PANORAMIC VIEW OF SAPA AND THE NEARBY MOUNTAINS - TAKEN FROM RAM HONG MOUNTAIN

 
     

 

 

40 years ago, the name "Vietnam" struck terror in the hearts of men my age. Then, in the late 60's and early 70's I was draft age and the debate about the Vietnam war was a central topic in our lives. I was lucky - I was deferred, first as a student, then for working in a critical industry, and in addition, got a nice high number in the draft lottery which was started in 1969. Several friends and acquaintances weren't as lucky as me, and a few didn't come back.

I have to confess that these thoughts went through my head quite a bit during our visit to Vietnam. I was happy to be there for my first visit rather than my second, In Ho Chi Minh City I was disturbed by the exhibits at the "War Remnants Museum", and I saw quite a few American men my age either with Vietnamese wives, or with young people who I assume were children with Vietnamese Mothers. It was clear that they weren't guides as those I heard spoke perfect native American English.

The country opened its doors to western tourism (including former Vietnamese citizens) in the mid 90's and is clearly investing in tourism infrastructure. We were quite surprised to find that all the hotels were quite good and every one of them (3-4 star hotels) had free internet access and free WiFi access as well. Language is still a barrier, but things are improving and the younger generation is learning English. It was very good to have  English speaking guides with us.

 
     


PINEAPPLE:
PROBABLY THE MOST POPULAR DESSERT IN VIETNAM

As we did in China, we contracted with a local tourism company, "First Choice", headquartered in Hanoi, who made all the arrangements on the ground, made hotel reservations, and provided a guide and driver in each location. (They are also known as Mekong Delta Travel.) This time we were a group of 3 couples. We built the program together, and I personally approved each hotel. The service was excellent and everything went perfectly, with only one small mistake (hardly worth mentioning) when we were checked into the wrong hotel in Siem Reap in Cambodia. After checking in, we went to lunch, and the local office manager came to the restaurant to profusely apologize and tell us about the error and that we would be moved to the right hotel directly after lunch. The hotel we eventually checked into was 4 stars as we had expected rather than the 3 star we had been first checked into.


COCONUTS AND LITTLE BANANAS ARE ALSO VERY POPULAR.

     
 

Vietnam has a population of 86 million people and is the 13th most populous country in the world. It is also long and thin and has a very defined tourism trail, which is often combined with a few days in Cambodia, which we did, primarily to see one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world - Angkor Wat, which is located right near the city of Siem Reap.  Below is the itinerary in detail.

 


CLICK ON THE MAP ABOVE TO SEE A FULL SIZED MAP OF VIETNAM

DAY 1,2

ARRIVE IN HANOI IN THE EVENING OF DAY 1, TOUR HANOI, 2 NIGHTS IN HANOI

DAY 3

DRIVE TO HALONG BAY, AFTERNOON & OVERNIGHT ON JUNK, THE DRAGON 2

DAY 4 MORNING & LUNCH ON JUNK, DRIVE TO HANOI
DAY 5

OVERNIGHT ON NIGHT TRAIN TO LAO CAI, DRIVE TO SAPA UPON ARRIVAL, TOUR AREA, OVERNIGHT IN SAPA

DAY 6 TOUR SAPA AREA, NIGHT TRAIN BACK TO HANOI
DAY 7,8 MORNING FLIGHT TO HUE, 2 NIGHTS IN HUE
DAY 9 DRIVE TO DANANG AN HOI AN
DAY 10

MORNING FLIGHT TO HO CHI MINH CITY, TOUR CITY, OVERNIGHT IN HCM CITY

DAY 11

DRIVE THROUGH THE MEKONG DELTA AND OVERNIGHT AT CAN THO

DAY 12

DRIVE TO CHAU DOC ON BORDER WITH CAMBODIA, OVERNIGHT IN CHAU DOC

DAY 13 HIGH SPEED BOAT TO PHNOM PENH, & OVERNIGHT
DAYS
14,15 &16

NOON FLIGHT TO SIEM REAP, TOUR ANGKOR WAT & VICINITY FOR 2.5 DAYS. EVENING FLIGHT HOME ON LAST DAY.

     
 

 
     


OUR GROUP IN FRONT OF THE HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM

In Hanoi, we stayed at the Luxor hotel which was quite adequate and became very familiar to us. We stayed there overnight twice, and visited twice more. We were immediately impressed by several things about Hanoi. First, everybody rides around on motor scooters and there are very few cars for a major city. Second, all the drivers honk and honk and honk.  Crossing the street in this city is an "art-form". Do as the locals do. Hop into the street and hope you will make it to the other side.  We walked around and around and spent hours soaking up the sites of the city. We also noted that many people were eating on low stools at makeshift restaurants located on the sidewalks.


