Nha Trang – a little bit of paradise…

I took the night bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, leaving at about 8.30pm and arriving around 7am the following morning. Being small I thought the sleeping seats were kind of comfortable but the way the bus driver was driving took away most of the comfort…

Sleeping bus

Sleeping bus

I met two of the Canadians from the night before again on the bus and one of them turned out to be my saviour. When we all got out of the bus I suddenly realized my phone was missing. I had put it in my pants’ pocket before getting off the bus and stepping onto the street immediately about 10 Vietnamese approached us offering their taxi services. They got pretty close so I assumed they must have stolen it, having heard tons of stories from other backpackers who got pickpocketed exactly that way… They told me I should go look again on the bus but I couldn’t find it. So one of the Canadians went on the bus as well to have a look and tadaa he found it. That totally saved me! I cannot remember the last time I felt so thankful. 🙂

After checking into the Hostel (True Friends Inn) and sleeping another 2-3 hours I went to the beach to lie in the sun and just relax. It was a very nice me-day, listening to music, napping by the sea, taking a swim and watching the Russians sun-bathing. They don’t lie down like any other people normally do but they stand in the sun, oustretching their arms to both sides and well, they just stand there and don’t move. They may turn around to tan the other side of themselves and put their hands on the hips for a short rest but that’s it. Absolutely hilarious!

Sun bathing Russian style

Sun bathing Russian style

But there weren’t just Russians at the beach, Russians are everywhere in the city and the signs on restaurants and travel agencies are often only Vietnamese and Russian, no English. I was handed a Russian menu in one of the restaurants as well and when I asked for an English one they had to search one…

In the evening I joined the Canadians and loads of other people from their hostel for dinner and some drinks/party at the Why Not Bar. Besides the Sailing Club on the beach it’s like THE place to go at night in Nha Trang – if more people were here. Since it’s low season both were not very full. We had some drinks before going out, getting some gin and tonic water and ginger ale for about 10 Euros total. Incredibly cheap and we paid the price the next morning. Hangover yeehaa… 😀

Pre-drinking and hanging out at the hostel

Pre-drinking and hanging out at the hostel

I slept in before going out for lunch and doing a sort of private tour to the waterfall with the Canadians. We had to treck quite a bit through some forest before climbing loads of stones to arrive at the waterfall. It was really nice with a lot of locals jumping in the water from one of the higher rocks. I didn’t jump into the water but in the end I joined climbing the rocks up higher for an amazing view on the top. I’m so proud that I went up there! 🙂

Nha Trang Waterfall

Nha Trang Waterfall

Proof: I really did climb all the way up :)

Proof: I really did climb all the way up 🙂

Tonight, I’ll be going to bed early as we leave 6.50am for diving already. It’s damn early but it’s gotta be worth it since Jacque-Yves Cousteau fell in love with the underwater world right here… 🙂

 

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Goodbye, Ho Chi Minh City!

After getting back from the Mekong Delta Tour it would be my last 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City. I was kind of looking forward to leaving the city and going further up North.

After enjoying my shower at the hostel, washing off the public bus sweat, I joined a group of Canadians for dinner. I had Pho again, I believe once I leave Vietnam I can’t have Pho for a while but I must use the chance being in the country to have as much Pho as possible! 😀

After dinner the Canadians went for some beers whereas I wanted to go to the Ben Thanh market which I missed on my last night in HCM a couple days ago. It turned out that the market itself was closed, just a few stalls were open on the road next to it, offering touristy goods heavily overpriced. I was shocked how much overpriced. I had got a couple pants in Bangkok for 340 baht and here they wanted 500.000 dong for it. That’s more than double!

Since the market was closed and there weren’t that many stalls I walked back through the park. The conversations with the Canadians who did their exchange in Singapore and are now traveling before going back to graduate made me think how long ago my graduation is already and all those things that have changed since then… I’m starting to feel old by thinking about things like that! 😀

While I was walking and thinking, it started to rain and I just made it back to the hostel before the world seemed to end for the rest of the evening and part of the night. I used the opportunity to go to bed early and slept in in the morning. Everyone else in the room had already left when I woke up around 9am and I packed my bags before leaving for some sightseeing.

First, I went to the Ben Thanh market which was now open. It is full of small little stalls and the owners are fighting for your attention to buy something from them. They don’t even refrain from touching you, which was a bit annoying after a while… I didn’t buy anything though as I still had to walk the whole day and didn’t want to carry anything on top of my bag and camera.

