Vietnam Laos border queue

Crossing Vietnam - Laos borders overland

Land border crossing is tedious and difficult, but quite a common thing for long-term travelers to do. Airplanes can ease and shorten the entire process, but the money we save from not buying plane tickets makes up for the time spent inside of a bus.

However, previous experiences like the one we had in Poipet, made the subsequent land border crossings stressful. This time was no different.

 

Land borders Vietnam > Laos

There are 6 different land border checkpoints from Vietnam to Laos: Ngoc Hoi, Lao Bao, Cau Treo, Nam Khan, Nam Xoi, Tay Trang.
However, bus and tourism agencies tend to use only the following 4: Lao Bao, Tay Trang, Nam Khan and Cau Treo.

 

 

We crossed the Tay Trang border because we were heading to Luang Prabang.

While still in Sapa, we decided to split the 18-hour bus trip to Laos in two parts. First chunk: going to the Vietnamese border city of Dien Bien Phu and spend the night. The next day: Dien Bien Phu to Luang Prabang, Laos.

 

From Sapa to Dien Bien Phu

We bought our tickets for the morning bus to Dien Bien Phu at the bakery Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa for €11,40.

 

 

The 8-hour trip was rough on everyone. Let’s just say that keeping down the banh mi we ate for breakfast was a struggle, as people kept opening the windows to vomit. And let’s not forget the spitting…

 

Titanic-spitting-gif

It was like watching this scene from Titanic for 8 hours.

 

We arrived at Dien Bien Phu bus station late in the afternoon and quickly bought tickets for the next day trip: € 20,15 each.

 


Mário and Avinash (a friend we met on the bus) at Dien Bien Phu bus station.

Border accommodation

We spent the night at the cheapest and decent hotel we found in the area (Huyen Anh Hotel).
Due to our level of exhaustion, we hardly explored the city, dragging ourselves through a few streets in search for a supermarket to buy provisions for the next day bus trip.
For dinner, we ate at the hotel restaurant. Great portions, really cheap and surprisingly good!

 

 

Goodbye Vietnam

At 7:30 a.m. on the next day, we set out for Laos in a mini-bus with no leg space for tall guys like us. Two hours later we arrived at the Vietnamese border building, grabbed our backpacks, and headed inside.

The queue was long and barely moving as only one guard was doing the checks outs. A rumor spread that he was asking for “farewell donations” from tourists in front of the queue—didn’t happen to us.

After an exit stamp on the passports and a short mini-bus ride in no one’s land, we reached the Laos border checkpoint: a long white building with a row of window openings at a weird height.

 

Vietnam Laos border queue

 

A guard behind the first window gave us some papers to fill with our personal information, and standardized questions like ‘Why are you visiting Laos?’, ‘Where are you staying?’. Minutes later we handed him the completed papers, our passports and the €32,5 for the visa fee.

From the fourth window, another guard called our names and asked us for a dollar.

– What for? We just paid for the visa back there.
– It’s a processing fee, sir.

Reluctantly we paid, but as we reached for the passport, he told us to wait. Another guard called us from the 2nd window and we were asked to pay 2 more dollars.

– Why?…
– Because today is Saturday. Weekend fee.

A group of Canadians also crossing the border were called from the third window, charged an additional bullshit fee and coerced to take new photos for the visa, as the ones they brought wouldn’t do—this service was 5 dollars.
Oh, there was also a fee for sanitary control and infections: a further $1.
Fuck the police, borders are dumb.

 

Laos Visa on Arrival

Remember to check Laos document requirements regarding the entry of international tourists in advance. As far as we know, tourists from all nationalities can get a visa on arrival to Laos from Vietnam—provided they have a legal passport (duh!), a visa-size photo and the money for the processing fees listed below (2017):

Affghanistan: $40
America: $35
Austria: $35
Bangladesh: $40
Belgium: $35
Canada: $42
China: $20
Denmark: $35
England: $35
Finland: $35
Greece: $35
India: $40
Italy: $35

Ireland: $35
Nepal: $40
Norway: $35
Nederlands: $35
Pakistan: $40
Portugal: $35
Sri Lanka: $40
Spain: $35
Switzerland: $35
Sweden: $31
Turkey: $35
Vietnam: $20

Keep in mind that the same doesn’t apply the other way round. To enter Vietnam from Laos, you’ll need a Visa in advance.

 

Sabaidee Laos!

Everyone got back into the mini-bus fuming. The following 10-hour drive helped us forget what happened at the border and accept what we cannot change—hakuna matata.
What matters is that we’re here and ready to explore Laos!

 

Laos '12

 

Border crossing expenses

Bus ticket Sapa >DienBienPhu: €11,40
Bus ticket DienBienPhu > Luang Prabang: €20,15
Accommodation on the Huyen Anh Hotel: €3.96
Laos Visa: €32,5
Extra fees: who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

To prepare yourself for the border crossings to come, read the post 9 Tips & tricks for a smooth border crossing. It’ll help!

If you have any questions or some extra info on the Vietnam-Laos borders, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you for stopping by!

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Hmong women at the Bac Ha market

Exploring Sapa: a one week travel itinerary

In the high mountains of northern Vietnam—not far from the Chinese border—lies the alluring Sapa region: well-known for its mountainscape, temperate climate and for being home to several Vietnamese ethnic minorities.

 

View of Sapa Vietnam

 

Sapa Weather

We arrived at our hostel feeling a bit antsy from the bus trip. It was too early for bedtime and too late to go out so we went up to the porch, joining a group of other guests eating and playing card games. Suddenly in the distance, a loud thunder rumbled, and in less than 5 minutes a storm was above us. The lightning, heavy rain, and strong winds blew the plates from the tables and the cards from people hands, scaring us all to the dorms.

The storms were consistent during the 6 days we stayed in Sapa, greeting us every late afternoon or early evening, and lasting for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. If you’re visiting Sapa between May and September, pack a raincoat.

Just to be sure, check Sapa’s rain forecast here.

 

Transportation

Our trip from Hanoi to Sapa was on a Queen Bus company bus, it took around 6 hours and cost €9,45. The same trip can take up to 8 hours if done during the night.
Check other ways to get to Sapa here.

All buses stop at the New Sapa Bus Station: about a 10-minute walk from the city center.

 

Hill-tribe people and Sapa’s daily life

When the bus stopped a large entourage awaited us, only this time the taxi drivers were outnumbered by women dressed in embroidered indigo blue dresses. Right away, these Hmong women started offering themselves as guides for a mountain trek—one of the popular activities to do in Sapa.
You can read all about the Sapa trekking experience here.

Four of them followed us to the city center where more women joined in to sell us handicrafts: “Sir, buy something from me!”. They mobbed us, insisting on buying something or schedule a mountain trek.
Not being ready to commit there and then on a trekking day, 3 different women gave us their phone number on a piece of paper, making us promise we’d call them when we decided to do it: “Pinky promise?”

 

Sapa_Vietnam

 

The central square was packed with hill-tribe women that came from villages around Sapa and covered the sidewalks with scarves, bracelets, and knick-knacks that they planned to sell to tourists. They’ve been doing this for a long time and tend to be quite sassy at it:
When you say you don’t have any money, they’ll point to the ATM.
If you don’t want to buy anything they’ll say “Buy for your mother…”
If they see a tourist buying from the competition, they’ll flock over to him and try to sell one more.

 

Sapa: market

 

But even though this constant haggle is annoying, it’s important to understand that Hmong and Dao women are the main earners in their families and depend solely on the money they earn from tourists. Yes, their selling tactics are a bit aggressive, but it’s not an easy life when everybody else sells the same that you do.

 

Sapa, Vietnam

 

What to do around Sapa

Ham Rong Mountain

Entrance fee: €2.80
Other than the odd Disney and Scooby doo statue scattered throughout, the entire hill is beautifully gardened, and the more you go up the better the view gets.

 

View of a garden in Ham Rong hill in Sapa Vietnam

4 women in traditional costumes

 

In the center of the park is a venue where you can watch a traditional dance show, however, none of the dancers seemed particularly excited to be there. The show time table will be printed on the entrance tickets.

At the top—1800m high to be exact—is Sânmây or the cloud yard, where you’ll have a 360º view of the mountains that surround Sapa.

 

Sapa moutains view

 

Sapa Culture Museum

Free entrance.
It’s a two storey building right in the city center, showcasing the history of the town and the hill-tribes living around Sapa.
It’s a tiny museum desperately needing upkeep with a souvenir shop downstairs.

 

Sapa Market

It’s a small local market near the new Sapa Bus Station similar to any other Vietnamese markets selling fresh produce.

 

Sapa foggy market par HudrY

 

If you tend to get lightheaded at the sight of freshly-killed dogs and horse body parts, avoid the meat section. You’re welcome.
Some stuff just can’t be unseen.

 

Mountain Trek

The most popular activity in Sapa and we wrote all about it here: Easy guide to Sapa mountain trekking.

 

Mario trekking the mountain in Sapa

 

The Bac Ha Markets

Trying to move around as independently as possible (and knowing beforehand that it could be done), we attempted to outline a trip to the Bac Ha markets by public transports. Finding the correct information turned out to be impossible, so we gave in and booked an organized tour. We paid €10.76 each for an 8-hour tour to the Bac Ha markets, a typical village, and the Lao Cai border.

 

Ethnic minorities ladies talking with each other at the Bac Ha markets

 

It took more than 2 hours on a mini-van to get there, arriving almost at noon. By then, the majority of people walking around were tourists, and the few ethnic women that remained were clearly fed up with them and their cameras.
The market was divided into areas of commerce: foods and drinks, textiles, vegetables, meat, and cattle (again, dogs included).

 

Fabrics and clothes section in the Bac Ha markets

Meat market in Bac Ha Vietnam

Water buffaloes at Bac Ha markets

 

Visiting a typical village

Cat-Cat is the most touristy but the nearest to Sapa. Then there’s Ta Van, Lao Chai and Ban Pho for a more serene vibe.
Some of these villages require you to purchase a permit in advance at the Tourist Information Center in town—although if you book a trekking tour here (which we don’t recommend) the permit fee is already covered.

By default, this visit should be a part of your trekking experience, so there’s no need to buy separate permits or tours to do it. The Bac Ha market tour that we mentioned before, included a visit to one of this typical ethnic villages, and it was awful. They round up all of us foreigners and bulldozed us into humble tin houses, walking in line snapping pictures of the people inside as if it was Disneyland. Not cool.

 

Old vietnamese woman near a wood stove

 

It’s best to do it in a less invasive way and accompanied by someone that actually lives in the village—like your trekking guide. See all that a Sapa trekking experience involves here.

 

School's Out in Cat Cat Village

 

The city center

It looked like a construction site with trucks, dust, gravel, and bricks scattered all over. Hotels, shops, and cafes abound, and you’ll be approached constantly and incessantly by every vendor possible, including children.

 

IMG_7950

Sapa Square

 

Tips for finding Accommodation

We arrived on a Thursday with a one-night reservation at the Go Sapa Hostel—we always book one night first to see how the place is, and if we like it, we extend our stay.
We got stuck in a tiny dorm room with 4 bunk beds, where everybody threw their backpacks and wet towels on the floor, so by the next morning, we were out of there. Strangely, all affordable hotels were fully booked for the next 2 nights. It was like every backpacker in Vietnam decided to visit Sapa that weekend.
Resigned to no alternatives, we went back to the Go Sapa Hostel to book one more night: “We’re full. No more rooms”.

Long story short: Sapa is a big weekend destination for Vietnamese people. The prices of hotel rooms triples and availability drops dramatically, so book ahead!

Luckily our desperate looking faces got us a “room” at the Sapa Ruby Hotel, where the family altar was and spare furniture was stored. Days later—during the week—we changed to the Sapa Sunflower Hotel: super affordable and with breakfast included.

 

Food

The banh mi was our food of choice here in Sapa. We ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re delicious, cheap and can be found in every other food stall around town—each with their own banh mi variation.

 

Farewell Vietnam!

Sapa was our final stop for 6 days after 1 month of traveling through the length of Vietnam. The calm of the mountains, the fresh air, and the glorious landscapes was the best way to bid farewell to it.

Sapa daily expenses (average for 1 person)

Ham Rong mountain entrance fee: €2,80
Bus ticket Hanoi > Sapa:  €9.45
BacHa Markets Tour: €10.76
Accommodation: €4
Lunch: €1,52
Dinner: €2,75
Water bottle (1,5L): €0,60
Coffee: €1,16

If you have any questions or some extra info to share, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you!

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Trekking in Sapa Vietnam

Easy guide to Sapa mountain trekking

As soon as you set foot on Sapa, you’ll be bombarded on all sides by trekking opportunities. So there’s no need to book a trek in advance because resources abound.

In this guide, we will delve into the whole Sapa trekking tour process:

How to book it
Treks to choose from
Prices
Equipment
Our experience at it

 

Booking a trek in person or by phone

Two months before arriving in Sapa, we were recommended a local guide by a Portuguese backpacker we met in Kampot. So even after a few touts from guides that approached us on the street, we followed the suggestion of our compatriot and called Mama Mae—the local Hmong guide she recommended.

 

Sapa, Vietnam

 

The booking process is simple. You can do it directly with the local guides or by phone since they’ll hand out their numbers when you’re not ready to commit on the spot. Through your hotel, the Sapa tourism office or any tour operator around town.

