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Vietnam - 2009


Our Bangkok Airways flight to Saigon was excellent. Plenty of legroom and good food.

Entry into Vietnam was far less painful than we had expected. Although our flight from Bangkok was fairly full, the immigration process was far better than India or Indonesia - we were pleased.

Transfer to the Majestic Hotel in Saigon had been pre-arranged and we were soon off through the Saigon traffic - a never ending swarm of mopeds!

Presidential Palace - Saigon
War Remnants Museum - Saigon

Reunification (Presidential) Palace - Saigon

War Remnants Museum - Saigon

At the Majestic Hotel, we met our first disappointment. We had not booked river view rooms as the view of the Saigon river can hardly be described as picturesque and the traffic noise (the hotel has only 4 floors of accommodation) could have presented a problem. The room we were allocated (121) was probably the most bare and unappealing 4 * (claiming to be 5 *) room in which we have ever stayed.

All the facilities including tea / coffee / hairdryer / mini-bar / soaps / TV / Phone, etc. were provided. However, it was a cold, unwelcoming environment. The bedroom (and worst of all shower area) faced out onto a bare wall and staircase within the enclosed pool area. The shower was over the bath with only an opaque window between you and pool deck. After dark (I checked) from the outside it was like watching a shadow puppet show - try to hold your stomach in and worry about which "bits" are profiled whilst having a relaxing shower. It is an interesting experience! Fortunately the pool area was so minute (only about 10 or 12 beds) far too small for a hotel of this size.

Now to the good side of the hotel. The staff and service were excellent. Breakfast was particularly good with a full range of oriental, Japanese, European and most importantly good English breakfast items. There were a couple of other restaurants, which we were assured were very good, but we ate other meals out of the hotel on all occasions.

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) was a bit of an anti-climax. We had decided against any guided tour, as we wanted to wander leisurely around the city.

The central district, where our hotel was located, has all the big name shops and appeared to be a bit of a mini Oxford Street / Regent Street, not what we expected or wanted. We did the usual tourist things, visiting City Hall, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market, Cholon (Chinatown) etc. We ate out in the evening, but cannot recommend any particular restaurant.

We had a very indifferent meal in Chinatown and would advise against the large French restaurant (the name escapes me) opposite the Sheraton - especially as my "boef bourgignon" appeared to be ox-tail (bone-in) in some sort of white sauce!

After a couple of days at the Majestic it was up sticks and away on a Mekong Delta trip for 3 days. This was pre-arranged before leaving UK. This was very interesting and comprised an English speaking guide, driver & car and, whilst on the Mekong, a boat (or boats) to ourselves.

Lazy Days on the Mekong
Floating Market - Mekong

Lazy Days on the Mekong

Floating Market - Mekong

From Saigon, we drove down what appeared to be a main highway for an hour and a half or so before arriving in the Mekong delta area. The drive was fairly uninteresting as there was the usual clutter of shops and businesses immediately adjacent to the road for the majority of the journey, with only brief glimpses of open countryside and rice paddy fields.

The delta area is very much a working area these days and it was fascinating to observe the to-ing and fro-ing of various craft. These ranged from sampans rowed in the traditional standing position, usually by a woman wearing typical Vietnamese "pyjama" clothing and conical hats, through medium sized fruit and vegetable boats to large craft and barges.

We proceeded, over the next 2 days, to see a variety of local scenes and river craft, ferried everywhere by private boat. This included the manufacture of rice pancakes, sweets, bricks and traditional dance and song and, of course, the houses villages and people of the region. The interesting thing is that we were never put under any pressure to purchase anything - indeed we were given samples of everything from puffed rice (popped in heated sand!) through spring rolls (steamed) and sweets to the local rice "whisky" served from bottles containing snakes, scorpions and birds!

On our first night we were ferried by sampan to a local "home stay" apparently belonging to "Mr. Bay Thoi", which we had expected to be in basic accommodation. The basic accommodation was about all that was correct in our expectation. There appeared to be no element of "home" in this stay - merely a very basic room with a bed and a fan in what appeared to be a down-market hostel. There was no family or interaction and we were served with a dinner (soup, fish, vegetables etc.) to eat alone - nothing to drink. Admittedly the food was very good. There were beers and soft drinks available from a fridge, so we helped ourselves to these and paid for them the following morning.

We walked into the local village (about 1000m) and had a couple of Lipton Iced teas near the local market. Breakfast was again provided to us the following morning (strangely enough, I have forgotten what was provided - except that the sweetened Vietnamese coffee with milk was excellent).

