Here’s a bit of a bonus post, which is especially convenient because Oscar’s been sick since Saturday and we haven’t been able to get out of the house pretty much the whole time. So while reviewing my pictures from Vietnam, a couple of panoramas popped up and I had the chance to process them, they’re okay but not the best. Both are panoramas from Da Nang where we probably had the best views the whole trip. First from the hotel, room (Brilliant Hotel) then from the Chessboard Point on Monkey Mountain (Son Tra). The lighting was not perfect in either one, if it was, I guess we’d be looking at a couple of pretty spectacular photos. Let’s hope that I can replicate all of the factors in my most popular flickr photo (Morning Light) soon, cos I haven’t been able to make anything really striking for a while.
The final leg of our journey through Vietnam, well, it was broken into two legs as we hit Saigon first, then Phu Quoc, then went back to Saigon, but for the purposes of this recap here we are. To be honest, I didn’t take many pictures in Saigon, but that doesn’t mean that we were super lazy, just a little bit. We did venture out to eat some good things, as well as do some shopping (or at least I stood around while emmy perused the shops). I did manage to drive emmy’s uncle’s BMW through a few blocks of District 2, which was quite funny. But mostly, for me, I got to eat a bunch of nice dishes, we ventured out to District 1 most of the time, and wandered up some pretty old buildings, where all the cool, trendy fashion stores (and coffee shops) seem to be nowadays.
I got to enjoy a bunch of new dishes like Bun Cha Ca (fish cake noodle soup) which was awesome! As well as all the regular favourites, so good, no complaints from me that’s for sure, as you can see from the number of food pictures compared to the number of tourist shots. Saigon is definitely a foodie paradise, just so much variety, and very good quality, and the prices, so, so cheap. Popeyes Chicken is basically everywhere and like what KFC should be, spicy deep fried chicken (the chickens must be quite big, cos the pieces weren’t small like KFC). A lot of trendy coffee shops selling all sorts of cakes and desserts, as well as restaurants with foreign themes like the American BBQ place we went to. I love Vietnamese food so the fact that around every corner there is something good and cheap to eat is definitely my idea of paradise.
You probably couldn’t tell but my last picture is from Boxing Day, which is five days before we were supposed to leave for Singapore. Turned out that I had contracted Dengue Fever (probably in Phu Quoc) and was incapacitated for a week or so. So I can comment on the medical system of a foreign country for the first time! I stayed at an international clinic (spent a total of three nights over the course of five days in the clinic) on a drip, taking painkillers to keep my temperature at a manageable level. That wasn’t fun, but at least I had a private room and my insurance (eventually) covered the costs, and once I started feeling better and got some appetite, I got a skin rash which was really irritating! At least I got to eat pho ga the last couple days as that was pretty much all I wanted (could) to eat :D.
We were staying with family so nothing to report on accommodation, but in terms of transport, I can safely say that the way to go (if you can speak Vietnamese) is uber, it’s much cheaper than taxis and seems to be pretty available and on time in most places. Probably the only time it might be an issue is late at night and if you’re not in the central city area. The cars we rode in were all quite new and in good condition (and clean), at least as good as taxis, usually better.
So we ended up staying a few nights extra in Vietnam, didn’t go to SIngapore, and went straight back to Australia where I had a few more days to recover before heading back to work, and settling our new house! Very hectic period for us, but it’s mostly settled down now, and I can (hopefully) get back to posting some more stuff on here, and not just foodie posts too, although I hope to be able to keep that up to some degree. We went to Sorrento last week, but I don’t have much to report (I might do a short restaurant review), this week we’ve gone up to Mount Dandenong (Sky High Observatory) for a bit, so I will post some pictures (and laughs) from that later this week.
All right, on to the next part of our journey, after about a week in Saigon (I’ll get to that in the next post), we flew out to Phu Quoc, an island paradise to the southwest of Vietnams mainland, it’s actually closer to Cambodia than Vietnam, but I guess the poor Cambodians lost that one too. It’s a short flight, probably less than an hour, and from the airport we got a taxi to our hotel, four star Famiana Beach Resort, which is next door to five star Salinda Resort (where I wanted to stay). We decided to stay in this area as it was not too far from the city centre of Duong Dong which is the main city on the island, we just didn’t want to be anywhere too remote. The plan was basically to relax, and not do too much, maybe do one day of touring, and two days of chilling by the beach, we had three nights there in total.
The private hotel beach was very nice, and was probably the highlight of the trip, especially since taking little Oscar around makes things a little difficult, he also decided that he was in a tantrum throwing mood most of the time there, so that was fun. The sea waters were quite calm and the beach clean, the sand nice and soft under foot, and if the waves were too powerful (lol), then the hotel had a nice swimming pool to relax in as well. I thought that the hotel was good, breakfast buffet was solid and well rounded, and service quite diligent, emmy didn’t think that the “Resort” title was justified though.
