More than a war
My wife was set on going to Vietnam, she had this romantic view of this destination, that is the simple reason why we ended up there. For me Vietnam was, as for most people my age (40), a war. There was nothing there for me, I thought, I was wrong. I was born in Colombia (South America) and the memory I had of Vietnam was the news reports during the late sixties, early seventies. I was never directly affected by this war, so please keep this in mind when you read this log.
Jump to the Day by Day travelog
We covered aprox. 1082 Kms (672 miles) in 11 stages. The average stage distance was 98.43 kms (61 miles), It took us 53:13 hrs of riding to cover the total distance. The average speed was aprox 20 kms/hr. The terrain was easy and the route was no difficult to navigate. We locked the bikes every night with a cable/combination padlock and the smallest Kryptonite (evolution 2000) "U" lock. Nothing was ever stolen from us. The exchange rate for foreign currency was better at the official Vietnamese banks (Vietcombank) than anywhere else. Travelers checks can be changed mostly in bigger cities. Although I don't recommend doing so in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon from now on to help me type less) you can buy counterfeited merchandise of all kinds, the latest DVDs, music CDs, software, designer name women accessories, travel guides (Most Lonely Planet guides including the Cycling Vietnam book - US $2) an many cheap imitations of sports sunglasses. You get what you pay for. Better than the counterfeited stuff are the tailor made clothes very inexpensive and quite nice. The best place for custom tailor clothes must be Hoi An, however you can have things made at any medium size town. There are very few coin operated laundromats, some hotels will wash your clothes for you, for a low fee, but beware they rely on fair weather to dry them. With very few exceptions, most souvenirs you see in other cities can be found in Saigon's shops.
If you like to drink good beer and enjoy asian cuisine this is the tour for you. The cuisine in Vietnam is one of the highlights of this trip. The taste is very delicate. On the other hand Vietnam is a country struggling to get its own identity and as all other developing countries it is a land of contrasts. There is plenty to see, hear, smell and learn, but the most impressive thing for us was the people. Vietnamese have experinced a great deal of pain and sorrow imposed by war. I didn't see any resentment towards westeners (Americans, French or any other nationality for that matter). They smile far more than people back home (San Francisco) and not just to tourists, they smile and treat each other in a way which I admire. I have found that I always connect very well with people from developing countries. I come from one, there is always an invisible link that holds us together.
Now that we are back home and have had time to digest the experience, the road conditions where not as bad as the entries in the journal. The little bit of roads away from hwy 1 we saw were ok for touring, nothing too bad. Since the country relies on bicycles as a real transportation alternative, it is extremely easy to fix your frame or component failures. Every town, regardless of size, has at least one bike/motorcycle ("honda") mechanic. Parts for touring bikes are not available but these mechanics will keep you rolling as long as you have the will to continue. In mid-size towns the central market should have a couple of bicycle retailers, some of which sell spare parts. Most places we looked had tires to fit 20", 26" size tires, and the larger workhorse chinese style bikes (28x11/2" ?). If you are touring on a bike with tires other than 26" or 20", you must bring at least one spare. However you should know I don't own any large wheel size bikes, more than 26", and my knowledge of those tire sizes is limited.
As always we saw other cycle tourists with many different "loading philosophies". We have always been able to tour with very little gear, less than 20 lbs each. Our tours are about 3 weeks long and we're willing to wash clothes every day. To help with clothes drying we take two 40 feet long (about 12 mts) pieces of nylon cord, very lightweight. This cord can be attached to bathroom towel fixtures, window bars, desks, etc to improvise a clothes line; in an emergency it can be used to tie things on your bike/body.
