24 days through Cambodia & Vietnam
13 Nov <> 06 Dec 2007
in front of Citadel at Hue, Vietnam
Day 01 (13.11.07) KL > Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We were on Air Asia flight No. AK 852 at 3.15 pm to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. About 2 hours later we landed at Phnom Penh airport. Proceed to Capitol Guesthouse for our accommodation. We then explore the town centre and walked along the river-side for a sumptuous dinner at Sa’em Restaurant, No.379 Sisowath Quay.
AirAsia – KLIA to Phnom Penh, one way RM113 per person
Taxi fare – Phnom Penh Airport to town is US7 per car
Motorcycle – Airport to town is US2 per person
Capitol Guesthouse – US5 a room for 2 pax No.14AEO, Road 182, Sangkat Beng Prolitt
Day 02 (14.11.07) Phnom Penh
At guesthouse, bus departed at 10am for Saigon and arrived at Cambodia/Vietnam border of Moc Bai at 1pm for lunch, changed local currency and continued to Saigon arriving at 4.30pm. We noticed a few casinos at the Cambodian border. After dinner at Gon guesthouse we walked round Saigon City (district 1). Mr. Chew, Kee Moon and I went for a drink at the Seventeen Saloon with live-band in attendance.
Bus - Phnom Penh to Saigon is US10 pp
Bus ticket can be purchased at Capitol GH
Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms No.84/12 BuiVien St. Pham Ngu Lao, District 1
We had chee-cheong fun for lunch, Pho2000 at tea-time and dinner at Ben Thanh Market. We then bought Mekong Delta tour ticket (US8pp) at Sinh Café and the Open Bus ticket to Hanoi (US25pp + US2 for sleeping)
Sleeping: Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms
Sleeping: Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms
Mekong Delta tour ticket - US8pp at Sinh Café
Open Bus ticket to Hanoi - US25pp + US2 for sleeping
Bus – Saigon to Dalat is US5 pp
Hotel Hang Nga – US12 for 2 rooms, 01-Bui Thi Xuan Street, Dalat. (Opposite Sinh Café)
We managed to get a car & driver from GH for US7.50 each to take us and explore around Dalat. The driver took us for the best noodle breakfast at Pho Hanoi which is 10minutes walk away from Dalat Cathedral. Places of interest visited are: Prenn & Datania Waterfalls, Chicken Village, incense stick making & the Buddha Dog, Hang Nga’s Crazy House, Buddhist meditation monastery & Paradise Lake, Cremaillere Railway Station. Evening was walking & jogging round the 7km Xuan Huong Lake. We met three university students who were very eager to converse English with us. We had the best Vietnamese coffee beside the guesthouse and the worst dinner at Khach San Phu – the beef-steak is actually beef hamburger.
Sleeping: Hotel Hang Nga – US12 for 2 rooms
Day 08 (20.11.07) Dalat > Nha Trang
8.30am bus from Dalat to Nha Trang arriving at 2.30pm. The distance is 214km and takes about 6 hours. Sightseeing stopover was at Cham Sculpture Tower along the bus journey. After checking at GH, we walked and explore the town centre and had lunch at Red Star Rest. Dinner was at the GH. We booked the island boat tour from TM Brothers at US6pp.
Bus – Dalat to Nha Trang is US5 pp
Sleeping: No.62 Tran Phu Hotel – US15 for 2 rooms
Sleeping: No.62 Tran Phu Hotel – US15 for 2 rooms
One day boat trip from TM Brothers at US6pp.
Bus – Nha Trang to Hoi An is US7 pp
Sleeping: Over-night bus
After breakfast at the hotel, we did our Hoi An walking tour starting at Phac Hat Pagoda, heading east along Phan Chu Trinh Rd., turn right into the alley next to street number 69. Here lies the Truong Family Chapel. Back on the main road; look out for the Tran Family Chapel in the northeast corner of Phan Chu Trinh Rd. Head south now on Le Loi rd. and turn left at the next junction into Tran Phu Rd. visit the Museum of Trading Ceramics. Opposite the museum is the Historic House at 77 Tran Phu. Continuing along Tran Phu, there is a cluster of interesting buildings on the left side of the road, including the Chinese All-Community Assembly Hall and the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation. Back on the road keep heading east and at the next junction you’ll see the Quan Cong Temple. Take a short detour north on Nguyen Hue to the Quan Am Pagoda & History Museum. Back on Tran Phu, still walking east, the Assembly Hall of the Hainan Chinese Congregation is on the left. Cross the next junction and the road becomes Nguyen Duy Hieu. On the left is the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation.
