A Travellerspoint blog

Aug 15-17 Luang Prabang, LAOS - Days 5-7

Slow Boat to Pak Ou Caves & Waterfalls - Night Market in Luang Prabang - Bike Ride Around Town

sunny 94 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Aug. 15-17 Helpful Travel Notes:
Take a slow boat to Pak Ou Caves & the waterfalls: any travel or tour booking agent on Th Sisavangvong will be able to coordinate and book this tour for you (see details).

Slow Boat to Pak Ou Caves & Waterfalls – Night Market in Luang Prabang – Bike Ride Around Town

Pom is a friend from Thailand whom we met in town at Icon Klub. He has such a positive outlook and great energy! He picks up Essie and me at Bellevue Bungalows, and we stroll to the backside of town along the Mekong River to arrange for a slow boat to take us upstream to Pak Ou Caves, the waterfalls and some local villages. Because Pom speaks Thai, which is linguistically similar to Lao, we are able to negotiate this private tour. If you don’t speak Lao, simply go to any travel/tour agent on Th Sisavangvong. Any travel agent will be able to book a similar tour for you (see details).

We hike down the steep cliff toward the Mekong River, where our tour guide’s long boat is docked. We negotiate a shoddy bamboo raft to board the narrow, shallow boat. In we step, and we feel the entire boat sway with our weight. Good thing I’ve been on boats since childhood, or may have been slightly intimidated!

The guide starts up the engine, and off we go down the Mighty Mekong River – our pace is languid, yet quick enough to generate a cooling breeze. Ahhh….this is The Life! We cruise, snapping photos of the scenery along the Mekong. Essie & Pom enjoy sticking their hands and feet into the cool water while we putter down the River. The mountains in the distance stand in sharp contrast to the low valley. Their calming, warm presence embraces us and welcomes us to delve deeper into the hidden treasures Laos has to offer in its serene countryside.

After about an hour of river cruising, we dock at a village. Pom affectionately calls this village a “Whiskey Village” because the locals have stalls arranged to sell snake wine and local moonshine. There are also textiles, Hill Tribe silver pieces and jewelry, and handicrafts for sale as we meander down the path in the village. As we set to leave, we hear thundering, melodic music pouring out of the Buddhist wat we passed on the way into the village. We pass the spirit naga at the entrance, ascend the staircase, and see several children dancing and playing on the wat’s large patio. We are eager to find the source of the harmonious music. As we look up into the drum/gong section of the temple (forgive me…I forget the name of this), we see several saffron-clad monks practicing their musical cmnbnbraft. It is divine! I wish I could have chronicled the event via video, but my battery had run dry. I’m happy to say the harmony the monks played is indelibly etched on my memory.

After a good listen, we make our way carefully back down the stairs to our slow boat and pursue the path to Pak Ou Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. When we arrive at the entrance to Pak Ou Caves, we gingerly step from a floating dock up to the stone foyer. We glance up into the cave temple to see 1,000s of Buddha statues in every imaginable size, colour and embodiment dotting the makeshift stone “shelves” of the cave. It takes my breath away. The description of Ban Pak Ou Caves says,
“On the eastern bank of the Mekong River opposite the caves of Tam Ting is
Ban Pak Ou. In the past the village wat received royal patronage in exchange for caretaking [of] the caves. The wat is a picturesque example of a village[-]style religious complex which has a temple, dormitory and bell tower. Restoration
of the wat is being undertaken with the assistance of Thai friends.”

The steps and ladders built to navigate the temple are terribly steep! After climbing around to explore and take snaps of the tiny nooks and common areas, Pom & I agree we must see the Upper Caves as well. We carefully navigate our exeunt and begin following the path around the edge of the Lower Caves to the entrance of the Upper Caves and Rest Area of the temple.

Fair Warning: The ascent to the Upper Caves of Pak Ou Caves is grueling, steep and certainly not meant for everyone! There are not fewer than 500 steep, tall steps leading up to the Rest Area and Upper Cave temple. At one point about halfway up, I comment over my shoulder to Pom, “Ha-Ha! Now we know why they needed to build a ‘Rest Area’ for visitors who would come here for relaxation!” The views down into the valley from both the staircase hike and from the top are spectacular, however. They make the arduous hike worthwhile. The sights in the Inner Caves, though, not-so-much. The Lower Caves were of greater interest.

After gathering our breaths and our thoughts (one must take a moment to meditate and contemplate the enormity of this place if she hikes this far up to see it!), we begin our descent back down to the water. We pause to take several snaps of the vistas. Of particular interest and enjoyment is gently touching the hindquarters of vibrant green grasshoppers we encounter along the way. There are all types of colourful, busy insects that grace our descent.

I’ll say this: it’s amazing how much the villagers do to maintain and restore this precious temple. It resides in the thick of the rainforest jungle.

We board our slow boat, and decide to cash in our chips. Between the heat and humidity of the day and the ridiculous hike up to the Upper Caves, we’re pooped. The cruise back to our point of entry takes 1/3 the time of our ride here. Nevertheless, we enjoy a languid, easy-breezy cruise back to Luang Prabang town. Today has been a day of discovery coupled with relaxation. We smile sleepily the whole way home.

Despite our exhaustion, Pom urges me to take a detour through the Night Market en route to Bellevue Bungalows. Of course I oblige – shopping at Night Markets is one of my most favourite features of SE Asia! Stall after stall after stall sells handmade books, clothing, jewelry, silver, wood carvings, handbags, handicrafts, toys, lights, and artwork. We decide to buy a Laotian-style print halter dress and animal-themed cloth book for Essie. I buy a print picturing Siddhartha for my “foreign artwork” collection. For those unaware, in my worldwide travels, I strive to purchase 2 things from every city I visit – locally-produced artwork and a piece or two of jewelry.

Before leaving Luang Prabang, I must do two more things: buy my “locally made” jewelry and book the next leg of our journey. Es and I enjoy a leisurely stroll down Th Sisavangvong, peeking into the shops selling jewelry. One shop catches my eye, so we ease in, hoping to avoid engaging any salespeople. What I enjoy most about this store is the salespersons’ lack of pushiness coupled with their knowledge of each piece’s production/history when asked. I buy two silver rings – one large life-like dragonfly ring with wings that span my third, fourth and pinky fingers, and one small, thumb-ring with a tiny dragonfly. The artisan who cast the rings is there to tell me about how he made them, which adds intrigue and interest for me. I sincerely wish I would have written down the address and contact information for this store because I want to recommend them! The one distinguishing characteristic about it is the store has mostly silver, with many necklaces, and an “eclectic/ethereal” vibe. The displays are artfully done and spaced evenly, so not overwhelming as in other stores. I know, too, the store was on the right-hand side of Th Sisavangvong (facing the Night Market/Post Office), about 1/3-1/2 way down the street.

I highly recommend the tour company, All Lao Service Agency | 13/7 Th Sisavangvong | Luang Prabang, Laos (see details). They booked our flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai. They are professional, courteous, and book all activities, tours, flights, etc. in and around Luang Prabang.

Aug. 15-17 Places/Things to Do:
Take a slow boat to Pak Ou Caves & the waterfalls – any travel or tour booking agent on Th Sisavangvong will be able to coordinate and book this tour for you.
• $10 USD/80,000 kip - Slow boat trip

$5 USD/40,000 kip – 20,000 kip Entrance fee & donations to restoration projects at [i]Pak Ou Caves

Night Market - At the far West end of the main street, Th Sisavangvong, there is a thriving Night Market where locals peddle their wares every evening. Even if you don’t buy anything, take a stroll through the Market - the experience is not to be missed!

Buy a Handmade Custom Name or Image Stamp - Walk down the main street –[i] Th Sisavangvong – you’ll see the storefronts. The gentleman who carves the stamps owns two storefronts in town. His family sells the stamps out front – they are all kind, hard-working, customer-oriented people. What a unique, cool souvenir from Laos!
$10 USD/80,000 kip – haggle if you’re not Laotian.