A TYPICAL HANOI STREET FILLED WITH TUK-TUKS AND SCOOTERS


THE HORSE OF MILITARY HERO TRAN HUNG DAO AT THE JADE TEMPLE

In Hanoi, we visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the One-pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, the Museum of Ethnology, Quan Thanh Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, and the Ngoc Son Temple, also known as the Jade Temple because of the presence of a jade Buddha. We also shopped in the old quarter and in the evening went to a water puppet show. See the pictures to the right and left. 


A GROUP PLAYING TRADITIONAL VIET MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS


ALISA PETTING ONE OF THE TURTLES (STELEA) AT THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE

The mausoleum is a must to see as Ho is the father of united Vietnam, and is clearly revered as a god (at least by the older generation). He's also embalmed very nicely and the whole place is quite impressive. This was the only place where we saw lots of military types keeping things orderly who also made sure we didn't have our hands in our pockets when we looked Ho in the eye.  Definitely no pictures inside. Right next to it is a complex where Ho lived which is also very interesting. The Temple of Literature is the oldest university in Hanoi, maybe all of Vietnam and was a very pleasant place to visit. Visit this link with more information as well as a very good video. You'll feel like you were there.


A VERY POPULAR ART FROM IN VIETNAM; COPIES OF WELL KNOWN ART.
PRICE FOR ONE PIECE, $20-40


A VILLAGE SCENE AT THE ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM

The Museum of Ethnology was fascinating with exhibits from many of the country's ethnic groups. The water puppet show in the evening was also entertaining.   In the afternoon we visited the old market and Hang Bong street after which our guide left us so he could run home and then we walked around in circles for a couple of hours in the chaotic streets of Hanoi.


WATER PUPPET SHOW;
THE PUPPETS ARE IN A POOL OF WATER


A TYPICAL SIDEWALK RESTAURANT IN HANOI

 I think the most interesting thing we did (and maybe the most dangerous) was eating at a very seedy restaurant serving a south Vietnamese ethnic dish called "Boo Bah", pronounced just like it's spelled. The restaurant was a hole in the wall, with refuse thrown on the floor, but the food was absolutely fresh (like everywhere in Vietnam), prepared right before our eyes, and as tasty as it was cheap.


 

 

OUR BOO BAH RESTAURANT


THE FIRST THING WE SAW WHEN WE SAT DOWN - THE FLOOR.

OUR BOO BAH CHEF

THIS IS BOO BAH. FORGET THE LETTUCE WHICH WAS ALISA'S SPECIAL REQUEST.

 
     
 

 
     


JUNKS ON
HALONG BAY

After 2 nights and 1 full day in Hanoi, we drove to Hon Gai on Halong Bay. Halong Bay is enchanting, and beautiful, even in the misty weather which we found. There is a large contingent of junks which take you into this beautiful fairyland and  smother you in good feelings, great food, and a myriad of activities. We went on the "Dragon 2" junk and did only one night. The most popular cruise is the 3 day- 2 night cruise. The activities include visiting a floating village, kayaking, hiking, visiting a cavern with stalactites and stalagmites, and swimming.  We had a great time and if we had an extra day to spend, this is where we would have spent it.


OUR HALONG GUIDE TAY AND I
ON THE DRAGON 2 MAIN DECK


KAYAKING ON HALONG BAY

On the way, we stopped at a very interesting factory for a tour and a buying spree. The factory specializes in various artwork and most of the employees are disabled. They did absolutely beautiful work, and the main item was silk embroidered creations. Example of a few  to the right.


SILK EMBROIDERY


OUR BOAT PILOT ON A HALONG BAY EXCURSION

Here's some practical advice for visiting Halong Bay. Leave your main luggage at your Hanoi hotel and take only what's necessary for a fun filled informal day or two on a small boat. The junk cabins are small, and the luggage will just be a burden. Bring a bathing suit and be prepared to get wet. To the right is a picture of our substitute captain, Udi on the deck of the Dragon 2.


UDI AT THE HELM OF THE DRAGON 2


THE OUTDOOR DINING AREA ON THE DRAGON 2

And did I say that the chef was amazing and that the meals were the highlight of our Halong Bay trip? We had only one evening meal but it was memorable. The food was very tasty and each dish was accompanied by an incredibly carved piece of fruit. They had a nice selection of wine and we finished the evening singing and having a great time.


