A Travellerspoint blog

Moving on North in search of warmer weather!

Nha trang to Da Nang and then on to Hoi An

sunny 30 °C

To get to Da Nang from Nha Trang, we took the second overnight train ride of our holiday. The train was SE22, as opposed to SNT2 last time and this cost US$255 for 3 Adults and 2 Children. (The cut off for children is 2-9 Years old, or 1.3m but there is no checking of these details, either against passports, or heights that we came across). It seems that we have managed to book trains put on for the seasonal peak as the train numbers are not ones mentioned when you read about the train services offered. This particular train looked like it had been re-commissioned from the war and unbelievably had even thinner mattresses than the previous trip! The décor was shabby sheek with a dark wood panelling and cream (maybe used to be yellow) fabric tones, but at least I guess our cabin was clean, although with less storage than the previous train as there was no cubby above the cabin door. This was going to be a long 10 hours, made worse by the fact the train was 45 minutes late arriving! We got away about 9pm and headed north. The kids predictably crashed after our big day on the boat in Nha Trang and they seemed to sleep ok. I laid on my feather down filled, posturepedic, sensorzone mattress and pretended to sleep until the sun came up, and then I sat up and enjoyed some splendid scenery from the window of the train as we sped through the Vietnamese countryside of farms and rice fields. I think Annie must have got some sleep as she didn’t stir when I was up enjoying the early morning view!

We arrived into Da Nang and made our way to a bakery that I had sussed out on Trip Advisor for a well earned coffee, or two and some pastries for breakfast. The plan had been to catch a public bus to Hoi An, and coincidentally the bus stop was very close to the bakery, which meant a 20 min or so walk carrying our packs. It was already getting hot and this was not Lauren’s favourite part of the trip! We caught the bus with a very friendly Vietnamese bus attendant helping to stack our luggage on the bus. This bus it turned out had no air conditioning but wasn’t too bad when it was moving and cleared town where it progressively filled up to standing room only! This bus was supposed to cost US$1, or 23,000 dong but as we were getting off the man demanded 40,000 each, or 160,000 dong, as we didn’t have to pay for Lauren. I couldn’t be bothered making a scene, but ironically there were no tickets either! From the bus station it was a short cab ride to our accommodation here in Hoi An. NB. If we had wanted to go directly from the train station to Hoi An, it probably would have been easier to grab a taxi the whole way as ‘Grab’ was telling me this would have been about 350,000 dong and wouldn’t have involved a walk, or an bus ride with no aircon!.

Our accommodation for the next 3 nights was Nova Villa Hoi An. This was only rated as a 2 Star hotel (booked through booking.com) and we paid US$50/night. We had a room with a balcony and 2 Queen beds and there was a swimming pool and the deal included breakfast. The location was very handy being on the river which made getting our bearings easy and only a few minutes walk from the Night market, the Japanese covered bridge and the Hoi An old town. The rooms were very nice and the breakfast was great. The kids enjoyed pancakes, pho and eggs as well as fresh banh mi with butter and jam and fresh juices. Interestingly we tried to order a pork broth one morning but were told that meat wasn’t available on the first day (and 15th day) of the Vietnamese calendar month which runs alongside our calendar. Local calendars often have both date on them and the occasion was marked with a number of locals burning piles of fake money as sacrifices to the gods on this day also. The first priority was to find a suitable tailor so that Annie could get some clothes made and we accomplished this on the first afternoon, deciding to use Helen Tailor, recommended on the Vietnam Wonders Facebook page I mentioned earlier. The girls got measured up and chose fabrics with the aim to be to come back tomorrow afternoon for a first fitting. The whole process of getting clothes made took 3 days but I think this is prioritised to the amount of time available.

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The next day we had booked to do the Heaven & Earth Morning Countryside Bike Tour from 8:30am-3pm. We all had bikes, including Lauren and the tour involved a short boat trip with our bikes to an island where we could ride around the countryside with minimal scooter traffic. We saw local villages that specialised in making wooden boats, another that made sleeping mats (looked less comfortable that our train mattress!) and got to have a go in a basket boat on a quiet stretch of river. We saw rice wine being made and got to sample a couple of different strengths. Finally, we enjoyed a nice lunch and a well-earned beer after biking approx. 9km during the trip. This was a great day out and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Didn’t get rained on either which was nice!

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I really enjoyed our time in Hoi An, made that much better by having a hotel in a great location and having a pool made a big difference. It was really nice being able to have a refreshing swim before bed and to sit by the pool for some R & R with a book. A nice finishing touch was having the driver for our private car to Hue pull up to the front door and help carry our bags out to the vehicle!

