Thursday, 19 May 2011

Reunion in Southern Vietnam





It all started taking a flight from Pakse, Laos back to Saigon, Vietnam were I was eagerly waiting to see my fellow colleagues and travellers Jan, John & Annette.

Four people coming from four different countries (Denmark, US, UK, Laos) and arriving in a timeframe of one hour on a Saturday morning at Saigon Airport – perfect timing really ;)

We all shared a cab to the Asian Ruby 3 Hotel, which was right in the centre of town and just a 5 min walk to the Ben Thanh market.

We had some nice coffee outside and tried to catch up with what happened in the last months in each other’s lives.

We walked through the backpacker area and John ordered some faboulous looking glasses. In the evening we had a lovely Vietnamese dinner in a small alleyway in Saigon. Glad to be back in Vietnam with the tasty food :)

Phu Quoc

Next morning we had to get up quiet early to catch our flight to Phu Quoc, an Island very close to the Cambodia border. As it was a Vietnamese bank holiday, we didn’t get a direct flight and had to stop in Rach Gia, where we only had 40min to swap planes. However as it turned out we got of the plane in Rach Gia and figured out, that this was actually the same plane, which flew us to Phu Quoc ;) Nevertheless we had to get of the plane, get new boarding tickets and get back on the plane ;) Am I surprised? No, not really – however so typical that nobody was aware of this when we checked in :)

We got off the plane in Phu Quoc and it was already hot at 9am! As it turned out it got even hotter as the day went on and we had around 36-38 degrees during lunchtime.

Arriving at “Freedomland” was the highlight of the day or should I say of the whole trip. Please look at the pictures – isn’t that gorgeous?!








This place was absolutely stunning! It was a home stay and run by a lovely Vietnamese/Portuguese couple named Peter & Rita.


We had booked four nights and I am glad we did.

We decided to take it easy on the first day and went for a swim to Ong Lanh beach. It was just a 10 min walk from our bungalows through a nice forest nearby. Arriving at the beach it was deserted! Somebody told me that Phu Quoc is touristy, I am not sure if that person has ever been in Phu Quoc himself. This beach was stunning, surrounded by a small mountain and the water was crystal clear. Can you wish for anything more really?!




We came back to settle into our so called “Sunset Bungalow” which was with an outdoor bathroom and a coconut shower head and cold water! It was just brilliant :)

What we didn’t realize was, that the highlight was still yet to come!

We read that it was expected to have dinner in the communal area with all the other guests every evening. For Vietnamese standard the price was pretty expensive. Anyway, we decided to try it for the first evening.



Guess what happened? We ended up eating 4 nights in a row in Freedomland!!!

We got a five-course meal every single night made by Peter and his team and as we found out he was a chef cook in many different European countries before and was also cooking delicious Vietnamese food!

My absolute favourite dish was shrimps with lemongrass & spaghetti olio!!! I have never eaten any better food beforehand in my life! I loved it :)


The 2nd and 3rd day we all rented motorbikes.

We started off in heading down south to Sao Beach. The roads were quite bumpy with pure red clay. Stopped at a waterfall, where we discovered after a 20min hike, that there was actually no water in there ;)

Finally we arrived in the afternoon at the famous Sao Beach. Unfortunately the water was covered with jellyfishes and we decided not to go in.



On our way back we stopped at another beach instead to have a quick dip in the water. Almost back at Freedomland Jan had a flat tyre :( We were lucky that we found a small local shop, where we left the bike to get it fixed for the next day. Lovely conversation we had with that woman, which spoke no word of English ;)

The next day we headed up north instead, stopping at a cute little town called Cua Can and further north we discovered an awesome beach for swimming, with no jellyfishes at all ;)






We found a cosy lunch spot in a small hotel directly at the beach and ate fantastic food: chicken in lemongrass and fried rice with pineapple & shrimps.



After a nap at the beach we kept on driving up to the most Northern point and hit a local market by pure coincidence. It was a steep way down, a tight right corner and there we were! I felt like being in the middle of a James Bond movie. It was a small little alleyway with shops and houses left and right and not much space to drive at all. On top of that the road was not straight and it also went up and down, some chickens running by, children waving at us, other locals curiously looking at us ;) It was more then special indeed!








The last day my travel fellows went on a snorkelling trip whereas I decided to rent a motorbike again going up north, this time a different route. However after perhaps one-hour drive a tropical rainstorm came over the Island and in seconds I was soaking wet ;) Not only me, all the Vietnamese too.