 

You can choose one of the following options:

• Half day trek
• Full day trek: includes one meal
• 2-day trek with homestay: includes two meals and a few drinks, a bath and a bed for the night (usually at the guide’s family house)
Some tour operators like Buffalo Tours or Sapa Sisters offer up to 5-day trek options

Then you’ll set up the day, time and spot where the trek starts.
The payment is usually done at the end of the trek.

 

Price tables

Booking directly through a local guide will cost a fraction of what you’ll pay to a tour operator. Still, every guide has her own fee and these are some of the offers we got:

Mama Bau: 14€ for one day trek and 28€ for 2 days + homestay.
Mama Susu: 11,50€ for one day and 28€ for the 2 days + homestay.
Mama Mae: 11€ for one full day
Tour operator fees start at 35€ for one day

 

IMG_1127

 

If you’re an experienced hiker you could do the trek on your own, but by hiring an experienced guide you’ll be helping the local communities and learning about them. Besides, no one knows the hillside like they do.

 

Let’s do this!

Nuno and I met Mama Mae at 9 in the morning, near the Gothic church in the city center. The two of us joined a group of four American girls and three other Hmong women that walked alongside us the entire trek.

Mama Mae spoke very good English but the other Hmong women did not. We figured that they must accompany tourists as a way to practice their English, so eventually, they can become guides themselves.

 

Hmong women showing us the way through the Sapa moutains in Vietnam

 

Take plenty of water

It was a beautiful warm and sunny day in opposition to the stormy days before. We were super excited to be out and about exploring nature, and having a genuine taste of the Vietnamese rural life.

 

Rice paddies at Sapa

 

However, two hours in, we realized that 1,5L water bottle wouldn’t last long for two grown men hiking a mountain and descending through muddy rice terraces. Not to mention that Mama Mae got thirsty too, so we ended up sharing our water with her—because we’re gentlemen.

Take plenty of water, you’ll need it. There aren’t any shops in the hills, only in the villages.

 

Mario trekking the mountain in Sapa

 

Soul cleansing views

The scenery was breathtaking—everywhere we looked was like a panoramic screensaver!
Not only Mama Mae took us to the best lookout spots in the mountains, but we also saw water buffaloes, piglets, tea and cannabis plantations. We talked for hours about Vietnam, her family and ours. She was like an open book.

 

Water buffalo and farmer at a Sapa rice paddie

Mama Mae holding cannabis leaves

 

Meanwhile, the other 3 Hmong women kept walking by our side asking time and again:

– Where are you from?

 

Vietnamese Hmong women with Mario and Nuno

 

At noon, we stopped for lunch at a humble restaurant where other hikers were. Mama Mae provided us with a noodle soup and some pieces of fruit, the drinks we paid ourselves. After lunch, we walked a few more hours to her house where the first day of trekking ended. We met the husband and granddaughters as she prepared some tea for us: Lipton, believe it or not.

After tea, she explained to us how she makes indigo blue from the plants and dyes the fabrics.

 

Hmong fabric dye

Indigo dyed fabrics drying in the sun

 

True colors

The other 3 Hmong women that followed us around came with a goal in mind: to sell. To sell as much as possible.
After a subtle sign from Mama Mae, they pulled out all sorts of knick-knacks from their wicker baskets: bracelets, wallets, shawls, and whistles, along with an aggressive selling tactic. They turned into unfazed vending machines that didn’t take “no” for an answer.

 

Back to Sapa on a motorbike

Having finished our full day trek, Mama Mae took us to the center of her village, calling two motorbike taxis to take us back to Sapa: 2.00€ each, paid by ourselves.

The ride back to Sapa alone was amazing. It’s not every day that someone can ride through valleys in Vietnam, with the sun setting behind the mountains and the last sunbeams reflecting on the rice paddies. That’s something we’ll never forget.

 

Mountains, Sapa Vietnam

 

Trekking equipment

Keep it light and simple.
All you’ll need is a comfortable pair of sturdy shoes, light clothing, and a camera. Remember to take plenty of water, snacks, sunblock and you’ll be good to go.

As a side note, Sapa has plenty of shops that both rent and sell trekking gear.

 

Sapa trek guide walking

 

Full day trek expenses

Full day trek: 11€
Motorbike taxi: 2€
Water bottle: 0.60€

If you’re planning a trekking tour on Sapa we still have Mama Mae’s, Mama Bau’s and Mama Susu’s phone numbers and will gladly share them with you. Leave a reply down here or at any of our social media outlets and we’ll send it to you via email or PM.

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Imperial City gate in Hue

Must-see guide to Hue

Hue was made the capital of Vietnam in 1802 during the feudal dynasties that ruled the country. Nowadays, hundreds of historical relic sites remain in the city and are well worth our visit.

It was a very hot and rainy day when we got there, so we spent a big part of it in a cafe by the river waiting for a thunder storm to pass. There was a distinctive earthy scent from the rainfall and the view was stunning: a bridge over Perfume river with the Imperial City as the background.

For a Vietnamese standard, Hue can be considered somewhat of a “calmer city”.
For quite a few times we found ourselves walking and eating alone  ̶  something that never happened around Hanoi, Saigon or Hoi An.

 

Cyclo Tour, Hue, Vietnam

 

We stayed at the Ngoc Binh hotel not far from the Imperial City (approximately a 25 minute walk from the main entrance). Our room had a private bathroom, tv and included breakfast. Also, for one more dollar you could have AC in the room.
If you’re interested, check the hotel here.

 

The Imperial City

The Citadel opening hours are 8:00 to 17:30. For a proper visit, you’ll need at least 4 hours.
The entrance fee was 6.05€ for each of us.
You’ll find two different prices: one for locals and other for foreign tourists. Locals pay less of course. However, it was the first time we saw this price distinction at a Vietnamese monument  ̶  at least in a noticeable way.

20160418_0004.jpg

 

As we slowly walked through the central entrance in the Ngo Mon Gate to shelter ourselves from the rain that showed up that morning, our heads turned towards a young couple speaking in Portuguese.

– Bom dia!

There’s where we met Adriana and Diogo with whom we spent the rest of the visit.

 

DGJ_1186 - Emperor Only

 

The Citadel was made a UNESCO site in 1993, and is going through gradual reconstruction and restoration, as many of the buildings were destroyed by bombings from the war against the French (1947), the Americans (1968) and some typhoons.

Built in the 19th century, the complex was divided into 6 areas:

– Palaces compound,
– The forbidden purple city,
– Temple compounds,
– Residences,
– Internal affairs compound,
– The Royal gardens

 

There are countless walls and gates separating the different areas.

 

20160418_0037.jpg

DGJ_1251 - Last Ornamental Gate....

Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam

 

To see a digital reconstruction of the Imperial City in its prime, check the video:

 

 

We started the visit by the regal and colorful Thai Hoa Palace where major royal receptions and ceremonies were held. Here’s where you’ll find most tourists hanging out, but also a ton of information on the history and architecture of the citadel.
For the real touristy-tourists, you can dress in kitschy imperial clothes, sit on a throne and get your picture taken.

 

20160418_0021.jpg

 

After walking outside for a while, we reached the Royal Theater. The building was reconstructed and now houses cultural performances like opera and royal dances, as well as a permanent exhibition with traditional theater costumes, masks and instruments.

 

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Hue 078

 

Even though we didn’t watch any show at the theater, we were lucky enough to listen to a live performance on the Hall of Mandarins, by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments.

 

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The only way out

By now it was lunchtime and inside the complex, we couldn’t find anything to eat besides snacks. Oddly enough, we were told that if we wanted to eat at a restaurant outside the imperial city, we had to buy a new ticket to get in.
Adriana and Diogo suggested to try our luck with one of the guards at a secondary gate:
He might let us out for lunch and re-enter without having to buy a new ticket…

Reluctantly the guard said yes, but not before snapping a picture of all of us with his phone (just to make sure he wouldn’t confuse us with other western people trying to get in). After all, all of us westerns look the same… 😀

 

20160418_0010.jpg

 

Getting back in

In the afternoon we visited the ruins of the Forbidden Purple City and the Emperor’s Reading room. The Forbidden Purple City is like a citadel within a citadel, where only the Emperor, his family, his concubines, and eunuchs lived.

The entire complex is enormous and well-gardened for the most part. The restored buildings encompassed by ponds, trees, and singing birds create a calm environment where you can walk calmly for hours  ̶  and forget the intense fighting that happened there just a few decades ago.

 

20160418_0036.jpg

First courtyard - Van Mieu gate - Temple of Literature (Van Mieu)

Hue Imperial City

 

Ceramic and glass dragons are a constant decorative element throughout the architecture, as they are symbols of the monarchy.

 

A guard demon, Hue Citadel gates

 

The temple complex of To Mieu and the 9 dynastic urns, a tribute and worshiping place to the emperors of past dynasties:

 

20160418_0081.jpg

A set of incense burners- you can imagine the scale and grandeur in the citadel's heydays

 

It’s funny how in almost every Southeast Asian country you might leave your shoes behind at the entrance of an empty monument, but when you get out, you find this:

 

20160418_0080.jpg

 

Portuguese synchronism

At the end of the visit, we had to say goodbye to our Portuguese friends Adriana and Diogo.
Coincidently, on our way back to the hotel, we got in a tiny French bakery for an afternoon snack and met a Portuguese girl named Ana. The conversation flowed for hours. Living in Hue for a year and a half, she’d never met other Portuguese people in the city.

 

Moving on

With so much of Vietnam still to see and our Visa expiration date getting closer, we had to move on from Hue to our next destination: Hanoi.
As a former capital of Vietnam, Hue has much more to offer besides the Imperial City. If you can hang around for a bit more time, these are the other places worth your visit:

– A bicycle ride through the countryside
– Tu Duc Tomb (Entrance fee 3.30€ / closed for lunch: 11:30 to 13:30)
– Hue Temple of Literature
– Thien Mu Pagoda (free entrance)
– The tomb of King Minh Mang (Entrance fee 3.30€)
– The tomb of King Khai Dinh (Entrance fee 3,30€)
– Dong Ba Market (Messy and authentic, with great street food. Be prepared to bargain!)
– Hue Festival of Culture and Arts (Held every 2 years, the next one will be in 2018)

 

Hue daily expenses (average for 1 person)

Imperial City entrance ticket: 6,05€
Coffee: 0.62€
1.5L Water bottle: 0.30€
Lunch: 2.28€
Dinner: 3.05€
Accommodation: 4,02€
Bus Hoi An > Hue: 3,91€

If you have any questions or some extra info to share, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you!

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Girls selling papper lanterns in Hoi An

Hoi An in a weekend

We arrived in Hoi An at dawn to a city still half-asleep.
In the half hour walk to our accommodation, we saw many paper lanterns hanging from tree tops and cables: “we’re definitely in Hoi An”.

 

20160414_0023.jpg

 

When we got there the doors were still closed, so we decided to sit and wait by a water stream nearby. Our backpacks probably caught the attention of a random lady who approached us asking if we needed a place to sleep. We politely declined the offer saying we already had a reservation, so she left for a few moments just to come back on a scooter to make the same offer  ̶  that we declined once more. Maybe she thought we wouldn’t recognize her with a helmet on.

Minutes later she started waving at us from her house, to let us know that her house was right there, on the other side of the stream.

Feeling awkward, we left and went for a coffee.

 

Hoi An Historic Center / Old Town / Ancient Town

We rented two bicycles from our accommodation to visit Hoi An old town. In 10 minutes we arrived at the entrance, left the bikes away from the bike park assistants and headed to Chua Phap Bao Pagoda.

 

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Hoi An was a far Eastern trading-port from the 15th to the 19th century. The town is a complex of narrow pedestrian streets colored by bright yellow houses, temples and paper lanterns. Being the UNESCO World Heritage Site that it is, the streets are overflowing with tourists and unfortunately, a big part of these traditional buildings were transformed into souvenirs shops.

 

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Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam

 

The original street plans and townscape remained intact, but you’ll find many houses serving as coffee shops, tailors, photography shops, knick-knacks shops and restaurants.

 

Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam

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Restaurants here can get a bit pricey, but you’ll find some food stalls away from the main streets. We ate a very decent bowl of cau lao: noodles on some sort of herbal broth with dough fritters and roast pork on the top, at a fraction of the price of the fancy restaurants nearby.

 

Entrance fee

To visit the historic center of Hoi An you’ll have to buy a ticket at the Tourist Information Center: we paid 4.74€ each.

The ticket comes with a map of the area highlighting some temples and houses, allowing you to enter 5 different attractions within the historical center in 24 hours. After the first 5, you’ll have to pay for every individual place you decide to visit next. In total there are 22 points of interest listed.
We managed to visit more than 5 without paying any extras, so you might get lucky as well.

It’s a bit hard to define the opening hours of all the places, but we can say that most of them close around 5.30PM, and some close for lunch.

 

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The first one we visited was: Quan Thang. You can skip this one, it’s not worth wasting an entrance because all you’re allowed to see is a dark hall.
Actually we couldn’t believe that was all, so we kept walking through the lobby until we entered the kitchen at the farthest end on the house. We only realized that wasn’t part of the visit when we were invited out and the door slammed behind us. Rude! 😀

We continued to stroll the streets and visited the beautiful Cantonese Assembly.