Tour/Travel Agent in Luang Prabang – All Lao Service Agency | 13/7 Th Sisavangvong | Luang Prabang, Laos | email: airticket@alllaoservice.com | phone: 071 253522-3 or 020 55 571572

Posted by beachlovingirl 16.08.2011 20:00 Archived in Laos Tagged cruise clothes handicrafts textiles artwork night_market mekong_river slow_boat pak_ou_caves Comments (0)

Aug. 11-14 Luang Prabang, LAOS – Days 1-4

Soakin' up the Culture in Luang Prabang...Enjoying the Town-the People-the Food

sunny 92 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Aug. 11-14 Helpful Travel Notes:
Accommodations: Bellevue Bungalows – Khoua Khao Street (Old Bridge) | Ban Muang Nga | Luang Prabang, Laos (see details)
• ~$14 USD/112,000 kip, depending on amenities, beds, people, etc., for a Room with 1 Twin Bed & 1 Double Bed.

Rent a Bicycle: The least expensive, most efficient way to get around the small town and to see all the sights, temples, etc. is renting a bike.
• $1.33 USD/10,000 kip per day. Motorbike rental is another available option.

Buy a Handmade Custom Name or Image Stamp: Walk down the main street - Th Sisavangvongyou’ll see the storefronts selling the stamps.
• $10 USD/80,000 kip – haggle if you’re not Laotian (see details).

[i]Buy souvenirs, silks, artwork, jewelry, clothing, and local handicrafts at the Night Market: At the far West end of the main street, Th Sisavangvong, there is a Night Market every night (see details).

Tour the Wats (Temples): Get a good map when you arrive in Luang Prabang and take time to wander through different-style wats and their surrounding grounds.

Post Office: Located in a large yellow house-style building at the end of Th Sisavangvong, past where the Night Market is set up every evening.

Eat at as many local restaurants as possible: the restaurants in Luang Prabang are delectable – sample as many as you can! (see details).

Soaking up the Culture in Luang Prabang...Enjoying the Town-the People-the Food

On our first day in town we grab a map and just start walking. We see wats, storefronts, and a myriad of restaurants, guest houses and hotels. The town of Luang Prabang, made up of several small villages/neighbourhoods, sits nestled between two rivers - The Mighty Mekong on the Northwest side, and the River Khan to the Southeast. This fortuitous geography offers not only gorgeous views, but also a solid point of reference for tourists wandering the town. Although there are a few “main” streets in town (Sisavangvong, Sikkaline, ) , the side streets in Luang Prabang offer a unique taste of the local culture in Laos .

After walking from our bungalows to the main stretch of town the first day in Luang Prabang , I decide it’s time to rent a bicycle to get around. It’s not that I’m not a “walker”, per se, but I had to cross a horrifically high, rickety bridge (yes, the “Old Bridge” is precisely that--), to get to the main part of town. Besides, having a bike affords us the luxury of covering more ground in a shorter amount of time.

Serene & I duck into a cute little store selling millions of gorgeous post cards for 2000 kip apiece. They also have beautiful, unique, handmade paper cards on a rounder out front. We buy some post cards and a lovely handmade card picturing two elephants, a smaller elephant gripping the tail of a larger one, who appears to be leading it. Essie says, “Ya-Ya…Essie!”, so I absolutely cave and buy it to send to O. Inside I write, “Your Little Sister chose this card for you, saying it reminds her of you”. How adorable is that?! I pride myself on living my life without regret. However, I wish Liv’s school year didn’t begin so blasted early, as I would’ve brought her with us. They are the Best of friends, and they do miss each other dearly. :(

We relax on a restaurant patio along Th Sisavangvong, writing our post cards, sharing authentic Italian thin-crust pizza. Every bit of the experience is tantalizing! Most of you know how I adore my hobby of “People Watching” – this is definitely the perfect spot for it! However, when you choose a patio seat, be sure to don your thickest skin. You’ll have to withstand the pleas of small school children soliciting money for bracelets and kitschy souvenirs. “…It’s not for me, Madame. It’s money for my school, Madame!” Simply give a firm “No,” and they’ll wander to the next sucker, err, falang to peddle their wares.

Once we finish lunch, we pedal down to the far end of Th Sisavangvong with our post cards and boucoup souvenirs from Vietnam, where the Post Office, aka “L’Office d’Poste”, resides in a large, yellow “house-like” building. There is a sign, but it’s in Thai and French, so keep an eye out for “The Yellow House”, as locals call it. There are several English-speaking Staff, so just walk in and ask for help, and they’ll direct you to the correct windows. Payment for Post is Cash Only, so you may have to stop at the ATM.

Some of the restaurants we visit more than once this week are Aussie Sports Bar, L’etranger Books and Tea, and The House Belgian Food and Drinks. Locals may recommend Lao Lao Gardens BBQ - although the food was alright, the atmosphere is kitschy and the prices exorbitant. Avoid it.

Aug. 11-14 Places/Things to Do:
Th Sisavangvong – the main street/backpacker/tourist trap area of Luang Prabang – you’ll find restaurants, souvenirs, clothing, boutiques, Museums, banks, ATMs…anything you need is found here or within 1 block of this street.

Bellevue Bungalows – Khoua Khao Street (Old Bridge) | Ban Muang Nga | Luang Prabang, Laos
• ~$14 USD/112,000 kip, depending on amenities, beds, people, etc., for a Room with 1 Twin & 1 Double Bed.
• Amenities: Kind, attentive, gregarious Staff, clean rooms/bathroom, WiFi “spotty” in room + public areas, Hot water shower, complimentary bottled water, A/C, armoire, balcony with table/chairs, simple Western Breakfast included.
• Bellevue Bungalows is located away from the main town centre but very close to the Nam Khan River and within walking distance of Mount Phousi, the Night Market and the main street. Situated across the picturesque Old Bridge from town, Bellevue is next door to La Bel Air Boutique Resort.
• website: http://www.bellevuebungalows-lp.com/location

Aussie Sports Bar - Ban Aham | Sisouphan Road | Luang Prabang, Laos | website: www.aussiesportsbar-luangprabang.com | phone: +8562056170259
• $5-10/150-300 Baht; Convenient location, good Aussie Pub food – best hand-cut “chips” I’ve tasted in forever! Great owners -John & Jenny, Aussie/Laotian. Corey is charming & fun!
• Catch AFL (Australian Rules Football League) games –John’s a former player and massive fan– and English Premier League games on Sat-Sun nights.

L’etranger Books and Tea | Hive – Th Kingkitsarat | Phousi Road | Ban Aphai (Village) | Luang Prabang, Laoss | email: booksinLaoss@yahoo.com
• WiFi, books to sit and read or for purchase, light menu and a wonderful selection of “true” teas served with fresh milk (not powdered creamer!) and sugar.
• Movies are shown on the upstairs level – check the posted schedule for details.

