Archive for the Category ◊ Vietnam ◊

06 May 2009 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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Our train from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) was not the luxurious experience of our previous train travel. The train was older and dirty (the bathroom was scary…a squat toilet that pretty much was just a hole over the tracks) but we did share a cabin with a nice Vietnamese couple and their adorable two year old daughter. She knew a few words in English and kept cuddling up to me as Sherri and I played cards. So cute!

When we were in Nha Trang I met a nice couple from South Carolina who live in HCMC. They recommended that we should go to the bar at the top of the Sheraton Hotel because it had a great view of the city.  We accidentally went to the hotel next door and had some drinks at their roof top bar.  It was their 50 year anniversary so they brought us a free drink with gold specs in it.  They also had a great band playing.  Sometimes it works out when you go to the wrong place.

At the War Remnants Museum

At the War Remnants Museum

We only had one full day in HCMC so we visited the War Remnants Museum, which is not for the faint of heart. It was shocking to see all of the horrible photos from the Vietnam War. Over two million civilians died and many more were injured and suffered from the chemical warfare. 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to the Agent Orange chemical, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. Many people today are still dealing with issues caused by these chemicals. It was a sad and sobering experience. War is awful.

The streets of Ho Chi Minh are just as crazy and crowded as Hanoi, maybe even more so. Crossing the street is a terrifying and exciting experience as motorbikes whiz past you. HCMC is a busy metropolitan city with lots of great restaurants, hotels and shopping…it seemed a lot more modern then Hanoi, although it could just be the areas that we visited.

We met up with Max, a friend of a friend, for dinner. He is originally from Hawaii and has been living in HCMC for the last couple years. It’s so great to meet up with locals or expats living in the area…they always have great advice on where to go, what to see and where to eat. We went to a great restaurant where we tried some unique Southern Vietnamese cuisine and finished the night off with a couple cocktails at a cool little bar with a great cover band.

Although our time in HCMC city was short, it was a lot of fun. On our last morning I got up early and went to Saigon Yoga. They offer a great selection of classes and the studio was really nice. You can buy a single class for $14 or get a 1 week unlimited pass (new students) for $30. A nice way to work off some of the great food you can enjoy while in the city.

02 May 2009 Nha Trang, Vietnam
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Nha Trang is a little beach city in Vietnam, known for scuba diving and was the location of the 2008 Miss Universe pageant.  Unfortunately, we had both gotten sick with the flu from running around in the rain in Hoi An, so we didn’t do a whole lot in Nha Trang.  We were hoping to do some diving, but it was stormy every day.  We did spend a bit of time at a resort/restaurant/brewery called the Louisiane Brewhouse. www.louisianebrewhouse.com.vn  They have a pool you can swim in and nice padded lounge chairs on the beach.  One day we rented bikes and went exploring.  On our last night we saw a beautiful sunset from the roof top balcony at our hotel.  There are a lot of big mountains surrounding the city so it made for a beautiful sunset!

30 Apr 2009 Hoi An, Vietnam
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We took a night train from Hanoi to Da Nang…it was really nice and super comfortable! We shared a cabin with two cool people from England, Julianna & Paul. Sherri & I have done a lot of train travel through Europe so we came prepared for the long journey with enough snacks, drinks and cocktails to share with our new friends! We were having such a great time that even the girl in the cabin next to us joined in the fun, as she was traveling with her sister, sister’s husband and their little baby. The views from the train the next morning as we traveled along the coast were beautiful! We arrived in Da Nang by midday and Julianna & Paul were super sweet and had their driver give us a ride to Hoi An, which was about a 45 minute drive from Da Nang.

We checked into a small hotel on the river and set out to explore. Hoi An is a super quaint town with beautiful old colonial buildings and is a well preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port. The street that runs along the river floods when the tide is high but people just go about their day riding motorbikes, bicycles and walking through the water. Hoi An is famous for their custom tailor shops. It’s overwhelming walking the streets because everyone is trying to get you to buy something and there are too many tailor shops to choose from. Our friend Richard (who lives in Bangkok) recommended a tailor shop so we went to meet the owner, Lan. She was so sweet, her shop is beautiful and before we knew it we were picking out fabrics for some custom made clothes! Hoi An is a shopper’s paradise. You can get custom made clothing and shoes for great prices! Plus they can turn the goods around in 1-2 days. You can have them copy your favorite pieces & remake into new colors, bring in a photo from a magazine, choose from the many samples they have in their shops or make up something unique…the possibilities are endless! We had so much fun picking out fabrics, colors, trims, lining, buttons…you can customize every detail and get exactly what you want. The stuff we had made at Lan’s turned out amazing. If you are ever in Hoi An definitely stop by her shop B’Lan. It located at 23 Tran Phu Str. or check out her website www.hoianblan.com

We met back up with Paul & Julianna for a hilarious night of karaoke. You get your own private karaoke rooms so we had a lot of fun dancing and singing. It was pouring down rain on our walk home and I woke up the next morning not feeling so well. Sherri & I both ended up coming down with the flu…high fevers, coughs and congestion…no fun.

