Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vandalism in Vietnam !

Flow chart of the tour

    

 

     In search of Hindu kingdom of Champa


    Wednesday, March 27, 2013

       Kolkata, West Bengal, India (12:35 am)
      Today Holi is celebrated in Kolkata. But luckily there were many Taxis to go to the airport.         We reached Bangkok(Bkk) around 5 pm and after the Visa on Arrival procedure is done we went for a city tour of Bkk.

The Embassy at Kolkata says you have to have a hard currency of at least 500 USD for visa on arrival. In fact there is no transit visa in Thailand at the Bkk airport. You have to pay the visa fees in Baht and not in USD (wrongly said by the consulate in Kolkata that you can pay in USD) . It is 1000 THB. It is slightly cheaper to do it from India. Apparently there is no transit visa. For all practical purpose multiple visa does not exist , unlike Malaysia. No doubt they have a repressive visa regime ! Since we had some free time, we went for a short city tour to Victory monument and Siam Square, with our backpack.

We slept at the airport, since we have to catch the early morning flight to Ha Noi.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

      
 Hanoi, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (9:30 am)

     We went for Visa on arrival. However we have already done the online visa approval. We paid 45 USD for the stamping fee. The total amount we paid for the visa is Rs 5500 !

Understand

Ha Noi is the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, combining traditional Sino-Vietnamese motifs with French flair. It is largely unscathed from the decades of war, and is now going through a building boom, making it a rapidly developing city in Southeast Asia. Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations and name changes.

The Chinese conquered the imperial city of Thang- Long in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and ascended the throne, becoming known as Lê Thái Tổ for his efforts. 

The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Saigon and then Hanoi the capital of all French Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; Saigon was the rival in South Vietnam. Upon reunification in 1976, it assumed that title for the entire country.


The first institution of learning in Vietnam, Quoc Tu Giam, was founded here in the 11th century. Nine hundred years later, the first western-style universities in Vietnam were also founded in Hanoi. 

The city is one of the leading centres of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its old world charm of bygone eras, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city centre area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. 


It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.

Get in

From the airport
  • Taxis to central Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai. There are fixed price taxi stands right outside the exit, offering fares for between US$ 17 into the city.
  • Non fixed-price taxi agents will quote prices ranging from around US$15-$30 as you leave the airport, so be sure you have a clear price agreement also with the driver before getting into the car, as the price quoted by the agent may not be what the driver is expecting.
  • To sum things up, taking a fixed-price taxi from one of the companies outside of the arrival hall is the best deal to get a taxi to your destination.


Public buses to the city centre from Noi Bai airport take about 1.5 hour.

Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter, to Long Bien (just a few blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake - the destination of most tourists). Prices are 7,000 dong. Don't listen to taxi drivers or shuttle bus operators that claim the stop for the public buses is a few kilometers away or that service has been terminated. Public buses operate 05:00-22:00.

 All the public buses are AC and comfortable and obviously more interesting and therefore we took the bus. Unlike India we have to pay the fare to the driver.

Shuttle-buses from the airport to Hanoi stop at the Vietnam Airlines Office on 1 Quang Trung (a bit south of the old quarter but conveniently stocked with taxis and motorbike drivers, of course!). The cost is US$2 or 40,000 dong for foreigners (insurance reason), and 35,000 dong for Vietnamese , which rate is indicated on the sticker fixed to the bus's body. The driver will potentially give you trouble if you have additional bags, but if you push, you will get the same US$2 rate.The shuttle buses are also available to get to airport hourly.After getting down at Long Bien Bridge, I took a Taxi (40,000 Dong) to reach our hotel. The hotel is nice and very conveniently located. After keeping our luggage, we left for booking our trip to ha long bay. We booked in one of the Sinh Cafes. Then we had our lunch and started walking around Hanoi, since the day tour has already left.

 Get around

Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travellers, rides on the back of motorbikes or motorbike Taxis are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning motorbike-hug). Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. You should also write down the negotiated fare (with all zeros) to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000. A typical 10 min fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. The drivers will accept US dollars as well.

Interestingly dollar is the default currency. In fact Mohua paid a petty fruit vendor in 10 USD and she returned back 9 USD !

By bus :  Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 5,000 dong and off you go.

By Metro : The city will be serviced by Metro sometime around 2015. Construction began in 2010.


See


Museums
  (NOTE: ALMOST ALL CLOSED ON MONDAYS.....)

Temple of Literature : Since the Temple of Literature is not very far from our hotel, we started walking to the temple and the best way to see the city. On the way to the temple we had some shake and there we met a very sweet girl and she guided us to the temple. The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates over the centuries. Entry fee was around 30,000 dong (?).

Since it was already late, we had to skip Museum of Ethnology and instead went to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, walking. The timing is 08:00-11:00 AM !.  Last entrance 10:15. The city down south in Saigon may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes. There is no entrance Free. When we went there it is already closed. So we sat outside the  Mausoleum and sat in front it on the footpath (in front of a big ground): which is cleaner than your own house ! 
While walking we saw the Presidential Palace and from the Palace the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, looks very nice (specially with the lights on).


We could not see Museum of Ethnology - Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc Vietnam, Nguyen Van  Huyen St, it covers mainly the culture and ritual practices of the various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam - one of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups, which even comes with inhabitants in costumes. It is one of the must see places in Hanoi.Then we went to the Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a pleasant park in the centre of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favourite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. Rumour has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.


A mummified specimen is on display at the Ngoc Son Temple – which is in the middle of the lake(it is a small island inside the lake). We sat beside the lake for some time. It looks somewhat similar to our lake in south Kolkata. The basic difference is there is road all around the lake and it is not a secluded place like the lake in Kolkata. Otherwise the circumference seem to be more or less same.  In the evening we walked around the Hoan Kiem lake area and sat on the bench for some time. It remined me of our very own lake. We saw a group of women doing free hand exercise.
 One can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater beside the Lake. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre , across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake. A visit to the water puppet theater can be a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but a list of titles is available in several languages. It is more of a visual-musical thing which is universal, just ignore the dialogues and narration but be on the look for special effects. Tickets are 60,000 and 100,000 dong. There are several performances throughout the day, and it's even possible to buy tickets even if the showing is going on for 15 minutes. And if you missed the first 15 minutes, be the last to leave and mix in with the incoming audience for the next performance. Camera passes are an extra 15,000 dong, but whether you buy one or not is purely on the honour system.


We did not have time to go to Hoa Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese revolutionaries.

Money Changers : Money changers are there usually in most guest houses and banks, and they give bad rates. Don't exchange money from the black market people on the streets. The best place to exchange money is at Ha Trung road and Hang Bac where they give real good rates. Just walk into the gold shops or jewellery shops and ask them if they change money and ask to show their rates. Ask up to nearly 5 or more shops to see which shop gives the best rates. In fact I have done it from a jewellery shop ! Jewellery shops will consistently offer a better rate than banks or hotels.

ATMs - ATMs are everywhere and cash is king here. There is generally a transaction limit   (2,000,000 dong).Markets  : The old quarter is fulllllllllllll of souvenir shop.
Eat : Eating is one of the veryyyyyyyyy important part of my travel. Eating habit of a country has its share of history, geography, art and science (according to one of my favourite authors Shankar). I literally walk a mile to eat an interesting food. This has caused a lot of problem with some of my co-travellers ! The most famous one being eating Chepala Pulusu at Vizag !
            
The most famous remains 'Pho Ga' (chicken noodle soup) or 'Pho Bo'(Beef noodle soup).              
There are various dishes including chicken, beef, fish and seafood in Hanoi catering to every one's taste.

In Hanoi, there are hundreds of street stalls in small kiosks on the sidewalk, with plastic tables   and chairs on the pavement. Grabbing a bite at these eateries is a great way to experience the local food and culture. It is worth mentioning that food quality, freshness, and hygiene can vary greatly. A bowl of noodle soup goes for as little as 20,000 dong . Be sure to get your change as a few vendors seem to 'forget' to return it to you, and learn a little Vietnamese because vendors often will not speak any or much English.










 

Exotic treats :

Next to Beijing, Hanoi is probably the second in the running to the world's exotic food paradise. The suburb of Le Mat (aka the Snake Village) has numerous restaurants specializing in cobra foodstuffs. Live cobras are stored on the premises much the same way one would find live lobsters at a Western seafood restaurant. If one orders cobra blood wine from the menu, the waiter will take a live cobra, kill it on the spot, drain the blood into a shot glass of rice wine, and top it off with the cobra's still beating heart for you to gulp down! Not for the faint hearted (excuse the pun). Le Mat is about ten minutes across the river from downtown, take bus 10, 15 or 17 and get off at the large "mega-mall" just beyond Gia Lam station, and walk 500 metres down the road at the right of the mall. Cobras are not cheap at around 400,000-1,000,000 dong (USD $50) but it gets turned into a dozen unique dishes, enough to share between three or four people.

A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat (thịt chó), which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of restaurants in the Tay Ho district.

Another exotic regional taste is ca cuong, an extract from the belostomatid, or giant water bug. Just a few drops are added to noodles for the unique aroma. Unfortunately I did not go to these places with Mohua around !One can also check out the boiled duck fetus eggs (same as the Filipino balut) sold by peddlers almost everywhere priced at 5,000 dong. This delightful experience consists of the vendor cracking the egg in front of you, and peeling the shell and dropping the contents in a plastic micro bowl, then garnished with juliened ginger, basil leaf, and sprinkled with chili sauce.

Safety FAQ
Hanoi is a dangerous city, both by Asian and Western standards. Pickpockets are well organized and operate in groups, scams are around every corner, thieves on motorbikes snatch bags from cafe tables, fake mechanics throw nails at tourists on motorbikes to cause flat tires and the police, probably the worst crooks of them all, are known to steal from people (both locals and tourists) and ask for a bribe to get the items back. There is also a dual price policy: tourists usually pay many times more than locals; this price can increase even more if, in restaurants, you start eating before asking for the price of the meal.
Also keep all eyes on your belongings, especially in crowded area like Dong Xuan night market, or just don't go at all if it's not worth the risk; expect female pickpockets and don't let them surround you.
Be careful of hustler hawkers. Anywhere else in Vietnam, they have a two-tier pricing system - for locals and for foreigners. No other place in Vietnam is this experienced more emphatically than in Hanoi (and also in Ho Chi Minh at Ben Tanh Market) where vendors charge you differently according to how you make an impression. Hawkers may charge 3x more their going rate for an item even if your appearance is similar to them simply because you are not a Viet Kiew, you don't speak the language, and you are sporting an expensive-looking wristwatch. They think you deserve this treatment even if you are eating the humblest food. Always ask the price first, and give the hawkers exact change if possible.
Luckily we did not face any problem. But I found Vietnam extremely dishonest comparable to Bali, if not worse.
Like everywhere else in Vietnam, traffic in Hanoi is dominated by an incredible number of motorbikes, all of which seem to be making a mad, desperate dash for something just out of. In Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city, we are told that there are 6 million motor bikes for 9 million residents. A motor bike costs around 1,000 USD, while the cheapest car costs 50,000 USD. So very few people can afford a car. In other words, pedestrian traffic can be overwhelming for visitors, especially in the narrow streets around the Old Quarter. When you leave the curb, look not only both ways but left, right, back and front, and take each step slowly and patiently allowing them to pass because even an eye contact is not enough with the oncoming drivers and actually before you know it, someone is also on your back. The key word here is slowly — don't rush. This way the drivers are aware of you, and can take you into account (along with all of the other motorbikes). It may look, and indeed is somewhat chaotic, but be patient and pay attention when you're crossing any street, large or small, and you should be fine. Definitely, the streets of Hanoi has no place for faint hearted people, with hypertension and heart problems on top of the disabled and the old.
You should look everywhere as you proceed. Holding out your arm toward the stream of vehicles as a "slow down, I am crossing" sign may be a good idea but not acknowledged most of the time. Don't stop suddenly when you see one coming a little fast or rush your steps when you are crossing. The motorbikes will find their way to avoid you themselves.
Crossing the roads in Hanoi is an experience itself. Even for us , Indians/Kolkatans it is difficult ! I would not be exaggerating if I say, Mohua learnt crossing the road properly after coming to Hanoi !

Telephone

  • Hanoi code: 4. Note the recently added '3' in front of all local numbers. Example:
  • For a number 1234567 : New dialling style: 3 1234567 (from within the city) or 04 3 1234567 (inter-provincial) or +84 4 3 123456 (from overseas)
  • We bought a Sim card by paying 5 USD at the airport itself. Generally it is 1000 VND per minute, we were told. It is better to avoid buying it from airport. We had no option though.

Internet

3G Internet is very cheap and readily available everywhere in Hanoi. Buying a SIM card costs between 45 000 and 55 000 dong. According to wikitravel , do not buy a SIM card at the Vinaphone counter at the Hanoi airport. The lady at the counter will tell you that unlimited Internet for a month costs 500 000 dong, SIM card included. She will give you a SIM card, wont set it up correctly, give you no credit and pocket the 500 000 dong. Also, be aware that she writes fake invoices.
There are plenty of Internet cafes all over the city. Most are used by Vietnamese teens playing online dance or battle games. Rates vary, but can be as low as 3,000 dong/hr. Some of the better cafés, particularly in the Old Quarter, have computers that are Skype-capable for international phone calls. We saw this phenomenon all over Vietnam!. The wifi cafes are usually concentrated around Hoan Kiem lake area.
Today (28/3/13) I booked the 2 night 3 days Halong Bay tour from Sinh café. My friend U. May said that ideally you should book 2 night 3 days tour of Halong Bay to feel the place.


29/03/13

If you are the adventurous type or simply bored temporarily of the city atmosphere, then consider a cruise in the northern countryside to Sapa. A round trip will bring you to a lot of charming villages and through hills and valleys with stunning nature. Main roads are generally in good condition. The Sapa mountain region, home to ethnic minorities, gorgeous mountain scenery, and trekking paths connecting many tiny mountain villages is the second most popular trip. It is quite popular among tourists. Of course we did not have time to go there. Vietnam looks somewhat like West Bengal. If we consider Hanoi near Siliguri, then Sapa is more like Kalimpong.
We were picked from our hotel at around 8 am. We got down at the Halong city pier where we met many people waiting to board the boat. But before our turn came our boat became full. So we waited for the next boat. Luckily our boat was quite empty. There were people in the boat with different tours – some of them are there only for 1 day , some for 1 night and some for 2 nights. There are hundreds of cruise boats leaving everyday, most are look quite similar. After boarding the boat at around 12 pm, we were served with lunch. Some of the group members (Ukrainian) did not opt for lunch,   they brought  their your own food (cup noodles). Preferably take a photocopy of our receipt, since guide will collect it. Drinks (even water) are not included and are quite expensive on the boat. So it better to buy the whole package.
Ha Long Bay's spectacular ocean karst topography is the most popular side-trip from Hanoi After taking our lunch we got down  to see the stalactite and stalagmite – typical lime stone mountain. But it is well lit inside and there is a wonderful view from the top. Mohua did not get down , since the the distance between the boat and the shore was too much for her !










Then we went for kayaking. Since it is part of our deal and I have never done kayaking in my life, so I thougt lets give it a try (I do not even know swimming! ) .My fellow kayaker is a French guy. Nobody else from our boat did the kayaking. Be careful while kayaking, they might give you half-broken paddles, but if it finally breaks completely, they will charge you.  It was bit difficult for me initially to know the trick of the trade. They just gave us a life jacket and paddle, that is it !  Luckily my French kayaker had prior experience of kayaking , otherwise we would have been in real trouble. I was also bumping into a boat! After 15 minutes we were back to the boat.
We sat at the roof of the boat. The scenic beauty from the roof is just jaw dropping. We were sitting on a beach chair type of thing. After travelling for some time, we got down at Cat Ba Island pier at around 5.30 pm. Some of the members stayed back at the boat. We left for a hotel in the Cat Ba Twon. A van came to pick us up. We had our dinner in the hotel itself. Cat ba is a small nice island.


30/3/13


Next day we left  for the pier to pick up some more tourists. After picking them up we left for trekking. We went to the top of the hillock. Mohua , as usual, did not go to the top. It was drizzling. The view from the top is breathtaking - with mist all around . At the last leg we had to climb a watch tower – which was scary at the end. It was slippery because of the rain.











Then we left for the hotel and had our lunch at the hotel. Then we strolled around the island. Our hotel is very near to the beach. We went to a private beach attached to a hotel. Views from the beach is just awesome. We had a pleasant walk around the town. Then around 4 pm we were back to the hotel to be picked up by the van once again  and to leave for the pier. It is around 10 Km journey from our hotel. Today we slept at the boat. The view from the air conditioned cabin in the boat is a life time experience. We had our dinner at the boat. We were the only Indian/Asian in the boat. We chatted with some Dutch brothers and sisters, They had been to India . They were narrating their experience in India. They will go to Australia (and live there for few months by picking up fruits in a farm as their job ! ) and finally go to Brazil to see the world cup. They were having beer till wee hours. We left for our cabin.