The House Belgian Food and Drinks – Phousi Road | Aphai Village | Luang Prabang, Laos | email: thehouseLaos@gmail.com | phone: +856 (0)71 255 021

Icon Klub – Ban Xiengmouane 51/4 | Luang Prabang, Laos | website: www.iconklub.yolasite.com | email: iconklub@gmail.com | phone: +856 (2) 0777 1972
• Cool, eclectic pub with gorgeous artwork! Lisa, the bartender, is a sweetheart and fun!
• On weekend nights, movies are shown on the upstairs level.
z z

Posted by beachlovingirl 13.08.2011 19:52 Archived in Laos Tagged laos dinner luang_prabang mekong_river bellevue_bungalows bike_rental Comments (0)

Aug. 9 Hoi An, Vietnam – Day 2

Chill in Hoi An town – Enjoying riverside dining – Have clothes custom-made by Hoi An Tailors

sunny 88 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Aug. 9 Helpful Travel Notes:
Tailor/Custom Clothing Maker - Ask for Ny (“Knee”) at Tu Quyen Clothing Shop (see details)
• 80 Le Loi | Hoi An, Vietnam | email: 80leloi@gmail.com | phone: (+84) 0510 3 861 591

Chill in Hoi An town – Enjoying riverside dining – Have clothes custom-made by Hoi An Tailors

My goals for today include:
1. buy & send post cards, which entails locating the Post Office that has thus far eluded me
2. sit riverside/street-front and people watch while enjoying a $0.20 draft beer when it becomes unbearably hot, as it does every day here in Hoi An
3. eat at Thuan Y – a cool restaurant I found yesterday which not only will satisfy #2, but also offer delectable, inexpensive dining for my little travel buddy and me!
4. choose patterns and order custom-made dresses/outfits of silk/satin on Le Loi Street
5. hit the beach early :)
6. take a dip in the pool at the hotel
7. book travel to Luang Prabang, Laos OR Ho Chi Minh City OR Chiang Mai, Thailand - this entails making a decision, not my "strong suit"

Good news: We achieved nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6 - I can’t be disappointed with those stats. Hitting the Beach became out of the question when Essie decided to nap during the coolest portion of the day. My decision-making skills have not sharpened yet, so #7 became too overwhelming to handle for today. LOL :)

We came home early, video chatted with Liv & Andrew, and crashed. It was a long, hot, but productive day. By the way, have you ever noticed how fate has a way of intervening? We encountered a delightful couple from Chile who’d just come from Luang Prabang, Laos. After they regaled us with their joys, sights and experiences in Laos, I must see it for myself. #7 is first on the list ma~nana! And…we’re flying there. No more 20-hour train or bus rides with a squirmy, antsy, temperamental almost-2-year-old for this girl! I love you, Serene! You are right on target developmentally, but it simply wears out your Mommy! ; )

Aug. 9 Places/Things to Do:
Thuan Y Restaurant - 94 Bach Dang |Hoi An, Vietnam | (+84) 0510 3 863 179 (riverside)
• $0.20 USD/4000 VND draft beers + extensive Vietnamese/English menu quoted in $USD! :)

Quang Thang Restaurant - 96/98(?) Bach Dang | Hoi An, Vietnam (riverside)
• Tasty, inexpensive pizza, pasta and a friendly, helpful staff.

Tailor/Custom Clothing Maker - Ask for Ny (“Knee”) at Tu Quyen Clothing Shop
• 80 Le Loi | Hoi An, Vietnam | email: 80leloi@gmail.com | phone: (+84) 0510 3 861 591

• haggle, haggle, haggle! I had 1 full-length satin dress, 1 silk Vietnamese-style pantsuit with custom accents + 1 silk shift dress with custom accents made for $87 out-the-door. 24-hour turn-around, A++ quality.

DO NOT go to this Restaurant, unless you enjoy people who abuse Westerners…
Quan An 19 Restaurant | Hoang Van Thu | Hoi An, Vietnam | (84) 0510 910 409

Posted by beachlovingirl 09.08.2011 06:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food restaurant shopping hoi_an tailor clothing Comments (0)

Aug. 8 Hoi An, Vietnam – Day 1

Overnight Train arrives in Da Nang – Taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An – Cooking Class & Sunset Dinner Cruise on Mekong River

sunny 86 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Aug. 8 Helpful Travel Notes:
Accommodations: Hai Au Hotel – 575 Cua Dai | Hoi An, Vietnam
• $25-30 USD/500,000-600,000 VND per night for a clean room with 2 Double beds (see details)

Booking a Taxi: Taxi from Da Nang Train Station to Hoi An
• ~$23 USD/450,000 VND; ~1 hour. Simply walk out Da Nang train station doors and hire a taxi.

Renting a Bicycle: The easiest, most convenient way to get around Hoi An from town to Beach and surrounding areas is by bike. Rent one from wherever you’re staying or walk into town and rent a bike.

Book a Vietnamese Cooking Class/Sunset River Cruise: Cinnamon Cruises - 32 Le Loi | Hoi An, Vietnam – look for a tour boat with “Cinnamon Cruises” labeled at The Pier opposite 82 Bach Dang (riverside)
• $ 25 USD/500,000 VND/person +gratuity for Staff (see details)

Overnight Train arrives in Da Nang – Taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An – Cooking Class & Sunset Cruise on Mekong

We are now settled into our hotel - Hai Au Hotel. The hotel is gorgeous, thank you, Jenna! It’s clean, secure, and off the beaten path, so it’s quiet. The Staff is attentive, and gregarious, greeting guests by name as they enter. Bonuses at Hai Au Hotel: a full booking tour company in the lobby/reception area, WiFi and a restaurant attached. I was going to try to find another hotel, but I’m thinkin about stayin put here! I’m gonna stroll down on Bach Dang Street and Le Loi tomorrow to see if there are other hotels with Single Rooms for less money. Since it’s just Es & me tomorrow, we need to conserve our dough.

Jenna and I rent bikes from the hotel ($1 USD/20,000), and cruise down to the main part/main street along the Mekong River in town - Bach Dang Street. We are heading toward the docks to take a sunset river boat cruise on the Mekong River that’s coupled with a cooking class. Cinnamon Cruises – highly rated by all on Trip Advisor (and us!) 32 Le Loi – Hoi An, Vietnam. Look for a tour boat with “Cinnamon Cruises” labeled at The Pier opposite 82 Bach Dang, the main riverside street in Hoi An.

While navigating our bikes through the tiny, narrow market paths, where low cloth sack “ceilings” shade the stalls, we continually bump our heads on these because we are American giants! We ride right past our dinner cruise river boat, looking for a stand-alone restaurant called “Cinnamon Cruises”. After asking around several restaurants, we find our way and enjoy much-needed water refreshment. The table is set with all of our cooking necessities. We snap some photos and set to work prepping for the first course.

Let me say: This is one of the BEST cooking classes I’ve ever experienced, bar-none. The Staff is friendly, attentive, professional. The food is indulgent and savoury. Chef Tho is patient, friendly, accommodating of my Pescatarian diet, and who can beat a sunset River Cruise? 5 stars.
We dine on our fresh spring rolls, banana flower salad with sweet & sour sauce, Bon Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes with bean sprouts), and some seafood/vegetable soup-kinda like a pho, but better. For dessert we enjoy fresh pineapple, watermelon and mango and light our Wish Lanterns-small, intricately designed paper lanterns with a candle in the center. The staff went out and bought two just for us because we were marveling at the women rowing patrons down the river setting them onto the water. Don’t think I got a good photo, but it was serene and lovely. We light our candles, close our eyes, make our wishes, gently set our Wish Lanterns into the river, and watch them float away. Ahhh….what a perfect end to a perfect day!