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Posted by H20Adventures 19:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hoi_an helen_tailor heaven_and_earth_bike_tours Comments (0)

Exploring Nha Trang

Relaxation & Funky Monkey Boat Trip

sunny 32 °C

In Nha Trang we had booked an apartment Muong Thanh Apartment which is part of a big complex that was housed in what seemed the tallest building in Nha Trang at some 45 floors high. The lower floors belong to a luxury hotel complex and the upper majority of the building is apartments. This was booked through Expedia and we paid NZ$303 for 2 Nights for 2BR (1 separate and 1 bed in the living room separated off) apartment on the 38th floor that had amazing 270 degree views, a balcony with 180 degree views away from the beach and beach views from the window. There was a washing machine which was handy for catching up on our washing and basic kitchen facilities, if one so desired. It seems that groups of apartments are managed by a number of different entities and maybe owned by individuals who use them at certain times of the year. The lady who we rang to meet us in the foyer was very helpful and spoke english well enough to sort any issues we had. She arranged storage of our luggage for us on the day we arrived, until our room was ready about 2pm.

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We went out and had breakfast after off loading our gear and getting a lift fob and then came back and got changed to go to the pool as it was starting to get warm! The pool, we discovered was on the 5th floor and was not part of the apartment complex. We decided it was worth the extra expense at 75,000 dong (NZ$4.90) each although we managed to negotiate only paying for the 2 adults and 1 child and ended up spending a few hours here enjoying the WIFI, the loungers and sun umbrella and swimming in the nice pool, as well as a pizza by the pool with a beer for lunch.

The night before, while waiting for the overnight train, we had bumped into a family from Tauranga who had been on the same plane as us over. They had put us onto a facebook group called "Vietnam Wonders" and we joined this group as a source of useful tips. Interestingly, the first thing we learnt is that you can apparently get visas for vietnam electronically now and have been able to for a little while! Uncle Google let me down on that front, evidently the E-visa is quite a bit cheaper and seems to be the way to go! We did however, have very nice (expensive) stickers in our passports instead of a boring email! We had also swapped facebook details with this family and agreed to catch up for a beer later on on the day.

We met up with Cam, Tracey, Lucie & Millie Burns that night and had a beer before heading to Lac Canh Restaurant for a BBQ experience. I have found Trip Advisor a great source of info and recommendations for restaurants and this was no exception. This one was rated 4/5 from 680 odd reviews and was a cheap eats favourite. We waited briefly for a table to seat 9 and sat around low stools in amongst a busy restaurant eminating delicious smells, smoke and full of atmosphere. BBQ in Vietnam means you get a metal box full of coals that you cook your own food on. We decided to go full noise and ordered squid, 2x beef, chicken, pork, goat, eel and 2 dishes of vegetables and rice. The food was delicious although it was hot in the restaurant and we had to drink a few of the local beers to keep us hydrated. The total cost for 9 of us was 700,000 dong (NZ$46).

The next day we had a look around after breakfast at Rainforest, a quirky cafe with multiple levels, a slide in the middle of the building and various booths you can sit in and eat your meal. We had a lazy day and hid from the heat of the day in the room, enjoying the view and catching up on washing, kid's diaries etc. For dinner we fancied a change and so went for a walk to find Yashoda Indian Restaurant, again recommended on Trip Advisor (4.5/5). The place was fully air conditioned which seems rare and the food was very authentic and we thoroughly enjoyed our Indian. Was a little more expensive, costing approx NZ$50 but seems to be the price one pays for non-vietnamese food.

For our last day in Nha Trang, we organised with the Burn's family to do a Funky Monkey Boat trip out to 3 of the islands off the coast of Nha Trang. This was a great day out which involves a boat trip to 3 islands off Nha Trang. The first one has an aquarium where you can pay extra but seeing as had only allowed 20 mins for this activity, we didn't bother but got a cold drink at the restaurant there instead. Next you head to an island where you can snorkle, swim and jump off the top of the boat into crystal clear water. There wasn't much fish life but it was great to have a swim and cool off. Next time would remember to go dressed in togs as the whole boat wanted to chnage in the bathroom at the same time! The next stop was a floating fishing village where you could purchase fish to be cooked for you, if you liked,before being served lunch. The food was good and there was enough to fill us up, given everyone was getting hungry by now. The entertainment was after lunch and this was a performance by the Funky Monkey Boy band and whilst rather crude, it was also entertaining with each nationality having to do an item of karaoke with the band. The Koreans were especially funny with their rendition of "Gangnam style". After lunch more swimming and the crew brought out the floating bar, serving vodka and orange cocktails in the water next to the boat. The last island was a resort type island where there were a number of water activities, such as para-gliding available, for addiitonal cost. Surprisingly we had to pay to go onto the island but had no choice as the boat dropped us there and headed off for 90 minutes, before picking us up! The kids swam again and we sat on the beach before heading back to port. Have the train trip tonight to Da Nang so should sleep well after all the swimming and fresh air!