31/3/2013

We woke tomorrow (Mohua’s birthday is today) with lime stone mountains all around us .It is time to leave for Halong city. We took another boat to go back to Halong city. There were only 5 people in the boat including us. It was almost like a private boat. This is off seaon in Vietnam. The boat moved very slowly and again we had the life time experience of scenery in the bay. Unlike Phuket there are 300 lime stone mountains. This is one of its kind. In fact the weather was bit chilly !
  


After reaching Halong city at around 12.30 pm, we had our lunch . We had some time, before our bus leaves for Hanoi. So we bought some souvenirs there.

When we reached Hanoi it was almost 5.30 pm and our “open bus”  will leave after some time. We bought some baguette and milk maid and some sausage.
We were picked up in front of our travel agent’s office and dropped us at the open bus office. In this bus there is no seating arrangement. One can only slip. I have never seen a bus like this !

01/4/2013


Hue
We reached Hue next day . The bus stop is not very far from the hotel. So walked for 10 minutes to reach our hotel. On the way we talked to some travel agents about the city tour. We found that the bus for the day tour has already left. Finally we decided to do the city tour by motor bike taxi. They dropped us at the hotel and waited for us for some time. In the meantime we took a quick shower and left for the city tour. This is the motor bike taxi ride in my life ! However it is more interesting than bus tour no doubt. Our hotel is in a very good location, very near to the river.


Hue (Huế) is in the central region of Vietnam and is the former imperial capital. Hue is intimately connected to the imperial Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, who ruled from 1802 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in favour of Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary government. The city went through tough times during the Vietnam War, when it was conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days, during which the VC slaughtered around 3,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South.


The main landmark is the Perfume River (Hương Giang), with the old city and the Citadel on the northern side & the newer city, including most hotels and restaurants is on the southern side. Much of the riverside has wisely been done up as a pleasant boulevard and park. The tombs are located further south in the outskirts of Hue. It is a very nice and charming city.

Climate

Hue's weather is infamously bad: the Truong Son Mountains just to the south, so it's usually misty or outright rainy. Things get even wetter than usual in the winter rainy season, especially from February to the end of March. To be safe, bring along an umbrella any time of year. Don't forget to bring a sweater and jacket in winter as it can get rather chilly, with temperatures falling to as low as 8 degrees at night. 

It's usually quite dry during the summer months, when the temperature can reach the high 30's. We did not get rain during our stay. 

Get in by train
A second-class sleeper from Hanoi to Hue on the SE1 (leaving Hanoi at 19h 00) cost 710, 000 dong in October 2012 (for a hard-sleeper, 6-person cabin, middle bunk ; bottom bunk is a little more pricey, while top bunk is the cheapest). It's an excellent way to see the country . Buy your tickets at the train station, it can be worth your effort. Hotels often over charge by doubling the prices , often using excuses like it's high season or that they have to buy it at the black market.
To/From Laos
From Vientiane You can book a sleeping or sitting bus for 180,000 Kip (1 USD = 8000 kip approx. )(sleeping is the same price as sitting) to Hue. The trip takes 15 hours to Hue , so the sleeping bus is the better choice.
Get around
By taxi
Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is flooded with cyclos and motorbikes, as well as a few meter taxis. Taxi drivers are usually honest, but make sure they turn the meter on: trips start at 15,000 dong for the first 2km and tick upward at 11,500 dong/km.

By bike
Hire a motorbike for 100,000 dong locally. Fuel costs 25000 Dong per litre. Note that a map is a Foreign concept- nobody understands them, NOBODY !! Make sure your motorbike comes with a helmet, as you can be fined otherwise.
 Cyclo
A cyclo is the local versions of the rickshaw. Many cyclo drivers also act as pimps, and may offer you local women (starting at $10/hr). I have been approached number of times by them !

On foot
Make sure to stop by 24 Tran Cao Van St to pick up your free map (and enjoy some delicious banana pancakes).

See
Imperial Citadel (Đại Nội)
The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful - a rare commodity in Vietnam.


The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, while restoration has been going on for 20 years, there is still quite a long way to go. Entry 80,000 dong (for foreigners, less for locals of course) and it is open 06:30-17:00. Inside you can pay $1.50 (30,000dong) to dress up in the King or Queen's clothing and sit on the throne for a fun photo opportunity.
 Tombs of the Emperors
The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, but the best way to see them is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise. Plan to make a full day of it.

The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. 

Tomb of Tu Duc (7km) - Constructed from 1864 to 1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the Emperor went for "working vacations". Tu Duc's contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans' quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The Emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest - the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. (The tombs of Empress Le Thien Anh and Emperor Kien Phuc, who briefly ruled in 1884, are also located here).

Since we took the motor bike tour, the lunch was not included. After lunch we went to see Thien Mu Pagoda (4 km) - perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue. Thien Mu means "elderly celestial woman", and refers to an old legend about the founding of the pagoda.













Hue day tour - City Tour it includes the Citadel, 3 tombs (Tu Duc, Khai Dink & Minh Mang),a garden house and a Perfume River cruise stopping for a look-see at Thien Mu Pagoda, from then a short ride to the Tourist Boat docks where the tour terminates. A very value for money package, at USD10 ( from Jade Hotel). For the same itinerary, some charge up to 13USD, possibly better food offerings. Entrance cost is not included and money will be asked in the bus (80,000VND) for citadel and tombs, 20,000 VND for garden house). Thien Mu temple is free. Motorbike taxi does not have so many things to offer.

 Buy

A traditional industry of Hue is embroidery, and framed embroidery can be purchased in the many stores of the backpacker area of Hue.

 Eat

Hue is famed for its Imperial cuisine, originally prepared for the emperor and his retinue. Although the emphasis is more on presentation than taste, an imperial banquet is well worth trying.
The most famous local dish is bún bò Huế, a noodle soup served with slices of beef and lashings of chili oil. Another tasty local treat is sesame candy (mè xửng), which is pea nutty, chewy and quite tasty if fresh, and goes for under 10,000 dong/box.

Sleep

There are plenty of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels in Hue, as well as a couple of expensive giants. The largest cluster is around the short lane of Pham Ngu Lao . It's not quite as big (or backpackery) as its Ho Chi Minh City . We stayed at Pham Ngu Lao .


Hue is a safe city, and there is not much to worry about. However, at night all cyclo-drivers, especially in Pham Ngu Lao area, should be avoided. During the day a ride should be fine, but at night, avoid them at all costs. I was approached by the cyclos for a lady girl.

After our day tour is over, Mohua went to the hotel to take rest. I went to see the night market beside the river.I bought some pictures drawn by a local artist. Normally I buy some local art of the place where I visit. While buying I was asked by a cyclo if I want some girls ! After coming back to hotel we went to eat in a very nice restaurant . They were giving a special deal of VND 79,000 for 2.

Get out

There are also frequent bus services to Savannakhet and Vientiane in Laos. Buses leave at 06:00 and 18:00. There are 3 scheduled direct buses to Vientiane - 6:00 am, 9:30 am and 6:00 pm.


02/4/2013

We went to the  travel agency office in Hue to catch the bus at 8 am to go to Hoi An .
Hoi An


We reached Hoi An at around 12 pm. Since the car is supposed to pick us from the hotel, we called the hotel to tell them that we have reached Hoi An. However they told us to come to the hotel by a Taxi and they will make the payment. We took a taxi to reach our hotel.Our hotel has a nice swimming near the reception. 

After quickly taking our shower , we had our lunch in a restaurant (Café 43) opposite our hotel. It is highly rated by Tripadvisor. The food was good. Then we walked to the old quarter, which is 5-6 minutes from our hotel.

Hoi An is the most beautiful city in Vietnam. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 Understand
Hoi An, once known as Faifo, with more than 2,000 years history, was the principal port of the Hindu Champa or Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century and was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries - and the foreign influences are discernible to this day.
The culture & heritage is mostly from the Champa or Cham people whose kingdom originally stretched from Hue (South) to South of Nha Trang - the Champa's are , most likely, originally from Java. There is another view they have come from Kalinga, Amaravati and from Champa, a place near present day Darbhanga, according to Mr Geetesh Sharma. The original Cham political capital was Tra Kieu, the commercial capital was Hoi An and the spiritual capital was My Son. The Cham people were Hindu, and by the 10th century the influence of Arab traders to Hoi An resulted in some converting to become Muslims.Today these (Cham) Muslims are minority in Vietnam The second major influence was from the Chinese, firstly from traders but especially the escaping Ming Dynasty armies who after settling in Hoi An for some years moved further south and created Saigon as a major trading port.
The third and last major influence of culture & heritage was from the Vietnamese and is fairly recent and only came after the Cham lost control of this area.
While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Da Nang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town in Hoi An, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shop houses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While almost all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved as it is for few centuries, which is unusual in Vietnam.