When riding on any Vietnamese road I would recommend using an ear plug in your left ear to help with the honking from buses & trucks, which never seem to go away. We did't see any camp grounds. However, I'm sure if you ask any farmer he'd let you pitch the tent on his property. But remember hotels are very inexpensive and you will have running water. Things are inexpensive in Vietnam, to put everything in perspective, between the two of us we averaged US $30-40 per day (US $15-20 per person) including hotel , food and beer! Besides it helps the country's economy :-)
Day 1 12-30-02
Left home 7:30pm, at the airport I asked the ticket counter lady if for security reasons we needed to leave the suitcases unlocked, she did not know. They where unlocked and the combination written on a piece of tape attached to the outside of them. China Airlines service is just plain bad, they need some classes in keeping customers satisfied. The plane left on time. I was able to sleep during the long 13 hour flight, Monica did not. We had 45 min to change planes in Taiwan but there was no need to worry, the next plane was late getting in, we left an hour late. Once in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon from now on to help me type less) only my bike arrived. Monica's was still in San Francisco, should arrive tomorrow. Before we left I had exchanged emails with "Madame Cuc" from Hotel 127 (127 Cong Quynh St. Dist.1 Tel:84-8-83687610 to get a reservation for the first couple of nights (US $ 14.00/night) and airportpickup (US $6.00)
Once we arrived at the Hotel they informed us that they did not have rooms available there, we would be placed at another of their hotels half a block away down a small alleyway, Hotel 184 (184 Cong Quynh St. Dist.1 Tel:84-8-8361679). We gave them our passports, a customary thing in Vietnam when one checks into any hotel, then they told us the room would be US $18.00 as they did not have other less expensive rooms available. We were tired, grumpy and ready for a shower so we haggled this charge down to US $16.00,. Anyway it took at least 30 minutes of waiting before we were given the room key. We were not very impressed with the treatment, but remember it's cheap and the airline had the address of the Hotel 127, half a block away own by the same people, to deliver the missing bicycle there. Took a shower and out we went to check Saigon. Called the airline to get some money to buy one days worth of clothing for Monica, as most but not all of her clothing was packed with her bicycle. China Airlines wanted us to go airport to take care of it, that will have to be tomorrow. Back at the hotel by 6 PM somewhat tired, we ate dinner (which was included in the price of the room) noodle soup and eggrolls and then to the room. One more shower and Monica went to sleep, I washed my clothes and then sleep. We travel light, less than 20 lbs each, so washing clothes everyday is part of the routine. Our first impression of Saigon, the feel of a small Colombian village, a small village with millions of people on bicycles and small motorcycles. Not too much pollution considering the amount of motor traffic. At the Hotel 127 the girls working the reception desk were hitting hard on single male guests. Hmmmm.
Day 2 12-31-02
Early wake up 6:00 AM. Had breakfast by 9:00 and walked towards downtown to check more of the town. Big mess everywhere but an organized chaos. Here big anything means right of way on the traffic food chain. However there is the "will" to avoid hitting pedestrians. Thought downtown was going to be nicer but the whole place is just as the rest of the city, dirty and very noisy. We checked some shops for possible clothes for Monica, inexpensive -then went back to the hotel after visiting some tourist traps, also went to the post office which we had heard was a very nice building. There we found out that sending the empty bicycle suitcases from Hue to Saigon's main Post Office (Poste Restante) is going to be easy and inexpensive. Had lunch downtown at a not so good place playing loud music then went to the Hotel 127 to inquire about the missing bicycle. When we were leaving the hotel Monica's bike arrived in good condition. Wheww!
Rested for a while and went to purchase plane tickets to Hue, the starting point of our ride. The agency by the hotel was out of paper tickets, so we got to walk back to downtown's main Vietnam Airlines office. US $127.00 for the two one way tickets. Back to the hotel, rested, went for dinner and to bed by 10:00 PM. Did not heard much noise celebrating New Years, the good thing of Hotel 184 is the somewhat quiet street where it is located.
Day 3 01-01-03
Woke up at 6:00 AM had breakfast and left for the airport.(US $5.00 this time) Boarded plane to Hue (1 hour flight). Our suitcases got there fine, did not have to pay any extra, thank god for folding touring bikes. Got a cab to the US $18.00/night Duy Tan Hotel 12 D Hung Vuong, tel 825001 , there was a wedding happening when we arrived, 100 plus mopeds and small motorcycles filled the parking yard, quite a sight. Reassembled the bikes and took our empty suitcases to the Main Post Office to have them shipped back to HCM City's main post office at "Saigon Central Post Office, 02 Cong Xa Paris, Dist-1 Ho Chi Minh City" (If you are planning on doing the same I'd recommend have someone from the HCM City post office write down their address for you as it has some weird characters that we did not include here). It was only US $2/suitcase, a steal and supposedly took 10 days for them to arrive. Had lunch at Restaurant Lac Thien , 6 Dinh Tien Hoang, tel 527348. just outside the Old City (The LP book has the location wrong on their book, the actual location is outside the Old City on the same street.) who's deaf mute owner communicates with signs, a very nice guy with 6 daughters and 1 son. At the restaurant they use a very unique bottle opener, he disappeared for two minnutes and later came back with one he had made for us as souvenir.
After lunch we took some photos, Walked to the lmperial City (inside Citadel, the Old City). Later at night we walked to have dinner and ended up at a restaurant who's owner was the opposite of our lunch host, a mean woman, can't remember the name of the place. Back to the hotel. Tomorrow we start our ride.
Day 4 01-02-03
Hue to lang Co
3:39 hrs moving
Woke 5:30 had breakfast left at 7:30 quite an experience, the noise, traffic not so bad just the noise pollution. Uneventful ride not interesting at all. Near the end of the day we ran into an Italian cyclist who was doing a loop of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. He was riding in the opposite direction on the equivalent of a Huffy Brand (supermarket, supercheap, superheavy) bicycle he bought for US $50 in Bangkok. We arrived at Lang Co at 11:30 AM with plans to continue onto Danang but the Thanh Tam restaurant/hotel (9A Dang Thai Than, tel 054 874456) in Lang Co was our planned stop for lunch and after enjoying the view from the patio we decided it was worth spending the night there. The hotel has an excellent beach and the rooms were only US $10 (food however was expensive). Had lunch and went for a walk on the beach, later we had more food at a road side restaurant in the same town.
Day 5 and 6 01-03-03/01-04-03
Lang Co to Hoi An
4:52 hrs moving
Early wake up, lots of wind noise and rain all night, also tons of mosquitos every time one left the protection of the bed's mosquito net. After breakfast, we left at 8:00 AM. Near the top of the 10 Kms. Hai Van Pass (Not even half as bad as other "real" passes any dedicated cyclist has done in his previous life) the hotel clerk caught up with us on a little motorcycle, we had left our passports at the hotel!! This passport requirement takes some getting used to. Big thanks and a tip and we are on our way to the beginning to the downhill to Danang. What a big ugly city. At 11:30 AM visited the Cham Museum (45.01 kms). From this point on the Cycling Vietnam book sucked until we found our way to China Beach. As soon as we left the excellent restaurant by the ocean at China Beach started to rain. It was flat and boring to Hoi An. Arrived at 3:30. Found a good hotel the Thanh Binh III Hotel for US $12.00 with pool and all. This is a very touristy town, good place to buy shorts and tailor made clothes in general, also sleeping bag liners (US $5-10) a nice luxury item when traveling in undeveloped regions. There is excellent food in town, we specially liked the Restaurant Trung Bac (87 Tran Phu St.) directly across the street from a restaurant recommended in the tourist guide books but less crowded and with a very nice family, cooking delicious traditional dishes. We decided to spend an extra day in this town.
