The Marble Mountain of Da Nang

Welcome to the Marble Mountain, Da Nang

On the 6th day of our pleasant stay in Hoi An, we extended our motorbike rental for another day to see the Marble Mountain. We dare not take the bus again after the annoying incident which happened the last time we went to Da Nang.

The street leading to the entrance of Marble Mountain

You’ll know you’ve reached the place when you see the street with the stalls selling all kinds of marble figures. Buddha, dragons, tigers.. name it! Everything you can think of, made of marble. What do you expect? Welcome to Marble Mountain!

Whew! Climbing the steps leading to the pagoda was tiring!

The entrance fee is 15,000 dong (US $.85). Be ready to climb cemented steps to see the caves and pagodas.

Steps going up the Marble Mountain

There were several vendors selling cold drinks if you get thirsty from your trek up the mountain. Thanks to sponsored concrete seats scattered all around, you can enjoy your drink and have a good rest too!

I'm not a Buddha but a beautiful and graceful apsara =p

It took us the whole afternoon to explore all the caves, pagodas and altars all around the sacred mountain.

I think I'll just wait outside..

Inside one of the caves

The temperature inside the cave drops a bit. A relief from the humid afternoon.

Natural light source brighten the caves

Buddhas were all over the place!

Round and happy Buddha

Buddha on a lotus flower

Meditating Buddha

More Buddhas!

A panoramic view of Da Nang from the Marble Mountain reward the one who sweat it out.


Da Nang from Marble Mountain

We saw China Beach from afar so we decided to drive there to see the beautiful beach up close.

On the way to China Beach, here’s what we saw on the main road.. Cows! We have to stop to take photos.

We saw local men collecting seashells when we arrived China Beach. They sell it for 3,000 dong per can.

A last look of Marble Mountain from China Beach before heading back to Hoi An.


A day trip to My Son

On our 4th day in Hoi An, we were pleasantly surprised to see German couple, Werner and Ruth, whom we’ve met in Dalat. They are the coolest couple we’ve known. Both are retirees and regularly flies to Asia to escape the winter months in Germany. We chat, had coffee in one of the riverside cafe then planned to rent our own motorbikes and drive to the ruins of My Son, one of the tourist attractions just a few kilometers away from the ancient town of Hoi An, the next morning.

The ruins of My Son

We rent 3 motorbikes for the whole day; 1 automatic gear bike for 80,000 dong (US $4.57) for Ruth and 2 manual gear bike for 50,000 dong (US $2.85) each for Werner and Ming. Of course I shared the bike with Ming since I’m not as confident as Ruth to drive my own motorbike.

It took us an hour and a half to reach My Son. It was a pleasant bike ride because the weather was cool and not too sunny.

One of the less damaged structures in My Son

The entrance fee to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site is only 60,000 dong (US $3.42). Worth a visit if you have the time to spare.

How splendid the temples may have been. It’s just unfortunate that the war between the United States and Vietnam ruined most of the structures.

My Son Ruins

Our wonderful excursion with Werner and Ruth was capped by plates of cake, coffee and tea at Cargo Cafe. Mango cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake for only 25,000 dong (US $1.43) each! Really a must try.

We had excess petrol loaded on our motorbike so we decided to extend the rental for another day.

A trip to DaNang’s Marble Mountain on my next blog!

Happy to be stuck in Hoi An Part 1

The riverside of the ancient town of Hoi An

It was more of a necessity that we have to stay in Hoi An for 13 days. Our passports were sent back to Saigon for the visa extension and we had to wait until it was ready. A quarter of our two month stay in Vietnam was spent in Hoi An and there’s no other place I would be happier to be stuck in.

Lanterns of Hoi An

Beautiful lanterns lit up the ancient town of Hoi An when night falls

Some of the hotels and guest houses within a kilometer walk from the ancient town have swimming pools, free use of internet and are under the US $15 rate. We wanted to stay within our US $10 budget yet lodged near the Old Quarter so we took time in looking for the ideal accommodation. Besides, we knew we have to stay for days so we wanted our lodging to be as cheap as possible. Right in the center of the ancient town, in Le Loi Street, we found Thuy Duong; a double room with fan, cable television and own bathroom for US $10.

One of Hoi An's specialty, the White Rose dumpling

Within an hour after settling in our hotel, we have roamed around the ancient town and have tried Hoi An’s specialty, the White Rose dumpling. Bits of pork, shrimp, herbs and spices are mixed together, wrapped in smooth rice paper shaped like a rose then topped with fried shallots. More than a year now, I can still remember how good it tastes, specifically at Mr Hong’s and at Friendship Cafe.

Cao Lau, another Hoi An specialty. Photo courtesy of

Another specialty is the Cao Lau, a noodle dish topped with either pork or chicken, vegetables and herbs. What made the dish unique is that the water used in making the noodles are from the lone Ba Le well of Hoi An. The dish is not one of my favorites though I recommend first time visitors to try it.