As we had our own boat, guide and car, we were able to cut the second day rather short, opting to go to our hotel in Can Tho early - a good choice.

Victoria - Can Tho
Concentration - Preparing Rice Pancakes

Hotel Victoria - Can Tho

Concentration - Preparing Rice Pancakes

We stayed at the 4* Hotel Victoria at Can Tho and were very impressed. The rooms are roomy, well air conditioned and the services and pool are very good.

We were allocated a room on the top floor with a nice balcony, overlooking the pool and the river - a great location and view. On arrival at the pool we were offered a free 10 minute massage, which was greatly appreciated after the "home stay" and travelling.

Their cunning plan obviously worked as we booked a massage package for that evening before our dinner. The spa area was very pleasant and whilst I do not remember the cost, I do remember that we thought it was reasonable.

We ate dinner in the hotel - an excellent meal - and were once again surprised by the variety and quality of the breakfast provided.

Following an early (ish) breakfast we proceeded by boat to the Cai Be floating market. This is very much a working, rather than tourist, market and, unlike the Damnoen Saduak floating market in Thailand, we were not pestered to purchase anything. It appeared to be mainly fruit and vegetables, brought to wholesalers by local farmers. The wholesalers then sold on larger lots that were in turn despatched by larger boats. Interesting and sometimes colourful.

After the floating market it was back to the hotel to freshen up and then check-out before returning to Saigon via a stork sanctuary.

Would we recommend this trip? Yes very much, but try to avoid a home stay. Our guide was excellent, the driver and boatman very friendly and obliging.

On arrival in Saigon, in the afternoon, we returned to the Majestic Hotel. This time we were offered a room on the 4th floor, toward the rear of the building. This was in excellent restored French Colonial style, well decorated and very comfortable, once again with all facilities. Such a shame that the first room will always be remembered!

One final word of warning. There is a cocktail bar located at the top of the hotel. I am convinced that their cocktails (which are by no means cheap) contain little or no alcohol!

Phu Quoc Sunset - Vietnam
Shellfish for Dinner - Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc Sunset - Vietnam

Shellfish for Dinner - Phu Quoc

The following morning it was off to the airport to take the first Vietnam Airlines flight to the island of Phu Quoc.

Not a bad flight by ATR72, but this was no Bangkok Airways flight. The accommodation we had chosen, La Veranda, had been booked through Diethelm Travel in Vietnam via Trailfinders in the UK.

The hotel, island and beach are absolute gems
. This was always intended to be the chill part of the holiday and we were delighted by the restful almost "spa" decor of the large rooms. The array and quality of soaps and lotions provided in the room was excellent and scented oils were burned in your room - perhaps partly to dissuade mosquitoes, but also providing a very special atmosphere.

The gardens of this hotel are also a special feature. Whilst being on a small plot, the variety of trees and plants is quite extraordinary.

The beach was very pleasant and was a "working", though by no means crowded or dirty, beach. The sand was light in colour and texture and the sea warm and blue - what more could you want?

We had a daily massage on the beach (approx. 3 USD against 58 USD in the hotel) and spent a very relaxing seven days at La Veranda, only venturing into town twice and eating out twice.

The food at the hotel is excellent, the management and staff were particularly friendly and helpful. The pool area is very pleasant and not overcrowded (the hotel was full unlike all others on this trip).

From our passports they must have realised that it was my birthday during our visit. We were surprised by an exceptional display of flowers, with a birthday greeting, appearing in our room and a birthday cake after dinner.

La Veranda - Phu Quoc (below)

La Veranda - Phu Quoc

There are a couple of small restaurants / bars in the immediate area of the hotel, but none were busy. We ate very ordinary meal at a local place "Le Bistrot" (yes that's how it was spelled) which was handy for a cool beer in the evening.

We had an absolutely splendid meal at a little restaurant "Ocean Grill" near the night market in the main town of Duong Dong. This restaurant also has a wine store and it was here that we found the cheapest wine and widest selection in the whole of our visit. Whilst not much to look at from the road, I would thoroughly recommend this little restaurant for food, wine and the friendly and helpful nature of the owners.

The night market was small and absolutely to my taste. Whilst Janet can spend hours in such places, I can only spend a (very) limited time - a market is a market, is a market! A word of caution should you decide to visit this island - be aware that Taxi Drivers on Phu Quoc seem to have no English (and we speak no Vietnamese). Get your hotel to direct the taxi before you leave!

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