A Travellerspoint blog

April 2007

Vietnam Days

Winding Down in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 35 °C
View Asia 2007 on Antonogurl's travel map.

Amy Says:
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Hoi An equals Love. Maybe because Hanoi was really busy or maybe the train ride was too insane. All we know, is that we adore Hoi An. The cau lao and fried wontons from Miss Ly's Cafeteria are the best. Maybe if you go, she will be there still in her white see-through linen dress with baby in tow. The people are smiley, the clothes - a plenty, the town - beautifully old.
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We stayed in a little Indochine hotel called the Vihn Hung 1 on Tru Phan road. They used the front part of the second floor ias Michael Caine's dressing room in 'The Quiet American'. I mention Hoi An again, because of this great business they have there - affordable, quality, custom handmade clothing. Joy!

Now, every woman has struggled with store bought clothes not fitting in 'problem' areas. What makes Hoi An every woman's dream, is that for say, $8 USD, you can get fitted and have a pair of pants made to fit. You pick out the fabric (linen mostly) and the nice lady measures you and calls out the number to the other lady (in Vietnamese thankfully, so you don't know how big you've become on the trip), and then within four hours or so, you go back and try it on. Usually it fits perfect or maybe they make a few adjustments for you and you return in an hour. I'm not sure how all this happens so fast. We had excellent service at Tailors Nguyen at 29 Le Loi. They even hand delivered all the finished clothes to our hotel. I'd suggest going to the nicer end places (no cement floors). Chris had some real bad shirts made at other places and you can tell the quality is lacking. Some of the material smells bad, like mildew. So beware.

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There is a little place near our hotel called Tam Tam Cafe which has your usual old looking chinese style front, but then opens into a courtyard and two story colonial in the back. Order the crepe with vanilla ice cream and chocolate and a Tiger beer to wash it down. Do it and find instant happiness.

Also stopped at Reaching Out - a place where disabled Vietnamese make crafts. I picked up a litle something for a little boy I know back home.
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A dollar got us bicycles and we rode our sweaty selves out to the coast. The beach is only a few miles from THE China Beach and it was interesting to see where the GIs got their R&R. Every two minutes a lady would come by saying "Happy hour! Buy something. Where are you from? What is your name?" And we'd have to say, no money, no pineapple! But it was still nice there. We watched some kids play soccer and all was well.

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As usual, there was payment asked for to leave our bikes, payment to rinse off our feet with water. Payment for everything. We did wise up enough to negotiate our hotel to take us back to Da Nang and the airport for $12 though. He drove like an absolute madman and once again, my stomach was in my throat. Good thing though, we had been a haf hour late waiting for our clothes to be delivered to the hotel.

After a full airline meal (not too bad) courtesy Vietnam Air and an hour flight, we arrived at night in Ho Chi Minh City. What a change! It's a city of 8 million and they are all on motor bike zooming around to who knows where. Couples on their bikes lined the parks like a lover's lane. Thousands of 'em.

Our driver delivered us to the revered Continental Hotel (1893) for our last two days. It was at my insistance we stay here based on the 'The Quiet American' and sadly, it was the most disappointing hotel of the lot.

The Continental - although steeped in historical value, was by far the most overpriced bit of hooha in all of Viet Nam. What had cost 5,000 dong for an hour of internet usage in Hoi An only a day before, now was costing us 10,000 dong a minute. Stay at the Empress instead. I hear it is much better.
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The first night in HCM, we made our way down to the equally nostalgic Majestic's roof top bar to watch a Filipino band play among others faves, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" and to pay real city prices for our beer and food. When we crawled back to the hotel at midnight, we thought we'd be in for a long rest after a hectic travel day, but were we wrong! I had somewhat wondered about the stage a huge amplifiers being set up outside the hotel the night we went to the Majestic. We had all but forgotten until promptly at 6 am we were bombarded with an arrangement of the loudest mixture of dance party music, announcements and the birthday song ever to welcome in God's day. After much bitching by moi, and a call to the Empress Hotel to see if they had any openings (they did not), we made our way out into the city to take a walking tour of the main sites. For us, this included the Art Museum, the City Library, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, The War Remnants museum and the Notre Dame Catholic Church.

By far the most important was the War Remnants Museum. Which is curiously, the most popular museum for Western tourists. For people of Chris and my age, the American War (as it is called in Viet Nam) brings about conflicting feelings of guilt, patriotism, horror, and shame to name a few. Most ill feelings falling toward the governments of these participating countries. As Han reminded us back in Hanoi, the government is not the people.

