- from Hanoi to Saigon -
October 2002


This is an abridged description of a trip to Vietnam in October 2002. The intention is to give a first hand personal experience of how we did get to and through the country from Hanoi via Halong Bay, Cat Ba, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat to Saigon (see map). Despite the fact that we did not book anything in advance at all (except for the flight to Vietnam) and that we covered about 2000 km within 19 days, it still was a very comfortable trip with no hassle whatsoever.

Only because of the time frame we planned a couple of days ahead: What places or actions are a must or nice to see or to experience? What means of transport? Plane, train or bus? Are seats or sleepers available? Getting a seat on a bus next day or even same day wasn't a problem, but buses take longer and are inconvenient during the night or a whole day on the road. Seats on flights and trains should be reserved at least one day in advance and a two to three days contingency ought to be build into the itinerary, not necessarily for each travelling leg but still carried along until the final destination is reached on time. And the closer you get to the final destination the less contingency is needed.

Getting to Hanoi

We (Brigitte, Petra, Uli and myself) flew from Frankfurt with China Air to Hanoi via Taipei (and return from Saigon). The airfare was 722.00 Euro including the German airport tax. The Visa was another 50.00 Euro (for latest Visa regulation see German-Vietnamese Embassies) plus the departure airport tax of 12.00 USD in Saigon. The only inconvenience was the overnight stay in Taipei on the way to Hanoi, but we have made the best out of it (we could have continued our flight the same day if we would have switched Hanoi with Saigon). We have been warned in advance that the costs of the overnight stay are not included in the airfare. However, after some discussions with the employees at the China Air Transfer Desk in Taipei we did manage to get the prepaid vouchers for the Airport Hotel and for lunch and dinner as well. I do not exactly know what the policy is, because other travellers have reported that it was already included when they have booked the flight, however, they arrived at a later time during the day. China Air probably thinks that if you arrive that early in the morning as we did you may have ample time to go on a sightseeing tour of Taipei and that this is your own business and thus expecting you to pay for the hotel, etc. yourself. So, we told them that we are not intending to go to Taipeh. OK - we didn't, but to the next medium town Tao Yuan instead (30 minutes by bus)... and it was worthwhile. Next morning it only took us 5 minutes by the Airport Hotel shuttle bus to get to the airport departure building. The flight left 7.30 a.m. and at 10:10 a.m. local time we landed in Hanoi (1 hour time difference).

Arriving in Hanoi

We were picked up from the airport by our friend Bernd and with two taxis we went off to his home, a nicely located flat in a villa at a lake with a beautiful garden. He's been working as an IT-Professional for a Vietnamese Company in Hanoi over a year now as part of a development programme sponsored by CIM and GTZ. We did get a good introduction into the Vietnamese way of living and their mentality and of course the first sightseeing tour in the old town (or quarters) of Hanoi. We had lunch in a nice place, the
Moca Cafe
14-16 Pho Nha Tro
Telephone: +84-4-825-6334
(near the St Joseph's Cathedral)
which is frequented mainly by westerners and affluent Vietnamese, thus a little bit more expensive than other cafes, but reasonable. We also passed a place called "Kangeroo Cafe" I remembered having read about it in my "Lonely Planet" conducting Halong Bay tours. We booked just the 4 places left for the day after tomorrow (see description below). When it was tea time we relaxed on the rooftop cafe overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake. In the evening we went with Bernd and some of his colleagues to a real Vietnamese beer-garden for (I don't know how many dishes) dinner and a lot of beer poured from beer barrels with (garden) hoses and we had a lot of fun, too. Empty glasses were filled up automatically but it was still very difficult to get drunk. So no problem for Bernd to lead the way home with his motorcycle followed by our taxi.

Click the small picture to get it large.