ONE OF THE DRAGON 2 CHEF'S CREATIONS

     
 

 
     
 

After leaving Halong Bay, we drove back to Hanoi where we visited the Luxor Hotel in order to rearrange our belongings and take warm clothes to visit Sapa, which can be pretty cold as it is at an elevation of 1600 meters. We got on a sleeper train and tried to sleep through the night. The train rocks and rolls and at 5 a.m. in the morning a lady starts walking through the car offering coffee. We were off the train and in Lao Cai by 6 and on our way to Sapa by 6.30. The train ride wasn't too bad, except for the fact that the running water was off, or turned off very early during the night.  The attendant on the sleeper car used a bucket of water to flush the toilet every hour or so. They even provided complimentary drinks and a few pieces of fruit in our cabin.


2 HMONG GIRLS ON MAIN STREET IN SAPA

     


OUR BEDROOM
AT THE CHA PA BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN SAPA

It's about an hour ride to Sapa and when we got there, we were taken directly to a restaurant for breakfast. The weather was completely fogged in and we couldn't see the beautiful view from this restaurant. After breakfast we visited our hotel, which was probably the best hotel of the trip. It's called Cha Pa Boutique Garden Hotel and was a real gem. It only has 4 rooms and is owned by a Norwegian transplant who is married to woman from the Hmong tribe. The place was beautiful, well run, beautifully decorated and the food and wine list were very nice. To the left is a picture taken inside our room and to the right is a picture of the entrance to the hotel.


THE ENTRY WAY TO THE CHA PA HOTEL

     


COFFEE SHOP IN CAT CAT VILLAGE

Sapa reminded us of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and other similar towns which seem to exist mainly to accommodate the tourists. It's surrounded by mountains, full of hotels, restaurants and tribal women selling their handicrafts. The main activity here is to visit the ethnic tribal villages in the area. The first day we visited Cat Cat Village, home to the Hmong tribe, which is a long walk down the hill from Sapa. In Cat Cat village we visited one private family home and to the right is a picture of a young mother. To the left is a picture of a cafe we stopped in for a cup of coffee. The mother is making coffee. In front of the television, are her 2 young daughters who are mesmerized by what they are watching, namely "Fashion TV"! To get back up to Sapa (quite a long and steep road), we paid motor scooter drivers to take us up for 2-3 dollars a head.


HMONG WOMAN IN CAT CAT VILLAGE


RICE TERRACES

On the second day, the weather cleared up and we visited 2 other villages, Lao Chai (Black Hmong) and another nearby village whose name I do not remember. Both are about about 15 KM from Sapa. We spent plenty of time visiting Sapa itself, its markets and trekked up Ham Rong Mountain, where there is an orchid garden, a beautiful landscaped area called "Europe Garden" and incredible views of Sapa and the area. There's a modest entry fee and it is about a 20 minute trek uphill, but the views are well worth it! Pictures to the right and left. To the Left is a picture of rice terraces and to the right is a picture of the view from Ham Rong Mountain.

SAPA INFORMATION & TOURS

FIRST CHOICE TRAVEL ON SAPA

SAPA PICTURE GALLERY BY QT LUONG

SAPA-TRAVEL SITE

     


ARIELLA FIGHTING OFF THE TRIBAL WOMEN SELLING THEIR WARES

On the free night we had we ate in a restaurant called The Nature Bar & Grill. The meal was great and the atmosphere was fun. Unfortunately, it was also cold, and we asked the waiter if they could do anything. She brought a brazier full of hot coals and put it under our table and we loved the idea. It kept us warm and they refreshed it whenever we asked. Sapa was great fun and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vietnam. With that, I will add one word of warning. If you buy any item from one of the tribal women, the others will get very aggressive about selling as well. Tell them no forcefully, or they will not leave you alone. Check out the picture to the left. Ariella had difficulty saying no, and they really gave her a tough time.
 


HEADDRESS OF A RED DZAU WOMAN

 

Having already survived one sleeper train ride, the way back was easy. We knew what to expect, there was running water all night, and the ride was shorter (because it was downhill?).

 
     
 

 
     

 

Back in Hanoi at 5.30 AM, we returned to our favorite hotel (the Luxor) got rooms and went to sleep for a few hours. After breakfast, we got on a plane to Hue the ancient capital of Vietnam. Having arrived at around noon, the first thing we did was check into our hotel, the Asia Hotel, where we stayed for 2 nights. This was a pleasant enough hotel right in the center of town, but the attention getter was the beds in our rooms decorated with flower petals saying "warmly welcome". There were flower petals floating in the sink as well. Click here to see our welcome message.

 


DUEY, OUR GUIDE AND I ON THE PERFUME RIVER

Our guide in Hue was Duey, a very intelligent and eloquent guide. "Eloquent" doesn't mean that he had a great accent. His accent was pretty much like all the guides (understandable at best), but he was very good at explaining things and went into great detail when doing so. To the left is a picture of Duey and me on the boat ride we took on the Perfume River.