Aug. 8 Places/Things to Do:
Hai Au Hotel – 575 Cua Dai | Hoi An, Vietnam
• $25-30 USD | 500,000-600,000 VND per night for a clean room with 2 Double beds, WiFi in room and public areas, hot water shower, complimentary bottled water, A/C, fridge, swimming pool. Buffet Breakfast in Hotel Restaurant included. Full tour company/travel agent in Hotel Lobby. Laundry 25,000 VND/kilo.
• website: www.haiauhotels.com | email: haiauhotelha@yahoo.com | phone: (+84) 510 3914 577

Cinnamon Cruises Sunset Dinner Cruise & Cooking Class (optional) - 32 Le Loi | Hoi An, Vietnam – look for a tour boat with “Cinnamon Cruises” labeled at The Pier opposite 82 Bach Dang (riverside)
• $25 USD/510,000 VND +gratuity for Staff includes market tour, cooking instruction, dinner, dessert, complimentary drink and sunset boat cruise
• website: http://www.cinnamoncruises.com | email: sales@cinnamoncruises.com |phone: +84 0510.850.5605

Posted by beachlovingirl 08.08.2011 05:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sunset hotel cruise dinner hoi_an riverside mekong_river cinnamon_cruises hai_au bach_dang_street le_loi_street Comments (0)

Aug. 6 Mui Ne - Day 3

Motorbike Tour of Mui Ne: Fairy Stream, Waterfall & Red Sand Dunes - Fishing Village - Bau Trang White Sand Dunes - Yellow Sand Dunes - Dinner at Bamboo Bamboo Restaurant

sunny 92 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Aug. 6 Mui Ne – Day 3

Aug. 6 Helpful Travel Notes:
Booking a Tour: Mui Ne Motorbike Tour to Fairy Stream, Fishing Village & Red/White/Yellow Sand Dunes - $10 USD/200,000 VND - Book through a tour or travel agent on Nguyen Dinh Chieu

Motorbike Tour of Mui Ne: Fairy Stream, Waterfall & Red Sand Dunes, Fishing Village, Bau Trang White Sand Dunes, and Yellow “Sliding” Sand Dunes – Dinner at Bamboo Bamboo Restaurant

Link to a Blog which describes the Sand Dune Tour experience well (you can ignore the part about the animal dung, Thank Goodness!) and has fabulous photos - http://konglishadventures.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/mui-ne-dunes/

Our guides pick up Jigga, Serene & me at our Hotel. We set off on our motorbikes through the little town of Mui Ne, hugging the coastline. Seeing the different facets of the town from just our “local/within walking distance” scenery is cool. There are many more hotels, resorts, stopover restaurants and storefronts than I’ve imagined.

After a 10-minute cruise, we hop off the motorbikes (think 200-300cc moped – these things make a Vespa look like a Harley) at the entrance to Fairy Stream. The entrance is littered with tourist trap stores, so we breeze by all the kitschy stuff and begin our march down to the stream. The 4-minute walk to the Stream is interesting, to say the least! We pass wild chickens & their chicks, stray dogs, tiny farms, and a particularly odiferous fish sauce fermenting field. Fish sauce is a staple in most SE Asian cooking – Vietnam is no exception. We can definitely smell, then see the giant round fermenting cauldrons loaded with fish soaking in salt baking in the sun. Whew! Nose plugs woulda been handy at this juncture!

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings comes to mind as we enter the Fairy Stream. Maybe it’s the name, “Fairy Stream” that makes me feel as if something magical will transpire the moment we step into the tawny water. It’s not dirty or brackish – just brown from all the yellow sand and brown dirt being stirred up by the gentle current. It’s surprisingly warm water – 80+ degrees, and its shallow waters are calming as we stroll upstream following our guide’s steps.

We are soon greeted warmly by young local boys who offer their assistance in navigating the “treacherous” path up the stream. I call them “mini touts”, since they are expecting money after their guidance. I kindly assure them I already have a guide and thusly will not be paying them, yet one named Thee (“Tee”) stays with us. I think he simply enjoys playing with Essie as we wade. He warns, “Deep side,” (or is it “Thees side”?! I can’t really decipher which) and points along the way whenever he perceives a difficult patch of water/rocks. Too cute.

We wade upstream along the red sand dunes, pausing to marvel at the terra cotta splash of colour contrasting the monolithic alabaster rock formations dappling the valley. Taking in this scenery, I marvel, “Alright…this is worth every step it takes to get here.” We pause at the mucky, suctioning red sand along the stream. The patch we choose has an element of quicksand in it, so I dip my feet into it and sink, sucking out my feet alternately and giggling. It feels cool in a Kindergartner-loves-to-moosh-Play-Doh-in-her-fingers kinda way. : )

After a 20-25-minute trek upstream, we reach our destination: the waterfall. Teenage guys lie around, dunking each other in the misty falls. The waterfall, too, is worth the hike – simply gorgeous! After snapping photos, we follow the twisting, turning stream back to our origin, and walk out, passing two ostriches, saddled like horses for “ostrich rides”. Poor animals. We politely decline our guide’s offer to ride the flightless birds, and hike back to our motorbikes. Our journey continues down the paved road toward Bau Trang, the white sand dunes near Mui Ne.

Along the way to Bau Trang, we pause at a vista along the ocean. We’re looking down upon a fishing village – replete with “coconut” boats, long, canoe-like fishing boats, and fisherpeople (men and women!) hauling in fresh fish. What a spectacle! These are some of my fondest memories of our time in Vietnam thus far.

Hopping back onto our road trip, we motor 20 minutes down the road to Bau Trang, the white sand dunes. I am pooped out from holding Essie the entire journey, and forego the hike up the steep dunes. Instead, Serene & I enjoy a respite in a fabric hammock under a covered patio. As I lie lazily in my cloth nap-zone, I chortle quietly at all of the tourists forking over 20,000 dong/minute to ride Quad bikes up and around the dunes. I find that to be extortion, even by American standards! To each her/his own, I suppose. There are also small children renting small, blue plastic toboggans to tourists to use for a slide down the dunes. For an additional 20,000 dong, the kids teach you how to ride the slide. Miniature Venturing Capitalists in a Socialist country! Now, how ‘bout that?!

We mount our bikes as the blazing sun begins its descent from high in the sky. Our goal is to enjoy sunset atop the yellow sand dunes, which are closest to our hotel in Mui Ne. We make it just in time to hike to the top of our favourite vista atop the highest dune. We slide, run and roll down the dunes and snap photos. If you check out the Blog I mention at the beginning of this post, you’ll see amazing photos of these dunes there, which appropriately represent what’s to be seen. Mine are nowhere near as cool as theirs. I think the scenery at the yellow sand dunes is my favourite of all the sights today. I admit, however: the combination of sheer exhaustion after hiking all day and my penchant for enjoying a good sunset heavily influence this statement. No question – this was most certainly a divine sunset!

During the motorbike journey back to our hotel, a pelting rain ensues. I am unabashedly donning my sunglasses while being pummeled by Lemonhead-sized dollops; I’m equally thankful to have brought Ergo carrier so I may shield Essie, who sleeps the entire way home. She’s becoming a great little traveler, just like her big sister! Baptism by Fire, I suppose.

Even though we are tired, you know I’m a Foodie in my heart of hearts. I can’t bear the thought of not squeezing one last divine Southern Vietnamese dinner before Es & I depart for Hoi An tomorrow. Jigga & I choose Bamboo Bamboo – just catty-corner from our hotel. While I savour sautéed mixed seasonal veggies and shrimp fried with chili and lemongrass, Miss Es devours pesto tossed with spaghetti. Pesto pasta’s her fave dish, and I am pleasantly surprised to say this one is authentic! Some of the best pesto I’ve ever had, in fact! Fresh, fresh, fresh. Yum! Fun side note: the owners have a small black kitten sporting the moniker “Black Kitty” leashed (yes, a cat leashed…) to a door near the hostess stand. Essie had a ball playing with the kitten, who adored her. Great pics.

With full bellies and just a short jaunt home, we all enjoy an early bedtime – it was quite an active day! Tomorrow we have the morning to enjoy breakfast, beach time, and a little lunch. At 2pm, we depart via taxi from Mui Ne to Muang Mang Train Station $ 17 USD | 350,000 VND, about 45 minutes, and catch an overnight train to Da Nang, Vietnam. From Da Nang, we will take a taxi to Hoi An, Vietnam. We hear wonderful things about Hoi An – can’t wait! :)

Aug. 6 Places/Things to Do:

Motorbike Tour around Mui Ne Fairy Stream/Red Sand Dunes, White & Yellow Sand Dunes – ~$10 USD/200,000 VND + gratuity for Guide. Book through any tour or travel agent on [i]Nguyen Dinh Chieu.

