Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Ho Chi Minh City

Homeward Bound

Day 21 Monday 5 January 2015 arriving Tuesday 6 January 2015

Collection is not until 5pm so we have most of a day to kill before transferring to HCM airport; local flight to Hanoi and then onto London Gatwick.  The only excitement is that since we arrived in Hanoi three weeks earlier they have opened the new International terminal and so we are bussed between the domestic and international terminals.  I assume in the longer term this will be a little better organised as they were not really able to explain what was happening (and clearly no-one has planned a proper shuttle between the two).

From hotel door to our front door is getting close to 24 hours, especially as the incompetence of FGW to run a proper service locally means we have to go to Wokingham and use the new lifts and come back again.  This line needs electrification and a proper “Southern” regular interval service – two slow trains and a fast each hour and it might be approaching the standards of Sir Herbert Walker.

Time for some summaries:

VJV – they normally operate this tour in the reverse direction but the date we wanted was not available, so my experiences are slightly non-standard. However the tour content was first class; the arrangements all worked and we have thanked them for their efforts.
Asian Trails provided the guides and drivers except when we were on the Mekong Prestige II and all went well with them – helpful and willing and able to make variations as we wished – adding the tour in Hanoi and changing the itinerary at Cai Be was not a problem at all.
Rivages du Monde are responsible for the Mekong Prestige II.  Their Cambodian guide for the English group was not great and definitely fell a notch below the skills seen elsewhere.  OTOH everything on the cruiser and on the shore visits went well.  Matthias was their on board representative and I owe him an apology for a being a little short on arrival – his efforts during the rest of the week were outstanding and I hope he enjoyed the trip.

A wonderful selection – Movenpick in Hanoi, Palais Juliana in Luang Prabang, Grand in HCM being outstanding.  Tara Angkor in Siem Reap and the eco-friendly hotel in Cai Be fell short of the levels achieved in the other three.  At Cai Be the main problem, inevitable due to local recruitment, was poor English and in my view inadequate staff training.  A lovely location. The Tara Angkor seemed a little odd – I have detailed our problems in our time at Siem Reap.  I am hopeful that it was one of those where once it went wrong, it just kept going wrong for us and other visitors may have a perfect visit.  Revision of the breakfast offering (no bacon two days, no meats) for western tastes would help a lot (as would solid whites as well as solid yolks on hard boiled eggs).

Everything we saw felt worthwhile and made for a wonderful holiday.  There are no doubt many other sites worth seeing and places worth visiting in this part of the world – but to get a real feel of the countries we felt that we had a great time and those following the photos the wife was posting have agreed.

Physically there was only one “hard” bit – ascending Phousi Hill in Luang Praabang – and frankly that is down to this traveller being out of condition.  We did not visit the upper cave for similar reasons.  Otherwise the walking was easy and the temperatures were decent (a lot warmer in the south).

Grand Summary
In case you have not already guessed we had a great time and would recommend this trip to anyone.  We might not have got answers to all the questions on events over the last 30 years – but the internet can provide those answers!

Finally this blog will be back with further travels.  A grand trip across large parts of Canada is booked along with a visit to Sicily.  If you have read it, then thank you very much.  I will be tarting up and improving the blog as time allows (and if anyone spots any errors I will be putting them right as well).

Be back soon.

On to Ho Chi Minh City

Day 18 Friday 2 January 2015

Leaving at Cai Be at 9 was relatively simple – during check in the previous day we saw one couple unable to settle the bill as the credit card machine was not working and having to go into town and use an ATM to get cash – the wife is prepared with cash!

With guide and driver we head for the former capital of the south – then Saigon and now Ho Chi Minh City – and on the way get to travel on one of the two toll roads in the country.  Apart from the toll road most of our way appears to be built up – at least in a ribbon strip alongside the road with a continually changing variety of little outlets – food, cafe, wood store, cafe, engineers, food, clothes, bridal wear shops – seemingly without break.  A lot of the time one can just see that there is countryside behind the shops with no doubt farming of rice and other items, but the roadside is developed most of the way.

The other notable element throughout this journey, particularly visible on the toll road section is the graves and / or monuments to deceased family members in the centre of the field, or at one side.  These typically are elegant structures which look as if they are made of marble and are well maintained.  Obviously there is huge respect for the older generations.

They have not quite got to motorway service stations but we do stop at a busy service area where we get coffee and a toilet break and the place is busy with foreigners on a variety of journeys.  The crossroads of the Mekong I rather think.

HCM City has grown.  It is now larger than Hanoi and has a population of over 9m.  Our guide later explains that following unification the people of the south were given land dependent on the number of family members and in consequence there was for a long time pressure to have much larger families to ensure the maximum area of land was received.

I cannot admit to a great sense of direction but I feel we looped around the city to provide access to the Chinese market and to gain some idea of the size and infuence of the Chinese population.  This is perhaps even more cramped than the other markets we visited and is an absolute riot of colour (as usual there are photos).  Very bright and very busy.  As we found in Hanoi Chinese involvement in Vietnam was important in the first millenium of the Christian era (approx) and Saigon was always an important port on the route to and from the Far East from western Europe so the strength of the Chinese community is hardly a surprise.

Originally there was a separate town here – Cholon – but as they grew the two towns became linked and eventually merged, with Saigon becoming the dominant name after independence from the French.  Photographs:

Near to the market is the Thien Hau Pagoda which is a buddhist temple.  Much of the buddhist related temples we have seen so far have been derived from the Indian heritage with which much of the area is linked.  The chinese heritage however brings different facets to buddhism.   Within the pagoda they especially venerate the Lady of the Sea (Thien Hau) again reflecting the links to the seafaring Chinese.  The photographs again show the roof detail which mirrors that on the Chinese house is Sa Dec.  Internally there is much burning of incense.

Dinner this evening was at the recommendation of our guide – a BBQ outlet.  Careful (mis)ordering means that one of the dishes (wild boar) requires cooking at the table and after we have consumed much of the other food they turn on the hidden burner in the centre of the table and pour some oil on the steadily getting hotter metal plate.  Luckily my wife is travelling with me and so after nearly three weeks without having cooked my dinner she is poking and prodding and turning to ensure that the boar is good enough to eat.  It mainly tastes like fatty bacon!

However we are out of doors, it is a warm evening and the food was certainly freshly cooked.  The rest of the meal was also pretty good.  It has become clear that few restaurants in this part of the world have any concept of “courses” even if they have sections labelled as “starters” and “mains” as the food inevitably seems to arrive all at the same time.  It was all tasty and it was only walking distance back to The Grand Hotel where we are staying but we pass en route, outlets for Versace (turn right), Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin, amongst many other major brands.  This City may be in a communist country but there are obviously people capable of paying the prices these concerns demand.