Hoi An Chicken Rice. Photo courtesy of littl3monk at Flickr
Chicken rice is a common dish in most Asian countries including Vietnam. In Hoi An, we have discovered that the best tasting chicken rice is being sold in a small dark alley along Le Loi Street. When night falls, we often see the alley crowded with locals dining on small table and chairs so we got curious and tried it. It’s not just good on the palate, it is good on your budget too. 10,000 dong (US $.57) a plate!
A chicken rice alternative for those not brave enough to try street food on a dark alley is Ly’s stall at the open restaurant. For 20,000 dong (US $1.14) a plate, it’s almost as good.

Lanterns in Hoi An

One can never ran out of things to do around Hoi An. Museum and Cultural sites tickets can be bought for 75,000 dong (US $4.28). Each ticket allows one to choose 1 museum out of 4 and 1 cultural site out of 4 listed to visit. If you want to visit all 8, it would cost 300,000 dong (US $17.14). For the budget-conscious traveler, there are several museums which are free of charge. Most of it though are also shop houses but one is not required to purchase anything.
For those who love to drink and party, Hoi An got a lot of bars offering free or discounted priced drinks even beyond happy hour. One place we gave a shot offering free rum coke is the King Kong Bar. The young teens on motorbike giving out the flyers all around Hoi An were successful in promoting the freebie because the place was packed with tourists! Well, it just shows how backpackers love an occassional freebie. We didn’t stay long though as some of the tourists at the place makes us feel uncomfortable. The German couple we were with, Thorsten and Susanna felt the same way so we headed back to the Old Quarters and stayed at the Before and Now bar until 2 in the morning.

Late afternoon in Hoi An

On our 4th day in Hoi An, we were pleasantly surprised to see another German couple, Werner and Ruth, we’ve met in Dalat. We chat, had coffee in one of the riverside cafe then planned to rent our own bikes and drive to the ruins of My Son, one of the tourist attractions just a few kilometers away from the ancient town of Hoi An, the next morning.
More of My Son and Hoi An on my next post!

Unexplored Vietnam Central Highlands

While on the pursuit of renewing our Vietnam travel visa, we got the chance to explore some parts of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Although the Central Highlands got a limited number of tourist attractions, it is still worth visiting.

The roundabout in Buon Ma Thuot. Photo courtesy of

From Dak Lak, we took a local bus to Buon Ma Thuot for 14,000 dong (US $.80). The 2 hour ride was a bit uncomfortable because the bus was too packed and smelly.

Our packed bus going to Buon Ma Thuot. Photo courtesy of Ming (mt_kang at Flickr)

We suspect that was where we lost an mp3 player too. The crowd of people standing on the  aisle made it difficult for us to see our bags stored at the back of the bus.

Busy market in Buon Ma Thuot. Photo courtesy of

From the bus terminal, we took a motorbike for 10,000 dong (US $.57) each to Ly Truong Kiat Street where several guest houses and hotels were located. We stayed in Cong Ty Duoc, a double room with fan, cable television and shared bathroom for 90,000 dong (US $5.14). In Vietnam, it is not difficult to find a cheap guest house or hotel under the US $5 to $10 range. It is very important for us though to always check the bathroom first whether it is clean or not and this one didn’t disappoint. We usually don’t mind sharing bathrooms as we always keep it clean after using and hope other guests would do the same.

In the morning, we realized we weren’t so lucky for finding that cheap hotel. As early as 7 in the morning, we woke up to the sound of Vietnamese teens running around, shouting and singing along a music video blaring on television, one floor above us. Oh well, we can’t have it all.

Since we were unable to extend our Vietnam visa in Buon Ma Thuot as I have told in my earlier post, we then proceeded to Kon Tum to try our luck. We booked a non-air conditioned local bus for 80,000 dong (US $4.57). The 4 hour ride on a non-air conditioned bus was pleasant enough since the weather is less humid compared to Saigon and besides, the fresh air on my face keeps me from feeling dizzy when the road start to zigzag.

Sleepy town of Kon Tum. This is a common sight in some developing towns around Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Ming (mt_kang on Flickr)

There are a few hotels and guest houses in Kon Tum. The Lonely Planet guidebook recommended bigger hotels which were all beyond our US $10 maximum budget for accommodation so we walked around the town with our heavy backpacks and chanced upon Viet Tram for US $6 per night. Oftentimes, hotels and guest houses in Vietnam accept US dollars as it is unsafe and inconvenient for most travelers to carry millions of dongs around. The rooms were spacious but not so clean. Also, we had to use the shared bathroom one level up from where we were staying because the owners of the hotel left their half done laundry in the bathroom beside our room. We didn’t bother to ask the owners to move the laundry out since we were too tired from the bus ride and just wanted to take the quickest shower possible and sleep.

