Day 17: We awoke in our hotel room to the sound of the cleaner’s vacuum outside of our door. For our last morning in Vietnam it was almost a fitting way to be roused from slumber; an abrasive yet not out of place sound in incredibly hectic country.
Breakfast soon followed and then came the game of who carries what in which bag. I’m an incredibly light traveller. To put this into perspective my backpack and small travel bag weighed a combined 7.1kg when we left Melbourne 17 days ago. Carly’s suitcase failed early in the trip and she had been lugging around a sizable sports bag ever since.
At 10:00 the hotel reception called and told us our driver had arrived to take us to Han Oi airport for our first leg to Kuala Lumpur. We had an hour to kill before boarding and 200’000 dong to spend in the airport. So we enjoyed a coffee and a few snacks and were soon on our first flight back to home.
The flight to Kuala Lumpur went off without a hitch thanks to Angry Birds Star Wars and The Hungover Part 3. Fun fact: Malaysian Airways heavily censored the film.
With a 4 hour layover I tucked into a Whopper from Burger King while Carly watched on in disgust. But soon I was following her around different Duty Free Shops; awesome! We sat and had a coffee and tea before heading through security to our gate for boarding the plane to home.
I spent the rest of Day 17 watching Iron Man 3, John Carter and listening to music.
Day 18: The remainder of the flight was uneventful until we landed in Melbourne. Thanks to a sick passenger we were quarantined on the tarmac until AQIS cleared us and then we boarded a bus in the rain for the long drive to the terminal. Melbourne airport and I have had a love/hate relationship for a number of years; Fun Fact: EVERY time I have flown to Melbourne for work my baggage has been delayed and had to be delivered to where I was staying.
So after 10 minutes in a smelly bus we stopped next to the rubbish bin area of the international terminal and disembarked to clear immigration and customs. This was relatively pain free and as we pushed our way through the crowd outside the arrivals gate our Asian Holiday came to an end.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our short trip to Cambodia and Vietnam; but with all good things it has come to an end. It is now time for the inevitable trip back to Canberra and to resume the working life again.
Day 5: Our driver picked us up from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City at 06:30 in the morning. Even at this early time the people of HCMC were out and about doing group calisthenics in the district parks, opening their shops and speeding down the streets on their scooters.
We arrived at the airport and checked in for our flight to Da Lat. The flight was quick and soon we were on our way to our new hotel just across the road from the lake near the centre of town.
Before we had the chance to get out and explore the city the rain came pouring down and we were stuck watching terrible Asian MTV in the hotel room.
When the rain finally stopped we went for a walk around the lake before a quick lunch while the weather cleared up and the blue sky reappeared.
The nearby markets were full of fresh fruits, flowers and random meats; some fresher than others.
Our fifth day in Asia ended with a quiet dinner for two in the hotel’s restaurant enjoying a traditional Vietnamese banquet and local red wine.
Day 6: We awoke to a sunny Da Lat morning and a few hours of touring some of the sites around town. Our first stop of the morning was the old Da Lat Train Station.
Next up was the Valley of Love…. OMG! If you are after kitschy over romantic, how do I say… Crap! Then this is your destination. This was one stop I could have done without. The views are spectacular, but they have removed all natural beauty of the area by erecting oversized love hearts, Cinderella statues and ugly bird houses.
After the Valley we drove to the Da Lat Royal Palace. It is quite interesting to see that the palace has been kept as it was in the 1950’s when the Royal family left Vietnam. By today’s standards it is reminiscent of an old military mess furnished with your grandparents antiques. In comparison to other palaces around the world, even in its prime the Da Lat Royal Palace and its gardens would have been quite tame and understated.
Our final destination for the tour was the Datanla Falls just outside of town. Aimed clearly at a tourist market the falls were somewhat impressive but the walk into and out of the rainforest was much more enjoyable.
After returning to our hotel we headed out for a walk around the surrounding suburbs to admire the French inspired architecture.
Before the afternoon rains rolled in we enjoyed a quiet lunch at a cafe over looking Hoa Binh square; enjoying the Vietnamese sweet milk coffee.