For our day trip, we just jumped on a stock standard south island tour, which visited a pearl farm (boring), a buddhist temple of some description, Sao Beach (whether it was any better than our hotel beach, I’m not sure), a Prisoner of War camp (called Coconut Tree Prison), and a fish sauce factory – where you can buy fish sauce but apparently you can’t fly with it, so I’m not sure what the point of buying it is – before heading home a bit after lunch time. That was it for visiting stuff, I didn’t even get a tropical sunset picture, I left the room too late the one chance I had to get a tropical sunrise picture and had to settle for some boats on the horizon shots.
We were so ridiculously lazy that we ate at the hotel one lunch time, and probably across the road at the local restaurants every other time except twice where we ventured to the city centre and had crab at the crab restaurant, and another time we had dinner at a seafood restaurant (with rats running around nearby!). The food was actually quite nice generally, expensive (relatively speaking), but there’s a good variety of Vietnamese island food and regular Vietnamese food.
The Crab Restaurant was pretty hipster-y but good quality nonetheless, and one of the restaurants across the road from the hotel we ordered Canh Chua Ca (sour fish soup) and it was very nice, just like home made (which is a good thing). I didn’t really rate Phu Quoc the island that highly for things to do (although having a toddler can alter your perception), but I certainly wouldn’t complain about the food. There are probably a lot of fun things to do there if you’re not looking after a 20-month old little monster, and/or you’re not super lazy, good place to chill at least. Next up, back to Saigon to finish off our trip, our stay there was interesting to say the least.
We had a short stop in Da Nang, just one night before heading down to Saigon, it’s really close to Hoi An, only thirty minutes drive, basically along the coast. If we had more time it would definitely have been worth paying a visit to the beach, looked like quite a nice coast line and some nice beaches as we drove past the myriad resorts. We however, were staying on the riverside so no beach for us, and we were too lazy to go to the beach anyway. We did manage to visit a big open air seafood restaurant, for lots of yummy fresh seafood, and also hired a taxi for a ride up Chessboard Point, which is a hill/mountain that provides a really nice view of the city and sea. There are also some rare endangered monkeys (pretty sure they are just macaques but who knows) that live in the mountain forests but you can only see them in the early morning apparently (we were there mid-morning). On the way back down to Da Nang, we also went past the very fancy Intercontinental Hotel (six stars!) and also visited a big Buddhist temple that has a big statue of the Guanyin, but that place wasn’t particularly great.
We stayed at Brilliant Hotel which was quite central and right next to the river, our room had a very good view of the river and several of the bridges that span the river, which light up at night and provide spectacular nightly light shows. There was a bit of a safety concern with the room as the windows could be opened (with the handles also being within reach of small children) and no real protection against such things happening. The hotel has a rooftop bar which has a pretty spectacular view of the city and is open at night for anyone to go up and snap some pictures (without the need to purchase anything). There is also a swimming pool and small gym, the pool is nice (very stuffy though) and the breakfast buffet had a pretty big selection of local and foreign dishes, pretty good all around.
We had some great food at the seafood restaurant, really fresh and tasty, loud and busy place, great atmosphere. I think if we could spend a bit more time in Da Nang we wouldn’t be disappointed. Good food, beaches, and some other touristy things nearby, I think that there were more places nearby that had nice views of the surrounds. There are a lot of pretty spectacular bridges that span the river that flows through Da Nang, and more night views of them would definitely be worth it. That’s it for this time, I won’t do two separate posts for Saigon, so next stop will be Phu Quoc, then I’ll lump all of the Saigon stuff in one post after that.
Moving on to central Vietnam, we flew down to Da Nang before driving to Hoi An to stay for a couple nights. We were pretty lame, didn’t really have a plan of what we were going to do apart from visit the old town. Apparently there is a beach near Hoi An but we wouldn’t know, it was hot, really hot, coming from Hanoi and quite draining of our collective energies :D. We managed to stroll through the old town on one afternoon/evening catching most of the tourist sites around there, the bridge, the Cantonese assembly hall (but not the Fukien one I think, I don’t remember). We saw enough lanterns to last a lifetime, and even bought a couple that are sitting in boxes in the garage catching dust. It’s quite a nice town, picturesque and calm.
On our second day we decided to to go and check out some tailors as Hoi An is quite famous for it, we went to a couple of recommended places, and ended up at Bebe 3. I ended up getting a slim fit suit (which is hanging in the wardrobe as clean as the day I bought it lol), I think I had three fittings and the suit was delivered to our hotel before we checked out the next morning. I squeezed in a shirt and got a tie for free as part of a discount offer provided by the hotel all for 250$ USD.
