From Hoi An to Bangkok

It came time to depart Hoi An and head to Bangkok. We would be flying there from Da Nang via Ho Chi Minh City. It was more eventful than we’d expected.

A few days prior the resort manager approached me to offer his thanks to our group for being such great guests, and kindly offered us a free airport transfer for our departure. Maybe he felt it was the least he could do after spending so much money at his resort’s bar day after day. As our flight left at 9:45am and check-in began at 8:45am, he suggested leaving at 7:45am. I made it 7:30am – never hurts to have an extra 15 minutes up your sleeve at an airport, especially with a group.

After an early breakfast, we finished packing the last of our gear, all wrote on a card that Matt and Michael would give to Tin later in the day, and took some group photos out the front of the resort. We piled in to our van and got underway as the resort staff waved us off.

We made good time to the airport and waited to check-in. When we got to the front we were told we were in the wrong line. Fortunately no-one was in the other queue yet so we went straight to the front. Unfortunately when we got there we were told our flight had left an hour ago, and we’d been advised of the time change by email two days prior.

We hadn’t thought to check the flight’s status, and throughout our nine months of travel a few years ago, none of our flights ever got changed. We quickly purchased tickets through another airline but then had to scramble through check-in and security, having to jump straight to the front of both queues, just to make the flight on time. If we’d left 15 minutes later, we may not have all made it on the flight.

After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City we had some time to kill before our next flight. Quite a bit of time, as it turns out, as nearly all the flights out of that airport had been delayed due to some kind of system error. Our two hour layover turned in to four hours, and we later heard some people had been delayed even longer than that.

I found this article regarding the delays in the paper the next day.

After another quick flight, we finally touched down in Bangkok. We found our driver (who filled us in on how bad the delays had been getting throughout the day) and got underway. For most people in our group, it was the first time they’d been in Bangkok, and it’s always an impressive city to drive through at night with its myriad of huge advertising billboards and well-lit buildings.

We arrived at Lebua at State Tower and started the check-in process. While we waited we enjoyed the lobby’s piano player, who was belting out a medley of random songs. I wish I’d got some footage of this guy, he was really getting in to it! We all tried to figure out each song as it came up. Certainly helped pass the time quickly.

Once we were checked in, we went to take a look at our suite. Kupp greeted us as we walked through the door, as he’d arrived a few hours before us. The place was massive. A huge lounge and kitchen area was flanked on either side by three bedrooms, with two on one side, and one on the other, that one alone being as big as the suite we’d stayed in the last time Amanda and I were there.

The living room! Kitchen to the left, and those doors lead to two of the bedrooms.

After kicking Kupp out of that room and taking it for ourselves (sorry mate! I promise that when it’s your birthday you can have whichever room you want!) we went downstairs to catch up with the others. It just so happens that they had managed to score the Hangover Suite. It is ostensibly the same as every other suite, but it has photos from the movie up on the walls, and other decor that references the film. For those not in the know, several scenes from The Hangover 2 were filmed at Lebua, and they’ve capitalised on this in their marketing. Nikki and Leigh surprised Amanda with an expensive bottle of champagne to kick off the celebrations!





After spending some time catching up, we all decided to spend our first night up on Lebua’s roof at the Sky Bar. Just as we remembered, the views were as incredible as the price of the drinks ($15 AUD for a glass of beer). Still, it was a great way to kick off the Bangkok Birthday Bash!




Hoi An Day One

It’s 4am and I’m sitting by the pool at our hotel listening to the occasional boat putter by on the river. After a very early start the day before yesterday, and no sleep all night, I was pretty impressed with myself for having enough energy to hang out at the bar for a few hours before flopping into bed at about 5pm. No caffiene along the way either! 

My very first impression of the hotel was a cement stairway on a dirty side street (to be fair, all the streets here a pretty dirty) but then we climbed up to the airy, flower-filled reception and a view over a long pool to an emerald lawn leading to the river – it was gorgeous. The grounds are full or orchids and frangipani trees in flower. I met a staff member, Nu, who showed me that if I dipped a finger in the little pond around the dining room, little goldfish would come and nibble my finger. 


The hotel has a four hour Happy Hour, which started just before we arrived. Two for one cocktails, which made them around $2 each. 

They also do a street food tasting on the lawn at 4:30 every afternoon. We tried a bunch of tasty fritters, rolls and noodles and I failed to pronounce ‘that was delicious’ in Vietnamese. The only consolation, when trying to pronounce Vietnamese words, is the obvious difficulty Vietnamese people have with English. Even people with big vocabularies are barely intelligible.  

  After being shown to our rooms, Luke and I had a quick, much needed shower, then went for a wander down to the pool and found Matt and Michael already on first name terms with Tin (or Super Tin, as he is now known). Although I try hard to be friendly to everyone, being with Michael and Matt is like being with two Crocodile Dundees – if Crocodile Dundee spent all his time looking for bars.

The weather is looking like being very warm today (and always sticky-humid) but possibly cooler after that so we’re thinking of having a day by the pool to relax then getting our tailoring underway the next day, plus signing up for some cooking classes and tours. Or maybe we’ll just sit by the pool or the riverside bar, which we seem to have commandeered.


