Mekong Delta Tour with Delta Adventures

To finish up our stay  in Vietnam, we decided to go on a 3 day,  2 night  Mekong delta tour starting in Ho Chi Minh City and  ending in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with Delta Adventures.  We didn’t have a good experience with an organized tours  and we were a bit hesitant to try it again.   However this was an inexpensive tour and it covered the area we actually wanted to see.  Without much expectation, we began the tour in the morning, when we got picked up by a representative from Delta Adventures.  The company organizes 1 day / 2 days or 3 days Mekong tours.   Everyone started together in the morning by taking a bus to Cai Ba.  Later in a day everyone got split up into different groups, but somewhere everything miraculously worked.   Well at least it worked for us.  The next three days we spent on a small boat visiting various Vietnamese places, traveling by bus and mini buses, ending the trip in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.   During the trip we visited  local villages in the area and learn more about the traditional lifestyles, culture, and customs of people who call the Delta their home.   Yes, it felt quite touristy and in every place we visited they tried to sell “something” to us, but overall it was an interesting trip.  Here are the highlights of our trip:

Visiting A Floating Market in Can Tho

It’s a must see during the tour.   The market is more like a wholesale market as most of the boats are selling just one fruit or vegetable.  They advertised their product  by a sample vegetable mounted on a bamboo stick on the front of the boat.  There were also smaller boats mostly geared towards tourists bringing different goods (coffee/ fruits / sandwiches ) to our boat.

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Feeding Catfish at a Fish Farm

The fish farm looked like a floating house.  Each of these farms can hold up to 50,000 fish in the water beneath the floor.   Our guide throw pellets of fish food into a tiny open space of water, while we watched plethora of catfish fight over it.    Needles to say, I’m glad we stopped at the farm, and  without a doubt I will never buy an imported fish again.

 Rowing  in a sampan along the canals under the green canopy of water coconuts trees, to go deeper into the smaller canals of the Delta.

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Visiting coconut candy factory

We watched the process of making the sticky, toffee like coconut candy. .  This place seemed to be more touristy, but we all bought a yummy coconut sweets.

P1020218 DSC01444Visiting a bee farm

During the visit we sampled Vietnamese honey tea.  This seemed to be just a regular tea flavor with the juice of kumquats (a small citrusy fruit) and big spoon of homemade honey.   They served candied ginger, banana chips along with the tea.  In the end they had few items for sale and I ended up buying royal jelly.  It supposed to be good for skin!

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Visiting a rice vermicelli factory
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Visiting a crocodile farm.

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There were hundreds and hundreds of crocodiles being raised on this “farm”.  We didn’t think this type of business is allowed anymore.   I guess everything goes in Vietnam.

 Practical information:

The tour cost us $60.00/each.  The price included 2 nights accommodation.   The first night we spent in Can Tho, without a doubt in  the worst hotel on our trip.   The second night we spent in Long Xuyen.   Much better hotel than the previous night.  As a bonus the hotel was overlooking the river.   We captured beautiful pictures at the sunrise.

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A short visit to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon or HCMC)

We arrived to Ho Chi Minh city ( aka Saigon or HCMC ) to the airport in the morning. Thanks to an advise from fellow travelers we took a local bus to our hotel instead of taking an overpriced taxi. The cost difference was huge and we were happy to save some money. When we arrived to the hotel we met another guests. They just got robbed in the middle of the day! Their experience made us to be aware of our surroundings and cautious . The hotel’s location was very good, and we were able to walk to District 1 where many notable Saigon’s attractions are located. During our short stay we visited Notre Dame Cathedral the French Catholic Church. Unfortunately the church was closed during the time.  The opening times are posted on the door if someone is interested in seeing it the inside.

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Literally next door there is a Saigon Central Post Office. It’s a beautifully restored building in a neoclassical architecture style. Walking inside felt like walking into a movie scene.

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Saigon Central Post Office
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Saigon Central Post Office
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Saigon Central Post Office

Not a far distance from it there is a The Municipal Theater of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon Opera House . We realized there was a show A O playing that night. What a better way to visit the opera building like during a performance. The show was only one hour and it was an interesting mix of elements of Vietnamese music, dance and acrobatics. The performers were young and very good. We enjoyed the show and the Opera building inside was worth a visit as well.

