A Travellerspoint blog

Ho Chi Minh in 5 Days

A trip booked on the spur of the moment when one of my friends mentioned in the office that JetStar were doing a flash sale over the long weekend in June and that she would be going for two days. Two days was a bit too short for us for a holiday that entailed a 9 hour flight, so we opted to go for 5 days, which gave us a little more time to explore.

On the first day we headed straight to the tailors to get measured at Pham Minh. We found Pham Minh after some research into the best tailors to use. James ordered a suit and a few shirts and I opted for a new pair of tailored trousers. We would then go and enjoy the city for the next 5 days whilst our clothing was made.
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We then spent the afternoon wandering around the city exploring and in search of some good Pho for lunch, which wasn’t hard to find.
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There are millions of motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh and crossing the road is sometimes like taking on an obstacle course of motorcycles - yet, it seems to work.

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Once we’d had enough of the heat we headed to the Bitexco tower for some cocktails with a view.

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That evening we walked over to the backpacker area (Pham Ngu Lao) before dinner at Secret Garden restaurant (a rooftop restaurant) on a recommendation, which didn’t disappoint. We then went for a stroll around Turtle lake, where the locals spend their evenings eating street food and socialising.

This was one of my favourite buildings we came across in the city. An old ugly city building that has been revamped with each balcony housing a small cafe or shop.
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On the second day, our friends arrived. We knew they only had two days so would be pretty keen to get exploring as soon as possible. We had an early start that day to pack it all in. First stop was the post office, a beautiful colonial building and still an operating post office, next was the Cathedral of Notre Dam (a replica of the French Notre Dam), followed by the War Remnants Museum and Independent Palace. The War Remnants museum as you would Imagine was focused on the Vietnam war, or war of American aggression as they call it. It was possibly one of the most depressing museums I have encountered, however, it was educational and eye opening, if not somewhat confronting, particularly the exhibitions of all the Agent Orange victims. Independence Palace was fascinating to see, with many of the rooms remaining, or at least restored, to how they were back in the 1960s - 70s. We also enjoyed the tanks in the grounds which were the same as those that stormed the palace gates in the last days of the war.

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Post Office
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Independence Palace
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Notre Dam

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Statue of Ho Chi Minh himself in the background - photo-bombing

After a lunch of Pho in the markets, some coffee and cake we headed back to the hotel. But not before a downpour of epic proportions. I felt pretty smug at the beginning as I’d bought an umbrella but the rain preceded to become heavier by the minute until it was coming from all angles and there was nothing we could do to keep dry. We arrived back at the hotel completed soaked through. That evening it continued to rain so we holed up at a beer garden with shelter near by until we became too hungry and had to venture out again.

The following day the rain had cleared and the weather improved. We took a taxi to the Jade Pagoda, a tranquil temple just out of District One where the taoists come to worship their various gods. We headed back into the city and stumbled across the Ho Chi Minh city museum. Whilst the museum its self left a little, if not a lot, to be desired the building is beautiful and it was interesting to walk around for an hour or so.
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When in Vietnam, you can’t not visit a few temples so we went to a Hindu temple - the Sri Marianman, before going to the Bitexco tower again. Vietnam is a great place for roof top bars and we definitely made the most of these.
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That evening we had tickets to a show at the Opera House. The show was Teh Dar. It is a cirque de solei type show. The Opera House was much smaller than those we’ve been used to, and we had seats in the second row. The acrobatics during the show were amazing and at the end the whole cast are in lobby singing whilst the audience leaves the venue. It was an early show, so we went for dinner after and still had time before our friends were due to fly out. The restaurant we tried that evening, again on a recommendation, was Propaganda, and it was delicious.
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The following day, we were on our own again, so we’d booked a trip to the Chu Chi tunnels. The Chu Chi tunnels were the underground headquarters of the Viet cong. They built an amazing amount of inter linked tunnels and rooms underground where they could disappear and fight from as well as live. The trip began with a boat trip to the tunnels down the Saigon River.
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The tunnels are tiny only just big enough to carry the small frame of the Vietnamese so luckily we didn’t have to crawl through them - in fact, even if we had tried it wouldn’t have been possible. The site have built a number of larger tunnels for the tourists to crawl through, and most of them you can pretty much walk through if you bend down.

This is an actual entrance to a tunel, which we could just about fit in.
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James crawling through the much larger tunnel made for tourists.
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Oh, and they also have a shooting range on site, which was unexpected, but as we were there we decided to have a go with an AK47.
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That afternoon we sought out the Pasteur Street Brewing company before heading back to Pham Ngu Lao to visit what is apparently the cheapest rooftop bar in Ho Chi Minh. The View Rooftop Bar, at the top of Duc Vuong Hotel. It was indeed one of the cheapest we visited and the views were spectacular.
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On the final day in Ho Chi Minh we got involved at the Ben Tham market and did some shopping. Despite being hassled at EVERY single store (there are hundreds) in the market it is a fun experience and if you’re not afraid to haggle, and you have to haggle, hard, you can pick up a bargain. We found some more Pho for lunch and treated ourselves to a foot massage after all the shopping stress.

