After having stomped around Angkor Wat for a bit and taken in Siem Reap we booked a bus journey using Giant Ibis which would take us from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. The journey itself was very comfortable and we watched a few films and were given water. The scenery between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh can best be described as scorched earth with small pockets of oases where people were living and working the land.
We only stayed for one night in Phnom Penh but the hotel had an amazing roof top restaurant/bar that allowed you to see most of Phnom Penh lit up at night. Phnom Penh was very different to Siem Reap in that Siem Reap is where the tourists go to see Angkor Wat and so everyone speaks English and the whole town is set up for tourists. Phnom Penh on the other hand is a real city in the sense of this is where it all happens (in Cambodia at least.)
The next morning we used a Vietnamese bus company to cross the border into Vietnam. This included another land border but thankfully it was a lot more straightforward than the Poipet crossing and there weren’t any shenanigans.
Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City we immediately noticed the difference – no more scorched earth and motorbikes everywhere. HCMC seemed to sprawl for miles before we finally arrived at the central bus station. The city is divided into districts or zones, not that it was much use, as we didn’t have a map, but we soon realised that our hotel was literally a street away from all the major tourist attractions such as the war remnants museum and reunification palace. Unfortunately, this also meant we were surrounded by seriously overpriced coffee shops serving delicious cake that we’d been starved of from Loei.
Whilst in HCMC we visited the zoo where a very old woman try to con us out of one million dong to be our “guide.” We visited reunification palace which was pretty cool especially the bunker underground (see pics).
After having seen the palace and the museum and a few other places close by we switched hotels to one right where all the backpacker types stay and suddenly there were more food options at reasonable prices so this made our stay more enjoyable.
We had considered the idea of taking a sleeper train to the north of the country, stopping off at a few key places as we went but then after doing some quick math we realised we’d be better off just taking a short plane flight up to Hanoi and then we could see places such as Halong Bay and maybe the odd beach resort.
As we were about to begin landing procedure the captain announced that the weather in Hanoi was a beautiful 28 degrees… we landed and it was grey, wet and humid. Was he joking!?
Things didn’t get much better as we hopped into a taxi from the airport which took about 1hr 20 mins to get into central Hanoi given horrendous traffic conditions. We also watched as the meter was normal to begin with and then after you’ve stopped watching it would jump up in 3’s every 5 seconds! The cost of the taxi was about 400,000 dong! (Approx £11.)
We made it to our hostel – I’d been cheap this time around and tried to pick a place that was central but offered just the basics – our room was unavailable so they upgraded us to a triple room instead. This would have been a lovely room except for the fact that someone enjoyed practicing on a drum kit first thing and last thing and there was no sound-proofing.
Our new room had no window so no drum kit but instead there was construction from about 6am and at night untill 10pm. Just the sound of hammers and drills to lull you to sleep! Suffice to say it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when we asked this hostel about their Halong Bay package the price was ridiculous at $200!
There’s a large lake in Hanoi that you can walk around it’s called Hoàn Kiếm and there’s a legend about a turtle swallowing a sword.
We spent one morning walking around and we were stopped twice by students who wanted to practice their English just by having a chat. It was nice to be reminded of teaching again and also it was nice to meet people that we could have some basic communication with!
Hanoi (aside from the weather) was a very nice place to visit, the atmosphere is very mellow and it feels safe walking down the side streets, even at night. We only encountered problems with taxi drivers who wanted to charge the earth and at Halong Bay (see next post.)
It definitely has a Parisian feel to it, all you have to do is walk down one of the cobbled side streets and peek into any number of coffee shops and eateries and you could be anywhere.