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Saigon Opera House
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Inside the Opera House
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Young performers

The District 1, is probably the most elegant in Ho Chi Minh City, with the high-end stores and hotels. All stores had beautiful Christmas decorations.

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Christmas decorations

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The visit wouldn’t be completed without stopping in the backpackers part of town to enjoy the local food and cheap beer. The next day we left for the Mekong River tour.

Practical information:

The Bus #152 cost 5000 Dongs ($0.25) and the bus stop is just outside the terminal. We heard the taxi can cost $25.00 despite the short distance to the city. The location of our guesthouse was good. The owner nice and very helpful. The hotel itself probably the worst we slept so far. The cost $25.00 including breakfast The A O show tickets are from 600 Dongs ($30) to 1600 Dongs. ($80.00) We got 20 % discount .

Falling in love with Hoi An

For our next leg from Hanoi to Hoi An we decided to take an overnight train. Not the best idea, taking into consideration the price of the ticket and the length of the trip.  The  train went all the way  to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), but we stopped in  Da Nang. The trip took 15 hours. We had the 1st class tickets with in the sleeping wagon  with 4 passenger compartments.  Overall the ride wasn’t comfortable as the train was filthy and very cold.   Fortunately, once we arrived to Da Nang, the driver from our little hotel was waiting for us.  The  distance from  Da Nang to Hoi An is about 30 kilometers.

Hoi An is all about the old town, the UNESCO Heritage Site.

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Beautifully picturesque town
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Vibrant colors

The Old Town is only a few blocks wide, perfect for simply wandering around and discovering the galleries, tailors, cafes and restaurants.  The town reflects a fusion of  Chinese, Japanese and French influences.  The  lack of cars makes it into a great place to relax and just soak up the special vibe of the town.

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Famous Japanese Bridge
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Ancient temples
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Old buildings
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Old buildings

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Despite the fact we had three of  four  rainy days (with breaks) we had a wonderful time.   We we spent most time  walking around the old streets, stopping at local cafes and restaurants.  The city is beautiful.  We couldn’t  stop taking  pictures, and every few moments admiring  the old yellow faded building, scenery and soaking up the relaxing atmosphere.

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One of the things that spoiled the a bit  was a constant solicitation by sellers (with shops and street vendors) and constant calling: “buy something, cheap, cheap”

Walking through the old town, we stumbled upon “Kazik Square” (square Kazik). Initially we thought that it is a word that some Vietnamese accidentally spelled as “Kazik”. To our surprise, the square has monument dedicated to the Casimir Kwiatkowski, considered here as a providential man who saved the historic complex before liquidation and contributed to the success of the city. He attributed the main merit of Hoi An entry in the register of UNESCO World Heritage. This is perhaps the only “modern” monument in the old town.

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During our visit we  hopped on bicycles and headed towards the beach.  The beach (about 3-4 miles  from the city). The beaches are not the prettiest in this time of the year (small, eroded by the waves ..), but the most surprised us the number of newly built hotels and tourist complexes.    It looks awful, and in few years there will be no natural amphibians only  artificially made sand beaches surrounded by resorts.

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It was definitely the most beautiful city (at least for us) in Vietnam, character and charm that sets it apart from other cities.

Practical information:

  • Hotel (Guesthouse): Ngo Homestay – $ 22 /night
  • Bike rental – $1.5 /day
  • Boating on the River – $7 – $10/ per hour
  • Taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An – $16.00 (trains / planes arrive only to Da Nang)
  • Train from Hanoi to Da Nang (sleeping, soft beds) $59.00/ person

Halong Bay, beautiful trip but read the itinerary first …

Without a doubt Halong Bay is a must see for everyone visiting Vietnam.  This breathtaking UNESCO heritage site is also one of the  Seven Natural Wonders of the world and is not surprisingly one of the most popular attractions in Vietnam.

