Vietnam 2008

Saigon, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We checkout and catch the 9am bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh. It’s a pretty good bus, but strangely we are two of only four non-Asian Passengers on the full bus. But that’s good, we love watching the local people go about their days and exchanging laughs with them. We get under way and get to the border fairly quickly. There is a bit of confusion at the border crossing but we get to the right desk (as we have e-visas), but we have to leave our passports there whilst we have lunch. Not the best situation, but we get them back afterwords without any problem. It’s a shame Asian travel staff don’t give more information during stages like this, as we and a Japanese guy who also had an e-visa weren’t entirely sure what was going on.

After a nice lunch we get back on the bus and head into Cambodia. The landscape changes also immediately with the character of Cambodia coming through. We pass through many traditional villages and Cambodia’s position as a developing company is obvious. We unexpectedly stop at a ferry terminal. A quick check of the map shows that we are at the Mekong River. It’s a massive span and there is no bridge. A few people come up to the bus to sell their items, including fried bugs.

So the bus practically slides down the mud bank to the ferry. Once across the river the bus makes it up the muddy bank and we get back on the road.

As we get close to Phnom Penh we notice the roads are flooded with the water just sitting on the roads. We’ve seen a lot of heavy rain recently and we hope it gets better when we get to Angkor Wat in a few days.

Once inside the city the rains fall even more heavily. We get to the stopping point and shelter from the rain in the bus companies cafe. Abs checks a room in the bus companies guesthouse but it’s not very good. We decide to get a tuk-tuk to a recommended guesthouse. The pushy tuk-tuk driver actually turns out to be a nice guy and we take a look at the guesthouse we recommends. We try to avoid guesthouses listed in guidebooks as we try to spread our money around.

The guesthouse is good, and the staff are really friendly. There are a lot of people staying at the Okay Guesthouse and we chat to a few. It’s nice to be out of the rain. Cambodian people are proving to be helpful and honest so far, which we didn’t expect.

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Cu Chi tunnels and the Reunification Palace, Saigon, Vietnam

Up early for a bus to the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Saigon. The tunnels are where the Viet Cong hid during the American-Vietnam war. On route the bus stops at a workshop where handicapped people of the area make handicrafts for tourists.

Onto the tunnels where we notice we have been charged 80,000Dong for entry, and yet it seems that the price is 65,000Dong. I question it, but the guide is useless, and no-one else seems to care. Oh well…..

Inside the center we watch a video in which the narrator takes immense glory in glamorizing how many Americans where slaughtered during the war. We notice there are a few Americans in the audience. We get shown around several features which are interesting. Mainly these are tiny access holes for the tunnels systems and the tunnels themselves.

We also stop at a tank. Some people pay for ridiculously overpriced bullets (4 bullets for $12) and fire them on the driving range. It is incredibly loud and we watch, but I hate guns and keep my money in my pocket. The tour is a bit like following sheep, something we don’t like and we are a bit tired of it, but we do get the chance to descend into the tunnels and walk along a section. I’m a bit unsure at first as I’m likely to get stuck, but once in I shuffle along and it turns out to be a good experience.

The tour ends and we are herded back onto the bus and back to Saigon.

We grab some lunch and I’m not feeling so good, but some sugary drinks sorts me out and we head to the Reunification Palace. We’re a bit disappointed when we get there as the building looks like a modern government headquarters, and not the historic building left as it was in 1975 when the tanks from Hanoi arrived. We decide to take a look inside anyway and pay our $1 entry fee. The building is used as offices for several organizations, but we soon find that upstairs are rooms used during the war that are left as they were. We walk around and find lots of other interesting rooms.

But the best part comes when we descend into the basement. The dark and stuffy rooms are full of radio equipment, maps, typewriters, offices and even a jeep and car. The basement has been the highlight of this visit, despite the whole thing looking a bit uninteresting at first.

After the palace we head towards the market to try and get some souvenirs and other bits. We can’t find much that we haven’t already seen and just get a few essentials.

We stop at a big electronics store to try and buy a new camera for me. They don’t have the model I am after (Canon Powershot G9). We try a few more stores, but the camera doesn’t come with a warranty, which is the problem I’m had at other places in Vietnam.