I stopped at a small house, where I was able to find some shelter. It took almost an hour until it stopped raining and afterwards the clay roads had changed in a really muddy and slippery surface. Nice challenge to drive through to get back to Freedomland. After changing clothes I decided to head into the nearby town Duong Dong where I saw previously a Creperie from Brittany.


Doesn’t it look tasty?!


I felt like being back in Roscoff to be honest and that’s in the middle of an Island in Vietnam ;)

The rest of the afternoon I decided to try the nearby Mango Bay resort, to go for a swim and maybe have a massage to treat myself a bit. It all worked out perfectly I have to say and there I was enjoying a lovely Vietnamese massage in a beautiful peaceful surrounding. After that I was heading towards the beach and guess who I met?! My friends, who just came back from the snorkelling tour had the same thought to try out the beach there ;)

We had another stunning 5* & 5 course dinner before we flew back to Saigon the next morning and straight into Dalat.

Dalat

Dalat is known for its brilliant cool climate as it is located in the mountains and it also is the honeymoon spot for Vietnamese couples. The French were here during the 2nd world war and had built a lot of houses.

A really chatty and lovely taxi driver picked us up from the airport and brought us to our hotel “Thien An”, which I got recommended from Rick, another teacher in Danang. The place was perfect and we decided to have a stroll through the town first. I have to say it reminded me a lot about Danang somehow even if the location was very hilly, but the place had a very local touch, which I liked a lot. The climate there is perfect I think. It is cooler during the night, around 20 degrees and still sunny during most of the days with around 26 degrees. I loved it.

First we just wanted to rent motorbikes and discovering the surrounding sites ourselves. However after a while we realized that there was so much to see, that it would be difficult to find all these places by ourselves.

At the end of the first evening we hired four motorbikes for us for the next day including a tour guide who would drive on his bike and show us around for a full day. As it turned out it was the best decision for sure.

We started off with a visit in a traditional “Lat village” one of the minority groups in this region. Welcomed by a lovely older Vietnamese man, who filled us in about some of the traditions. Apparently his wife had to give five buffaloes to his parents to get married to him ;) Glad I don’t belong to this Minority group!

He played some traditional “Gong” music and we were allowed to try some of his “Can” wine.




Then we headed up a mountainous road to visit flower and vegetable farms.




We stopped at a coffee plantation and got a quick overview about the coffee business in Vietnam.



After that, we visited the Elephant waterfall, which was pretty impressive. We had to follow a really dangerous walk to the viewing point to take some nice pictures and the view was impressive. I was indeed scared and prayed that we all will come back in one piece, which we did.




Next stop was the Linh An pagoda with the big happy Buddha next to it. The pagoda itself was beautiful und very traditional Vietnamese.






Lunchtime was almost overdue, so we stopped for a nice Pho Bo (Noodle soup with beef) before we continued our trip to a silkworm factory, a rice wine making place and the famous “crazy house”.







I loved the crazy house in Dalat for sure. It is so special and I have never seen anything like that beforehand. So cool!











We had another lovely Vietnamese meal in the evening and we had decided to have another adventures ride with our motorbikes to Nha Trang the next day for one night. Nha Trang is a famous beach town and known as one of the touristy places in Vietnam. The distance was apparently around 130km one way.

We stopped at a nice French Patisserie, where we found some marble cake and some coconut muffins for the trip.

We started off driving outside Dalat in the other direction as the day beforehand and it was amazing how the scenery changed. I felt like I was back in the German/Austrian or Swiss Alps. Even the small mountain huts looked like back home! It was just gorgeous :)



The bike ride to Nha Trang was stunning! We drove through the Nui Ba National Park and over a mountain pass and the scenery was impressive. I was already glad that we had to drive the same way back, so we could experience the same drive twice ;)


We arrived in the late afternoon, checked in our Mini-Hotel in the backpacker area, which was 2min walk to the beach and went straight for a swim. The water was very clear, but there was not much area to stand in the water at all, it got deep after 5 meters or so. The beach itself looked gorgeous and the sand was very smooth. However there are so many hotels built along the waterfront that it was already too touristy for my taste. But it was a buzzing city for sure with a lot of nightlife and I really enjoyed walking along the beach late at night or early in the morning. Jan decided to enjoy the nightlife and was a bit hangover the next morning, but I think it was all worth it – he must have had a good time.

