Day 7 – Nha Trang to HCMC
Well, just to finish off day 6…..as expected, the wife turned up at Louisiane Brewhouse, I had finished a tasting plate and was into my second large beer, kids had had enough of the pool and it was nearly time for the pool to close….so off we go again…to “Salut” for dinner. I know it’s kinda boring going to the same place all the time, but with 3 kids, when you find a place that is so “kid friendly” with a nice open plan atmosphere, inside/outside dining and great food we tend to stick with it. 8 days in, and none of the kids have felt sick, now that’s a bonus. Another great feed and youngest daughter is sad to leave because she made friends with one of the staff there, so she takes along an Aussie koala to give to her. Facebook details are exchanged etc…..ahhh, how did we aver survive without mobile phones and Facebook/TripAdvisor…lol
I head out for a massage, because I’m aching after a long hard day around the pool, drinking fabulous beers. I search out the same “Spa” that my wife went to, but found it closed at 10pm, even though it said open til 11pm. So I find another just down the street, looks nice and I venture inside after questioning the prices and making sure that there would be no requests for tips after the massage. Ok, bad move…..lets just say that places that look ok from the front can still be pretty dodgy behind the scenes.
Anyway, back to day 7…..we get up early and the kids are moaning…lol, breakfast as usual, omelettes all around, I decide to have chilli in mine…Whoaaa…a little too much for my taste buds, and I like it spicy. Bags all packed and our taxi turns up right on time. Another beautiful morning and we haven’t seen a drop of rain for a week. We arrived an hour and a half early at the airport, went straight to the check-in counter and all finished in a few minutes. We venture outside and finish our cans of drink before heading through security. We browse the gift shops but nothing different that you cant get in Nha Trang or HCMC.
Note – Nha Trang prices are a bit cheaper than for the same touristy type items,(conical hats for 25,000) etc.. than items in HCMC.
As we wait to board we decide that more time was needed in Nha Trang, we wished we had shortened the second part of the holiday in Bali to have more time here in Vietnam, if we could we would trade 2 weeks and stay here longer….ahhh hindsight, we are already talking about planning the next trip….lol
The plane boards on time and leaves about 5 minutes early, the flight is not very full and we get to spread out a bit with an extra row of seats. It seems that no sooner we get to cruising altitude, we start descending again and the 55 minute flight, lands 10 minutes early. We stop quite a way from the terminal and have to board busses to get there. Our luggage arrives but takes a while, much slower than it was in Nha Trang but even still we are out of the airport in 15 minutes, ok maybe 20 as the kids all need the loo.
I go myself and am bemused that as I stand there, everyone leaving the carousel, walking toward the exit can see me through the open door.
We exit the terminal, turn right, cross the road to the carpark and in the first row at the extreme right are the Mai Linh taxi’s. After turning down 5 or so offers from other drivers we load the van and weave our way through the scooters with the horn beeping every 10 seconds on our way to “Saigon View Residences”.
120,000 dong later ($6) we arrive at reception to be greeted by a lovely lady who I had been emailing to arrange our stay. We check in and our bags are taken to our room, a 2 bedroom apartment, for $130 a night. I will also review this hotel at a later date, but briefly…..2 nice bathrooms, kitchen, lounge and dining with a small balcony, not as large as Saigon Domaine but very usable space and we quite like it.
We relax for a while, have a cup of tea and the kids turn on a performance when they have to turn off the cartoon channel for the next cab ride to the centre of town.
Mai Linh cabs are waiting at the front of the hotel and we jump straight in and set off for Saigon Tourist office at 45 Le Thanh Ton street, intending to book a Mekong cruise for day 8. The cab ride costs around 65,000 dong ($3.50)
Their tour office is right in the city centre and has a money change facility which we used for every transaction, with a good rate and no commission. Their website can be found online.
Note – And I am sure others will comment but this is what we found, we had changed plenty of cash here before flying to Nha Trang and happy that we did, as when in Nha Trang we didn’t see anywhere to change money, not saying that there isn’t places to do it, just that they weren’t plentiful or obvious to us.
We book the Mekong tour for the 5 of us (Youngest is free at 5 years old) ….we need to be back at the office for 8am the next morning ready to go.
Wife decides that she need a new pair of glasses and we search out an optical store on the same street as the Saigon Tourist office, we looked the other day, she liked them and now we’re on a mission to return and secure them. Authentic Prada, well at least I hope they are for her sake, with her prescription, made and ready to pick up in 1 hour at fraction of the price for the same thing in Adelaide. PM me if you want details.
