Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

HCMC, Cambodia and Hoi An in 10 Days (Part 1)

Day 1
It was around six o'clock when we got on a taxi and headed for Noi Bai Airport. And, from there, we had a smooth trip to Ho Chi Minh City, where we got an airport taxi to take us to the Saigon Mini Hotel which is located in an alley not far from the bus companies.

We met a new friend as we were getting out of the alley.

Lucky Dog. A dog in a restaurant that's loved and won't be served as food.

We didn't waste any time! We immediately headed to Pham Ngu Lao Street to find an agency that can book our tickets so that we can leave for Cambodia the next day. Armed with our haggling and negotiating skills, we managed to get return tickets for both Ho Chi Minh to Pnom Penh and Pnom Penh to Siem Reap from Sapaco for around 800,000 Dong (USD$40) each. We also managed to get a private tour around the Cuchi Tunnels for under $20 after lunch. 

So, we headed for a quick lunch at a nearby Indian Restaurant before getting on a taxi to see the Cuchi Tunnels. When we got there, we realized that the fee we paid at the travel agency was just for the transportation and the guide who was very pleasant, friendly and fluent. It was also very refreshing to have a conversation with a Vietnamese lady who doesn't believe that marriage should be her only aspiration in life. In fact, she was happy to meet an unmarried 30-year-old.

At the entrance of the Cuchi Tunnels, my friend was asked to pay 80,000 dong for the entrance. Apparently, my Asian features and the few Vietnamese words I knew made the girl at the counter think I was Vietnamese. And, she only charged me half the price. 

The tour was pretty interesting. We got to crawl into one of the underground tunnels and see the different array of traps used during the war. Being claustrophobic, I couldn't go into the longer tunnels. I tried but as soon as I had a feel of how narrow the tunnels were, I backed out. 

Watch where you step!

This is what's waiting for you if you fall in there!

Here's our tour guide demonstrating how they hid in these holes to surprise the enemy.

Soldiers chilling now that the war's over -- Of course, they're not real!

At the end of the tour, we decided to shoot some guns. We decided on firing the AK47 and sharing the ten rounds which cost us 260,000 Dong. It was a nice experience which was ruined by the fact that they screwed the rifle on a wall -- A very high wall. Being 5 feet tall, tiptoeing and barely getting a proper aim was a nuisance. I loved feeling the power of the weapon though. 

An M16

 Would've been nice to fire this one but I've  got to stick to my travel budget.
Famished after our tour, we decided to have dinner at an Indian restaurant along Bui Vien Street. It was a few buildings away from the first one we ate in at lunch time and we were sorely disappointed and regretted trying out the new place. The service was slow and we were served the Vietnamese version of Indian cuisine. Samosas just aren't meant to be dipped in Chin Su chilli sauce. An Indian man owns the place but it seems that his grumpy Vietnamese staff does the cooking and serving. So, if you're in the area, pick Mumtaz Indian Restaurant (where we had lunch earlier that day) and not this dump!

Quick Travel Tips

Mumtaz Indian Restaurant. 226 Bui Vien Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Lac Hong Tours. 305 Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, HCMC.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

25 Days of Laos (Part 18)

This is a journal of our 25-day trip around Laos on a rented Honda FTR that we fondly called Mustafa. It starts with a long bus ride from Hanoi to Laos and ends with a longer bus ride back to Hanoi.

Day 24: Thakaek to Vientiane
This day was spent heading back to Vientiane and sorting out our visa for Vietnam. Then, we checked in the Mixay Guest House where we stayed last time. After that, we headed to Le Silapa for dinner. It's got amazing food, fantastic decorations and really friendly cats. So, make sure you sit inside if you don't want to be anywhere near them. We sat aside and it was difficult to pry them off my lap -- They're not shy nor afraid of humans. 


Day 25: The Buddha Park
We drove 25 kilometers out of Vientiane to see Xieng Khouan, a sculpture park which was created by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat in 1958. The park represents the union of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. In the park, you'll see statues of gods, animals, humans and demons. You'll also see a pumpkin-shaped head of a monster with its mount open. Inside this monster is the creator's interpretation of heaven, earth and hell. You can climb into the monster's mouth to check out the different compartments filled with statues.

The Reclining Buddha

Enter The Mouth If You Dare

What's Inside The Head

The Buddha Park
Our last day in Laos ended with ice cream in Swenson's and some pizza at Le Ranch after failing to find the shooting range which has apparently moved to a different location. With a box of pizza for the road, we headed to the bus station for our trip back to Hanoi.

