Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Vietnam & Cambodia Trip – Stop Seven – Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Vietnam_Mekong_201502014_0102The 14th was another early morning.  We drove about three hours south of  Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. The delta was our last stop in Vietnam and where we would spend one night on a river boat. Due to the Tet holiday, the traffic was really bad with tons of overloaded scooters and buses. Along the way we briefly stopped for coffee and were rear-ended in stop-and-go traffic. Everyone was okay, but our driver got out and, in Vietnamese fashion, negotiated a fee with the other driver before we could get on our way again.

In Can Tho, we were taken by tender to our river boat – the Bassac II. The boat, styled from a traditional rice barge, had ten cabins. Each had a large window facing the river bank and is just large enough to fit a bed, night stand, a small table for luggage, and a bathroom. The bathroom itself was a shower. A hand wand hung on the wall and the water drained through slats in the floor. I imagine it takes a lot of skill to avoid getting the toilet and sink completely drenched while showering; a skill I do not have.

Our cabin was on the lower deck on the same level as an enclosed lounge area. The upper deck had front and back  lounges and covered dining area. Unlike our time in Halong Bay, it was very hot out so it was not an issue eating outside.  As soon as the boat got on its way down the Hau river, lunch was served. It was a similar meal to others we had on the trip;  shrimp steamed in coconut, fried calamari, beef and onion, fish served in a clay pot, squash blossom with garlic, and more fresh fruit. Everything was good but the squash blossoms were excellent.

We started to travel up the Mang Thit river and after lunch we were able to relax in the sun for a while. The landscape passing by us was what I had imagined Vietnam would look like – lush green along the river banks. The boat stopped late in the afternoon and we took a smaller boat to shore. Our group of English speaking tourists were taken on a walk through a small village. I am not sure a village is the correct term as it was a grouping of houses crossed with dirt paths. Our guide pointed out all the different fruits and vegetables growing along the road. The local children would wave and say hello to our group then get really happy when you waved hello back.

We were taken to one of the homes where a spread of different fruit was laid out. There were things we had seen before like pomelo, pineapple, bananas, mango, dried coconut, and jackfruit, but also mangosteen and various chips made from bananas, coconut and rice. I wanted to eat it all. I am seriously in love with tropical fruit but the crackers were very tasty too. After our snack break we walked by some rice fields. When we reached the tender boat a large log was blocking our way, which Chris crossfitted out of the way. The result was a clear path and ripped shorts.

We arrived back at the boat just as the sun was setting, so everyone went up to the front lounge area to capture photos and relax before dinner. It was quiet and calming as we made our way up the river. Added treat at dinner was a heart shaped chocolate cake for Valentine’s Day.

After anchoring for the night, the boat started again and we made it to the Co Chien river. The next morning, we ate breakfast as the boat moved toward the Cai Be floating market. Then we prepared to disembark. A tender boat took us and our luggage of the boat drove us through the floating market. Boats loaded with so many different types of food were anchored in the river. Families were living on the boats and smaller boats would pull up along side to buy or trade. It was interesting to see how simple of a life these people were living.

We also stopped further up the river from the market to visit a factory of sorts. It was set up for tourists with tons of things for sale but they were making coconut candy, rice paper, and popped rice. While we were there one of the women mended Chris’ shorts from the day before. Most of our group bought all the different snacks for sale, even the Snake Wine. There were more foods to try and some very tasty tea, but we did not purchase anything.

The tender boat then took us to the port. We drove back to Ho Chi Minh City and got a plane to Cambodia, leaving Vietnam after 14 days.

Chris’ Comments: The Mekong Delta s one of those places where an overnight trip is nothing but a tease. We were there during a holiday weekend, so travel was quite significant. Getting in a car accident was an interesting experience, if for no reason than to see how everyday life happens in Vietnam. The all cash settlement was made because most people don’t have insurance or insurance requires police involvement. The police are known to confiscate cars and maybe, eventually return them, so people tend to avoid it unless there are irreconcilable differences… which, according to our guide, very rarely happen. If you want to explore how rural Vietnamese live and immerse yourself in culture, spend a week backpacking the area. Here, the simple life is a happy life and it’s warming to see. Driving four hours, each way, for one night was a stretch… even if the boat and area was beautiful.

Bassac II

Views Along the River

Walking Tour of the Delta

Sunset on the Mekong Delta

Can Be Floating Market

Final Tour in the Delta


Note to our readers:
If you are interested many of the photographs are captioned, just select the individual images to open them in a new window. Also, we were surprised how large the country was for a small country. I have put together a Travel Map with the places we visited to give an idea of how we managed to cover a good portion of the country during our trip.


Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Vietnam & Cambodia Trip – Stop Six – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

On the 12th we had another early morning flight, this time a 27 minute flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in Southern Vietnam. Since we arrived in the city too early to check into the hotel, we drove outside the city to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The tunnels were used during the war by the Viet Cong and now are a tourist attraction. We walked through the jungle and our guide pointed out bomb craters, tunnel entrances and vents for the underground kitchens used by the Viet Cong. In addition to kitchen space, meeting rooms, medical wards, and ammunition “factories” were all located underground connected by these tunnels. For tourists, many of the rooms have been uncovered and sections of the tunnels widened.  We saw examples of how hard it was to see the tunnels in the jungle and the various traps which were used. Chris shot a M1919 machine gun on the shooting range then crawled through a section of the tunnels. It was really hot and I cannot imagine what it would have been like wandering through the jungle during the war. The last part of our visit to the tunnels was to sample boiled tapioca root and tea. A typical meal for the Viet Cong during the war and it was served with a bowl of crushed peanuts, salt and sugar. It might have been because we were hungry but it tasted really good.

We drove back into HCMC through some of the worst moving traffic I have ever seen. Traffic lanes, signals, and signs all appear to be suggestions. Traffic was not stopped or backed up, there were just a lot of people and more cars than the other cities we visited. We checked into the hotel and then went to find something to eat. A few blocks from the hotel were a bunch of restaurants in a court yard. We went to Jasper’s for lunch, then spent time walking around the city before going back to try the Japanese food at Blanchy Street.

Gratefully our guide suggested that we meet up in the afternoon to tour the city by foot. We walked by the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City that we had seen the night before on our walk and then walked by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Head office. Across from the Committee building a subway system is under construction which would hopefully improve transportation in HCMC. From there we walked to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Saigon Central Post Office. It appears to function mainly as a tourist attraction now; the main hall filled with vendors. The post office in fact was designed by Gustave Eiffel and the architecture of all these buildings reflect the years of French rule.

From the front of the post office we could see 22 Gia Long Street; the apartment building famously photographed at the end of the war. That seemed to mark the start of the “war years” part of the walk around HCMC. After passing by shops and through a large park we got to the Independence Palace or Reunification Palace. The building was built in the 1960s and was the home of the South Vietnam President during the war. When the North Vietnamese took the city a tank drove through the main gate and is now on display near the palace. We elected to not tour the palace, instead heading to the War Remnants Museum.

We spent a fair amount of time in the museum. It has gone through several name changes in the years since the war but ultimately appears to focus on the negative effects of the American military on the Vietnamese during the war. It is mostly photographs and weapons with propaganda-heavy descriptions. It was depressing, particularly the information about chemical warfare. Even reading the information while thinking about the political focus in mind was hard.  Outside are military vehicles and a cage/chamber which illustrates how prisoners were treated. While it is not the relaxing vacation type of attraction I am glad that we took the time to see it.

Our guide took us back to the hotel then we walked to a Popeye’s for a quick familiar meal. We did not really eat much because we were going on the “Saigon After Dark” Vespa tour. It was probably the best thing we did the whole trip. Two drivers on Vespa’s picked us up at our hotel as it was getting dark out. We meet up with about 30 other people going on the tour that evening to meet the guide. We were paired up with three other couples from England and Australia. Once it was dark we were driven the long way around the city. The lights of the city from the back of the Vespa were beautiful. Our first stop was “locals only” seafood restaurant with tables and chairs on the sidewalk. There were tanks with clams, mussels, snails, frogs and eels. The tour was all you can eat and drink, and our guide brought us plates with crab, stuffed mussels, clams, rice noddles and then frog legs. It was all fantastic.