Inside are many gruesome photographs as well as a heart wrenching exhibit of the love letters and poems passed between Vietnamese soldiers and their wives and fiances back home. The grounds of the museum displays an assortment of intimidating US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs, infantry weapons and even a guillotine used by the French on the Viet Minh. Life size examples of the infamously cruel tiger cages are also on view. There are pieces on the My Lai massacre and the napalm, Agent Orange and phosphorous bombs used on the Vietnamese. There is also a fascinating exhibit of war photos by 130 international photo journalists, most of who never made it home. Though certainly not an completely unbiased representation of events in Viet Nam in the 60s and 70s, the museum is nonetheless successful in driving home the fact that wars are brutal and that civilians are the biggest losers. It should be a compulsory viewing for all politicians worldwide.

A long hot and sweaty walk home for dinner and rest, the next day we left early and made our way back home. 28 hours later for me, 38 for Christina and the trip became a memory.

Posted by Antonogurl 23:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

stupid taxi driver

i had to smack him

Amy just recently referred to a taxi driver story that I don't think we talked about so I will just briefly explain it -
At the train station in Da Nang, we were trying to share a ride with 2 dutch? guys to Hoi An, but the cars are too small to fit any more than 2 people with luggage, so in the confusion, we ended up at another taxi and got in. We assumed that since the meter was on in the car, we would pay a fair price, but this didn't happen. Our driver took the slowest, longest way possible and drove no more than 35mph, I swear. I started looking at him through the rear view mirror and realized that he was actually falling asleep as he was driving. He did things like open the windows and wash his face and move his arms weirdly to keep awake, but his eyes kept closing, so I had to wake him up! Anyway, he charged us too much, tried to take us to Hotel we didn't want to go to and we just didn't like him. Sour taste left in the mouth after this experience. We know we are partly to blame, but nevertheless - you are a jerk, taxi driver!

Posted by radish 21:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged transportation Comments (5)

I haven't read the news for weeks!

sunny

It's hot and sunny today, so Amy and I are taking a break in an internet "cafe" (really, just a room with old computers) for a bit. We've been walking around this morning checking out fabric shops, a food market (vietnamese coffee is in a bag ready to come home with me) and an artisan workshop. Not sure what the rest of the day holds for us - we may actually be fitted for a piece of clothing, as this is the best place in Vietnam for that sort of thing. And, there's a huge delicious sounding beach not far away, so we may rent bicycles and go there too.
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We are staying in the old part of Hoi An, and the streets are so narrow that automobiles are not allowed on the streets! That is SUCH a nice feature, and quite opposite of what we've become accustomed to. Crossing the streets in both Thailand and Vietnam is like playing Russian Roulette (not that bad, really), and although Amy and I are fantastic at dodging cars now, its nice not to have to. If anybody wants to challenge us to a game of Frogger when we get home, do it. You'll be shamed!

Like I said yesterday, we decided to extend our time in Hoi An by one day. We purchased a train ticket from here to Ho Chi Minh City (Sai Gon) and should have boarded the train already, but instead we purchased a plane ticket which leaves tomorrow evening instead. So, yes, we wasted money, but we didn't like the train much at all - and it takes 13 hours by train and only 1 hour by plane...It cost $60 which we decided was ok. Speaking of the train - here's the scoop about that. It was pretty unsavory. I adore train travel and was very excited about being able to watch Vietnam go by while relaxing and perhaps sipping coffee. That didn't happen, really. I mentioned Jason and Cait - they were (are) wonderful and they saved us from going crazy. We were cramped up in a tiny room that barely fit the 4 beds inside of it. The train had no observation car, no dining car, no anything-car. We were trapped either in our room or in the cars' aisle ways. And, really, it was quite dingy. They brought us "dinner" at around 9pm but it looked just awful, like gruel (I don't know what that looks like, but if I had to guess..). And breakfast was ramen noodles (ok). Amy and I thought ahead and brought sandwiches for dinner, but the bread had turned hard before we ate them. While trying to eat them, we actually hit heads because of the strength we had to use to bite them! And, the bathrooms...not so bad, overall, but in the morning - so bad.. yikes.
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About the countryside that we did see - simply beautiful. We passed through villages and the ocean and mountains. Lovely lovely. Its so interesting to see how simply people live. Makes me feel like a glutton.

Tomorrow - Ho Chi Minh City, and we stay for 2 nights then off to Singapore for less than 24 hours and then home. It's coming so quickly. I will be sad to leave here. Of course home is home, but I'm really enjoying my time away!

And, mom - yes we took separate motorbikes to the train station! Ha.

And Momi - say what?! about your broken leg??????????????????????

Posted by radish 21:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged train_travel Comments (11)

What's that Smell?

