A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

Reporting from Jinqiao

sunny 30 °C
View H is for Holiday on aboo10's travel map.

Well, our H is for Holiday is officially over, but I thought I needed to retrospectively record our visit to HCMC and also HK, but have decided to do them separately... otherwise it would be way too long and cumbersome.

So with some sadness and wishing we were staying a few days more, we packed up our villa in HoiAn and said good bye to our own pool and headed back to the big smoke, this time Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon. Flight was nice and quick, and we were picked up and taken to our hotel, the Cap Town Hotel, which although simple, was comfortable with 2 double beds. We arrived in the mid afternoon, and after checking in relaxed in our room for a couple of hours before heading out to find some dinner.

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I'd picked a restaurant out of our guide book acknowledging that the book is a couple of years old, and so headed out looking for it. The restaurant we were looking for had a decent description, and as we were walking to it, we found another one which seemed to match, and I'd spotted it from the car on the way to the hotel, and so we went there - and it rocked! We had a little barbecue in the middle of the table, and we ordered a family combo pack which had several meats, prawns and some veggies which were all delivered to the table raw, but in various marinades. We were briefly shown the oil and given a slightly larger pair of chopsticks as the cooking utensils, and Mike was at it... designated cook for the evening, and it was delicious! The kids enjoyed the meat, but not the veggies or prawns, and we enjoyed the Saigon Red beer too.

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The next day we encouraged the kids to walk from the hotel to the main sightseeing area where we visited Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. The cathedral was stunning, every bit as impressive as other cathedrals around the world, and well over 100 years old. The Post Office was a lovely French-colonial building with a high arched roof, the tiles and high ceiling contributed to being a cool respite from the humidity and heat outside. We walked too far on this day, as we headed back to our hotel carrying or piggybacking the kids, contributing to our heat exhaustion. We stopped for a fancy cupcake en route, and then headed to the Rex Hotel for lunch.

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The Rex Hotel was the base for a number of journalists during the Vietnam War, and it was from here that US Military gave their daily press briefings, which became known as "The Five O'Clock Follies", now from 5pm it is happy hour and is a popular tourist spot. We of course didn't go during happy hour so paid full price for our beers! From here, we jumped in a cab back to our hotel, and lucky we did because Didi fell asleep about 30 seconds after climbing in! We headed out to the mecca of backpackers and tourists to a hotspot of little eateries and restaurants. When we walked home afterwards, we went through a park where there were some people practising martial arts, might have been a little like Tai Chi, and Didi and Jie Jie decided to copy them. The participants were trying very hard to keep a straight face while listening to their instructor and watching the kids!

We walked too far with the kids, and made them walk too far... it resulted in grumpy and tired everybody really, so the next day we decided to take it easy and go everywhere, point to point, by taxi. Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum, which is home to a lot of discarded equipment from the US, including planes, helicopters and tanks. No sooner had we paid our entrance fee, than we were accosted by a one legged man who had stepped on a land mine when he was a kid. He told us, captive audience, of his plight, and we were thinking how much do we need to give him... but instead he wanted us to buy two books on the Vietnam War - I haven't read either yet, but plan to... after we bought them from him, we saw people selling the same books all over the place. Good on him for working hard and making his 'spot' as somewhere where tourists are coming to see the impacts of the war.

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The museum had a number of interesting displays, a lot of posters and pictures, there was a lot of reading to do in the museum, and many of the images were quite intense. As the kidlets are only quite young, we didn't want them being scared by some of the visuals, so we opted to go through the museum separately, waiting outside each gallery with the kids. The images of the impacts of Agent Orange, or wondering what various torturing devices were used for was just something they didn't need to see, yet. We weren't hiding it from them, but we just didn't feel the need to expose them to it all yet. We talked about war, and impacts, and they were particularly interested in the bomber planes, and uniforms of soldiers, but they didn't need to see the effect of napalm!

We then went to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. As we walked in the front entrance, there were a bunch of women selling goldfish in bags and of course Didi went to have a look. As we tried to drag him away an older lady came up to us with her fist closed, and then she opened her hand right in front of Didi's nose and in it was a tiny turtle, it was only about the size of a large coin. Didi and I got such a shock, he jumped into my arms and hid his face. We went in and then saw other people releasing the fish and turtles into little ponds as sacrifices for the gods. In the back corner of the front courtyard there is a Tortoise Shelter, which is home to hundreds of turtles, many of which have messages written in Liquid Paper on their shells, I presume carrying prayers for those who released them. You could hear the scrabbling of their feet on the concrete as they climbed out of the water and every now and again a splash as they slipped back in.

