A Travellerspoint blog

Sihanoukville Revisited

Going to see my friend in S'ville and checking out the beaches

82 °F

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I had a few days in Phnom Penh and got to see my NGO friends, the Soldner's. Ann & Alex, with the help of their children and small staff, help orphans and poor families in Cambodian. Readers of my posts know that I try to help those TP members that want to volunteer get in touch with Ann & Alex. Alex picked me up and I had a very nice evening at their house. Ann and her children whipped up a great meal for the whole crowd. I am a veggie so Ann made sure there was plenty of options for me. Daughter Sharon got me back to my GH after our evening was over. The Soldner's are a terrific family and I always stop by when I am in PP.

Most of my friends that used to live in PP have left. I cannot blame them as PP gets old after a few days, at least for me. I used to know about 10 guys that lived in PP and I would bump into them when we made visa runs from Pattaya. They got tired of PP as well and have left for other cities. The Soldner's are the only ones left in PP that I know. Everything changes as the years go by, that's for sure.

Photos of: Tuk Tuks, Capitol bus station, Mike & the Soldner family are above.

There are many buses that make the 4 hour run to Sihanoukville. Some leave from the Central Market, some from Sisowath Quay, some from their guesthouse. I use Capitol GH bus because I can walk from my room at Lucky GH II to the Capitol in a few minutes. If you do need transport, the tuk-tuks are a better option than a moto if you have luggage or there are 2 in your party. I got to the Capitol to eat by 6:30am. Had my omelette/bread and bought another baguette for the trip. Off at 7:15, one stop for bathroom/smoke. We got into the central bus station, St. 108, a parking lot really, at 11:30. I walked over to Expresso Kampuchea, where my friend Gordon lives/works. Gordon is a UK citizen and I have known him since the early 1990s. We used to stay in the same apartment complex in Pattaya until he moved to Phnom Penh in 1998. He spent about 4 years in PP and "R" and I would always visit Gordon when we would hit PP. Around 2002 he got tired of PP and moved down to S'ville. "R" and I would then stop in S'ville for a few days to visit him. In 2004, Gordon got married to a lovely young Cambo girl. He then bought the Expresso Kampuchea and now has a nice bar/restaurant to keep him busy.

I have not seen Gordon and his wife for a couple years and we had a nice chat catching up. I was only going to be in S'ville that day, so I got a room next door at the Freedom Hotel. They have a decent sized fan room for $9/nite. There were cheaper rooms across the street at the Angkor Arms, but I did not like the looks of them. I wanted a lockbox, the Freedom has them, Angkor Arms did not. I unpacked, got my shorts on, camera and went back to see Gordon. I told him I wanted a tour of the beaches, a couple hours at most. The laws renting motos have been in transition. Years ago, you could rent no problem. But, there were so many tourists injured and/or robbed, the Cambodian gov't stopped the rental bike business. Then they reversed themselves and you can now rent again. But, I did not want the hassle or problems of renting and asked Gordon to find a good moto driver for me. His wife went out and found one of their regular motodops at the market. Gordon told me $3 was OK for my tour. The guy agreed and off we went.