Take the second right and turn right again into Phan Boi Chau, There is a whole city block of colonnaded French buildings here between Nos.22 and 73, among them the 19th-century Tran Duong House. Wander along Phan Boi Chau take the fourth street on your right, turn left into Nguyen Thai Hoc and soak up the ambience of this street. Turn right onto Le Loi then left into Tgran Phu. Almost immediately on the left is the Old House at 103 Tran Phu. Keep heading west now and you’ll pass the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation. A little further along on the left is the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. Beyond the museum is the famed Japanese Covered Bridge, which connects Tran Phu with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Continue westward and keep an eye out for Phung Hung Old House. Also check out Cam Pho Temple.
Evening was walking through the old streets of Hoi An where the Chinese celebrated the full moon festival with prayers and colored lanterns.
Sleeping: Phuong Nam Hotel – US20 for 2 rooms
Hoi An's History The Chinese took an interest back in the days of the Cham Empire, and began anchoring their ships in Tra Nhieu Bay, south of Hoi An, but it wasn't until the early fifteenth century that the area’s potential for trade was recognized. Originally known as Fai Fo, Hoi An was established somewhere between 1602 and 1618 by Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, the ruling ‘Lord’ at that time. He had close relationship with both the Japanese and Chinese, who were the first to use the new port via the trade winds. The number of traders expanded rapidly and by the mid-1600’s ships from Japan, China, Europe, India and the South Pacific countries congregated for an annual four-month trading fair. Fai Fo became a melting pot of cultures. Predominant were the Japanese and Chinese that ran with the trade winds. As many of the merchants often had to wait several months for favorable winds to carry them home, they established resident communities with their own rulers, legal codes and temples. Fai Fo reached its zenith in the middle of the seventeenth century, when it was among the largest ports in South East Asia. Towards the end of the 18th century, the river began silting up, coinciding with the focus of trade in the region turned towards China. Fai Fo’s value as a port dwindled rapidly as Danang began to develop. Renamed Hoi An in 1954, the town had reverted into a sleepy backwater until the rapid post-war rise in Vietnam’s population stimulated a considerable amount of urban development around the Ancient Town.
What to do in Hoi An? The centerpiece is the Ancient Town. It retains the original street pattern and many of its buildings. Some of the houses and temples participate in a ticket scheme: for US5 ticket contains five ‘tokens’ allowing visitors to choose what attracts them. The proceeds are directed towards renovation. However, nearly all the owners of the old houses are delighted to show visitors around.
Hoi An is also famous for its many restaurants offering both local and Vietnamese specialties, and international fare. The standard is high, and the prices inexpensive. It’s also a good place for shopping, especially for silk material and garments. Most of the silk shops are just outside the boundaries of the Ancient Towns – most can turn material into a tailor-made garment within 24 hours.
For early risers, the riverside end of the town’s market is an interesting place to be around 5 to 6am when the night fishing boats come in to unload their catches. The islands in the river and other local communities are worth visiting. In the past, there was a thriving network of craft villages, but they declined as the town slipped into obscurity. Nevertheless, some vestiges of the old trades are still to be found, such as boat building on Cam Kim Island. Some of the Cam Kim artisans were ‘recruited’ by boatyards in Ha Long, where they applied their skills to creating the distinctive wooden junks that have become a feature of the Bay and a popular tourist attraction.
About 4km from the town is Cua Dai Beach, part of an enormous strand of sand lining the coast as far as the Mekong Delta. Don't be misled by references to ‘China Beach’ – that's a section of Danang's My Khe beach. Cua Dai is just as good: clear water, and palm/ pine fringed sandy beaches. Further afield, visits to the Marble Mountains and the UNESCO World Heritage Area of the My Son Sanctuary would each take about half a day.
