Saturday 5 January 2013


After another long bus journey we arrived into the Southern bus station of Saigon. Even as we got close the traffic started to get insane as we were expecting. Saw a very squished moto underneath a bus which did not bode well to using that form of transport in the near future.
Asian Alana with crazy traffic in background
 Eventually we found our way after bussing and walking through the crazy maze that is Saigon, to our hotel and ditched the bags. Went on a long walk around the "block" to just absorb Saigon at night. The crazy traffic did not diminish. Could just sit and watch the chaos for hours, so different to anything that we had experienced until then (even made Bangkok look clam).

Inside the Saigon Post Office Building
Notre Dam
For our full day in Saigon we walked around seeing as many of the sites that we could. Quick look in market before heading downtown . The main highlight downtown was probably visiting the post office which is a massive old building with lots of interesting stamps on display and just an enormous building for no real reason. Stayed here for a while in the main square having different juice smoothies whilst we overlooked the Notre Dam Cathedral. Thats right, Notre Dame, in Saigon. Ohhh...back when France had a colony here.

To the riverside we experienced the foul tasty Duran ice cream, and enjoyed more Vietnamese coffee. Then came the hard part of the day. Bargaining for all our last min purchases. Got coffee prices down by 60%, artwork, other things that we dont really need but want. Spent several hours in the main market.

Martin bargaining for Vietnamese coffee
To top off our day, we then headed to the outskirts of the central part of Saigon (which is huge) to meet 20+ other couchsurfers local and travelers for a dinner that I had co-organised. Had some good laughs and learnt quite a bit about Vietnamese lifestyle and politics before calling it a night to prepare for our 4am wake up to get to the airport for our early morning flight.

*sigh* the end of SE Asia for now.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Can Tho

Our journey from Hong Chong to Can Tho was extremely entertaining. We only had 178km to drive on board an 18 seater bus. The journey took 7.5 hours and at the high point there was 35 people crammed in. Using local transport is definitely a must do for anyone's Vietnamese experience. Quite funny to be thinking about how many stupid H&S rules are broken, and how do they all fit in, and more amazingly how do we make it over each bridge (bridges are built at about 70 degree angles, making the bus jump and tip over each one).

Floating market
Can Tho is the meeting point of the Mekong Delta...or so we are told. It is very believable though, with an amazing massive floating market being the focal point every morning Vietnam's 5th largest city. We experienced this with a local CSer organising a boat and acting as our guide for the day. After wandering through and buying a few fruits we headed off to a rice noodle factory. Very interesting how they dry them out and how complex the whole process is just to get noodles.

One of a few temples
A brief rest back at our hotel we then started the second half of the day, included in our low priced accommodations: a city tour. Two local students that also pose as receptionists hopped on motos with us and showed us the cultural highlights of Can Tho. We even had a bit of time to spare from the temples, markets, and history lesson, so enjoyed some green drinks (made using some sorts of beans and aloe vera) at a local "bar" before they dropped us off at our next destination. For our evenings entertainment we booked a spot on a night time dinner cruise along the Mekong. Food was of course overpriced but what was more amazing than the sights was the insane loudness of the music. Conversation was off the table, as each floor of the floating light bedazzled barge had a different singer trying to outdo the other mostly just by all having their volumes cranked on high. The effect of which was quite deafening, and did detract from the cruise overall.

Can Tho at night, as viewed from Mekong
We had a long walk back to the hotel because unlike every other place we have been to Can Tho shuts down at 9 pm. So no buses or motos to speak of, and all the food stores were also shut. Quite odd considering the size and importance of this city.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Ha Tien and Hong Chong

We had quite the comical crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam. We had never seen such blatant bribery anywhere else on the trip which was just another reason we were happy to move on from the constant bargaining that is the only way things are done in Cambodia. We stood for over an hour with 7 others on our shuttle bus waiting to get through whilst larger tour groups (30+) would pass their passports through with some bills to get ahead. Time after time it happened until our bus driver came back in and not-so-discreetly passed through some bills to get our passports finally stamped and passed on through. This is in addition to the $1 USD exit "fee" that you individually pay at the same check point.

Our first stop in Vietnam was Ha Tien which is normally driven through by tourists. This was completely evident by the fact that despite the fact we stayed in the fanciest place in town, and our walks around the place, there was only one other non-Asian tourist in town. It isn't helped by the fact that this border crossing is the remotest on the Vietnam/Cambodia border (part of the appeal to travel this area). The Green Island hotel was nothing fancy but was a nice place to stay. It was nice to see the real life without the presence of tourist throngs. An interesting highlight of Ha Tien was this was the point that having below shoulder length hair became just too much and it had to go. For a grand total of $1.50NZD I managed to get a relieving haircut with layers and no nits :)

Hong Chong Cape

We moved on the next day after bargaining with some moto drivers to take us to an even more remote part of the Mekong Delta to Hong Chong Cape and where we would see the new year in at Hon Trem Resort. Our "deluxe" booking of the entire trip and worth every penny. As this place is very unknown to outsiders the resort was pretty much empty and we had the entire hill top villa section to ourselves. Our villa overlooked the cape/cove and at night we really enjoyed watching the fishing boats chugging around the area.

Rice drying and packing

It was here that we had the best street food of our trip (only maybe tied with a place in Ayutthaya, Thailand). Outside of her home was a lovely older lady who beckoned us over after the first vendor turned us away. No idea what we ate or the name, but it was absolutely scrumptious!

Alana enjoying view from local watering hole
Going to places that are off the beaten track is very rewarding as you get to see quite a bit more of what the real life in these areas are like rather than the show put on for foreigners. Enjoying rice drying along the street, pigs and roosters wandering down the beach, local "pub" with a great view over the cape, ice cream from a cooler on the back of a moto, and children not begging or bothering you.