Readers of my older posts will know that I usually recommend staying on Victory Hill. There are cheap rooms, good food, nightlife and you can walk to the beaches. I have not been to the other beaches in years and wanted to see them. Our first stop was Ochheuteal /Serendipity Beach. I checked out a few hotels and walked the beach for some impressions and photos. I am now going to recommend TP members stay close to Ochheuteal/Serendipity. Nice combination of reasonable rooms, very nice beach and restaurants in easy walking distance. Back to the Golden Lion Roundabout, an old landmark in S'ville. On to Sohka Beach. There is a huge posh resort on Sohka, and I did not see any other places to stay that are easy to reach. A few photos and off the Independence Beach. We used walk to Independence from Victory Hill and had friends that had a beach business close to the derelict Independence Hotel. For many years, it sat there empty. Then about 3-4 years ago, we saw them starting to renovate it. Now it is open and a beautiful place to stay. They took over the entire Independence Beach and all the small businesses left. Regular people not welcome anymore at Independence. One reason I now vote for Ochheuteal. I took photos of all the new buildings going up around Independence and moved on to Hawaii Beach. Hawaii is the beach most tourists use that stay on Victory Hill. I walked around, photos and then got in a chat with some Russian guys. They are opening a restaurant/bar/disco using an old Russian plane as a prop. Photos and then up to Victory Hill. Several casinos in this area, then the old backpacking street, where Mealy Chendra is located. Mealy is the original BPers hotel/GH. They have a restaurant, great view of the ocean and a decent buffet on certain nights. The street has really gone downhill since my last visit. Many empty slots and not near as many restaurants as before. It was mid-day, so I did not see the bars open for business, but I could see several that looked like they could be in Pattaya. A quick walk around the area and it was time to head back to Gordon's. The VN consulate is on your right as you go down the steep section of Ekareach, flag out front. You can get a VN visa in a few minutes from the guy running the consulate. Figure $30-35 and 10 minutes. A real deal compared to most places in SEA. I paid my moto guy and off he went. I told Gordon how it went and had some tea. I agreed to eat with him that night and went to my room for a shower and a rest. Gordon's wife fixed a nice meal for us and we had a quiet evening, sharing stories.

Sihanoukville is a pretty nice beach town and worth a few days while you are in Cambodia. I stayed downtown this time, but usually stay up on Victory Hill. Now that I have seen the changes, I won't be recommending that area anymore. There are still cheap rooms on the hill, but the atmosphere has changed, not for the better. The Ochheuteal & Serendipity beach area have better options now, IMO. There are places to stay that won't break your budget. I looked at Jasmine Hotel and you could get a nice room for $15. Rooms for even less at Makara GH or Mohachai GH. Beach is less than 100 meters away, and plenty to restaurants to choose from. That makes for an enjoyable beach experience.

Below are my friend Gordon and his wife, the new Independence Hotel, construction at Independence Beach, photos of Victory Hill, Golden Lion Roundabout, Ochheuteal Beach, Russian plane bar/restaurant at Hawaii Beach.

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Posted by vegasmike6 21:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

HCMC to Phnom Penh

Back in HCMC and taking the Sinh Cafe bus over to Cambodia

semi-overcast 86 °F

01640121123.jpgMy friends were waiting for me at the Sinh Cafe office when the bus pulled in. I walked over to mini hotel alley and got a room at the same place, the Xinh Hotel. Same room, #7 which means 5 flights of stairs. $10/nite, a/c & tv. Same deal as before, I left my bag at the front desk and joined my friends for dinner. We picked a restaurant in the alley and chatted about their sleeper bus and what next. After dinner, "R" and I walked to Sinh Cafe office to book our bus to Phnom Penh. This was our last night together, "R" and I were off for Phnom Penh in the am. "V" and his bride "H" were going to stay another few days in HCMC before they separate. "V" will fly home to Canada and "H" will returned to her village. It has taken a year and they still don't have the proper visa for "H" to join her husband in Canada. I knew the US makes it difficult, I did not know Canada was slow as well. The 3 guys went out in the rain for a farewell drink. It will be at least a year before any of us see each other.

We paid $12 for the trip:HCMC-PP. This is more than I paid in past years, but you don't have to change buses at the border as past years. It was a pain in the a**, get off on the VN side, clear VN Imm., walk to the Cambodian side, pay the $20 visa fee, walk to the Capitol GH restaurant, wait and board a new bus for the rest of the journey. Now a new system is in place. You pay $25 while on the bus and a guy gets your Cambodian visa for you. It is easier, but you do pay $5 for the service. I really don't know if you can pass and do it on your own, nobody did on our bus. Due to increased tourism, the Vietnamese have built a new Immigration center and have streamlined the process. You do spend about an hour getting out of VN and into Cam. This is better than past years. Now you use the same bus and travel over to the Capitol GH restaurant for lunch. The road is now paved all the way from the VN border to PP. My first bus trip between PP & HCMC was in 2000. It was a real ordeal then. Bad road and bad buses. It took between 12 to 16 hours to make the journey, mostly because of the dirt road on the Cambodian side. In rainy season it was really a joke. Many times the bus driver would have to hire a tractor to pull the bus out of the mud so you could continue the trip. Now it is an easy trip lasting 7- 8 hours.