Bamboo Bamboo Restaurant – 131 Nguyen Dinh Chieu | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam

Posted by beachlovingirl 05.08.2011 23:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beach vietnam sand tour motorbike sand_dunes mui_ne fishing_village fairy_stream Comments (0)

Aug. 5 Mui Ne Beach – Day 2

Getting to Know Mui Ne - Taste of Vietnam Cooking Class - Dinner at Vietnam Home Restaurant

sunny 89 °F
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Aug. 5 Helpful Travel Notes:
Tours/Hot Spots:Taste of Vietnam Cooking Class - 82 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam
• $12 USD/240,000 VND +gratuity for Teacher

Getting to Know Mui Ne – Taste of Vietnam Cooking Class – Dinner at Vietnam Home Restaurant

We start our day easily and slowly, wander over to breakfast, and stroll around town, looking at the only worthy clothing store in town, called Kim’s Shop. We figure they’ll have sarongs for sale, since it’s a beach town. Not-so-much. Lots of different dress styles, swim suits, pants and skirts, but “No Sarong for you, Amy!”

We happen upon a sign that says, “Cooking Class – A Taste of Vietnam – Low Season special - $12 per person”. We walk up to the beachfront Kitchen. The teacher, Thuy greets us with a warm smile and a promise we’ll adore the class. Who can argue with that? We make reservations and return at 11. For 3 hours, we prep, learn, sample, and cook our brains out, pausing only to devour our creations after creating each course. Thuy is professional yet humourous - just an absolute delight. Take the class! At only $12 USD, it’s worth twice the cost!

We chill in beach chairs all afternoon, then walk to Dinner at a less-than-impressive Mexican joint on Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Feeling less-than-sated, we hop over to Vietnam Home Restaurant for a better meal. They have an upper deck balcony patio which offers views of people walking down Nguyen Dinh Chieu below. Now, tha’s more like it.

We are planning to start the day early tomorrow, hitting the beach in the morning, then taking a motorbike tour of the Mui Ne Sand Dunes.

Aug. 5 Places/Things to Do:
Kim’s Shop 1 – 121 Nguyen Dinh Chieu |Phan Thiet City|Binh Thuan Pro| Mui Ne, Vietnam | (062) 741-422
Kim’s Shop 2 – 53 Nguyen Dinh Chieu |Phan Thiet City|Binh Thuan Pro| Mui Ne, Vietnam | (062) 741-338
• Large selection of souvenirs and clothing, post cards, sunscreen, snacks, etc.

Taste of Vietnam Cooking Class – Thuy, chef/teacher – 82 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam
• $12 USD/240,000 VND +gratuity for Teacher
• website: www.c2skykitecenter.com/MuiNeCookingSchool/tabid/59/Default.aspx | phone: 09 1665 5241

Vietnam Home Restaurant Mui Ne – 125 AB Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. | Ham Tien | Mui Ne, Vietnam | www.vietnamhomerestaurant.com

Posted by beachlovingirl 05.08.2011 05:44 Archived in Vietnam Tagged restaurant vietnam sand motorbike accomodations sand_dunes mui_ne nguyen_dinh_chieu Comments (0)

Aug 4 Saigon to Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam

Mui Ne is Muy Nice...

sunny 89 °F
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Aug. 4 Bus Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne Beach – Day 1

Aug. 4 Helpful Travel Notes:
Accommodations: Mai Khanh/Paradise Huts/Joe’s Café - 86 Nguyen Dinh Chieu | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam
• $35-45 USD/700,000-900,000 VND, depending on amenities/beach views, etc., for a clean Room with 2 Double Beds (see details)

Website for Resources on Mui Ne: http://www.muinebeach.net/general.htm#whattobuyhere

Bus from Saigon/HCMC to Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam – Dinner at Lam Tong Restaurant
We take the 8am bus from Saigon to Mui Ne Beach. You can book this trip through any travel agent on Pham Ngu Lao Street (Saigon/HCMC). We've learned that we multiply x1.5-2 to get a more accurate travel time estimates while here in Vietnam. The "4 hour" bus ride from Saigon to Mui Ne actually takes 6 hours.

We arrive in Mui Ne at 2:00 pm and stroll down the main backpacker area drag, Nguyen Dinh Chieu for a bit to price-shop the various accommodations. We settle on reservations at a cute guest resort that’s accepting their first reservations under new management – perfect timing! It's now called Mai Khanh Resort, but we are guessing they’ll change the name to "Joe's Cafe" soon. We begged for $30 USD/night, with a promise we’d stay 3 nights, which turned out to be the best decision of our journey thus far!

We walk 2 doors down to have lunch at Lam Tong Restaurant- 92 Nguyen Dinh Chieu | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam | +84 (062) 384 7598. The menu is extensive and inexpensive – Win-Win! The views of the Beach/ocean are spectacular. We enjoy a laid-back lunch while watching the waves loll gently onto the beach. Afterward we head for naps on our beachfront lounge chairs. Mui Ne is muy nice…

Aug. 4 Places/Things to Do:
Nguyen Dinh Chieu– the main street/backpacker nest/tourist trap area of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Mai Khanh/Paradise Huts/Joe’s Café (not sure which name they’ll adopt once they get rollin) – 86 Nguyen Dinh Chieu | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam
• $35-45 USD/700,000-900,000 VND, depending on amenities/beach views, etc., for a clean Room with 2 Double Beds
• Amenities: Kind, attentive Staff, very clean rooms/bathroom, WiFi is “spotty”, Hot water shower, complimentary bottled water, A/C, fridge, beach chairs + easy beach access. Simple Western Breakfast included.
• website: | email: | phone: (+
• Owners, Thao & Joe Springer Miller are adorable, kind and friendly.

Lam Tong Restaurant - 92 Nguyen Dinh Chieu | Phan Thiet City | Binh Thuan Pro | Mui Ne, Vietnam | +84 (062) 384 7598

Posted by beachlovingirl 04.08.2011 04:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches accomodations mui_ne_beach nguyen_dinh_chieu lam_tong_restaurant mai_khanh_resort paradise_huts joe’s_café Comments (0)

Aug 3 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Mekong Delta Tour - amazing!

sunny 89 °F
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Aug. 3 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – Day 2

Aug. 3 Helpful Travel Notes:
Booking a Tour: Mekong Delta Tour
• $10 USD/200,000 VND - Book through a tour or travel agent on Pham Ngu Lao Street

Mekong Delta Tour – Dinner at Saigon Vegan Restaurant

Today we have an exciting adventure in store! We have booked a Mekong River Delta Tour. A guide from the bus company picks us up at our hotel at 8 am, escorting us down our street to pick up several other tourists for the bus ride to our entry point on the Mekong. Our “2 hour” bus ride takes 4 hours due to traffic, but we finally arrive at the port where we board our long boat-style touring boat and set off onto the Mighty Mekong.

Our first stop is the merchant’s floating market – there is another floating market up the way for patrons, but it’s too far. We find this an adequate example of the floating market experience. Our guide explains how the bamboo poles standing off the bow of each floating market boat display what the boat merchant is selling for the day. For example, a boat selling gourds (a common crop here) hangs a large gourd from the boat’s bamboo pole. In this way, the merchants “advertise” to buyers what they’re selling. We wind our way through the market and head toward a small village that produces several products, including rice or sesame rice paper for spring rolls (sesame), coconut toffee candy, “popped” rice snacks, rice wine, tea with longan honey, bee pollen morsels, and royal jelly. We watch as the merchants demonstrate the production of each product – it’s a completely rewarding cultural experience.

Rice paper – First, rice is cooked, then watered down to a thin consistency that is ladled and spread across a large, flat dome. Once the air dries the rice/water mixture, the maker gently scrapes the circular rice paper off the dome and places it on the edge of a rotating wheel to dry. Another maker gently removes the hanging rice paper circle and adds it to a long wicker “stretcher” which holds 10 rice paper circles. The drying stretcher is laid in the sun to dry. This gives the rice paper the dried out crunch to which we’re accustomed.