We had a last swim in the sea before we left around lunchtime to head back to Dalat. The trip was awesome as expected. We stopped for coffee and some lunch in remote villages and finally arrived back in Dalat in the late afternoon.

Just a few kilometres before Dalat we stopped at the Lake of sighs called “Ho Than Tho” where we had a lovely stroll around the park and we met a charming Vietnamese old man which served us coffee. He was so stunned that a Western person can speak some Vietnamese and he was full of happiness.






The last evening in Dalat we went for Tu Anh’s restaurant, which was recommended from another teacher and we were surely not disappointed - Really tasty Vietnamese food with lovely people working in the restaurant.

The night ended with some games of pool as almost every evening ;)

We got up early the next morning to catch our flight to Saigon and further to Con Dao. I was really excited as we got the tip from a Vietnamese friend of mine who told me that Con Dao is a really remote Island, but very beautiful and not explored yet.

Con Dao

We landed at a really tiny but newish airport, got picked-up by a local who drove us to our Con Dao Camping bungalows ;) I felt like I was in the middle of a movie. You could see the beach and the ocean from your bed through the windows!!! Can life be better?!



We took it easy for the first day, went swimming on our beach, had a nap, booked the diving/snorkelling trip for the next day and had a lovely dinner in a really cute restaurant with a very nice waiter.

We had breakfast at our bungalow before we walked to the close by dive shop. The shop was run by Larry, an American Expat with his Vietnamese wife and Rebecca a really experienced diver, which had been previously worked in Hawai.

All of us were eager to go snorkelling or diving and there we were, in a gorgeous bay with our first snorkelling stop.

I have to say, that I am always a bit scared to snorkel and that showed straight away. John decided to dive with Rebecca. The others enjoyed themselves with snorkelling. I decided to practise how to breathe through the mask to loose my anxiety and went swimming after that.

Back on the boat we drove to the second spot, where John and Jan went for a dive this time. I also gained more confidence and managed to snorkel for a full hour and I have to say it was amazing what we were able to see. My favourite fish is the moon wrassler with his gorgeous purple, yellow and green colour!



Back on the Island we decided to rest a bit and later on we rented motorbikes to drive to the North-West of the Island to see the sunset. Unfortunately their appeared a few clouds just around 5pm and we didn’t have a full view, but it was still worthwhile driving down there as the Island is just gorgeous. Sitting on that motorbike, I almost felt like being back in Ireland. The scenery was very similar to the West coast of Ireland, except of the temperature ;)

Con Dao is a beautiful Island, not explored by Western Tourists yet and the locals who live there are very welcoming. Also most of them cannot speak any English, but we managed to get by with my few words of Vietnamese.

The next morning we got up early and started with our motorbike tour at the historical museum directly in town.

Con Dao's Liberation flag


The "famous" red stamps

Con Dao is known for the prison on the Island, which the French built in 1862, taken over by the Americans in 1971.

We visited in total 5 prison sites – pretty devastating and sad.







Tiger Cages


Kitchen


Rebecca the diving instructor gave us the tip to visit So Ray Mountain to feed wild monkeys at 11am. We stopped by the local market, bought some bananas and made our way to phone post no. 60 – yes, the only way you can find things on the Island is by the no. written on each phone post ;) I think it is a very clever idea so!

A local family who lived close by offered us to park our motorbikes there and they showed us the way to hike up the mountain.

After a sweaty but beautiful hike we were all curious if there were really wild monkeys somewhere. And exactly at 11am they made themselves visible, at least 15 or 20 of them. What an experience I have to say! We were only the four of us and the security guard. He was living at the top of the mountain!






After that we hiked back down and decided to explore the nearby Ong Dung beach. We parked our motorbikes at the end of the road and did another hike – this time downhill through a gorgeous National Park. It was a beautiful setting, however a bit challenging to swim, as there were stones and rocks everywhere and no sandy beach. Anyhow, we managed to go in and have a swim and John decided to take a nap in the hammock instead ;)

Then some heavy downpour started and lasted maybe for one hour. With some light drizzle we decided to walk back up to our bikes and head back into town.

We had another swim at our beach in front of our bungalows and we took some time out to relax. We had to leave the Island already the next morning to return to buzzing Saigon.

Oh I almost forgot to mention, that the most important thing on each day for Jan & John was to play at least one game of pool. I think it usually ended with having at least 3-4 ;)

Annette and John had booked their flights for Friday morning to stay two nights in Hong Kong before they returned back home. Jan & myself were supposed to go to Bangkok and maybe see the River Kwai etc.

