Day 7 – Thursday 31st December – Ho Chi Minh city to Dalat

Long journey today as we leave Ho Chi Minh city for the last time. It’s a really great place, but it’s good to be travelling to see other parts of this country.

Our journey today takes us to Dalat, about 200 miles away, and in the highlands north east of Saigon (the name that most locals still use for Hi Chi Minh city)

We left the hotel at 8 am and were quickly out of the city onto a brand new toll motorway. The views out of the bus were of flat lands with all sorts of farming. After about an hour we left the motorway and joined a main road. The quality of the road surface is good and we seemed to make good progress before stopping just before 10 am to stretch our legs and grab a coffee.

Had a little moment this morning with ‘seat wars’. Despite our vehicle being big enough for us to each have a double seat, one of the Russians caused a bit of a stir by insisting that one if the others had to move as she was in the seat that she had been sitting in on other days! 

After our break we continued on the highway and crossed a river. From the bridge we could see house boats and a village in the river. Apparently they are Cambodian fishermen who are farming fish.

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Our journey continued on the same road, but fields and posture gave way to mountains and forests. The road steadily climbed until a couple if hours later we arrived at the city of Bao Loc where we stopped for lunch. I tried the porcupine Vietnamese curry. Which was delicious…and had a similar consistency to pork! 

After lunch we stopped in the same town at a tea and coffee manufacturer. We sampled singer jasmine tea before heading off!

A short time later we stopped on the side of the road and Phong showed us where they grow tea and coffee right next to each other. The tea is harvested by hand, daily, and the coffee is harvested and then dried in the sun.

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For the next couple of hours we drove on and tight among the route, in many of the houses that lined the road, you could see coffee beans drying laid out on sheets.

Our last stop before the hotel was at a village where, somewhat bizarrely, they have built a giant rooster!

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Apparently it was built to tell the story of a young woman who went in search of a five claw rooster, a challenge set by her future husband’s father, before he would allow then to marry!

From here it was a short 30 minute drive to our hotel. After a welcome drink, we checked in to a huge room with two windows!

We meet there group again at 6.30 for the short walk to the restaurant for dinner. After this we took a walk around Dalat to see the annual flower festival that is currently going on.

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Dalat seems to be quite a bustling place although I can’t work out whether this is because it is New years eve, or because of the festival. (Vietnamese new year isn’t until February). Anyway, is a good deal cooler here than in Saigon and we’ve had to go back to trousers and jumpers! 

We meet the rest of the group at 11 pm in the hotel bar where was a live singer laid on, a clock counting down to new year, some punch, and a finger buffet with some interesting things on sticks, mini sandwiches and dips.

We had a couple of beers and waited for the new year.  We were asked to move so that we could better appreciate the singer and then I and another member of our group (oner if the Russians whose name I still don’t know!) Was asked to open the champagne!  It turns out that this involved being called to the stage, with two other hotel guests just before midnight and standing there like a lemon whilst the assembled hotel guests counted down from… 90 seconds! 

We all managed to time the opening just right and the corks popped on the stroke of midnight!  We then poured the champagne before being allowed to return to our table. In the meantime, the singer was belting out a dance version of ‘happy new year’. All in all, not quite the same as the chimes of big Ben and auld lang syne.

The singer packed up by 12.20 and SSSI we finished our drinks and headed back to the room. 

Happy new year!

On the strike of midnight

Day 6 – Wednesday 30th December – Mekong delta to Ho Chi Minh city

We awoke early with the light streaming into the dormitory. After a light breakfast consisting of omelette (cold), fruit and delicious French bread, we said goodbye to our hosts and got back in the boat.

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We cruised back down the river for about an hour passing many boats of all shapes and sizes.

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We recrossed the Mekong river, pausing halfway for our driver to prepare fresh coconut to drink, and then sailed around the floating market where we tried even more fruit!  Each of the boats has a bamboo with the fruit or veg that they are selling tied to the top!

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Then it was back to the harbour to rejoin our bus for the return to the city!

The bus journey was uneventful and we stopped again halfway for a drink… More Vietnamese coffee! 
We arrived back at the hotel at about midday, checked in and had a shower and change if clothes!  We then went for a wander to grab some food and a drink, including more of that Vietnamese coffee.
We met up with the rest of the group at the hotel at 4 pm to get a cycle rickshaw ride around the city. This took almost three hours and I think we saw just about every road! I now know why most Vietnamese wear face masks when on they bikes as by the end of out I felt like I had my annual limit of exhaust gases.

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Our final stop was at a Vietnamese restaurant where we had dinner.  We seemed to have managed to get the prime table, although it was very warm in there! One of the Russians preferred food and the waiter tried to tell her it was a sharing dish… When it arrived it was massive and could probably have feed three people!

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Once we finished, we walked back to the hotel but as it was only 9 pm, we decided to go out for a night cap… Although everyone else decided it was time for bed!!! 
We walked back across the park to the main strip and had a beer in a bar hoi…a sort of pop up bar where we sat on the pavement on plastic chairs. We couldn’t really complain as the beer was only 9000 dong (about 30p) for a half pint. We headed back to the hotel by 10 pm as we have another relatively early start tomorrow to drive to Dalat! 

Day 4 – Monday 28th December 2015 – Ho Chi Minh City

After a reasonably nights sleep, we woke early to head for breakfast before our trip to Cu Chi.  Breakfast is always an odd affair when on holiday and here is no exception. There was a selection of fruit, bread, bacon, egg and chicken sausages, not to mention the range of spicy Vietnamese delicacies and French fries! 