Since 1999, when UNESCO WHS status was awarded, there has been a massive increase in "mass" tourism - with the result that most houses have been sold by the community to speculators and shop owners to be used for commercial purposes. The community, and with it their culture and heritage, has gone and in their place are shops, restaurants, art galleries, etc. There are literally hundreds of tailoring and shoe shops in Hoi An all selling  to Western foreign tourists.

By boat

Hoi An has a river system stretching hundreds of kilometers - this was the ancient transport network of the Cham Kingdom as they moved goods between the highlands and then through Hoi An and onto China. Speedboats ortraditional ghe nang sailing on the river or sea.










Get around
The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Evenings are especially busy with motorbikes competing with pedestrians for even the smallest space on the street! The city's government does not allow motorbikes to enter the Old Town on the 14th and 15th of each lunar month. On those evenings, a lot of activities, including traditional games are held in all over the town.
Taxis can be found in the middle of Le Loi Street, over the river on An Hoi or called by phone.A local 15 minute taxi fare is around 60,000 VND. Motorbike taxis, of course, are always an option.More so if you are travelling alone.  You can also charter boats for about US$1/hour.

Cost of motorbike rentals in Hoi An town in 2013: US$4 to 5 per day (80-100,000 dong). Note: foreign International Driving licenses are NOT valid in Vietnam and in case of accident, a foreigner driving a motorcycle without a valid license is at fault and will pay! Also personal insurance may not be  valid for someone riding on a motorcycle with a driver who does not have a valid license.

See
Old Town

Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon / ticket system, where 90,000 dong (US$5) gets you a ticket that can be used to enter 5 attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple.
Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town. I was impressed by the fact , it was a wonderful way to show the old city – where you can see the old city and residents in their houses and at the same time the money paid to them (indirectly through the coupon) helps them to maintain their house. Why this can’t be done in old part of my city along Rabindra Sarani/Chitpore where there are so many heritage buildings. One of my French friends also told me that Hanoi reminds her of Kolkata – but one is a beauty and the other is a beast. When you enter the old house, they will keep the portion of the tickets. Some of the houses of course do not take the coupon – so we saw far more than the 5 houses we are entitled to see.The city requests that visitors dress "decently" while visiting sites in the Old Town : in case of men wear a shirt and in case of women don't wear a bikini top, sleeveless blouse or skirt above the knees. Respect the local culture and remember that you are not on the beach. The important  landmarks of old town of Hoi An are :

Japanese Covered Bridge , on the west end of Tran Phu Street. The bridge was constructed in the early 1600's by the Japanese community, roughly 40 years before they left the city to return to Japan under the strict policy of sakoku enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and renovated in 1986. Today, it's the symbol of Hoi An. To enter you have to give one coupon, but it's possible to cross back and forth several times without meeting a ticket-checker


Quan Cong Temple, 24 Tran Phu Street.

 

 The ticket also allows admission to one of the 4  museums in the Old Town:

Museum of Folk Culture: Some may be put off by the bizarre-looking plaster sculptures of Vietnamese peasants, but this museum documents the dress and culture of rural Vietnam.

Museum of Trade Ceramics,: Tran Phu Street. The dusty, unlabeled displays of broken pottery are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough, and it provides a better opportunity to explore the layout of an old Hoi An home.

Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, Nguyen Hue Street. The museum contains some old black and white photos of Hoi An taken in the early 20th century. It also houses an old canon, some two-thousand year old pots from the Sa Huynh period, and a case full of 9th century bricks and tiles from the Champa period.

Museum of Say Huynh Culture : The museum's main collection consists of pottery and urns from the 1st and 2nd centuries. Upstairs is another museum, the Museum of the Revolution. Its main collection consists of pictures from war heroes and a collection of weapons such as grenade launchers, machine guns and AK 47s.

There are 3 old houses that exist in an awkward halfway state between museum show-piece and   somewhat shabby residence for the family that lives there. Your ticket allows admission to one.

Phung Hung House, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, just west of the Japanese Bridge. Traditional two-story wooden house, inhabited over 100 years by eight generations; and the current one attempts to guide you around in hope of a tip.


Quan Thang House, Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.

Tan Ky House, Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. As above, a younger member of the family will provide a cup of tea and a "tour" that doesn't stray from the front room of the house, as you'd need to step over sleeping members of the older generation to go anywhere else. The design of the house shows how local architecture incorporated Japanese and Chinese influences. Japanese elements include the crab shell-shaped ceiling supported by three beams in the living room. Chinese poems written in mother-of-pearl are hanging from a number of the columns that hold up the roof.
 

Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents socialized and held meetings, are dotted around the town. They are typically named after the home region of their members, such as Fujian and Canton. Your ticket allows admission to one. Some do not have ticket-takers, so it's up to your conscience if you want to try wandering into a second.

Cantonese Assembly Hall, Tran Phu Street. Built in 1885, it has a calm courtyard with ornate statuary. Take a peek at the half-hidden back yard and its kitschy pastel dragon statues.

Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall , Tran Phu Street. Built in 1757.


Chinese All-Community Meeting Hall ,  Nguyen Duy Hieu. Built in 1887. It's near the Fujian hall, also spanning the block.

 

Finally, you can choose one of the following to get some "Intangible Culture":

Hoi An Handicraft Workshop, Bach Dang Street. Folk music performances are offered at 10:15 and 15:15 every day except Monday.


Traditional Theatre, Nguyen Thai Hoc Street

 Swan Boats, Make sure you check out the swan boats on the river. These are literally passenger boats shaped like giant swans whose eyes light up at night
 

The Hoi An Orphanage is located right next to the Roman Catholic church. Do recognize that children should not be exploited as tourist attractions -- this is not a zoo. If you want to visit and speak with the people who run the orphanage about their work or make a donation, please do.

03/4/2013

Yesterday we booked a tour from a travel agent near our hotel to go to Hindu Champa or Cham temples.  An old lady there reminds me of a typical Bengali old lady with a Chittagong lineage !


From her we got to know that they refer India as Ando ! We were picked up by a bus to visit My Son in the morning, about one and half hour away from Hoi An. My Son trip is cheap in town at 60,000-100,000 VND, depending upon the mode of trasnport. We opted for going by bus and coming back by boat.

My Son is a set of ruins from the ancient Cham Empire in the central coast of Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My Son was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
My Son was built by the Champas who ruled Central Vietnam from  200 AD to  1700 AD until finally annexed by the Vietnamese in the 19th Century.
Influenced by Hinduism they built temple complexes in Central Vietnam. The best known and preserved temples still in daily use by Buddhists is the Po Nagar Cham Towers in Nha Trang. By 10th Century some Cham people became Muslims (there are Cham Muslim communities in Cambodia).  The Champa King lived in the political capital of Tra Kieu (the commercial capital was the port of Hoi An) - so the temples of My Son were the most important temples of the Champa Kingdom between the 4th century and the 13th century. Bricks were used to build the temples — without the aid of mortar — and sculptures of gods, priests, animals, and scenes of mythical battles and devotion adorned the walls. These temples are places of worship of Lord Vishnu.

After the fall of the Champa the jungle began to reclaim the temples. The temples had already fallen into disrepair by the 1960's when the Viet Cong used My Son as a base - the Vietnamese are not Cham and having defeated them have little respect or interest in their culture & heritage. Finally an Act of Congress was passed prohibiting US bombing of My Son - which in effect allowed the Vietnamese to use My Son as a base.

Today there is no benefit for the local communities in My Son from tourism to this UNESCO site, although local community benefit is required under UNESCO WHS status. In general SE Asia UNESCO WHS sites are very poorly managed compared to sites in developed countries. This points to a deeper problem within both the United Nations and host countries. A Western foreign tourist to SE Asia should expect all SE Asian UNESCO WHS site status to be no more than a sales & marketing pitch for mass tourism - i.e. more destruction than preservation !  For example, at  My Son there are no Hindu Cham monk or priest, no respect for the Hindu religion or temples, no connection of the temple to local communities, no benefits to local communities from tourism, artifacts are being stolen, buffer zone nature being destroyed, etc. There are travel guides that compare My Son with Angkor WatBagan and Borobudur. Historically, they have a point: in their time, these complexes were leading spiritual centers, and they have all fallen into a state of atmospheric ruin. However, the ruins at My Son are not as impressive as either of the aforementioned sites, for various reasons. Still the gorgeous jungle scenery may be worth the trip, and anyone who has an interest in Vietnamese history that doesn't involve America or France will be fascinated.
The layout of the Champa Kingdom with the temples (My Son), political capital (Tra Kieu) and commercial centre (Hoi An) and the offshore Cham Islands is based on the principles of feng shui.