From here we jump in a cab to go about 4 streets to Highland Coffee at 65 Le Loi street….yep, kids can’t go any further without a dose of spaghetti Bolognaise and naturally we have to have a tiger and something spicy to accompany it. We finish with a coffee and are surprised that it is pretty good, no sweetener here diet fans, so if you need it bring your own.
It’s 2pm and our last chance to do any shopping so we head up the street towards Saigon Square, a smallish 2 storey mall which is just really a market with a bit more of an upmarket storefront. Naturally the children are overjoyed with excitement at the prospect of having to spend the afternoon shopping and we walk the 200 meters listening to stories of woe and ruined lives…..we promise icecreams and world peace is restored.
Wife want a jacket for winter as she really feels the cold and after browsing every market store on the 2 levels, we return to the second one we looked at and purchase said name brand Gore-tex jacket without questioning it’s authenticity, for 750,000 dong, happy with that as the store across the street wanted $65 US for the same jacket (1.3 Million dong).
Across the street we go, near Ben Than Markets, lots of vendors on the street and I need some more golf caps, so with very little bargaining I get the “same ones that Tiger wears” for 50,000 dong each($2.50), next on the list is sunglasses as I either lose or break numerous pairs per year and we get 3 pairs for 100,000 dong ($4.75), best deal I was offered was 8 pairs for 200,000. We also bought large Conical hats, about 8 of them, for 25,000 each. Around the outside of Ben Than, youngest girl gets bamboo and silk fans to give as gifts for around 50 cents each.
I’m sure some of you hardened shoppers would get better deals but we were happy with the prices we paid and hopefully this gives some others a guide.
We find ourselves outside of Pho 24, we need a drink and go inside, It smells sooo good in here …so… it’s food time again, we order spring rolls and another tasting dish of assorted cold rolls etc…Yum.
Optical store – got to pick up the glasses, of we go, kids loving life, wife loving her new specs.
It’s dinner time and do I even need to tell you where we go. Kids are a little more upbeat and adventurous as they tuck into a Ham & Cheese croissant and the eldest boy, man’s up and has Nasi Goreng….but there’s always one, and the Spaghetti Bolognaise joins the party. The grown up’s side of the table gets a dose of Pad Thai and Pho Xao Ba, with an extra little bowl of dried chilli that is amazingly hot and tasty, washed down nicely with a couple of Saigon beers.
Time to taxi back, wife baths the kids and I venture to level 13 to do 3 loads of washing in the free laundry, just over an hour later the alarm is set for a 6.30 breakfast “Egg Set” because that’s what you get delivered to your room here on Saturdays! lol.
Day 8 – Saigon River cruise
The alarm goes off at 6am, breakfast arrives at exactly the time we ordered it for….6.30am. Toast, boiled eggs, tea/coffee, juice.
We catch a taxi at the front of the hotel and arrive at the tourist office with 10minutes to spare. We are introduced to our guide and the bus leaves on time to pick up the other 12 guests. We drive around the city doing pick-ups and then start the hour and a half journey to the boat station. The guide explains a few details about the day and a very brief history about the Mekong delta.
We are told that there is a rest stop about an hour into the trip and we stop for a toilet break and to grab a drink. – OK – here’s the tip, every tour stops here, its crowded and triple the price of anywhere else for everything – Take your own snacks for the day with you.
We arrive at the boat station and are herded towards the dock, and onto a boat that has waiting room type chairs bolted crudely to the floor. Another tour guide takes over and we can barely understand her, or for that matter hear her, over the noise that the group of French tourists makes while she is trying to speak.
I tune out and take pics of the few sights there is to see.
First stop – Seriously? we only left a few minutes ago and have barely crossed to the opposite side of the river. A Bee farm….just what I always wanted to see…I am allergic to bee sting. 2-3 minutes are spent showing us the bees and I watch from a distance. The next 20 minutes are spent sitting at a table while we are served a glass of honey tea and receive an AMWAY type sales pitch!!!!! pushing us to purchase the bee products….Honey, Royal Jelly….blah blah blah. - “Can’t take it back to Australia” that’s my line. Kids hate the hot tea and sit there bored senseless….can’t say I blame them either.
We leave, and I’m thinking we are heading back to the boat….but no….we follow a path parallel with the river, and stop again 200 meters away –
Stop 2…Really?....Plates of fruit are laid out for us and we are encouraged to sit and eat them. I try a few different fruits and they are ok, not the sort of stuff I’m going to be putting in the luchbox for work though. Kids don’t want to try any but do have a little taste to satisfy the constant nagging of our tour guide. Another 20 minutes passes as we are regaled with singing and local music, then when its finished, collection bowls are brought out and we are told that they are for us to put our donations in….I don’t think so!! More prompting from the tour guide to eat the fruit and she tells us that when we are ready, we can go to the small embroidery store and buy some tablecloths etc…. After 5 minutes we are still sitting at the table, the wife has no interest at all in the embroidery, the tour guide approaches and appears shocked that we are not interested in purchasing anything, and asks my wife why. Personal preference, sorry.