After having lunch at the restaurant, off we go for Phnom Penh. There is still the wait for the ferry that takes all vehicles across the MeKong River. We did not have to wait very long this time and were in PP by 4:00pm. Plenty of touts are waiting for you once the bus stops at the Capitol GH & Restaurant. We know where we want to stay and just keep walking, the touts finally quit following us. It is an easy walk from the Capitol to Lucky GH #2, located at #30, Street 115. Fan rooms for $8/nite, a/c rooms for $13. It was brutal hot in PP, so I splurged for an a/c room. We stayed 3 nights, so I took a $15 hit. But, I had been pretty frugal the entire trip and had plenty of money left for my last week in SEA. Once showered and unpacked, we walked over to Mama's Restaurant on St.111. Mama's has been serving decent food at reasonable prices for over 10 years that I have been going to PP. I had dinner for 8,000 riel.There is a very cheap option if you stay in the Capitol GH area. After the Orussy Market closes, street vendors set up shop in the parking lot. Both food and drink are less than any restaurant you could find. Dinner for 4,000 riel, hard to beat that. Just like in VN, you will see sidewalk vendors setting up after dark. Small table & chairs, primarily locals having a cheap meal or drink. A good way to save some money when in Cambodia. Give it a try.

Below are the border and the ferry system across the MeKong River.

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Posted by vegasmike6 22:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus Comments (1)

Off to Mui Ne

Taking a look at a new beach and touring the sand dunes.

semi-overcast 69 °F

My friends did not want to visit Mui Ne (MN) and decided to take the overnight bus to HCMC. I talked to them after the trip and both "V" & "R" hated the overnight bus. If you are a large person, close to 6' tall or over 200 lbs, this bus can be an ordeal. It is an impressive looking bus, large and new. But the reclining beds are not conducive to a good night's sleep, so say my friends. The shape and size of the beds were not to their liking. I took the day bus to MN by myself, so have no opinion on the sleeper bus.

I said goodbye to Huong, the front desk manager, and checked out of 'Nice Hotel'. I will be recommending this hotel to all those TP members heading for NT. I walked over to the Sinh Cafe office, next to Cafe Des Amis on Biet Thu St. The bus to Mui Ne leaves at 9:00am and it left on time, 80,000VND. The Sinh Cafe office tries to get you to book a hotel room in MN while in NT. At $30/nite for their affiliate, The Mui Ne Resort, I passed. I knew I could do better than that within minutes after arriving in MN. It was an uneventful 4 hour ride to MN. I had only allowed one day/night in MN, so I paid attention to the layout as we entered MN. It is a very long and narrow city, not conducive to walking around as is NT. We stop at the Mui Ne Resort, the HQ for Sinh Cafe. Of course several ladies meet the bus and try to convince you that The Mui Ne Resort is the place to be while in MN. It is nice; big restaurant, nice pool, beautiful rooms, but way out of my price range at $30/day. After a quick look, I went into the Sinh Cafe office and booked my bus to HCMC. After paying the 80,000VND, I asked the girls if they knew of a place with $10 rooms. There was a guy on a moto just outside the office and she waved him over. He said his family had a hotel just 50 meters away with $8 rooms. I hopped on his bike and took a look. It was OK, small fan rooms plus some double rooms with a/c, tv. Restaurant in the center courtyard. It also had its own beach, as do most hotels in MN. He quoted me $12/nite for the larger a/c room and I decided to stay in a better room. They run a tab at the restaurant, the way it was on Koh Samui years ago. They keep track on all your charges, pay when you check out. This place was run the same way. I cannot find the hotel name in my notes, sorry.

I had lunch and got dressed for my moto tour of the sand dunes. The guy who brought me to the hotel had quoted me $10 to see the dunes and Fairy Springs. I said I would pay $8 to him or go rent a moto and do it on my own. He agreed $8 was enough for a few hours sightseeing. I really preferred letting him use his moto as I did not want to rent one, put petrol in it and find the places on my own. I had lunch, put on my long pants, grabbed my windbreaker, camera and off we went. We stopped in town to put some petrol in the bike. He asked me to pay now as he did not have enough to fill the tank. No wonder he agreed to my $8 offer. We went to the white sand dunes first and it is farther than I thought. It took about 30 minutes to get there, getting buffeted all the way with high winds. It had to be over 30mph and it made for a difficult ride. I had on my sunglasses and hat, but was still getting sandblasted as we rode along. We had to walk the bike through a couple areas where the sand had piled up on the road. Once at the white sand dune area, you then walk a few hundred meters to a small restaurant/rental shop. I was not going to be sliding down the dunes, so I did not need the plastic sleds they rent. I then started hiking up the nearest sand dune. It is pretty spectacular, but the high winds made it a very short hike. Sand blasting you in the face is not conducive to hanging around. I took a few photos and headed back to meet my driver. He was hiding from the wind in the restaurant. Can't blame him. Off we go back to MN. Another exciting ride back, wind almost blowing us over several times. We stopped at the red sand dunes, right by the road. Plenty of kids hanging around, playing games and trying to rent plastic for you to slid down the dunes. I wanted to get a few photos, but was not up for sand sliding. I hiked up the large dune right by the road and got my photos. The dunes are impressive and I would have liked to see more of them. You would need better legs than I have or a jeep to appreciate just how large of an area the sand dunes cover. Back on the bike, we head for the Fairy Springs. It is right in town and I probably would not have found it on my own. A very small business is the parking area for the start of the fairy springs walk. Again, my guide chose to stay with his bike and let me try it on my own. You walk a short ways on a trail and then you take off your shoes or sandals and start walking upstream. The water was just ankle deep and warm. It is a very scenic area and worth your time. I took some photos and decided to turn it around after about 20 minutes of walking upstream. It is a pleasant walk and would be great to have someone along to share it with. One of the negatives of travelling alone. It was only a short ride back to the hotel and my tour was over. I thanked my guide and headed for my room. I needed a shower and a bit of rest.

When cleaned up and rested, I had dinner at the restaurant. The food was good and very reasonable. Many meals for less than 25,000VND. There was nobody to chat with, so I decided to take a walk after dinner. I chatted with several ladies that were touting their restaurant or guesthouse. There are several places close to my hotel that were right at $10/nite. MN has plenty of high end resorts with prices to match, but there are places to stay that will not break your budget. When I got back from my stroll, there were two girls sitting at the restaurant playing cards. I did not know the game they were playing but watched anyway. I asked them if they wanted to learn a new game. Ann from Sweden and Sadia from Iran, now living in the UK were ready for a challenge. I taught them 'up & down', basically spades, but trump changes each round by turning over a random card. They beat me and were ready for another round. I lost that round as well, but had fun chatting with them. They were off to Nha Trang next, so I scrolled through my photos and showed them some NT shots. I gave them an address card from the Nice Hotel and gave them some ideas on where to eat, sightseeing, etc. It was now almost 11:00pm, so I called it a night.

The next day I had BF, read my book and then walked the small beach out front. Some photos and back to shower and pack. I walked over to the Sinh Cafe and got ready for the bus trip to HCMC. I was only in MN for about 24 hrs, but did think it is worth a stop. I like NT much more, but Mui Ne is a decent beach, worth a few days when in VN. Below is a fan room at my hotel, the beach, Fairy Springs and some dune shots.

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Posted by vegasmike6 23:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

On The Road to 'Paradise'

My motorbike trip north to see the Paradise Resort

semi-overcast 87 °F

My friends wanted to just laze away the day, so I decided to rent a motorbike and go see the beaches north of NT. Huong at the front desk got me a bike for 40,000VND, plus 30,000VND for petrol. I also wanted a better helmet with a face shield. I was quoted 10,000VND extra and agreed. It was raining on/off that day and I did not want rain hitting me in the face at speed. I got my windbreaker, backpack with my camera, VN guide book, water and took off. There is a new road that is being built that follows the ocean as you leave NT. Still under construction and not many using it. That was a good choice as you do not want to be out with the trucks and buses if you don't have to. I stopped at the section that is still dirt and took some photos. Off again, it stopped raining and the sun came out. I left my windbreaker on, just to cut down on the sun exposure to my arms. However, I did make a foolish mistake. I had on shorts and the tops of my legs got a dandy sunburn. When riding a motorbike for hours, wear long pants even if it is hot outside. You can always change into your shorts/bathing suit once you get to your destination. My bad.