We met up at 7am, but had to wait for our tour leader Phong, as his alarm hadn’t gone off! Once he arrived, we got on our bus and met our driver, Mr Ming, who will be with us for 9 days. Today he was taking us to Cu Chi, the place where there are some real Viet Cong tunnels, about 50 miles north of the city.

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We arrived and spent some time looking around the complex where some Vietnamese had lived for over ten years. It was interesting to hear that in Vietnam, the war is known as the ‘American’ war, rather than the ‘Vietnam’ war.

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We saw some of the tunnels, and also mock ups of the traps that the Vietnamese used against the American army.. Pretty brutal stuff! 

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There was also a crater left by a B52 bomber!

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Finally, before we left, we got the chance to go down one of the tunnels… I have to say that 20m was enough for me as they were small, cramped and claustrophobic! 

After this we headed back to the city and one there, had dinner lunch in a real local place… I had ribs served with rice while Ed had a sort of fish cake… All very good and only about £5 for us both! 

After lunch we visited the war remnants museum which amongst other things gas some tanks and planes used in the war.

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Inside there were pictures about the war and some pretty horrific images of the war.  It really was pretty brutal stuff and left a lasting impression!

Before returning back to the hotel we stopped at the Notre Damn cathedral, clearly influenced by the French.

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… And then next door, the Post Office, which was bustling with locals and tourists.

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We arrived back at the hotel at about 3pm and Ed and I headed for a quick beer to cool down before a shower and change for the evening!

After meeting up with our group we rallied the 15 minutes to the Opera House where we had booked to see a show performed by local artists.

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The setting was impressive and the performance, which was a mix of acrobatics and dance was impressive. However, I think we’re still trying to catch up with the jet lag and both Ed and I found it hard to not nod off when the music was quiet and the auditorium dark!

The show finished after an hour or so and we walked to get some food at a place where we had to cook or own food on a BBQ at the table. The group shared good, and Phong ordered and food for us. The beef was great, although I wasn’t so sure about the shrimp kebabs which were so fresh that they were still moving when they came to our plate to be cooked!

After food we headed back towards the hotel and the group split with some doing some late shopping at the outdoor market and some heading back to the hotel.  We just had a couple of beers in the backpacker area and watched the world go by.

Tomorrow, we have a later start and head for the Mekong delta.

Day 3 – Sunday 27th December – Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City

An early start this morning to catch the flight from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh city. Not sure my body knows what time it is so I didn’t sleep very well. 

Caught the hotel shuttle to the airport and checked in and then headed to the airport lounge to get some breakfast. Breakfast is perhaps the most different mask around the world and the choices available encompassed things as varied as bacon, chicken sausages and corned beef sandwiches to salad and fresh fruit.

Our flight was delayed by about an hour but we boarded and took abstracts of a pre flight juice… More airmiles coming in handy to book this leg! 

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There was even a fresh flower in the seating area! Completely over the top really, but nice none the less!

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city at about 11am to be greated by 33°C temperatures and went swiftly through immigration and met our transfer taxi.

After a quick check in to the hotel and a charge to something more suitable for the climate, we headed out to have a wander. We went into the Ben Thanh market, a huge covered with sellers offering a vast array of items.

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After this we headed to the Dong Khoi area, which was bustling with shops, bars and hotels. Ho Chi Minh city definitely seems to be a developing place and there were lots of high end shops selling expensive western brands.

We headed to the riverside and saw the old colonial hotel, the Majestic, before retracing our steps to have a drink in the rooftop bar at the Rex hotel… One which many journalists used during the Vietnam war.

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Finally, we returned to an area near our hotel which had many ‘backpackery’ type bars and restaurants for a couple of beers at happy hour before heading back to our hotel for a freshen up and to have our induction meeting at 6pm!

So, our tour has nine members, our tour leader is Phuong (Fung), and 7 others plus us… Four Australians, one German, and two from somewhere that we haven’t yet determined. We had our tour briefing and then went to a restaurant for a meal. I had the pork and fish caremalised dish cooked in a clay pot.

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After eating some of the group returned to the hotel and others went for a wander. We had a quick nightcap at another rooftop bar (above!), before heading back for an earlyish night….6am alarm tomorrow for the trip to the tunnels! 

Day 1 – Friday 25th December – Christmas Day – Staunton to Hong Kong

Uneventful journey to the airport and a quick check in meant that we had a couple of hours to kill in the lounge.

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We made our way to the gate and boarded the plane and were glad to be leaving a very wet Britain!

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I could definitely get used to flying club class! A drink before we had even taken off and loads of room!

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Not much else to say really about day one… After a full meal, it was time to watch a film and then get some sleep!

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Day 2 – Saturday 26th December – Hong Kong

After some sleep, woke up to another huge meal, breakfast this time!  Our flight landed on time at 2pm local time,  and once we collected our bags, we caught the shuttle bus the short distance to our hotel, the Sky City Marriott.

We had a quick freshen up and then headed into Hong Kong for sightseeing. We caught the train to Kowloon and almost fell at the first hurdle… The train station opened out into a huge shopping centre and we spent the best part of half an hour trying to find an exit!  Once we did, we wandered through some of the narrow streets with lots of street markets on!

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Next we headed to the harbourside and took some photos across the bay of central Hong Kong.

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We caught the Star ferry across the harbour and wandered around before getting a beer and some food in a small cafe which was mainly full of locals.  The food was excellent, but I think that my choice of dumplings with noodles was a bit ambitious when trying to use chopsticks.

We retraced our steps and ended up back at the hotel for a nightcap.

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Early start tomorrow to catch our flight to Ho Chi Minh city!