A Travellerspoint blog

May 2008

Touring DaLat

We paid for tour 5 and get tour 4. But, it works out OK.

rain 69 °F

We had paid for a tour of DaLat the day before, $9. We picked a tour that had Prenn Waterfall, Datanla Waterfall, the cablecar ride to Tuyen Lam Lake, and the 'Chicken Village'. I had seen all of these before, but my friends had not. I was particularly eager to visit the 'chicken village' again and buy more handmade souvenirs from the ladies of the Koho minority. It all started out OK. We left on time, 12 of us in a large van. First stop was the cablecar, paid the separate fee of 35,000VND and off we went. Decent photo ops from the cable car and worth doing once. This was my 3rd trip, so not too excited, but wanted to stay with my friends. The ride ends at the Tuyen Lam Lake. But first you look at the Truc Lam Monastery. I took a few photos, but unless you are Buddhist, it is not too significant. The lake is a bit of a walk downhill, but plenty of pine trees make it a nice setting. Mostly VN people here, enjoying being out of the city and with their families. Plenty of photos being taken of varous groups posing together. I volunteered my services many times as I know everyone wants to be in the shot. The tour gives you about 40 minutes at this stop. Back on the van to Datanla Falls. Wrong, we go right by it. I did this on my own last time in DaLat and I know you hit Datanla before Prenn. No, we stop at Prenn Waterfall and run the gauntlet of souvenir sellers that swarm once you are out of the van. A polite "no!" and keep walking. Unless you are in dire need of: film, gum, breath mints, candy, cigarettes, lighter, hat, umbrella, T-shirts, snacks, etc. If you slow down and decide to buy something, then the problem is: who to buy from? At least 4 or 5 are pestering you to buy something, anything. Keep walking is my advice. Prenn admission is so cheap the tour company pays for it. Mediocre waterfall and plenty of cheesy things for VN newlyweds. Such as: dress up in ethnic costumes and: ride an elephant, ride a horse, take a jeep ride, ride in a carriage, climb a treehouse, walk across a swinging bridge, pose by a hut or by the waterfall, all the while being photgraphed by one of the many pros stationed at Prenn. Even VN citizens now have digital cameras, but these guys do get some takers. Go figure. This was my 3rd visit and I was not remotely interested in the kitschy options offered or having my photo taken. But, many in our tour group do. Most of the VN ladies dress up in costumes and get on an elephant or horse or swinging bridge or pose by the waterfall. They want their photo taken in a costume. The men? not so much. The highlight for me came as I was walking up the stairs to leave. A lady in ethnic clothes said: "hello, how are you?" in very good English and ask me if I want to buy something. I took a look and recognized the patterns as the ones on my eyeglass case. I took it out and showed it to her. K-Dong said, "you bought this at my village." I then took out my photos from my previous visits to the 'chicken village' and we had a good laugh. K-Dong was in one of my older photos. We had a very nice chat and I promised her I would visit her relatives when I got to her village. I also had a photo of Mike, a guy who toured DaLat with me several years ago. (photo is in my gallery, sitting on his motorbike) I showed his photo to K-Dong and she said; "I know this man, his name is Mike." I told her we were friends and promised to contract him once back in the US. He has helped this village with water and sewage issues over the years. Meeting K-Dong made the stop at Prenn worthwhile for me. Prenn is OK once, not 3 times.