At our last night in Con Dao, Jan & myself were talking about what to do and we both were not very impressed of leaving Vietnam and flying to Bangkok. As Jan is always very spontaneous he said to me: “Kerstin, we could actually go back to Phu Quoc to Freedomland for two more nights!” Jan decided to play pool for a bit longer and I returned back to our bungalow and went online to check flights. The prices where pretty cheap and I actually liked the idea a lot.

So here we were, Thursday morning flying to Saigon without knowing where we are going to fly or go to on Friday morning. We both set us a time limit of Thursday lunchtime, as we had to arrange a few things if we would change our plans.


I was not really in the mood to travel up to Chiang Mai in Thailand anymore. After travelling for two weeks in Laos and two weeks in Vietnam and enjoying my time so much I thought it would be best to fly back to Europe and end my time in Asia on an absolute high!

Here we were, booking flight tickets to Bangkok for Sunday evening, flights to Phu Quoc from Friday to Sunday and I changed my flight ticket back to Europe over the phone. We rang Rita from Freedomland if she still has a bungalow for us and she sounded so happy that we are coming back :) I had a big smile on my face after we finally had made our decision and I felt ready to fly back to Europe also knowing I will miss Vietnam so much. A really close Vietnamese friend asked me what I would miss most about Vietnam and my answer was: the beach, Vietnamese food and my Vietnamese friends!

Phu Quoc – part two ;)

Back on a plane to Phu Quoc, arriving in the afternoon in Freedomland, being welcomed by Rita with a big smile on her face - I had known we made the right decision and we did.

Freedomland is just beautiful and there is something about it, which is hard to describe with words. The owner Peter said to me it has something spiritual and I totally agree. It is the most relaxing place I have ever stayed at combined with pure nature. This time we stayed in the Mango and Banana bungalows ;)


My bathroom was outdoors in a gorgeous setting underneath a Mango tree with a coconut shower head!

I had a veranda with a hammock and I just felt home. We were also keen to eat Peter’s delicious food again, which is just stunning.

I felt so content there during my last 2 days in Vietnam; I can hardly describe it with words.

I know one thing, that I love the soil of Vietnam, the diversity of the scenery from North to the South and their people, the beautiful stunning colours throughout the country and the unspoiled beaches. On top of all that – Vietnamese have one of the tastiest foods in the world!


Gecko on Freedomland


Jan and myself rented motorbikes the next day to drive up toward the North again through the National Park. It was a lovely sunny day and we stopped at Bai Thom around lunch time and had a dip in the sea to cool off from that heat ;)



We decided to drive down south on a road which said on the map "For experienced motorbike drivers only". No idea what to expect really. I think we crossed in total 20 bridges, but the drive was faboulous. Some old bumpy bamboo bridges which were very wobbly, sand, stones and so on. What an adventure!



We stopped for some Pho (noodle soup) in the middle of nowhere but it was very tasty.

Before heading back to Freedomland we stopped at Duong Dong beach to check out a massage place for the next day. We decided to have a Saigon beer directly at the beach :)




The day ended with another stunning tasty dinner from Peter and his team and some lovely chats with other travelers.

My last day in Vietnam could have not been more perfect. It started with a fruit shake, then some late shopping and a massage directly at the beach. I could see the ocean through the open window as well has hear the sound of the ocean with the small breaking waves, while getting a lovely Vietnamese massage. It was a gorgeous place for sure.

Another stop at the Creperie for a Galette with a Café Sua Da. Back in Freedomland we went for a last swim to the nearby beach and then packed our staff ready to go on a long journey.

We ended the vacation with a nice Freedomlander, which was the special cocktail of the place :)

Yes I have mixed feelings to fly back to Europe and I am a bit scared that I will get a real culture shock after living for over one year in Vietnam.

It started already in Doha, where I saw all the Western people on the bus, almost no Asian faces anymore : (

Where are all the cute Vietnamese faces?!

Well, but the best thing is that I still have my residence card and I can go back anytime ;)


I would like to say thanks to everybody who made my year in Vietnam so special! !! Memories, nobody can take away from me :)


2 comments:

  1. You are a lucky girl! See you in la ville rose

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Kerstin - will you drop by Ireland before your next adventure? If so, be sure to let me know, would love to help you ease back into western culture by buying you a nice pint :-) Alessandra

    ReplyDelete