Vietnam Holiday

A holiday should be exactly that, a holiday: a chance to unwind and refresh before heading back to the daily grind. Living in Japan, travel seems to take on a life of its own. Time restraints and sometimes overambitious plans mean that holidays in Japan, although very rewarding, don’t tend to be overly relaxing.

So this summer, I stripped my holiday right back. No rushing around, 2 destinations only; Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh (still referred to as Saigon by the locals) and beach spot and tourist favourite, Nha Trang.

Crazy fun traffic, market bargains, amazing (and stupidly cheap) food, and rich culture sum up Saigon. Coffee connoisseurs may not agree, but try a Vietnam style coffee, drenched in sweetened condensed milk, and you might just fall in love! I took it upon myself to try each of my Vietnamese friend’s recommendations. Lean Beef Pho, from a local shop, Banh mi (baguette sandwiches) from a street vendor, and pamperisation (ok I made that word up) at a local salon (manicure and pedicure for 5USD!).

Saigon is the perfect hub to explore the Mekong Delta. Our day tour took us out to the Vinh Long floating markets, along the river in a traditional row boat, and gave us a chance to sample the local goods for the tiny price of 13USD, including lunch. Many people we met along the way recommended a home stay tour along the Delta, something I will be sure to do next time around.

In the evening, you can find drinks for 2USD, or splurge on a cocktail for around 7USD. Shisha parlours line the streets of the tourist town, so take your pick. For those wanting to boogie, head out to the infamous ‘Apocalypse Now,’ a club themed after the movie with paraphernalia lining the walls. Upstairs, DJs played the latest and favourite commercial house hits, while others tranced it up downstairs.

If you are able to only visit one museum during your stay in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) make sure it’s the War Remnants Museum. Not for the fainthearted, you will see detailed and graphic displays documenting the Vietnam War. An eerie silence reigned, broken only by the occasional comments of an Italian guide as I walked through the displays. The display about the effects on victims of ‘Agent Orange’ is humbling to say the least.

Leaving Saigon, my travel buddies and I made our way up to Nha Trang, and were welcomed by a spectacular display of lightning (evening storms are typical during this season). We were promised blue skies by the hotel manager for the next day and were not disappointed. Beautiful clear skies and crystal clear water awaited us just two blocks away.

Our hotel just so happened to be serving the famous and delicious ‘Fanny’ ice-cream in the lobby café ‘La Parisienne’ (needless to say, tasteless remarks about ‘dong’s and ‘fanny’s were made on a daily basis). I recommend trying macadamia, and the mango sorbet is also delicious!

Although taxis are dirt cheap, bicycles are a great way to get amongst things, and explore. Cho Dam markets, Ponagar Towers and even the Thap Ba Mudbaths were an easy bike across town.

From 100,000 vnd, you can enter the mud baths, have a mineral bath, and enjoy the warm mineral pool and waterfalls. Our skin was left feeling luxurious, despite suffering slight sunburn.

For those visiting Ponagar Towers, be sure to wear bottoms covering the knees and tops covering your shoulders so you are able to have a proper look around. From 11am-1pm you can witness the ceremony of the changing of the goddess’s clothes. Entrance will set you back 16000vnd.

For a fun, cheap day out, try the (in)famous 7usd, 4 island boat tour! You will visit 4 islands (one you just snorkel from), visit a small aquarium (for an extra fee) and witness the magic of the boat band and the ‘floating bar.’ The floating bar is literally one of the crew members jumping off the boat with a floating bench, topped with plastic flowers, serving cheap Da Lat mulberry wine, while the other staff throw out foam for the bar attendees to latch onto as they drink the bar’s fine wares. Not convinced? It was quite an experience, and provided endless laughs and amusement for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, there are many bars to choose from; at Oasis, take over the decks and play some pool; at Red Apple, enjoy one of the many bucket cocktails on offer in an alfresco setting. La Louisiane Alehouse serves many boutique beers, and has an extensive dining menu. As the night goes on, tourists and locals alike converge on the Sailing club, where on the weekends, the beach turns into a dance floor and you can ‘dance the night away’ (Thanks JLo!).

How to get there: Thai airways flies via Bangkok for around 70,000 yen including taxes (try the multi-stop option on their website). You can also add on a free stopover in Bangkok, and even fly into Ho Chi Minh and out of Hanoi (or vice versa).

Domestic flights on Vietnam Airways will get you to most airports for around 5000 yen one way. Alternatively, you can catch the night buses or trains (not recommended for tall people, light sleepers, or those with not much time on their hands).

In Saigon, for budget accommodation at 7usd per person per night, try Thanh Thuong Guesthouse. Tucked in an alley just off Pham Ngu Lao (street), its right in the centre of everything. The rooms are basic, but clean; with a tv, minibar and a lockable cupboard in each room. This is a family run business, so they look after each guest very well. The delightful Thuong will help you arrange tours and transfers, and is never pushy.

1700yen will get you a room at the Flamingo Suites Ha Van Hotel, Nha Trang for a double bed, single occupancy including gorgeous breakfast with fresh local fruit and more Vietnamese coffee! This 2 star hotel has very comfortable beds, tv, mini bar, and your very own safe (essential for travel in Vietnam), and is a short walk away from restaurants, convenience stores, nightlife and of course, the beach. The staff were wonderfully helpful but never pushy.

Be safe! Although it may be tempting to hire a motorcycle (and there are many places that will let you do it), Vietnamese law dictates that only those with a Vietnamese license (sorry no International licenses here!) may legally do so. Should you hire, and have an accident, any insurance you have will be null and void, as you have broken the law.

Also, although laws for crimes against tourists are very strict, pick pocketing is still a very common occurrence in Vietnam. Split your money, utilise your safe, and never keep your wallet in your back pocket. Money belts are your new best friend (especially if taking night transportation)!

For travel to Vietnam, visas are required for most nationalities, but don’t worry, it’s not a painful process.  You can use a pre-approval service for a small fee online (20usd for standard service, which is 2 business days, but please allow 5 just to be safe) at Visas cost 25usd for a single entry, 30 day visa or 50usd for a multiple entry (take American dollars along with you for payment). This is paid on arrival, you just need to fill out the entry forms (you can get on the website) and provide a 4 x 6cm photo (take 2, but I only ended up using 1). The visa on arrival takes about 30 minutes to process. Alternatively, leave it up to your travel agent! No. 1 Travel can arrange your visa, all you need to do is send in your passport, forms and photos and they’ll do the rest. The charge for this is around 6500jpy, and allows you to jump off the plane, and straight into Vietnam!

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