 

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Afterwards, we went to the Tran Family Chapel and the Tan Ky House (over 200 years old), both with a small guided tour explaining the history and architecture of the houses, concluding on a room turned in to a gift shop.

All these traditional timber-frame houses have a mix of Indigenous, Chinese, Japanese and French influences, and have been passed on to family descendants.

 

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We zigzagged through tourist crossing the famous 18th century Japanese Covered Bridge, it was a bit crowded to say the least. If you just want to cross it, you won’t need to show your ticket unless you want to visit the adjacent pagoda.

 

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Recommendations

– Museum of Trade Ceramics
– Museum of Folk Culture
– Museum of Sa Huynh Culture
– Quan Thang
– Duc An House
– Full Moon Lantern Festival: there are 13 festivals in 2017, check the calendar here.

 

The Market

In the late afternoon, we walked towards the local market. While checking some fruits, Mario was approached by a sweet talking girl, that allied to his inability to say “no”, managed to drag him to a tailoring stall to sell him a suit. It took him 20 minutes to get out of there, mainly because she didn’t take “no” for an answer and had a solution for every excuse possible  ̶  including international shipping.

It reminded us of pushy Bangkok tailors, shamelessly touting to every tourist passing by.

 

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Thu Bon River at night

The historic center is divided by the Thu Bon River. Here, locals in their small wooden boats, invite you in as soon as you approach the promenade.

 

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At night time the river gets lit up by floating paper lanterns sold by young girls all around the riverbank. In the streets hundreds of lanterns create a magical atmosphere, inviting everyone for a night stroll.
You must walk around Hoi An old town at night, there’s plenty to do and to see.

 

RTW2009-1798HoiAn

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Cua Dai Beach

On the morning of our second day, instead of pedaling towards the historic center, we headed towards the ocean. In the middle of the bike ride that took around 50 minutes, we stopped at a cafe and ended up talking with the owner.

 

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The conversation flowed and eventually, we reached the topic of global warming and the rise of sea levels. The owner of the cafe  ̶  a very sweet Vietnamese lady who had never traveled abroad  ̶  talked about her childhood on Cua Dai beach that is now partially destroyed. She was a bit surprised to hear that this is a global problem when we told her that the same is happening on the Portuguese coast.

Later on, when we arrived at Cua Dai beach, a big portion of the shore was made of sandbags stacked together to contain the sea.

 

Cua Dai beach (Hoi An, Vietnam 2016)

Cua Dai beach (Hoi An, Vietnam 2016)

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We spent two days in Hoi An which were enough to feel the area and visit the picturesque historical center. Despite the many tourists, Hoi An managed to convey a really intimate and magical atmosphere.

 

Expenses

Things tend to be a bit more expensive around here: accommodation, bike rental, and food. Luckily we booked a room with a fridge and ate tons of fruit from the local market (best watermelon ever).

Hoi An Tourist Ticket: 4,74€
1,5L Water bottle: 0,16€
Lunch: 1,55€
Dinner: 3,7€
Accommodation : 5,40€
Coffee: 0,35€
Bus ticket NhaTrang > Hoi An: 7,89€

If you have any questions or some extra info to share, please leave it in the comments below! Thanks for stopping by.

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Things to do in Dalat

Dalat: what to do and what to eat

We left Mui Ne on a small bus and headed to Dalat, a city in the Highlands region of Vietnam. Lying on the hills and surrounding Ho Xuan Hurong Lake, its climate differs from the otherwise tropical climate of Vietnam—the lower temperatures and humidity gave it the name of the “City of Eternal Spring” or how the French used to call it “Petit Paris”.

 

Getting to Dalat

If going uphill in an old car may be difficult, it’s harder when you do it on an overheated-prehistoric minibus with no leg space. The minibus had air conditioning, it just had to be turned off during 95% of the ride, otherwise, the bus wouldn’t go up.

The trip took around 4 hours through twisting roads and cars overtaking us like in an action movie. On the bright side, the landscape grew greener as pine trees started covering the hills. Up there, coffee plantations and strawberries greenhouses substituted the dragon fruit plains of the lowlands.

 

View of greenhouses of Dalat

 

The bus stopped at the door of the Au Phu travel agency in the city center. Apparently, all tourist buses stop here, so as usual, taxi and bike drivers awaited.

 

DA LAT MARKET VIETNAM JAN 2012

 

What to do in Dalat

On our 3-day stay in Dalat we rented two mountain bikes at Groovy Gecko Adventure for €3.30 each, for half a day. It was the best deal we found in the city and the bikes were pretty good.

 

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

The first day we pedal for 40 minutes to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda—a complex of temples different from what we had seen so far. The decoration was of Chinese inspiration, more figurative, detailed and adorned with pieces of colored tiles.

 

Linh Phuoc Pagoda exterior

 

There are towers to climb, giant statues of gods and goddesses, wax monk figures and winding glaze dragons to see. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed inside the main hall because we were in shorts, so take that into consideration before you go.

 

Giant buddha at Linh Phuoc Pagoda Vietnam

Dalat Linh Phuoc Pagoda

 

You can grab something to eat at the restaurant inside the complex for little money. They sell dumpling soup, soda, fruit and ice cream.

 

Thap Cham Railway

On our way back to Dalat we stopped by the Crémaillère Railway Station, an art-deco building from the 30’s that these days only operates a 7 km trip, connecting Dalat to the village of Trại Mát.

Later on, we biked to the Xuan Huong Lake in the city center and rested our legs in the grass while watching the sunset.

 

Da Lat Railway Station

DA LAT GA VIETNAM JAN 2012

 

Visiting the city center

As the night begun to set, the central square transformed into a proper Asian night market. The streets came alive with hundreds of people captivated by neon lights from restaurants and street food stalls, and by the perfect piles of fruits, cheap clothes, and knick-knacks.

 

Dalat's night market

Da Lat

Crazy House

The next day we visited the Hang Nga or ‘Crazy House’, the bizarre private home of an imaginative architect that is now a hotel and a tourist attraction.

 

Corridor Inside The Crazy House (Hang Nga guesthouse)

 

The house keeps augmenting to follow the plans of its creator, financed by the revenue generated by tickets sales: €1.64 for one person.

 

Crazy House Main Building

 

Bao Dai Summer Palace

Further up the mountain in the middle of a pine tree forest is the Bao Dai Summer Palace, one of the residences of the last king of feudal Vietnam.

The entrance fee was €0.62 (plus an additional fee if you want to take photos), and it grants you access to the 52 rooms of the palace.

 

Bao Dai Summer Palace

Bao Dai Palace in Dalat

 

It was fascinating to see the home of the royal family, their objects, and portraits on the walls. The visit ended in the downstairs kitchen and through a gift shop full of generic souvenirs.

