Vietnam 2012: Day 5 & 6 - Train Ride + HCM

Part 1: Hoi An and My Son, Part 2: Hoi An - Da Nang - Hue, Part 3: Hue, Part 4: Train Ride + Saigon, Part 5: Saigon, Part 6: The End


The day began early for us as we had a train to catch. There was a change of time to 8am from 10am, and the hotel staff was OK with our request that we need to take the breakfast earlier than they suggested time.
With the PR staff in front of the hotel
For the second time promoting: If you are planning to go to Hue, Jade Hotel is highly recommended! Extreme friendly staff, superb service, and nice breakfast too! Make sure you order the local noodle/pho for breakfast because of the portion and... local food is nicer than the usual omelet, baguette etc etc.

When we stepped foot at the train station, we were a little skeptical because it's not really the usual platform we were expecting. Take note that the train fare has a different rate for the locals and foreigners. We booked our ticket online with Mr. Philong, and it is advisable to do so to avoid problem. The train fare is 1,077,000 VND aka RM 172.32 aka USD 53.85.
Our train schedule
When the train came and announcement was made (in Vietnamese!!), we went through a door to the platform, and walked a long way to our cabin. Along the way was a group of blonde-hair-blue-eyes foreigners, who pushed their way to the coach =.=

Train is coming!!
Each cabin consists of two upper bunks and two lower bunks. Thinking that I have survived 30-35 hours train ride on a seat class in China years ago, 18 hours is not a big deal for me, especially when there's bed to sleep in! Oh did I say 18? Yup it takes 18 hours from Hue to Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City.

Took the upper bunk as I can be a monkey
The weather was not so good that day. It's been raining since morning. Despite the fact that we would once again go through Hai Van Pass, but the camera focused on the rain drops on the window instead of the view, so the pictures were rather blurry and no good.

That bridge again... Still stunning
Footnote about train ride:
1) The train ride itself takes one day. Not recommended if you have limited time; If you do, it's quite an experience to have.
2) Every cabin, in fact every coach including the seat class, has power plug for your electronic gadgets, but be warned and be prepared if you happen to be as unlucky as us, we were stuck in a cabin with malfunction one! That time I did not think of buying a power bank yet, so thoughtless of me! Keong had been walking through cabins and coaches to find an available power plug, and I had to set my XPS's backlight to the most minimum to read comics in it, didn't even dare to play games, and I forgot to bring along a book!! =.=
3) Be warned and be prepared too if the coach you are in is 80-90% local. We, unfortunately, were in that situation, and OMG the smell of the food in our coach was... well for me it's acceptable (since I had the experience in a China train where people takes off their shoe and lay flat on the floor), but Tino couldn't stand it.
4) There is water, both hot and cold, available in the train. You can bring along all your 3-in-1s, Maggi hot cup etc etc etc as your meal.
5) The view, I often thought we were on the train ride from Tumpat to KL, because it is sooooo similar.

We arrived HCM at 4.15am local time. It was still raining and we got pretty drenched while trying to fetch a taxi. Although there was a row of taxis waiting, but we were worried about getting conned as it's very early in the morning. In all guide books, it is recommended to take taxis from big companies like Vinasun or Mai Linh. The label can be easily seen on the taxi's body. Make sure you have the address written down too. It's quite fun playing 'search for the hotel' game with the driver LOL.

The hotel we stayed in HCM City is Hotel Sunny, located along 'De Tham' Street. The staffs slept in the hall (?) with locked door. Since we arrived at the ungod hour of 5am, we tried knocking on the door, called the hotel, and some other stuff, and they just couldn't wake up! Finally, after 15 minutes attempt, they finally woke up with horror (yup, four strangers showing up at your door at 5am wasn't seem right), checked us in, and we settled in our room. Few times the boy staff (with very very limited English) approach my room to tell us about the early check-in charges, and he appreciated a lot that I helped him interpreted what he's trying to say (can see the appreciation from his smile LOL).

