Brief Account Of Things
Okay, so before I proceed to share Day 4 of our Viva Vietnam experience, perhaps a brief summary of some These and Thats that we discovered in and around HCMC and Da Lat.
Before we left for Vietnam, I did get some insightful tips of what to expect there, from Kelly, while waiting for the boys to finish their VO (voice over) at Astro. Kelly specifically mentioned that the motorcycles on the roads of HCMC far outnumber the cars, which is probably the opposite of what we see in KL. She also said that we need not fear being run over while crossing the roads, just wait for the best time and then just cross confidently, the motorists are sure to avoid you, and you will be safe. And she said that when shopping in HCMC, especially in Ben Thanh market, do not touch the product or ask its price if we have no intention to buy, coz the vendors don't like that. You touch, you ask, you buy. Else, just look and walk away. She also said that it is generally safe in HCMC, we just need to be careful as how we are careful here in KL or any other places for that matter.
We were aware that the population of Vietnam is 91 million. We were however unaware, until recently, when my friend who lives and works in HCMC told us, that while 10 million of the population are in HCMC, 50% of them are below the age of 30. And he also confirmed our suspicion as to why we don't see many dogs around HCMC. Well, you can google that one :)
As I was publishing my blog postings, another friend, Yus, was excitedly reading on. I especially liked one of her comments, that she loved my writings on Vietnam, that she has never been to Vietnam herself, and all she's heard from other people who have been to HCMC is just about baju kurung!
Well, I believe that we each have our own reason to travel. Me and my 4 boys, we call our annual family trips our "Enrichment Trips". When our budget and time permit, we travel outside Malaysia; when they don't, we explore at home. In both cases, we gain knowledge, experience some cultural exchange, thus enriching ourselves and perhaps others too, that is our main goal. The truth is, I think I've only been on real all out shopping trips about twice or maybe 3 times my whole life, with friends sans kids, and those too were more for business than for personal needs. We just shop here at home in KL really, hehe. During the rest of our travels, yes, we do buy things, mostly things we coincidentally found that appeal to us, and for mementos to bring home for family and friends. Things we do look out for, and try to make a point to buy, are original art pieces or/and preferably handmade works like carpets or crafts, significantly unique of that place. Like Anthony Bourdain says, "Don't shop for mass produced items!" So, that thing about the baju kurung, I guess if you're looking for baju kurung, then you'll buy baju kurung.
Anyway, from all the things we gathered from our Lonely Planet book, Wikipedia, Wikitravel, TripAdvisor, Agoda, etc., on Vietnam, we figured Vietnam must be pretty cool. And we were right!
As for my brief account on things, here they are :
AROUND & ABOUT
Clean, modern, very fast paced, good infrastructure, convenient public facilities, safe, warm and very humid.
Generally clean except for some parts away from the city, modern, relaxed, good infrastructure, convenient public facilities, very safe, cool and very cold after sundown.
Nice but tough, helpful but no nonsense, "I will help you but you must know what you want, and don't waste my time" outlook, decent and generally reliable, skilful, business minded, goal driven, responsible motorists, don't generally speak English (hotel staff and tour operators are English conversant), most vendors in and around Ben Thanh converse very well in Malay.
Friendly, decent and reliable, don't generally speak English (hotel staff and tour operators are English conversant). I think we were among the very few Muslim Malay Malaysians to ever roam the streets of Da Lat without a tour group nor guide! The locals were just staring at me, I think they were trying to make out what's with the head covering. But some of the tour guides, hotel and restaurant people were pretty aware of Muslims. Overall, the Da Lat folks are pretty laid back and happy. They like to hangout with their families at the city centre roundabout in front of Cho Da Lat (market).
We chose Au Lac Hotel 1 mainly for its location and price, and based on reviews, and Agoda's take on it was Good. We wanted to be within walking distance from the Notre Dame, Central Post Office, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, eating places, coffee shops, shops, shopping malls, and hospital in case of emergency. We also wanted a place that's not too congested. And though we did plan to go to and around Ben Thanh market, we had expected to take a taxi there coz we had the kids with us. There are many nice hotels around the main streets, so the reviews on Agoda, Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor are pretty spot on. Au Lac Hotel 1 was good for us; it didn't serve halal food, but they did serve food we could eat during breakfast, the housekeeping service was good, they managed our laundry very well, stored our luggage very well too and were very helpful with the delivery of my Ao Dai and our pickup to our Mekong Delta Tour.