The next day, after we found out there’s no Immigration office in Kon Tum, we explored the small town and the surrounding village by foot. The wooden church, which also have an orphanage behind it, is beautiful and unique. We were at the churchyard during a school meal break so there were a bunch of kids literally hanging around a small tree like monkeys to gather some fruits. They were throwing some of the fruit for us to try but I gave mine to some of the kids surrounding us that time.

Wooden Church in Kon Tum

The weather was so warm that we had to stop by several drink vendors to have some nuoc mia or sugarcane juice, tomato juice and coconut juice to keep us cool and hydrated.

A few meters further, we reached a small native village with unusual house structures. Some were made of mud with a huge roof. I found out the locals are from the same M’nong ethnic group in Dak Lak but they don’t live in long houses.

A house in Kon Tum local village

As we were curiously walking around the small village, the local children were also curious of us.  They were probably bored of their usual day that they followed us around while we take photos.

A typical day in a rural village in Kon Tum

It was unfortunate that we just breezed through the Central Highlands of Vietnam. With the visa extension issue hovering above us like a dark cloud, we didn’t fully enjoy exploring the place as usual since we were in a hurry to get to another bigger town to have the visa issue fixed. It was still a great experience though to see a different side of Vietnam which most travelers rarely see.

Vietnam Visa Extension Nightmare

We enjoyed traveling around the South of Vietnam so much that we failed to notice that our one month visa-free stay was expiring. We thought of doing a visa run either to Cambodia or Laos but we finally decided to just apply for one while in Vietnam. We figured the cost would be same with less hassle. How wrong we were! We were in Dalat when we thought of having our visas processed in Buon Ma Thuot, the capital city of Dak Lak province. When we got to the Immigration office there, we were informed that extensions of social visit visas are temporarily on hold due to tensions with the minority. I honestly don’t understand the connection. Maybe they thought we intend to stay long-term in Buon Ma Thuot and may get in the middle of a conflict if in case it happens.

After a few stops on some towns on Central Vietnam, we have finally reached Da Nang, the third largest city in Vietnam. We knew we’d probably wait a while for visa processing so Da Nang isn’t the place for staying put for at least a week. Not that we didn’t like the city, in fact I was surprised by how developed yet surrounded with natural beauty and clean the city was. It’s just that we didn’t find a place to stay that fits our budget.

We hopped on a bus to Hoi An after an overnight stay in Da Nang. Hoi An is a better choice to stay for a week or more according to some travelers we’ve met and of course, according to Lonely Planet guidebook too. We weren’t disappointed. More on Hoi An in future blog post.

The old town of Hoi An.

Upon reaching Hoi An, we wasted no time and asked several travel agencies on visa extensions because our visa was expiring that day. Price range was between US $60 – $110 for each visa. Too expensive. We thought it would be cheaper if we extend it ourselves in Da Nang.

Then the beginning of the nightmare… the next day, we took a local bus to Da Nang. While waiting for the bus to leave the terminal, I asked an old woman sitting beside me the fare cost for the 1 hour trip. She showed me a 10,000 Vietnam dong bill. Suddenly, the bus ticket woman seated at the back hurriedly went to where we were seated and started talking to the old woman and a young man in front of us in Vietnamese. One of the first thing I forced myself to learn in Vietnamese is saying numbers the local way so listening to what they were discussing, I knew what’s coming up next. When the bus left, there were only 4 passengers including us. The bus ticket woman started collecting money for the fare. As I expected, the young man passed her 30,000 dong. Then the old woman passed the same amount too. When she asked for our payment, I gave her 20,000 for 2 people. Again, as I have predicted, she started arguing in Vietnamese, that the fare is 30,000 dong then pointed to the 2 other passengers who paid same thing. Calmly, we told her in broken English and Vietnamese so she could understand us, 10,000 dong from me, 10,000 dong from my friend, nothing more. End of discussion. She still won’t give up and raised her voice so we told her we want to get off the bus. She sighed and motioned to us with her hands that we stay on the bus. A few minutes after, I saw her passing money to the 2 other passengers, which of course is the excess 40,000 dong that they both paid.

I cannot believe the incident that just happened! For a very small amount, the bus ticket lady made accomplices out of the 2 strangers to cheat us! I felt sick and remembered the restaurant stall owner in Lak Lake. But deep within, I felt victorious for not allowing myself to be cheated.

Back in Da Nang, we went straight to the immigration office. We were surprised when the officers told us that they cannot extend the visa then referred us to a travel agency. Is this one big conspiracy? How and why can’t they extend our visa? The immigration office should be the only place to do that legally! So out of curiosity, we waited for the representative of the travel agency. She told us the cost would be US $80 for each visa. Forget it! We asked other travel agencies around Da Nang. The cheapest that was quoted us was US $65 and the highest was US $100 for each. We gave up and we decided to either exit Laos for US $25 bus fare or have the visa processed in Hoi An for the same amount as Da Nang. At least we don’t have to travel all the way to pick up our passports.