Day 7 01-05-03
Hoi An to Quand Ngai
6:18 hrs moving
Wake up late as we went to bed late waiting for Monica's tailor made clothes. Left by 8:00 am. Same noise pollution as before but guess we are getting used to. Super flat terrain today. Lunch at Tam Ky by 11:30, 55 kms into the day. very nice road restaurant. The lady show us how to mix and eat the stuff she had prepared for us. From here on just more boring Hwy 1. Noisy dirty and bad traffic. So far Vietnam has not showed me its pretty landscape without some kind of pollution. Very nice people though. We arrived at Quand Ngai at 3:30 pm, and looked for hotels, not much to chose from. Stayed at the Hung Vuong Hotel (33 Hung Vuong St., tel:(055) 818828) in our opinion the best of the six we checked before deciding on that one. Washed clothes and hung them at the covered terrace of the top floor. After dinner down the block, the restaurant owner offered us a free drink of some nice alcoholic beverage and shaked our hands goodbye to make sure we would "come back for breakfast tomorrow". After that we went to buy some fenders for the bikes. $1/pair of poor quality and their hardware was big for our 20" wheels but they would do for our needs. Went to the hotel to install them. The lobby/car garage was very well lighted, great place to install them. While the owner's brother practiced his english with Monica I installed the fenders. The owner came with a bunch of tools and offered to help me, I politely told him it was not necessary and that my tool kit was enough but he insisted and stayed with me, passing me tools and helping with the pre-assembly of the hardware. When we finished he took me to his living quarters and gave me soap to wash up my greasy-dirty hands. Later he gave us delicious cookies and tea and chatted for a while. Not a pretty town but great people.
Day 8 01-06-03
Quand Ngai to Sa Huynh
3:17 hrs moving
Left at 8:00. had an excellent breakfast across the street from the hotel. Bad road condition all the way, however after half way things get better as traffic decreases. Got to our destination at 11:30 and stayed at the Sa Huynh Hotel, very nice beach and OK room for $8.00 at the south end of town. Showered and hung our clothes on the lines just outside our room. That night there were two more parties of cyclists at the hotel, all of them Dutch. Went to town to have lunch and the stem fixed. This time at the town's bike/motorcycle welder, good job for $3000 D, Back to the hotel and relaxed the rest of the day. If you go, this hotel is a good spot to spend an extra day, if the weather is nice of course.
Day 9 01-07-03
Sa Huynh to Qui Nhon
5:33 hrs moving
Breakfast at 7:30 The checkout clerk/manager wanted to charge additional for the coffee, doubling the cost of the "cheap" breakfast. I did not agreed and put my angry face, eventually he gave up. We Left at 8:00. After the first hill when we were going down, Monica paying more attention to the nice landscape than the road, went over a big pot hole damaging the long neck that holds the stem. It was a good scare but fortunately there was no flesh damaged. I was very upset with her. Later I felt bad for getting mad at her but at the summit I had told her to be extra carefull going down and pay attention to the road as much as to the landscape. At the next village we found the mechanic who "kind-of" fixed it, we'll see how long it lasts.
Stopped at the Bay Danh restaurant recommended by the cycling book bad service and even worse food. Again Lonely Planet's Cycling Vietnam book has disappointed us. At the small road store next door we bought bottled water or so we though, they sold us tap water with swimming stuff and all, they had refilled opened containers which had the plastic security label removed very carefully no breaking them and in good condition. But it was too late when we realized the scam, the water was already in our Camelback bladders (so be warned of funky water), we kept the containers and later on destroyed them so at least those 2 bottles were out of the counterfeited market. At least we were having a strong tail wind with us.
Later Monica got a flat rear tire, fortunately it happened very close to a road drinks stall, easy fix, and a nice and a good place for a break. Bad road conditions all the way. Arrived into Qui Nhon at 3:00 and stayed at Barbaras Kiwi Cafe, former Phuong May hotel (18 Nguyen Hue, tel: 892 921, ) run by.... Barbara a Kiwi expat, good inexpensive food, espresso, beer and jazz music in the background. Despite the lack of hot water and slightly worn down rooms we highly recommend this place. The lobby is is a good place to relax and regain your energy. Barbara gave us a different way out of town that will save us at least one climb and 15 kms. Glad the day is over.