A Few Realistic Aspects of SE Asia Travel

sunny 32 °C

Amy Says

Hello from Hoi An - the quieter side of Vietnam. So far, we've talked about the bigger details of our journeys. Today I thought I'd detail a few of the more colorful things that we've experinced. Chris and I take all things things in stride, and with a sense of humor partly because we aren't just traveling to Des Moines and these things are to be expected. And also because well, what can you do?

I know I will never take my bathroom for granted again. It will be my porcelain god. Ha!

Matters of the Toilette
Almost all bathrooms come with a somewhat dirty looking sprayer next to the commode. You know, the kind you see next to your kitchen faucet. I asked Jett (back in Thailand) and she said it was to "clean your butt". Bathrooms in restaurants or public places are usually very small (truly a water closet) and very, very wet. TP is usually not available and so you bring your own. In these places there is no flushing, so beside the sprayer is a basket of wet, used TP. In some places, there is no toilet - just a hole in the ground. And a few places, a bucket of water is there and you can scoop up a bowl full, and use that to rinse it down. No problem, really.

Oh, I've been using my long hair to dry my hands.

The WC on the train got worse and worse as we went south. I think my butt said, "No way, jose" and I somehow easily held in the more complex bathroom usage for over twenty four hours. Chris too. Ha!

Matters of Money
There is someone who will take your money from you at all times. Chris and I have been ripped off on many occasions (see her taxi stories). They may lead you astray and then you pay extra to get yourself to where you need to be. Or they grab your stuff, and you don't know if they work there or who they are and you pay money you didn't know you had to pay which is ten times as much as the next guy All very frustrating. Sometimes you kind of get mad - it's the principal, you know? But then you figure it out and maybe it cost you one US dollar and so you just let it go. Still, it does get maddening. I tell you, negotiate BEFORE you get into the taxi. And if there are a lot of people offering the same service, find out which one will take you for less. Don't let them rush you anywhere.

Also, no one here seems to have small bills. 100,000 dong is equivelant to about six US dollars. No one, sometimes even the restaurant, seems to be able to break this. Your hotel cannot break this. The ATMS dispense this denomination, but no one can make change. It's a strange thing. Impossible to even buy the whistles, peanut candy and geegaws they want you to buy.

Hoi An has been somewhat of a reprise from the touting, at least they smile back when you smile and say no.

Little things keep you sane, like my ipod playing Hawaiian music for me.

Really, it's not too bad if you are patient. It's a poor country and "America is rich," as our bell boy said to us in Ha Noi. You can read this, and say to yourself, yeah - I am thankful of what I got. Or yeah, that's the way it is there. But until you are spraying your nether regions as you squat in pit a Da Nang, how appreciative are you?

More soon. Love and Aloha to all,

----A

Posted by Antonogurl 20:58 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (3)

bumps in the night mean a bandage on the head

hopefully

overcast

We took the night train from Ha Noi to Da Nang and arrived around noon today. After being brought to the WRONG train station by a taxi arranged by our hotel, we were rushed by motorbike to the RIGHT train station, luggage and all. I thought it would be horrifying to ride on a motorbike in the middle of all the traffic we keep talking about, but it was actually A BLAST and wish that I had taken more rides! YIKES!! but totally fun--and probably seriously dangerous, but these people know what they are doing.
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Anyway, so we board the train and find that we are roommates (our soft berth had room for 4) were 2 Aussies named Jason and Cait. They were the very very very best roommates we could have asked for. We drank warm beer together and while we were chatting, and while Cait was on her way to the water closet (as they call it here) we felt quite a thud and then the brakes squealed the train to a quick and jerky stop. Turns out the train actually hit a motorbike. We were all horrified but looking out the window revealed a non-smashed bike being pulled away from the train and a man with a white bandage on his head. Now, we don't know if the scenario is really that simple - that we just nicked the bike and everybody is ok - but, that's what we are choosing to believe. There are things that don't match that scenario, such as the swiftness of the placement of the bandage on the head, and the fact that we felt the bump all the way back in the 10th car...We just don't really want to think about those things. (Plus, if it had been serious, it seems that the train would have had to wait around much longer than the 15 minutes that we were stopped, right? Unless this is a common occurence.. Enough!)train_vietnam2.jpg

Anyway, we are now in Hoi An, a much quainter town than Ha Noi.
Smaller, quieter.
IMG_1115.jpgWe ate the best food ever this afternoon - Cao Lao (a dish special to this area because the water comes from a well here) and the most fantastic fried wontons ever. Seriously. Holy moly!
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Time is running out - more later. And, Jase and Cait, if you are reading this, we stayed in Hoi An one extra day so find us at Vinh Hung 1 on Tran Phu road. We should drink some COLD beer together on Friday if possible!

Posted by radish 03:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (5)

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