The next day was Friday the 13th, (March 13). Believing it was a sign not to push our luck in Immigration if we cross Laos with the possibility of being charged a crazy amount by Vietnam Immigration officials for over-staying, we had our visa extended at Mr Hung’s in Hoi An for US $80 each. Ouch! A big burn on the pocket. Travel agents were inconsistent too. Some say over-staying up to 3 days won’t really raise alarm bells, some say Immigration officials may charge up to US $100 for each day.Also, we won’t really save a lot if we exit to Laos instead. At least, we got the visa concern off our backs and now can explore Hoi An without worries.

After 8 days of eating well, walking around, biking, cooking class, shopping for tailored pants, taking photos in and around Hoi An, we finally got our passports back. We were surprised to see that the visa extension actually cost only US $35 for each as stamped on the visa sticker. More than twice the amount we have paid. Oh well, no wonder I notice these travel agents toting the latest mobile gadgets. When we asked why the price quoted us was way too high, the travel agent won’t even bother to explain but just threatened to cancel the visa if we want. I don’t see anything wrong with asking for at least a breakdown of how we were charged when we clearly see on the visa sticker that the cost was only US $35. I would understand a few dollar commission, but more than double the cost? Clearly a rip-off.

The only good thing was we got more weeks to explore Vietnam which in the end, was all worth it.

A Stop at Lak Lake

Sunset at Lak Lake

Before heading to Buon Ma Thuot where we plan to extend our Vietnamese visa, we agreed to stop at Lak Lake for a few days. The Easy Riders in Dalat have shown us photos of the unique longhouses where some minority people of Vietnam live. We were curious so we booked a 2:30pm Mai Linh bus to the Lak Lake Resort for 80,000 dong each (US $4.57). Some Easy Riders would tell you that getting to Lak Lake is difficult so you would arrange a trip with them. However, it is possible by public transport.

You would also notice, when you start traveling the highlands of Vietnam, the presence of plastic bags hanging near the windows. It just means one thing: Be ready for an uncomfortable and dizzy ride. The road is winding and the bus a bit fast for me. I felt sick almost the entire 4 hour trip. Well, a local passenger felt the same way that we have to stop at least twice so she could have a breath of fresh air after vomiting at the side of the road.  The plastic bags would be really handy if the bus cannot make a stop right away.

We arrived the Lak Lake Resort at around 6pm. Not worth the US $10 rate. The room is dark, dirty and stuffy. The toilet stinks with a lot of mosquitoes. It was too late to head to the longhouses so we had no choice but to stay there for the night.

While having a make-your-own spring roll on one of the street stalls, we met Tran, who works at the resort as a chambermaid. So the hotel got a chambermaid?! Doesn’t looks like it. We chat with her for a while then she showed us how to combine the ingredients and make the perfect spring roll.

Not much cars but elephants roam around Lak lake

The next morning, we checked out of the horrible place and hiked to Jun Village. I recommend the iced milk coffee beside the Dak Lak Tourist Office. One of the best ones we’ve had, although it was a bit overpriced, almost twice the usual price.

Elephants carrying tourists around Jun Village

I was so happy to see 2 huge elephants walking along the road. Regardless of their humongous size, you can barely hear the elephants walking past because of their padded feet. We followed the elephants for a while before going to the Bao Dai Villa.

The Bao Dai Villa is located on a hill, overlooking the Lien Son town. I am not sure whether the place is available for tourists to stay overnight. It looked deserted and the restaurant doesn’t seem to be serving anything as well.

I wasn’t so happy with how some of the locals run their business around Lak Lake. They charge tourists more than the usual price and the worst thing is, they are not even discreet about it. We went to a restaurant with no name on the main street. It was a bit filthy. Used table napkins and some toothpicks scattered on the floor. We thought they were closing down for the day and clearing the tables thus the trash on the floor but 3 guys went in with us so we figured why not try the food there. We ordered what everyone else was having; a plate of rice with marinated pork, vegetables and hard-boiled egg. I noticed our portions were not as much as those guys. We even got the lousy vegetable parts. Oh well, I thought, they must have ordered more than the usual serving. Surprisingly, we were charged 30,000 dong (US $1.71) for each plate while the guys paid only 15,000 dong (US $.85) each! We tried to ask the woman operating the business but she don’t speak English. I know it’s just a small amount of money but it’s not a good feeling to be cheated that way. Lesson learned. Next time, I would just pay the amount everyone else paid whether the vendor argue with me or not. We did just that on the bus to Danang. More of that on future blog post.

Long house at Jun Village

Finally, the reason we were in Dak Lak, an experience to live on a native long house. Mr Duc of Duc Mai Cafe have several native long houses he rents out to tourists for US $5 per person. He had someone fetch us at Lak Lake Resort free of charge.