View from Bernd's Villa On the Rooftop
In the Beergarden overlooking the lake

Another day in Hanoi

Next day was a Monday and we were on our own, because Bernd had to work. Getting around in Hanoi was easy and cheap: Metered taxies in abundance and the fare was never more than 15000 Dongs (1 USD). Any other means of transport like riding on a bus or even on a back seat bike would not have been much cheaper but less comfortable.
Lookin' for a ride on a backseat motorbike?
At first we straight went by taxi to the Gare (which the taxi driver better understood than railway station) in order to make reservation for the day after coming back from our already booked Halong Bay tour. Instead of four sleepers we were only able to get two sleepers (21 USD) and two soft seats (15 USD) for the night train to Hue. As gentlemen we stood back and took the seater. Maybe we could have got four sleepers at the Kangeroo Cafe (from their quota), but for 5 USD more per ticket. Be careful when paying at the railway ticket counter: insist that the amount is being checked in front of you. Petra and I really counted the money carefully before we gave it to the ticket counter lady. She passed the bunch of Dongs to another lady out of our sight. After a while she came back telling us that 100.000 Dongs (around 7 USD) were missing. That was a nice tip for the socialistic gang.

From the station we strolled back to the old quarters and the lake and and passed by the Moca Cafe again so we took the opportunity to lunch there. Not that we have already spent too much but since we will go to the country or seaside the next day we had to exchange some money. While Brigitte and Uli were sitting on a bank in the park at the Hoan Kiem Lake, Petra and I were looking for a real bank. There are two around the lake but it took us about an hour to find one, to queue up, to do the paper work and to count bills.

One word to the Dong: It's nice to be a millionaire but having a lot of money is a stow-away problem, because of the small denomination needed to pay the many peanut amounts and where it is difficult to get any change back. With an exchange rate of 15000 Dong for 1 USD I did get 6 Million Dongs for 400 USD (for two of us), that are 600 bills of 10.000 Dongs each. So one compartment of my big bag belt just bought in a Russian shop (from old friendship times) in Hanoi also served nicely as a money belt. The reason why I exchanged that much money: Firstly, there are not many banks around in the countryside, if at all. Secondly, the exchange rate outside of the big cities is worse. Thirdly, looking for a bank and the paperwork at the bank is very time consuming (see above).
Let's pray like the Vietnamese for having a lot of money for buying a Mercedes? Our Mercedes Sales Manager has never seen this model before
After having stocked up our money supply we dived back into the old Hanoian street life or better street market life: it's colourful, interesting, exciting but it's also smelly, noisy, crowded, especially by all those motorcycles conquering all spaces for parking and by their drivers trying to go everywhere even where it's hard to get through as a pedestrian. It really seems to be a free country as far as traffic is concerned; everybody takes more freedom for himself than in any western country. And there will be more and more motorcycles around until there will be nobody walking anymore. A motorbike ranks on the top of the wish list of any Vietnamese who does not own one yet. I have a dream that everybody will own a car someday and the traffic will collapse so that nobody gets through the old quarters anymore and it will become a pedestrian zone like in many European countries. Back four years ago it was like a pedestrian zone and in some streets you may still encounter a little of the good old times like on the following photographs:
You still see women with the carrying teeter-totter and selling fish
It's amazing how busy the people are in filling all the market gaps to make money. Here are definitely more little capitalistic entrepreneurs around than in western countries. And, there is always an annoying bunch of them sticking to your heels offering you all the goods and services in the world (name it and you get it, almost). We had no intention (yet) to buy anything but to afford a good seafood dinner at the famous
Shrimp Cakes Restaurant
(known in Vietnamese as Nha Hang Banh Tom Hotay)
1 D Than Nnien, Hanoi
(right at the Truc Bach Lake)
We ordered (no shrimp cakes, though) from the menu up and down (table was too small for all the dishes) and came up to around 40 USD for four of which the drinks made up a considerably portion of it. Short ride by taxi and soon we fell asleep in Bernd's guest beds to get a good night's rest for tomorrows endeavours.