For our stay in Da Lat, we wanted more of a homestay, for the kids to be able to run around and just hang loose, without much worry about safety and congestion. So I found Hoang Loc Villa, with a Fantastic rating on Agoda. When we arrived at Hoang Loc, we were very impressed and happy. The rooms and bathrooms were very clean and modern, and the general ambience was very homey and safe. The kids could get milk and yogurt from their fridge at the reception area, payable of course, but we were really happy about this, we didn't have to stop by a mart to stock up on the kids' daily dairy needs. And they had a piano which we could play, so Damascus was able to practice his songs for his upcoming practical exam.
Very healthy, not greasy, lots of herbs and spices; generally tasty; many Halal restaurants around Ben Thanh area, one on Dong Du Street i.e. Halal@Saigon, one on Vo Van Tan i.e. Banana Leaf; vegetarian and vegan friendly foods widely available on most menus, eating places are generally very clean with good facilities; restaurants are not cheap, minimum about 530,000VND for our family of 3 adults and 2 children; sandwiches at street kiosks are tasty and cheap, starting from 16,000VND; supermarkets are conveniently located at main streets and malls; lots of coffee shops with ice cream and waffles; many fast food and pizza outlets too, i.e. Lotteria, Buzza Pizza. Coffee starts from 25,000VND.
We didn't sample the local Vietnamese foods here. There's a huge food square in the city centre near the Cho Da Lat roundabout, and many sidewalk food vendors selling fruits, grilled seafood, soya milk and curd, yu tiao, baguette with gravy, baked corn and sweet potatoes, grilled rice paper with filling; vegetarian and vegan friendly widely available on most menus. Lotteria is the famous fast food. We bough baked sweet potatos for 5,000VND each. Lunch at V Cafe was around 500,000VND, and average restaurant pricing.
Use only Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis, they are very easily accessible and most reliable with their metres. To and fro the Tan Son Nhat International Airport should be according to the metres, and it cost us about 130,000VND to and fro the airport to Au Lac Hotel 1 on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Around the city we paid about 20-30,000VND each way.
Mai Linh taxis are very easily accessible, and the city taxi is Dalat Taxi which is good too. To and fro airport to the city centre or hotel around the city centre is always a flat rate of 200,000VND, never use the metre as it will reach more than 570,000VND. Book your taxi to the airport from your hotel.
We shopped a little bit in and around Ben Thanh. We noticed several shops outside Ben Thanh that sell Muslim wear. And we loved the shops and art galleries around Dong Khoi, Hai Ba Trung, Pasteur, Le Loi. We did shop a bit at The House Of Saigon on Thu Khoa Huan Street, for handmade and handicraft items of fairly premium quality with original Vietnamese designs; prices are boutique, but they were having a sale, so we got some good buys.
We didn't have much time for shopping here, just bought some products at the Langfarm shop in the city centre, and walked about the night market at the city centre. Most of the products of Da Lat are sold around the food square in the city centre, i.e. coffee, tea, dried fruits, jams, but Langfarm has the nicest and most marketable packaging, the prices are reasonable too. The tour driver told us that the Da Lat Market sells everything, but we just popped in a bit and got some silk shawls. I didn't see the same type of silk in Ben Thanh market. The XQ Historical Village offers beautiful silk embroidered scarves, shawls, stoles and Ao Dai at their lovely boutique, prices are premium, starting from 250,000VND for the tiniest souvenir item to a few million VND for the silk embroidery art, but the quality is undeniable.
We didn't book any tours for HCMC.
For Da Lat we only got a car and a driver for 1 whole day on the 2nd day from 9am-5.30pm @850,000VND, to more than 5 locations, at our pace, and he entertained our kids' whims and fancies.
For the Mekong Delta, I had booked and paid in advance to Mango Cruises, for the entire 2 Day 1 Night tour, tailored to our needs. Email them for your own tailor made tour.
In both HCMC and Da Lat, ATMs are very easily accessible, and most places accept payment by credit and debit cards. There are money changers available but we didn't need them. We kept our cash for the taxi rides, entrance fees, kiosk food, and at places where only cash payments are accepted.
So, that's generally my account of These and Thats during our time in Vietnam. They may or may not appeal or/and apply to everyone. May I suggest further reading and googling and researching on your part, for your own needs and enjoyment, when you plan to travel Vietnam. Please refer to my earlier postings on Viva Vietnam for the respective links, i.e. sites and attractions, etc.. For us, Vietnam, i.e. HCMC, Da Lat and the Mekong Delta, are so cool! Viva Vietnam! xox
Next post will definitely be Day 4 of our Viva Vietnam Trip, which is Day 2 in Da Lat. Get ready to go wild at the Crazy House! And our fun times at the Cable Car, Waterfall, French Quarter and Flower Garden :)