Get in
It is a 1-hour drive by motorbike from Hoi An, assuming you find your way the first time! The park is open 8-5, but the later afternoon hours are calmer and not too hot. Bring water.
One way to visit My Son is to join an organized tour from Hoi An, which is about one hour away. Any hotel or travel agent will be chomping at the bit to set you up with one. The cost can be absurdly low — US$5 will get you there and back on a bus, or you can do the trip in a bus and a boat, with lunch and an extra stop or two, for US$6. Neither includes the cost of admission to My Son, though, which is now 100,000 VND from 60,000 dong. Still no benifit to local communities. You can drive in and park inside the park closer to the ruins for 30,000 VND which goes directly to the restaurant. The best time of the day is to visit My Son is early in the morning or late afternoon when there are few tourists.

For a sunrise tour, expect to leave Hoi An around 5AM. Most other tours leave around 8AM. A private driver and car runs about US$ 70 from Danang (My Son admission excluded) with return trip included.
Given the relatively small scale of the ruins — and how easily they're overwhelmed by crowds — you're much better off doing the trip on your own. A round-trip on a motorbike taxi from the center of Hoi An should cost about US $10 and 4 seater car about US $35. The rural scenery on the way to My Son is among the most beautiful in the country,

If you'd like to drive yourself you'll see more foreigners on motorbikes here than anywhere else in Vietnam . As it is only a 43 km drive, you will need to buy at the maximum 2 liters of petrol which costs about 42,000 dong. 

Get around

All vehicles go as close as 100 meters  from the temples.
In the past drivers will leave you near the ticket office, which is a few kilometers away from the ruins. After crossing a bridge and walking through some gorgeous scenery for a few minutes, you'll arrive at a small depot, where jeeps and vans wait to shuttle visitors the rest of the way. When you're done touring the ruins, jeeps or vans will be waiting in the same place to take you back the other way.
You can explore the ruins by foot, with nothing more challenging than a slight hill to cover. Maps of the area tend to give the impression that the site is larger than it actually is. There are plenty of comfortable, rustic-looking benches along the way. Little known is the lake at the bottom of My Son for quiet kayaking, or the surrounding hills for hiking.

See & Do
Near the ticket office there is a Champa museum, describing many of the artifacts and the history of the site. The curators have made the odd (and maddening) decision to remove virtually all of the better-preserved sculptures from the ruins and display them here or at the small museum in Group A instead of in context with the temples where they belonged. Accordingly, try to visit the museum briefly before visiting the temples themselves — it closes a half-hour before everything else, so you might not be able to catch it on the way out. Pieces of sculpture  visably have been stolen from My Son  !
The temples are in varying states of (dis)repair, with restoration still underway on some. They are situated in nine "groups", labeled A-G.
Effectively, there are three major sites: A, B-C-D, and E-F.
The G, H and L ruins are separate and a little trickier to find. If you can't find them, don't spend all day trying; they're much smaller than the rest. All of the sites are connected by reasonably well-labeled walking tracks.
The entire layout of the temples is according to the sun and rays of the sun and in the early morning this is clearly visible. The early morning sunlight shines behind the head of Lord Vishnu from where it is scattered throughout.
The layout should be Sanskrit scriptures are first, then the Lingam over which water flows to wash hands and feet before entry barefoot into the temples. There are traditional dancing displays 9:45 AM for the benefit of the tour groups (except Mondays). The stage is right before you reach the first group of ruins, across from the souvenir shop. These are NOT traditional dances, the entire show is not within the context of My Son as a UNESCO sanctuary - do holy Hindu temples in India and other countries have dancing ?

Sleep

There's no accommodation available in My Son. In the Myson what we saw is generally ruins and some sculptures (broken). Nevertheless it was interesting. We learnt from the guide some of the idols stolen are in Louvre museum of Paris. Champa or Cham civilization was at its zenith some time around 1000 AD. We also saw the craters in the ruins. Americans even did not spare the temples of Champa. In fact our guide's father was one of the soldiers who took refuge in the Champa ruins era. 
It was a place where many Vietnamese assembled during the war. We can only visualize what it was 1000 years ago. Most of the interesting idols are in Da Nang Cham museum. We were the only Asian in this tour. Although it was ruins, I found it very interesting. There are different versions from where they have come. 
After the tour was over, we boarded the bus and were dropped at the boat station. From there we came back to Hoi An by boat. On the way we got down at boat making village, wood carving village etc. We were given some basic lunch at the boat. The old Champa way was to travel by the river system. The rivers of Hoi An cover hundreds of kilometers and offer an interesting & adventurous alternative to travelling by road. After coming back to Hoi An we went to see the remaining old houses of the city – which we could not see yesterday. After strolling around the old city, we purchased the famous lanterns of Hoi An. Then we went back to our hotel and had our dinner at Café 43.
04/4/2013

By bus to Da Nang from Hoi An


There is a public bus (#1) from Da Nang bus station to Hoi An bus station (18,000 dong), and we heard that they try to charge foreigners 40,000 dong. We walked upto the bus station which is around 500 metres from our hotel. At the bus station exactly that is what happened they returned only 40,000 dong to us instead of 64,000 dong. We asked the fare from a local before boarding the bus. When we said you are over charging and wanted to get back fhe right balance, the lady conductor rather shamelessly returned back the money to us. In fact most of the conductors in Thailand and Vietnam are woman. Almost all the buses are air conditioned. Da Nang is around 1 hr from Hoi An. Luckily we got down exactly in front of Da nang Cham museum.


 See
§  Cham Museum . Founded in 1915 it houses a collection of stone sculptures from the Hindu-practicing Cham civilization, which occupied much of central Vietnam in the first millennium AD. through the 14th century. Entrance is 30,000 VND, and the museum can be toured in about an hour. The sculptures are nearly all made of sandstone, and some have weathered badly over the centuries, but you can still appreciate the delightful artistic quality of the figures, which include Shiva, garudas, nagas, lions, monkeys, and elephants. The collection also includes striking examples of the ancient Hindu icons of fertility -- lingam altars decorated around the sides with rows of breasts.











 













 The sculptures were mostly removed from the facades or interiors of Cham ruins (which would have been looted otherwise.) The ruins themselves, such as nearby My Son, now tend to be crumbling piles of bricks and somewhat disappointing, giving little sense of the spectacular artwork produced by the Cham civilization. Any visit to My Son should be paired with the Cham Museum. The collection is also interesting to compare with Balinese sculpture and the early, Hindu phase of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
  
We told the security guard that we are going to meet  Mr. Van Vo Thang , Director of the museum. .




We called him before going to Vietnam. When we reached there it was already 11 p.m. In Vietnam many government offices open at 7 am, so by their standard it is quite late. We were escorted to the office of Mr Thang. We gave the gifts which Mr Geetesh Sharma gave us to be handed over to him. He gave us a memento to be given to Mr Sharma and one for us. Since he will be leaving shortly, we left his room to see the museum.  It was quite amazing to see the museum like this. It is impossible to tell that you are not in India. We saw the sculptures of Vishnu, Shiva, Nandi, Saraswati, Brahma, laxmi, Yaksha all around us. The museum is very well maintained and nicely displayed. Much better than what we see in India. In the museum they were selling some of the replicas of the idols of My Son. But even within the museum there is no fixed price, you have to haggle !  In fact most of the sculptures of My Son are in Da Nang museum. Otherwise everything would have been stolen !

Da Nang  is Vietnam's third largest city, and is located on the Eastern Sea coast, midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and the largest city of Central Vietnam.The city itself has neither the atmosphere of Hanoi nor the hustle-bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, but has its share of sights and is close to the charms of Hoi An and the imperial capital of Hue, making it a popular vacationing spot for those looking to explore the attractions of central Vietnam or soak up some rays while hanging out on the city's beaches.