In the afternoon we visited the local markets again to buy some fresh fruit for an afternoon snack. As usual the market was a hive of activity.
We took the long way back to the hotel walking through the suburbs and saying hello to the locals while searching for a place to have dinner. As enjoyable as the tours have been so far on this trip it is far more rewarding to spend a few hours wandering around the town soaking up the Vietnamese lifestyle.
Day 7: Once again our day started early as we were flying out to Da Nang and then driving onto Hoi An. Our new guide Tuyet and her driver were at Da Nang airport waiting for us. She was very friendly and extremely proficient with English.
The first stop for the morning was the Cham Museum in Da Nang. After spending almost all of our time in Cambodia looking at temples and artefacts; it was very hard to distinguish between these 90 Buddha statues and the 1’900 I had already seen. I don’t think I will be going into anymore incense filled museums and temples for the duration of this trip unless it is something extremely special.
Next we drove through Da Nang to the Marble Mountain overlooking China Beach. Marble Mountain used to be mined for quality marble to make statues, tiles and furniture. Nowadays it is a backdrop for an immense marble market where the locals try to sell their wares to tourists. As impressive as some of the works are I have no need for a 700kg statue of Buddha in my lounge room. It is interesting to note that all of the marble being sold at these markets is imported from Pakistan and not sourced locally.
Soon we arrived in Hoi An, Tuyet being a local of 27 years, took us to a local restaurant, The Secret Garden, for a Vietnamese banquet lunch. Once again we were not disappointed with the fantastic food on offer.
After lunch we visited the centre of Hoi An and some of the local tailors who make measured to fit clothing. Hoi An is famous for its many, many clothes stores that make clothes to order or copy fashion trends such as “James Bond’s Skyfall suit!” After a quick size up and some clothes ordered for both Carly and I we headed to the hotel for check in before our tour of Hoi An in the afternoon.
By the time we left the hotel it was pouring down with rain which thankfully dropped the temperature a little. Tuyet took us around her home town and it quickly became obvious that Hoi An was filled with and aimed squarely at tourists. Any speck of traditional Vietnamese style or tradition had been glossed over with a generous helping of kitsch aimed at parting gullible tourists with their money. This is not to say Hoi An doesn’t have a lot to offer, it does, but you need to walk a few streets behind the clothes stores and the neon signs to find it. The street sellers and souvenir traders are more aggressive here and will only stop their attempts to sell you their products after several firm “no’s” or in the case of one determined restaurant bus boy who got in our faces; “fuck off idiot!”
As night fell and the rain continued we ventured out onto the streets for another visit to the tailor. A quick fitting of our almost completed clothes and we were off looking for a quiet place for dinner. By the time we headed back to the hotel at around 9pm most of the stores were closing and restaurants empty. In comparison to Da Lat the night before, Han Oi was a relative ghost town. With another early start ahead of a Vietnamese cooking class, tomorrow looks like another eventful day in Vietnam.
Day 4: Our final morning in Cambodia was spent wandering the street markets for a new travel bag for Carly. While packing her well-used suitcase the seam tore apart and with an hour until our driver arrived to take us to the airport, we went on a mission.
Luckily for us she found a bag that would accommodate her increasing number of clothes and soon we were on our way to the airport and on a plane bound for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
As we descended, the size of HCMC was astounding. It’s a huge city with an even bigger urban sprawl; life looked busy from our vantage point in the sky. Unfortunately for us we were about to spend the next hour and a half sitting at passport control waiting to have our visas issued. The paperwork was completed and submitted; we just had to sit and wait while a single person processed multiple plane loads of passengers wanting to enter Vietnam. Eventually we passed immigration and met our clearly pissed off driver who then proceeded to drive at break neck speed through the ridiculously hectic HCMC traffic.
Within an hour we arrived at our hotel and soon set off for a look around the nearby markets. Luckily for us we were inside the market pavilion when the heavens unleashed an almighty monsoonal storm.
Braving the downpour, we ran across the road and tucked into a fantastic dinner of Phõ followed by a tour of the downtown night markets. All in all our first night in Vietnam was a good one.