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Posted by H20Adventures 02:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged nha_trang funky_monkey Comments (0)

Overnight train travel in Vietnam

Train from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang (SNT2)

sunny 27 °C

Vietnam_Railway_Map.png Part of the Vietnam travel experience it seems from my research was a ride in an overnight train. I wanted the kids, and ourselves, to experience this kind of travel for 2 reasons, one being that it is a unique way to travel, and second because it saves on a night's accomodation (means that travel takes up night time rather than precious time spent at a location). Flying is comparable price wise, from what I can understand, but isn't quite as efficient with check in times and transit to an from airports adding to reducing the time saving. The train tickets for 3 adults (kids over 1.4m are classed as aduts) and 2 kids cost US$216.22 and this gets you 5 berths in a "soft sleeper". There are 4 berths in a cabin (2 bunks on each side with a small table between the beds against the window), so we grabbed the blanket and pillow from our extra berth next door, and the 2 youngest kids top and tailed in one of the bunks. These berths are called 'soft sleepers' but I would hate to see what the hard sleepers were like (these do exist believe me and there are 6 of them in a cabin!). The mattresses are fairly hard, which means about 3 inches thick and come with a cover, or bottom sheet, a pillow and a blanket. The aircon has one speed that varies somewhat from not at all to full noise. The top bunks seem to get more effect from the vent with one child resorting to her sweatshirt at one point, while I complained about being too hot early on in the night. There is a bottle of water supplied each and apparently there is a food cart on the train although we didn't need to explore this option with the timing of this trip. Bathroom wise, there are toilets at each end of the train carriage. Ours had a western toilet at one end and a 'squatter' traditional toilet at the other, with a basin outside of the bathroom. These are not that pleasant and certainly sitting/squatting on either should be a last resort. Ok for males, we took some nappy wipes with us which can be used if required to improve the hygiene of the situation but these are pretty smelly, especially by the end of the trip! The idea of putting used toilet paper in a bin, rather than flushing is something I still find strange!

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Dinner before our train journey.
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I had purchased a few reasonably priced cold beers from a vendor on the train platform and these tasted pretty good once we settled into our cabin for the expected 9 hour trip. An idea would be to take a few snacks with you, if required! Sleeping on a train is an interesting experience with the movement being constant but unpredictable, especially with the lights out. It was more stable sleeping on my back, but it was amazing how the train 'bounced' along, and for what I thought was a non-stop journey, the number of times we stopped and started! Perhaps it was the years of doing night shift on ambulance, but I didn't really sleep during the trip, although I felt like I came close a few times. The kids, who were tired from the big day and the heat, crashed and had pretty good sleeps considering. Annie reported some sleep, albeit not the most comfortable she had ever been! The sun woke up on yet another beautiful day, weather wise, about 5am and I was able to sit up and enjoy the scenery through the dirty train window as we slowly made our way the last of the journey into Nha Trang. About half an hour out, some horrendous music played over the loudspeaker which is in every cabin to say we would be arriving soon, with messages in Vietnamese and English as to our impending arrival. We arrived at approx 6am and grabbed a waiting taxi to our accomodation in Nha Trang (only a short ride).

Lessons from the trip: We had purchased MacPac sleeping bag liners that were cotton and come with a pillow case in them which proved to be very handy during the train trip. We had also brought pillow cases that we used on the pillows supplied as I had read stories about these bed being in various states. In our case, the bedding was fine cleanliness wise but the liners came in handy for comfort, and also for warmth. It is handy to have a change of clothes near the top of your bag and pack so you can access toilet bags etc without having to unpack your entire bag. There is not a lot of room in the cabin and sharing with other people if you were on your own, or a couple only could prove problematic if you had gear everywhere.[float=left]

Posted by H20Adventures 01:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam_trains snt2 overnight_train Comments (0)