Coconut Toffee Candy – After collecting a great deal of coconut milk/juice in a specialized vat, the liquid is poured into a large mixer. Adding sugar and water, the liquid is heated and spun until it gains a thicker consistency. Once it becomes taffy-like, it is poured into the molds to form long lengths of toffee. Once it cools and hardens, it is chopped into bite-sized pieces, wrapped in individual papers, and packaged.

Popped Rice Treats – This demonstration amazed me with its complexity and level of expertise. First, the hulls from former batches and lychees are used to fuel a fiery cauldron. The maker stirs up and heats sand in the cauldron to a particular temperature. He adds the raw rice and agitates/stirs it vigorously until it pops like popcorn. Once the majority of the rice is popped, he uses a large bamboo scoop to move the rice/sand to a sieve which separates the sand and rice hulls from the popped rice “prizes”. The rice is then poured onto another large cauldron to which the maker adds a light, warm caramel mixture. He and his buddy use large wooden paddles to walk around the cauldron, mixing, mixing, mixing the rice to coat it in caramel. Think of rice Krispy treats. ;) Next, the caramel popped rice is transferred to a large, square wooden table with a ridged border. The maker and his buddy flatten the gooey rice on the table, then use large machetes to chop the rice mixture into small squares. By this time, the popped rice has cooled to a temperature where it can be handled, and it is transferred finally to the packaging table, where a lady wraps 16-20 pieces in individual baggies. Such a production for those little rice treats!

Our guide describes the process of making rice wine and walks us back to the bee farm that produces delicious longan flower honey, tea, bee pollen morsels (“great for your liver, brain and heart!”), and royal jelly. The family prepares your tea just so: a bit of tea, a squeeze of kumquat, and a teaspoon of perfect longan flower honey. Mmmm! Some of the best tea I’ve ever sampled. :)

After a bit of shopping in the foyer, we board our boat again. Our next stop is a customary Vietnamese lunch in a nearby village. We all opt for the “free with tour purchase” meal of tofu, fresh sautéed veggies, soup and rice. It’s scrumptious! Others opt to pay a bit more and sample the elephant ear fish delicacy served in the village. The elephant ear fish is a deep fried whole fish, served upright on the plate with some steamed veggies encircling it. Quite a spectacle!

Following lunch, we have the option to ride bikes around the village or chill in hammocks surrounding the lunch tables on the outdoor patio. I choose both, of course. I throw Essie in the Ergo carrier on my front, and off we pedal, over small bridges – Weeee! feet out down the hills and through the tiny village. After working up a decent sweat, I decide it’s hammock time, of which both Serene & I are keenly fond. We rack out, and almost miss the call of the guide to head back to the boat! Thankfully, one of the villagers rousted us, and we made it on the tail of the labyrinthine walk back through the thicket to the boat.

As we approach the riverside, we are greeted not by our tour’s long boat, but several canoes that mimic gondolas in Venice. The 5 of us -Jigga, Essie, Emil & Hannah, our new tour pals, and I- maneuver into a canoe and the woman begins deftly heaving the giant 10-foot oars across her chest in an “x” fashion. We don our Chinese-style conical sun hats, and enjoy the ride. I almost feel sorry for the poor woman hefting the oars, but for the fact that we continually hear her swear and grumble the entire way. Ha! It was a riot, actually.

We are taken back to our touring long boat, and make our way down the Mekong to a no-doubt strategic exit point, a tourist-trap of a bustling market village. Dodging motorbikes and cars, we make our way to our charter bus, find the largest stretch seats, and head home. Although the tour guide warns this trip will take 3 hours (as opposed to the “2-hour” trip here! Ha Ha Ha), we make it home in just under 3 hours, with a pit stop at a gorgeous resort. Emil’s delightful conversation and “Essie-Shepherding” are welcome, and help to pass the time effortlessly. We are exhausted, but what a fantastic adventure today!!

We head to dinner at a fabulous Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant we noticed as we left Saigon. Check it out whenever you’re in town – it’s one of the BEST meals we’ve had yet! Saigon Vegan Restaurant - 378/3 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3.

Aug. 3 Places/Things to Do:
Mekong Delta Tour - ~$10 USD/200,000 VND +gratuity for Guide. Book through any tour or travel agent on Pham Ngu Lao Street

Saigon Vegan Restaurant - 378/3 Vo Van Tan Street | District 3 | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Posted by beachlovingirl 03.08.2011 14:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tour saigon ho_chi_minh_city mekong_delta saigon_vegan_restaurant Comments (0)

Aug 2 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

semi-overcast 86 °F
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Aug. 2 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – Day 1

Aug. 2 Helpful Travel Notes:
Accommodations: Dai Huy Hoang – 283/22 Pham Ngu Lao Street | Pham Ngu Lao ward | District 1 | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (see details)
• $15 USD/300,000 VND per night for a clean room with 2 Twin Beds
• $18 USD/360,000 VND per night for a clean room with 1 Double Bed/1 Twin Bed

Exploring Saigon – Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1 – Ben Thanh Market – 24 Pho Restaurant

Moving from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is quite a change. Whereas the hustle-bustle, busy nature and organization of Hong Kong permeate the culture of Hong Kong, I feel an equal level of busy-ness here, yet it’s layered with a mellower, easy-going attitude. People aren’t in a rush, well, unless you’re crossing the street in front of their motorbikes. The Vietnamese people seem kinder, gentler, more approachable. They adore Serene, who gets lots of “Bay-Bay! Bay-Bay!” called her way.

We arrived late last night to our guest house – Dai Huy Hoang 283/22 Pham Ngu Lao Street | Pham Ngu Lao ward | District 1 | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (see details). The staff stayed up late to greet us and get us settled into our 2-Twin bed room. It was clean, if not sparsely furnished. They have another room for us tonight that sports a Double bed, Twin bed, refrigerator, A/C, fan, armoire, and tables. It’s much larger and better for us, and costs a mere $18 USD/night. Split between two of us, it’s definitely affordable and comfy.

Starting our day slowly is lovely – the guest house provides us breakfast of 2 eggs, fresh French baguettes and tea/coffee. We catch up on communications with home. At Noonish we set out for lunch on the main drag of Pham Ngu Lao Street – the Backpacker area. We stop at Allez Boo, which caters to Westerners with its Americanized versions of Vietnamese fare. Spending a whopping $ 11.99 USD, it’s a “treat” kinda place for our backpacker budgets. I vow to never return. Cool atmosphere with a tremendously attentive, wonderful Staff, but pricey!

After hitting the ATM for 4,000,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong – equivalent to about $ 200 USD), we traipse to Ben Thanh Market, where there are peddlers of all manner of clothing, luggage/handbags, jewelry, food and souvenirs. We troll the aisles for desired wares – I’m looking for a backpack, but otherwise not “goal-oriented”, which can in fact, prove more dangerous for my wallet. Some of you know what I mean. ; ) Jigga is on a mission to procure a jade (if they have it) “Buddha bead prayer/intentions necklace” and a sarong for our upcoming trip to Mui Ne Beach.

We find my backpack, swear to return to purchase it after a look around, and wander into throngs of tourists, touts and merchants in the Market. There are smells and sounds I’ve never experienced. The food smells are alternately delicious and nauseating. I pose with the snake wine and snap a photo, because it’s cool. Everyone should do this, by the way.

I stumble upon a stall with my favourite style of Vietnamese outfit – a thin sheath of full-length, royal blue, sleeveless, gauzy fabric (front & back) draped over silky-satin wide leg pants. For those unaware, I haggle like a bulldog. Experience is Life’s Best Coach: Globetrotting and living near Mexico have served me well! I haggle the saleswoman (and her sister/cousin/aunt?) down to 1/3 the price they originally quote me. No, it’s not the Vietnamese price, but I’m certain it’s less than a typical Westerner.