View from our room
Look at the amount of motorbikes!!
Back in Hue, Michael told us about his stressed experience in HCM, and it got better and better when he went further up. The first day, the HCM traffic reminded me so much of the headache traffic in China, where you have to be smart and bad ass to cross the road! If no, you wait until menopause also cannot cross to the opposite side of the road =.=

First day in HCM was occupied with a full day trip to Mekong Delta. Our tour guide was a cute and adorable Mr. Nguyen, whom played flirting with me all day long :p

Mr Nguyen in front, and a van of foreigners
Quoted from Nguyen: 
- The distance between HCM and Hanoi is 1,730 km; 
- HCM is divided in 'Districts', District 1 is where Benh Tanh Market is located, District 2 is full of foreigners, no District 3, District 4 is famous of their mafia, District 5 & 6 is the Chinese area, and District 7 is the Korean area; 
- He referred the wash room as 'happy house'; 
- The length of Mekong river is 4,500 km, 7th-longest in Asia; 
- In summer, south Vietnam has a lower temperature (35-37) than the north (40-42) as the south has many rivers and canals to keep the temperature down;
- Population: Vietnam 87mil, HCM 10mil, Hanoi 6mil, Mekong Delta 20mil;
- HCM is 33 years old;
- My Tho, the first Mekong Delta city one reaches when driving south from HCM City, 'My' stands for 美 beautiful and 'Tho' is a type of grass
- The reason there are grave tombs on the rice paddies is because the people bury coffins underground and above it they build a tomb, to be situated close to the family house;
- 'Hammock Coffee', a culture you can only find in south Vietnam, there are rolls and rolls of crude cafes along the road with small tables, small chairs and hammocks hanging all over the cafe;

About three hours later, we arrived the river bank/jetty of the Mekong Delta. It is a very very VERY vast river, with no end to be seen, and Keong kept on repeating we were at Tonle Sap. Haha nice try~

First tour was going around the river viewing the busy moment of the market. It indeed reminded me a lot of Tonle Sap, as that place is occupied by the Vietnamese too. There were hundreds of boats and boat houses on the river, making their living.

"How do the people know what is the boat selling?" Nguyen asked, and he answered, of course, they would hang the product on a pole up high above their boat, like the one below.
This one is selling pumpkins
The leaves hanging means the boat is for sale
The people who makes their living on the river stays by the river bank. Years ago, they build the houses with woods as support, but due to corrosion and soaking wood, they are now using cement as base.

Next in the tour schedule was the usual tourist stops. Our boat stopped by one of the small jetties, we got off, and the first shop we went into was the bee shop, with a complimentary cup of honey tea.

Checked out the bees!
The honey tea, not bad
In this shop also sells those kind of 'reptile wine', which they soaked the snakes, scorpions and stuff with alcohol. I didn't even dare to take one sip because it smells horrible! =.=

After this shop, we went to another one along the road. The road is like those in Pulau Ketam, where the main transportation there is motorbike and bicycle. I must say some people just don't have the suppose-to-have road awareness! Can't they hear the honk?? 

猪肠粉-alike food making
I impulse-purchasely bought an Ao Dai here because I couldn't get my eyes off one of the Ao Dai displaying and the group was leaving! Nguyen turned back to check us out, complimented how nice I look in the dress and said Ao Dai is made for Asian female body shape.
Nice? I love it!!
Then we headed off to the somewhat middle of the river, and Nguyen tried to grab the waterlily on the river to show us its usage (below).

After few minute stop on the river, the boat headed to the narrower river alley, for our lunch according to Nguyen. The river got narrower and it seems to be shallower too, which was pretty freaky for me.
Along the way there's few rolls of longan trees, as well as few tropical fruit trees. Houses houses along the river bank, boats parked by the riverside, kids playing water, ducks swimming...
The stop was simple, the time allocation was about one hour for lunch and own leisure around the cafe.
Our simple complimentary lunch
After lunch break, again the challenge of narrow/shallow river and boats! On the way out, there were more boats coming in, so it's all up to the driver's skill to pass the boats with very limited 'water space'.
See the eyes?
Long long time ago, rumour has it that Mekong Delta was infested by crocodiles, so the people build their boat and draw a pair of eyes at the front of the boat to resemble the crocodile of fiercer version. The red platform at the most front is a sacred part of the boat, and female is forbidden to stand/sit on it (sexist tradition =.=)
The boats workshop
 Our final stop was Chinh Thuong to watch the 'tau ta' performance, a kind of Southern Vietnam singing performance, with a range of Vietnam traditional musical instruments. 

The trip ended at 4pm, and we arrived at HCM City 2 hours later. We visited the outside of Benh Tanh Market, buying coffee and souvenirs, and another Ao Dai for myself.

to be continued... 


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