 

Truc Lam Pagoda

We kept pedaling to the Truc Lam Pagoda, a delightful Buddhist monastery amid pine trees and gardens in pristine conditions. The pagoda is maintained by monks and nuns that reside there.
We spent a good hour staring at the lake and the surrounding mountains. There was a scent of incense in the air and big metal wind chimes ringing with the breeze. You can’t get more ZEN than this, it was beautiful!

 

The Truc Lam pagoda

 

Thien Vien Van Hanh

On the third day, we only had the chance to visit the Thien Vien Van Hanh pagoda in the morning.

The rest of the day was spent at a cafe drinking hot tea while it rained like crazy. It was a big tropical storm that lasted all afternoon and flooded our hotel room.

 

Xuan Huong Lake in Dalat

 

What to eat in Dalat

Here in Dalat, we ate several things for the first time.
Like this flat pizza/crepe hybrid, with egg, sausage, and chives sold in the central square at night.

 

Street food at Dalat night market

 

BòNé

It was late at night and we couldn’t find a place to eat that looked “trustworthy”. Eventually, we passed by a restaurant with people cooking at the forefront: sausages, fried eggs, coriander and sizzling meat. Table for two, please!

 

Bò Né 3 ngon Dalat

 

The restaurant Bò Né 3 Ngon was dripping oil from the walls and the floor was a slippery slide. Not one word on the menu was written in English and no one from the staff spoke it. When we asked them a question, they pointed to the menu on the wall (same menu we had on our hands but with bigger letters). We shrugged and ordered a “Number 2” because the restaurant smelled delicious and we like surprises.

 

 

Bakeries

Nuno and I are big bread lovers and luckily, Dalat has several bakeries, most of them doubling up as restaurants. They have a huge selection of bread and other baked goods, all super affordable.

 

Fried cakes and milk

One night walking around secondary streets, we noticed some locals gathering near a food stall, sitting on the characteristic tiny Vietnamese chairs.

 

A random weekday night in Da Lat

 

It smelled sweet so we curiously approached the stall. Behind it, a Vietnamese lady was selling assorted fried dough cakes and different kinds of warm milk. You can pick 3 or 4 cakes and one glass of milk, sit down on the tiny plastic chairs and eat.
And so we did!

 

Fried cakes street vendor

 

If you’re visiting Vietnam and need to freshen up from the heat of the lowlands, climb the mountain and check this friendly city.

 

Dalat travel expenses (Daily average for 1 person)

Bus Mui Ne/ Da Lat: 4,43€
Breakfast: 0,87€
Lunch: 1.05€
Dinner: 2,43€
Water bottle: 0,20€
Coffee: 0,53€
Hotel: 3€
Crazy house Ticket: 1,58€
Bao Dai Summer Palace: 0,59€
Bikes: 3,30€

If you have any questions or some extra info everybody can benefit from, please leave it in the comments below! 

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Mui Ne sunset

Mui Ne and the Police

After more than 5 hours on a bus, we arrived in Mui Ne at dinner time. The bus company we traveled on (Futa), conveniently dropped everybody at their accommodations—don’t know if it’s company policy or because all hotels are on that main road.

It was weird to travel on a sleeping bus during the day, luckily the WiFi worked just fine.
As soon as we got our room at the 247 a/c Guesthouse we dropped the backpack on the floor and headed out to hunt for some dinner. Starving and not being fans of seafood, we wanted some alternatives and we wanted them fast!

 

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As we walked along Mui Ne’s main road a nice Vietnamese lady selling kitesurf packages and boat excursions invited us to see her menu. We were hungry and the photos on the menu looked good, so we said ‘yes’.
We learned something that night:

Travel agencies are not restaurants.

Two days later we found an open-air food court named Dong Vui Square. A really cool place with a great selection of foods: from noodles to paella.

 

Mui Ne Beach

The next morning, after a bowl of fruit and muesli—which reminded us of our breakfasts in Ayutthaya—we went off to the beach. Or tried to at least.

From the terrace where we had breakfast, we could see the water peeking from between the houses. Even though it was right there in front of us, reaching it was a pain in the ass. Here’s why: along that main road we mentioned before, all sorts of buildings and private properties form a barrier between people and the beach.
To reach it we had to trespass private property, and like Bonnie & Clyde, we did. Later that day we found a “legal” crossing near the local market.

Mui Ne is a fishing village and the small round boats that look like plastic kiddie pools anchored in the open sea proves it.

 

Mui Ne beach

Mui Ne Fishing Village

 

The coastal strip of sand stretches for several kilometers and is lined with tall coconut trees. The water is blue and the sun shines all year round. The beach has the potential to be in any travel catalog if it wasn’t for all the garbage scattered everywhere. So after a chat in the sand, we left.

 

Fishing village, Mui Ne, Vietnam

Palm trees at Mui Ne Beach

 

To explore more of Mui Ne, we rented a scooter.
The more west we got, the cleaner the beaches and the ocean.

 

Mario swimming

 

Learning to ride bikes in Kampot and understanding the convenience of driving, gave us the audacity to think that ‘from now on scooters are the way to go‘. So we rented one directly from our guesthouse for 80,000 Dongs (€ 3,20) for a whole day.

We rode to the actual fishing village of Mui Ne that appeared to have more boats than people. Unfortunately, besides a beautiful view from the high points, there’s not much to do around here. We stopped for lunch and took some photos.

 

Boats in the see

 

Running on the floor of the restaurant was a big rat looking for food, completely unfazed by humans—we named it Bertha.
Bertha looked strong and healthy, so the food had to be good.

 

Problems with the po po

After lunch, we hopped on the bike and headed towards the White Sand Dunes of Mui Ne. Halfway through, two police officers pulled us over.

 

 

A very friendly officer holding a booklet approached us and asked for our international driver’s license, which we didn’t have. However, we anxiously flaunted our regular Portuguese ones, but by now, we knew we were in trouble.

He looked at us, frowned condescendingly and flipped through the booklet showing us a bunch of gore illustrative images of what can happen to tourists driving without an international drivers license. His portfolio included:

– Amputee tourist
– Tourist blood
– Reckless tourist speeding
– Tourist in wheelchair
– Drunk tourist getting drunker planning to drive afterward
– A WordArt clock representing the short life of tourists that drive outside their country

Finally, he pointed to the page where the traffic fines were. According to him, it said we had to pay 1,200,000 Dongs or he would have to arrest us.
We didn’t have that amount of money, so he flipped the page again to a clause saying we had to pay  800,000 Dongs—which we didn’t have either.
Nuno and I were frantically searching for money on our wallets, pockets, and backpack. All we managed to put together was 300,000 Dongs and a pre-diarrhea feeling.

Seeing how upset we were, he grabbed the money from our hands, smiled and said:

 – Shhh. Ok, ok. I am your friend… You can go now. No more police ahead.