Ben Thanh market

Ben Thanh market


Ben Thanh market

Ben Thanh market

I walked past the Rex Hotel and its designer shops, the theatre and other nice hotels. I have not been to that part of the city before and it seemed like a completely different city actually. There were real sidewalks for a change!

Rex Hotel

Rex Hotel

I had lunch at Hoa Tuc which was recommended in my travel guide. I got some good authentic Vietnamese food (no Pho this time but spring rolls and pork with vegetables, egg and rice) at this really nice restaurant which cost about 10 EUR but was well worth it. I enjoyed every bite. 🙂

spring rolls

spring rolls 


lunch

lunch

After lunch I went by the Hard Rock Café and passed by the Notre Dame and the post office on my way to the Independence Palace and the Sri Mariamman temple.

HCM post office

HCM post office


HCM Notre Dame

HCM Notre Dame


palace

independence palace

By the time I finished my sightseeing walk it was already time to go back to the hostel to get ready for the night bus. So I went back through the park and enjoyed watching all the young Vietnamese children and teenager get together to chat or play games like badminton. Here, the kids still know how to spend their time with one another without using internet or other technical devices! 

Also, the kids are very eager to learn English so they use every opportunity to talk to the tourists and ask them like a ton of questions. I have been approached by two students asking me about my opinion on Vietnam, other tourists told me they were asked questions about what profession they’d recommend the Vietnamese to pick up after school. If one is in HCM and some time at hand, go to the parks and talk to the kids, it’s a great experience. 🙂

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The Mekong Delta Homestay Experience

The tour didn’t start that well with me showing up at the tourist office at 8am as I was told the night before and the lady almost screaming at me why I came there as she told me to come to another place. She kept running around, I had to follow, searching for probably the bus but apparently it was already gone. I therefore joined other tourists at the tourist office for the tour who surprisingly booked the same tour as me with a few exceptions to those that booked only the day tour. I wanted to spend 2 days at the delta to see the real floating markets in the early morning hours and stay at the home of some local Vietnamese people.

The day tour was nice, we went to a bee farm, a coconut production chain and listened to some traditional story-telling music while enjoying local fruits. I’m not sure whether the singers were singing out of tune or whether it just seemed like that to my Western ears. 

Vietnamese coconut production chain

Vietnamese coconut production chain

I met three Australians on the tour of which one knew Vietnamese. He also spoke to the locals and so I got to know a little more about the local people as well while we were on a little boat which was lead by a Vietnamese woman, passing by some villages with very pretty houses. It costs only about 20.000 USD to build a house there, which would be like 400 Million Vietnamese Dong, whereas in the city it’s more like trillions of Vietnamese Dong for building a house.

boat ride through the Mekong Delta

boat ride through the Mekong Delta

boat ride through the Mekong Delta

boat ride through the Mekong Delta

The tourists for the day tour then left to go back to Ho Chi Minh City and I was left with 4 more people staying overnight in the middle of no where waiting to be picked up. About an hour later we were actually picked up and joined another tour group on a bus for a longer ride to the Vinh Long Province. Just the moment the bus dropped us off with our tour guide it heavily started to rain. We crossed the street to drive the rest of the way to the My Hoa Village with Vietnamese on their motor cycle but due to the heavy rain they quickly gave up and we looked for shelter in one of the abandoned construction sites to wait for the rain to end. There was some thunder and it looked like the world was about to end but about half an hour later the sky was blue again and we continued our ride to the homestay village. It was a little scary as we were three people on the motorbike, driving on a max. 1 metre wide “road” through the village to the homestay place. We made it alive though 🙂

Our driver was also our host and he explained us that in his village live about 5000 people and they started to offer homestay about 7 months ago and it was very good for the village. The kids started to learn English (my god their English is amazing already!) and the locals started to learn about cleaning water, toilets and the environment.

Mekong Delta Homestay

Mekong Delta Homestay

We had a great dinner with Vietnamese pancakes and spring rolls that we made ourselves and afterwards joined to local men to chat and drink “happy water”: rice wine. Since it’s rude to decline drinking with the locals we had several shots, usually sharing 50/50 with one other person as it’s the tradition. We just needed one shot glass for the whole evening and the 1.5l bottle emptied rather quickly…

Mekong Delta Homestay Dinner

Mekong Delta Homestay Dinner


Mekong Delta Homestay Drinking Round

Mekong Delta Homestay Drinking Round

I went to bed rather early which was a good decision as the kids woke us up at 5.30am for breakfast and to leave for the boat shortly after. We rode about 1 hour to the floating markets that are still what they used to be and didn’t change for the tourists. Therefore all we saw was locals trading pineapples, sweet potatoes and other goods while we passed by and left. It was not as exciting as one would probabyl expect due to the hype of “going to see the great floating markets in the Mekong Delta”.