Halong Bay

A trip to the Halong Bay with its spectacular islands is a must. And more so a cruise with a Vietnamese Junk, provided you have chosen the right one and we did: The Minh Quang of the Kangeroo Cafe. And here is the address:
The Kangaroo Cafe
(known in Vietnamese as Con Chuot Tui Cafe)
18 Pho Bao Khanh, Hanoi
Telephone: +84-4-828-9931
They are a little bit more expensive than some other tour operators, but you still get a lot for your money of just 55.00 US Dollars: Three days with Full Board (see description of the fantastic seafood dinner further down below), transportation by bus to and from Halong City, cruising the Halong Bay with the junk Minh Quang, sleeping on board first night and the second in a hotel in Cat Ba, entry fees to two caves, sightseeing tour of Cat Ba Island, either trekking in the Cat Ba National Park or relaxing on the Monkey Island. Only drinks must be paid, but it is a modest 1.00 USD for one Tiger beer. Isn't that something? And here we go:
The Minh Quang is waiting for us Other junks are waiting in vain
Getting settled in the lounge and then we are heading out to the islands
Watching the spectacular sights in bright sunlight. Stopping over to visit some caves.
That's the breakthrough to some "James Bond Islands"
That's the entry to a cave Inside the cave
If you think you have seen it all then you can relax on the sundeck, or read or sleep or talk to the other travellers or playing games. Or taking the chance at another stop to swim or splash about on the lilos, the floating airbeds. It must be admitted that the water is not that clear, nothing to see when diving, but we are here for the beer, i.e. enjoying the cruise. So the beer somehow will hit back into the sea sometimes accompanied with other stuff you may encounter in front of your head and that may be either your own or that of some Sea Gypsies living around.
Just relaxing on the deck chair or on the lilos, if it gets to hot
You need a hat on the sun deck or not
Following is an excerpt from a traveller's report (not a tale) found under thingsasian which exactly replicates our own experience during the evening : "After sunset all the tour members assemble on the main deck for a seafood smorgasbord that remains one of the hallmark of Kangaroo Cafe tours. As the Minh Quang slowly swings on its anchor line like a revolving restaurant floating in the night, the multi-talented boat crew prepares boiled crab, fried squid, and grilled fish served whole in a tomato-onion sauce. The cooks follow this up with French fries, rice, and rau muong (a sort of spinach-like green) while doing their best to accommodate vegetarians with vegetable soup, vegetable spring rolls, fried tofu, and a dessert fruit platter. The hungry diners wash down all this seafood with quantities of Tiger beer and chilled white wine. The beer puts a nice glow in the belly, but the after-dinner plunge into the bay puts a glow on the swimmers. Literally. Each person dives into the warm water, arches under the sea, and pops up in a spray of glowing phosphorescence. Every swing of an arm or leg ignites the water in a series of electric swirls. The face of the ocean suddenly resembles the night sky - a black galaxy of bright white dots that leaves dazzled swimmers astounded. As the evening progresses the Minh Quang becomes a floating slumber party with guests from all over the world, but it's really not crowded with a maximum of 16 passengers. The beer and the travellers' tales flow together until finally, after hours of good conversation, tour members drift off to bed, either into their reserved cabins or on deck. Most opt to sleep on the top deck and they will see the jagged outlines of the island pinnacles cast against a sky brilliant with stars. In a mirror image, the calm black waters of the cove reflect the stars and pinnacles. Then a dog's bark echoes incongruously off the cliffs from a distant boat, probably one of the all-purpose little vessels that serves as a family's home, transport, and livelihood. The gentle rock of the Minh Quang can barely be felt; tour members drift off to the creak of the anchor rope and the quiet splash of the hawser as it rises and falls from the water. Soon they're no doubt dreaming of seafood and phosphorescence."
Another junk, but under sail And here are the "pinnacles" in sun-set light
And now waiting for dinner (but no junk food) Can you see the phosphorized swimmers in the dark?

On the way to Cat Ba Island

I slept so well that next morning I missed the sunrise. But other travellers didn't and they also took the opportunity to jump into the water. I declined and rather took the shower before breakfast. Then we slowly headed for the town of Cat Ba on the Cat Ba island while still enjoying the landscapes of the different islands and watching the Sea Gipsy's floating houseboats and fisher boats on our way.
Another junk, but not that good as our A Sea Gipsy houseboat
Pagoda Hill Fisher boat

