Today is our very last full day of this trip! We can’t believe how fast these past 4.5 months went. We’re feeling a mixture of emotions as we begin our long day of travel early tomorrow morning. On one hand, we’re really excited to see all our family and friends and on the other hand, coming back home poses a lot of questions about what we’re going to be doing in the upcoming months and about our lives in general. It was only until we got to Phu Quoc when we started to really reflect on our trip and lives in general. We were both hoping we would do a lot more personal reflection on this trip, but things always seemed to get too busy to do that.
We made sure to get a good night’s sleep last night because we know we won’t be getting one for a while. Hopefully our jetlag won’t be bad when we’re back! We had a pretty simple breakfast at the restaurant downstairs – noodles and toast. After breakfast we went back to our room and did some organizing and packing for the rest of the morning.
For lunch we went to a restaurant called, Com Cali, which is a Vietnamese casual restaurant chain. We passed by a few while in Saigon and there is one down the street from us. Most of the people eating there were locals. I expected there to be more tourists. Tourists generally don’t like to eat at clear chain restaurants but we both think it’s interesting to eat at local chains. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to minimize our risk if getting food poisoning the day before our long travel day, so no street food for us today. We were thinking of getting a banh mi but decided against it (warm mayo is always a risk and we’re being super cautious). We ordered com tam, broken rice with grilled pork, and it was good – no complaints.
After lunch we walked down to the Notre Dame Cathedral to walk down “Book Street”, which is a tree lined street beside the Post Office. It was a warm day out, no clouds, and it was 34 degrees. We went into the McDonald’s close by and remembered that Vietnamese McDonald’s didn’t really have any special desserts like in Malaysia. We ended up just getting a vanilla cone each – 10,000 VND = $0.58 CAD.
We walked back to the Dong Khoi area (where all the nice hotels and malls are) and browsed around at the Union Square Mall. We debated whether we should just stay in the area for 2 hours and have an early dinner or go back to the hotel. There wasn’t much else we wanted to see in the area and we would be walking around aimlessly so we went back to the hotel to rest up. When crossing the streets around Dong Khoi, there are a lot of tourists around and you can tell who has just arrived (we were those people once too, or maybe that was just me) because they’ll wait forever to cross the street. Tim is like a crossing-the-street pro now. He leads a lot of people across the street and tells them they just need to start walking (such a local..). Maybe because we’re darker now, but people have been speaking Vietnamese to us instead of English and are surprised when we say we can’t understand. That didn’t happen to us when we were here at the beginning of the month. Do we look Vietnamese? I guess we don’t look Chinese.
We went back out at around 5pm to have an early dinner. We went back to the VinCom Center basement and walked around a couple of times before deciding to go to Pepper Lunch. The majority of options at VinCom are Korean BBQ or hot pot (all you can eat). So our last meal in Vietnam was Japanese casual fast food. We’ve now had Pepper Lunch in Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam – but haven’t even been to the ones in Vancouver. Since we had some leftover VND, we went back to VinMart and I grabbed a few more snacks to shove into my backpack.
When we got back to our room, we packed up, and Tim organized all our receipts (he’s the best record keeper). We’re taking a car to the airport tomorrow at 3am since our flight leaves for Hong Kong at 5:30am. We’re going to train to Central HK and have breakfast with a couple of our friends for a quick visit. We leave Hong Kong at 2:30pm for Tokyo-Haneda, where we’ll have a 2 hour layover before our last flight home! We’ll finally get home around 3pm on July 17th, which will be the longest day ever for us.
After tomorrow, we will have taken 30 flights, visited 49 cities, 11 countries, and slept in 44 different beds. We’re ready to come home!
We woke up earlier today to get ready for our flight back to Saigon, which was at 10:25am. We had a fairly quick breakfast and made sure we each had one of the caramel flans for the last time – they were really good! After checking out, Billy was there to see how our stay was and send us on our way to the airport. We really enjoyed our stay at Daisy Resort, it was so relaxing and I appreciated how good/friendly the service was. If we ever come back, the island and the resort will probably be very different. There’s already a resort being built right beside it! We left the hotel close to 9am, and got to the airport and checked in by 9:10am with just over an hour to spare.