Mekong Delta Floating Markets Can Tho

Mekong Delta Floating Markets Can Tho

After the floating markets our tour guide brought us to a rice noodle production place after which we had to wait quite some time before leaving for the monkey garden. Our tour guide became very rude that day, making fun of all of us and refusing to explain us anything or telling us where we were going. In the monkey garden were no monkey but we were again left for a couple hours to wait until our trip continued. I had some really tasty local fruits while we tried to kill the time sitting on tiny wooden chairs with many other tourists.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Production

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Production

yummie fruit plate :)

yummie fruit plate 🙂

Once we finally left our guide brought us to some place in a little city to have lunch. The 40 minutes we were supposed to have for lunch quickly became only 20 minutes as it turned out that our guide still had to do some shopping and other things for which he dragged us along. He seemed to have his own agenda for that day and we were just a bothering bunch of people he had to take care of… 

After another wait we were picked up by a taxi to bring us to the bus transportation, our guide grinned at us and promised it would be a much higher quality than the bus we had on the day before. Well, he was lying. We ended up being shoved into a public transportation van with 20+ local people. The van smelled like dogs and horses and the AC was not working. I had about 30x30cm^2 for myself, sitting in my sweat for a 4 hour ride. Luckily there was no accident, we were like 10cm close a couple times… When a couple on my group started complaining our guide laughed at them, saying that we tourists always pay cheap and then expect to get more than we paid for. This is a great bus and we should not expect European standards… When we later complained to the tourist office he even lied about buying us beer all the time even though we had to pay for every single drink ourselves.

The lady at the tourist office didn’t really care about our complaint since we came back safe and there’s no way she could afford an AC bus for us even though this is what they advertise. Oh well, welcome to Vietnam!

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Vietnam War History

Having learned only the British/American view of the Vietnamese War when I studied in an International School in 9th grade I was very interested to see the Vietnamese side of it. I booked the tour to Cu Chi to see the tunnel system and planned to go to the War Remmant Museum after coming back to Ho Chi Minh.

I left the hostel early in the morning together with four other people and we drove in a bus that seemed like a bus for the local public transportation with little space and hardly working AC to Cu Chi. We had a stop at a place where handicapped people were handcrafting and drawing on wood with egg and sea shells. They looked very pretty once they were finished and it was fascinating with what precision they did their work.

We arrived at the tunnel place about 2 hours after we left Ho Chi Minh and first went into a little hut to watch a b&w movie about the war. I quickly stopped counting how often they repeated “… and became a war hero by killing Americans!”. It seemed a little bit like a propaganda video as it advertised how happy the Vietnamese people were that served in the war, being together in a group having fun and playing games when they were not fighting. It left the impression that the war was something great for the people whereas I believe it’s more like they made the best out of a horrible situation.

cu chi tunnel entry

cu chi tunnel entry

After the video we went to see the tunnel entries and some tried if they fitted through the hole. The guide first let us search for the entry and when one guy found and opened it there was a loud bang. During the war, if an American was lucky enough to find an entry to the tunnel system, he would never be able to tell anyone as a bomb would have gone off the moment he tried to open it.

Vietnamese traps

Vietnamese trap

The guide showed us many of the traps that the Vietnamese had installed in the country side for the Americans before we actually went down in the tunnel system itself. I expected it to be very tight and small from friends telling me about it but I didn’t even have to crawl. It does come in handy to be small some times! 🙂

cu chi tunnel

cu chi tunnel

Once everyone had the chance to go through the tunnel, the guide showed us the chimney used when the Vietnamese were cooking in their tunnels which they could not do just anytime to not bring any attention to the smoke. We tried some of the food they cooked at the time, it tasted a little bit like potato and seemed to well serve its only purpose: fill people’s stomaches.