Cat Ba

The old harbour was behind a hill behind the town and after mooring at the pier we were picked up by a bus to be transferred via a hilly road to our hotel right at the waterfront. This town is geared to become a real tourist spot. A lot of new hotels still under construction the same as the road to get there from the harbour. What's finished is the beautiful promenade with palm trees and coloured flickering lights at night.
This is Cat Ba city and the town's harbour
After the hotel room number drawing and getting settled we met for a sightseeing tour of the island by bus through the western lowlands, by boat passing a lot of mangroves utilized for shrimp breeding, by foot visiting another cave.
Landscape of Cat Ba island Walking to another cave
After having explored the lowlands we had the choice of trekking either in the National Park in the rugged hilly part of the island or relax on the beach of the monkey island. We lazily decided for the monkeys and boarded the Minh Quang again. After being dropped off at the beach and laid down to take a sunbath we all of sudden jumped up because of attacking monkeys. We were not that hardly hit as some other travellers who have chosen to settle down under a shaded tree which was inhabited by a whole clan of monkeys. They very aggressively chased away the "humans" from under the tree who were so scared that they left all their belongings behind. The monkeys took the opportunity to scrutinize the bags and one woman did get hysterical when one monkey tried to fetch her bag with her purse and passport. Some men trying to salvage their stuff were attacked again with scratches and bites and eventually succeeded but gave up to sit again under that tree. Soon we all had enough sun and (monkey) heat and waved for the junk to embark again for sailing home to Cat Ba.
Not Planet but Island of the Apes Another Sea Gipsy houseboat
The evening was our own business, so was the dinner. We saw a floating restaurant from our hotel rooftop and it looked good through the binocular so we decided to try it out. We were the only westerners and it also has not been visited by a lot of foreigners either because nobody could speak English. I had to act as pot looker to be sure that we get what we thought to have ordered. Live fish could be chosen from the basin and wine from a dead bear (or from another strange animal) could have been tried as well.
That floating restaurant looks good (we too?) They are specialized on appetizers: bear's paw wine and ?
Next morning after breakfast the Minh Quang brought us back to Halong where we had lunch in the same restaurant as on our arrival day and soon after we were on the "highway" to Hanoi.

Last night and day in Hanoi

Back in Hanoi we were dropped off at the Kangeroo Cafe at around 6 p.m. We fetched a taxi and headed off to our new residence where we had made reservation before we went on the cruise, because Bernd expected two more guests from Germany and thus couldn't accommodate that many people. But that was another good experience: The hotel was located in a very nice neighbourhood close to Bernd's villa, had a swimmingpool and a very good Thai restaurant. The double room was more of an apartment with an efficiency unit (kitchenette); each one furnished differently, because they were some kind of timeshared owned. The price for two with breakfast buffet came up to 30.00 USD. And here is the address:
Oriental Park
33 Tay Ho Road
Quang An Quarter, Hanoi
Telephone: +84-4-8291-200
The whole next day we had ample time for swimming, relaxing, sightseeing ...
Pay a visit to the president in his palace Couldn't see Ho Chi Minh 'cause he was in Moscow
and shopping. The ladies only declined from buying any heavy stuff, because they didn't want to carry it during the whole trip that still lay ahead of us and the high freight costs for parcels would not have outweighed the savings. But some of the light stuff was acquired, which already served a good purpose on our trip: pairs of sunglasses, bag belts, pants and ...what else, Petra? The competition was big: almost all the same kind of shops gathered in one whole street; just moving to the next shop if the price will not drop. While the ladies had their shopping spree, the men had their tigers (beer) and coffee with cakes in one of the nicest cafes right at the lake.
Need cheap sunglasses, custom made? Celebrate the deal with a Snake Liquor?
Then better proactively order your grave (RIP) plate Finally Petra had enough and tried to escape from the sales gang
After dinner (simple and simply good) in our Kangeroo Cafe we took a taxi back to our apartment hotel to pick up our backpacks and headed off to the Gare.
Is that our train? Uli enjoys the train ride

Arriving in Hue

We arrived in Hue, the emperor's place, quite relaxed early in the morning, We had a selection of some guesthouse names ready (from the guidebooks) to tell the taxi driver where and in what sequence we would like to take a look. The number one and first time lucky was
Hotel & Restaurant
Binh Minh II (Sunrise)
45(19) Ben Nghe St.
Hue City - Vietnam
and we were all very happy, too, because all the employees were so happy. The young lady at the reception desk was giggling all the time when she was talking to us. We chose two newly and nicely furnished double rooms on the upper floors with the windows to the back (very quiet) and with air conditioning, fridge and television). The price was very reasonable: 8 (eight) USD for two including a big breakfast.