Hoi An's Buildings architectural development passed through 3 stages. The first was early period as an insignificant village of bamboo shacks, of which none remain. The second period was some time after it expanded into to become a flourishing commercial port attracting merchant ships from afar. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the growing Chinese and Japanese communities began erecting places of worship, assembly halls and, later, residential houses. The first of these were Chinese assembly halls that also served as temples for ancestor worship, followed by pagodas dedicated to the worship of Taoist gods, Confucius and Buddha. As the town became more prosperous and populous, further assembly halls and pagodas were built together with fine houses for merchants who had become full-time residents servicing an increasing volume of exports and imports. All were built predominantly of wood on a stone foundation. Those that survive are the architectural heritage that justified its World Heritage listing and are the main attraction for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that arrive each year. The architectural styles are based upon that of China and Japan, but there are also Vietnamese features and some influences from Europe and other countries that frequented the port. As the port declined during and the number of traders dwindled during the late 18th century, some of the buildings fell into disrepair and collapsed. The gaps were in-filled by unattractive rendered brick structures built in the boxy Vietnamese style.
The Assembly Halls Tran Phu, one of the main streets, has five interesting assembly halls all on the left hand side with your back to the bridge. Four are for specific ethnic groups in China, but the Chinese Assembly Hall is open to all Chinese seafarers. From the bridge, the Cantonese Assembly Hall is the first you come to, followed by the Chinese, Fukien, Hainan and, somewhat further, the Chaozhou Assembly Halls. All combine social and welfare functions as well as places for ritual and worship. Each has distinctive features usually relating to the sea, sailors and shipwrecks.
The many Merchants’ Houses are scattered around the town. Typically, they are a combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture, each with distinguishing features and styles of interior decoration. Many combined commercial and residential functions – storage and trading area in the front, and accommodation at the rear. They were usually long and narrow, with one or two interior open courtyards, sometimes with decorative pools, providing light and fresh air. Many also contained private temples, either incorporated into the structure or in a separate building, and family tombs. Larger houses had extensive lofts, also at the front and used as warehouses. A few similar structures can be found in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Apart from that, the architecture of Hoi An's old houses is a unique example of a blend of many cultural styles.
One of the oldest Pagodas is the Ong Hoi An, dating back to at least 1653. Inside, a huge red-faced effigy of General Quan Cong dominates the array of statues and votive objects. The Chuc Thanh was built in 1744. Among the other pagodas and temples, you'll find a small Cao Dai temple tucked away. Comparatively modern, it is an outpost of Vietnam’s ‘tailor-made religion’ based in the south. Both the Truong and the Tran family chapels are interesting. Both were built by ethnic Chinese people, and reflect the architectural styles of both China and Japan. The altar in the Tran chapel has a set of hand carved stone tablets commemorating the ancestors. The rear garden is a delight in miniature.
Apart from the municipal museum, housed in an unprepossessing brick structure, some of the old buildings has been converted into museums. The Museum of History and Culture is housed in a redundant pagoda, and provides a good overview of the town’s development. The Museum of Trade Ceramics, funded by donations from Japan, is more specialized. It has some fascinating exhibits of ceramics and porcelain, one of the mainstays of Hoi An's trading past, and some detailed architectural drawings.
Booked ticket for DMZ tour the next day @ US11 pp.
Hué has been one of Vietnam's main cultural, religious and education centres. Its Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the most famous structures in Vietnam. The remains of the huge, moated Citadel (Kinh Thanh), constructed by the Emperor Gia Long from 1804, contain many interesting sights, such as the Ngo Mon Gate, Nine Holy Cannons, Thai Hoa (the Palace of Supreme Harmony), Nine Dynastic Urns and the Halls of the Mandarins. Sadly, the intriguing Forbidden Purple City was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War. About 15km south of Hué are the splendid Royal Tombs, of the Nguyen emperors. Hué has many other places of religious and dynastic importance and some good museums.
Hai Van Pass The Mountains straddled by the Hai Van Pass are generally regarded as an unofficial demarcation line between the north and the South Vietnam. It has spectacular views from its highest point, a good reason for avoiding the new tunnel cut through the granite peaks.
Sleeping: Ninh Bing Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms
visiting the Citadel and market. Walked back by Truong Tien Bridge.
Military Sites on Highway 9, we visited The Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge, Ho Chi Minh Trail and Khe Sanh Base.
The Rockpile was named after what can only be described as a 230m high pile of rocks. There was a US Marine Corps look-out on top of the Rockpile and a base for US long-range artillery.