Emmy got a dress from the same place, a very nice dress that she also hasn’t worn yet (we’re waiting for a special occasion). On top of that emmy wanted to check out another tailor (across the road from Bebe) to spread the wealth and make sure that we weren’t pigeon-holing ourselves into one store (Bebe was definitely better though) and picked up a blazer for about 100$ USD. All of these shops are quite pushy and trying to sell you stuff, but I personally preferred Bebe as they were asking in a nice way, and the customer service was friendlier. The girls (they’re all girls that work at these places) at the other place just don’t seem to have any training in hospitality or something, not cheaper and service not as good.
Really though, the most important part of any trip is the food, amirite? Hoi An is also quite famous for its cuisine, which we very happily indulged in. A couple of famous dishes, Mi Quang and Cao Lau, both noodle dishes, one from the country and one from the city (I forget which), and both were delicious, even though the places we visited were quite random and we wouldn’t know how to get back to the same ones if we went back. The two places we went to, I don’t think you’d find them in a guide book or anything, we pretty much just walked along some street a bit down from where the tailors shops are and found the first place that was open for Cao Lau. The Mi Quang place we asked the hotel for a recommendation and they sent us on a taxi ride to the outskirts of town it seemed, some restaurant along the highway or something.
Other than that, we also went to the recommended place for Hoianese chicken rice which is quite similar to Hainanese chicken rice :D, it was quite good too. A couple of random-ish places we tried, the vegetarian restaurant that was the only restaurant open apparently the day we arrived, somewhere further from town, certainly nothing special unless you wanted the really local feel, and the Banh Mi “restaurant” where we got some local Hoi An bread rolls, they were okay but I much prefer the Saigon style ones that you get at Nhu Lan in Footscray :D.
Finally, the accommodation, we stayed at Little Boutique Hotel which is quite central, right on the canal, and about a ten minute walk from the old town. This was a very nice hotel, first class service, a nice little swimming pool, and a very nice room, luxurious even. Apparently there was a free beach shuttle, but we never bothered going to the beach, too much shopping to do :D.
They gave us a lot of great helpful advice and the buffet breakfast was very well stocked with a great variety of Vietnamese and western regulars. They arranged for a shuttle service to take us to our hotel in Da Nang which was convenient, I mean we had to pay for it, but still, door to door, can’t argue with that. Very highly recommended, we’ll stay there next time we need some fancy clothes ;). And with that we’ll be moving on to Da Nang, I was going to include both central cities in this post, but Hoi An really took over.
Man, it’s been desolate here, and is this long overdue, like three months, I am so lazy, but here I am now, ready to kick start a new year of dtraCorp madness. We started our trip to Vietnam by heading to the north, emmy’s home town and birth place, Hanoi (the capital). We never planned to do much there (I think we had three days there including a night in Vinh to take care of some family business), other than eat some good food. So this post is going to pretty much be food, and some reviews of our accommodation and transport.
We stayed at a hotel called Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, which wasn’t great, and I certainly wouldn’t have picked it if it was my choice, but it wasn’t the worst place I’ve stayed in, that’s for sure. Dark and not particularly clean (not dirty, just not sparkling or anything) with pretty basic amenities, the positive is that it is quite centrally located (near Hoan Kiem Lake). We travelled by train (the north-south train from Hanoi to Saigon) down to Vinh, the train is on time when leaving Hanoi and we also got quite a clean one heading south for the six hour train journey. It went quite smoothly and arrived at a reasonable time I think.
In Vinh, we stayed at the Saigon Kiem Lien Hotel which is actually a four star hotel, so was a reasonable quality, but I don’t think that it’s had any work done since it was opened as it was starting to show it’s age a bit. Still, better than the Lucky Hotel in Hanoi, and very reasonably priced too (not that I paid for anything), we didn’t do anything in Vinh other than drive out to the ancestral cemetery and do some of that stuff, before getting the train (this train was old and creaky and ran late) back to Hanoi the next day.
I don’t have a picture of the wonton noodles that emmy’s cousin took out to eat, but not a big deal, they were yummy, we were out and about a lot, so other than home cooking at emmy’s aunties’ place, we ate a lot of sticky rice (quite good) wrapped in paper while travelling around. And so that’s it for the first of this series, I’ll be back tomorrow (or more probably the day after) with the next in this series, Hoi An and Da Nang.
Because I hate WordPress so much, I won’t even bother typing all the stuff we did cos I know that I’ll find a way to accidentally press back in the browser and everything will be gone again:
I wish the pictures didn’t load so badly (I mean it doesn’t even rotate iphone pictures properly >:(), but WordPress is really not working for me lately, any way, this is a bit of a preview, I will start uploading pictures from Vietnam to flickr next week while they are still reasonably fresh and in context, and catch up on the Japan photos after that.