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Our Cham Island experience

It started with a 12 hours train journey from Hanoi to Da Nang. We left Hanoi station at 11pm and slowly worked our way south stopping at Dong Hoi and Hue before arriving at Da Nang station at 1.30 pm the next day.

at Hanoi train station

We took a mini bus to Hoi An,  loaded our bags on to a fast boat and reached Cham Island at 2.30 pm.

After a brief rest we were invited to do some snorkeling to get a feel for the water and to see the natural beauty there. The water was clear, warm and we could see some fish and  coral. Back to the island, we had a swim in the beach then dinner. Our accommodation was small tents on the beach, although some of us slept on the sand with feet in the water too keep cool.

After a light breakfast and a briefing about the dive equipment we would use. We took a small boat to join other divers on the “mother-ship” where we suited up for our first SCUBA dive.

The dive instructors were profession and safety conscious and made us feel very comfortable as we began to enjoy the under water world of the reefs around Cham Island.

Our first dive was about 30 minutes. After that we had a short break on the “mother-ship” then we were invited to take another deeper dive in a more spectacular location. We saw fish, coral and amazing rock formation under water. It was an amazing experience to “fly” among the fish and the only sound was the regular in and out of your own breathing. After diving all moving, we returned to the island and had a good lunch then a swim with a game of ” ghost-ball ” …

Diving at cham island

That evening, we had a “gala dinner” and some drinks. We all slept very well after a very special day.

The next morning, we walked 2.5 km to a local fishing village, saw the market then took a boat back to our base camp. After a very good seafood, we packed and took a fast boat to Hoi An.

Hoi an ancient city

We then visited My Son ancestral home of the Cham people and back to our hotel for a swim in the pool and relax. Dinner was in a restaurant on the river and walk around Hoi An ancient city. Next morning, we left Hoi An and visited CON market at Da Nang city for shopping then caught the flight back to Hanoi at 5pm. We needed to circle Hanoi airport due to a passing thunderstorm, but we arrived safe and well at 7.30 pm.

A great experience with wonderful things to see and do. You might want to view our photo album

Written by David Whitehead

Ho Chi Minh Trail by Bob, David & Tuan

In June I took my son to see the REAL Vietnam. It’s probably not the best time of the year there because it’s Summer, but since we were going to be in the Central Highlands much of the time, it was fine. Another bonus was that it was harvest time, so we saw plenty of rural activity.
Our plan was to drive Hanoi to HCM City following the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but before leaving Hanoi we toured the more interesting sites, including the War Museum and the Temple of literature. The tiny fresh-water shrimp were great and as usual we ate well throughout the trip.
The first day was a long one – about 650km to Dong Hoi, but we took a side trip to Cam Thuy (Thanh Hoa province) to see the masses of Carp in the stream and stopped off at Dong Loc intersection, the most bombed part of Vietnam, to see the memorials. It was a long day with the roads covered in rice husks drying in the sun and harvest traffic, not to mention the condition of the road itself on occasions.
In Dong Hoi we stayed at the Sun Spa Resort, a huge complex of apartments right on the beach with an enormous swimming pool. Summer being the Vietnamese holiday time, it was filled with families relaxing and enjoying the facilities. That evening we ate local produce at a beach restaurant.
The next day’s destination was Hue and we passed through the DMZ and crossed the old border between North and South about 100km south of Dong Hoi, through Quang Tri to Hue where we stayed at the delightful and luxurious French Colonial Saigon Morin Hotel and visited the Citadel and the Forbidden City and saw the progress made with its restoration since my last visit. We heard that we had escaped the weather, Hanoi being deluged after we left with local flooding.
We were aiming for Pleiku the next day, but the car had other ideas. Everything was fine as we passed the beautiful Cau Hai lagoon, but after negotiating the Hai Van Pass (on the new road and tunnel and that fantastic road stop ‘cafe’) the engine began to lose power and finally died just south of Da Nang. This had not been a planned stop, but we spent the night there until the local Ford dealership sorted out the fuel pump and this gave us the opportunity to look at the amazing beach developments and Marble Mountain before departing.
From Da Nang we climbed up into the highlands proper so did not go south to Hoi An, through Kon Tum and into the large city of Pleiku. I saw a long concrete stretch north of the city, parallel to the road, which I am sure must have been the wartime USAAF airfield. Here we stayed at the modern Hoang Anh Gia Lai Hotel, owned by one of the city’s favourite sons, and took a walk around the local area. I’ve never seen so many motorbike showrooms before!
The trouble with the car meant we had lost a day, so we activated Plan B here and booked ourselves on a flight into Saigon from our next stop, Buon Ma Thuot. This was only a comfortable 200km away so we had a relaxed start from Pleiku, but the road was particularly nasty and narrow and I’m pretty sure we busted a shock absorber in one of the many holes. It meant we missed Da Lat but we have left plenty for David to do on his own next time.
Saigon was only 350kms away, but we were flying out of Tan Son Nhut the following evening and wanted some time in the city to look around. After almost 2000kms of driving in 4 days we had had about enough of this mode of travel anyway so we said goodbye to Tuan, our guide and driver, and he headed off for Nha Trang to put the car on the train and return to Hanoi while David and I flew to Saigon, a mere 45 minute hop away.
We visited the War Remnants Museum and did some shopping in the city centre before retiring and the next day we searched out my old haunts in Cholon from more than forty years before as David wanted to see where the stories had originated.
This was not a relaxed trip as time constraints meant we had to push on and push hard to cover the distance. We were only in the country 8 days, but the Ho Chi Minh Trail would be a great trip if 12-14 days were allocated. Most tourists stick to a well-worn path, but with a little more time than we had would allow for a relaxing trip and extra stops which would take in most of what the standard route follows.