 

 

He took us to one of the best lunches we had while in Vietnam, a 9 course meal right across the street from the hotel. It was good enough to go back there for dinner in the evening.  The restaurant was called "Phuoc Than Garden Restaurant", and here's a picture to the right  of one of the most interesting dishes we had. It was called "blue pancakes" but was basically rice jelly with ground shrimp on top. It doesn't sound like much, but it was delicious!   The restaurant doesn't have a website, but here's a web blog by Vietnam visitors with a complete review and pictures of all the dishes they ate.


BLUE PANCAKES
IN HUE


ONE OF THE MANY GATES INSIDE THE IMPERIAL CITADEL OF HUE

Hue was the center of political activity in Vietnam for 2000 years and was the capital for 400 years until the 20th century. The main attraction in Hue is the Imperial Citadel,  a small version of Beijing's forbidden city. After the Citadel, we visited Dong Ba market, one of the main markets in Hue. Everybody had a great time at this market, and here we bought several cheap watches. Alisa bought 2, and one still works! Picture to the right.


IN THE DONG BA MARKET IN HUE

 

The following morning, we took a cruise on the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda (also known as the "Heavenly Lady Pagoda"), and the Minh Mang Tomb. As soon as we left the pier, the boat became a floating gift shop, and the very charming boat lady managed to sell us a mountain of kimonos, dresses, and jewelry. On the right is a picture of me trying on a shirt (one of the few items we didn't buy).


MODELING CLOTHES ON THE PERFUME RIVER


THIEN MU PAGODA

We visited both the Thien Mu Pagoda and the Minh Mang Tomb. Here is a site describing a visit there with lots of pictures. To the left is a picture of Alisa "chatting" with one of the guards at the Thien Mu Pagoda.

 


COLORFUL INCENSE ARRANGEMENTS

After lunch, on the way to our next destinations, we passed a very interesting roadside market where they were selling the usual souvenirs, as well as beautifully colored bunches of incense sticks, which were carefully arranged on the side of the road. To the left is one such arrangements, and to the right is a young woman who is applying the color and making the arrangements. 


INCENSE ARRANGER

 

The first place we visited after lunch was the Tu Duc Tomb, the final resting place of Tu Duc, the longest reigning emperor of Hue. The main attraction here was dressing up in royal garb and taking funny pictures. To the right is a picture of King Udi, and Queen Alisa riding to their coronation.
After the drive back to Hue, we did some shopping and then ate in the same restaurant where we had eaten lunch the previous day, this time accompanied by Vietnamese music and 2 bottles of wine.


PLAYING KING AND QUEEN AT TU DOC


THE VIEW FROM HAI VAN PASS NEAR DANANG

The next day, we drove through the Hai Van pass on the way to Danang and Hoi An. This is a pass high in the mountains with beautiful views down to the beach. We discovered that it is a place where newlyweds go to get their wedding photos. The day we were there, there was a very strong wind and we could barely stand. To the left is a view of the beach from the road near Hai Van pass.

 
     
 

 
     
 

In Danang, we visited the Cham Museum, the Marble Mountain, and then we had lunch. The Cham museum is dedicated to the artwork of the Cham people, an Indic people who flourished along the Vietnamese coast between 500 A.D. and 1500 A.D. The museum was very interesting and the visit took about an hour.  To the right is a view inside the museum. Photography was allowed freely. Here's another informative site about the museum.


THE CHAM MUSEUM IN DANANG

 


MARBLE MOUNTAIN NEAR DANANG

Marble Mountain is a holy mountain overlooking Danang, where marble is quarried, and on top of which are several shrines, pagodas, and many caves, some of which are quite large with abundant statuary, stories, and legends. It was involved in the fighting during the war years, and was used by north Vietnamese forces to observe American forces in Danang. It's a long hike up, but it's well worth it. Here's a picture to the left of the view, and some more links about Marble Mountain to the right.


THE LEGEND OF MARBLE MOUNTAIN

YOUTUBE CLIP OF A VISIT

SOME BACKGROUND AND A TOUR DESCRIPTION

VWAM:
VETS WITH A MISSION

 

One thing we saw in Danang that we saw nowhere else was very extensive tourism projects right along the beach. Almost the entire beachfront on the south (and partly to the north) side of Danang is fenced off and major tourist complexes are being built. Our guide told us that the projects were funded by Australian, South Korean and Japanese companies.

 
 

The village at the foot of the mountain is called Nui Kim Son and is filled with marble carving businesses and marble shops selling marble souvenirs.  We visited one of the factories and got a tour and then were set loose in the store. Alisa bought a little rooster, and that's the only item we couldn't find when we got home. They really do incredible work, and to the right is a picture of a couple of the girls who work there doing the finishing on a statue, work which will take a couple of days.