After Prenn we headed back towards DaLat on the new road. Now I was concerned. The 'chicken village' is farther down the road towards HCMC. Our guide announces we are now heading for the Cremaillere Railway Station. This makes no sense and I ask our guide why are we heading back towards DaLat. He brushs me off and contines with his spiel, first in VN and then English. The railway station is OK, not worth more than 15 minutes, IMO. There is an old engine here, but the railroad is not in real use, just a tourist ride now. A bride and groom were there at the same time, so that was a bonus. Congrats to the newlyweds, a few photos of them and off we go. Lunch is next up on our busy agenda. They try to get you to eat at a designated restaurant, but a quick check of the menu and we walked down the street. Our group of four picked another place within 30 meters and paid about half of what the rest of our tour group did. You are not obligated to eat where the tour guy wants you to. A decent lunch for 35,000VND. When the guide came to fetch us, I asked him what was next. He says; Bao Dai's Summer Palace. Now I am not happy. I point out the tour we signed up for does not include Bao Dai's Palace. We toured it yesterday. Why would we sign up for a tour that included Bao Dai's? Now the truth comes out. Not enough signed up for our tour, so they combined groups. No Datanla Falls or 'chicken village'. I let him know I was not a happy camper and wanted to be taken back to the hotel, right now! I knew we were not very far from the hotel and he certainly wanted to get rid of this angry American. They dropped me off the at Pacific Hotel and I told the front desk lady what had happened. She knew I had signed up for a different tour, but could do nothing about it at that point. I rented a motorbike from the Pacific Hotel for 40,000VND plus 25,000VND for petrol. I insisted on a full faceshield for the helmet and she found one. Light rain was falling and getting hit in the face with rain at 60 km/hour is not much fun. I took the new road that puts you on the main highway right at Prenn. It is a longer route, but safer for a moto. Not much traffic on it. 20 minutes after going by Prenn, I was at the turn off for the 'chicken village'. I had done this two years before and remembered where you get off the main road. I stopped by the ladies doing their weaving and got out my photos from previous visits. I also scrolled through my camera and found the photo of K-Dong. I showed it to the ladies and they yelled out something to a small boy. He ran down the lane and came back with K-Dong's sister. Since I was a 'friend' of the village, I got royal treatment. I showed her Mike's photo, she knew him and ask when he was coming back to visit. I told her I did not know, but would tell him that they all asked about him and want him to return. I then visited the school, met the teacher and her students. We then visited a Buddhist lady that makes incense sticks. You are encouraged to buy them, but I had no use for incense. I did give her a 'photo fee' that equaled her price for incense. Smiles all around. It is very small money for us, but makes a difference to those that are not nearly so well off. Photos of everybody and it was time to buy my handmade souvenirs, $20 total. I tried to spread my spending around and bought from all three groups of ladies. I like to buy right from the makers of the product when possible. Here you have a chance to help at the grassroots level. I said goodbye to everyone, mounted up and started back to DaLat. I stopped by the central market and had my photos developed. Took 20 minutes. I walked over to a small restaurant that the 'Easy Riders' frequent and showed them my photos. One of the guys recognized K-Dong and her sister. I gave them to him and asked that he give them to the ladies when he returns to their village. He said he would. It was raining on/off since I started out and was happy to turn the bike back in w/o any damage. You will be held liable if you damage the bike. A real downside to renting motorbikes anywhere in SEA. I was ready for a hot shower and a bit of rest before meeting my friends for dinner. All in all, a memorable day of bumping around DaLat.

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Posted by vegasmike6 15:14 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

On To DaLat

We hit the central market, check out Bao Dai's Palace and the 'Crazy House'.

All of us have been to HCMC before and we had no desire to see the same sights again. We booked the open tour with Hanh Cafe and left for DaLat the next morning. We picked Hanh Cafe because they stop at cheaper hotels than the Sinh Cafe buses do. Say $7/nite where Hanh stops vs. $20/nite where the Sinh Cafe bus stops. The bus ride is not too bad, you start heading uphill a few hours after you get out of HCMC and it becomes quite scenic. Takes about 6 hours, one stop for lunch. We wind around Xuan Huong Lake that is in the center of DaLat and stop at the Pacific Hotel. Big rooms but a few were musty, price was $6 single. I had stayed there before and wanted a quieter room. I found one up a small alley, the Loan Kim Hotel. Just a few minutes walk and you are away from the traffic noise. It backs up to the woods and is much quieter than any hotel on Bui Thi Xuan St. Price was $8/nite. I was happy to pay a bit more for a quiet room. Met my friends for dinner, we ate at the V Cafe, just down the street from the Pacific Hotel. Nice place and good food. We ate there several times and always had a decent meal. Not cheap at 60,000VND or more per meal, but it is nice. Located right across the street from the Trung Cang Hotel, where the Sinh Cafe bus stops. My buddies like a few beers after a meal so we wandered down to the lake and spent an enjoyable hour sitting at a restaurant overlooking Xuan Huong Lake. I had hot tea and they had their beer. Wear long pants and have a sweater or windbreaker, it can get cool at night even in April. "H" was really happy to be in DaLat. Cooler, pretty and not as hectic as many VN cities, many couples pick DaLat for their honeymoon. We walked back to our hotels and called it a night.