That was the moment we realized what had happened: we got scammed by a police officer. How nice!
We turned around and headed back to our guesthouse.

 

Getting over it

After doing the conversion from Dongs to Euros we realized that he ‘confiscated’ just € 12, but it could have been much more.

To take our minds off what had happened, we went hiking in the Fairy Stream near the Mui Ne main road—as you may have noticed, almost everything extends along this road.

 

Walking the fairy Stream in Mui Né

Fairy Stream

 

It is a small stream of fresh water where you can walk on and enjoy the surroundings. There are red sand dunes, rock formations, trees, ducks, and cows walking around.

 

A cow eating a bush at the Fairy Stream

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There’s no entrance fee around here, but rumor has it that some crafty locals might try to charge you for it. Also, if you get there by bike you will be charged for parking. To avoid it, park further from the entrance and walk there.

 

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As a maritime zone, Mui Ne is slowly attracting upscale tourists to all the fancy resorts by the sea. It might not have much to explore, but it offers you good weather and a relaxed environment. Especially if you don’t find any police.

 

Mui Ne travel expenses (Daily average for 1 person)

Breakfast: € 1,85
Lunch: € 1,64
Dinner: € 3,31
Water: € 0,19
Coffee: € 0,57
Accommodation: € 3,50
Scooter: € 3,20
Half tank of fuel: € 1,18

If you have any questions or some extra info everybody can benefit from, please leave it down in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Public Bus to Ben Duoc Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels by Public Bus

Are you planning to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels on your stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
You can pay for a group tour or do it independently and spend a fraction of the money. We can show you how.

 

Ben Duoc Tunnels vs Ben Dinh Tunnels

The majority of group tours you’ll find around HCMC drive tourist to the Ben Dinh tunnels. These were reconstructed and widened by the government so western tourists could fit. The price of the group tours doesn’t include entrance fees, just transportation.

In opposition, the ones in Ben Duoc are a part of the authentic Cu Chi network of tunnels used during the war—the real deal—and you can get there by bus. Now you choose.

 

Man going down the stairs to a tunnel entrance..

 

The Cu Chi Tunnels

As proper tourists, our second day in HCMC was reserved for visiting the famed Cu Chi tunnels. They’re an underground tunnel system dug by the Vietnamese during the fight for independence against French colonists, then used and developed to fight Americans during the Vietnam War (or American War as the Vietnamese call it). At its pinnacle, the tunnels became a complex anthill with several storeys deep, hospitals, living quarters and communication routes that stretched for more than 250 kilometers long.

Nowadays they’re a reminder of Vietnam’s underground warfare, the determination of its people and a famous tourist attraction.

 

Mannequins on a hospital set below the Cu Chi Tunnels

 

Public Bus to Ben Duoc

Go to the Bus Station at the western end of Backpacker Street (Pham Ngu Lao) in District 1.

Hop on the Bus Nº13 to Cu Chi Station. The tickets are purchased inside the bus from a ticket agent and they’ll cost €0.28 per person. This trip is around 1h40.

 

Bus 13 to Cu Chi Station

 

As you reach the Cu Chi Station and get out of the bus, you’ll have to swerve around the horde of taxi drivers offering their services to arriving tourists. They’ll say there are no more buses onwards and taking a taxi is the only alternative. Yeah right!
Smile, just let them talk while you look around for the Bus Nº79.

 

Cu Chi bus station

 

Get on the Bus Nº79 and buy the ticket to Ben Duoc from the ticket agent. This final trip will be around 40 minutes. We asked the ticket agent to let us know where we needed to get off and he did.
Nonetheless, after 40 minutes you’ll reach an intersection with two blue traffic signs pointing to Ben Duoc (left) and Ben Dinh (right).  The bus turns left by default and two minutes later you’ll have to hop off. This is the spot:

 

Ben Duoc bus stop

 

Locals will help you too. They’re super friendly and know that if you’re on that bus, you plan to visit the Ben Duoc tunnels. Like we mentioned before, only group tours go to Ben Dinh.

 

Benefits of going independently

At the reception of our hotel we saw a bunch of flyers for organized group tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels starting at 6,50€ for half a day—entrance fees not included.
If that was the “tourist price” we knew we could do it for at least a third of the money. And we did!

The advantage of avoiding group tours are not only monetary. We value freedom and time more than anything and by not depending on a third-party, we can do what we want, when we want to, for as long as we want.

 

Entrance of Ben Duoc tunnels

 

Visiting the site

Cu Chi tunnels entrance fee:  €3.57 (2016)
We were directed to a gazebo to watch a short video on the Vietnam War and the key role the tunnels had during war operations.

 

Watching a short video on the Vietnam war

 

Our guide for the day introduced himself and explained how the tunnels were dug and the living conditions the Viet Cong troops had to endure for months down there. It was rough…

More aware of what we were about to see, the guide took us on a little journey through the forest, showing us:

 

Jungle on Ben Duoc

Bomb crater

 

Bomb craters and booby traps,

 

Cu Chi Tunnels

Missiles shells at Cu Chi

 

Missiles and the tunnels ventilation systems scattered in between trees.

 

Mannequins of Cu Chi soldiers

 

We were invited to crawl inside sections of the tunnels and it was nerve-racking especially for two tall guys like me and Nuno. The air was thin and hot, the lights were dim and fruit bats flew through people’s hair.
If you’re claustrophobic or anxiety prone, don’t even.

 

Củ Chi Tunnel

 

Afterward, we were called to taste what soldiers had to eat back then: boiled manioc dipped in salt, sugar and crushed peanuts.
If you’re willing to pay some extra you can fire an AK-47 rifle on a shooting range. In our case, we decided to visit the buildings and gardens around the memorial park. It was nice to see that a battlefield where so many people were killed, now grows beautiful orchids as a form of tribute.

 

Boiled manioc dipped in salt, sugar and crushed peanuts

Cu Chi Temple Memorial building

Pink orchid at the Cu Chi gardens

 

Just remember that the last Nº79 bus of the day is around 17h30. After that, you’re on your own! To head back to HCMC catch the Nº79 in the same road you hopped off, then the Nº13 to District 1.

Check all we did around Ho Chi Minh City.

The bus rides were really enjoyable

Experiencing public transports is something you shouldn’t miss, it’ll always make you feel like one of the gang. It’s a great way to chat with locals and meet travelers alike.

 

 

On the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we met an Israeli family of 5: mom, dad and 3 kids with 13, 8 and 4 years old. It was their first time in Vietnam.
They’d been traveling for 3 months straight and were super stoked to be sharing this experience with their kids.
They’re a great example to parents believing they can’t travel anymore because they have a child. Obviously, the travel logistics will be different and WAY more demanding, but it goes to show that it’s possible!