Another photo of a long house

I would say the long house is the most spacious guest house we have stayed in. At least 10 people can stay comfortably. That day, no one else stayed at the long house so we had the huge space all to ourselves. The place is clean and well-ventilated. The opposite of where we stayed the previous night. The amenities are basic; there are no beds just mattresses, mosquito nets are provided  and a small bathroom at the back of the long house.

Inside the spacious long house. For 2 backpackers, it is indeed spacious.. but in reality, several families live in one

Dinner at Duc Mai Cafe was special. They were serving traditional M’nong set dinner. We had barbecued pork, stir fried vegetables, soup, pork with tofu, and spring roll. A must-try for 40,000 dong (US $2.28) each person. It was the first time I ate a banana with a seed! At first I thought one of my orthodontic brackets fell off, but when I spit it out, it was a black seed from the banana.

Hiking around the rice fields in Jun Village

The next day, after a well rested sleep at the long house, we hiked around the village. Vast, green rice fields surround the area. We met some M’nong people. They weren’t the usual Vietnamese one would meet. They have dark skin, curly hair, thick lips and big eyes. They were very curious of tourists and were not shy to communicate with you so they can practice their English as well. I like the freshness of their being. They were friendly not because they want to sell something but instead they communicate with you so they may absorb something from you that they think would enrich them. They lead simple lives and I really admire that. I understood how tourists are always asked to be responsible with how they act or talk to people in remote villages. They have a certain innocence in them that is difficult to see in people today. Oftentimes, outside people doesn’t help in preserving that.

Rice fields around Jun Village

Elephant munching on banana trunk

Back in the village, we saw an elephant munching a banana trunk across our long house. Hold on a second.. did I say banana trunk? Yes, the elephant was eating a banana trunk for lunch. It was amazing to watch it crush the banana trunk like how a human munch on a garlic bread stick.

Yummy banana trunk! Imagine how we munch on garlic bread sticks!

It was a good decision to make a stop at Dak Lak despite the uncomfortable bus ride and the cheating food vendor. It was an experience to meet  some minority people of Vietnam;  felt their sincerity and friendship and understanding briefly how they have lived for years.

Cool Dalat

I felt sad to leave Mui Ne after 4 wonderful days but we have to move further going north to explore more of Vietnam. Next stop: the highlands of Dalat. From Mui Ne, we booked a ticket for 90,000 dong (US $5.14) each. As the norm in most travel agencies where you book your bus tickets in Vietnam, the bus company would pick you up from your hotel. The convenience for such a cheap price!

Roundabout in Dalat town


We took the afternoon bus leaving Mui Ne and arrived Dalat at around 6pm. If you don’t have a prior booking to any hotel or guest house, the bus would drop you off to their partner hotel. Our bus dropped us off at Binh Yen Hotel. US $9 for a double room. Not bad since the place was newly opened and clean. We wanted to stay near the city center so we decided to check Lonely Planet recommendation, Hoa Binh Peace Hotel. The double room for US $8 got 2 large beds with mosquito nets, TV with no English channels, a balcony, hot and cold shower. It’s big enough to be shared by 4 people. Air conditioning is not necessary in Dalat. We were there in the middle of summer. We didn’t even switch on the fan at night.

View of Dalat from our room in Peace Hotel


The cafe downstairs offers good value and tasty Vietnamese and some European dishes. When we had our first dinner there, it felt like we weren’t in an Asian country. No other Asian in sight except for the staff and us, of course. All were Western looking, in pullovers and shawls. It was a good place to meet other travelers and share travel stories. We had fried pasta with pork and vegetables for 30,000 dong (US $1.71), fresh vegetable spring roll for 25,000 dong (US $1.42), chicken schnitzel for 40,000 dong (US $2.28) and ginger tea for 5,000 dong (US $.28).

The Peace Hotel we were staying, which is supposed to be the original and the other Peace Hotel beside it, is the hangout of the Easy Riders, a group of men who works as tour guides with big bikes and speak good English. They would offer to tour you around the city for US $15 or the countryside for US $20. These guys can even take you all the way to Hanoi in 5 days on their bikes for a whopping US $750! Way out of the budget. They can be very convincing as they would show you testimonials with photos of previous travelers who had joined them for long trips. One Easy Rider, David Khoa, prevailed upon us that we booked a countryside tour the next day.

Outside Cho (Market) Dalat

Our first morning should definitely be a tour of Cho (market) Dalat and that’s where we had our breakfast too. We had Curry Chicken Noodle for 17,000 dong (US $.97) and Rice Soup with Liver for 15,000 dong (US $.85). Vietnam food is really good and cheap! For some dessert, we tried a mixed fruit shinto for 7,000 dong (US $.40). Breakfast for 2 for less than US $2.50!