Day 10 01-08-03
Qui Nhon to Tuy Hoa
5:31 hrs moving
Left at 8:00 Followed the route described by Barbara, it was perfect, easy to follow from her hotel: Nguyen Hue street to the south, right at Lam Son St. then left at the traffic circle, (aprox 5.7 kms from the Hotel to this point) short after you start climbing and the real detour begin. The best ride/road so far, very little traffic, wide road and plenty of places to stop and take it all, this is what touring is all about. In addition to provide the best ride so far the shortcut saves about 12.5 kms from the boring route outlined in Lonely Planet's book, do yourself a favor go this way it is a must do. Yesterday's tail winds continue today. Finally a good interesting riding day. Arrived in Tuy Hoa at 2:00. Monica, who's in charge of the final decisions on hotel rooms (I would sleep almost anywhere) checked the Houng Sen Hotel rooms which is right in the main road. She did not think much of the rooms so and decided to continue to the beach towards the east (left at the hotel's gate instead of continuing on the main road.) After 3 kms turned left on Doc Lap St. and took a room at the Khach San Du Lich Cong Doan for $15.00 D (53 Doc Lap, tel: 057 823187). Good clean and out of the noisy main road. There were TWO weddings that afternoon at the hotel. We went for lunch across the street on one of many little places right on the beach.., oh man I can get used to this life.
Day 11 01-09-03
Tuy Hoa to Nha Trang
6:25 hrs moving
Left the hotel at 7:30. Had excellent lunch at Van Gia at a restaurant at the end of town, just go where the buses/trucks/cars are . For me food has been the highlight of this tour, everywhere we travel and even back home, we always try out any food at least once. The cue sheet/map from the Lonely Planet book we are using is not very accurate, today as with previous stages there were many little mistakes, still it gives an fair overview of the stages. Arrived in Nha Trang at 4:00 as usual we did a little hotel shopping and ended up at the Duy Tan, 24 Tran Phu St. tel: 822671 (US $16) good and cleaner than average, or so we thought, and with a nice balcony. This seems to be a beach "resort" town. Plenty of restaurants and things cathering tourist, but the best thing the town has to offer is a beautiful beach that goes forever. We'll need to go to the beach tomorrow to even-out the cyclist tan lines we are sporting nowadays.
Day 12 01-10-03
No riding today. Last night as soon as we turned off the lights there was a noise coming from the chairs in front of the bed, turned on the light, moved some furniture and there, Monica went. I saw something!! a mouse and small one it was. She went to the reception to get some poison but they did not have any. The guy promised to have somebody look into it today. Very early this morning, around 5:15 AM they played loud music on speakers mounted on the street lights of the beach front avenue. Sounded to me like political propaganda mixed with music, this seems to be a daily wake-up routine for this city.. It was a cloudy day just eating/drinking our way through the day, man they have good food in Vietnam. The hotel replaced the broken bathroom floor drain from where they think the mouse came through. No more noises at night.
Day 13 01-11-03
No riding today, again, just beach bumming some candy shopping at the central market, If you need something to snack on the road look for the banana fruit circles, think of them as a flat (2 mm. thin) dried banana pancakes, they are packed in bags of 20 or so. They travel very well, they are banana and their taste is EXCELLENT. Had lunch and dinner at the Cyclo Cafe, (5a tran Quang Khai, tel: 058 524208, mobile:0913 458877 ) another day of great food. The couple who owns the place did take good care of us, nice people great food, go there to eat.
Day 14 01-12-03
Nha Trang to Dalat
4:45 hrs moving
Left by 7:30 it was an easy ride all the way. Huge tail wind and perfect road condition, we averaged 23.1 kms/hour our fastest day so far. Had lunch at Ngoc Suong restaurant (5 km) south of Ba Ngoi, a nice restaurant on the left (if traveling north to south). After leaving the restaurant we stopped to talk to a couple of San Francisco cyclists, they were not very talkative so we moved on. 30 minutes later they passed us very fast, we were sure that they would burnout later. 10 kms before our destination we passed the couple again, this time they looked exhausted- the price paid for speeding. We always ride at Monica's pace, over the years I have learned to read her cycling and tell her to slow down when she is getting too exited and starts riding too fast for the distance. The important thing when touring is to get there and enjoy, not to get there fast. Anyways, arriving into Phang Rang at 1:00, we went straight to look for the bus station, as we had decided we wanted to go west up the mountain to Dalat.