Our next food stop we had Banh Xeo, spring rolls and summer rolls. The restaurant was a bunch of tables in an alley with an open kitchen. Our guide showed us how to eat the dishes like the locals and told us about some of the non-alcoholic drinks available. It is typical to get a glass of club soda with sugar in it and lime juice, that was my go to drink for the tour. From there we went to a small, hidden coffee bar. There is on way we would ever have found this place on our own. We went down and alley, walked through a kitchen area then upstairs to a small living room type of space. While we were there two women gave acoustic performances. One was in English, covering songs we knew the other sang in Vietnamese. It was just beautiful and meditative. I was sad that we needed to move on but the final stop was great too. We went to Woodstock Bar were a band was preforming cover songs. They were really good and took song requests so we stayed for a while.

After the tour I wished we had a lot more time in the city, reflectively it would have been great to take our first night in HCMC.

Chris’ Comments: I absolutely loved Saigon; the name most locals use for the city. It was far more modern than Hanoi, while still maintaining all the charms of Vietnam. The traffic was nuts, the food was absolutely fantastic, and the nightlife we experienced reminded me of the things I love about Seattle. The city is quite cosmopolitan and, as it’s apparently coming of age, strikes that perfect balance of modernity and heritage. I agree the Vespa tour was likely the best experience on our entire trip – I swear I had a massive smile on my face the entire time. I actually shot a lot of Go Pro video that will give context, but I haven’t even begun processing it. I would live in Saigon in a heartbeat, were it not for the subtropical weather; I can’t wait to go back. Also, holy crap the tunnels were mind-boggingly small.

Cu Chi Tunnels

First Day in Ho Chi Minh City

City Tour with Guide

War Remnants Museum

Vespa Tour of the City



Jaspers – I am not sure what type of restaurant this was. It was open when most of the other places were closed between lunch and dinner time so that says something. The menu was a mix of things including some very Western options. We had to try the imported corn chip nachos. Turns out the nachos were made with Doritos. Beyond that the food was not memorable.

Blanchy Street – We found this Sushi restaurant from online reviews. The sushi itself was good but service felt a bit slow and distracted. The fruit plate I ordered for dinner was the best I had the whole trip, but that was the result of a perfectly ripe Mango.

Popeyes – We always like to check out the American fast food places in other countries, normally we try a McDonald’s. This time we saw several Popeye’s in the city and went for it. It was pretty much what we have here in the U.S. with a lighter colored batter on the chicken.

Note to our readers:
If you are interested many of the photographs are captioned, just select the individual images to open them in a new window. Also, we were surprised how large the country was for a small country. I have put together a Travel Map with the places we visited to give an idea of how we managed to cover a good portion of the country during our trip.


Dalat, Vietnam

Vietnam & Cambodia Trip – Stop Five – Dalat, Vietnam

DalatWe had a VERY early flight on the 10th, leaving Hoi An while it was still dark, and driving back North to the Da Nang airport. Interestingly the airport was the Da Nang Air Base, a U.S. base during the war. Our flight took us South to the mountain city of Dalat. During the French rule of Vietnam the city was a retreat for military officials wanting to get away from the heat. It still is a popular vacation destination due to its cool climate year round. It is also known for its flower industry and there are flowers all over the city with many of the markets only open leading up to the Tet holiday.

From the airport we went to the restaurant associated with the hotel for breakfast then started touring the city while we waited to check in. Our guide took us to the cable car station where we rode across the pine forest to the Truc Lam Monastery. We were able to walk around some of the temples and gardens in the Zen Buddhist Monastery which is an active monastery. Our guide told us that his mother is now a nun at this monastery and we saw many monks walking around the complex. It was a beautiful and peaceful place to wander around with the flowers in bloom.