With my inflated ego, we head over to the Om”beads”man to haggle for Jigga’s prayer beads. But first, we stop to procure a little lilac-coloured flower-flocked purse for Serene (she keeps stealing mine and dumping it-ugh!). BEST $9 ever spent, IMHO, and a white Adidas ball cap for me. We leave the market famished, but accomplished. Across the street we sup at 24 Pho, a tasty Vietnamese soup restaurant. For under $5, we stuff ourselves silly, and head home. We’ll sleep well tonight.

Aug. 2 Places/Things to Do:
Pham Ngu Lao Street – the main street/backpacker/tourist trap area of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Dai Huy Hoang – 283/22 Pham Ngu Lao Street | Pham Ngu Lao ward | District 1 | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
• $15 USD/300,000 VND per night for a clean room with 2 Twin Beds
• $18 USD/360,000 VND per night for a clean room with 1 Double Bed/1 Twin Bed
• Amenities: Kind, attentive Staff, clean rooms/bathroom, WiFi in room + public areas, Hot water shower, A/C, fridge, armoire, table+chairs, Simple Western Breakfast included.
• Full tour company/travel agent in Hotel Lobby. Bottled water, 20,500 VND.
• website: | email: | phone:

Allez Boo Restaurant - 197 Pham Ngu Lao Street | Pham Ngu Lao ward | District 1 | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
• Convenient location, friendly, attentive Staff, and good food, but overpriced.

[Cho] Ben Thanh Market - Intersection of Le Loi Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street | Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
• Ben Thanh Market (from Vietnamese Ben meaning "wharf", and Quy Thanh meaning "turtle citadel") is a big marketplace in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in District 1. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and today is considered one of symbols of Ho Chi Minh City, popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, áo dài, and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine (albeit from Wikipedia, this is all accurate information).

24 Pho Restaurant - 23-25 Tran Nhat Duat St | Tan Dinh Ward, District 1| Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | www.pho24.com.vn/ | +84 8 848 0807
• Conveniently located across from Ben Thanh Market
• Great food at budget prices, friendly wait staff, great fresh smoothies; caveat emptor – you pay for every napkin you use, even though they are offered to you. ; )

Posted by beachlovingirl 02.08.2011 15:44 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon ho_chi_minh_city mui_ne_beach hotel_dai_huy_hoang pham_ngu_lao_street ben_thanh_market 24_pho_restaurant allez_boo_restaurant Comments (0)

Aug 1 Hong Kong to Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

sunny 86 °F
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Dancing with Cherry @ Hong Kong Baptist U Hotel

Dancing with Cherry @ Hong Kong Baptist U Hotel

Aug 1 Hong Kong
This is our last day in Hong Kong. We wake up early, with the hope that we can book accommodations in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly "Saigon").
While Essie sleeps, Jigga goes out to hit the Flower Market and Amy tap-tap-taps away on the computer, finishing work and emailing every Guest House/Hostel/Hotel in HCMC with a reasonable rating. We'll be arriving in HCMC at close to 11pm, so we wanna be sure to have a sure thing and not be trolling the streets of a busy city at night with a baby. Reasonable, right?! We wrap up our biz, pack up, and head out after a snacky brunch.

Flight Path - Hong Kong (HKG) - Guangzhou, China - Ho Chi Minh City - aka "HCMC" (SGN)
Despite an early arrival in Hong Kong and smooth boarding there - we even had time to "cash out" our Octopus transit cards and get a whopping 93.70 HKD Refund! (that's $12 USD!) - China was another story completely.

At all costs - AVOID CHINA IF MAKING AN INTERNATIONAL CONNECTION FROM ANYWHERE IN ASIA.

I'll just leave it at that.

Aug 1 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We arrive in HCMC to our Guest House, Hotel Dai Huy Hoang, which is small, but clean, with a very kind, attentive staff. They help us to our room, offer us breakfast and assistance in booking any tours, sights, busses or trains (this one doubles as a Tour Booking Biz, as many do). Amazing! While we have a double Twin bed room tonight, we will move to a huge Double bed/Twin bed room with fridge, private bath, A/C, fan, tables/chairs and a big Samsung flat screen TV. Not bad for $11USD pp/night. :)

Off to bed - exploring HCMC tomorrow! Ben Than Market looks interesting...

Posted by beachlovingirl 01.08.2011 04:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam china saigon hong_kong ho_chi_minh_city hotel_dai_huy_hoang guest_house Comments (0)

July 30 Hong Kong

Nathan Road/Tsim Sha Tsui/Chung King Mansions - Victoria Peak - Mong Kok for late-night Chinese dinner

sunny 81 °F
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Jigga, Serene & I start out early today...Hong Kong, Here We Come!

First stop: Kowloon Tong Metro Customer Service Station for Jigga's Octopus card and a map.
Next Stop: Chung King Mansions. We are checkin out the hostel -Apple Hostel at 36-44 Nathan Road in CKM- we've reserved for 30-31 July and decide whether or not to stay put in our current "fancy" (read: pricey) hotel at Hong Kong Baptist U.

Travel/sights: We hop aboard the Metro and head toward Chung King Mansions via the green line toward Yau Ma Tei. We transfer at Prince Edward Station to the red line toward Central Station, and disembark at Tsim Sha Tsui Station. As we surface, we are choked by the cacophonous blend of horns blaring, people hawking their wares, milling patrons of all cultural backgrounds, and banners and signs blocking the view of the sunny day. It's overwhelming! Since all we've seen thus far is well-laid out, suburban areas, we're not accustomed to this. As I walk, I notice in my peripheral vision a man approaching me, wheeling his suitcase while we pass crossing the street. As we pass, I feel his theiving hands clasp my wrist and attempt to grab the costume jewelry green cuff off my wrist. I remind Jigga: Nathan Road is full of touts/thieves. Be wary & vigilent.

We find the address of our hostel - 36-44 Nathan Road. We cross the street -not an easy task- and meander through Chung King Mansions. I had envisioned a neighbourhood/several streets. In actuality, it's just a block of apartment buildings stacked one-atop-another lining the outside of a boulevard of kiosk-style shops, stands, currency exchanges, cell phone resalers and restaurants. Nathan Road itself is a bustling, tout-laden, hostel-loaded tourist trap. It's not for the faint of heart. However, you can always find food, shopping, jewelry stores, Gucci knock-off bags and cheap Rolex watches, if you're in the Market.

After we tour Apple Hostel, we agree we're gonna stay put in our sublime accommodations. We're both travel-whooped, and could use a pleasant Home Base for the next 2 nights before plunging head-on into our exursions up the coast of Vietnam, through Lao and into Thailand. Besides, we justify our craving for comfort, knowing our guest houses in Vietnam, Lao & Thailand will cost us a paltry 378,000 Vietnamese Dong ($18 USD) per night. We splurge.

3rd Stop: Victoria Peak
We navigate the Metro and bus maps with a moderate success-to-failure ratio to make our way up to Victoria Peak.
Travel: Tsim Sha Tsui red line toward Central Station. This portion of the Metro actually traverses below Victoria Harbour! While you can't see anything but subway tunnel, it's still Cool. Exit Admiralty Station. Walk toward Queensway Plaza and catch double-decker bus #15. This can be a bit tricky - we were sure to ask directions along the way so we didn't get lost.
Sights: The bus uses switchback roads to snake its way up the mountain side. The scenery is breathtaking! We take in views down the mountain of Hong Kong Island's skyline as well as views across Victoria Harbour of Kowloon and the junk boats in the Typhoon Harbour. Once we reach the top, we stroll around the touristy areas, snapping photos, sampling Gino's Gelato, and having a lunch at Nak's Noodles - a Chinese noodle joint that's hosted Anthony Bourdain. We know this b/c we saw an article under the glasstop of our table in the restaurant. I make sure to take this opportunity to buy my piece of "local artwork" from a stand at the top of the Peak. Fits right into my budget: I haggle the guy down to 50 HKD - right in my target price range of $5-10 USD. After we've had our fill, we opt to ride the Peak Tram back down to Central Station. Yup - our Octopus card works here, too.