Read About The Journey From The Beginning:

25 Days of Laos (Part 17)

This is a journal of our 25-day trip around Laos on a rented Honda FTR that we fondly called Mustafa. It starts with a long bus ride from Hanoi to Laos and ends with a longer bus ride back to Hanoi.

Day 22: Hin Boun to Thakaek
The next town that we were going to visit was Thakaek which was around 181 kilometers away from Hin Boun. The journey would've been more eventful were we able to visit the legendary Kong Leng lake which the villagers believe to be sacred. They say that they hear the sound of a gong from the lake every full moon. 

The Lonely Planet describes the lake as crystal clear since the water in it has been filtered through the limestone karsts. The thing is it's hard to get to -- You'd have to get through terrible dirt roads. And, when you get to the lake, you'll have to ask for the villagers' permission to swim in there. Also, you can only swim in the stream near the wooden footbridge and not the lake itself. But, some lucky tourists have made it to this location and it is indeed magical. 

What Stopped Us From Getting To The Lake!
We got to Thakhaek in the afternoon. And, we decided to splurge a bit and stay in the Inthira Hotel where we got a beautiful room with a terrace. What made the room unique was that the toilet and the shower seemed as if they were in two wardrobes separated by a sink. Feeling a bit rich that night, we decided to have their sashimi platter and were sorely disappointed to find out that the serving was small and it was more like a ginger platter than a sashimi platter.

That orange glob in the middle is ginger!

Day 23: Around Thakaek
We visited Tham Pha Pa, a Buddha cave which is 18 kilometers from Thakhaek. Their collection of six-hundred-year-old Buddhas was impressive. And, one of the people guarding the place recited some incantations while tying bracelets on our wrists. I guess this means that we will have double the protection during the remainder of our bike trip. Sad to say, I wasn't able to take any pictures in the cave.

The Cave Guardians' Pet?

The Pool Outside The Cave

After the Buddha Cave, we decided to go to a nearby stream called Tha Falang. It may not be as beautiful as the lake that we missed the day before but it was definitely a magical place. By the stream, you'd see several butterflies flying about, making it seem like a place you'd only hear about in fairy tales. And, the best part about it is that you've got it all to yourself. During our stay there, we only ran into two tourists who jokingly left us to have the place for ourselves.

The Road To Tha Falang

Tha Falang

After a dip, we headed back to our hotel and chilled. After that, we looked for a place to eat. This time, we had dinner by the Mekong River, looking at the bright lights on the Thai border. And, we decided to get a cheaper fare that night -- Some local food from the stores scattered by the river.

Quick Travel Tips:

Khoun Keng Long. It's about 30 kilometers northeast of Thakhaek. These are the directions according to the Lonely Planet: "Head north along Rte 13 and turn right (east) at Km 25 onto a dirt road. After 2 km, turn right (south) again and bump up over hills and through villages for 16 km until your reach Ban Na Kheu. Once you've got approval for swimming, it's another 1 km to the lake."

Tham Pha Pa Cave. We weren't exactly asked for an entrance fee but there was a donation box at the entrance. Tham Pha Pa is arond 18 kilometers away from Thakhaek. 

Tha Falang. It's just a few kilometers away from the Tham Pha Pa Cave.

The Journey Continues:

Friday, November 11, 2011

25 Days of Laos (Part 16)

This is a journal of our 25-day trip around Laos on a rented Honda FTR that we fondly called Mustafa. It starts with a long bus ride from Hanoi to Laos and ends with a longer bus ride back to Hanoi.

Day 21: Kong Lor Cave
We woke up to find a breath-taking view outside. The dark shade of the karsts that lined the river blended well with its blue-green waters. The terrace was an amazing place to do my morning yoga. 

Although it would've been great to just chill on our terrace, I didn't want to miss going to the Kong Lor Cave and seeing its underground river. The Nam Hinboun River flows through the 7.5-kilometer cave. After a fifteen-kilometer drive, we got to the park and paid for the entrance fee, the guide and the long tailed-boat and boat man that would take us through the cave -- around 100,000 kip for the both of us.

In the cave, the boat stopped and we were asked to walk into a dark cavern and I spent some time groping in the dark as the flash light that they provided us was quite useless in the dark cave. And then, the cavern was suddenly flooded with lights. Apparently, electricity had been installed in the cave. Some blue lights were installed around some stalagmite formations, enhancing them.

After our trip through the cave, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and headed back to the Sala Hinboun and spent most of our afternoon there.

Quick Travel Tips:
The Kong Lor Cave. It's around 15 kilometers from the Sala Hinboun. You'll need around 50,000 kip to pay for the entrance fee as well as the boat.

The Journey Continues: