liveˈliv:v; to have a life rich in experience

a life abroad in australia & adventures along the way

Category: Vietnam

Back in Saigon

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We ate at our favorite restaurant Nha Ngon, with Nick and Karla.  Spent the day at the CuChi Tunnels, and celebrated Karla’s birthday at Cuc Gach Quan (10 Dang Tat, Tan Dinh, Quan 1, Saigon).  Apparently Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt ate there previously.. The night before Karla’s birthday, the four of us went out for drinks at the Caravelle Hotel, up on the rooftop with a great view of Saigon at night.  This was where journalists during the war used to hang out.  They even have a drink called Journalist Juice.  The following night after Karla’s Birthday dinner, the four of us went to a bar/club called Apocalypse Now.  It was not as fun as the previous night since we did not get to talk or really hang out, as we were greeted and befriended by two guys from Australia.  They were over the top friendly, and we weren’t sure what to make of it.  The following day Ryan and I took a day trip down the Mekong, which was quite relaxing.  It was a nice way of ending our Vietnam trip before leaving to Singapore.

Photos from Hoi An & My Son

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I loved Hoi An. I love the fact that it was easy to walk around without having to worry about motorbikes or cars running you over. I love how some areas blocked off all motor vehicles, and only allow pedestrians as well as bike rider -these areas were more calm, filled with souvenir shops all selling similar and somtimes different things. There were many options for street food. I love Cao Lao, the main dish from the area. We spent the most time here, getting clothes, and shoes made. We also took a day trip to see My Son (old ruins discovered by French archaeologists). We were able to meet up with Nick and Karla (who we met in Sapa) for dinner, and made plans to meet again in Saigon.

23-25 January: Special moments shared in Sapa

It would have been nice to see Sapa on a clear day, however the fog kept us cool while trekking up hills, and made the place look eerily beautiful without the iconic sweeping views of all its green glory.

We met four great people who shared the same tour guide as us, however we missed out on the home stay that the four got to do.  We met up with Karla and Nick, from Sydney, a few times after in Hoi An, Saigon, and Singapore, and heard epic stories of their home stay with the village people.

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Day of Tet spent with S+Eve

We spent a special day with Steve and Eve on Tet holiday.  We had a delicious lunch at 96 Restaurant (affiliated with 69 Cafe Restaurant), and walked around the Old Quarter, the Botanical Gardens, & the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Ryan & Steve definitely had a Bromance going on during this trip.  We loved being in their company and enjoying part of our vacation together, sharing our stories. Really glad we met them.   We wish they were from Brisbane! (or at least more people like them).

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Hanoi the day before Tet

Walking around Hanoi during the eve of Tet was quite interesting.

The streets were empty and most shops were closed. It was considerably more quiet than yesterday. Yesterday the streets were busy and crazy. Streets filled with people selling Tet decorations, food, red envelopes, among other things for the festive holiday. Today was a stark contrast.

We were cautioned by Duy to have an early dinner as most places will be closed later in the evening. The streets will be crowded and chaotic with crazy traffic from people travelling to and from places for Tet. He told us to lock up our things in the safe box tonight before we go out and to watch for our pockets. He also reminded us to meet at the Cathedral a quarter til midnight to see all the fireworks; then there will be food back at the hotel.

I feel sympathetic for him having to work during Tet celebrations. He looks so sad. Sweet guy.

Ryan and I made plans to meet up with the people we met on our cruise in Ha Long Bay for dinner this evening at 8pm.

Should be fun. Right now we are relaxing until then, not much to do today, anyway. Wrong time to be around Hanoi, should have planned to be in Central or South Vietnam. On the other hand, it is a nice change to all the loudness of motor bikes and cars zooming by.



That night we met up with a group of English people that we had met along with a couple from Tasmania and had dinner before watching the fireworks, then attending an impromptu party with the hotel staff at our friend’s hotel.

We ended up meeting a lot of people that we ended up meeting up with frequently and having dinner and doing other activities.  I think we made more friends in Vietnam than we have managed to make in the year that we have been in Australia.  I guess it’s just easy to make friends when you’re obviously doing things having a similar mindset.

