Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How To Cross A Street in Saigon

1. Observe traffic flow. Remember they drive of the left hand side.
2. Don't panic.
3. Look left. AND right.
4. Don't panic.
5. Step out and walk at a steady pace confidently.
6. Don't panic.
7. Keep an eye on incoming traffic (maybe from a few other directions).
8. Don't trust the pedestrian light.
9. Don't stop in the middle of the road, ever!
10. Walk on, walk on steadily till you reach the other side of the street.

Or if you're lucky you'll come across a calm lull like this :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Viva Vietnam : Da Nang and Hoi An

After coming back from Cu Chi I went back to collect my backpack from the hostel to rush to the airport. Grabbed a quick bite of fresh spring rolls at Cho Ben Thanh and skipped over to the bus station to catch No. 152 to the airport.

Express lunch - three rolls of goi cuon.

Then after I reached the airport and checked in at the domestic terminal, my fever came back. Haih. And the terminal had a weird smell I could not identify. So I took my meds and spent the time at the departure lounge napping till it was time to board. No pics taken at all from airport to Da Nang; my head was just so heavy. Oh and yeay the flight was delayed. Duh.

Reached Da Nang at about 8 pm-ish, exited the terminal and found the cab to town. I knew there were no more buses at this hour so I asked the driver to take me to this street (he didn't speak English but seemed to understand me) but when we reached there I couldn't locate the place. The info must be outdated, so I thought oh no I have to find another place then. Luckily I noticed in the next street there were a few other hotels. And one was spanking brand new as it still had congratulatory flowers upfront. I asked the driver to stop and he spoke to the security boy. I insisted, 'do you speak English? Please find me someone who speaks English, I will stay in your hotel if you speak English.' Haha. Ya, it was frustrating. The security boy went back in and brought back his manager who spoke reasonable English and offered me to stay in his brand new hotel for USD15 with breakfast. Okay, I told him I accepted and he needs to help me find the bus to Hoi An the next day. The room was very comfortable and new, and had satellite TV which showed LFCTV!

Where I stayed in Da Nang for 2 nights. Almost all the mid-range hotels have a townhouse-like design.

I quickly checked in, freshened up, looked for something to eat (so difficult!) and I ended up eating street pho. Avoided the meats and just had the soup.

Da Nang is a big city, the biggest in Central Vietnam apparently. And the lighted riverfront is so beautiful at night. Many locals spent time just sitting around the park and at a distance the bridge with blue and green (I didn't know its name then, it's the Song Han bridge) looks so nice!

Then I took my meds again and slept slept slept.

Woke up, felt much better, had breakfast and met with the manager to help me get to Hoi An. At first I wanted to spend a night in Hoi An but decided against it, in case my fever gets worse I wouldn't know where to go. The bus option is much cheaper but slower and at intervals, so I decided to hire a moto-driver to send me there.

Early morning coffee.

When in Vietnam, do as they do and wear this. It is so dusty. Too bad the helmet wasn't full- face. If I had goggles I'd wear them too.

The highway is so wide and straight. Along the way more and more areas are under development, including one huge area that looked like a sports complex, or an upscale residential area/resort. Da Nang is much much much bigger than I expected.

Marble Mountain. The driver pointed to this and sort of 'asked' me if I wanted to visit it. No I didn't want to stop here cos there's not much to see actually. (On the way back later we saw a pagoda and some statues and such)

We arrived in Hoi An about 45 minutes later. And, oh what a quaint little town! That was my first impression. Old town and charming charming charming.

Welcome to the ancient town of Hoi An! It says.

Most of the old single storey buildings were painted yellow. Some are converted into shops while others are still used as residences.

UNESCO's World Heritage Site certification for Hoi An, in 1999.

Street signs.

One of the streets.

Street vendor.

One of alleys off the main street.

It's just perfect for strolling around and stopping by at the shops and vendors. A tiny little bit like Jonker Walk I thought.

Even this caught my eye, they sure do know how to display stuff.

A well at the back of the houses - no longer in use I think by the looks of it.

These lanterns are handmade here.

Lantern lady - I love the colours.

