Published: August 8th 2010August 7th 2010
To add insult to injury after a long all day bus trip and excruciating border crossing into Vietnam we were severely ripped off by a taxi driver on our late arrival into Hanoi. Amid the confusion of securing our bags from the clutches of a marauding throng of thieving taxi drivers and accommodation touts at the bus company’s drop off point some distance from the old quarter of Hanoi. We reluctantly decided to go with one driver who had a taxi that was large enough to accommodate our baggage - a fatal mistake!
Taxi flag fall in Hanoi is between 8 - 10,000 dong depending on the taxi company and type of vehicle. Bags loaded, and Donna in the back seat Robert settled in to the minimal space in the front seat. A quick glance at the meter - what I thought was 9,300 dong turned out to be 93,000 dong! After driving for a while Rob noticed that the meter was ticking over faster than the window of a poker (slot) machine. By the time we arrived at the Rising Dragon Hotel in Hang Be Street the meter read 200,000 dong or $12! We were really caught, so after
coughing up the exorbitant fee we gave him the benefit of two English words he obviously had heard before. Well the extent of the rip-off was about $6AUD - it’s not so much the amount as the principle!
As the volume of tourists decreases the level of rip-offs increases exponentially! For the first time in our 5 trips to Hanoi we uncounted several cases of “meter broken negotiate fee” as well as other scams - shows how reliant some sectors have become on tourism.
Other examples were the proliferation of Sinh Café Open Tour Offices - in some streets there were 3 or 4, some next door to each other! We toured several of the imposters as well as the original office where we made all our bookings on previous trips to get quotes on the cost of 2 soft sleeper berths from Hanoi to Danang. The quotes ranged from $45US (from the original office) to $56US. Disgusted we took a taxi to the railway station and made the booking for 1,348,000 dong ($40AUD). Because of the start of the school holidays we had to take the booking for 2 days ahead leaving us only 3 days in
The Rising Dragon Hotel is a popular choice among tourists thanks to Lonely Planet - so much so that our first booking was on the 5th floor without a lift! It was a great workout climbing all those stairs a couple of times a day! We moved to the 3rd floor as soon as we could. This was the old strategy of giving the worst room to those who have made a booking, otherwise the hotel was central cheap and adequate at $20 US including breakfast.
The restaurant and bar scene in Hanoi has really grown, with some old favorites disappearing and a host of new ones to try. Magenta, remember the bar with the slogan “drink here or we shoot the puppy”, well it seems they shot the puppy and themselves! We dined at old favorites Cong Ty Tnh Café Nhan, Quan Bia Minh, Pho 24, Tandoor in Hang Be, and Pepperoni’s for a western food fix. We bought Kipling bags and Donna had her hair cut and styled.
On Monday 12 July we caught a taxi - the meter worked properly 26,000 dong $1.53 AUD for the trip - to the railway station to
catch the 11pm SE3 night train to Danang and then on to Hoi An. We have travelled on Vietnamese trains many times before but can only describe the state of the soft sleeper compartment as filthy and poorly maintained. A later train trip confirmed that there has been no investment in the rolling stock for the past few years. As Air Asia is setting up in Vietnam soon we will probably opt to fly if the prices are reasonable.
We arrived in a hot and humid Danang at 1.15pm and caught a taxi (negotiated price) $3 US each to Hoi An. Stayed at the Phuoc An Hotel where we have stayed before for $22 US (including buffet breakfast) as it has a small pool - absolutely necessary to cool off between restaurant visits. We have done all there is to do in Hoi An so we devoted our time to eating and drinking instead.
A couple of doors up from the hotel is Café 43, a local legend with draft beer at 3,000 dong a large mug ($0.18) and excellent Hoi An specialties - White Rose (prawns in light rice paper), Deep Fried Won Tons with salsa, Mango
Seafood Salads, and stuffed squids and crabs. Over the 5 days we lunched and dined at Before and Now, Tam Tam Café, The Cargo Club, Café 43, Ganesh Indian, and a new restaurant across the river Than Phuong. With mains at $2.50 to $6 AUD and the quality and presentation so, so good we managed to easily fill our time, although Rob managed to nearly put on the 10kg he lost in China!