I stopped many times just to get in the shade, rest my bum and drink some water. The new road ties into Highway 1 north and you cannot get too far off track. The directions call for you to turn right after the Hyundai Shipyards and head east. It is not very easy to find Doc Let beach after that turn, but I just kept blundering along and finally did see a handmade sign that said; 'Paradise Beach Resort'. Good enough for me. It is dirt/sand from this sign on and I was not sure it was going the right way. They could use a few more signs after you get off the paved road. But, it was a nice sunny day and I was enjoying just riding along. I finally did see what looked like the entrance to a resort and pulled into the shade. I saw a jeep with Paradise Resort stenciled on the side and figured I was at the right place. A young lad saw me pull up and ran off to get someone. It turned out to be the owner. A 81 yr old man from Croatia who has built the Paradise Resort. The 5 yr old lad turned out to be his son. He was quite proud to tell me he had a one son in his 50s and one that was 5. I congratulated him on his prowess and we discussed the wonders of Viagra. I also made a wild guess that he had married a much younger VN lady when he moved here. True, he admitted and then informed me that his wife is expecting! With is stud credentials assured, he ask me where I was from. When Las Vegas was the answer, he got excitied again. He had been there many years ago and wanted to tell me his experiences while gambling in Vegas. This happens quite often when I travel. All know of Las Vegas and many have been there or would like to visit. He invited me to use the facilites and have lunch with the guests. I had time for a swim and read a bit before lunch was served. It really is a nice stretch of beach. Perfect sand and warm, clear water for swimming or snorkelling. They do offer kayaks and have a boat for fishing and short excursions. But what Paradise Resort is really selling is peace and quiet. Most guests go there to decompress from the fast lane and enjoy the solitude. I shared a table with a nice family from Melbourne Australia. They wanted to know about my trip, Las Vegas and our election. Not a big surprise, they did not like our current president. Mr. Bush has angered most foreigners I met while in SEA. We had a lively discussion and a very good lunch. Plenty to eat even for a veggie like me. Well worth the $4. I said goodbye to my table companions and had another dip in the ocean, therapy for my injured toenail. A bit more reading and it was time to head back to NT. It is about 2 hours on a moto, plus stops to get out of the sun or give your bum a break. I took some photos, mounted up and headed back to NT. Decided to stay on Highway 1 all the way. It is shorter than the detour for the new road. Once back in NT, I decided to go see Bao Dai's villas down by the docks. I have been to NT four times before but never went over to the villas. You pay your entrance fee and leave your bike at the booth. It is a pretty steep climb to the villas and not sure I would recommend going. Hard to photograph and you can only enter one building. Nice view of the bay, but hardly worth the effort IMO.

I had enough sun so I headed for my hotel. I turned in the bike to the guy who lives right behind Nice Hotel. He has a bike rental sign, so you can't miss him. I was not charged for the better helmet as a different man checked me in. They do look for damage to the bike and you will have to pay if you get in a wreck or damage the bike. I don't recommend renting a motorbike in SEA unless you are an experienced rider. Yes they are fun, but the downside is significant. You are riding illegally, as we don't have a VN drivers license. If you fall off, you are going to be hurting and perhaps get to sample the local hospital. The real downside is if you get in an accident or the bike is stolen. Your happy holiday in VN just came to an end. You will be dealing with hospitals and the police if you get in an accident or have to replace the stolen bike. Really consider the pros and cons before renting a motorbike while in Asia. A word to the wise.

All in all, I had a pretty good day. Yes, I got sunburned and had a sore bum, but I can live with those problems when compared to the joy of a spending a day sightseeing in VN.