The Phu Quoc Airport is quite new, built in 2012, so it’s nicer than a lot of the other airports we’ve been to this trip. The majority of flights at the Phu Quoc Airport are domestic with some flights to Cambodia and Guangzhou (coming soon). There seemed to be flights to Ho Chi Minh City every half an hour.
Once we crossed security there were a few souvenir stalls, a cafe, and a Burger King. There was no free airport WiFi but there was WiFi if you buy something from the Burger King or the cafe. Since we had an hour to kill and I’m clearly addicted to being online, I went to see what the cheapest item at Burger King was so I could get their WiFi password. The cheapest menu item was an ice cream cone for 15,000 VND = $0.85 CAD, but unfortunately they didn’t have any ice cream at 9am. We sat back down in front of the Burger King and that’s when I saw a table leave and I spotted the pink receipt sitting on their table. Yup, I went to the empty table, like a scavenger, and took their receipt (I really don’t have any shame in Vietnam) (Tim: I don’t see what’s to be ashamed of grabbing a receipt left behind to get a WiFi password). If you’re at the Phu Quoc Airport, the Burger King password is “burgerkingpqc”.
To our surprise, our Vietnam Airline flight boarded at the time it actually said on the boarding pass! Considering the airport is only 4 years old, you would think they would’ve built gangways. We all had to board a bus that literally took us 20 metres away. It seemed a bit silly, we walked farther to our plane in Australia.
We were seated in an exit row for this flight and when the flight attendant gave us the spiel about what our responsibilities are, she also said it’s our responsibility to stop others from opening the door. We both feel like this isn’t something that’s told in North America. The flight was okay even though a baby was screaming for 80% of the flight and the little boy kept kicking my seat – lucky it was only 40 minutes.
We collected our bags and went out to the taxi stand to get back into town. We didn’t make the same mistake as we did last time we took a taxi from the airport, and only approached the VinaSun taxi reps. There were a lot of other companies trying to get you into their cabs but we knew better! It took us almost an hour to get to our hotel, which is only 8km away (Ah, Saigon traffic!). After being in different parts of Vietnam, Saigon has the worst and most chaotic traffic out of all the places we’ve been to.
When we got to Platinum Hotel (same hotel we stayed at before), they seemed to have lost my reservation or not know where it was recorded (I had booked before we left Vancouver) because it took them a long time to find it even after showing them my Expedia itinerary. This turned out to be a good thing because they put us in a room on the top floor that was bigger than what I originally booked. It also has a view of the city instead of an old abandoned building which was our view the last time at this hotel.
We dropped off bags and went for lunch down the block at Marukame Udon (same restaurant as Tokyo and Honolulu)! Yes, we had Japanese food today. We had passed by the restaurant on our first day here over a month ago and kept it in mind just in case we got sick of Vietnamese food. The udon choices are different from Tokyo as they are more tailored for Vietnam. We both ordered what we thought was a zaru udon (cold udon that you dip), but when we got it, they were dipping noodles but they were still sitting in the warm water. The prices here are a bit cheaper than they are in Tokyo, but pricey for Vietnamese standards. The tempura selection had the standard Japanese options as well as fish cakes and sausages, which are Vietnamese influences. What they did have that I didn’t see in Japan was a soft-boiled tempura egg (this was delicious!). Lunch was good and made me miss Japan.
After lunch we decided to go to Ben Thanh Market to see if there was anything we wanted to buy. I was looking for a toddler tuxedo for Nate but unfortunately there was nothing at the market. There were a lot of tailor stalls but when I described what I was looking for they didn’t seem interested in making one or giving a quote. They were probably like, why does a 2 year old need a tuxedo? My friend in Hong Kong said she know of a place that sells toddler tuxedos so I’ll stop by quickly before coming home after our lunch together.