What to do now on the day of arrival? Looking and walking around with the help of a city map was easy. We headed leisurely for the emperor's palace over the bridge to the other side of the Perfume River (did not smell, though). On our way we did get a little bit hungry and entered the
Luc Thanh Restaurant
6A D Dinh Tien Hoang
Hue City - Vietnam
which is owned and serviced by a deaf and mute man and his daughter. The food is versatile, mainly vegetarian, good and cheap. So, no wonder that this place is already famous as a meeting place in the traveller scene.
Beautiful and funny birds at the bridge Having lunch in the Luc Than Restaurant
"Panzer" captured from the "puppet" (of the Americans) regime More panzers
The palace is not very well kept and actually not worth the entrance fee of 60,000.00 Dong, i.e. 4 USD. For getting the permission to take photos you have to pay another 1 USD. The prices would be OK if it would be used for repairing or even rebuilding some of the quarters. And this entrance fee scheme is valid for all other historical sites: You can easily spend 50 USD for that on one day.
One of the few emperor's tempels left The emperor's gardenhaus (with an exhibition)
Are the ladies taking a bath or not? Walking and walking but not much to see in the Palace.
So we were too exausted to join the Tai Chi group Rather took a trishaw before the feet were killing us
Since we actually stayed in the center of the new city on the right riverbank, most of the restaurants were just around the corner. In one of these we had dinner on two evenings, which is the
Tropical Garden Restaurant
5 D Chu Van An
Hue City - Vietnam
where you can sit either in the attractive main building, on the terrace or in the shaded tropical garden. A folk show is conducted almost every evening and the food and service is excellent. Prices are a little higher than of some other (forget the "Stop & Go" Cafe) joints but reasonable and still cheap to western standard.

Second day in Hue

For the second day we booked a boat trip on the Perfume River to some tombs of the various emperors for almost the whole day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.). I remember to have paid only 6 USD per person including the pick-up from the guesthouse and lunch on the boat. If the commission, the bus ride and the lunch ingredients were deducted there would have been not much left for our lady boat owner, a mother with some teenage kids. All the skippers are trying to make both ends meet by selling drinks and some souvenirs during the boat trip. But the competition is big: we left almost hundred boats still moored behind us.
This is our boat Sitting in the living, dining, sleeping room of the whole family
Boat people? The women have to work hard in the kitchen The men had to work hard to shovel sand
We made a stopover at the Thien Mu Pagoda, where we had the bad luck to intermingle with group tourists from a dragon (Neckelmann?) boat. Fortunately that over-aged bunch couldn't follow us on that sightseeing circuit that fast so our boat could then leave quicker to the Tomb of Tu Duc. However, that tomb was about 2 kilometres away from the river, so we had the choice to walk and pass through the motorcycle mafia throng awaiting us at the pier, or back seat ride one bike for 20,000, 10,000 or 5,000 Dongs (1.20 - 0.30 USD), depending how good you deal. We decided to have a walk first (we did not want to get the bedridden syndrome). Only Petra took the bike (as a nurse she probably knows another remedy).
The pond of the tomb of Tu Duc The water-boundary
Vietnamese group That's supposed to be a lion
The tempel of Minh Mang Way back the mound with the real burial site of Minh Mang
The tomb sites are very tranquil and relaxing to stroll around. Some of them were built during the lifetime of the emperor, so they could already visit their own graveyard and have a "picnic". You can read all about it in your guide book.
Girls, girls, girls strolling around in the market Old ladies are watching their stalls

Third day in Hue

We all unanimously agreed to stay another day in Hue or better: to make a whole day DMZ tour (for 9 USD), i.e. visiting the few historical remnants in and around the border between South and North Vietnam during the "American War". One day advance booking was OK (also done at the guesthouse reception desk). Pick-up was next day at 7:00 a.m. but we only did get out of Hue after 8:00 a.m. after all the other passengers have been collected from their hotels.