MARBLE WORKSHOP


LUNCH IN HOI AN

After we got to Hoi An, we ate lunch at a very interesting restaurant, "Le Ba Truyen II", where we had another multi-course meal, and afterwards, visited a silk factory. As for the restaurant, I searched the internet for a web site, and I was surprised to find this review on "Chowhound". It's a beautiful place, and the food was excellent.

 
     

HOI AN WORLD HERITAGE

VIETNAM TRAVEL BLOG ON HOI AN OLD TOWN

ASIAN ARCHITECTURE: GREAT SITE ABOUT THE JAPANESE BRIDGE

After lunch, we continued into the old city of Hoi An which we thoroughly enjoyed. Some will complain that it is overrun with tourists, but we loved it just the same. It's a  fun place, full of stores, restaurants, bars, and literally lights up at night and there is no vehicular traffic except for certain hours. We had a great time! This was also the only place the group split up. Three of us strolled the town in the evening, and the other three took a cooking class in the hotel at 8 PM! To the right is a picture of one of the old town landmarks - the Japanese Bridge. Here is an excellent professionally done video about Hoi An old town on the UNESCO world heritage site. It's worth a click! 


THE JAPANESE BRIDGE IN HOI AN


COOKING CLASS AT THE HOI AN HOTEL

Vietnamese Cooking classes are advertised all over, but this was the only place we enquired seriously. We asked at the hotel at 6 PM if a class was possible that evening, and after a few phone calls, the girl at the desk offered a class at 8 PM for $20 per student. Alisa, Ariella, and Udi took up the offer.  Paolo, Rebecca and I went into town and came back at 9:30 so we could enjoy the food which had been prepared.   Both groups had a great time that evening. To the left is a picture of the cooking class.

 
 

The old city was fun, the cooking class was both entertaining and tasty, but the highlight of our visit to Hoi An was the silk factory, which we visited in the late afternoon. We were shown the process, the girls at work, the myriad products, and then taken into the showroom, where beautiful silk clothes were on display. The girls tried clothes on, and of course, everything is custom made. Alas, we had a flight to Ho Chi Minh City at 8:30 in the morning, and it was already late in the afternoon.  "No problem! No problem at all!", we were told. "We will bring the clothes to your hotel at 5 a.m.. Please be ready to come to the lobby in order to try them on."  And so it was. The beautiful clothes were sewn overnight, they were at the hotel at 5 a.m., and we were off to the airport by 6! The name of the factory is "Thang Loi".


SILK FACTORY IN HOI AN


A LANTERN SHOP IN HOI AN

In Hoi An, we stayed at the Hoian Hotel, which is about a 5 minute walk to the old town. This is a nice hotel, but is large and sprawling with several buildings (up to 3 floors) and no elevator. An interesting place too ,as a day trip from Danang or Hoi An, is "My Son", a ruins site of the Champa Empire. We didn't visit it.

 
     
 

 
     

OFFICIAL GOV'MENT TOURIST SITE FOR HCM CITY

VIETNAM TRAVEL MALL ON HCM CITY

As noted above, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, renamed at the end of the war in 1975. It's considerably larger than the capital, Hanoi, and is clearly more prosperous and modern. Our guide here was Phong, probably our favorite guide of the trip. The first thing we did in HCM City was to visit the Post Office building and other buildings in the city center. There are lots of neighborhoods and buildings which clearly show the French influence and the post office building is one of the best examples. To the right is a picture (with a tiny bit of retouching) of Udi holding up the huge picture of Ho Chi Minh which is mounted on the far wall as you enter the main entrance. Here is a terrific YouTube clip of the post office building.


EVERYBODY'S FAVORITE PICTURE IN THE HCM POST OFFICE BUILDING

 

The second thing we did was visit the "War Remnants Museum", which exhibits the horrors of 40 years of war which the country went through. This museum was thoroughly depressing (as it is probably intended to be), but shouldn't be missed. It's a comprehensive collection of weapons, pictures, and documentation about the wars with both the French and Americans, with the emphasis on the latter.  It used to be called "The War Crimes Museum". At one point during the visit, our guide, Phong, took me aside and confided (in an almost apologetic manner) that today, nobody wants to talk about the war years. People are mainly interested in making money and improving their lives. His father, by the way, was a soldier in the north Vietnamese army and fought against the Americans in the south. 