Back in Hanoi

Back in Hanoi

Friday 20 January 2012:

We got back pretty late, a bit past dinnertime. We returned to Splendid Star Classic Hotel, where they booked us into room 403. I was hoping we’d get the same room, but that was booked already. What we got instead is a shoddy room. The walls were covered in mold, and the bathroom was not as nice, the TV cable was loosely plugged into the faulty outlet which created a bad connection to the channels. After the long bus ride, I was tired and cranky, also hungry. To get this sort of room was the last straw. I was unhappy, and went to ask for another room. Duy went to see the room, and tried to fix the TV, and insisted that is was not mold, but was something that usually happens when it rains. He apologised and asked us to have sympathy…all the rooms were booked and there was nothing else they could do. It was Tet Holiday and so they can’t call in people to come in and fix it. The hotel members have been kind and helpful before, so I did not make a bigger deal out of it. Their service continued to be great. Duy was really helpful for the remainder of our stay, especially when we had to go to the train station to Sapa.

We walked around looking for a place to eat, I ended up getting Banh Mi Pate, and Ryan got Nem Nuong from the street corner of our hotel. Most Restaurants were closed by the time we were on the hunt. Street food is delicious. We did not get sick from it at all from the trip, contrary to my mother’s warnings.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Ryan and I spent the day walking around the Old Quarter, and found 69 Cafe Restaurant for brunch. What I ordered was so-so. I ordered Hanoi Special Soup, and a Tofu dish. Ryan got duck with Rice.

There were lots of Tet preparations going on in the Old Quarter.

We hung out by Hoan Kiem Lake for awhile, checking out the Ngoc Son Temple that had an encased stuffed lake turtle that weighs 250 kg. Ryan took many pictures of the Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower) that stands in the middle of the lake.

We had dinner at our favorite place (even though Ryan got food poisoning from a dish there) Quan An Ngon. We lucked out because it was the last day for it to open before closing for several days for Tet holiday.

Halong Bay

Ha Long Bay, 2 Days 1 Night

Ryan:   Our first trip from Hanoi was to Ha Long Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Area and reminds me a lot of the islands in Thailand. The legend goes that dragaons placed the islands there to defend Vietnam from foreign invaders.

Lauren: To add on, I think the gods sent the dragon to protect the small village and it would breathe out fire, and the fire turned into hard rocks once it hit the waters…or something like that.
For more of an accurate story, see:

Thursday 19 January 2012

We were picked up the next morning by the Aclass cruise shuttle to take us to Halong Bay (a 4.5 hour bumpy bus ride). Ryan was still feeling sick, and slept the whole way to the rest stop where he spewed some more. He felt a lot better after that, and we befriended a lovely couple and talked with them the second half of the bus ride to Halong Bay. The ride was bumpy, but the scenery was lovely to see with green rice fields passing us by.

When we arrived to our Opera cruise ship, we were welcomed by the friendly crew, and the captain, who summarised our itinerary.

We had a lovely lunch that Ryan was unable to enjoy. He was in our cabin most of the time trying to feel better. The crew members were really attentive, and prepared a food platter to bring down to Ryan just in case he would get hungry. Ryan ended up joining us, but sat for a few minutes. He was disappointed that he couldn’t enjoy the food that had been prepared for him. He returned to our cabin.

After lunch, was kayaking by the floating village. I checked in on Ryan to see if he was fit to go, and to my surprise he mustered all his energy to go kayaking with me and the group. During the activity, he was feeling good as he go fresh air, but when we returned to our boat, he was not feeling so great. He was burning up. He managed to stick around for our mini cooking lesson on how to roll spring rolls and took a couple of pictures with me before returning to the cabin.

He slept through dinner, and I was to have another solo dinner. Luckily I had Steve and Eve for company, and that evening I met a couple from Tasmania and 3 UK guys over dinner. The crew members insisted on making Ryan food to take down, even though I said he was sleeping. They prepared everything and followed me to our room with the food trays after everyone finished dinner. Ryan was deep asleep when we knocked, and was a bit delirious.

They set the food platter on the bed, and the captain of the crew, Sunny, came in to check on us. He then came back with ginger tea and panadol. He was so sweet. Unfortunately, Ryan was unable to eat the food, and I had to bring it back up.

The next morning Ryan was feeling better, which was great because we were hiking to the Surprising Cave (not too bad of a hike). Our tour guide Tuan was very humorous with telling us legends and stories about the cave and the karsts of Halong Bay. The trip was very enjoyable. Afterwards we had lunch on the boat and made way back to the mainland where another 4.5 hour bus ride awaited us.