That evening we went for drinks at the famous Caravel Hotel (where all the journalists reporting the Vietnam war would stay) in the Saigon Saigon bar before a delicious dinner and a taxi to the airport before it started to rain again. James’ suit and my trousers arrived just in the nick of time after being delivered to the hotel because they had forgotten my trousers and left them at the warehouse. Suit and trousers were the perfect fit and they did a fantastic job.

Posted by Time Well Spent 16:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged chi ho minh Comments (0)

Coron, Palawan

Whilst being on dry land for the evening was a treat, the hustle and bustle of Coron town was not. And neither was the incredibly loud and terrible karaoke outside our room, which we were confined to most of the evening due to James managing to obtain a minor case of sun-stroke. It was to be expected, given both the guys had experienced a case of it already. James was just lucky it was after the five days on the boat trip. The next day, still feeling fragile, we took a trike out to one of the resorts and spent the afternoon by the pool. A well-deserved and relaxing day.
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That evening we walked the 700+ steps up Mount Tapyas to watch sunset over the island before meeting up with some of the people from our boat that evening for dinner and drinks. The top of Mount Tapyas offered spectacular views out across the town and to the many neighbouring islands that surround the island of Busuanga.
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The following day we headed out for a day of diving. Our first dive was at Lake Barracuda. A very different dive to usual in that it was both sea-water and fresh water with hot streams up to 39 degrees. Whilst initially, it was a little discomforting and we were concerned about being that hot for 45 minutes at 22 metres deep, it soon changed and we were in the cooler stream. The scenery looked a bit like the moon under water. The hot temperatures mean that there isn't much sea life there except some small catfish and prawns.

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No wet suit was needed in the 39 degree water.
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Next we headed to some wrecks for two wreck dives. The wrecks we explored were a Japanese cargo ship (Olympia Naru) and a naval aircraft ship (East Tangat Gunboat). Both wreckages were sunk in 1944 by the American navy during the Second World War. As our first wreck dive it was both amazing and at first a little nerve wracking diving inside the wreck. In the naval ship you could still see the perescope and the remains of the kitchen and boiler rooms.
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Our last evening on the island we took a trike out to the hot springs. An evening activity, due to not wanting to sit in 39 degree water during 30 degree weather. The springs were worth a visit, however, the journey there was hair raising. We took a trike with two others we met on the Tao trip. A motorcycle with a cart attached is not supposed to carry the weight of 4 people plus the driver in any situation, let alone on this road. It was quite possibly the worst maintained road in all of the Philippines. On three occasions going up a hill did we had to get out and walk and on the fourth when it conked out, I jumped out of the trike in fear of rolling back down. The trikes wait for you at the springs to take you back to town. I'd opted to jump in with Ivor and Phil for a slightly newer more robust looking trike (with music) and after attempting to go with our other trike James and the others ended up with another driver as his trike had burst a tyre and he also had to hitch a lift back with them on another trike. So, in summary, it was worth the trip but if I was to do it again I would choose a sturdier looking trike.

On our final day in Coron we moseyed around the town and had some farewell drinks with Ivor and Phil. Our hopeless hostel booked us an airport transfer that would barely get us there in time, however, we did make it only to find out the airline had over sold the flight and there was only space for one of us and he next available flight was in a few days time. Eventually, they worked it out as another passenger gave up their seat in return for some free flights. So we were pretty lucky and very grateful to said passenger. Finally, we were able to board and headed back to Manila for our final day in the Philippines.

Posted by Time Well Spent 13:50 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Tao Philippines

New Year's Eve saw us set sail on our 5 day island hopping tour with Tao. We had 22 people and 8 staff on board the boat and about 200km to cover. Each day consisted of exploring islands on route to Coron from El Nido. Tao have a number of base camps on the way, which is where we would stay each night. The accommodation is a basic hut and the shower situation consists of a bucket of water, although one camp had a strong water source and we were treated to a hose on the fourth and final night.

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Some of the huts
View from our hut and our hut.
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James climbing a coconut tree

Part of the crew included a chef, called Magic Mike, who would make sure we were all well fed and watered each day. Here we had some of the best food we've had in the Philippines. Much of the food was sourced on the way, either by fishing off the boat or purchasing fish and livestock from nearby villages. James even managed to catch a tuna. Some of the meals we ate included squid, calamari, ceviche, hog roast (lechón), pork shoulder, banana pancakes and a heap of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was unbelievable.

