Our plane ticket showed Kuala Lumpur - Hanoi but it came as a shock when we got 2 boarding passes! One is for Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh and another one is from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi!! I was like " Great!" I had a feeling that this trip is not going to be a smooth one. Instead of arrival at 7.30pm, we got in about 9.30pm. The tour leader waited one hour and decided to leave us behind. (We booked a private tour, just 2 of us) Charlie went to the exchange counter to change some Dong (Vietnamese currency $1=15,8000Dong), he already experienced the culture. He was in line but the locals just kept getting in front of him. He was lucky that there is another American man next to him, told that rude Vietnamese lady off.
He told us this is the way, if the locals rude to us, we should treat them the same way. We finally got a cab to the hotel, the tour counter at Hanoi airport is right in front of the arrival gate. The ladies were very nice, helping us to contact the tour leader and got us a cab. Although they speak little English.
Ho Chi Minh resident/work place. Isn't that look peaceful and beautiful
We stayed at Anise Hotel - A New 3-star hotel, clean and right in front of a little park. Clean room, plasma TV, clean bathroom. While we were done with check in, I asked the lady if we have any message from this tour company pointing out the address and telephone number from our tour voucher, a man approached us and told us he is the tour leader. He kept apologizing and said he waited too long at the airport. He reimbursed the taxi fare and dinner to us but we wanted him to have it as part of his tips.
Charlie inside one of the cave
After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we proceed to the Ho Chin Minh formal resident cum work place. It has a nice landscape and a huge lake by the buildings. It is so peaceful and beautiful. We are amazed how simple life he lived. He has 1 clock and 1 single bed without mattress in his bedroom. His dining room has a radio, a telephone, a table and a chair. That's all he needed!!
The one pillar pagoda is not that impressive, is like a small Chinese altar supported by one pillar in a little pond. The temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius in order to honor scholars and men of literary accomplishment. I find it ok, maybe because I have seen too many temples in my life, although Charlie is fascinated by the stone tomb where there were a lot of names of those scholars who did well in the exam.
What is interesting is that the name would be removed if one did not do well in the next exam!!
The centre post offive in Saigon
In the afternoon, we went to Halong Bay, 112 miles northeast of Hanoi. We stayed at the BMC hotel which is not comfortable. It’s an old hotel and the bed is extremely hard. I felt like I am lying on a piece of wood! The so call breakfast sucks! We were there a 7am and most of the food is gone. They were not planning to replenish the food. The coffee pot was empty and I had to ask for fried eggs because the tray was empty too. Although they finally brought us what we want but I don’t think I am going to stay at the same hotel again.
We took a big boat on Halong bay to see the caves. We felt like some royalties because there were many tourists waiting for their boat and we got a boat all to ourselves, the travel agent did a good job on this. The Caves we visited were Thien Cung Cave and Dau Go Cave. They are very unique, huge and beautiful. Although we had to walk up to a lot of stairs and I was a little afraid that I may slip…
On the way back from Halong Bay, we saw the famous "fighting cocks" rocks or we would prefer to call it the "kissing rock ". We went to Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. The legend of this lake was “once upon a time, a turtle took the sword (with it mouth) from the hand of a king in Vietnam when he was on a boat” I was like…ok...and then what happen? That’s it? The tour leader pointed out that in the middle of the lake, there is an islet with the tiny Tortoise Pagoda, topped with a red star. It was raining and very cold. I was getting bored and all I want is a hot cup of Vietnamese coffee. We love the Vietnamese coffee. What they do was, they had the grinded coffee place in a metal cup where there were many tiny holes underneath, look more like a strainer, then there is another piece of metal push the coffee and hot water down in the strainer cup so that the coffee has a very strong taste (like a cheesy espresso maker) and condense milk will be added into the coffee. The coffee is strong and it has a tiny taste of that sweet milk.
After a hot cup of coffee, we felt so much better and we had to walk to the theater for our water puppet show. The stories of the show were simple and some of them were quiet funny. Well, at least we now know a little more of Vietnamese culture…
We overnight at Platinum hotel, a little better then the BMC hotel but at least I could go to bed at night.
The flight to Ho Chi Minh City were scheduled on 11am, again we had problem at the Hanoi airport. There were long lines at the check in. According to the tour leader, this is not normal, he was kind enough to check with airlines staff and found out it was the check in computer system down. The clock is ticking...we were still in the line when it was 10.45am… We finally got our boarding pass at 11.30am and we ran like hell….Luckily the plane waited for us ;) The tour leader waited until we went into the immigration and because he has been a good boy, Charlie gave him some more tips. To our surprise, he refused and said we have given him some tips on the first day! We insisted him to accept it and he finally did. We have never seen a tour leader that is so honest!!!
Saigon is a big city. We stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office and the city hall. Centre Post office is a little unique because it has been there for hundreds of years and they are still in operation. It started raining and we decided to go back to the hotel. Riverside Hotel is literary by the river. It’s an old building and we think they really need to remodel it. The bed is so much more comfortable this time and they offered good breakfast. Good location, it is within walking distance to the shops and food stalls. We have no complain about this hotel except it is a little run down.
One thing we have to be very careful while walking in the city of Saigon. The traffic is so crazy and there were millions of motorbikes. The motorbikes would even run on the side walk!!! When we have to cross the road, we were told to just keep walking without any hesitation.
I don’t like the so call China town. It is a big building consists of many shops. They are so close to each other and it is so hard to walk from one end to the other end, the locals are pushy and I hate it when people touching me. We had fun shopping at another market called the Banh Tanh Market. We got our cheesy coffee makers that have a “Saigon” word written on the cover of the maker...We think this is the best souvenir from Vietnam.
We went to Mekong Delta on a boat ( again, just 2 of us on the boat ) Mekong River is the 10th longest river in the world. We have fun seeing the tropical fruit farm with the little boy singing for us, tasted some local fruit and candies. We like the coconut candy and we saw how they make them by hands! We also had fun riding on a sampan boat among one of the river within that fishing village. The lunch is great, we love the Vietnamese rice rolls where they make them in front of you with the fresh fish they caught!
Our tour ended with a romantic candle light dinner on the boat. There were life music and the boat started to sail when we have our main course. Saigon is beautiful by night viewing from a ship.