Agent Name: Grant Hurrle
Date: January 2009
Trip Location: Hong Kong and Vietnam
Places visited: Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, Nha Trang (all in Vietnam)
Overall Impression: Vietnam surprised me with beautiful countryside, friendly and helpful people, a broad variety of cuisine, and exceptional value for money. The very small section of the country we visited whetted our appetite to see more.
Transportation: Taxis in Vietnam are very affordable (meter rate is about 60cents/km), but you might be wise to negotiate a fare rather than using the meter. Our hotel in Nha Trang arranged a car for us to the airport, 36km for $15 USD. For real adventurers, a club of motorcycle enthusiasts called the “Easy Riders” can escort you
for daytrips and even long distance trips stretching the length of the entire country. In Hong Kong, it’s a very good idea to purchase an Octopus Card on arrival for 150 HKD (includes 50
HKD refundable deposit). The Octopus Card can be used for most forms of public transportation, including the Star Ferry, the MTR and buses/trams, but also at vending machines and some stores such as 7-11.
Favorite Hotels: The Duxton in Ho Chi Minh City is a solid four star hotel in the heart of the city, close to the Saigon River, Ben Thanh Market and within walking distance of many major attractions. The rooms are large, the buffet breakfast is top-notch, and the 3rd floor outdoor pool is a nice bonus after a long day of walking. The Fleming Hotel was a great choice for a boutique (66 room) hotel in the heart of bustling Wanchai district of Hong Kong Island. Our room was quiet and spacious (by Hong Kong standards) and only five minute walk to the Star Ferry terminal and the historic tram.
Favorite Town: Dalat has a laid-back mountain retreat feel to it. Located at 1500m above sea level, the temperature ranges from about 17-24C, so it’s a nice break from the heat and humidity found elsewhere in SE Asia. A former favourite hunting ground for French colonists, there’s a man-made lake in the center of town, a fascinating central market, and lots of restaurants with abundant produce grown locally in ideal growing conditions found in the area. There’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be found in the area, including hiking and mountain-biking. Just pay careful attention to your physical safety, since it’s not a top priority for adventure tour companies operating in developing countries.
Favorite Restaurant: Quon An Ngon in Ho Chi Minh City. Located in the Dong Khoi area of District 1, address 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Considering its great location, across the street from the Reunification Palace, it has a
very broad menu offered at extremely reasonable prices. Various food-preparation stations are set up around the restaurant demonstrating how dishes are made and the ingredients being used. The helpful wait staff is happy to assist with recommendations and advise on how best to eat the unfamiliar. We loved the Vietnamese pancake stuffed with pork and shrimp.
Local Food to Try: Seafood is abundant and of excellent quality in Vietnam. A lunch for two consisting of grilled squid, beefsteak with French Fries, fried rice, and soft drinks cost us under $10CAD at a seaside restaurant on the way back from Monkey Island, north of Nha Trang.
Best local tours: In Dalat, we visited the historic Cremaillere train station built 1932, and abandoned around 1970 due to Viet Cong attacks. Part of the line has been restored, and tourists can take a fun 8 km trip to the village of Trai Mat, where the beautiful ornamental Linh Phuoc pagoda can be reached after a 5 minute walk through the village.
Most Interesting Attraction: Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City. A classic of 1960’s architecture, North Vietnamese tanks crashed the gates on April 30th, 1975 officially ending the Vietnam War. Visiting this building is like entering a time warp. All the furniture, right down to the phones, is as it would have appeared in 1975, and the effect is rather haunting. According to all reports, when the Communist troops entered the Palace they found South Vietnam president Duong van Minh and his Cabinet sitting around the big oval table in the Cabinet room. As they entered, Minh said, “We have been waiting for you so that we could turn over the government.” They replied “You have nothing left to turn over.”