BTW...did I mention how cool the Octopus Card is for a convenient, inexpensive way to use the public transportation system in Hong Kong?

We are pooped, so we all head back to the hotel via taxi -we're too tired to navigate the Metro system and do transfers- and catch a few winks. A few winks turns into 4-hour naps, but that's good, b/c we're motivated to try new eats!

4th Stop: Mong Kok at night
When we ask the front desk receptionist where to go to eat at 21:30 at night, she looks at us blankly. We press: the Mall? Tsim Sha Tsui? There has to be somewhere to eat late at night in this crazy town! "Mong Kok" she says.

We walk to Kowloon Tong Station and take the green line Metro 3 stops to Mong Kok. Like Nathan Road, this place is goin off at night! Nowhere to eat...what?! We pop in and out of restaurants, looking for vegetarian fare. Closest we came was a hole-in-the-wall Cantonese soup place serving fish cakes in a noodle soup with veggies. No-can-do. Jigga needs to eat some protein, and fish isn't on the menu. So we press on, and find a cool, locals-eat-here Chinese restaurant that fits the bill. We order Tofu Chow Mein, Buddha's Delight, and Curried Veggies with a side of spaghetti for Es. It works. On our way back toward the Metro, Jigga wants to explore a bit. We head to a stand that sells Toffee Boba drinks. Yum! I'm instantly addicted to the coffee-toffee treat. It also gives me a caffeine-jolted buzz, so we walk around a bit and explore before calling it a night.

What a great day/evening in Hong Kong! Jigga's a Travel Companion and a Half. Love it!! :D

Posted by beachlovingirl 30.07.2011 04:52 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged metro nathan_road queensway victoria_peak tsim_sha_tsui admiralty_station Comments (0)

July 29 Hong Kong

Discovering Bustling Hong Kong!

rain 88 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Today we wake to a lovely, breezy (thank you, Typhoon season!) day in New Territories, where we stayed overnight with Becky & Liang. Becky graced us with a lovely breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, tea and fresh fruit. Yum! Thank you for such a welcome, generous stay - we are indebted to you both.

After booking accommodations at Liang's University housing for student/faculty guests, we are heading for a mini-tour/orientation of Hong Kong so Essie & I can get our bearings. We wanna get a feel for the area, and orient ourselves to where we'll be staying before Jigga arrives this evening.

We start out by heading down, down, down the mountain on a squirrel-y bus ride. Remember: not only do Hong Kongers drive on the Left-hand side of the road as Brits do, but they also drive fast, honk a lot, and swerve! This is a WILD ride, to say the least. Hey, at least we're thrill seekers - it felt like a mini bus roller coaster ride! :)

Finally at the bottom of the mountain, we enter the Metro at Sha Tin Grand Junction so we may enter the Metro Station before the sky opens up in a torrential downpour. I look up to see a giant IKEA - Ha! Now, that is not something I expected to see at [i]any point[i] on this journey! We quickly shuffle up the concrete walkway to the entrance of the Sha Tin Metro Station, but not before I can snap a few pics of the traditional buildings that grace the area next to the Station. Becky tells me these types of structures have all but disappeared from Hong Kong, since the City is all about "modernizing and renovating" what's already built, since there's not any more space to build. My ever-present Nostalgia kicks in, and I cherish the sight of the Old Hong Kong nestled within the trappings of the New Hong Kong.

We continue through the labrynthine passages of the Metro Station to a Customer Service Center, where I pay 200 HKD (Hong Kong Dollars) to purchase a [i]magical[i] "Octopus" card. This credit card-looking card will afford us passage on all manner of public transport while we are in Hong Kong - from the subway/Metro to double-decker busses and even the Victoria Peak tram. Public transportation is the way to travel around Hong Kong, as like in New York City, taxis can get expensive.

Octopus card in hand, we are ready to plunge into the City. We head to Kowloon on the Metro, easily navigating the well-mapped route on our way. We get off at Kowloon and walk to the Hong Kong Baptist University campus, where Liang teaches Finance. Essie, Jigga & I will be staying in the Guest housing/hotel tonight, all thanks to Liang sponsoring us. Thank you, Shao Liang! :)

I can't help but notice the cool murals and sights all around the Metro that are routine to my hosts, yet such a departure from anything I've witnessed in life thus far. The architecture, art, print ads, signage, even the people's mode of dress is captivating to my American eye. Not the least of which is the "Level 3 Typhoon warning" signs glaring at us as we pass through the Metro. Not to worry: Level 3 is only a moderate wind/storm. Level 8 is a full-blown Typhoon.

The accommodations are palacial! Two twin beds, hot shower, TV, internet, in a large, meticulously clean room.Truly...this hotel feels like an American hotel room. Wow. We'll enjoy every moment of this before our travel to Vietnamese/Lao/Thai hostels and guest houses!

After gettin settled into our room, we all take a walk back to Kowloon Station for a lunch of Dim Sum. We wind through the gigantic, well-appointed Festival Mall toward Hong Kong City University. On the 8th floor is a Chinese Restaurant with the BEST Dim Sum I've ever sampled. As we sit down, Becky carefully "purifies" all of our tableware in Cantonese cermonial style, using the boiling water on the table. Next, Liang pours Jasmine tea for all. I feel prvileged to hang with "locals" who know the cultural mores so I don't appear to be an American doofus. ;)

We dine on carrot buns, rice buns stuffed with custard, shrimp/crab rice porridge, rice rolls with oyster sauce, shrimp pot stickers, delectable minced fish balls, steamed veggies, and shrimp dumplings. And, oh - Don't forget the mango custard dessert. Ahhh....Hong Kong International cuisine at its best!

After a bit of "sustenance" shopping at Taste, the International grocery store within the confines of the Festival Mall, it's time to march home. As Becky settles us into our hotel room and pledges 24-hour assistance once again, we thank her profusely for Liang's and her generosity and hospitality. Thanks to them, we have Seen How the Locals Live in Hong Kong. Who could ask for more?!

Essie & I rest until Jigga arrives, aside from a quick jaunt out to the Student Union to grab a sandwich and lemon ice tea juice box for dinner, both of which pale in comparison to our divine lunch experience. We are thankful our Travel Companion has arrived safely from Cali! Yay!!

Alas, back to the status of American Tourists. There are certainly worse monikers - we feel truly Blessed.

Posted by beachlovingirl 29.07.2011 15:00 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged food local metro tourist station chinese_food chinese hong_kong american sha_tin hong_kong_baptist_university hong_kong_city_university Comments (0)

July 28 - S Korea to Hong Kong

safe & sound in Hong Kong

overcast 85 °F
View steamy sojourn thru SE asia-summer 2011 on beachlovingirl's travel map.

Do you ever feel like Divine Intervention comes to your aid when you need it most?

Serene & I are completely Blessed today with our fortunate seating assignment on the 2nd leg of our Korea to Hong Kong flight. We meet Becky & Liang Shao, newlyweds from the U.S. who are living/teaching in Hong Kong. We chatter about our lives, work, travel plans a bit. Long & short is: I made an error in our booking online, and we don't have a place to stay. In step our Guardian Angels/Sweethearts! who offer to welcome us into their new Home for the evening and orient us around Hong Kong the following day. Words cannot express our gratitude, Becky & Liang. Thank you for giving us a safe haven for this evening!

Posted by beachlovingirl 28.07.2011 15:55 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged flight i amy accomodations hong_kong airline serene s_korea Comments (0)

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