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The Pagoda is quite small, laid out like a bit of a rabbit warren with smaller rooms off every which way, and each one seemed to be a bit more foreboding than the one before until we were at the main altar. Didi was a bit scared of the faces and expressions of the enormous statues, in particular the evil looking Giant Demon Guards, just before the Main Sanctuary were the Jade Emperor sits. The lighting is minimal, largely candles and a small shafts of light coming in from high windows, and the air was thick with smoke from burning incense. The last room was lovely, it had 12 female statues dressed in amazing robes of all colours. Each statue represented a different lunar year, and displayed near each was their vice and their strength.

This was our last night in Vietnam, so we went out to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, and afterwards, we decided to finally have a coffee at one of the cute little coffee shops on the street. The shops are so small, and the chairs are little stools, that mostly we thought it was too hard with the children. Even at 9pm at night, the coffee shop was packed. But the waitresses were happy to talk to the kids, who were happy to play with their iPods while we enjoyed a sweet milky coffee.

What a fantastic trip, and although we were continuing with the next step of our adventure we were a bit sad to be leaving the land of Pho and motorbikes. I think we'll be back!!

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Posted by aboo10 16:46 Archived in Vietnam Tagged churches children temples family_travel Comments (1)

Good bye Vietnam!

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 31 °C
View H is for Holiday on aboo10's travel map.

Well it's been a fabulous three weeks, and overall gone so quickly! We arrived for our introduction in Hanoi to motorcycle traffic and Pho, and then headed down for two weeks on the beach. The first four days there passed so slowly as we settled into our new lifestyle and routine of swimming, resting and playing. We then introduced some activities like exploring the town, going to My Son ruins and doing a cooking tour, and then suddenly there were only four days to go... these rocketed past and we found ourselves back in the hustle and bustle of a big city of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. We crammed a good portion of Saigon into two days and now this morning are waking up, with our room all packed up and time to head back to China... but first a little adventure in Hong Kong.

Hanoi:
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Hoi An:
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Ho Chi Minh City:
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Hopefully we can come to Vietnam again!

Posted by aboo10 16:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches churches children family_travel Comments (0)

My Son

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh CIty

sunny 30 °C
View H is for Holiday on aboo10's travel map.

Primarily our trip to Vietnam was for a beach holiday, but as I already said we thought we should visit the main cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as well, and while we were at it thought we should see something near HoiAn that was historical and cultural. So we arranged for a trip to My Son Holyland- a religious centre from the 4th to 13th centuries before lapsing into ruins. It was discovered in the 1890s by French archeologists, and there were about 70 temples in the valley. Unfortunately during the Vietnam War the most impressive remains were destroyed completely by bombing.

We were up early for a big breakfast and to meet our driver at 7.30, to beat some of the heat of the day. The drive from our resort was a bit over an hour, and we were dropped off at the bottom of a trail to head up to the ruins.

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Then when we got to the top, the first thing we saw was a huge empty structure with chairs, a few electric fans and a stage. After a quick refreshing drink of water, the kids took to the stage and Didi in particular took to posing his arms similar to photos on the walls of traditional dancers. We realised there would be a show on in 15 mins and decided to stay exactly where we were in the front row of the seats. Didi and Jie Jie continued to dance around on the stage and then suddenly disappeared behind the curtain... and befriended one of the dancers in the show. When the show started she even waved secretly to them! There were four acts, which were apparently traditional from the original inhabitants of the My Son area.

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After the show we walked over to the first group of ruins, the groups of ruins here are imaginatively labelled with just a letter A-K. The first group, and the ones with the 'best' ruins are the BCD Group. The ruins in this area were temples and towers in this Holy City, with the oldest part being the main sanctuary built in the 4th Century. Largely the temples were made of brick, but also with some large stones for supporting structures, it all looks quite romantic as now many of the ruins are covered in vegetation.