At the first stop we saw an American tank just few meters from the roadside (no big deal). The most interesting places, however, were the border Ben Hai River with its surrounding landscape and the tunnel village, which a couple of hundred Vietnamese peasants dug out with their hands for shelter from the American bombs and where they lived up to 3 years or so without seeing any daylight; some of them even did not get a chance to look at the nightly sky.
Street flooded by last nights rain But cleared up fast to inspect an American tank
What a nice beach to take a sunbath but the peasants had to hide in the dark tunnel
This is the entrance to the tunnel And that's the exit from the tunnel to the beach
There was nothing else to see anymore at the other sites: it's just that something happened there, whether it's a village at one of the exits of the Ho Chi Minh Trail or one of the fiercest battle grounds: Khe San.
Village which had a Ho Chi Minh trail exit Only the Khe San museum reminds of the battle

Continuing to Hoi An

After three days in Hue it's time now to continue our journey. We booked the traveller's bus to Hoi An for 4 USD. Pick-up time from our guesthouse was at 8:00 a.m. and arrival time 1:00 p.m. After about 100 km we came to the Hai Van (Sea Cloud) Pass (500m), the weather divide between North- (with summer and winter) and South Vietnam (with rainy and dry season).
Road going up to Hai Van Hai Van Pass
Then we passed through Danang, where some travellers dropped off. We decided to skip this big town with the option in mind to come back a couple of miles along the beach from Hoi An to the famous China Beach (the GI's recreation beach during the war).

But before we reached Hoi An we had a stop-over at the Marble Mountain. It consists of five stone hillocks, each representing one element. The largest has natural caves which were also used as Hindu shrines during the Cham rule. But we had no time to explore (maybe coming back the 20 km from Hoi An). So we just visited one of the many marble carvings center in the Non Nuoc Hamlet.
Nice guy marvles about the nice Marble Garden
There you can buy great gifts if they would not weigh that much.
A big belly Happy Buddha or a slim but heavy Ho Chi Minh for your garden

Arriving in Hoi An

It took about half an hour looking at several rooms at various hotels until we finally found two suitable for us. One double room with fan for 8 USD and another one with air conditioning for 9 USD including breakfast at the road to My Son with a 10 minutes walk to the center, but it was a quiet place with a rooftop restaurant. The address is :
Thuy Duang II
68 Huynh Thuc Khang St
Hoi An Town - Vietnam
We could have chosen another one in the middle of town, the
Than Binh II
Nhi Trung Str. (New)
Hoi An Town - Vietnam
which was recommended by our previous guesthouse in Hue. Most if not all of these guesthouses mutually recommend other guesthouses or hotels in other cities for the next stopover. Some of these guesthouses are interconnected somehow via relatives.

Hoi An is a very nice place to walk around in the old town. A combined ticket for 5 or so different places like temples and old buildings can be bought for 4 USD (some locals have to work a week for that but can thus access them all for free - of course). Some may detain from it if they feel it is not worth it, but it may happen that you are not allowed to pass the Japanese Bridge to get to the other side of the old town, because you inevitably "must" take a look at the old bridge for which you need that ticket in question. When I was here four years ago, there was no such thing having to pay for visiting a temple, etc. But the authorities thought that they could do the same as in Hue. I would like to know where this money is channelled to, definitely not in restoration. This town was once detected as a nice place by travellers and now it is a mandatory stopover for groups of the big travel companies. Before, the few locals were happy to earn some money by providing guest rooms, selling services or goods to the travellers but now the big investors are trying to make a "fortune" with five star hotels that just popped up.
No need for a ride in Hoi An can't drive over the Japanese bridge anyway
One day walking around in the old town is really enough. Next day we went by bike to the beach. First thing I took a look at one five stars hotel and, of course, into their newspapers lying around. The chairs around the swimmingpool were also for free but the food and drinks overcharged. I preferred to get back to our first beach row place as part of a beach restaurant with deck chairs and tables also for free. Ordering any drinks or food was not mandatory but expected. Since there was not a better place around so we had lunch there (around 1 USD). It would have been a nice digestion walk along the white and sandy beach to Da Nang 10 km away but we were too lazy. The only exercise was bicycling five km to the beach in the morning and back to town in the afternoon.
First beach row Five Star Elephant
The area around the harbor is a perfect place to sit back and relax in one of the many restaurants and watch the boats (and the ducks)..
Floating Restaurant Harbor view
In Hoi An we booked our flight to Nha Trang (our next destination further down south) at one of the travel agents scattered around the city. The flight costs 148 USD for 4 people plus 100,000 Dong (6.50 USD) for the transfer to the airport in Danang