We had lunch at Danang and came back to Hue at 7pm for dinner at Phuong Nam café as recommended by Lonely Planet and were very good. Booked ticket for River tour the next day. DMZ tour - US11 pp
Bus – Hue to Hanoi is US9 +US2 pp
Taxi – Bus station to Old Quarter – D24k
Dragon boat river tour – US3pp
Sleeping: Over-night bus
Sleeping: Bao Long Hotel – US4 per person
dinner together at Hang Voi Restaurant
as a cold glass of Beer-Hoi is only RM 40cent
Train – Hanoi to Lao Cai – US25 pp
Sleeping: Over-night train to Sapa
Sapa came into existence as a hill station during the French occupation in 1922. Previously a Black H’mong village, it was discovered early in the 20th century and developed as a resort for French military officers. Nestled in a beautiful valley close to the Chinese border, the spectacular scenery that surrounds Sapa includes cascading rice terraces. The valleys and villages around Sapa are home to a host of hill-tribe people who wander in to town to buy, sell and trade.
For souvenirs, please buy from the markets as you’ll be dealing direct with the producer, not giving the profits to the wealthy shop owner. Bear in mind that very few of the shops, restaurants and hotels in the tourist areas are owned by local people.
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms
Van – Lao Cai train station to Sapa – D25k pp
Day 18 (30.11.07) 18km trek to Giang Ta Chai
Trekking fee is US3 pp
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms
Mr. Yew and friends left us for their exploring trip to Hekou a Chinese border town. After breakfast at the market, we started trekking down to Cat Cat and Sin Chai village of black Hmong tribe. We passed through a beautiful waterfall and the scenery along the river leading to Fansipan Mountain 3,143m the highest in Indochina. Kee Moon and I continued up the mountain for 2.5 hrs till we reached the base-camp at 2,350m. Here we met hunters and wood collectors. However, we had to trek back as we did not have enough time to reach the peak which is about another 800m up - maybe next time. We reached GH at about 7.30pm. Had very good candle light dinner at Gerbera Restaurant. The temperature is about 10C very cold.
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms
Bac Ha Market tour fee – US9pp
Sleeping: Over-night train to Sapa
Day 21 (03.12.07) Hanoi
Exploring the Huc @ Sunbeam Bridge – is an arch bridge that crosses the lake to reach Den Ngoc Son temple. The Huc is one of the central landmarks of Hanoi. The people of Hanoi often fill it in the morning when they exercise.
Exploring the Writing Brush Tower @ Thap But Pagoda - standing on small mound of stones, to the left of the entrance to Den Ngoc Son, the tower has five tiers. On the side of the tower are the words ta tien qing in Chinese, which translated means "written on the blue sky". There is what looks like an ink slab beside the tower. This is the Dai Nghien, a metaphorical take on an ink while the tower itself is supposed to resemble an ink brush.
Exploring Den Ngoc Son @ Temple of the Jade Mound, - is a small temple sitting on a tiny islet in the middle of the lake Hoan Kiem, north of Thap Rua. To reach Den Ngoc Son, you cross the Huc Bridge. Den Ngoc Son is open daily 8am-6pm, and there's admission charge. In the temple is a sculpture of the fabled tortoise that lends its legend to the surrounding Ho Hoan Kiem.
Exploring Thap Rua @ Tortoise Tower - is a three-storey pagoda located in the middle of the lake was built in the 18th century, and is one of the most recognized landmarks in Hanoi.
Exploring Indira Gandhi Park - an open space on the east side of the lake. During the French colonial times, it was a popular venue for the colonial officers to hold events and outdoor concert. In 1984, the park was renamed in honor of the assassinated prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, a keen supporter of Vietnam. Within the park is a huge statue of King Ly Thai To, the founder and first king of the Ly Dynasty. As with Ho Hoan Kiem, Indira Gandhi is often a busy meeting spot for the people of Hanoi, who come here to exercise, does "tai chi", play ball, dance, and generally relax.
Exploring Ly Thai To Statue - It stands on a prominent spot at Indira Gandhi Park. It is a memorial to the founder and first king of the Ly Dynasty. The Ly Dynasty reigned over the land that is now Vietnam for more than two hundred years, from 1009 to 1225AD. The dynasty was founded by one Ly Cong Uan, who changed his name to Ly Thai To when he ascended the throne. It was Ly Thai To who moved the capital to Thang Long, near present-day Hanoi, and this move resulted in the eventual founding of Hanoi as a city and present-day capital. Buddhism was the state religion during the Ly dynasty. The Ly monarchs founded over 150 monasteries around the Thang Long region. The Ly Dynasty came to an end in 1225 when a shrew commoner by the name of Tran Canh married the last queen of the Ly Dynasty and maneuvered his way to the throne, founding the Tran Dynasty in the process.