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In this section as well there are two decent sized halls, which have withstood the ravages of time and now are galleries housing some of the best preserved pieces of Cham sculpture from the region. The Cham Empire was in place in Central Vietnam from the 2nd Century until its downfall in 1832, and most of what remains from the ancient kingdom is the art and architecture, which was most impressive between the 8th and 10th Centuries.

It was very hot while we were here, and there was little respite from the sun, and the kids found it quite tiring and heavy going. Mike and I probably could have stayed there for a bit longer, but the kids were exhausted, and even after a rest stop, and meanders around the ruins, I think they felt that once they had been inside one of the ruins, the rest were all the same. But we kept on and visited most of the groups, but kept moving, and alternately piggy backed the kids. But it was definitely a relief when we gave up our dreams of being Indiana Jones or Lara Croft and returned to the comfort of the air conditioned car and headed back to our resort.

The only thing that scared us was the warning in the guide book to stick to the paths as the area had been mined during the Vietnam War! The My Son ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was a stunning adventure for us, and made us all the more keen to visit somewhere like Angkor Wat in the future. There is a lot of restoration and rebuilding work being undertaken at the moment, and the preservation of this historic site is important for future visitors.

Posted by aboo10 16:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged landscapes buildings children temples ruins ecotourism family_travel Comments (0)

One week away

Reporting from HoiAn

sunny 34 °C
View H is for Holiday on aboo10's travel map.

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We've been away from Shanghai for only one week... and here in HoiAn for 4 days, but the beach lifestyle has slowed us right down and we feel already like we've been here for much longer. The resort we are staying in is lovely, and is better than we expected, we have a little two storey 'ocean view villa' with a private pool and garden. We can also use the main pools for the resort, where there are also shallow kiddy pools, sun loungers and of course the poolside bar. We are one row of villas back from the beach. We have spent most of the last four days in our pool, but have also played on the beach, swam in the sea and in one of the resort pools, and have been into HoiAn town a few times.

We are about 6km out of town, but there is a bus from the resort quite regularly, and we have decided that we will go in for dinner most nights, from now on as we have already had everything on the menu here! It is also a good time of day, if we get the 4pm shuttle in for an early dinner, as it has started to cool down from the heat of the day. We went in one morning, and it was so hot and sticky, we couldn't look at anything or walk anywhere, as the kids were whining and complaining, but in the early evenings, particularly straight after dinner they are quite happy to roam around a bit. And then are exhausted and ready for bed when we get home!

The kids were a bit apprehensive about swimming in the sea, the first day we went in there was a bit of a swell, and they weren't quite prepared. But today it was still and calm, and Didi was so pleased with himself for putting his feet on the sand, in the water and walking neck deep in the gentle waves between Mike and me, and back again, and again, and again! He then got braver and was able to go all the way onto the beach and back into the water. I think with 10 more days here, both will be confident in the sea (although the waves are nothing like Coogee!) Didi is also improving swimming in the pool, he relies on his bubble and floats, but he is working his legs and is prepared to doggy paddle short distances between us, always keeping his head out of the water.

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Jie Jie and I woke early on our first morning here, and had a special walk down to the beach to watch the sunrise. The beach was still and quiet, but there were lots of fishing boats out on the water. The sun rose majestically over the Cham Islands, and it was so serene and beautiful!

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Lucky us - we still have ten more days here! We will try and visit some of the actual tourist attractions in HoiAn, and not just spend all our time lying in the sun watching the kids play in the sand or swim! Tomorrow we are up for something different, we have a half day tour planned for the morning... we are being collected at 7.30 - so very early start...

Posted by aboo10 08:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches children family_travel Comments (1)

Hanoi - first days in Vietnam

Reporting from Hanoi

semi-overcast 33 °C
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So almost as soon as we took off, and had a meal, it felt like they were preparing the cabin for landing... such a short hop for our long haul seasoned little travellers this was. In fact the flight was quite good fun, as a little girl from Jie Jie's new class was also on our flight, and as luck would have it, Jie Jie and I had a spare seat next to us so this little girl joined us for about 45 minutes and they drew and coloured and chatted like little business people! We will catch up with her family again as they were headed for HoiAn, our second destination.

As this is our first trip to Vietnam, and although we are primarily here for a beach holiday, we have opted to surround our beach trip with three days in the two main cities of Vietnam - Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and while we don't pretend with 3 days in each we can do justice to either, we will try! And already we have given Hanoi a pretty good effort.