The French left the Vietnamese with a rich tradition of good food - particularly in the deserts category. After each meal we would adjourn to the Cargo Club’s Patisserie for mango tarts, strawberry tart, tiramisu, and the mango cheese cake. At 30,000 to 34,000 dong ($1.76 to $2) each they were hard to resist - see the pic. A major bonus of the recent ASEAN reduction of tariffs is we were able to buy Bailley’s for 250,000 dong ($14.70) at the local 7/11, which made for a nice nightcap after dinner.
In between the eating and drinking we had shirts and dresses made at 3 different tailors with prices ranging from $8 to $10 US per item.
Our time in Hoi An seemed to fly
Street Vendor - Hanoi
A popular portable street restaurant
so quickly, and with substantially heavier bags we caught the day train from Danang to Nha Trang on the SE1 Reunification Express. We booked soft sleeper berths even though it was a day trip so we could relax on the long trip.
This time in Nha Trang we decided to stay at the Ha van Hotel ($25 with large set breakfasts). Ha the new manager runs a good operation, and has some interesting stories about the French and American war years. The Ha Van has a great rooftop bar and restaurant, and the prices for bottled Beir La Rue at 15,000 dong ($0.88) very competitive.
We spent 6 days in Nha Trang lounging around the deck chairs at the La Louisiane Brewhouse pool, which is owned by Australian Sean and serves excellent meals and its own tasty brews. After happy hour drinks at the Ha Van Bar we would adjourn for Bellinis at the Guava bar and the new Guava Sports Bar, before dinner at Nha Trang Seafoods (which seems to have suffered a drop in service standards and an increase in prices!), La Verandah, probably the best Italian in town Little Italy, a new Aussie restaurant Something
Typical street scene Hanoi
Cooling off in the early evening
Fishy(run by an Aussie who went to Woodlawn with the Blair brothers), La Mancha (a Spanish find where we had Gambas garlic and pork fillet meals), and old favorite Truc Linh 1. Magenta, Michael asked about you again! Except for Nha Trang Seafoods, prices, quality and service were same as 3 years ago although all were complaining about the lack of tourists caused by the GFC and the trouble in Bangkok.
We luxuriated in the mud baths and mineral pools at the Thap Ba Hot Springs for a much increased cost of 170,000 dong ($10 each including bus each way). Again there did not seem to be the crowds of previous visits, except for a noticeably increased number of Chinese tourists - a trend we saw right throughout Vietnam.
All clean and rejuvenated we got the bus to drop us at the Central Market on the way back where we bought 5 tubes of Najatox (cream with Cobra poison - absolutely the best muscle pain relief) for 200,000 dong ($2.35 a tube). The cost of Cobratox manufactured by a subsidiary of the Vietnamese Army has risen to 80,000 dong a tube ($4.70) - outrageous!
After an enjoyable
6 days in Nha Trang we caught the morning Sinh Café Bus to for an all day trip to Saigon. When we arrived at the Lan Anh Hotel in De Tham Street ($20 with breakfast) we were warmly greeted by the owners who wondered why it had been so long since our last trip - the GFC we explained and they all grimaced. This hotel is well run and central that’s why we always stay there.
De Tham Street and the backpackers area generally is changing. The shops are being upgraded (along with the prices), new restaurants emerging and old ones disappearing. The Sinh Café Office has been transformed into a swish booking operation and bus waiting room - gone is the backpacker’s café that spawned the travel agency. Alez Boo has moved across De Tham Street into a 3 story restaurant and bar complex, and the group which owns it and the Go 2 Bar down the street have started a similar bar on the other corner.
Before we sent off another surface mail box we did a final shop for prescription glasses (3 pairs of progressive lenses and frames for $116 AUD), a neat omelet pan
we found in the Nguyen Kim Department Store, and some bits and pieces at New Saigon market, Tax shopping Centre and the Russian Market where we decided to make a hasty retreat because of the number of (huge!!!) rats we saw running around. It rained very heavily on a few occasions while in Saigon - mostly when we had left our Chinese umbrellas at the hotel!
