More Motorbike Madness And The Mighty Mekong

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, November 21, 2011

After enjoyng our time in Hanoi so much, we were looking forward to spending some time in the largest Vietnamese city, Ho Chi Minh, or Saigon as the locals call it! We took the 7.30am train from Nha Trang (hard sleeper 100,000 D), arriving at 4pm, and although it was noticably bigger with more modern buildings, the feel of the city was very similar, with the crazy motorbike filled streets and general organised chaos all around! Our hotel, the Nguyen Khan (10 rm), was simple but very clean, with friendly staff and good breakfasts - an ideal base.

We were starving after sitting on the train all day, so we headed out to the backpacker area and treated ourselves to a fantastic Indian - incredibly slow service but delicious food, and so cheap! If anything, Saigon was even cheaper than Hanoi, and has an astonishing selection of cafes and resturants - something for every budget and taste, from tiny pho (noodle soup) shacks to fine dining in restored French mansions - we were in heaven! The only bad thing was that we wouldn’t have enough time to work our way round them all!

There was also fantastic shopping, and it was great fun to trawl round the markets looking for a few small gifts to send home for Christmas - plus I managed to have a gorgeous pair of shoes hand made for next to nothing! We were surprised at how beautiful the post office was when we went to post our bits and bobs home, including our now massive ’souvenir bag’ - we’ve been collecting little keepsakes such as entry tickets and (welll used) city maps, and just looking at it brings home how much we’ve seen and done over the last few months - but it was time to lighten the load a little!

Our visit to the War Remanents Museum was very interesting, but also very sad. It takes you through the terrible injustices the country has had to suffer through,  focusing on the Vietnam War, and while it was incredibly well set out and a real eye opener, I must admit I found it very difficult, particularly the many, many images of innocent families and children affected in the most horrific ways. However, if anything, it gives you so much respect for the Vietanmese people and their resilience and positivity after everything they’ve been through, and, unfortunately are still having to deal with.

As we only had one night left in the city, we decided to make the most of it after our tough afternoon. We had yet more amazing food at Vietnamese Aroma (although we actually picked Mexican dishes, which were absolutely faultless - who’d have thought?), then it was off to a Bia Hoi stand to watch the crazy world around us, have great chats with random people and, of course, enjoy the cheap beer from the comfort of tiny plastic chairs - everyone should try it at least once in their life!

We were picked up the following morning for the final leg of our Vietnamese trip, travelling through the Mekong delta into Cambodia. We opted to do an organised tour with TNK, and although we normally prefer to travel independently, it was definitely the best option for the time we had. If we had longer, we would’ve probably done our own thing, but even then I don’t think we would’ve seen as much! It was tremendously good value at around $50 per person for the 3 day tour, including all transport, accommodation, entry fees and some meals, plus a really nice guide! 

There was so much packed into the three days it would be impossible to go into detail on it all, but on the first day we - got taken to a Buddhist temple (with a humongous stone Buddha), sailed down the river to lunch in a tropical orchard, visited a coconut plantation (and bought some delicious hand made coconut candies), took a wooden row boat through the small channels, had amazing tropical fruit platters while listening to some traditional music, then got transported to our accommodation for the night, a homestay with the delightful Hung family. That really was one of the highlights in the whole of Vietnam for us, staying in a little bungalow on the river, with the warmth and hospitality of the family, who provided us with wonderful food and bags of ‘happy water’ (horrific rice wine!).

The next morning, Mr Hung took us to the small market in the village, and then to the local school, and yet again we were astounded by how polite and friendly the kids were. We met back up with the rest of the group at the floating markets, then it was off to the ‘monkey bridge’(a structure made from a single piece of bamboo), after which we visted a small rice-noodle making factory (actually a real art form!), had some lunch, went to see a crocodile farm, climbed up to the Mountain Pagoda (with awesome views over the delta - we could see right over to Cambodia), then we we're finally taken to Chau Doc, where we were to spend our final evening in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a rough and ready little place, and our hopes of having our last taste of the exquisite Vietnamese cuisine were dashed when we couldn’t find a single decent place to eat - we had to plump for some greasy spring rolls and tasteless rice!

The final day of our trip was just as good as the others, starting with a visit to the fish farms (people build their homes on the river and keep the fish underneath - bizarre!), then we went to see a Cham (Muslim) village, where the feel of the place and look of the people was very different to what we’d experienced previously. The boat to the Cambodian border afforded us the best views we’d had so far of the mighty Mekong, just a vast expanse of water stretching as far as the eye could see. It was incredibly hassle free at the border, as the guide took all our passports and cash and sorted out our visas for us, while we ate a leisurely lunch at the floating resturant - quite a contrast to some of our other border experiences!

So overall, a wonderful way to end our time in Vietnam, seeing as much as possible with the minimum of fuss - thoroughly recommended! And as for the country as a whole, it completely blew us away, far exceeding our expectations. Sure, it’s definitely more touristy than we imagined, but that’s more than made up for by the warmth of the people, the stunning scenery, the magnificent food (and cheap beers!) and just the general laidback energy that exudes from everywhere - truly wonderful!
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