 


LACQUERWARE FACTORY SHOWROOM

After the museum, we visited a more pleasant place - an  incredible lacquer-ware factory. I call it incredible because the products are so beautiful. The company is called Tay Son. One of the techniques they use is paintings made by crushed duck egg shell, and then coated with several coats of lacquer. We bought a small one. To the left is one corner of their immense showroom.

 


INCENSE SMOKE AT THE THIEN HAU PAGODA IN HCM CITY

We had lunch and then checked into the Saigon Hotel, which was probably the seediest hotel of the entire trip. The best aspect of this hotel was that it was right across the street from the 5 star Sheraton. In the afternoon we visited the opulent Presidential Palace, built during the "American War" and the Thien Hau Pagoda, a Chinese Tao pagoda in the center of the city, and then the Ben Thanh market. Here's a nice travel blog with some unusual and beautiful pictures from the Thien Hau Pagoda. To the right is a picture of the meeting room in the presidential palace, and to the left is a picture of burning incense at the Thien Hau Pagoda.


OPULENT MEETING ROOM AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

 

The market was a big hit and half the group decided to stay there by themselves after our visit with Phong was over. They came back to the hotel by cab, which cost about $2. This market was probably the best market we visited in all of Vietnam. It was big, very well organized and full of interesting things. To the right is a picture of a girl in the market cutting up jack fruit. That's Alisa on the left giving her some advice.


BEN THANH MARKET

 

While strolling around Ho Chi Minh City looking for a restaurant, we came across an artist's gallery where they sold hand painted t-shirts and other very beautifully crafted quality merchandise. The name of the gallery is "Tara & Kys Art Gallery", and it is located at 101 DongKhoi Street. Tara and Kys are the two artists whose gallery it is. Check out the web site linked above where there are lots of examples of their beautiful work. Needless to say, we bought lots of stuff here. It was a welcome respite from the $3 t-shirts in the markets.        

 


VIETNAM HOUSE RESTAURANT IN HCM CITY

Dinner in Saigon was memorable. We had only one evening here, and we wanted to make the most of it. We roamed and shopped, and found the best restaurant of the trip - "Vietnam House". This was one of the best meals of the trip, and certainly the most expensive. The bill was $21 per person. Most meals in Vietnam cost between $5 and $10 per person.

 
 

This restaurant was very very nice, and even had a live pianist playing western music. It's located in a restored French colonial house and serves a varied menu including local dishes as well as western ones. To the upper left is a picture of the restaurant and the pianist, and to the right a very interesting dish which they called  ravioli, which were stuffed with some sort of seafood. 


RAVIOLI AT VIETNAM HOUSE RESTAURANT

     
 

 
     


BOAT PILOT IN THE MEKONG DELTA

We continued into the Mekong Delta with our guide Phong. We drove to Cai Be where we got on another boat and went to visit the Cai Be floating market. The life in the Mekong Delta is focused on and around the waters of the delta, which is the "rice basket" of Vietnam, one of the biggest exporters of rice in the world. In every direction are vast green rice paddies. We saw the floating market, all the villages along the water's edge, and also saw completely floating villages. To the left is a picture of our boat captain, a very nice lady who told us (through our guide) all about herself. She has 2 sons and she and her husband own the boat.

 
 

We spent most of the morning on the boat. We visited the floating market, as well as a rice candy and rice paper factory (a family operation)  and had lunch in a most interesting restaurant where we had "elephant ear fish" - picture to the right. It's grilled and served standing up, and the meat is served out on a rice crepe with vegetables and is eaten with the fingers. The procedure is similar to that of Peking duck, and the waitress demonstrated for us.


ELEPHANT EAR FISH


NIGHT LIFE
IN CAN THO

After lunch, we took a ferry to Vinh Long and visited the market there. It wasn't much of a market and we continued on our way to Can Tho, which is the biggest city in the Mekong region. We stayed at the Ninh Kieu 2 Hotel, which was a pretty decent hotel. Can Tho is a lively city and we enjoyed strolling around in the evening. There was a carnival atmosphere as the Tet holiday was very close. To the left is a picture of one of the street vendors pressing cane stalks to squeeze out the juice.  We ate at a touristy restaurant on the water and attached to a market where we bought a few shirts. Buying shirts in the market is cheaper than doing laundry.

 
 

The following morning, we got on another boat, this time to sail to the largest floating market in the area - Cai Rang. We sailed into the market and among the myriad small boats selling their produce. There were so many great pictures on this day. Below are a few.  No need for any explanations about these pictures.

 
 

SCENES FROM THE CAI RANG FLOATING MARKET

 
     


RICE NOODLE FACTORY

The day continued with a visit to a crocodile farm where we ate lunch, (yes, crocodile was on the menu), and a visit to another rice sheet factory. At the crocodile farm, the owner's son was getting married so our lunch was accompanied by terrible karaoke music which is very popular at weddings in Vietnam. We particularly enjoyed this rice noodle factory. The technique involved is fascinating and it was hard to believe that they made over a ton of sheets per day during the Tet season. 