Dalat roadside

We then explored Dalat further by renting a motorbike for 50,000 dong (US $2.85). It was so much fun to explore a new place by motorbike! We drove around the lake at the town center then decided to follow the suggested itinerary in Lonely Planet. We drove through the winding Highway 20, Prem Mountain Pass, 2 pagodas, Mimosa Hotel then back to Dalat town. Back in town, we drove to take a look at the Crazy House and Bao Dai Palace. I highly recommend trying the street food around the lake. Since the temperature was starting to drop by sunset, we had thick soup with mushroom and quail egg for 5,000 dong (US $.28), grilled spring roll wrapper cooked with egg also for 5,000 dong and the beef with white radish again for 5,000 dong.

Pine trees in Dalat

Second day dinner was at the Wild Sunflower. Not as good as I expected. The fish in clay pot I ordered was a bit salty. The street food we had was way better.

Buddhist Temple in Dalat

The trip with our Easy Riders Khoa and Khoan started at 8:30 am on our third day in Dalat. First stop was at a Buddhist Temple.


Next was a visit to several plantations: coffee, various vegetables, onions, strawberries and a variety of flowers.

Strawberry plantation

Vegetable plantation in Dalat

Then we went to a silk making factory. It was interesting to know that for each silk thread, 10 cocoons are needed. The cocoons were soaked in hot water so the silk can be easily spooled. The silk shawls the factory were selling was inexpensive, around US $4.


Last stop before lunch was the Elephant Falls. It was a nice place to hang around but we had to hurry because it looked like it was going to rain.

Elephant Falls

It did rain so heavily but we were lucky. We have arrived at the lunch place when the rain fell. The lunch was like a buffet! A number of dish were served to us, all for only 120,000 dong (US $6.85) split among 4 people! We waited for almost an hour for the rain to stop after which we went to a house where the family makes their own rice wine.


Our last destination for the day was the Crazy House. This unusual architecture has been in the top 10 weird houses in the world.


It was designed by the daughter of one of Vietnam’s political leaders.


The rooms are rented out and one can choose to stay at the Kangaroo room, Bamboo room or the Gourd room. No two rooms are alike.


Over all, I find the US $20 each fee for the countryside trip a bit expensive. Some of the places the Easy Riders took us can be easily reached on our own by motorbike. Their spiels during the tour were very generic too. Something which can be found on another guidebook or on the internet.

Our fourth day in Dalat, we again rented a motorbike but this time, we rent at Peace Hotel since they gave us an offer we can’t refuse. 45,000 dong (US $2.57) for a brand new orange motorbike. 5,000 dong less than where we rented the previous day. It’s not much but the savings would go to petrol expenses.


We went to Bao Dai Palace, paid 8,000 dong (US $.45) for entrance fee to see how the past ruler of Vietnam lived. It was a huge and airy mansion where Bao Dai and his family used to live. It was explained in the tour that only the eldest son, Bao Long, can join the parents for meals in the lavish dining room. The other siblings have their meals in a simpler and smaller dining area. It is only after meal time that the whole family get together in the sitting room. Quite an unusual set-up for dinners.


We ended our last full day in Dalat by taking the old train to Thap Cham. Round trip tickets are sold at the Ga Dalat for 80,000 dong (US $4.57). Upon reaching Thap Cham, we just went to a pagoda and walked around the small town.

Dalat is a good place to relax and escape the humid weather of Saigon. It is also a nice place to join a bike tour because of the temperate climate and beautiful mountain scenery. A must stop for those who have enough time to explore more of Vietnam.

Amazing Mui Ne, Vietnam

After checking several travel agencies in Saigon, we booked a morning bus ticket to Mui Ne for 80,000 dong (USD $4.60) per person. We don’t usually buy at the first travel agency we asked. Oftentimes, we would buy at the fourth or fifth travel agency because by then, we know the average price. This enables us to bargain for a fair price.

The bus ride to Mui Ne took about 6 hours, including the lunch stop. You may ask the driver to drop you off at your preferred accommodation. We picked Nhat Thi, a guest house not mentioned by the pirated Lonely Planet we bought in Saigon. We were able to negotiate USD$7 for a double room since we plan to stay for at least 3 nights. The room was spacious and very clean. Even got a fancy mosquito net, mini fridge and cable TV. It’s on the other side of the street though, not facing the sea.

Second important task after finding accommodation.. scour the best place to eat! We had a meal at Lam Tong Family Restaurant. The fried squid in satay sauce is worth a try for 35,000 dong (USD $2). The restaurant is a good place to relax and watch the kite-surfers.

We still have a good 3 hours before the sun sets so we decided to rent 2 bicycles. I have to say we are good in bargaining because we rent both bicycles for 6 hours, for only 30,000 dong (USD $1.7). We bike to the Fishing Village , around 30 minutes from our guest house. It was a beautiful harbor and so peaceful.

I can’t wait to get up close to the small circular woven boats. I have seen it before in one of the episodes of ‘The Amazing Race’ when it was shot in Vietnam so I was excited.

Unfortunately, I didn’t try to ride one. I didn’t even see anyone rowing the circular boat to and from the shore.