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Posted by vegasmike6 00:32 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Nha Trang Bay Tour

sunny 87 °F

We signed up for the bay tour before I injured my toe, Hanh's Green Hat Boat Tour, 100,000VND for the day. I was going even if I had to limp and wear my tennis shoes. I did not want to get my toe wet that day, or stepped on. Many other operators besides Green Hat to pick from, all run the same tour, same price as well. They all pick you up from your hotel around 8:00am and take you to the docks. Then you run the usual gauntlet of vendors selling: hats, water, snacks, cigarettes, etc. We did buy straw hats for 5,000VND. Very cheap way to avoid too much sun on your head/face. If you are hair challenged as I am, you need to wear something on your head all the time you are in the sun. I brought a baseball cap, but this straw hat provided more protection. Your lunch is included, but you will be charged for drinks on the boat. A bottle of cold water is not a bad purchase at the docks. Or bring one with you on the van. Both will be cheaper than what they charge on your tour.

Once we fight off the vendors, everyone gets on their assigned boat. Just follow your guide or fellow passengers. It is a bit of a rugby scrum at the dock, coming and going. Dozens of boats all load and unload at roughly the same time. Keep your guide in sight. On the boat and off we go. These bay tours can have the feel of a cattle boat. They are pretty crowded and they herd you on/off many times during the day. One option if you want fewer people is to go out with the scuba divers. They will take non divers out for the day, $15 includes lunch. You will get more snorkelling time with the dive boats, not any time on the several islands the tour boats stop at. Most choose the tour/cattle boat option since it is only 100,000VND, includes lunch, all the cheap wine you want to drink and has a party atmosphere. Our boat had mostly VN people on it, probably 2/3. The rest a mix of western countries and few Japanese. The tour guides rattle off their set spiel, first in VN, then English. You are out of luck if you don't speak one or the other. I think one of the guides could of spoke French if needed, but he was not asked to. First stop is usually the snorkel stop, Mun Island. We had a nice sunny day, so many hop into the water and start swimming/snorkelling. With my injured toe, I stay on board and take photos. You do have a another option. A guy comes by in a glass-bottom basket boat. Several of the VN ladies get in and off they go. This way you can watch the fish w/o getting wet.

We motor to another area and the staff get out the microphone and keep us entertained. Karaoke is encouraged from all that think they can sing. I know I can't, so keep a low profile. Over to Mot Island and more swimming/snorkelling. Then the 'floating bar' makes its appearance. Get a life jacket and swim over to the 'bar' and have all the sweet, cheap red wine you can handle. Every guide has the: "Don't say no, say YO!" yell down pat. They want everyone 'happy' and being drunk helps that along. "V" & "R" get out there and say "YO". "H" and I stay on the boat. After everyone gets back on board, lunch is served. They put out a real spread, even a veggie like me has plenty of choices. This is like a Vegas buffet, eat all you want. If you leave hungry, it is your own fault.

Now we head to Tam Island for beach time & water sports. You have to pay a fee, 10,000VND for entrance. National Park, protected area or another way to make a bit of money, I am not sure. Everybody pays and you try to pick a spot. Sand is free but you have to pay to use the chairs or lounges. We opt for the seawall and stay out of the sun. Most hit the water again or go parasailing, jet skiing, banana boat, something. A very pleasant hour, weather permitting. Last time I was in NT it was Feb. and not many got in the water. Raining and cool. Today was perfect. There are 4 or 5 boats all tied together and you have to walk across several boats to find yours. Not for the old and stiff, like me. I manage but it is an adventure. Most are younger than I am and have fun jumping boat to boat. With my injured toe and battered back, I am last to arrive onboard our boat. In Asia, the old are venerated because of their experience and wisdom. I keep this in mind as I hobble on/off the boat. I am not sure the smiles and shaking of their heads at my display is exactly reverence, but I am going to go with that theory until proven false.

A large display of fruit is waiting for us when back onboard. You won't go hungry today. After we stuff ourselves with a variety of fruit, we motor over to Mieu Island for the aquarium. I have seen it before on a previous trip and don't need a repeat viewing of a second class aquarium. 25,000VND if you do go. I read my book in the shade and held down the fort. You really can use the tour for your BF & lunch. Won't need much dinner either. I recommend a light BF, maybe toast/tea and hold out until they serve lunch. This way the tour is basically free. You can spend 100,000VND on BF & lunch in many NT restaurants. Back to the docks and the van ride to your hotel. We got back about 4:15pm. All in all, a decent day out on the water.

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Posted by vegasmike6 12:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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