We were collected from the airport and our first impressions of Hanoi was of the traffic... motorcycle traffic, it was everywhere. At least they use headlights and wear helmets, so in the evening darkness, at least they were visible. The driver was weaving in and out, and we didn't see any collisions, or near misses. We did see 4 people on one bike, and the car at one stop was completely surrounded. The kids were zonked, and both asleep for the journey, and stayed asleep as we checked into the Impressive Hotel (that's the name!!) in the Old Quarter. Our room was basic, a double bed and a single for all of us, a very efficient mini fridge, and TV with English language Cartoon Network and Disney Channel!!

We woke early on the first morning, and after having the air conditioning blasting all night, we were struck by the humidity, and so was our camera which fogged up as soon as we stepped on our balcony to take our first snapshots of our Hanoi street. We headed downstairs for breakfast, and decided to start with the Vietnamese way and ordered Chicken Pho for breakfast! Was delicious!
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We then set out into the humidity to explore our local surrounds. It wasn't long before we found the Hoan Kiem Lake, and the stunning Red Sunbeam Bridge. But found that to pay the entrance fee to cross the bridge we needed to have Vietnamese Dong, and unfortunately we were only carrying USD, so we went off in search of an ATM and withdrew 500,000VND (unfortunately only US$20 - so didn't go very far! Jie Jie and Didi by this time were starting to feel the effects of walking in the humidity (did I mention that we have no pram this trip??) and so stopped at an air conditioned juice bar for a good rest. We then went back to the Sunbeam Bridge, and visited the Jade Mountain Temple on the island there, saw the giant tortoise which is the subject of an ancient legend about the lake. The kids then sung and danced on a small stage overlooking the lake with a performance (in English and Mandarin) that entertained not just us!

We opted to head back to the hotel for a siesta. The heat of the day was wearing all of us out, and we thought that if we gave the kids some down time we would be able to venture out again later when the temperature dropped. We made the mistake of letting the kids watch TV, and subsequently once their bodies were rested they then climbed all around the room, driving us nuts! But we'd made provision for that and so headed off to see Thang Long Water Puppets - we had seen some photos of this show, but really had no idea what to expect. The stage was a pool of green water and a large red pagoda. We had front row seats, which was amazing, and the theatre was packed. The show started with Festival Drumming and an overture performed on traditional Vietnamese musical instruments. The wooden puppets came out and were 'swimming' through the water, controlled by their puppeteers, hiding behind a curtain hanging at the front of the pagoda. Each piece was a stand alone story, and we saw a number of Vietnamese myths and legends come to life with cleverly manipulated puppets. The kids loved it!! We then went for a pizza dinner and our first Vietnamese beer. Then home to bed.
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On our second day we headed out to the Temple of Literature, a stunning collection of old buildings originally built as a centre of higher learning in honour of Confucius. We saw a number of graduands in academic dress posing for photos with their newly conferred degree certificates. We enjoyed wandering around the Temple looking at the statues, art, gardens, bonsai and inside the temple. We had an early pho lunch just outside the Temple and then splashed out on a Cyclo trip home to the hotel, for what I think will become routine on this holiday, a midday nap...

On our last night in Hanoi, we headed out again to look for a painting. We wandered around, past motorcycle fixing shops, bamboo ladder stores, wedding invitation stores, tailors, each street or block seeming to be specific for one thing only. We walked through a wet market, and then finally succumbed to the cries of 'I'm hungry', stopped at an on street cafe for a beef and potatoes stir fry and pork fried rice. After some persuasion Jie Jie actually ate some of the fried rice. And the potatoes in the beef and potatoes stir fry were actually french fries! It was quite amusing because we weren't expecting it! And just as we were finishing dinner the heavens opened with an enormous tropical storm. We stayed put for about half an hour, and Didi befriended the waiter, and wanted to help unblock the gutter drain!
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When the rain finally eased we headed for home, stopping in a number of galleries looking at some oil paintings... really lovely. But ended up carrying the kids home and hitting the sack!! Now we are waiting for transport to the airport for our next flight, and the next leg of our holiday! The beach!!!

Posted by aboo10 18:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged lakes bridges art buildings family_travel Comments (2)

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