 
 

To the above right is a picture of the mother of this family operation. She worked with an incredible rhythm and looked every bit the part of family matriarch. In the picture she is smoothing out the rice batter which is cooking on a round flat heated surface. After a minute or two, the sheet will be lifted off and placed on a bamboo mat for drying in the sun. At the end of the process, the sheets will be sliced into noodles. The heat for the cooking process is provided by burning the rice husks.  To the right is a picture of the rice sheets drying in the sun.


RICE SHEETS DRYING IN THE SUN

     
 

Later in the day, we reached Chau Doc, a town on the border with Cambodia. There's not much in this town and the only reason we were there was that the most convenient way to get to Phnom Penh from the delta area is the high speed boat from Chau Doc.  Our hotel was the Halong Hotel and was brand new. On the other hand, not everything worked, and the whole place was poorly designed.  We had dinner at the hotel because there was no place else to go. Dinner was OK, but breakfast was non-existent.

 


UP THE STEPS TO THE PAGODA ON SAM MOUNTAIN

While in Chau Doc, we visited the pagoda on top of the Sam Mountain, to enjoy a beautiful view of rice fields and Cambodia. There were quite a few steps up to the pagoda, and it was quite hot, but the view was worth it. To the left is picture of our group walking up the stairs, and to the right is a picture of Phong, our guide with Cambodia in the background.


OUR GUIDE PHONG WITH CAMBODIA IN THE BACKGROUND

 

 

 
 

 
     
 

The next morning, we got up early to get to our high speed boat ride to Phnom Penh. It was a real experience. We were stuffed into a boat with about 15 places. The bags were piled all over and under the seats, and we started our 4 hour trip. After about 45 minutes, we stopped twice in order to go through border control on both sides of the border, after which we drove without stop for 2 hours. The funniest part was trying to fill out the border control forms on this rocking and rolling boat traveling at 28 knots. They even provided a snack lunch which included a sandwich and a bottle of water. It was served in a paper bag which I saved as a souvenir.  The tourist company running the high speed boat has a web site, although I couldn't find much information about the high speed boat we took.  

 

 

 

 

When we got to the pier at Phnom Penh, we were met by our guide Smey (pronounced "Smay"). Smey was the most experienced of the guides we had, as well as the funniest. He could have been a stand-up comic. He was very well organized, and had the best accent of all our guides.  To the right is a picture of Smey explaining to us how to extract the very tasty seeds from the lotus flower.


SMEY, OUR GUIDE IN PHNOM PENH


DINNER IN
CHAU DOC

Smey told us exactly what to do with the suitcases as we uncurled our bodies from the high speed boat from Chau Doc. We were surrounded by shouting porters who wanted to take our bags up the steep ramp leading up to the street level. "Give them $1 for every 2 bags. They will give you change if you don't have singles. Count your bags when we finish."  Those were Smey's commands to us. We followed his directions. He took us to the Cara Hotel to check in and then to lunch at the Khmer Surin restaurant, where we had a nice meal. To the left is a picture of our entire group waiting for another multi course meal.

 

CAMBODIA - A SEPARATE LAND

After lunch we toured the city. We were quickly impressed by the following observation. Despite the fact that Cambodia is significantly poorer than Vietnam, the cities are cleaner and more organized, and the demeanor in general is more refined. During our visit we also noted that the Cambodians speak English far more freely than the Vietnamese.


THE NATIONAL MUSEUM IN PHNOM PENH


THE ROYAL PALACE IN PHNOM PENH

We visited the Royal Palace,  the National Museum, and (of course) the central market.  To the  left is a picture of one of the building on the Royal palace grounds. To the upper right is a picture of one of the lions in front of the National museum. The market was very clean and well organized, and as noted above, most of the vendors spoke passable English. Check the picture to the right for some of the delicacies we found in the market.

 

THE BEST OF
KHMER CUISINE

THE KEY TO
KHMER CUISINE

ALL ABOUT
KHMER CUISINE

The Cara Hotel was quite acceptable, and in the evening, we took tuk-tuks to an area near the Royal Palace where the restaurants and nightlife are concentrated. We ate at a restaurant called "Khmer Borane" which specializes in Khmer cuisine, which we enjoyed very much.