Understand
The regions surrounding Da Nang (My SonQuang Nam) were founded by the Cham practicing Hindus , serving as the capital city and centre of the Hindu Champa Dynasty. Vietnamese invasion into the region in the 17th century significantly halted Cham development and during the Vietnam War, vast monuments and buildings were bombed.


We saw the Marble Mountains while going back to Hoi An. Since were little late, we did not get down to see it. ( admission 15,000 dong) It is  9 km south of downtown and across the street from many of the larger beach side resorts. The group includes Kim Son (Mountain of Metal), Moc Son (Mountain of Wood), Thuy Son (Mountain of Water), Hoa Son (Mountain of Fire), and Tho Son (Mountain of Earth). Several Buddhist temples have been built into the caves and grottoes, and it's a popular pilgrimage site. The real fun, though, is at the Am Phu cave, where you can make the steep climb up toward the light and a view from the top of the mountain, surrounded by approving sacred images. Either way, bring walking or climbing shoes. Open-tour buses will stop here, but you'll be rushed along; any motor driver in Da Nang or Hoi An will be happy to take you and let you set the schedule. Guides are available. Watch out for the rapacious statue-sellers outside, though.


















After walking around Da Nang, we left for Hoi An by a bus. I was told by Mr Sharma, who has visited Vietnam 17 times till date, in 1984 the whole town was in a ruin. Whatever you see today happened in last 28 years !















Coffee

As drinking coffee is a part of Vietnamese culture, it's a good idea if you spend your time on drinking coffee there. Coffee in Vietnam, especially coffee in the middle of Vietnam, is very strong and has a very wonderful smell. In Danang, people spend a lot of time drinking coffee and chatting with friends and family in coffee shops. There are several kinds of coffee shop in Danang: Luxurious coffee shops, mid-class coffee shops and special coffee shops. Vietnam produces second largest quantity of coffee after Brazil.

Buy
Almost every building in the OLD TOWN town area of Hoi An that isn't a restaurant is a shop selling one of the following: clothes, shoes, souvenirs, bags, or jewellery. These places are pretty much entirely geared to sell to tourists, not Vietnamese. Prices are often inflated compared to the rest of Vietnam because of this, and are quoted in dollars (usually a bad sign), so haggling is advisable. Even so, the sheer range of available styles and the ability to get any clothes custom made for you can make it worthwhile.

Custom made Suits

You can see the tailoring shop all around Hoi An old quarters . You can choose the colour and type for every material used, and can dictate every part of the style. Measurements are taken and the specifications are either sent out for fabrication at a factory or workshop outside the city or, more rarely, made in-house. The suit is usually complete by the next day. Most shops will keep tailoring it until you are satisfied.
It should be noted, however, that the quality of tailoring and materials, especially for business suits, is NOT comparable to what one can expect from Singapore or Hong Kong. If you are looking for a more run-of-the mill or casual going-out suit Hoi An tailors will be more than adequate .
Quality has its price, including in Hoi An: If you go for the cheapest shop or cloth on offer, you will be disappointed. This does not mean, however, that you should not negotiate. It's part of the experience.

-Bring enough time and don't go for the 24h-suit (unless you want to look like a clown): You will need at least a few days for proper fittings. Let the shop owner know that you have enough time to come in multiple times.

Cloned clothes

Hoi An has a long tradition of copying and then rapidly making up new garments for travellers. You can bring in clothes (or even a picture of clothes) that you want copied to any tailor shop and they will try to imitate it. You can often choose the type of fabric and the colour for the copy. You can bargain for a better price, especially if you are getting multiple copies. One of your British co passengers , made a dress for forthcoming wedding she will attend. She seems to be happy.















     

     Custom made shoes







Another thing you will find in Hoi An are Shoe shops . All the shoe shops in Hoi An will make custom shoes for you. The greatest concentration of shoe stores is along Hoang Dieu street, where there are at least 8 stores in a row. You can ask them to make you a style that you see there, or one in a catalogue or picture. You can choose the material, colour and type of base. As with the custom clothes, the fabrication is usually done a little outside of town, or at least in an area with lower rent costs.  Find shoe shops where is written: No like = no pay.



Eat

Food in Hoi An is, even by high Vietnamese standards, cheap and tasty. In addition to the usual suspects, there are three dishes that Hoi An are particularly famous :
§  Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles which are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The secret is the water used to make it, and authentic cao lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies.
§  White rose , a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose.

Wonton dumplings , essentially the same as the Chinese kind, served up in soup or deep-fried.




I tried all of these and they are quite nice. If you are really very adventurous, you can seat on stools, eating a bowl of Cao Lau with wooden chopsticks, and sipping the ice cold "White Coffee with vinamilk" . At almost street corner we can see the locals sitting on the stools and eating and chatting.
Walking along the river at night, you will find a lot of pubs. Beer is around 30,000 dong. There are some bar where foods are also available, such as fried prawn crackers for around 15000 dong a plate. Just walk into any pub and have a seat. Mineral water is around 10,000 dong for a big 1.5L bottle. We ate at one of the hawkers corner beside the river.

Prices in the very centre of Hoi An are generally a little inflated by the tourist trade - The tourist trade has really hurt the prices of all areas of town. Don't pay more than 10,000 for a baguette; 10,000  for a beer (most places want 10-15); and 20,000  for a bowl of noodles.

Our favourite restaurant was Cafe 43 :  43 Tran Cao Van. This place has the usual traveler fare with Biere Lerue for 10,000 dong  and bia hoi (pronounced doy in the South) fresh beer for 3000 dong. The food is general traveler fare but tasty. Try the Cao Lao noodles which is the local speciality; the portion size is good. The "fresh spring rolls" (steamed) are around 40,000  dong but are huge. This place is becoming more and more popular  
Hoi An New Town

The atmosphere of the Old Town hasn't been preserved by accident: strict bylaws prohibit new construction within its narrow lanes. As a result, there's a building boom just outside the borders of the Old Town, most noticeably as you head north of Le Hong Phong.

After coming back to Hoi An , we quickly freshened up at the hotel and left for the old quarters where our open bus will be waiting to take us to Na Trang. 

5/4/2013

Nha Trang

We reached Nha Trang early in the morning.  We took a taxi to reach our hotel. Most open tour buses arrive from Ho Chi Minh City in the south (10-12 hours) and Hoi An to the north (16 hours).
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s most famous seaside resort-town. It's more lively and urban in character than other beach destinations like Mui Ne and Phu Quoc. It's also the scuba diving center of Vietnam.







Understand
Traces of human settlement in Nha Trang date back to the Cham Empire, though in times of Vietnamese rule, there wasn’t much more than small fishing villages. The French recognized that this beautiful bay, with its islands and white sand beaches, made for a perfect bathing spot, and began the transformation into a resort town.
The monsoon season is from October to mid December. Sea winds can be heavy, and sometimes the weather can get pretty chilly. Summer, naturally, brings many vacation goers into town and hotel rooms get somewhat more difficult to find. By night, late night pick pockets are waiting for tourists. The motorbike taxi, is a genuine problem.They will occasionally try to sell you women. A simple taxi ride can turn into a problem. Police is virtually unseen in the city. Certainly, by day, the city has plenty of charm. However, by night, Nha Trang, really is a city I'd take simple precautions (like Bangkok, Saigon, Patong, etc).

Get around
Today, most of the tourist infrastructure is in the southern part of town around Biet Thu, whereas most of the locals live around the Cho Dam in the northern quarters.  Tran Phu is the backbone of the city, accompanied by a pleasant waterfront promenade, palm trees and the nearly 6km of beach. We stayed at Tran Phu Road.
Nha Trang has a reliable and easy to navigate public bus system, where the ticket fare does not exceed 3000 dong for a ride on a modern, air-conditioned bus with Vietnamese music.  A wonderful option for seeing the sites is to hire a cyclo-driver for the day@ USD$10
I found the city tour more or less same as what we have seen in other cities. It included a Pagoda ( Long Son Pagoda, Thai Nguyen St. At this pagoda, you will see a 79 ft. tall white Buddha) and Po Nagar. Since, I was more interested to see the Po Nagar Temple, we skipped the city tour.  There are some island tours which we skipped since in that case we would have missed the Po Nagar. So we hired a motorbike Taxi for us. We took two hired 2 bikes. The journey was nice and interesting and one can have 360 degree view. The beach was on our right.