Since we got a mini fridge in the room, we bought cheap fruits at the nearby market. A medium-sized watermelon for 17,000 dong (USD $1) and pineapple for 10,000 dong (USD $.60). Finally a healthy dinner!

The next day, we bike to Phan Thiet to see the Cham Tower ruins. The road was a bit uphill at some points. However, seeing the Mui Ne coastline on a clear day was rewarding enough.

We reached the Cham ruins after biking for almost 2 hours. The weather suddenly changed so we hurriedly took photos.

Too bad these Cham structures are not well-preserved anymore. I can only imagine its magnificence back in those days.

We biked back as fast as we could to avoid the rain, have lunch and join our 2:30 pm tour of Fairy stream, Fishing Village, Red Canyons, Red Sand Dunes and White Sand Dunes. The half-day tour costs USD $24 for 2 people or USD $10 each for a group of 4. Good thing 2 Thai girls booked the tour as well so we saved USD $4.

I would recommend having a meal at the Moon Restaurant. The staff were very attentive and polite. The food was well-prepared and reasonably priced. I had a whole fried red snapper fish with rice and vegetables for 45,000 dong! (US $2.60)

After a good meal and a quick shower, the tour jeep picked us up at our guest house. The driver was glad to bring an all-Asian group for the tour. 2 from Thailand, 1 from the Philippines and 1 from Malaysia. On the walking path leading to the Fairy Stream, we were greeted by the strong aroma of fish sauce. It reminded me of Saigon street food. Without the fish sauce, something was definitely missing.

The Fairy stream is a small body of water winding through huge sand dunes and boulders. At the steps leading to the shallow water, you would likely meet 2 or 3 young boys who would offer their services to be your tour guide or volunteer to safe keep your shoes while you walk around the stream. A tour guide is not really necessary. I let them keep my hiking shoes though.

More photos of Fairy Stream.

It’s always good to take photos, around 3 in the afternoon, on a clear day. You don’t even need Photoshop!

We spent more time than recommended at the Fairy stream. Our jeep driver asked us to hurry so we make it on time at the red sand dunes for sunset. On the way to the white sand dunes, we passed by the fishing village again. The Thai girls took some photos then we’re off.

The white sand dunes or the white lake as the Vietnamese calls it, is a vast sandbox.I haven’t been to the Sahara but it was on my mind the moment I realize its immensity. No camels though.

The Red Canyon is fascinating as well. However, if you walk further, trash is all around.

The Red Sand Dunes is a popular spot for locals and tourists to have a picnic or simply hang out. The road to where the dunes are easily accessible got several restaurants and souvenir shops. One interesting thing to note is some restaurants got hammocks where one can spend the day lazily while having a cold drink or probably take a nap after a meal?

An hour before sunset was just the right time to walk around the sand dunes. Not too warm and most importantly, good light for taking photos.

The Red Sand Dunes would have been an excellent place to catch the sunset but sudden appearance of dark clouds made it impossible. The wind was very strong. We had to put the camera inside a plastic bag to prevent sand from getting in. I even felt the sand inside my mouth!

We didn’t get enough of the tour so the next day, we rent a  motorbike for 100,000 dong (US $5.70) and went back to the Fairy Stream. This time, there was no time pressure so we walked as far as the water is clean. Same as the Red Canyon, we found out there’s a point where garbage was scattered all over.

We then drove to the Red Sand Dunes and had lunch at the restaurant with hammocks. No, I didn’t took a nap but I recommend trying the Vietnamese pork chop rice for 20,000 dong (US $1.50), sweet and sour fish with rice for 40,000 dong (US $2.30) and a cooling tomato shake for 10,000 dong (US $.57).

That day, we didn’t just visit the amazing sites of Mui Ne. We also had the chance to meet its amazing people.Our motorbike ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. No houses nor shops nearby, just the beautiful coastline. 10 minutes after the bike’s engine died, I heard a motorbike coming so I waved my arms frantically. It stopped, Thank God! With sign language, we were able to tell the 2 guys the situation. One of them asked me, again by sign language, to ride his bike and he’ll take me to a petrol station. His other friend would stay with Ming. Upon arriving at the station, which was roughly a 10 minute drive, I was expecting to be overcharged for 1 bottle of petrol. To my surprise, I was charged the usual 15,000 dong (US $.85). We drove back to where Ming and his friend were waiting and load the petrol. They even offered to return the bottle to the station themselves! We were offering some money for their help but they refuse it. Such kind-hearted people!

Just like everywhere else, we won’t leave a place without trying street food! We drove to Mui Ne town and tried the Pho Bo (Beef rice noodle). It was so good! For only 15,000 dong (US $.85)!

A trip to Mui Ne is not complete without trying seafood street stall. We stopped by one which was crowded with locals. The serving and price is reasonable enough but most importantly, it was so delicious. Grilled scallops for 20,000 dong (US $1.14), grilled mussels for 40,000 dong (US $2.30), grilled squid for 5,000 dong each (US $.29). It was one of the best meals we had in Vietnam.

