a trip down the river on a tiny wooden boat - loved the hats!!

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Crocodiles!!

All in all I really enjoyed HCMC. The city was even getting in to the Christmas spirit, with decorations and lights up in most shops and restaurants. I may be thousands of miles from home, but it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas....
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Posted by AmyRossiter26 18:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mui Ne & My Birthday!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

After a brief three night stay in the very touristy Nha Trang (which I wasn't overly enamoured with) we moved on to the lovely Mui Ne. The weather in Mui Ne was absolutely fabulous (the same couldn't be said for Nha Trang, where the roads flooded to knee height!) and so luckily this gorgeous place is where I'd chose to celebrate my birthday!

For our first three nights in Mui Ne to cover my birthday period, we were lucky enough to stay at the amazing Cliff Resort & Residences - only possible in our backpacker budget due to my boyfriend's lovely parents whose birthday present it was to me. Ben had sorted it too so that we were upgraded to a larger, sea view room which was fantastic.
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We indulged in infinity pools, comfy sun loungers, delicious buffet breakfasts (real cheese! Pancakes with peanut butter! Pastries with homemade jams! English sausages!) and the comfiest bed and pillows I've experienced in any hotel, ever... Ahhh, the pillows!! They reminded me of marshmallows! If only I could have fit one in my backpack...

Considering I was away from home for it and missing my family and friends lots, Ben made sure my birthday couldn't have been more perfect. I woke up to champers in bed, and cards from home (which had travelled in our bags since we left on our trip!). My lovely boyfriend had also bought me a couple of bars of Toblerone, which I had to resist eating for breakfast. I didn't have to wait long for a chocolate fix though as the hotel bought a gorgeous cake to the room for me (I have a feeling Ben had something to do with arranging it though).
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We spent the day sunbathing in the hotel's beautiful surroundings, occasionally cooling off in the gorgeous pool.
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Late afternoon, we went into town (by taxi - fellow travellers will agree, taking a taxi anywhere is a luxury!!) to Moloko Spa where, thanks to my friends who'd very kindly given me money as an early birthday present, Ben and I both had fantastic massages, and I had a mani-pedi.
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Moloko had just opened so was offering a very generous discount on treatments but even without the discount applied their prices are very reasonable. They were so kind too - when I'd booked the treatments the day before I'd mentioned it was for my birthday, so when I arrived I was given some beautiful flowers and a delicious cake!
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After the spa, we took (another!) taxi to Sandals Restaurant for an amazing birthday meal. I had pork belly and Ben had seabass, and they were both so good! I also had my first glass of rosé in nearly two months, which made me deliriously happy!! Wine is just too expensive in Asia (unless you're brave enough to have rice wine)...
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At the restaurant I was also gifted my third cake of the day, as I was carrying my flowers they had guessed it was my birthday so bought out this amazing chocolate brownie with candles.
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After dinner we headed to a random bar, where I sunk a few cocktails and shots (as the Birthday Girl, it had to be done) before taking our THIRD taxi of the day back to the hotel, where back in our lovely sea view room, I promptly sunk in to my pillow of marshmallows...

Although checking out of the hotel a few days later was a harsh crash back down to backpacker reality, I still enjoyed our remaining days in Mui Ne. We found a within-budget hotel that had pools and was centrally located so we couldn't really complain, and the weather remained absolutely gorgeous.

Today we have left the scorching sun and sandy beaches of Mui Ne behind for the excitement and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City - we only arrived a few hours ago, but already I can tell I'm going to like it here!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 11:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An & Our Homestay Experience!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

Hoi An has been my favourite stay in Vietnam so far! Partly due to the fantastic town and the improved weather, but mainly due to the lovely family we stayed with. We chose Camellia Homestay as it had such good reviews on tripadvisor and were so glad we did, they made us feel so welcome and the house was beautiful. It was nice being a little way out of town too as we were closer to the beach (although it had been pretty wrecked by the typhoon!) and out of the busy town centre.
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Our first day in Hoi An we borrowed bicycles from the family and cycled to the beach - although as per my above comment and the below photograph, it was a bit of a waste of time.
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We then cycled the lovely scenic route along the river in to town for some delicious food at one of the hundreds of restaurants that fill the town. Exploring the town by bicycle is really fun, but the next day we instead decided to up the excitement by renting a moped! Like the other cities and towns in Vietnam everybody uses them, but in Hoi An, although still fairly hectic on the roads, it's a much better place for us tourists to use them!
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We rode the moped 25kms North to the neighbouring city of Danang, getting a suntan along the way. Our aim was to reach the famous Monkey Mountain (aka Son Tra Peninsula) but as Ben had to be back for his suit fitting we only had time for a quick bevvy on the beach!
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Hoi An is famous for its many tailors and is THE place to go in South East Asia for the service, so Ben decided to indulge on a fantastic hand tailored suit. We chose BeBe tailors as they're voted top on tripadvisor and were the only tailors the homestay would recommend! They did a fantastic job on Ben's suit, not settling until it was just right. The service was excellent, and cost a fraction of what it would have cost at home - happy days!
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There's so many restaurants in Hoi An, which is great for food lovers (like us!) but it also makes it difficult to chose! Our favourites were Cafe 43 (really cheap, delicious food - chicken curry is great), Enjoy Hoi An (45 different flavours of icecream says it all!) and Morning Glory (more expensive than the others but so worth it). Hope this helps if you're due to visit!!
Shoppers will also love Hoi An as there's so many little streets lined with shops selling all sorts of stuff, from clothes and jewellery to hand painted coconut shell bowls. Ben bought me some of these bowls as an early birthday present, along with some beautiful hand painted traditional lanterns.
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Along with its reputation for great tailors, Hoi An is also famous for its beautiful lanterns. At night the streets come alive with the different hues, giving the whole town a romantic feel. You can also buy a floating candle to watch meander down the river - once most of the tourists have done this the whole river looks so pretty!