 

Cu Chi Tunnels expenses for 1 person

Cu Chi Tunnels entrance fee (2016): 3.54€
Bus HCMC to Cu Chi: 0.28€
Bus Cu Chi Station to Ben Duoc: 0.24€

If you have any questions or some extra info to share that everybody can benefit from, leave it down in the comments! 

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

Waking up in Ho Chi Minh City

Eager to be on our way to Vietnam, we used the time stuck on the bus to discuss what we were going to do at the Prek Chak-Xa Xia border. The main goal was to follow the advice given to us in Kampot by the hotel clerk

– If you want to cross the border without paying extra tourist fees, ignore the first guard. Walk straight to the second counter, get your passport stamped and move on. The guard on the first counter is there to charge money for a stupid temperature check.

So that was the plan: to show up with a serious face and walk confidently towards the second counter as if we’d been there before.

 

Mario_border_vietnam

Didn’t work. We got called immediately to the first counter, had our temperature checked with an infrared gun and got charged for it. Luckily it was only 1USD.

Two hours later we reached Hatien bus station where we waited for a night bus to Ho Chi Minh. Restaurants all around were full of people eating and waiting for departure.
Having a 10-hour bus trip still ahead of us, we decided to eat something on a plastic table and tiny stools right next to the buses: pork noodles à la exhaust smoke. Yum!

 

Our first trip in a Vietnamese sleeping bus

They look like tour buses and can be quite comfortable if you’re not 1.90m tall like we are. Each passenger gets a tiny bunker bed, a blanket, and wifi – if they’re lucky.

 

 

The trip ended up taking around 8 hours, with a 20-minute bathroom break at a huge decked out service station where we tried our first pork steamed bun ever!

At 4:00 AM we arrived at Ho Chi Minh’s District 2 on a mini-van. The city was quiet except Bui Vien street where tourists stroll around from bar to bar and sinister people covertly sold drugs – 10 seconds in, we were offered cocaine.

 

Waiting for the sunrise

Tired, we walked to a park nearby and rested on a bench waiting for the sun to come up. Around 5:00 AM the city started to wake up: cars and people moving around, birds chirping and pooping on my leg… We’re off to a good start!

By 5:45 AM the park was packed with locals playing badminton, power walking and doing Asian Zumba classes. We were surprised to see so many seniors working out. Quite inspiring, take a look at the video:

 

 

We stayed in Ngan Long Hotel, about 15 minutes walk from the backpackers street – Pham Ngu Lao. Being first thing in the morning and unable to do an early check-in, we left our bags in the reception and went out to explore District 1.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest Vietnamese city where something like 9 million people live. The urban part is divided into 19 districts and we were housed on the first.

 


Image by Codie Leseman via CodieMaps

 

District 1

Around the backpackers street in District 1, most businesses are geared towards tourism: Western-style cafés, restaurants, pastry and souvenirs shops.
Narrow streets become wider avenues when you walk towards the river and you’ll find yourself surrounded by financial buildings, fancy shops, and the classic Opera house.

 

20160402_0036.jpg

 

If you’re into books, there’s a massive bookstore called Fahasa on the Nguyen Hue Street, filled with English books at Vietnamese prices (like half the price you can find them in Portugal).

We walked along the sidewalk by the river to the Vietnamese History Museum. The museum is located in the same area of the Zoo and the Botanical Garden. The entrance was 0.59€ and inside you’ll find history from all periods of Vietnam: since the pre-historic to the latest dynasties. It’s a “classic-style museum”, not one of those modern ones with interactive panels, video, and sound.

 

Vietnam History Museum

 

Later we visited the Independence Palace, a building associated with the history of Vietnam’s war, home of the president of the south and the last stronghold to be conquered by the northern army.

 

Independence Palace

Independence Palace or Reunification Palace

 

The entrance was €1.18 and it took 1 hour and a half to visit the garden and the various levels of the building including the underground bunker. The bunker was built after the president’s own air force bombed the palace trying to kill him.

 

Radio Equipment in the Bunker

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It’s astonishing to be down there among war maps and 70’s radio transmitters. The place feels heavy and claustrophobic, there’s a weird tension in the air as if one of those old telephones could ring at any moment.

 

IMG_20160402_113532

 

Religious Drive-Thru

After visiting the Palace we walked along the large avenue right in front of it to see The Notre Dame Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was closed on both days we tried to enter.

 

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

 

The cathedral was built with red bricks imported straight from Marseille and today it represents the influence French settlers and Catholicism had over the city—Catholicism is still the second largest religion in Vietnam.

We were told that in the days there’s mass, locals park their motorbikes around the cathedral and listen to the priest from the bikes, never bothering to go inside.

 

20160402_0028.jpg



Still on the subject of French-influenced architecture, right next to the cathedral is the Central Post Office, a very well maintained building where you can get in for free, enjoy the beautiful interiors and dispatch a few postcards to people back home. The post offices still work and are used by the Vietnamese to this day.

 

20160402_0029.jpg

Saigon Central Post Office

 

District 5: Cholon and Chinatown

On our last day in Ho Chi Minh, we decided to explore Cholon on District 5, where the largest Chinatown in Vietnam is. We wanted to go by bus but couldn’t find the correct information. Luckily we managed to get it from a local girl after some severe hand gesturing and Google translate:

From District 1 to District 5 get the blue bus Nº1. It’s a 5km ride that costs €0.20.

 

20160404_0084.jpg

 

Cholon has an immense Chinese community and it’s like a small town itself. The Chinese influences are all throughout the area creating a unique atmosphere: authentic restaurants, pagodas, and markets like the busy Binh Tay Market where everything is bought and sold, makes up for a great day.

 

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We spent our afternoon sightseeing, walking, eating fruit and taking pictures. By the end of it, we headed back to the city center in the same bus, the Nº1.

 

IMG_3205

 

The bus rides and the experience of being pedestrians around town showed us how hectic the traffic is. People crossing the road feinting each other, hundreds of scooters gathering at the red traffic lights, while others speed up and cut corners as the light turns green.

 

Once a Khmer fishermen village, centuries of conquering, colonization, and political change made Ho Chi Minh City a cultural global center. Locals were friendly and interested in other cultures, approaching us time and time again to make conversation even if just to practice their English.

 

HCMC travel expenses (daily average for 1 person)

Breakfast: 1,67€
Lunch: 0.59€
Dinner: 2,16€
Water: 0,18€
Accommodation: 5,70€
Entrance to the Independence Palace: 1,18€
Entrance to the Vietnamese History Museum: 0,59€

If you have any questions or some extra info everybody can benefit from, leave it down in the comments! 

Nuno and Mario

Hi there! We’re Nuno and Mário and we share helpful tips to make travel planning easy for you.

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