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Pork lechon / hog roast
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The kitchen at one of the islands (Tao base), that also had a farm.

Some of the farm animals / dinner
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Our first unlimited shower - a stream and a bucket.
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Each day we'd stop somewhere for snorkeling off the boat and the corals were amazing. I don't even know what all the species were that we saw but I was both lucky and unlucky enough to encounter two sea snakes. We also saw turtles, clownfish, lionfish, clams, and many, many more.

Our first night at camp was New Year's Eve and the crew had even bought along a few fire works that were set off to mark midnight, at least we think it was midnight, we didn't have watches or electricity most of the time and certainly no signal so checking your phone for the time wasn't an option either.
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James having his morning coffee
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There were a few sore heads the following day but we pulled up ok. That day, however, saw our first channel crossing as the sea was incredibly choppy. After an hour or so of holding it together, sea-sickness got the better of me and I ever so tactfully vomited over the side of the boat. The crew were on hand with ginger tea and honey, supposedly a good cure for sea sickness. Anyway it seemed to work and I was back to normal in time for lunch and a snorkel.
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We also became ship wrecked one day when the propellers for our boat got caught in some fishing nets and bent. Luckily another Tao boat, going the opposite direction was near by and able to pull us to camp (an amazing desert island), which was also luckily near by.
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Our boat being towed.

The crew hen took of the two propellers and went to work that afternoon fixing them with a piece of wood to hammer it straight and a beer bottle to check it was straight. It was impressive. And we got to spend the afternoon exploring the island, playing cards and drinking beer before the sunet. All in all, being ship wrecked wasn't too bad.

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On the final day we did some snorkeling at one of the sunken Japanese shipwrecks before lunch and heading to Coron town where the trip would end. That day James finally caught a fish after 4 days of trying. In fact four people did! And apparently they've never had so many caught on the boat before and our captain had to tell them we couldn't stop to pull in any more as we wouldn't make it back in time. The fish caught we fresh tuna that we had as fresh sashimi and a delicious ceviche they rustled up.

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It was sad when the trip had come to and end, however, I think everyone was looking forward to be spending a night in a proper bed and having a flushing toilet and shower (that wasn’t a cold bucket of water). It was definitely one of the best trips we have ever done and really hope to come back and do it again some time. Tao Philippines also have a sailing boat that does 6 days, so maybe we'll do that next time.
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Our boat
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Our route
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Our travel companions and amazing crew
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Posted by Time Well Spent 22:32 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

El Nido, Palawan

After our evening in Puerto Princessa we took a hire van up to El Nido, a rural beach town that has become a hub for tourists island hopping. It was a 5 hour drive along windy roads. We arrived early in the afternoon and after a spot of lunch, stuffed squids and calamari, we hired some kayaks and paddled out to a nearby beach. The sea was a little choppy but we made it there and back without capsizing.
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El Nido had electricity, however, this isn't always guaranteed and that evening as we were walking back to the room a lamp blew out a the town lost power. Many places have a backup generator but the town was pretty much plunged into darkness, along with our hotel, although oddly that was the only time our WiFi worked.
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On our final day in El Nido we took a dive boat out and went diving around the islands. After swimming out to the dive boat (it's too shallow for the boats to come into shore and only one jetty) we headed to the first and best site in South Maniloc. The visibility was 15 metres and along with a plethora of fish we saw an amazing reef of giant cabbages and a turtle! So, unless I saw two turtles on the next dive things weren’t getting much better. We did three dives in total that day and had lunch on the boat. A delicious feast of chicken, fish, muscles, baked eggplant and or course, rice; all cooked on a BBQ on the back of the boat.

That evening we headed to Tao Philippines to have our briefing and meet the rest of the people on our 5 day boat trip through the islands us to Coron.

Posted by Time Well Spent 22:22 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Puerto Princessa, Palawan

From Boracay, we took two short flights that took over half the day to get to Puerto Princessa in Palawan.

After arriving at the hotel we headed straight to the pool for some beers at the swim up bar.

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When the sun had set we hit the indoor bar. After a trike ride to an up market restaurant by the water that was fully booked we were sent in the direction of the local sea food market instead. We dined on a feast of seafood and rice during a humongous downpour (aftermath of the typhoon).

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After dinner stumbled upon some sort of outdoor casino set amongst makeshift tents and a very boggy ground. The games consisted of putting some money down on a colour or card number and throwing a ball (football to ping pong size) and if it landed on said colour you got a pay out. The odds were pretty good and we came away winning. Albeit by about $2(!). That was sadly all we had time for in Puerto Princessa.

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Posted by Time Well Spent 22:17 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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