Arriving in Nha Trang

We arrived safely in Nha Trang, one of the main tourist spots in Vietnam. Not just for the beach but also for the boat trips to the many off-shore islands around (70 of them). Not necessarily with Mama Han (heard that she was in jail for trafficking drugs, not just taking them for herself, because she seemed to be always "high"), but with many other tour guides.

Getting from the airport to the city was a joke. We accepted the high fare asked for by the taxi driver to bring us to town assuming that the airport is far out. And then just around the corner we were right in the middle of the city and the stretch of the beach with all the hotels around. But then we used the taxi to drive us around to take a look at several hotel rooms until we found the right one, which was the
Qhe Huong Hotel
60 Tran Phu St
Nha Trang
The 3 nights in a double room came up to 1,743,630 Dong (113 USD), i.e. 38 USD per night. It had a swimming pool, and tennis court, massage parlor (including some sexual harassment).

We did not make any of the boat trips or sight seeing trips around. Don't ask me why. So we rather stayed and relaxed in the hang-outs (from Hai Yen Cafe, Coconut Cove Resort, Fours Seasons to La Bella Napoli) concentrated in one part of the 6 km sandy beach fringed with palm trees with the opportunity of getting a massage right on the beach.
Nha Trang Beach Boats waiting for the tourists
But Uli and I could not stand that laziness all the time, so we went for a walk along the beach to the harbor and then further up the hill to the Villas of the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai with a great view to the South China Sea and, on the way down, to the city line of Nha Trang..
Round boat in Nha Trang harbor View from the hill
After three nights in Nha Trang we took the tourist bus leaving from the Sinh Cafe (just around the corner from our hotel) for Dalat (for 5 USD each). Shortly after we left the coast route we stopped at Po Klong Garai Cham Towers (build by the Cham in the 13th century).
Cham Tower close-up look

Arriving in Dalat

The first hotel stop in Dalat was at the
Trung Cang Hotel
4A Bui Thi Xuan street
The hotel was brand new and we liked the rooms overlooking the country side that we took them right away. The room rate was 6 USD (as far as I remember). The hotel is also very central and close to the market and many restaurants. There was a reason that the bus stopped there first, because the hotel belongs to the Sinh Cafe. It also had a travel agency on the premises, offering tours to several interesting places, but we decided to stroll around on our own. First to the Xuan Huong Lake just few meters down the street (when I was here in 1998 the lake was dry). Next to the Bao Dai's Summer Palace (constructed 1933), which was lying in a nice pine grove up the hill.
Huong Lake Bao Dai's Summer Palace
From there we had a nice view over Dalat and at some of the even nicer houses than the Palace. So it must have been and still is one of the better neighborhoods of Dalat.
Nice view over Dalat Even nicer house close to the palace
Further down the road we then found the famous Hang Nga Guesthouse and Art Gallery or the Crazy House as it was also called because of the strange and funny construction with caves, giant spider web concrete tree trunks etc. Can you imagine to stay in a hotel room with no straight walls like in cave. The story of the artist lady and her work (as all of the other sights not fully described in my narrative) can be read in the Travel Guide books.
Wanna stay in a crazy hotel? Round and with spiders all around
After that we went to the railway station trying to get on a nostalgic train ride to the next village of Trai Mat. But before we could do that, we had to buy tickets. But where? Nobody there. It may have rumored that there were some tourists roaming in the station, so soon a lady turned up and opened the ticket counter just for us and we bought four tickets.