Lantern-girl. But the smell of glue was very strong I wonder how she could stand it.

Hordes of French tourists, led by local tour guides. All I could hear was French, which was nice. There were some Japanese too.

The Japanese Covered Bridge.

The temple inside the Japanese Bridge.

One of the museums which has artefacts from centuries ago.

Another attraction in a small courtyard.

Temples were aplenty.

One of the bridges spanning the small river.

You can get a boat ride here. I didn't enquire.

Entrance to the Old Mansions - old Chinese family houses.

On the first floor of the mansion.

This 'shop' selling handcarved stamps is less than three feet wide.

Cute huh? The ATM at Vietinbank.

Bo Bo Cafe, across from the ATM/bank, where I had lunch; the owner spoke good English thankfully.

Lunch consisted of Cao Lao (local Hoi An noodle dish) and avocado juice.

Quick, quick, quick!

Shoe shop - where you can get handmade leather shoes. Very tempting.

This uncle was stitching leather shoes outside his shop.

Hoi An is a town of tailors - there's so many shops! I read that many tourists come here to get their clothes tailored at a fraction of the price they get back home. Well of course for me it's still expensive.

Each shop displays their clothes at the entrance like this.

Pretty dresses.

I love these, but of course we can't wear them in Malaysia, right?

This would brighten any winter day. Sunny yellow wool trenchcoat.

This was what I wanted most. But first quote was USD40! She said it's made of cashmere something something. Cheaper materials are available for USD30. Still expensive I thought.

Way out of my budget, so I can only dream of having a boyfriend blazer.

Tee targetted at tourists for sure.

Hoi An is a photographer's paradise. Yes, this is one of those times I wish I had a fancy camera (and the skills) to capture the vivid images and do justice to the town's scenery.

After a very leisurely lunch (and a chance to get out of the scorching midday sun) I decided to venture a little bit more and ended up in a street where there had spas. :) I decided to treat myself and took a package that included a facial, body massage, scrub, wrap, basic manicure and pedicure. Spent almost three relaxing hours in the shop and emerged hungry! Why is that?

Luckily I was served complimentary tea (again) and a Hoi An specialty called White Roses, a type of dumpling with a spicy sour dip. Nice nice nice.

Then as it was late in the afternoon I decided to call it a day and headed for the bus station. On the way, I decided to have some coffee and stopped by this shop at the corner of the main road. Sat there facing out like the rest of the Vietnamese, watching the world go by. Did they inherit this culture from the French too?

Iced Vietnamese coffee, with tea I think to wash the palate afterwards. To be truthful I don't really fancy the taste of the coffee, it's too caramelly for me.

Altogether it was a grand day out in Hoi An, by late afternoon I left via the local bus (after getting lost trying to locate the bus station because I was too busy daydreaming or maybe it was the coffee? I took the wrong turn haha), paying the tourist fare of 40,000 VND compared to local fare of 7,000 VND. Yes I think I was ripped off but I was too tired to bargain or argue. I found out later from other tourists that they were charged between 30,000 VND up to 70,000 VND for the same bus trip!

Oh and I learnt my most important Vietnamese phrase : 'xe buyt' = bus. Yes this is very very very important if you intend to take local buses :)

So I was back in Da Nang after just over an hour and took the chance to take some pictures at the riverfront park.

The grand Song Han bridge, that spans the Han River, from a distance.

Align Center
The riverfront park. A lot of sculptures.

The Laughing Buddha.

Yours truly, between two Vietnamese lasses. I think :P Excuse the pose. I was tired. The uncle whom I asked to help take my picture (didn't speak English) had to try a few times. Maybe my camera wasn't that user friendly. I had to demo it to him.

The Song Han bridge at night. I was tempted to take a cab to go across to the other side.

As this was my last night in Da Nang, I decided to have dinner at this fancy looking outlet/bar which played wonderful jazz music. No more street phos.

But the dinner menu was very simple. Actually it's a snack menu. Fried noodles and fried spring rolls with ginger tea. Nice.

I was glad I decided to stay in Da Nang as it would make it easier for me to go to Hue the next day. Again, the magic words are important : xe buyt!