During the whole tour there was one small break where the tourists could buy souvenirs, drinks and BBQ corn while others got the chance to fire weapons in a separated area. I found this to be quite ironical to offer weapon firing which is a typical American thing in a place that is totally against the Americans and war. They even allowed to climb a tank. I don’t know, I may be alone with that opinion, but in my eyes war materials are not for fun and playing around with. They cause so much harm and it just feels wrong, especially in a place like that, educating about war history.

When we got back to Ho Chi Minh I went to the War Remmant Museum which was a very shocking experience. I knew that the war was bad but I didn’t know it was this bad. Agent Orange is one of the worst weapons causing so much pain, even still today with children being born handicapped and malformed etc. since it damaged the DNA which is being handed down generations.

I had to skip some photos of the victims because it was just too much to take.
It was also very scary to see the many photo journalists’ photos that documented the war with captions like “the soldiers attempted to kill that Vietnamese family so I asked them to hold it, shot this photo, and turned around to leave when I heard them fire their guns.”
War is such a senseless instrument of politics and one might think that the world learns from wars like this but it seems like they will never learn their lesson… There will always be war and there will always be pain…

Having learned both sides to the Vietnam war now I believe that it must be something in between as both views are very one-sided. The Americans try to justify their going to Vietnam, helping the South, and the Vietnams only show the side of freeing Vietnam from the Americans and liberating the South. The fact that many Vietnamese fought against one another is not shown or mentioned anywhere – or I may have not noticed it due to the focus on killing Americans and Americans torturing Vietnamese…

After the museum there was still a little time left to go to the Chua Xa Loi temple and the memorial nearby for the monk that burned himself in protest against the buddhist prosecution.

memorial for the monk that burned himself during the buddhist prosecution in 1963

memorial for the monk that burned himself during the buddhist prosecution in 1963

After the Mekong Delta tour I will have to take another day to see all those other things left to see in Ho Chi Minh. I’m looking forward to it!

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Saigon Nights

I’ve arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday evening and got welcomed by being ripped off by a taxi driver. I managed to lower the price by 50% but I’m still 100% sure I payed way too much since our hostel has over priced tours and transportation and is charging only a little more to get to the airport as well.

I’m staying at the Saigon Backpackers Hostel nearby the famous backpacking street. Apparently they had bed bugs before but since the room I’m staying at just got sprayed and cleaned everything was fine. I had no issue during my nights there. I met a girl in my dorm room and she joined me for dinner outside before we went to bed. I wanted to have some Pho which was more difficult than I thought. We ended up at a place that actually turned out to have a German menu and another restaurant in Berlin and I ordered my Pho, expecting a noodle soup with loads of herbs including coriander. Oh, I was so longing to have that coriander! 🙂 

Well, there must have been some misunderstanding in the ordering process as they brought me a plate full of noodles. No Soup. I told them that I thought I had ordered a Pho and that it’s a noodle soup and so they kindly took it back to bring the noodle soup. It was alright but it had no coriander. Honestly, I have not seen any coriander here so far, even though it’s advertised with the Vietnamese food everywhere. I would have to try again for Pho.

The second night in Saigon I went out with four girls that were staying at my dorm room as well. Two were from Singapore but originally Kasach and Chinese and the other two were from America and from Poland but she’s been living in the UK. The Chinese had got a tip for the best Pho in whole Ho Chi Minh and we went to look for the place. It took us forever to find it, wandering in circles and asking for the address again and again. While we were searching for the place we found some kind of festival / concert happening at the park and there was amazing Vietnamese dancing and singing. I didn’t understand anything except for “Viet Nam” and “Ho Chi Minh” and it turned out that they were celebrating Ho Chi Minh’s birthday.

We passed the lower end of the Ben-Thanh-Market, to which I definitely have to go back to walk over and have a look, and after a couple more corners we finally made it to the Pho Tony Hung restaurant. The tip wasn’t bad, the Pho was really exceptionally good, we all took the Pho Special. Unfortunately, the service was anything but good, they even tried to trick us with the bill by adding more food to it than we actually ate. Could have been an honest mistake…

After dinner I went to book my Mekong Delta tour and rejoined the rest for a couple cocktails at Pham Ngu Lao street. They had 2 for the price of 1, so we could not refuse the offer. After the drinks some went on to a Salsa place to end the night there but having in mind to get up shortly past 6am for the Mekong Delta tour and still having to pack my bag etc. I went back to the hostel with another girl who booked an early tour in the morning.

 

Well, I’ll be back for one more night after the tour… 🙂

 

 

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