On the food and drink front, we found the cheapest beer at HH Saigon Café (large Tiger beers for 20,000 dong $1.17 or $ 0.59 a glass), and good food at Pho 24, Saigon café, Mimosa café a tex-mex and Italian mix, and of course the Sheraton Hotel Buffet which has increased significantly to 725,000 dong a head ($42.64 up from $30) for a full buffet with free flowing beer and red and white Australian and French wines. We arrived at the start time of 6pm and finished at 10pm - 4 hours of lobster, seafood, meats, French and Vietnamese dishes, and desert section that occupied nearly an hour of Rob’s time. I don’t know how much wine we consumed as the waiters keep filling our glasses constantly. Next morning however, the inevitable
We had a couple of excellent lunches at Nga Hang Ngon restaurant, which has changed locations since we were last in Saigon - now at 160 Pasteur Street. The restaurant is in much larger premises (a renovated French Colonial building) that only just copes with the large crowds. The restaurant is built on the concept of giving a home to the best of street vendors under one roof - hence the wide range of Vietnamese dishes offered. Service and quality are unbeatable, and we had several long lunches waiting for the rain to abate.
Before leaving for Cambodia we sent a 20.84Kg box of purchases from the restored colonial Central post office. Next day with our bags considerably lighter we caught the 6.45am bus to Phnom Penh via the Moc Bai/ Bavet border crossing and then another bus at 2.00pm from PP to Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia. It seems that land border crossings are always a difficult prospect in this part of the world - absolute chaos! On the bus, the bus company official collected our passports and $25US each for visas (includes a little something for the immigration officer he said). After about 45 minutes wait
we were stamped out of Vietnam and boarded the bus with checked baggage for the short trip to the Cambodian side which was very efficiently handled in only a brief period of time - I wonder who got the “little something”?
This part of the trip was uneventful, except for the delay at loading the bus onto a ferry to cross the Mekong River where two women street vendors decided to attack each other with a large lump of wood each taking turns to beat each other. We finally arrived in PP at 1.35pm for the change of buses.
The countryside on the second leg to Sihanoukville was similar to northern NSW/southern Queensland coast area except for the areas of rice paddys. The day we arrived in “Snooky” was warm and fine. We booked into the Beach Club Resort ($25), a street back from Ochheuteal Beach and just opposite the Cambodian Prime Minister’s residence. Next morning the rain started early - and when we say rain we mean heavy tropical rain! It rained heavily for 3 days but we managed to get in some time in the pool and explore the immediate area. We have been lunching at
Appollo’s Restaurant next door, with dinner at Mick & Craig’s restaurant and The Monkey Republic. The food and beer are cheap - meals $3-5, draft beer $0.50 a glass and Bailey’s Original $13 a bottle. There is a wide variety of food ranging from seafood, Italian, Tex Mex, western and local Khmer food.
Sihanoukville is on one hand a small Asian seaside town - typical beaches with doubtful water quality, where seafood BBQ stalls line the streets, locals spend the day rocking in hammocks, Brahman cattle roam freely providing an efficient lawn mowing service, children play without any hint of schooling, and the local police spend hours at road blocks to trap unsuspecting bike riders for a bit of baksheesh. On the other hand the local landscape is littered with upscale hotels and casinos, where the late night life of the town bears little resemblance to the daytime bliss.
Even in our hotel the stark difference is apparent between those night owls whose only existence is evidenced by the pre-dawn ritual of trying to insert the room key into the lock with a great degree of difficulty and maximum noise, and the sunny side pool set with recently
acquired bikinis, checked board shorts, fake designer sunglasses and sun hats. The pursuits that locals and visitors share with enthusiasm are beer (there are local brewery tours of the Angkor Brewery for $1 promising all the beer you can drink!) and the inevitable karaoke, usually performed while in a tearful state of inebriation.
Hello Robyn and Gene - good to hear from you. Sounds like the trip went well. Can’t wait to hear about India and Sri Lanka.
There are more photos below