War Museum in Hanoi

War museum in Hanoi

Hanoi Outskirt

Hanoi Outskirt

West Lake restaurant in Hanoi

West Lake restaurant in Hanoi

Hanoi temple of literature

Hanoi temple of literature

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Stated into Ho Chi Minh Trail

Bridge links to Holyfish Pond in Cam Thuy

Bridge links to Holyfish Pond in Cam Thuy

Fish Pond, a local tourist attraction

Fish Pond, a local tourist attraction

Holyfish

Holy fish

Tuan & David

Tuan & David

Along Ho Chi Minh Trail

Along Ho Chi Minh Trail

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Intersection

Dong Loc Memorials

Dong Loc War Memorials

Sunspa Resort - A local tourist relaxation in Dong Hoi

Sunspa Resort – A local tourist relaxation in Dong Hoi

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son Cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Truong Son cemetery

Forbidden City of Hue

Forbidden City of Hue

Inside the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue

Inside the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue

Another adventure day in Da Nang!

Another adventure day in Da Nang!

David in HAGL Pleiku

David in HAGL Hotel Pleiku

Pleiku at night

Pleiku at night

On the way to Don village in Buon Me Thuot

On the way to Don village in Buon Me Thuot

Don Village

Don Village

Elephant ride

Elephant ride

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

War Museum in Saigon

Written & photo by Bob Livingstone

Saigon, Reasons To Go!

Saigon VietnamFood is better

This is much related to personal taste, as most of Northern people are not quite getting along with Saigon’s food flavors. What I like is a big range of food. Many choices for your eating, especially breakfast. It will be easy to stay a month but you don’t need to eat the same courses each day

Service is much better then elsewhere

No matter what service you use, small restaurant or 5 star service standard, you will feel comfortable and ‘be served’. That is hardly to get elsewhere in Vietnam, especially Hanoi.

Taxi is good

You will have reason to worry when you use Taxi in Hanoi, but in Saigon you will find more reliable taxi around. It is not only to reputable taxi operators like Mai Linh or Vinasun, I found others are also fine. They are helpful and honest on serving.

Things seem to be cheaper now

Depending on services you use, but lately I found cost of living in Saigon is cheaper than Hanoi.  Accommodation is 20% cheaper than Hanoi in the same standard. House renting is even lower at least about 40% which is great chance for anyone wish to stay in Saigon at the moment.

Weather is stable

It is sunny and hot year around in South of Vietnam including Saigon. I personally don’t like sun and heat but stable temperature and lower humidity would please most of people especially Northern where the weather is always hard to predict.

Saigon

When I stepped out of Saigon station in early of 1999, I realized that the City was not for me.  There were so many things I dislike about, noisy, strange, food, accents and might be a part of its history. We was told about Saigon as the capital of Vietnam War, place of death and horrible killers. Saigon was eyed like that by a 20 years old conservative Northern boy.

After 4 years stayed, I’d loved every corners of it. Saigon has its own charm that not quite the same to any other places. Saigon culture could be suitable for young people, things are more simple here, no particular scrutiny like in Hanoi. Someone said it has influence from America, No, I don’t think so, it seems like weather, geography conditions made people here more open and friendly.

I was addicted to coffee since I was here, I just like the way people having it, the best way to know the locals though coffee shops on roadside where people talk, chatting away after breakfast or lunch break. You don’t have to keep silence like in Hanoi, conversations are unnecessary considerate which is a must in the North. Fun is easier found here.

I miss Saigon sometimes, miss the wide selection of food that mostly unbearable to Northern people, miss those motor taxi drivers on roadside with big smiles every times I passed them. No more reason to base there for long but It has certainly an excitement whenever I am thinking to go there.

Perfume Pagoda in late march 2011

Our trip started at 9 am in hanoi, after 1h30p we were present at Perfume Pagoda.On the road, around 20km far from Perfume pagoda, you may encounter a touts for boats service, meals…., but should not use their services.
Seems like the atmosphere of the main festivals still echo to this day so we feel very excited when we had recently arrived. Instead of raining on the way is the light sunshine that makes scenes become brighter and more beautiful than ever.
Our trip enlists the weekend on sunday, so we can only select the main point to visit such as Trinh temple,Thien Tru, Huong Tich cave.
Depart from the wharf, it will take about 15 minutes to reach the Trinh temple, 60 minutes to Thien Tru and from there you can catch the cable car to the Huong Tich cave.
As an amateur photographer, I also spend my time to take some images for sharing so that you may have a look at one of the famous landscapes of Vietnam. Unfortunately, images are not very good so you guys should give me your sympathy :).
The trip is perfect and ended at 4 pm, we drop into restaurant and recharge the energy after one day traveling then go back to Hanoi at 7.30pm.
I hope to have the opportunity to come back and visit more places!

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