We chose to go to Mui Ne instead of Nha Trang because we heard it is a more relaxing place. I wasn’t disappointed of our decision and would surely visit again.

Visiting the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

There are several travel agencies around Saigon’s District 1 that you don’t even need a guide-book to plan where to go. I was impressed with how every bus, train, boat or plane ride to anywhere within and outside Vietnam can be booked at very competitive prices. As usual, bargaining is the norm. During our first week in Vietnam last year, we booked a day tour to see the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels for USD $7 per person. The tour bus left at around 9 in the morning with 15 other tourists.

First stop was a lacquer factory. The step by step procedure in making lacquer ware were demonstrated by mostly physically disabled workers. The artwork on the bowls and the ornament boxes were beautiful.

Next on the itinerary is the extraordinary Cao Dai Temple. According to our Vietnamese tour guide with the funny nickname ‘Slim Jim’, what made Cao Dai

interesting is that it joined the major religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam and Judaism.

Mass are held four times a day; at 6 in the morning, 12 noon, 6 in the evening and lastly at 12 midnight.

After a hearty and healthy lunch consisting of boiled fish in sour soup and rice, one of my favorite Asian dish, we spent the afternoon at the Cu Chi tunnels. These maze of underground tunnels played a crucial role in driving out the American forces which resulted to the North gaining advantage over South Vietnam. Some of the tunnels were restored to accommodate larger-built tourists but if you’re claustrophobic, this attraction is not for you. Before entering the tunnels, the tour guide showed torture traps around the area. Can’t help to feel sorry for the victims of those contraptions.

I was amazed at how good the trap doors leading to the tunnels were camouflaged. Once it was covered with dried leaves, one can barely see it. I made the mistake of copying the western girls take a picture inside the trap door holding the camouflaged cover. They were almost 4 inches taller than me so the girls easily pulled themselves up to get out. When it was my turn, I had a hard time. It was a funny scene when Ming had to pull me out.

While inside the tunnel, we all have to walk in a crouched way. Some corners are very dark and uncomfortable. The ventilation was also very poor that I cannot wait to get out. I am sure if I stay another 5 minutes, I would have a panic attack. Complimentary tea and tapioca were served to all, a sample of what the Viet Congs were eating during the war.

Lastly, we checked the shooting range where visitors can buy rounds of bullet to try on the different assault rifles. Here’s a Russian made AK-47. I didn’t try to fire it though.

All around the Cu Chi tunnel area were huge moon-like craters caused by B-52s dropped by the American military. I felt goosebumps imagining how big the explosions were to leave craters like that. Although all the craters were mostly covered with grass now, it’s an eerie feeling to stand near a place where a B-52 once fell. The USD $7 fee for the one day trip was indeed worth it since the things I saw that day weren’t things I see everyday.

At the Mekong Delta Day 2..One Year Ago

Day 2 of Mekong Delta tour. We left the hotel early to catch the morning floating markets. First stop was at Cai Rang. I was expecting a lot of boats selling all kinds of colorful vegetables & noisy locals haggling for a better price.

Can’t help to say I was a bit disappointed but still, all these are interesting and new to me as I have lived all my life in a city.

Next we went to Phong Dien, which is less crowded. Maybe we were too late and should have been there much earlier. However, it was just around 8 in the morning. I guess I was just expecting too much.

After the floating markets, our tourist boat took us to a vermicelli noodle factory. Almost everything was still the traditional way of making noodles, except for the cutting part. Too bad, there wasn’t any free tasting. I was feeling a bit hungry that time since the complimentary breakfast served to us was just bread, fried egg and tea/coffee.

After having lunch at the hotel, next on the itinerary was a visit to the crocodile farm. The place got a lot of crocodiles of various sizes.

One thing is certain, no matter what size, ALL of them were scary. I wouldn’t even dream of getting near one!

I have seen how these reptiles ate a zebra on National Geographic Channel but the caretaker/ guide told us that these crocodiles were fish-fed. Have you ever asked why crocodiles always have their mouths hanging open? It’s not because they are hungry and ready to hunt. It is their way to cool themselves since they have no sweat glands.

It was a long, uncomfortable mini van ride to Chau Doc where we spent the second night. I can’t wait to get to the hotel since we started the day so early and I was very tired. Last on the second day itinerary was a climb up the Sam Mountain to see the Cave Pagoda.

From the pagoda, you can see vast green rice fields. Beyond that is Cambodia. It may be a bit strange for some but at that time, I find it amazing that from where I was standing, I can see even from afar, another country which I haven’t been to. You see, my country, the Philippines, is an archipelago. There’s no way to see another country even if you go to the northernmost or southernmost tip. I remember feeling excited thinking that just beyond those rice fields is a whole new culture, another place I would soon visit. I didn’t experience Cambodia until 3 months from that day because we liked Vietnam a lot and stayed for 2 whole months!