Last Day in Ho Chi Minh

Cu Chi Tunnels & War Remnants Museum

We had booked through Expedia to do a half day trip to Cu Chi to visit the Tunnels there. This tour cost NZ$119.91 for 2 Adults and 3 kids and was great value given half a day meant we left at 8:30 and didn't get back until 3pm! The drive to Cu Chi takes longer than I thought but is a nice scenic ride through the countryside. The experience was very touristy but would have to be a "must do" for a visit to Vietnam. The site is well laid out with maps and diagrams of the tunnel network and then opportunities to see the entries to the tunnels, various bunkers for making ammunitions, uniforms and shoes and to see how the entrances were hidden etc. The tour makes its way through rejuvenated jungle to a cafe and gun range where one can fire an M16, AK47, or a bigger machine gun. Prices started at 40,000 dong per bullet and there was a minimum of 10 bullets (can be split apparently across 2 people). There were an assortment of targets that people could shoot at, should they choose to! Whilst loud, when sitting at the cafe, I thought this added to the atmosphere as the shooting can be heard in the distance during the tour of the tunnels etc. Not quite B52's dropping napalm but added to the experience!

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At the end of the tour there was the opportunity to go into a tunnel. This was constructed in 20m sections and is pretty tight with no lighting. There is the opportunity to exit at each 20m interval and the last 20m of the 100m is so small that one has to crawl on their hands and knees! Annie and I did the obligatory 20m but the kids were happy to do the full length as seen in the photo.

Our trip back to town saw the heavens open and a serious shower of rain had the roads flooding in places...stuff being on a scooter today! Upon returning to the city, we got dropped off at the War Remnant's museum. This was an interesting couple of hours spent perusing the 3 levels of the building and the various photographic displays and descriptions that outlined the leadup to the "American War" and the use of Agent Orange as well as some history of the leadup to the war, including the French War and events such as the massacre at Phu Quoc. Whilst a bit of an anti-american undertone was apparent, I would feel that most of the sentiment was justified! The Vietnam war was horrific on all counts and some of the journalism exploits were amazing as to what they captured on film. We took our kids to this and a lot of the graphic nature of the images was above our 6 year old's head, however the older kids had some questions which it was good to be able to answer/discuss as we went around. Again, a necessary part of a visit to Vietnam, in my opinion.

Posted by H20Adventures 04:44 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tunnels cu_chi war_remants_museum Comments (0)

Mekong Delta Day Trip

My Tho - Mekong Delta Tour 1 Day

sunny 37 °C
View Vietnam Adventure on H20Adventures's travel map.

Tour booked through Expedia with Threeland Travel (Gray Line Vietnam). Cost NZ $191.27 (2 Adults & 3 Kids).
We were due to get picked up ex our accomodation at 8:15am and nervously started phoning about 8:45am! Managed to get hold of someone just before 9 after the 24 hour Reservation Confirmation Hotline was found wanting! It turns out that a fellow group member was late, traffic was bad and yes they were still coming!

Along with a virtual convoy of tour buses and vans we headed out of HCM headed for My Tho. We were given a complimentary bottle of water which ironically was warm (note to feedback form for tour company), and settled in for the drive. Our tour guide whose name was How (apparently means mistake) entertained us with teaching us about the districts we would be passing through and a basic vietnamese lesson. We stopped at a Pagoda (think Temple) which our guide explained shows how the Vietnamese believe in god and the afterlife but for political reasons will openly state that they have no religion. Apparently this is to do with the government and communism and issues with expression of religious beliefs? It was hot looking around the temple and seeing the monks eating lunch made me hungry!

Apparently due to our late departure, it was decided to deviate from our planned route. We got dropped off at a little village immediately after crossing the Mekong Delta by bridge. We then climbed aboard an assortment of bikes and had a short bike ride to a homestay restaurant which was where we were to have lunch.

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After a nice lunch of vietnamese food, we climbed aboard a traditional boat and set off up the Mekong Delta, past houses which apparently are individual fish farms (cages suspended beneath each floating house), to a coconut candy factory. We got to see how coconut candy was made and tasted some before walking through a tropical garden where we could see various fruits being grown. We got to sample these fruits, which the locals apparently eat dipped in chilli infused salt, although this seemed a bit of a waste for such fresh fruit! Part of the entertainment was a serenade by some local "rockstars" which made me think my shower singing was worth recording and releasing on at least youtube!

Next we boarded a small boat and were paddled up Tan Thach canal to Ben Tre where our guide gave us the opportunity to hold a python snake and to interact with "friendly" Vietnamese bees and taste local honey before climbing aboard our traditional boat for the return trip to the bus and the journey home.

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Posted by H20Adventures 04:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mekong_delta Comments (0)

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