All in all, Hoi An is the place to go if you're looking for amazing yet suprisingly cheap food, and, with its various cultural sites too (The Japanese Covered Bridge being the main site to see, although I have to admit it didn't wow me) has lots more to offer than just beaches and shopping (as good as the shops and markets are!). I would have loved to stay longer!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 02:21 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Huê!

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

Huê has been our second stop in Vietnam and although the weather has been really rubbish (when we arrived the train's tracks were under water due to flooding!) I'm pleased we've stopped here on our route down the coast.
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The view from the train when we arrived in Huê!

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The city itself is a little bit like Hanoi, with ten times less mopeds - although theres still a fair few - and just as many restaurants and cafes. Theres also a river (The Perfume River) running through the city which when the weather is nice I imagine would be really lovely to cruise down on one of the many tourist boats moored on the South Bank.
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The view of The Perfume River from our hotel.

During our brief stay in Huê we've mainly just eaten lots of really tasty, cheap food - curry here is really good! And not spicy either, which Ben has liked as most places so far have all specialised in spicy food! There's lots of Western restaurants too, which serve cheap sandwiches and burgers if you need a fix of foods from home!
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Today we visited the large Citadel, which is fairly interesting and with it's moat and many ponds is a nice way to spend the afternoon relaxing! The Citadel was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war so much of it is just ruins but there's restoration projects going on (which the cost of your ticket goes towards) to try and salvage these once-beautiful buildings. The buildings that have been restored look really impressive.
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All the hotels and travel agents try to sell moped or bus tours of the Citadel and surrounding Pagodas but we thought these were quite expensive so unless you're majorly into historic sites and architecture I'd just recommend doing what we did and taking a taxi there yourself and spending a few hours wandering around. We then walked back to our hotel to save some more money - also hoping that's sufficient exercise to burn off all the food I've indulged in over the past few days!!

Tomorrow we leave Huê for Hoi An, which is apparently meant to be lovely so I'm really looking forward to it; perhaps we may even be lucky and get some nicer weather!!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 05:45 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Halong Bay

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View To Asia and Beyond!! on AmyRossiter26's travel map.

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We spent two nights on a trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay - something I'd really been looking forward to as all I'd heard was good things and I was in no way disappointed! With 1969 islands, the scenery of Halong Bay is absolutely breathtaking! I took so many photographs in the two days we were there!

The Halong Bay trip Ben and I booked to do was cancelled last minute due to typhoon damage to the boat, so we were added to a 'party cruise' instead. Whilst the travel agents were great ensuring we didn't miss out and although I'm glad we were able to go at all, we definitely wouldn't have chosen this tour ourselves - namely because we knew we'd spend the whole two days listening to music like The Venga Boys (we weren't wrong!) The trip's itinerary wasn't quite what we wanted to do either, but still we did have a really good time...

The first afternoon of the trip we visited some caves within one of the peaks, most people enjoyed these but because we'd seen similar during our stay in Yangshuo in China they were slightly underwhelming and if I'm honest a bit boring! Plus it was swarming with tourists! Nevertheless, our next stop at Titop Island where we hiked to the top of its peak to watch the sun setting on Halong Bay made up for this and was the perfect end to the afternoon.
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In the evening we stayed aboard the boat, sleeping in our own cabin - although the cheesy pop music going on 'til the early hours hardly made it a peaceful night it was definitely a cool experience as I'd never stayed on a boat before!

The following day we sailed to this absolutely amazing cove on a tiny secluded island where we stayed in our own private deluxe bungalow right on the sand - this was without a doubt the highlight of the trip for me as we got to chill out sunbathing and swimming - if you know me you know this is more up my street than hiking etc.!!
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Later in the afternoon, we kayaked out of the cove and through the karst peaks until we found our own small patch of beach!
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The view from our bungalow - not a bad sight to wake up to!

On our last day of the trip we cruised back via the floating villages where most people earn a living through fishing - we visited one family who cultivate a breed of sharks, feeding and growing them until they're large enough to sell. With just wooden planks and barriers being the only means of walking through the various enclosures I stayed firmly on the boat!!

I would definitely have liked to spend more time exploring Halong Bay and it's various islands, and if given the chance would like to do the Monkey Island trip we originally planned. I'd especially love to go back to relax amongst the beautiful, picture- perfect scenery. Halong Bay is a must-do if you visit Northern Vietnam - just make sure you choose the correct trip!!
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Posted by AmyRossiter26 05:38 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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