Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, take two.

Our second visit to Ho Chi Minh City was much different than our first.  Not sure if it was because of the heat, or because of the bar being constantly raised with each new city we visited, or because we'd just been spoiled by the wonderful varieties of food up north.

That's not to say that we didn't have a great time!  It was still a lot of fun to return to a familiar city and be able to show Kim around while also enjoying some quality sitting-around time.

Kim has arrived!

and she brought us goodies!

and new gear!
Kim rocks!

While Kim toured the Mekong and visited the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace, we hung out in the parks.

Ho Chi Minh's green spaces still wowed us

We also stopped by the the Ho Chi Minh museum...

 ... which did not really wow us
except for the pretty garden outside

... and Uncle Ho's car was neat

We definitely enjoyed the buzz and hum of Ho Chi Minh City but after a few days we were all ready to move on.  So move on we did.

Food notes:
  • We visited some old haunts, like Ben Thanh market for pho and Tin Nghia for wonderful vegetarian food.
salted tofu, fried cauliflower, tofu with mushrooms
at Tin Nghia

  • We tried Banana's Juice Shop right around the corner from our guest house and wondered how we'd missed this the first time around.
 carrots, Jack LaLanne'd, for just $1

 the options were overwhelming

  • We had Vietnamese coffee...  
(of course we did)

  • And we had beer.
(still don't miss it)

Loding notes: we stuck with the familiar on this too.  Ngoc Thao Guest House continued to impress with their wonderful service, great breakfast (now that it was high season) and delicious free coffee.

From Ho Chi Minh City we took the night train to Danang in order to reach Hoi An.  Due to the holiday weekend, we couldn't get soft sleepers so we had to make do with hard sleepers.  Our only other hard sleeper experience was great - no one else was in the compartment and the train was generally clean and cool.

The hard sleeper that night, on the other hand, was not quite that luxurious.  We had three other passengers (one of whom snored) plus us; they shut off the air con in the middle of the night; we saw at least one roach and a(N ADORABLE) small mouse in our compartment; and they oversold the train so there were lots of people sleeping in the walkways outside our compartment.  But hey, we'd now officially experienced every type of Vietnamese travel, our car had a strange but cool composting toilet, and the train arrived (mostly) on time, so we're going to call that a win.

Hoi An Take Two was the opposite of Ho Chi Minh City Take Two - our second time was a lot more fun than our first.  Maybe that was because we came straight from a big tourist city and the overly-tourist areas didn't really phase us (unlike take one where we'd come from two weeks of not seeing many white people), or maybe it helped to see it through someone else's eyes.  Whatever the case, we're not complaining.

We enjoyed a little sightseeing around the city.

Hoi An by day

Hoi An by night

We also took a day trip to My Son Sanctuary, a "series of impressive tower-temples located in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence".  A lot of people on TripAdvisor actually panned these ruins saying they were "too run down" and everything was under construction.  How ruins can be "too run down" is a bit of a mystery (dear TA reviewer, is your coffee also "too hot"?), and we thought it was nice to see efforts being made to reconstruct this important piece of history that was nearly destroyed during the war.

Anyway, thanks to our (mostly) English-speaking guide, the other Cham towers we'd seen up to this point now started to make sense.  Much like the Incan ruins I saw in South America, everything here was purposefully laid out in specific orders or directions.  There was a lot of symbolism behind the amazing carvings and sculptures, and it was clear that women played a big role in this society.  And the valley was simply stunning!  We definitely recommend a visit.

"no one knows" exactly how
they got the top bricks to stay together
(maybe someone should ask the Incas)

My Son mountain keeping watch

hooray for ancient ruins!
so good for perspective -
micro and macro

After My Son we took a boat back to Hoi An and enjoyed the lovely yellow of the river.

don't even wanna know
(but otherwise the boat trip was fun)

But mostly we spent time on the riverfront watching the boats come and go while we enjoyed more delicious Vietnamese beer.

mmmm delicious

It was a great couple of days.

Food notes:
  • We finally knocked off a few more local specialties...
... like when Kim tried the banh bao vac
("white rose") - shrimp dumplings

... and Patrick sampled the mussels with crispy rice cake

but we also went back to the cao lầu whenever possible

and I do mean whenever possible
(behold my third serving in as many days)

Lodging notes: this time we opted for the Areca Homestay.  It was almost perfect - the rooms were huge and comfortable, the street was quiet, and it was much closer to town than our last place.  The only complaint was the white bread at breakfast (such a shame when there are tasty baguettes everywhere!).

Okay, enough with the familiar.  On to Hue!  Patrick and I spent just a quick night there several weeks ago and liked the vibe but didn't really explore, so it'll be new for all three of us.  Aventura!


  1. i've recently been frequenting a juice shop in a run-down neighborhood near Landover, Maryland. there's no charge for the juice, but it's BYOF&V, and you have to fix their computer. / =

  2. negative, ghostrider
    / =