The next day was for shopping and just bumping around DaLat. Most ladies like to shop and "H" was no exception. After BF we walked down to the hill to the Hoa Binh Square where the big central market is located. Fresh fruits and vegetables outside, clothing and everthing else inside. After everybody had what they wanted, we headed down Truong Cong Dinh St to the Peace Cafe. I had stayed at the Peace Hotel on previous trips and knew it was an OK place for a smoothie or light lunch. Caters mostly to backpackers plus the Easy Rider guys use it as a hang out. We decided to go to Bao Dai's Summer Palace from Peace Cafe. Too far to walk, but a cheap taxi ride and we were at Bao Dai's Palace. I've been there several times but my friends have not, so we paid our 8,000VND and spent the next hour on a self guided tour of the palace and grounds. Worth seeing IMO. The chance to dress up in royal attaire is not something you get to do very often. I have the photos of me in royal robes already, so I passed. I could not get my friends to dress up, so we made our way out. We decided to walk back and stopped at the Hang Nga GH and Art Gallery. Known to one and all as the 'Crazy House', it is worth a stop. It is constantly under construction, so new rooms were added since I was there 2 years ago. Paid the admission of 10,000VND and walked into every room that was not rented. Bring one of those small umbrellas when walking around DaLat. It is either going to rain or you will be getting more sun exposure than you want. I got mine at Bao Dai's for 25,000VND. Saved me from getting sunburned on our trek back to the hotel. I wanted to take a taxi, but the group decision was to burn up some calories and walk. It is 2-3 km and I was knackered before we got back. For a 15,000VND taxi fare I could saved myself an hours slog in the sun and tired legs.

We met for dinner and priced several places on the way to V Cafe. None had the menu choices, ambiance or fair prices as the V Cafe, so we went back. We got the same table and same waiter as the night before. A repeat to be sure, but all three of us enjoyed our meal, so it was a good decision. Afterwards, they wanted to have their nightly allotment of beer. Since I don't drink and was tired from our long trek during the day, I passed and went back to my hotel for a decent night's sleep.

Photos of Xuan Huong Lake, the Central Market, Bao Dai's Palace & Crazy House.

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Posted by vegasmike6 11:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Off To SaiGon

sunny 85 °F

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After visiting my friends in Singapore for 3 days, I headed over to SaiGon on JetStar Airlines. With all the new discount airlines, it is now pretty easy to get a decent airfare with advance purchase online. One hint on the lower baggage limits imposed by all the airlines. Have them weigh your checked bag and see if you are under their requirement, say 17 kilos. Put some items from your carry-on back into your checked bag if you are under their weight limit. Some airlines now only allows 5 kilos for carry-on bags. They weigh it as you check in, but don't re-weigh it when you arrive at the gate. I took my books & camera out and left them on the baggage trolly when having my carry-on bag weighed. I was now under the 5 kilo limit and just added them back to my bag before getting to the gate. This may save you some excess baggage charges.

I flew into Tan Son Nhat to meet up with my buddies. I arranged for a 'visa on arrival' before I left Vegas. Many companies offer this service, I used 'hotels-in-vietnam' and will use them again. The 'Landing Visa' desk is before the Immigration lines, on your left. I went up to the window, handed them my arrival letter, photo, filled out the arrival form and paid the $25 stamp fee. Took all of 5 minutes. The $17 for the arrival letter and the $25 (now $45) stamp fee is less than many countries charge for a VN visa if you want it quickly. I passed through Immigration, got my bag and chatted up some guys that were waiting for their bags. 2 others were heading for the De Tham St. area and agreed to share a taxi. 3 of us split the 100,000 fare, about $2 each. If you are the least bit outgoing, this is a good option. One guy was a regular visitor to VN and made sure we got a Vinasun taxi. They use the meter and don't overcharge. If you are on your own, there is a share taxi for $5 to your hotel.