DELICACIES IN THE MARKET

 

 

 

 


ALISA AND I
AT ANGKOR WAT

The following morning we flew to Siem Reap, a popular tourist destination mainly because of its proximity to Angkor Wat, one of the most famous ruins in the entire world. Angkor Wat is very impressive. We spent 2.5 days here and that's about right. We visited the ruins twice and took a cruise on the Tonle Sap lake. We also visited the Ecole-Artisan d'Angkor, another incredible factory where they make impressive artwork. It is dedicated to providing work for young rural people.  We stayed at the 4 star Angkor Holiday Hotel for 2 nights and our guide was Tara, a very amiable guide who has only been a guide for 14 months, and who is continuing his studies. It was very very hot and humid.

ANGKOR WHAT?
A COMPREHENSIVE SITE

SACRED PLACES

WORLD HERITAGE SITE

HILLMAN WONDERS OF THE WORLD

THE ANGKOR GUIDE

ANGKOR WAT
PHOTO GALLERY

PICTURE GALLERY
OF TA PROM


3 JULIETS AT THE BEDROOM WINDOW

Far be it from me to try to add or detract from the ocean of information about Angkor Wat. It is a truly an incredible place, and we visited all the places tourists are supposed to visit. The highlight is the area with all the tree roots growing over and around everything. I believe this particular area is called Ta Prom. To the left and right are a couple of pictures, and to the right are a few links about Angkor Wat.


WAITING FOR THE SUNSET AT BEKHANG HILL

On the first evening, we went to Bakheng Hill, where everybody goes to see the sunset. It reminded me of a lot of places where people go to see the sunset, except that here the area is very small for the hundreds of people who come, and you have to climb up very narrow and dangerous stone stairs to get there. Here's a picture to the left of our group on Bakheng Hill, and here's a web site with great pictures of the scary stairs. Here's a great essay with pictures about visiting Bakheng Hill.

A 2007 ARTICLE ABOUT THE DAMAGE TO ANGKOR WAT CAUSED BY TOURISM

 

Siem Reap is full of tourists and restaurants. The first night we went down to the night market area and ate at "Champey" where we had a great time and ate another nice meal. The highlight here was the conversations we had with a delightful waitress who served us. Here's a picture of her to the right, and here's a web site about 4 restaurants in Siem Reap, including Champey. She's studying English, and she was very sweet, and we left her a nice fat tip. 


SELECTING OUR COFFEE AT THE CHAMPEY RESTAURANT IN SIEM REAP


DANCE SHOW AT SIEM REAP

The following night (our last) we went to the Amazon Angkor Cultural Show. It featured an incredible buffet dinner and a show with traditional Cambodian dancing. Picture of one of the dances to the left. After the show, our driver dropped us off at the night market, and we had an entertaining evening there. The highlight was 5 of us having our feet nibbled by fish in a small pool. This is the latest rage - "foot massage by fish". Being a group, we had lots of laughs! 


SAILING ON TONLE SAP LAKE

     
 

On our last day, we visited Tonle Sap Lake, a large lake near Siem Reap. This lake is the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia, and is a designated UNESCO "biosphere". The flow of water into and out of the lake changes during the year, and its size changes dramitacally.  The "main event" on the lake was visiting a floating village populated by Vietnamese refugees. It didn't look like their conditions were any too good. Because of the changes in the flow and size of the lake, this village doesn't stay in the same place during the year, but migrates between 2 different places.

PICTURE GALLERY OF TON LE SAP LAKE

     
 

If you do visit Cambodia, don't forget to keep $25 per person in cash in your pocket on your way out. At the airport before your flight out of the country, you are required to pay a "service charge" of $25 per person.  Together with the $25 visa charge on entry, that's $50 per person. For a poor country like Cambodia, I guess that $50 per tourist is a significant sum of money.  Don't forget to put that in your budget.

 
     
 

 
 
  • If you plan on visiting Vietnam, now is the time to go. In another 10 years, it will probably turn into Thailand.

  • The food is very delicate in both Vietnam and Cambodia. It is usually freshly cooked, and the tastes are mildly spicy but never hot.

  • When crossing the street, be careful of the motor scooters. They don't stop for anybody.

  • Weather-wise, most recommendations say that there is no bad time to visit Vietnam, but there also isn't any best time. That's because of the long shape of the country. If it's warm in the north, then it's too warm in the south, and if it's comfortable in the south, it's quite cold in the north.

  • Very few of the tourist sites have their own web sites. Most information can be found on the sites of the travel and tour companies.

  • Almost without exception, the people are friendly and very helpful, although in Vietnam, very little English is spoken, except in Ho Chi Minh City.

  • The guides were all good, and the only problem is their terrible accent in English, although it is not as bad as with the guides in Thailand.

 
     
 

 
 

 

 
   
     
 
 
 

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This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

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UPDATED:  Nov 16, 2014