In view of Malaysia Day, I was out of Malaysia. Hehe. No pun intended. But since Friday was a non-working holiday for us, Pats and I have scooted our way to the motorbike-infested country, which is also known as Vietnam. Did I just say ‘scooted’?
Typically, when we mention Vietnam, it’s all about the hustle and bustle of the city, motorbikes roaming wildly on the streets, Mekong River, Cu Chi Tunnel, Agent Orange, and the remnants of war. For Pats and I, we tried to experience Vietnam on a different perspective. Coming from Ho Chih Mihn City (HCMC) – formerly Saigon, we’ve ventured towards the sands of Mui Ne, and the town of Vung Tao. Read on! 😉
We encountered several mishaps during the entire trip. For starters, we were seated separately in the plane, and with unfavorable neighbors. Mine kept on standing and looking at the back – unsettled lady. Pats’ in the middle of two guys who know and talk to each other. No sleep for us. 😦
Arriving at the Vietnam airport around 10:30 AM local time, Pats and I took a quick breakfast at Star Cafe, just outside the airport… BAD MOVE. Their Lean Pork Baguette (45,000 Dong) was tad dry and rubbery. I only finished my share ‘coz I was really hungry. Otherwise, na ah… And, that particular food costs at around 10,000 Dong only outside the airport… Sheesh! Well, airport..
After the unsatisfying breakfast, we headed to platform 13 to board Bus 152 bound to Ben Than Market. The bus fare was supposed to be 4k Dong, but the driver took 5k/pax + 5k for our luggage. The ticket says 4k, but then we just let it go. Lesson learned: Pay the exact amount.
At Ben Tanh Market, we followed our instincts, and printed (Google) map, in search for our HCMC home – Long Guesthouse. After minutes of walking under the mid-day sun, sweat all over my face, we found our place where we were welcomed by Mr. Long and a bottle of cold mineral water. Ahhhh! Water! Cold Water!
Once settled, we went to the backpacker’s area to find ourselves a bus going to Mui Ne, and back to HCMC. And unfortunately, we spent the entire afternoon doing so. It was hard finding a bus going back to HCMC the same night. Actually, no bus at all… 😦 So, we had to change our plans from day-trip to overnight. We bought our (sleeper) bus ticket going to Mui Ne from Sinh Tourist at roughly 200,000+ Dong. As for our Mui Ne half-day tour, it cost around USD17 at TNK Travel. We had no choice but to take a guided tour at Mui Ne, since we were really unsure whether we can do free and easy there, considering that getting a bus back to HCMC wasn’t that easy at all.
After prepping our things up and eating a bowl of steamy hot and spicy Pho, we boarded our sleeper bus headed to Mui Ne. ‘Twas a 5-hour plus snooze-on-and-off bus ride. So, leaving HCMC at 8 pm, we reached Mui Ne at roughly 1:30 AM. Sleeper bus is the thang! 😀 It isn’t as comfy as my bed, but it’s waaaaayyyy better than our average travel bus. *Cambodia bus trip flashes back…Uuugghhhh! Torture!*
Upon arriving at a town in Mui Ne, whose name escapes me, we hired a cab towards our accommodation – Duy An Guesthouse. It’s rather far from our drop-off point and it took us about 30 minutes to reach (if I remember correctly) – which cost around 200,000 Dong. Expensive much! Our room was spacious for USD16 and has it’s own T&B. Good enough for an overnight stay. And, it’s near Sinh Tourist’s bus terminal going back to HCMC.
We didn’t have enough time to sleep though, as our tour was set at 5 AM. At that set time, our guide Van and the driver knocked on our door and picked us up to begin our tour on the dot. It was a cold morning hill-side ride matching with the beautiful colors of the sky, while watching the sun rose above the ocean’s horizon… Magnificent ride indeed! 🙂 Ok, I have omitted the “seldom fishy smell of the ocean breeze” here because the view compensated for that. Hehe. Our first stop, the White Sand Dunes – the best for the trip, in my opinion.
It’s my first time on a desert-y environment. So, I was truly fascinated by the experience. We’ve spent more than an hour just walking, snapping photos, and being enthralled by the moment. It wasn’t hot yet that time. So, it made the experience more enjoyful. 😉 Good thing that we’ve done it in the morning. Otherwise, I will be watering the sands with my sweat…
And just when the sun was getting hot, we went back to our jeep, and headed for our next stop – the Red Sand Dunes. It may look brown, but they say it’s red. 😛
It’s not as nice as the white. For one, it was already hot there when we arrived. Two, quite a number of people were already there – tourists and locals alike. The locals are offering their stuff: kids with their sliding boards; adults, their merchandise. Since it was already hot, we didn’t spend much time there, and instead headed onto our next destination – the Fishing Village. Trust me Zari, if you are reading this, you will hate the smell there. Hehe :p
We didn’t spend much time there either. As you might already know, it smells fishy down there – literally. It was like I’m back in Navotas (Philippines). Nonetheless, even though our stay was brief, it was quite an experience. Don’t ask anymore. 😛
didn’t like weren’t able to spend much time with the fishiness, we headed to our last stop – the Fairy Stream. Now, why Fairy Stream? I honestly don’t know. Maybe Tinkerbell and her family was settling here before he joined Peter Pan to Neverland? Better Google it. 😉
Note: Don’t leave your foot wear at the entrance of the stream. Otherwise, the local kids might take it and charge you some Dong for “holding” you footwear. They might also offer you their services as tour guids, but trust me, you won’t need one.
After a few minutes of walk, we got fascinated by the rock and sand formation in the area. White rocks, brown sands (ok, ok, red sands), and yellow sands, touched with the greenery of the grass and trees, and meeting up with the blue skies. Truly colorful. But, it’s too damn hot! Good thing the stream water was still cold, which somehow brought a cooling effect to me tired feet.