The plan was to take the bus to Dalat. After negotiating the price with many different guys, all claiming to be the best, we agreed on US $5.00/person including bikes. Waited and nothing happened until out of nowhere a minivan (room for 10 passengers max.) with a "Dalat" sign approached us, the driver wanted $10.00 each including bikes. We did not agree and decided not to go to Dalat, we would ride south the extra 32 kms to Ca Na. The minivan guys approached us again and decided that the price we offered to pay was fair ($ 5.00 each with bikes). They put the bikes on the roof and started picking up more passengers around town. 22 people and half and hour later we were on our way to Dalat. 1/3 the way the driver stopped to talk to another bigger-bus driver, we and our bikes had been "transferred" to the other bus. This one had two drunken helpers. We both thought we would be asked to pay extra and were ready to put up a good argument. Arriving into town at 5:15, we got off at the first stop. Got our bicycles off the top of the bus and no additional charge was requested, we loaded them with our bags and found our way to the Peace Hotel 1 (Hoa Binh 1, tel: 822787) Decent rooms for US $6.00. Went out for dinner at the overrated Long Hoa restaurant, OK food but never as good as many other places we visited during this trip, I would not go there twice.
Day 15 01-13-03
No riding today. Bad night sleep regardless of the good room. Early clothes washing and installed the cord line we carry, in the room balcony. Breakfast at the hotel and out to see the town. A big difference from the towns by the coast, this one has a little charm. The winding up and down of the streets help. More foot-touring in town then dinner. Tomorrow we ride mostly downhill, back to the coast.
Day 16 01-14-03
Dalat to Ca Na
6:35 hrs moving
"Early" 7:30 start. There were some small climbs before the big downhills, The road condition was not too good, lots of patches but at least no unpaved sections or big potholes. We both thought it was an easy ride, just very hot from Lam Son (60 km) We had to get in a couple of stops to re-hydrate with our favorite energy drink, "Number 1" that comes in a 240 ml bottle for about US $0,20. Lunch was at a small road stand in Ninh Son. Leaving the lunch place, it was really hot. Moved on to visit some Cham Towers in Thap Cham (103 kms at 1:30) right outside Phan Rang. There was no way of leaving the bicycles secured while visiting, so Monica climbed up to see them while I chatted with the grade schoolers that were, like always, very interested in the bike computers, helmets, hydration system, etc, we had a good time waiting for Monica to come down the hill. Went on to complete the ride, arriving at 3:30 PM at Ca Na. We stayed at the Haison Hotel. Did not take a shower but changed into our bathing suits and jumped right into the ocean, a few steps out front of our room. Nice weird beach. A strip of white sand and quiet waters a few meters from the highway. This is the best spot we found for swimming. Had dinner next door and prepared for our last day of riding.
Day 17 01-15-03
Ca Na to Mui Ne
6:15 hrs moving
When we left the Haison Hotel at 7:30 it was probably 80 degrees farenheit (26 celsius). It got warmer very quickly. The road condition was good, no unpaved sections . We stopped several times to buy bottled water, making sure the seals were unbroken as sometimes vendors reuse empty bottles filling them with tap water and sell it as fresh from the processing plant. Also bought the accustomed "Number 1" to mix with the water. Monica got a rear flat tire caused by a huge nail, fortunately there was shade nearby, I replaced the tube with the one I had patched the first flat some days earlier. Later Monica got a second flat tire, once again replaced the tube - this time with a new one. Had lunch in a restaurant just outside Binh Tan. Once again on the road, a Vietnamese motorcycle guide we had met in Dalat's Peace Hotel's restaurant who had given us an alternate route from Dalat to the coast caught up with us. (We had not followed his suggested route because of concerns with Monica's stem, it would have taken us on unpaved roads.) He and his partners were taking some tourists from Dalatto Mui Ne, he said they would be stopping ahead for lunch. When we saw their motorcycles parked at a restaurant we stopped and chatted with him. He gave us a shortcut saving us probably 15 kms from the route suggested in the Lonely Planet book, Shared laughs and we went our way, I wish I had asked for his contact information, he was really nice and never asked for anything in return.