Back on the boat we travel back in the opposite direction to which we started, back towards the ocean for about 10 minutes, the boat stops on the riverbank and after 5 minutes just sitting there, a smaller Sanpan picks us up in 2 groups and takes us down a small canal, we stop after a few minutes and rejoin the first group, we walk along a path beside an even smaller canal and the first thing the 8 year old daughter spots is a dead, bloated puppy floating past and points it out for all to see….as the tour guide announces that we are now going to lunch….awesome, great timing.
We walk about 500 meters and get into very small Sanpans to paddle our way up a stream, now this is more like it, the first few groups head off and we follow, I take some nice photo’s but after a few minutes as I’m looking through the lens, I see the sampans stopping and everyone getting off again….That’s it the sampan part is over.
After a short walk we stop again to see coconut candy being produced, yep you guessed it….the Amway sales pitch again, pushy pushy and it’s starting to rub me up the wrong way. We spot beers in a fridge and grab a couple – 20,000 each ahhh redemption. Force fed marketing campaign over! - we walk another 50 meters to where lunch has already been served. Elephant fish and shrimp we are told. 3 whole fish are sitting upright on the table, they look like they have been there for a week. Wife is allergic to seafood and no way the kids are going to have a bar of this. After much discussion they bring the wife and kids a chicken dish, which is fatty and boney, and in the bowl on its own, in a jelly type sauce, looks pretty similar to the canned stuff we give Benny, our dog. No rice to have with it, and to cap it off it’s a little spicy, so the youngest is really having a great day out. He gets 2 spring rolls. The one prawn , that’s right, the ONE prawn arrives on a small plate and I devour it…it’s good, just need more, Seriously, only 1.
Beers are available with lunch for 30,000 each, a few minutes ago they were only 20,000.
The fish is taken away and turned into cold rolls, when I get the 1 cold roll…yep that’s right, just 1, the rice paper is so hard I can hardly chew through it and there is only about half a teaspoon of the fish in it. A bowl of clear soup turns up and everyone ignores it, I taste and see why…..well that was lunch!!!!
Nearby, there is a large glass jar with a huge Cobra in it – Snake wine….”Want to try some” he say’s….why not, lunch has been such a hit. I take a cup full and it tastes just like whiskey…..as long as you ignore the fact that a dead snake has been bathing in it for who knows how many years.
We walk back to the canal, get in the medium size sampan and are returned to the larger boat, apparently now is the time for the fun to start! as the tour guide starts singing a few songs and tries to encourage the children to join in. We hear broken English versions of the following songs – “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree”, “We are Australian” and then that old classic “Row, Row, Row your boat” over and over….even the kids think this is pretty lame and want no part of it. Can it get any better than this?...lol
We get back to the boat station and find the original tour guide waiting for us….I think she has probably had a better day than us, I wonder to myself why she didn’t accompany us on the tour, her English was good, unlike the guide on the boat. We board the bus and before long I am fast asleep and snoring (according to the kids, but I seriously doubt it…lol)
Daughter spends the entire return journey playing games on the guides I phone, best thing about the tour for her.
In conclusion - personally I would give the one day Saigon river cruise a big miss, total waste of time if you ask me, do a longer tour of 2+ days if you want to see the “real” Mekong.
We arrive back at around 4.45pm and head straight to Highland Coffee to get some food, everybody is very hungry, place is packed when we get there and we cant even sit down for a few minutes, when we do, the 5 of us squeeze onto 3 chairs around a small table, eventually the table next to us clears and we join the 2 together. We order pretty much the same as usual but with extra spring rolls and garlic bread.
I decide that I need one of those Gore-tex jackets and we walk to Saigon Square, straight to the market stall where the wife purchased hers, try one on, fits perfect, pay the cash, same price as the wife’s, 750,000 dong. Quick stop at Circle K to pick up supplies for tomorrows plane flights to KL and Bali and we are in a taxi returning to “Saigon View”. We book breakfast for 7am – Sunday mornings here you get a “Chicken Sandwich Set”.
We are not that thrilled about leaving HCMC, and really wish we had allocated more of our time to Vietnam. Bags packed ready for 11am flight to KL, we WILL be back.
Hope you enjoyed the read, the story will continue in the Bali forum.