Hanoi: The Arrival


Ryan’s Perspective:

After Nha Trang we flew up to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.  In stark contrast to Saigon, which has mostly square concrete buildings and wide streets to accommodate military processions and vehicles, Hanoi feels a lot more intimate, with narrow alleyways and very French-looking buildings.  There was street food in abundance everywhere you looked and there was always a place to stop, squat on tiny chairs and enjoy a coffee.  There was only one problem with it:  It was FREEZING cold.  Well, not freezing, but in contrast to the south, it was exceptionally cold.  We knew that this was going to be the case, but we simply did not have the space to pack anything too big and warm, so I spent every day layering t-shirts under the one jacket that I brought.  Hanoi was to be our base of operations for the next 9 days or so, being the jumping off point from which we visited Ha Long Bay and Sapa.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

There are a lot more cars than motorbikes (xe oms) in the north than the south. Ryan and I found Hanoi to be a bit more beautiful than Saigon. The dialect, however, was a lot more difficult for me to understand.

The first night upon arrival, we were greeted by Anh Thang who made us feel very welcomed and at ease. He offered to book tours for us to Halong Bay and to Sapa (as I had inquired about via email correspondence-they had also sent a taxi to pick us up from the airport for 18USD, not bad). We were happy to have him do so, as we wanted a break from planning and booking things-to have him save us from doing the thinking. I had made prior bookings to other hotels, but cancelled them immediately after planning our itinerary with Thang. It is always good to be flexible when travelling.

That first night we stayed in room 301, which was a pretty good room, clean and in decent condition. We were pretty happy with it. They even had a safety box for us to store our things. The room had its own desktop, and cable TV, awesome.

We went out to Quan An Ngon located at 15 P Phan Boi Chau, cross street Nam Ngu. Ryan and I at Banh Xeo, Banh Beo, Com Tam, and Ryan ordered a beef dish. Everything was excellent minus the Banh Beo which I found to be too watery with little flavor.

Ryan’s stomach apparently did somersaults later in the middle of the night. He threw up quite a few times…poor guy. 😦

Saigon & Nha Trang

1 Day and 1 Night in Saigon: Saturday 14 January

We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the airport through our hotel, Nguyen Khang Hotel 283/25 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 where we were greeted by Thu. It was a bit out of the way but the service was wonderful.

I felt a bit bad when we checked out at 6:30am. Chi was still asleep, but was quick to attend to us. Our taxi also arrived on time to drop us off back to the airport where we headed to Nha Trang.

Our time in Saigon was short, where we at at Nha Hang Ngon. Ryan had a beef chili dish and I had Com Tam (Rice and pork).

Good stuff. We will be back here towards the end of our trip to experience the Cu Chi Tunnels.

3 Days and 3 Nights in Nha Trang: “Same Same but Different”

Sunday 15 January

I had not arranged with the hotel to pick us up from the airport, so we were greeted by many taxi drivers in the parking lot; yelling at us to pick them to drive us. We just went to the first person that was closest to us. He was a young guy named Phuc, who offered to pick us up from our hotel to take to the airport when we depart Nha Trang. The company was pretty reputable and standard (MaiLinh), and he offered to take us back at a cheaper price. Drop off is 380.000 and pick up is 22o.000 VND. (~$19 & $11).

After checking into Ha Van Hotel (Flamingo Suite’s Ha Van Hotel), we walked around the area. We needed to find the ATM, it took us several tries before finding one that had money in it. While walking we saw a cafe called “Same Same, but Different,” and thought that was an amusing name for the place.  There are many people trying to sell tourists things from sunglasses, hats to motorbike tours. The first man to stop us had a great speech, something along the lines of:

You know Bob Marley? No woman no cry? …no money no honey, no honey no punani, no punani, no boom boom, no boom boom no baby, no baby no family…etc etc..Don’t be lazy be crazy! Do a tour with Easy Rider!

I wish I had recorded this interaction. He was brilliant!  We did not join him this time, but it would be something we’d want to do the next time we visit Vietnam.

We checked out the Sailing Club dive center who is in competition with Rainbow divers…apparently it had been raining the day before, so water conditions were not so great. We decided not to go diving while in Nha Trang.

The beach looked really nice, and you won’t see any locals swimming in them. While riding the taxi to our hotel, Phuc warned us not to go swimming in the ocean, due to the high tides. He said it is very dangerous unless you are a very strong swimmer. Regardless of his words of caution, I still intend to swim (Vietnamese people tend to be really fearful of swimming in the ocean for some reason).

For lunch, we ate at the restaurant that was next door to Ha Van Hotel. We had spring rolls, Com Tam Thit Nuong, Rau Muong Xo Toi, & Banh Chan with Nem Nuong along with Pinapple Juice and Bia Saigon.