Exploring Buu Dien @ General Post Office - is housed in a lovely French colonial building in Hanoi. The GPO consists of the international post office facing Indira Gandhi Park, and the domestic post office facing the lake. It is located Dinh Tien Hoang Street, on the east side of the Lake of the Returned Sword. You can see it immediately after the Indira Gandhi Park.
Exploring Le Thai To Monument - not to be confused with Ly Thai To statue - is a memorial located along Le Thai To Street on the western bank. It was built to commemorate Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty, which ruled what is today Vietnam, from 1428-1776. He was a resistance leader who under his original name Le Loi, fought against the Chinese occupiers and managed to drive the Chinese forces out of Vietnam, and crowned himself as the new ruler, taking the title Le Thai To. Under his rule, the country was called Dai Viet.
Exploring Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre - a cultural experience that completes any visitor's trip to Hanoi. The puppet theatre is located at Dinh Tien Hoang Street, on the north end of the Lake Ho Hoan Kiem. The art of water puppetry came as the result of having too much free time. Developed by the rice farmers when the rice fields are flooded, water puppetry was a folk art that would have died with time twenty years ago, if not for a recent cultural revival that brought it back to life. The result not only resuscitated the art, it also provided an avenue to earn much needed hard cash for Vietnam's fledgling tourism industry.
Perfume pagoda is 60km south-west of Hanoi. We first travel by van for 2 hours to the township of My Duc. From here we walked about 5-minute to the boat ramp. We then took the small metal boat rowed by women for 1 1/2hour along the Yen stream to the foot of the mountain where we stopped at Trinhy temple at the landing jetty. The main pagoda area is about 4km steep hike up from where the boat dropped us off. We took about 1 hour hike up the slippery trek before we reached inside Huong Tich cave. We then trek back and had lunch beside Thien Tru pagoda before boat ride back to the wharf returning to Hanoi. We reached Hanoi at 8pm.
Perfume Pagoda tour – US15pp
Sleeping: Prince 57 Hotel – Us16 for 3 rooms
The day is shopping, shopping and more shopping. After 22 days away from Malaysia, we had the first bowl of Wan Tan Mee at 43, Cau Go Street. It was a fantastic dinner and all of us had two bowls.
Exploring Cot Co Flag Tower is one of the symbols of Hanoi. Built in 1812, Cot Co is a later addition to the Hanoi Citadel, which was built by Emperor Gia Long in 1805, with help from French engineers. Although the Hanoi Citadel covers one square kilometers, it is still much smaller than previous citadels built on the same site. The walls are 4.4 meters high & Flag Tower is 33.4 meters tall. It was built on the southern end of the citadel, much of which was destroyed towards the end of the 19th century. The Army Museum is next to it.
Exploring Bao Tang Quan Doi @ Army Museum - Vietnam's numerous battles to stay independent, and primarily documents the struggle for unification against French and American forces. It is located on Duong Dien Bien Phu Street on the west side of Hanoi. On the opposite side of the street from it is the statue of Lenin while next to it is the remains of the Hanoi Citadel with the Cot Co flag tower.
Statue of Lenin - Using the lake starting point, walk west along Hang Khay, this becomes Trang Thi after a while. Then you reach a split in the road; the right branch is Dien Bien Phu Street. Take that street, crossing the railway track and continuing on until you see the Army Museum on your right and the triangular park with the statue of Lenin on your left. Bao Tang Quan Doi is just behind the Army Museum.
Exploring the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum @ Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh - is located on Hung Vuong Avenue, on the western part of Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum fronts Ba Dinh Square, a manicured patch of turf where Ho Chi Minh delivered Vietnam's declaration of independence in 1945. Despite his wish to be cremated, he was too revered to have that wish granted. So instead his remains were embalmed and kept in a glass casket where temperature and humidity is monitored. And there he stays, to be viewed by an unending stream of visitors. Admission is free. Sleeping: Prince 57 Hotel – Us16 for 3 rooms
Day 24 (06.12.07) Hanoi - KLIA
Taxi fare to airport – US9 per car
AirAsia – Hanoi to KLIA, one way US72 or RM237 pp
Chan Meng Fye 016-2815989 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lim Kee Moon 012-5065978 email:email@example.com
Chew Leng Soon 012-2177366 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ching Neng Bin 012-5053199 email: email@example.com