Farewell Hoi An, Hello Saigon.

Our last full day in Hoi An was a busy one. I spent the morning doing a cooking course by myself, that is, without Luke but with about 10 other people – 4 English backpackers and an Indian/Malay family with a couple of little girls.

I was picked up from our hotel by taxi and then joined the rest of the group at the local Hoi An markets for a tour and to buy the food we would cook in our class. The markets were colourful and interesting but our translator and guide was a fairly young girl who hadn’t been doing the job long and could not even tell me how much a bread roll cost. She said she’d never bought one, which I found rather surprising. She had to ask the man who was with us, who was doing all the actual buying but didn’t speak English. Turns out they should cost about 3,000 dong (about 15c AUD). Interesting, considering we’d been paying between 10 and 20,000 per roll in Hanoi. It’s hard not to get the feeling that you can’t trust anyone when you’re being charged more than 3 times the proper price. The next day Luke and I tried a new strategy – walk up with the amount you’re willing to pay in your hand and ask for the amount you want and the sight of cash seems to work much better than asking ‘how much?’ and getting told an astronomical figure. It just takes a while to work out what is an appropriate amount to offer.

Anyhoo, from the market we boarded a boat that seemed to be furnished with bolted-down dining chairs and headed down the river for 45 minutes. There was a reasonable amount to see but it would’ve been nice to have some information about the industry we were passing and the history of the area. Our guide mainly played with her phone.

We got out of our boat amid a plantation of water coconuts and got into two smaller canoes and were paddled a bit further between the palms, getting a closer look at the trees and the grungy slicks of god-knows-what on the surface of the river. It was nice and peaceful though and I spotted some fish in the water. Fish in Vietnam must be the aquatic equivalents of cockroaches considering the filth they survive in.

Our next stop was a hut where we tried our hands at milling, threshing and grinding rice to produce rice milk by traditional methods. I found that pretty interesting – a lot of very hard work! We collected the rice milk to use in one of the dishes we were going to make.

Last stop was behind the hut and through some vegetable gardens. A large open air structure thatched with palm leaves but, thankfully, containing some powerful fans. It was stinking hot weather. Not so bad on the river but where we were was stifling. I’d brought my fan and got some envious looks when I pulled it out. If you’re traveling to Asia (or anywhere, I guess) in Summer I highly recommend having one on you at all times. They makes a huge difference.

Our 4 dishes:

Vietnamese spring rolls.

The emphasis here was on presentation.

Vietnamese crepes.

The crepe mix was primarily rice milk and coconut cream. It was very much like a taco shell that we filled with delicious, crunchy salad greens. Would love to make this when I get home.

Beef salad.

We made a beef stock and then added spices and poured it over the cold noodles. Delicious!

Pho Bo (beef noodle soup)

A staple of the Vietnamese diet and particularly tasty when you cook it yourself. So easy!

We watched a chef prepare each dish then had our own station to go back to for practice. We got to eat everything straight away (yay!) and there were lots of breaks to chat and drink the endless refills of passionfruit juice.

We headed home in a taxi (much faster) and I really enjoyed the whole experience. It could only have been improved with more information and better English on behalf of our guide but she was extremely friendly and positive so that makes up for a lot.

On my return to Hoi An I dashed to AoBaBa for one of my many fittings and then to Yali for my coat. I got dirty looks at Yali for being many hours later than they asked but there was nothing I could do. To cut a long story short, my coat was finished that evening and looked fantastic. Possibly a tiny bit tight (if worn with several layers) but that’s more motivation to lose the weight I’ve put on this year.

The gob-smackingly superb building that houses AoBaBa. It’s very old (over 500 years) but maintained beautifully and shows what a strong influence Chinese and Japanese culture had on the town, which was once the greatest trading port in eastern Asia. This is one of two courtyards in the building.

I had my last fitting at AoBaBa the next morning and was extremely pleased with the results. I’d taken a steampunk-ish styled pattern to them and I think they really enjoyed making it. Certainly Kathy (my fitter and sales assistant) was visibly excited about me trying on the finished product and took a photo and called all the other girls over to have a look when it was done, telling me that she had never made anything like it before. That was nice! If you’re reading this and thinking of heading to Hoi An to get clothes made do go to AoBaBa and ask for Kathy. The assistant who helped me at Yali was good but I don’t think she cracked a smile the whole time we were there. Be aware that if you go and get clothes made whoever you speak to first will probably end up working very closely with you, so wander around the store until you see someone you like the look of then go up them and ask for their help. Working with a happy person makes the process so much more enjoyable!

Kathy and I. Watching her trying to reach my shoulders to pin things together made me feel like a giant. All the Vietnamese women are incredibly dainty and elegant, especially in their traditional ao dai.

This costume comes in 3 parts, the blue coat, purple skirt and a black and white bustier. Now to figure out where to wear it!

We spent our last evening taking photos, eating at Cargo again and visiting the ‘Good and Cheap Bar’ in the hope of grabbing Phi, the owner, for an interview. Sadly we only spotted him once and the vibe was nowhere near as good as the previous visit so we had a couple of drinks then went back to the hotel.