Monday 16 January

My most unpleasant experience was at Long Son Pagoda. We were bombarded with people trying to guide us or have us buy something…I should not have been bothered by it, but honestly I just wanted to enjoy the Pagoda in peace. If I had wanted assistance, I would request for it, but I don’t want to be followed and be asked personal questions by so many people. They were nice enough, but I had to say no thank you and walk away. As a result I just rushed through the place without really taking it in. Thank goodness I would later go back to here the following day with my cousin aunt and uncle.

We spent most of the day at Thap Ba Hot Springs, where we enjoyed a mudbath, and the hot mineral water pool. It was 100.000VND to book the shuttle for the both of us (pick up and drop off), and 100.000 VND each for entry. (You’ll have to google for images, because we did not bring our camera with us)

This day turned out to be Relaxation day, because after returning from Thap Ba Hot Springs, we went to SuSpa to get a Vietnamese Massage. During the session they would get suction cups and heat it up with flaming fire, then rub it along your pressure points. I ended up getting the red marks, bruises. That usually happens when your immune system is weak. It felt so good!

For dinner, we ate at Lac Canh VN BBQ. Ryan ordered BBQ beef I believe, and I enjoyed steamed crabs (there were four of them!) with my salt pepper and lime dip YUM! The pictures were taken with my other camera, a canon powershot, which I let my cousin borrow for her remaining trip (she had forgotten to pack one with her, and we had our Nikon SLR, so it was all gravy).

Tuesday 17th January: The most memorable day in Nha Trang

Ryan and I met up with my cousin Victoria, and my aunt and uncle (my mom’s older brother). Their hotel was just a ten minute walk away from ours. They had hired drivers to take a group of us around Nha Trang, there were two carts: Aunt and Uncle with friends in the first cart, followed by the cart Vic Ryan and I and two adult friends.

While on the road, the cart in front of us made a U-turn, to stop at Nha Trang Cathedral. My uncle showed me Uncle Lam’s tombstone. Cau Lam was the oldest brother in the family who had died during the war. I think he was originally buried in the cemetery that had existed next to the church until 1988, when the city needed space for the railway. So that is why there is a wall alongside the cathedral full of tombstones. It was really nice having my uncle Charlie (Cau Son) telling me stories of his childhood and the families history.

The following stop was Long Son Pagoda. I enjoyed it a lot more with their company. My aunt was very generous with the money seekers. She bought me a fan from one of the many sellers.

Afterwards, we made our way to Po Nagar Cham Towers. According to Lonely Planet, they were built between 7th and 12th centuries. It was pretty, but we didn’t spend too much time there.

We all then headed over to Cho Dam Markets, where the adults did some shopping. My aunt and uncle got me and Ryan Couri shells that had Nha Trang engraved into it.

Vicky, Ryan and I hung out while the adults took their afternoon nap. We took a cab to Bai Dai Beach (Long Beach) that was 40km from Nha Trang (towards the airport).

The three of us consumed 7 kilos of seafood that was less than 50USD! It was located right on the beach where waves washed in from underneath us and the wooden floor boards.

When our hands were getting to juicy from breaking off the shells of crab and clam, we would walk down the steps and kneel over to wash our hands with the incoming tide. When we were finished, we walked down a little further for a swim.

The beach was empty. It was just the three of us enjoying what felt like our very own private beach. The water was perfect and the scenery was phenomenal. You can see the fog on the mountain tops. We had a lot of fun. By far my favorite moment in Nha Trang, possibly the whole Vietnam trip. (Pictures were taken with the Canon, so will have to wait to post photos).

Afterwards we joined my uncle and aunt and her friends for dinner (We love to eat!). Vic Ryan and I had intended to use the pool and steam room at Novotel Hotel, but when we returned, the adults were awake and ready for dinner. So we would wait a little longer for another swim.  Dinner was a feast for the champions with some high quality Cognac being passed around.  My uncle was pretty drunk by the end of dinner, which was funny.  He is usually the silent type, but can be quite the conversationalist.  He gets serious when he’s talking, and makes it sound very important.  You end wanting to listen to him, because that’s the only time you would hear him talk! Nice man.

We ended our big day at a bar, with poor service, and walked in the rain on the way back to our hotels. Really happy I was able to meet up with my cousin and her parents in Nha Trang. Looking forward to her visiting Australia in the next upcoming months.