But instead getting on the old locomotive from Switzerland it was on an old Russian one, and thus more a socialistic train ride (may also be nostalgic for some). There were originally three Swiss ones, when trains were going to the coast. After that service ceased in 1970, two locomotives were resold to Switzerland and still running there. The third can still be admired on the track in the station. Maybe that was the "little museum" the guide book mentioned because I could not find anything else. Or maybe the whole station building was a museum (without any displays) and sometimes functioning as a wedding reception hall as well.
Hey Uli. Wrong train. Wedding in a railway station
There was no wagon just the Russian locomotive with a passenger compartment. Trai Mat was the end of the journey. Before heading back we strolled around the village. The only interesting spot was a Chinese temple. So that was our "adventurous" train journey.
Not a nostalgic but a socialistic ride A chinese temple, the only sight
But the country side we passed through was nice with all the vegetable terraces. Generally Dalat's surrounding is also a good place for hiking in the cool mountains and around refreshing lakes.
A country store along the track and a lot of vegetable terraces
No time to hike so we had to hit the road again ( by bus for 10 USD each) leading us to Mui Ne for more relaxation on the beach instead.

Arriving in Mui Ne

This time we were looking for the best resort around. So we checked several ones (each time having to keep the bus with the other passengers waiting) before we decided for the
Coco Beach Resort
Mui Ne
run by a German/French couple Jutta and Daniel. The rate for the cottage, including breakfast buffet for two, was 910,000 Dong (plus 10% tax), i.e. 65 USD. The dinner with drinks came up to 610,000 Dong (plus 10 % tax), i.e. 44 USD (exchange rate here was 15400 Dong = 1 USD). The place was really nice for the price.
A real nice resort with real nice beach
Mui Ne is not only famous for its sandy beach but also for its sand dunes. So for me a must to see. Not so for the rest of the gang. I stopped a motorbike on the road and ask the driver to bring me to the sand dunes. By getting first closer to town and the harbour my nostrils were filled with a very stenchy odor: Fishes being dried all over the harbor bank and more so the fish sauce "ripening" in barrels along the street.
Mui Ne harbor with all the fishes being dried
But finally I reached the dunes combed by a fresh breeze from the sea. I really enjoyed the walk over the sand since I am still dreaming of a Sahara crossing some day.
What a nice desert feeling like being in the Sahara
We only could "afford" one night at Coco Beach. Also our fantastic breakfast had to last till Saigon (or officially Ho Chi Minh City). The booking and the trip by bus was as convenient as usual.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Since we have been spoiled by Coco Beach we stayed on the luxury tour. And what's better than staying at the famous
Rex Hotel
141 DL Nguyen Hue
Ho Chi Minh City
It has all amenities like swimming pool on the 6th floor, restaurant on the 5th floor, with great views, a convenient location, etc. But the only "room" available was an apartment with two bedrooms for 110 USD (also including breakfast buffet).

The even more nicer "ginger bread architecture" Hotel de Ville, just around the corner, is unfortunately not open for public. It has been build 1908 as a hotel by the French but now it is used by the People's Committee (the communists should praise the colonists for that).
Entrance of Rex Hotel Just look left: Hotel de Ville
Very convenient is also the huge and centrally located indoor Ben Than Market (build in 1914), 700 m south-west from Rex Hotel on the DL Le Loi, especially for the shopping enthusiasts. Petra even would have walked miles to get there. Everything in and around is available (and cheap). If they don't have it you don't need it. So our last day was just a shopping spree as you can see (I even bought 5 camel shirts for 5 USD each).
Where can you buy these nice outfits? Maybe old fashioned shirts are still better
Looks like summer closing sale Petra buys, Uli breaks (down)
Saigon street life like in the old times
There was not much else we did, except the men's visit of a night club opposite the "Rex" for a last drink in town, but with much ado about nothing. Next day we went by taxi to the airport and punctually we left Saigon for Taipei where we changed planes after a couple of hours (no overnight stay again) and flew back to Frankfurt non stop over Russia carefully avoiding China.

OK, that was our trip to Vietnam, and my second one. Not that much of an adventure or out of the ordinary I must admit but still interesting and relaxing with a lot of fun though.

© 2002 by WEW Tours