We head back to the hotel stopping for dinner along the way.

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Mui Ne to Saigon, Vietnam

We say goodbye to our very nice room and have a late and long breakfast waiting for our 13:30 bus to Saigon.

On the bus we settle into the back seat and get some sleep. The heavens open on the trip and we see the heaviest rain for some time. This delays us a bit and we arrive in Saigon an hour late, but the bus drops us right in to Pham Ngu Lao, the traveler region, which is very handy indeed. I chat to an Australian lady briefly before getting off the bus, who lives here teaching English, and she gives some good tips for the region.

Off the bus we grab out things, and notice the manager from our guesthouse in Mui Ne has traveled on the bus with us, strange. We take a walk, go a few blocks and find a nice hotel that will do nicely. We settle into our room with a bit of TV. We feel like take away, and I find a Pizza place and grab a handful of drinks to take back to the room.

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The Fairy Spring and waterfall, Mui Ne, Vietnam

We jump on the motorbike and head down to the beach we saw yesterday. The tide is really high and there is barely any beach left. Mui Ne is a nice little town, but it’s been disappointing that we can’t find any nice places to swim. The winds are strong and this seems to make the beaches smaller.

Disappointed we head east again and try to find the Fairy Spring. After a couple of wrong turns I ask a travel agent and he points just around the corner. Right by the lane to the spring is a ‘bike keeper’, run by a few enterprising lads. We leave the bike there, and 2 of the lads take us down to the stream.

We walk up the stream for about 1 kilometre. The young lads show us lots of things along the way including springs and quick sand. We have to climb around a few rock faces before we come to the waterfall, which really isn’t very impressive. We head back stopping to get wet at a smaller waterfall which is a bit more accessible. It’s hot and the waterfall is exactly what we need. We walk back down the stream taking photos. As we near the end of the stream the lads ask for money, saying that the bigger boys will take it off them if we pay them back at the bike. I give them 50,000Dong to share between them. Naturally they ask for more, 100,000Dong each. I laugh and say no. They persist, so I take the money back off them and walk away. They then say OK, 50,000Dong is fine, so I give it back. We pay for the bike and leave.

I ask the lads about somewhere good to swim and they point us in the direction of the beach we tried earlier. We head back that way, but the tide is still too high. We see another bigger stretch of sand in the distance. We ride as close as we can, getting lost in a few bigger resorts. We see one guy who suggests we follow him down a lane. We follow, and the lane turns really rocky. Eventually we make it down to the beach side, but the waves are strong and we only stop for a few minutes before heading off.

We go back to the hotel and relax for the afternoon. I buy our bus tickets for tomorrow to take us to Saigon.

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Moving hotel and motorbike rides in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Our room last night was a bit below par, so first thing we take a walk and look at a place we looked at last night. We come back, grab our bags and get some breakfast. We feel much happier in our new room.

We relax for a while and set off for a swim. But, the wind is so strong that there is no sandy beach left, and it is certainly too dangerous to swim. A bit deflated we decide to rent a motorbike, something that is always fun.

Our bike is a bit battered, but we head off full of enthusiasm. We ride right down to the local fishing village, as far as we can go. The views are good, although a little windy. We turn around and ride back towards Phat Thien. The town is pretty small and we seem to ride right through it. We go back and watch a photo shoot on the beach for what looks like a music video.

We jump on the bike and stop for some souvenir shopping. Then back to the hotel for food and sleep.

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Nha Trang to Muie Ne, Vietnam

Up early to catch the bus to Muie Ne today. After paying we head over to the Sinh Cafe office. We jump on the bus which is very good. The landscapes are very different to those we have seen so far. The further south we head in Vietnam the more sandy it becomes.

The roads are fairly good in this region and we make good progress. We turn off the main road and head closer to Mui Ne. The landscape becomes very sandy with interesting rivers and settlements. The bus pulls up in Mui Ne, by the Sin Cafe office. We get our things and I ask about rooms at the resort we have stopped our, but it is outside of our price range. Handily, touts are hovering and we agree to take a look at a resort 100m away. The rooms are basic but cheap, and the beach is so close it’s practically in the restaurant, so we take the room.