My friends were waiting at Sinh Cafe on De Tham St., as planned. Thank goodness for e-mail. I missed my Canadian friend's wedding last year so I wanted to meet his bride before he took her to Canada. My long time Brit friend came over from Pattaya to join us in HCMC. (Since I doubt they want their names in my blog, I will refer to my large friend from Canada as "V". His new VN bride will be "H" and my beer loving Brit friend will be "R"). They had arrived earlier in the day and had already booked a hotel. Paying $15 for a room was more than I wanted to pay, so I went down mini hotel alley checking prices. Most HCM hotels have raised their prices from 2 years ago, but I did find one for $10/nite: air con, TV & hot water. Most places will bend a bit on prices if they are not full. My room was on the 5th floor, one reason for the lower price. I decided to store my bags behind the desk rather than slog up 5 floors and then back down. Most of the hotels in the alley are very narrow and tall. Expensive land results in going vertical. I took my money out of my bag and joined my friends for dinner. Plenty of decent choices in mini hotel alley. We picked 'La Cantina', next to their hotel. Decent menu and OK prices. They have sidewalk tables if you want to watch the passing parade go by. Dinner was 60,000VND, more than I usually pay, but when you are with others, you compromise. One downside to dining outside is the constant parade of people selling something. It can get tiresome, so stay inside if you want to dine in peace.

After dinner, I went to my room, showered, rested an hour and then downstairs at 9:00pm to join them for some drinks. I wanted to get caught up on what "R" & "V" have been doing since we were in SEA together. I also wanted to find out more about "H". After a few hours of catching up on each others lives, I said goodnight and headed for my hotel. 5 long flights up to my room, but I did get a cheaper rate! It was a long day but a good start to our time together in VN.

I have included photos of mini hotel alley, several hotels, plus Sinh Cafe office on De Tham St. There are at least 4 tour companies that offer the 'open tour' between HCMC-HaNoi. Sinh Cafe is more expensive, but have better buses IMO and fewer problems. You can ride with Sinh Cafe and stay at a diiferent hotel. There are always moto guys waiting when your bus arrives in each city. If you don't like the Sinh Cafe hotel choice, you can alway take a moto to a cheaper one.

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Posted by vegasmike6 21:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Cancelled Flight turns out to be a good thing

I was looking for the cheapest flight I could find between LAS-SIN. Started my search on 'kayak' and got redirected to 'airfare.com'. Best price was Alaska Air to Portland, wait 2.5 hours and then NW Air to SIN, stopping in Narita. That got me to SIN at a 1:30am. Not a great time, but a good price, $760 r/t.

Plan A was to call my friend David and then get a cab to his apt. I did not want to wake everyone up at 2:00am, but he said it would be OK. April 8 I got a friend to take me to McCarran airport, got in line for the Alaska Air flight to Portland. All of us in line noticed that the line seemed very long for being there 2 hours before flight time and each person was taking quite a bit of time at the check in counter. Several of us questioned passengers as they finally left the Alaska Air counter. Bad news, the flight to Portland was cancelled. The plane was a MD-80 and they had pulled it out of service for inspection. American Airlines had pulled most of their MD-80s the same day and had created problems throughout the system. I decided to cheat and went to the head of the line and told a ticket agent I had a connection from Portland to Singapore. He sent me to the first class check in counter and was helped next. He got on the computer and found a solution. US Air to LAX, wait 8 hours, then Singapore Air non stop to SIN, getting in a 6:00am. This was a real lucky break for me. Much better airline, better arrival time in SIN and as it turned out, a much better experience. Uneventful flight to LAX, walked to International Terminal and had almost 8 hours to kill. Read my book, ate, stretched, waited until check in. Checked one bag and now could walk around easily and get some exercise. After 8 hours at LAX, I found myself on an Airbus 340-500. All the seats were exec economy! I had a bigger seat, more leg room, better meals and a personal entertainment system. This was the best flight I have every had! Singapore Air exec class seat at a NW Air price. The lady next to me wanted to chat a bit so I told her how I came to be on that flight. I paid $760 LAS-SIN-LAS, she paid $1,800 r/t from LAX. After 4 movies and 2 meals plus snacks, were arrived on time in SIN. I called my friend David and he agreed to come get me as it was now 6:30 am and he was up anyway. This was a win, win, win deal for me. My month long trip to SEA was off to a great start.

Posted by vegasmike6 17:01 Archived in Singapore Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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