§  Po Nagar Cham Towers;  Admission US$ 0.8. The name reminded me of T Nagar in Chennai, India.  These four brick towers were built by the Cham civilization between the 7th and 12th century to honor Yang Ino Po Ngar, mother of the kingdom, and the incense aroma emanating from within makes it clear that this remains a religious site for the local Buddhists of Nha Trang today. The longevity of these last vestiges of a once-dominant South East Asian civilization should impress temple enthusiasts. The small complex sits on a hill which enjoys views across Nha Trang's fishing village.  One can have a wonderful view of the city from that place. We spent some time there. We saw Lingas inside the temple. The temple is quite well maintained (restored).There is a nice museum inside.

Then we took the bike waiting for us outside the temple to drop us near the hotel. Since we were hungry we had our lunch at KFC. Then we went back to the hotel. Mohua had some urgent official work – which she did at the internet kiosk inside the hotel (free). Due to sudden power cut, what ever she wrote were deleted !! . Because of the power cut, we had to wait some time before she could send it to India.

Then we decided to go to the beach for swimming. The beach is the main draw here. The sand is quite littered, so if you are going to Nha Trang specifically for the beach, and have been to other Asian destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines you are likely to be very disappointed. You will see many women vendors walking along the beach selling fruit and hot, steamed seafood.
There was some activity on the beach like para sailing,beach volleyball etc. People were playing football on the beach.  I swam for around 1 hour.  Then we sat for some time on the beach. By the time we left the beach  it was almost dark. We went to see an exquisite exhibition near the beach. The embroidery work in Vietnam is simply mind blowing and I have not seen anything  like this before. They draw a picture with the embroidery. After having our dinner, we reached our hotel. By that the party has already started in our hotel. There is a night club in front of our hotel. So it was bit difficult for us to sleep at night because of the sound.

 We bought some provisions  from one of the numerous departmental stores (like 7/11 shop in Thailand). Before coming to Vietnam I read the Organized retail is allowed in Vietnam unlike India, in spite of the fact it is a communist country. We bought it  from the nearby A Mart . There are a couple of well stocked modern mini-supermarkets in the main tourist area called A Mart. These are very much aimed at the tourist market and few locals will be seen shopping here. Another remarkable thing in Nha Trang is many places everything is written only in Russian. It shows it is a favourite place for Russians










6/4/2013

We got up early in the morning , had our breakfast in the hotel and left for Ho chi Min city or Saigon. I wanted to go to Mue Ne and Dalat, but because of lack of time, we had to skip both. Da Lat is a hilly region. It falls on the way (one of the routes) to Ho Chi Minh City.
We took the other route via Mui Ne. Mui Ne is a nice resort area in Phan Thiet, near Ho Chi Minh City (south Vietnam). The formerly little-inhabited beach south of the fishing village of Mui Ne has seen some serious development in the last 15 years. Now it is a 15 km long strip of resorts that line up like pearls on Nguyen Dinh Chieu street, shaded by coconut palms. The main resort strip lies between the addresses of 2 and 98 Nguyen Dinh Chieu and is actually named Ham Tien.

By bus
Most overseas visitors reach Mui Ne via "Open Tour" buses that run between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. We reached Mui Ne around 2:00PM . We had our lunch there in one of the restaurants near our bus station. Some people got down at Mui Ne, while others boarded the bus at Mui Ne for Saigon.

The buses stop in the heart of the tourist strip in Mui Ne, so there is no need to take a taxi.

If you are traveling to HCMC from Mui Ne, you will most likely be put on an already full bus traveling from Nha Trang. Some of the less scrupulous travel agents you may not even get a real seat .

Get around
You can't get lost in Mui Ne, since the whole place consists of one long strip along a main street, Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Motorbike ta xi (xe om) are everywhere and their drivers will bug you each time you leave the hotel. Bargain hard to get appropriate prices - 10,000 to 15,000VND is more than enough to pay for a ride from one place to another along the main strip.

On the way to Mui ne we saw some temples, which is a derelict remainder of the ancient Cham culture that was built in the 8th century. The whole journey from Nha Trang to Mui Ne is quite mind blowing.

There are Day Tours in Mui Ne. Travel agents and restaurants abound with day tour offerings. The standard half day tour ($10-13 USD) takes in the fishing village, fairy stream, and the red and while sand dunes. Tours normally start at either 5:00AM or 2:30PM, so you can watch the sunrise/sunset over the sand dunes. Obviously we could not do it , since the bus halted only for lunch !
But while coming to Mui Ne, we could see the fascinating land scape of red sand dunes. The famous Sand Dunes at the north end of Mui Ne bay, about 10 km from the main resort strip. The whole region is fairly sandy, with orange sand threatening to blow onto the coastal road in some spots. Most day tours sold by local tour operators include a stop at the dunes.
Swimming. The sea is wonderfully warm, but it can be quite rough, with large waves and a strong rip tide. When the tide is in, there is not much of a beach to speak of. The area between kilometer markers 11 and 13 has the largest stretch of enduring sandy beach. Since large waves normally emerge after 11AM you might prefer to swim in the early morning hours, when the water is flat .








Get out
The bus journey to Nha Trang/Ho Chi Minh city  takes about 5 hours. After taking my lunch we left for Saigon. In fact Mohua did not get down from the bus, so I bought packed food for her. We left for our last destination : Saigon. When we reached Saigon it is already dark and we reached at around 8 pm.


Ho Chi Minh City
 

Ho Chi Minh City , commonly known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn) or HCMC or HCM, is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

Understand
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners.

Get in
Bus
The No. 152 non-air-conditioned airport bus is the cheapest and safest way for heading to Pham Ngu Lao Street from the airport plus a 5,000 dong fee for bags; the bus will drop you off at the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area (at the bus terminal on the southwest side of the Ben Thanh Market roundabout).  Try to have exact change or you will be given coins in return. These are legal tender in Vietnam, but many places do not accept them. Note that the bus is only available until 6:00 pm. Interestingly in Vietnam I did not get any coins.

When going to the airport, specify clearly which terminal you want to go to. International flights leave from the newer international terminal .  Domestic flights (to Danang, Hanoi, Nha Trang, and so on) are from domestic terminal (turn left). If you get dropped off at the wrong terminal, you'll have to dash to the correct terminal via a pedestrian walkway link 600 metres away. When entering the airport, taxi drivers will add an airport entry fee of 10,000 dong to your total metered fare. This is not to be confused with the airport departure tax, which should have been included in the price of your airline ticket.

Get around
 By cyclo
A ride on a cyclo, which is sort of akin to a reverse tricycle with the passenger sitting in a front seat, through downtown HCMC is a great way to see the city the way the locals do. The sights, sounds, and smells are a large part of the excitement of the city, and are best experienced from the relaxed pace of a cyclo. A word of warning: be careful with cameras, purses and watches while cyclo riding as these items are easily stolen by motorbike riders.
Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes. Crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. It is always scary, for some they will get used to it quite quickly. If ever in doubt, Saigon's "Tourist Security" officers (guys in marked green uniforms) will happily help you across. A quicker way of getting across is to simply follow the lead of a local crossing the street.
Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is worse, and while they're not always followed, riders/drivers tend to use "best judgment". A typical scenario played here, and in other big cities in Vietnam is motorcycles dash from everywhere. The thumb rule of crossing in the US of look to the left and at the median, look to the right does not follow. Look everywhere as you cross, in all directions .

Maps
You will receive a free 'VN Trip Map - for travel and coupons' by Vietnamese women wearing the traditional ao dai dress as you are leaving Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Additionally, most hotels will provide a free tourist map of District 1 although these vary in quality. The District what we understand in India is different here, it is more of a neighbourhood like Connaught Place, Ballygunge etc.
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Talk
As with most other parts of Vietnam, the main language is Vietnamese. The local dialect of Vietnamese is the southern dialect, which differs somewhat from the northern dialect spoken in Hanoi, though speakers of both dialects are usually able to comprehend each other. English is spoken by most of the younger well-educated upper class. Educated senior citizens are usually able to speak French, though generally speaking, English is far more useful these days.
Ho Chi Minh City is also home to a size able ethnic Chinese community, mostly around Chinatown and many of them are bilingual in Cantonese and Vietnamese. A few useful phrases ARE : Hello: Seen Chow ,  Excuse Me, Sorry: Seen Loy, Thank You: Gam Un , Very Good: Rut Thoat, Bye: Tham Bee-it
But we had great difficulty in Vietnam is communicating. Hardly anybody speaks English on the street. So the idea I had that apart from Philippines , Vietnam is a threat to India’s booming BPO is unfounded. But generally people in Saigon speaks better English.
Since we were late, we walked around the touristic part of Saigon and booked our city tour of next day. Our hotel is in a very convenient location. The touristic part of Saigon is quite similar to the scene of Khao San Road of Bangkok. We had wonderful strawberry Shinto (juice) and Pho from a chain of Restaurant Pho 24. 