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Rows and rows of giant limestone hills poking out of the water
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They look like limestone icebergs

Most of the islands in the bay is in the form of limestone pillars emerging high above the water surface. In 1962, Vietnam established the bay ” the  monument landscape ” . In 1994, UNESCO has placed it on its World Heritage List .

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The pictures simple don’t make justice of the magnificent Halong Bay

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There are plenty of tour operators offering different cruise packages.   It was hard to make a decision so we decided to go with a recommendation from our hotel.    Needles to say it wasn’t the best choice and this was a good lesson for us to do more homework next time.   We got picked from our hotel early morning and after  4 hours of driving we arrived into a new marina in Halong Bay. Well our ship wasn’t exactly what t we were expecting, an  older  and worn out  wooden ship.   We tried to overlook that ,  in the end  we were there for the stunning views and spectacular scenery.   Fortunately, the weather was great, sunny with calm waters despite the beginning of the  winter.    The first day we had two stops .  First stop was to see the Surprise Cave . We’ve seen many caves in Thailand and Laos , so we did not expect anything special , but this cave  truly surprised us .  It was much larger than expected.  At first  the cave seemed like a narrow  one, but with just few more steps into the cave, it became bigger and bigger.     It was a truly a magnificent cave.

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The second stop was a small floating village where we hopped into a kayak.  We were able to paddle into two  lovely lagoons  through a limestone tunnels .

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It was very enjoyable , and lasted about an hour.

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We spend the night in a small harbor.

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Beautiful sunset

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The next morning, we learned we aren’t going to continue on a boat but we will take a bus through the Cat Ba island to our next destination, Monkey Island.    We were very disappointed,  after all we were there to see those beautiful limestone formations.    Unfortunately that supposed to be in the program (that we didn’t read it) prior to booking the trip.   In the morning on our way to the  island we went by a small fishing village.

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The Monkey Resort on the island with the same name was actually very nice, with picturesque white sandy beach.

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Our bungalow was large with a private balcony, situated directly on a beach.  In the afternoon we climbed over the “top” to the other side of the island.   We encountered several monkeys… not without a reason the island is named  Monkey Island.

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The next day, we cruised again for couple hours through the beautiful Halong Bay back to the marina. We finished the cruising about 11am.

In conclusion we had a wonderful weather, but the time spent cruising wasn’t simply enough.   Well, that is a good reason to come back again…when, we don’t know, but hoping to be back Soon!

Practical Information:

Do your Homework!  Our 3 days / 2 nights Monkey cruise cost $170/person.   The fee included all transportation and meals, except drinks (not even water).

 

 

OMG how will I ever cross the street !

We arrived to our Splendora hotel in Hanoi late at night.   We learned from other travelers about the crazy motorcycle traffic, but truly we didn’t know what to expect.  In the morning we received instructions about crossing the roads:  “Stand on the edge, when it is a little less busy, walk across the street, at reasonable steady pace, the motorbikes will weave their way around you! DO NOT STOP, KEEP MOVING FORWARD and trust the drivers skills”.  OMG it was real.  And with that mind we went off to explore the city, facing the overwhelming traffic.

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There is a lack of traffic lights around Old Quarters, and crossing the road felt like do or die business.  In addition there was a relentless honking, where after couple hours we were getting agitated at the noise level.

During our visit  we’ve sampled many Vietnameese dishes.  Without a doubt our favorite was Hanoi’s most famous dish  Bun Cha that is served only at lunchtime literally on the sidewalks.

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Our lunch
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Perfect street food
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Valet at the sidewalk restaurant

One portion of bun cha (35,000 Kip) comes with the meat, noodles an  herbs.  The meal is completed with fried spring rolls (8000 Kip /roll and cold glass of iced green tea.   At first we were hesitant to try it, but after being encouraged by the local people we sit down at the small table.  The ordering was easy, as all we needed to do was to  show how many portions we want to order.   It was very delicious!

During our visit we visited:

Hoan  Kiem Lake  surrounding  Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island.   As we were walking,  we saw a group of a local people gathering at the lake , we also joined the crowd.  It was a huge turtle appearing his head out of the water.  Later we learned it is  a very unusual to see the creature.  There are only three other living examples in this species in another lake in Vietnam and two of them in a zoo in China.   Many Vietnamese people believe  you see the turtle, you will have  a Good Luck.  We were so happy to know that !