The exterior of the ‘Good and Cheap Bar’.

The morning after (yesterday morning, in fact, although it feels like a week ago) we had our final fittings, collected our coats, left our 12kgs of clothing and excess belongings to be mailed home by Kathy (for the bargain price of $70 dollars!!! It’ll take 3 months to get home but still…. $70!) and bought some supplies for the train. We checked out of our hotel and taxi’d to Da Nang ($19 if you’re curious, get your hotel to book a driver, a taxi is about $25) where we had a bit of lunch then boarded the train.

This time we had top bunks, which I didn’t think was so bad. We read, ate chip and cheese rolls out of our laps and watched the countryside roll past. We shared the cabin with a couple who had a little boy who was quite adorable and didn’t cry too much, thankfully.

In my usual dyslexic style, I’d read the train ticket and thought we got off at 5pm the next day. No, no. Turns out we got off at 5am. So we awoke to shouting and pointing and quickly got our gear together and jumped out into the hot and sticky Saigon dawn. Footage of the train will be in the next video. I neglected to take any photos. Oops!

The train to Da Nang (or not, as it turned out).

We’re sitting on the train from Hanoi to Da Nang. We are in a sleeping cabin, a ‘soft berth’. Apparently the beds are marginally thicker than the ‘hard berth’ beds and there are 4 to a cabin in 2 bunks.

As soon as we got on last night a family asked us to swap so they could all be together, which was fine. Luke and I moved to another cabin, which we ended up sharing with an older man and a grandmother with her granddaughter. They were very quiet room mates. I slept like a log – the beds on the train are much softer than the ones on the Halong Bay boat.

We had dinner before we got onboard at 11pm last night and bought some bread rolls and cheese to eat for breakfast. We also had to buy a cutlery set yesterday so we could slice the cheese and spread our margarine. Another thing I should’ve thought to bring.

Yesterday we had to check out of our hotel at midday, so we sat around in the morning doing research and various things on the internet then left our bags at the hotel and caught a taxi to Saint Honore, a bakery highly recommended on Trip Advisor. I thought that, while we were in Vietnam, we should check out the bakeries as they are reputed to be the best in Asia. Which isn’t saying much if my experiences in Thailand and Japan are anything to go by.

Saint Honore was lovely. Certainly not any better than any specialist bakery in Australia, but definitely a cut above the street bread in Hanoi, which only comes in white baguettes and white (rather sweet) loaves.

We bought ourselves some take away lunch then walked south around West Lake, where it became apparent that Vietnamese people will grow anything anywhere, anytime. Even the small squares of dirt by the side of major roads where an ornamental tree had been planted, was also filled with tomatoes or mint or something I didn’t recognise but was undoubtedly edible. We walked past an allotment right next to the Hanoi Intercontinental. The garden was probably the prettiest thing I’d seen in Hanoi. Rows of herbs and vegetables with tiny white cabbage moths fluttering everywhere, which probably wasn’t doing the garden any good but they looked lovely.

City allotment.

We headed through a Japanese temple then past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which wasn’t open at the time. I’m not that into seeing dead bodies anyhow. Then to the Temple of Literature, the oldest University in Vietnam as it started in 1070 AD.

Flowers at the Japanese temple.

As we wandered around the central lake we were accosted by a group of young university students who asked if they could speak to us in English. We stood there for a while, laughing and chatting with them. More people gathered around to listen to what was going on and we ended up with a small crowd. We headed off after about half an hour and wandered through the back streets of the Old Quarter. The streets there are arranged by trade/goods, so if you’re looking for kitchenware you go to one particular street and all the shops sell saucepans etc.

We headed up to the cityview café for the last time to watch the sun go down and so I could take some long exposure shots of the traffic. We debated going to the place Sarah recommended but figured 19 floors up would be too high to get good light trails. Next time perhaps! It certainly did look nice in the photos.

A hand held 30 second exposure. Talk about a steady hand!

We picked up our gear then headed to a restaurant near the station where I finally tried Pho (pronounced ‘fur’). It was ok, but Luke and I both agreed that Bun Cha (BBQ pork in a thin soup) was much better.

Dinner was nice but made much more entertaining by the fact that we could see into the area where the waiters and waitresses were standing around and we watched them flirting we each other like high school kids and laughing lots. It was charming.


To jump forward in time, I am now writing from Hoi An, where we arrived last night. Our train journey ended in what we thought was Da Nang. We heard the announcement, gathered our bags and got off the train at the right time. Before we got off I asked the fellow in our compartment if this was Da Nang and he pointed to the exit, then I tried to ask another passenger who flat-out ignored me. So we jumped off. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t Da Nang, it was the previous stop, Hue, which we should’ve reached 2 hours prior. ARGH. We caught a private taxi into the town centre for $2.50 and then bought bus tickets for around $8 each. The bus was cramped with no airconditioning and took about 3 hours to get us to Hoi An.

We were both feeling pretty fed up when we got here but it turns out Hoi An is the prettiest place in Vietnam (in our experience). So clean and in such good condition it almost looks like the Disney version of what Vietnam should be. More on Hoi An later. With a million photos!