7/4/2013

Today we left for the city tour. We were picked up from our hotel. We had some Vietnamese spring roll as breakfast in our hotel. Since this is off season , they hired a mini van since not many passengers were around. We met a nice Malysian couple in the van.


See
§  First we went to see the War Remnants Museum  - Open daily from 7:30AM-12PM, 1:30PM-5PM. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than 5 months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 stories of exhibits and various U.S. military hardware (tanks, jets, helicopters, howitzers) on display outside the building. This disturbing display of man's cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War includes halls full of gruesome photographs, a simulated "tiger cage" prison and jars of deformed foetuses attributed to contamination by Agent Orange.
 An exhibit on the 3rd floor tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented, and often disappeared or died in the war. As usual I was late and and other co tourists were waiting for us. Actually the time given is completely inadequate.
There are many things which I saw is something I never heard or knew before. I had no idea that Agent Orange was used in such a huge way by Americans. I would be lying if I say I came out with 'just' a bad impression of Americas role during the war. Actually it is extremely disturbing and changed my attitude towards Vietnam somewhat (Since we were bit annoyed by the continuous cheating we have been subjected to in Vietnam, before coming to the museum). It is not without reason Bertand Russel used such strong words to condemn US Vandalism. Even today many Vietnamese children are suffering from Agent Orange (transmitted from their parents). See the pictures below. 




                         

Effect of Agent orange



On the way I could see the Mariamman temple (Hindu temple in South Indian temple style – typical of this region, be it Singapore or Bangkok or KL) in Saigon  


Thien Hau Pagoda, : Then we went to the Thien Hau Pagoda. The Malaysian elderly couple offered prayer. It is dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honour on the 23rd day of the March . Don't miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Entry is free.  Then it suddenly started raining. So I had a chat with our guide. I told her that the name  Ho Chi Minh  is very well known in India. I asked her many questions. She told me she cannot tell me too many things, because otherwise she might be in Jail, if she tells me internal things of Vietnam !! It was very apparent she was not happy with the present government, like most communist countries and there is human right violation everywhere. So what I have read is correct.





 §  Then we went to the wholesale market for some marketing : Chợ Bình Tây in the Chinatown, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, silk to obscure varieties of fermented fish, dried seafood . If you are searching for a variety of Vietnam silks and velvets, skip the tourist trap of Ben Thanh Market and head for Bình Tây instead. Most of Chợ Bình Tây is wholesale goods. The market reminded me of market in India somewhat. It is chaotic and quite hot inside. But some of the stuffs are interesting.

§  Lacquer ware, (opposite Lucky Plaza on Dong Khoi). One of the stand out things to bring home from Saigon. We went to the Lacquer ware shop – Mohua bought some souvenir from there.
Then we went for lunch break. We were brought to district 1 or touristic place of Saigon. Some of the new tourists joined after lunch and some of co-tourists left the tour. We had our lunch at the same Pho 24 shop.


Then we went to the Reunification Palace,  Open daily 7:30AM-11:00AM, 1PM-4PM. 









Also known as Independence Palace (this is the old name). This is a restored 5 floor time left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966). Formerly South Vietnam's presidential palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese supporters and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh's indomitable revolutionary forces, upon which point the South Vietnamese supporters were forgiven and everyone lived happily ever after. There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds outside the palace. Entry 30,000 dong.  One can have a nice view of the city from the Reunification Palace.

Then we went to see the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral .This is a French-built Catholic cathedral in the city centre. Free entry. Apparently everything is brought from France to make this cathedral. Then we went to the main post office across the road of the cathedral. Its façade is quite nce. Inside the post office it is more of a souvenir shop. Basically they have converted everything into a shop – wherever we havegone. It is a good way of marketing your country. We have to learn many things from them. 
Just in front of the post office we saw a photo shoot of a newly wed couple.

Eat

You're spoiled for choice in Saigon, which offers the country's largest variety of Vietnamese and international food. Bargains are getting harder to find, however, and restaurant prices have been rising at up to 30% per year due to a combination of higher food prices, rising wages, and soaring real estate costs. Land in the city centre now sells for around US$16,000 per square meter, so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than US$1 million. Authentic local food at bargain prices is one of the glories of Vietnam, but it's getting harder to find in Saigon as the city becomes ever more upscale and cosmopolitan.
The local food shows influences from French colonial times - bakeries have fresh and excellent baguettes, which they will fill with cheese , potted meat, ham, and onions, or any combination thereof, cheaply. Beef is used in various dishes - whether in any of the many variations of pho, or in a regional specialty such as  Hue beef soup. Be sure to try, aside from pho, dishes such as the above-mentioned Hue beef soup, or "banh xeo" .
Budget
Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there's a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market . For local fast food, we tried the ubiquitous Pho 24' chain (though it can be more the twice the price of local fare). Additionally, foreign fast food franchises KFC have established presences in the city.

§ Pho 24, Clean modern chain found everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. Excellent beef noodle soup. Watch out for the fake Pho 24/24 on Pham Ngu Lao Street, which does not belong to the chain and serves terrible and expensive food.

 


Coffee shops

Vietnam is the worlds second largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil, and cà phê is very popular among the Vietnamese. It's a paradise for coffee-loving visitors. The local style is strong and sweet; key words to remember are: sữa (sweetened condensed milk), đá (ice), and nóng(hot, pronounced "nowm"). Cà phê đá is strong, sweet iced coffee; and cà phê sữa đá is the same with condensed milk. Cà phê (sữa) nóng is brewed fresh on your table brewed in a little metal apparatus placed over a cup; Prices range from 10,000 to 20,000 dong for coffee in the local style.
Since ice might or might not be made with purified water, strictly cautious visitors should avoid it, though long-term residents consume ice from reputable cafes and restaurants all the time.
Sleep
There are plenty of nice and reasonably priced local hotels available for tourists as well as the very expensive international chains like Sheraton and Hyatt.

Budget
The main backpacker hangout is Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, just a short walk (10  min) from Ben Thanh Market. The lanes and alleys in the area between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien are jammed with 5-10 room mini-hotels offering prices around US$15 per room (air-con with hot shower and cable TV).

Contact
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) telephone code: 08. Please note that in late 2008 many (but not all) land line phone numbers in Vietnam were given the prefix 3. Free wifi access is provided at many hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and cafés. You can find open access points that don't require a password throughout the area around Pham Ngu Lao/Vu Bien and Ben Than Market.

Get out
There are some tours which we could not take, since for that we have to stay one more day at Saigon are :

Cu Chi Tunnel - day-trips are tirelessly flogged by travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao, and can be done as a half-day trip, or as a full-day with a stop at Tay Ninh to see the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. Tours, including admission, should cost 70,000-110,000 dong, and are available every day of the week. Cu Chi tunnels are about a 1.5 hr drive out of HCMC centre. It's worth taking the trips to see these amazing structures so cleverly carved underground and used for survival during wartime. There is also a shooting range in which tourists can fire the same guns used in the tunnels during the war. One way to get to the tunnels is by speedboat.
Mekong Delta - boat tours are available with an almost infinite mix of itineraries. They can be short overnight trips, leisurely meanders over several nights. If doing a two or three day Mekong Tour, expect to be shuffled between tour companies along the way though.Since we have been Sundarban in India, the largest delta in the world, I thought it can be skipped.
Phnom Penh - a 6 hr bus ride to the capital of Cambodia ranges from US$10-12 (210,000-252,000 dong). When you pass into Cambodia and the bus rests for 15 min, do not buy anything from the roadside cafe. Instead, cross the road to purchase drinks or food from the roadside shops because prices can be up to 50% cheaper than the bus stop cafe.
Alternatively you could book a tour with boat and bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which will have you spending a night in a cheap hotel in Chau Doc before making the trip over the border (cross-border package prices may include visa support, which should cost 360,000-530,000 dong). Avoid Kumho Samco as they will try to charge $25 instead of $20 for the Cambodia visa.
After we were done with the day tour, we went to the hotel, to pick up our luggage and left for the bus station, which leaves (last bus at 6 pm) for the airport. At the airport we have to buy even water for astronomical price. NOTHING IS FREE in Vietnam. Not even a glass of water. That made me really annoyed. 
Anyway we reached Bangkok within an hour and spent the night in the airport to catch the morning flight next day.

8/4/2013

We reached Kolkata in time and I rushed for my office to save my half day !


Major Source : Wikitravel, wikipedia and numerous other references

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