And again, we didn’t last long under the Vietnamese heat. So, we didn’t bother going any further. Besides, according to Van, it’s the same view all throughout.
At one end of the stream, according to her, is a lake near her home (7 KM away), and on the other, the ocean. We chose to stay at the middle. Actually, we chose to adjourn the walk and head home. Luckily, it was just 5 minutes away from our hostel. So, the journey back was fast and easy. The trip ended at around 10 AM, which gave us ample time to eat brunch and freshen up before our 1:30 PM bus going back to HCMC.
The bus trip back to HCMC was very tiring and looooong. We were caught in traffic which caused the trip to take more than 6 hours. We got too bored that we even resorted to counting Christian churches along the way. Surprisingly, Christian churches in one of the towns were like 24-hour convenience stores, there are lots of them. It’s like for every kilometer, there’s a church. Anyway, moving on.
After a quick rest at our guesthouse, we headed-out to grab dinner. We were aiming for Jollibee – a Filipino fast-food chain, as we knew there were branches in HCMC. A website said that there’s one nearby our guesthouse. But to our dismay, after spending more than an hour walking along Pham Ngu Lao, we failed to find it. We ended up eating at KFC instead.
The next day, after going to worship service, we finally found a Jollibee branch, but it was not open ’til 9 AM. So, we had our (free) breakfast at our guesthouse instead, and then headed straight to Vung Tao. To reach Vung Tau, we boarded a Hydrofoil at Ben Tau Canh Ngam Jetty Terminal at the price of 200,000 Dong (per pax, one-way). It’s an hour and a half water ride, so we had a chance to take a quick rest and nap.
Upon reaching the Vung Tau Terminal, we rode a cab (~20,000 Dong) towards the entrance of Christ Hill. Then and there, we again started another heated walk, rather climb, going to what I call as “our mock trip to Rio De Janeiro”. 😛
Disclaimer: This does not signify, or whatsoever, my religious belief. It’s merely a trip to a tourist spot for me. 🙂
It’s roughly 30-minutes of tiring ascend. It’s windy at some point, but most of the time… ohhh meeeenn… There are a few resting areas and a few shops on the way up. But the price is, as expected, higher..
When we reached the foot of the statue, it was roughly around 12:30 PM. Take note, 12:30 PM! Imagine 30 minutes of climbing a hill in like 32~ish degrees! And to our dismay again, we were not able to climb further up as it was closed during lunch time (11:00 – 2:00 PM). Going further up to the “viewing deck” (inside the statue then beside the statue’s chin) should have given us a better view of Vung Tau. So, our effort really didn’t pay off… 😦
Descent is basically the same: hot and tiring. Then, we took a cab going back to the jetty terminal where we took a quick lunch at Lotteria, while waiting for our boarding time at 2 PM. Then, rain started to pour. Boo!
By the time we got back to HCMC, rain was still pouring. So, we opted to take a break at the War Remnants Museum (entrance fee: 15,000 Dong). In there, we saw how cruel the Americans were to the Vietnamese people – Agent Orange get up! get up! get up! (lyrics: Slapshock). History is unknown to me. But based on what I saw there, they were too cruel.
Here are few of the memorable photos that I’ve seen in the museum:
After a while, rain turned to drizzles. So, we braved it and headed towards Jollibee. Finally! Unfortunately, their rendition of our favorite fast food meals isn’t really as good as what we have in the Philippines. But, that was the closest we could get that time. Better than nothing.
We headed straight to the Notre Dame Cathedral after. Elegant church I must say. But, due to the rain, I didn’t bother taking photos. And with that, our short yet tiring trip to Vietnam concluded. We took a good shower at our guesthouse before heading off. Good thing is that Mrs. Long allowed us to use their common toilet for a quick shower even if we already checked-out earlier.
Going to the airport from Pham Ngu Lao, via taxi, cost us 175,000 Dong. But the taxi driver didn’t even bother giving us change for the 200,000 Dong that I gave. We just let him go. Again, better pay the exact amount!
Papi’s Vietnam Tips:
- To reiterate, as much as possible, pay the exact amount. When they get the money, they tend to ignore you even if you’re expecting for a change.
- Count your change and insist for the correct amount if it’s not right.
- Don’t just simply talk to bystanders (locals), especially in the backpacker’s area. Be vigilant. They will most likely talk you to buying/hiring/renting something. Ask the police, if needed. They are wearing blue uniforms (as of this writing).
- Get a map! Most taxi drivers (based on experience) won’t understand English. The only thing they understood was: “airport”. You will heavily rely on pointing places on your map. We survived with pre-printed Google Maps, and the map from our guesthouse.
- Plan and book early. Don’t take chances on impromptu trips and tours. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more than what you’ve budgeted for. I failed here because I only read some information 2 days before the trip. Hehe. It’s not as free and easy as the other countries I’ve been at.
- If you want to drink coffee, no need to spend more on special coffee shops like Highlands Coffee, or Coffee Bean, or Starbucks. Any simple Ca Phe shop will serve you a great tasting coffee.
- When buying food from stalls on the street, ensure to ask for the price. What I’ve encountered is when I bought a Banh Mih, the initial price said by the lady was 10k. A man approached while I’m taking photos (husband probably). After the lady gave my order, I paid 10k. She was looking at the money, then me, as if I paid less than the agreed amount. The guy then said 15k. But I mentioned that the lady said 10k. They looked at each other. I paused for a while, then turned my back and left.
- Most important of all: Bring water, or any kind of hydrating beverages. The heat and humidity will drain all your body fluids dry.