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View at the lake at night
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Turtle’s head appearing from the lake
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Yes, the water is very dirty in the lake

Hỏa Lò Prison a place known as Hanoi Hilton.  Despite the fancy name It was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam

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Entrance to Hanoi Hilton

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Ho Chi Minh Museum and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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Ho Chi Minh Museum

Hanoi Ancient Citadel. In 2010 the citadel was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “The Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi”.  While we were visiting the site, there were many young boys and girls there.  It happened to be a graduation date and there were many girls dressed in their traditional dresses and boys in suites.

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The Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi is the archeological site of the old capital of Vietnam, which originated in 1010.

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We spend 2 days in Hanoi, before we headed off to Halong Bay.

Practical Information:

We obtained the Vietnam Visa at the airport, with the obtained Authorization Letter ($20.00/person)  before our trip ( a must have).  The visa cost $45.00/person.  One passport photo is required. Wait time about 45 minutes.

We stayed 3 nights at Splendora Hotel, a newly opened hotel located in Old Quarter of Hanoi.   Our rate was $25.00 included breakfast.  We made arrangements to be picked up from the airport on our arrival.  The fee was $16.00.  The entrances to the museums vary between 30-60 KIPs ($2-$3)

Prices for beer in Hanoi were a true bargain.  Large Tiger beer cost 10,000 Kip at the bars near our hotel.

 

Luang Prabang – can we imagine living here ?

Luang Prabang  is an UNESCO World Heritage city.  It is a small, dream-like town on the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, in a beautiful mountain setting.

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Temple at Royal Palace
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Entrance to historical Royal Palace

Our four days was spent strolling and exploring the town, stopping in many cafes overlooking the river, stumbling from Wat to Wat and visiting a waterfall.  The town has a magical feel with streets lined with old French colonial houses, cute cafes offering crusty warm baguettes and a very good coffee, boutique hotels  and  many art galleries.

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Beautiful colonial home
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Boutique hotel

 

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Charming street
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Fantastic view

There are over 30 temples in Luang Prabang with  the smallest one and our favorite Wat Chom Si  located on the main hill in the city with incredible views of the whole area.

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There are over 300 steps to the temple
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Stunning sunset everyone was waiting for

It’s also everyone’s favorite temple to watch the sunset.   It was a beautiful but there were just too many people.

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It’s not enough to be tall
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Far too many people for the romantic sunset

Luang Prabang is the perfect place to see one of the most sacred Lao traditions, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony.   We woke up at 5am to be ready by 5:30am to participate in this tradition.   While we truly  enjoyed witnessing all the orange robe monks ranged in ages from 9-80 years old,  peacefully wandering the streets, it wasn’t as spiritual nor magical as we were expecting.   During the ceremony there was an overwhelming number of tourists running, shouting and taking pictures.   Despite that we  would still recommend to everyone to experience this tradition.

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Tourist running to take pictures

During our stay we visit one of the waterfalls Tad Sae.   With our new friends we hired tuk tuk for 200,000 KIP and off we went. The waterfalls were indeed spectacular, with stunning turquoise water gently tumbling over limestone rocks.

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Ready for our trip
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Turquoise water
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Boat ride

We spent couple hours at the waterfalls while our driver waited for us.  Since we left in the morning we had the best weather, with the sun poking out of the clouds making the temperature very comfortable.  Later in a day got hot again.

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Night market and street food play a huge role in the daily live of  Luang Prabang.   We loved the freshly made crepes  or fruit smoothies for just  10,000 Kips /each.

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Freshly made crepe to order
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Fresh fruit for smoothies

We spent all our evenings with our newly met friends and had a great time.

We love the city, and without a doubt is truly compelling, but no we wouldn’t want to live there.   Maybe another visit would be enough for now.

Practical information

Our Pakam guesthouse was a good find, at the price $25/night (including all fees and taxes)

There are number of day trips to waterfalls at around 40,000-50,000 Kip /person.  This price includes only transportation.   The entrance to the water falls is 10,000 Kip and  a boat ride $5000 Kip