On our last night in Hoi An we were both feeling sick so we chose at restaurant close to our hotel. Dao Tien Restaurant ended up being so much more than we expected! Located in a charming two storey French colonial building you can sit inside or outside. The food and service were great & the meals were well priced with a nice mix of Vietnamese, Thai and Western dishes. After our meal we met one of the owners/investors, he was from Australia. We got to talking and found out that this restaurant was dedicated to helping underprivileged children and young adults in the community by training them in the hospitality and service industry and giving them jobs. We also got to meet Tien who runs the restaurant, alongside contributing to her many volunteer projects (helping to support local orphanages, centres for the physically and mentally disabled children, schools and homeless centres) that are funded by the restaurant profits. Currently she is trying to open another restaurant that will have an English language training school above it. She will be looking for volunteers to teach English once the restaurant is up and running so if you plan on spending time in the Hoi An area & would like to do some volunteer work please contact Tien at daotienhoian@yahoo.com or visit the restaurant website www.daotienhoian.com. Tien’s husband is the head chef at Dao Tien Restaurant. He trains the cooks and teaches cooking classes to visiting tourists. Sherri & I wish we would’ve met these wonderful people at the begining of our stay in Hoi An, so we could’ve spent some time doing volunteer work with them, but we were already booked on a flight to leave the next morning.

27 Apr 2009 Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
        

Vietnam is one of the world’s poorest nations with 30% of the population classified by the United Nations as living in extreme poverty.  Over 40% of children suffer from malnutrition, 25% of the population is unemployed and the average daily wage for an adult is $1 USD.  Families struggle on a daily basis to put food on their tables, send their children to school and access medical treatment.  Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV) provides relief to the children in Vietnam by assisting them in a number of ways including food, clothing, shelter, schooling and medical attention.  For as little as $1 USD will feed a child for three days and $50 USD will send them to school for a year. 

We found out about this wonderful organization through a friend of Rana’s that she worked with. While in Hanoi we spent a morning visiting a poor family in need with Charles De Vet, the president and founder of HSCV. The family is living in poverty…but yet they were still so sweet and smiling while we visited with them. We got to meet the mother, father, and the two youngest children. The three older ones were in school.
Family’s situation: They are extremely poor. Their house is going to collapse soon so they won’t have a place to live. Last year the father broke his leg while working construction and couldn’t work for 7 months.   There are five children, three are in school and the fourth son will start school this September.  Rana and I are sponsoring the four children to go to school for a year, but they are still in dire need of help as they soon will find themselves without a roof over their heads.  For anyone who would like to help this family out please go to their website and choose option 10 and add a note that you would like to help the family that Sherri Vann and Rana Townend are sponsoring. http://www.hscv.org/sponsorships_options.htm 

 

26 Apr 2009 Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hanoi is an interesting mix of old and new. We stayed in the Old Quarter where the streets are small and narrow…vendor’s stores spill out onto the sidewalks, motorbikes are parked everywhere, women wear the pointy bamboo hats carrying their goods across their backs and just about every spare space people set up little stools and tables to sit, drink, eat and socialize. Crossing the street is an interesting experience as there are very few street lights or pedestrian crossings, no stop signs and tons of traffic…you just have to step out into it, slowly and confidently walk across.  It’s quite an experience.

Great places to eat in Hanoi:

- Rock Billy – Great food and service! The staff are friendly, good music and atmosphere, drinks are well priced and come with ice (we ordered cocktails at some other bars/restaurants and were always puzzled when they were served without ice).  We started off with the soup…I tried the pumpkin while Sherri had the mushroom soup…both were delicious! Definitely try the Hanoi style fish. It came out sizzling hot & is served alongside a plate of shredded carrots, cucumber, red bell pepper, pineapple, rice noodles, crushed peanuts, cilantro and sheets of rice paper that you take and wrap it all up in a roll & dip in a yummy tangy sauce! It was amazing! For dessert we had the mango crepe…soooo good! Fresh mangos inside a warm crepe drizzled with chocolate sauce. We enjoyed our meal so much that we even came back for lunch the next day and tried the Rock Billy pizza…which sounded a like bit strange combination…it had banana and curry sauce on it amongst other things, but it was really good! 54 Luong Van Can Str., Hoan Kiem Dist. nguyenminhthongtc@yahoo.com

- Papa Joes – three story cafe located near Hoan Kiem Lake…looks really small from the outside but you climb up narrow steps to the different levels which are more spacious. It’s a great place to relax in comfy couches and chairs while enjoying a latte or pot of tea. Really good sandwiches, salads and fresh squeezed juices/smoothies. Ground floor Hanoi Towers, 49 Hai Ba Trung.

- City View Cafe – centrally located near Hoan Kiem Lake you can sit out on the balcony and enjoy a great view of the city and lake. The food was good, traditional Vietnamese food and Western food…cocktails were a little pricey, but it’s all about the location. We found this restaurant on our first night in Hanoi and we were mesmerized by the crazy traffic below. Tons of motorbikes, cars, buses, cyclos and pedistrians all merging…amazing that there were not a ton of accidents.