From the monastery we went back to the hotel to check in and freshen up before finishing our tour of the city. We stopped briefly at the Dalat Railway Station. Art Deco in style, built by the French. It no longer serves as a transportation hub; now it offers tourists rides on the historical steam engine. Since a lot of steam is needed to run it, it only operates during the high season, thus it was not running while we were there. From the train station we drove quite a while to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. This is one of the most interesting looking pagoda’s I have ever seen. It is decorated with collected glass and pottery pieces, most of the dragon scales are made from beer bottles.

The complex includes a seven tiered bell tower. It is tradition to make a wish and then ring the bell three times, so Chris and I made our wish and rang the bell. In the basement of the tower is a hall of statues and a tunnel depicting hell. It was slightly scary and very odd. In fact there were a few other tourists there that waited to walk through the tunnel with us because they were afraid to go in alone.

We finished our touring by walking along the road were there were large French style houses, many currently being used as hotels, and Orchid stalls set up for the Tet holiday. We saw many people purchasing flowers to ship to their family homes in other parts of Vietnam for the approaching holiday. It was interesting to see how the plants were carefully packed.

At evening we left the hotel and walked down to the Dalat Street Market in search of dinner. All the restaurants we had found online were closed either for good or for the evening. Hungry and tired to walking we decided to give the local fast food place, Lotteria, a try. Many of the locals were stopping in and we saw lots of people eating the ice cream. While we are not typically fast food people – I do enjoy trying it out in other countries. Unfortunately the meal did not agree with Chris and the next morning we stayed in.

When we did adventure out of the hotel it was to walk the several blocks to the Hằng Nga guesthouse. The Crazy House as it is known was built by a local architect from Dalat and in fact is a hotel with guest rooms. It is hard to describe the buildings design. Definitely organic, it is animal shapes mixed with plant structures and narrow passage ways connecting rooms. It was tricky to climb some of the stairways that were more like ladders and slightly claustrophobic. Construction continued while we were there and we could see the wire structures which would later be covered in concrete.  While we were there we did not see any sign of guests staying in the building but there were lots of other tourists wandering around.

After checking out as many of the corners and passageways as we could we headed back to the hotel. Along the way we saw some teenagers dancing in front of their school and other activities which appeared to be part of the everyday in Dalat. Chris was still not feeling great so I went back to the restaurant across from the hotel to eat and he went back to bed, hoping to feel better for moving on the next morning.

Chris’ Comments: Dalat was a blur. I got quite, quite sick during our full day there and it ruined the plans we had for that day. A few skipped meals, a lot of time in bed, and an antibiotic helped me limit the impact to 24 hours. Other than that, I remember Dalat for a tourist-destination-in-a-mountain-town-at-low-season with the cool, dry, and sunny weather that makes for fantastic pictures. In fact I took one of my favorite pictures on the trip there. Somehow I managed tiltshift without actually using one or trying. Oh, and I was surprised at how many Russians there were in contrast to none in the other parts of Vietnam. I wish we could have done more, but I was happy I was only out of commission for one day.

Truc Lam Temple

Dalat Railway Station

Linh Son Pagoda

Flower Sellers

Streets of Dalat

Crazy House


Le Cafe de la Poste – We went to the restaurant main because it was affiliated with our hotel. The breakfast buffet had a pretty large selection, if not remarkable. I did have lunch here and ordered a club sandwich. It included fried egg and chicken breast pieces to my surprise. A bonus is that this was the closest place to the hotel to buy a large bottle of water.

Lotteria – A fast food restaurant in the center of Dalat. We saw several of these in other cities as well but during our stay here we were enticed inside by the ice cream. Ultimately it was fast food and I enjoyed the ice cream (think Dairy Queen Blizzard) we suspect that the food did not sit too well with Chris so I cannot say I would recommend trying it.

Note to our readers:
If you are interested many of the photographs are captioned, just select the individual images to open them in a new window. Also, we were surprised how large the country was for a small country. I have put together a Travel Map with the places we visited to give an idea of how we managed to cover a good portion of the country during our trip.