The sun disappears and the winds get stronger. We grab some lunch and look at another place to stay for tomorrow, which looks quite a lot nicer. Back at the resort we get out feet wet in the sea, as the waves are too rough for swimming. We relax for the rest of the day.

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Quiet day in Nha Trang, Vietnam

After a late start cloudy and rainy weather rolls in. We take a stroll around town and later go to the beach. There are lots of locals playing football and swimming. Mainly guys though, but we see a few Vietnamese women swimming.

When we go back to the hotel the guide who met us from the train station asks us about tours, suggesting that we have not done anything since we have been here. We say we are leaving tomorrow, we asks about bus tickets and we say we bought them earlier. We gets quite aggressive and says that they sell them there. This upsets me a bit and I walk off. I really don’t like being pressured or suggested as to what to do.

After a nice dinner our we get back to the hotel room. The AC isn’t working,and we think that maybe they have turned it off. I go down to pay. The clerk tries to overcharge me, although this does seem like a genuine mistake. I take the calculator and total everything up. He agrees this is the real price, but then doesn’t have the right change when I try to pay, so I leave it until the morning. The AC is turned back on, but I think this is also genuine, as all the power board switches were turned off earlier as there was a power cut.

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Hue to Nha Trang by train, Vietnam

We check out and get a lift to the train station. We are catching the 22:44 train to Nha Trang today. It is an 11 hour journey, so we have opted for the train, something we have been keen to do in Vietnam. We booked the tickets a few days ago, and seats were already all taken, so we took the soft sleeper option.

After showing staff our ticket we sit and wait in the waiting room. There are a lot of people in the room, and its hot. We get quite a few stares from the local people. We have to wait in the room until the train is approaching, when a staff member opens the door and we are allowed onto the platform. The train arrives fashionably late, and we jump on. Our cabin is empty and an attendant gives us clean sheets. We settle in and are quite excited to be on the train today.

The train ride up to Danang is amazing. The views down to the deserted bays are amazing. We hope the beaches at Nha Trang are as nice. We haven’t been in the sea for nearly 6 weeks, and we miss it, especially in this very hot weather.

At Danang we get a new cabin mate. We get chatting and he is a nice lad, from Danang, who now studies IT in Saigon, where he is heading now after the holidays at home. I talk to him for a while about IT and the technologies he is studying. He is keen to hear about western wages. But I also tell him how much a house costs.

We get some ordinary food from the strange restaurant car. Later in the trip a girl takes the last of our cabin spaces. After her family tuck her in, she keeps herself to herself.

At Nha Trang we get off and are met by a friendly hotel tout. His sales pitch is good, and a taxi ride later we are at one of the nicest hotels we have stayed at.

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Boat ride around Hue, Vietnam

Today we are taking a boat ride up the Perfume River. We get up early and motorbikes wizz us to the boat jetty. We get on-board the big boat and soon enough we are cruising up the river.

Our first stop is at the big Pagoda. It’s an impressive building with stunning views over the river.

Back on the boat we cruise a little further and then take motorbike to a temple that was the residence of a former King.

Back on the boat we stop at another temple, but we don’t go in. The temples are expensive to visit, about $6 per temple. We sit on the steps and enjoy the views.

On the boat we eat lunch whilst cruising to the next temple site. We take a walk to the site, but just sit outside. We chat to a French girl who has come out. She says it was similar to the first temple site, and not such a great visit. We throw away the water we bought at the last stop, as we think it has been re-filled and potentially bad water, something that is not worth risking.

Back on the boat for the last stop. We take a motorbike across some rough terrain to a temple site high on the hill. I get a ride on a motorbike that looks like a relic from the war. It’s a fun ride though. This temple site is stunning. The stone figures are so life like. Inside the temple at the top of the stairs we are stunned. The decorations and fittings are amazing, as are the views. I notice a huge butterfly that has come to rest inside a massive glass lamp.

Back on the bike down to the boat, and a slow chug back to the boat jetty. It’s been a long day. I tend to not like arranged tours, as they heard us around like sheep. But, today has been good, and only at the end was I tiring a bit.

On the way back to the hotel we get some food, and a new bag for Abs as hers was falling apart.

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