As per his instructions we turned left after the 'Antena on Km 111 (hwy 1) on Phu Long. There is a small street right after the antenna, followed it until an intersection, turned right along a river bank and at the next intersection we took a wrong turn, to the right instead of the left. We rode the wrong way for about 2 kms. before returning. Then followed the road until we found the "row" of hotels and resorts. After the routine comparison we end up at the Palmira Resort (tel: 062 847383, ) one of the the first if not the first one of this row of places when coming from Phan Thiet. Went to have dinner next door at an excellent little place to the right of the hotel gate. This was our last day of our tour. I felt happy and sad. We had seen part of the country from our bicycles, the best mode of transportation for a tourist.
Day 18 01-16-03
Palmira Resort To Mui Ne town round trip
Very little riding today. More great beers, we usually drinked BGI's big bottle (650 ml for 7000d-10000d.) The best for our taste, also the cheapest. A short 25 kms round trip ride to Mui Ne itself, pool-side time and then ocean in the afternoon. Tonight, yet once again, we had the same uncomfortable experience. We ordered one dish and the restaurateur prepared more than what we ordered. All times we rejected the extra dishes. We think they do it with the hope that one will consume and pay for them. It is one of the things sometimes you have to deal with when traveling in undeveloped countries, but here it happened often. We always wrote down the prices to pay before consuming anything and made sure they understood and agreed on that price, since many places do not have prices on the menus.
Day 19 01-17-03
Rode the 'resort' taxi from Mui Ne to Saigon 3:30hrs US $49:00. The bus would have been US $24.00 ($6.00/person + $6.00/ bicycle) and it departs only in the afternoon. We wanted to have half day in Saigon the same day as the day we travel, anyways $25.00 extra was not bad to travel faster, more comfortable, and at the time we desired. Arrived at 11:30 to the Hotel 184, the same place we stayed the first time here. They sent us to the 5th floor (no elevator). The room had not been cleaned so we just left the bags and went to have lunch and walk around town. In the evening, when we returned, the AC wasn't working in any of the rooms and they had made the beds with the same dirty sheets, no soap and a dirty floor towel in the bathroom. I went down and asked what was going on. They told me they could not fix the AC until the next morning. They did not offer any discount,so I told them that would not be acceptable and went looking for a new hotel. Found a better one for the same price nearby. This Hotel 184 was, as many things in the Lonely Planet book, very over-rated. Better off doing the opposite of what they suggest. Packed our stuff again and left the Hotel 184. We walked with our rolling suitcases (bikes enclosed) the 3 blocks to the new hotel, the Tu Do Hotel (267 pham Ngu Lao Str., tel:84 8 8367 345). for US $16.00 much nicer room with elevator and 3 blocks closer to downtown.
Day 20 01-18-03
Had the free breakfast at the Hotel and went to the market to do some shopping. They have all sorts of counterfeit merchandise in Saigon. Most are fairly good copies of the originals at ridiculously low prices, walked all day, ate lots of great food, packed our bags and then to sleep. Of course we packed everything, we will be returning home tomorrow.
Day 21 01-19-03
Our last day in Saigon. More last minute shopping, went to confirm our tickets to China Airlines (Their office is closed over the weekend) China Airlines needs to learn a thing or two about customer service. They are barely people movers, however they where the cheapest fare we could find when we were looking for our tickets. Exchanged some money for the last things we wanted to buy. Had lunch by the hotel then back to the take another shower before we leaving for the airport, checked out (paid US $2 extra dollars for the extra 3 hours past the 12 PM checkout time which is not a bad deal considering how humid the city was at the time). Took the cab to the airport and then the uneventful flight back home.
(First posted January-23-2003 at 08:00 am)