In addition to searching for a tuxedo, Tim was interested in buying some dry fit t-shirts. We remembered that Ben Thanh had the biggest selection out of all the markets we went to. But the biggest con of waiting to look here was that we had to deal with the overly aggressive Vietnamese vendors. Tim made the mistake of wearing his Under Armour shirt again so as soon as we walked through the rows of stalls they were attacking. We asked about prices and one lady said 450,000 VND = $26 CAD each, which is obviously outrageous for a fake dry-fit shirt. When we saw the price we were like no way, so Tim walked out the other exit of the stall and I tried to leave but the lady blocked me and another one grabbed my arm! Tim then countered with a lower price but they didn’t really negotiate too much. I told Tim to come back for me and then he got cornered by another man and lady. They said they’d lower the price but considering how aggressive they were towards us we didn’t want to buy anything from them.
While we were at the market, it started to pour outside. It was exactly what happened last time we were here! We tried to wait it out for a bit, but then we got sick of walking around the market, so we walked back to the hotel in the rain. We spent the rest of the afternoon updating our blog and map.
We walked about 10 minutes down Le Thanh Ton St. to Vincom Center, which is the largest mall in Saigon. Vincom Center is owned by Vin Group, which is owned by Vietnam’s first billionaire (in USD). He owns a huge real estate company, resorts, and a telecom. We’re going to be eating more carefully in our last days here. We don’t want any stomach issues on our long journey home. When we go to Vincom Center, we walked around the mall a bit and then went downstairs to where all the restaurants were. They had a really good selection of Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, and other Asian cuisines. There are a lot of Korean BBQ and hot pot restaurants and they were all busy (I guess it is Friday night).
We decided to try “Hotto”, which seemed like a Vietnamese rip off of Pepper Lunch. We looked at the Pepper Lunch menu and it was more expensive so we decided to give Hotto a chance, plus we’ve had Pepper Lunch a few times already this trip. I ordered the most comparable menu item to Pepper Lunch and it was okay. Instead of just corn for vegetables they also give you cabbage and beansprouts. Pepper Lunch is better.
After dinner we went to Vin Mart, a grocery store, to browse around at all the snacks/souvenirs. I bought a couple of items to bring home, not as much as I would want because of capacity issues. I saw some Japanese tourists buying crazy amounts of jackfruit chips and these coconut chocolate chip cookies (they almost cleared the shelves), so I copied and bought a pack of cookies too (they’re only $0.50 CAD).
We walked back to the hotel and called it a night. We’ll take it easy tomorrow and probably go for a nicer dinner for our last night in Vietnam. Our flight on Sunday to Hong Kong is at 5:30am (so early), so we’re barely going to be sleeping tomorrow night. Can’t wait to come home!
After such a beautiful day yesterday, we woke up to another spell of torrential rainfall. This time it lasted longer than any other day so we caught up on some TV (Amazing Race Canada was in Vietnam!) and Tim worked on our spending summary for the trip. We were glad that we decided to take the scooter out yesterday rather than wait until today.
The sun finally came out so we got changed into our swimsuits, had lunch at the restaurant, and lounged by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. The sun was literally setting on our last day and afternoon in paradise (Tim: “paradise”). When we get back home, we’ll need to do some serious thinking about what we want to do this Fall – Travel more? Stay in Vancouver? Set up camp somewhere and work remotely?
After the pool, I got a manicure and pedicure done at the spa ($11 USD for both thanks to the 50% discount). They didn’t have too many colours to choose from but they did a good job of cleaning everything up. I rarely get my nails done in Vancouver (only for special occasions) so it was a nice treat and at such a good price I couldn’t pass it up. After I was done, I went back to the room to get Tim for dinner.
We shared a bun cha (our favourite dish here, can refer to Day 134 for the picture) and spring rolls. When we get home, I don’t think I’ll be eating Vietnamese or SE Asian food for a while. I already veto’ed a friend’s request to go to Mr. Red’s (North Vietnamese restaurant).
Our last activity for the night were massages. Tim got a Thai massage ($15 USD) and I just got a foot/leg massage ($10 USD) because my back was a bit burnt from the beach. They gave us a free facial mask and my lady gave me a nice head massage after. When I was done, Tim’s lady was concerned because Tim’s eczema was acting up. They tried to use Google Translate to tell him to go to the drugstore tomorrow to get medicine for his skin. They told him not to go into the water or the ocean any more.
The rest of the night was spent packing up. We’re getting really good at packing very quickly. It’s hitting us that we’ll be back home very soon.
Today I woke up to sun but then it was short lived as it began to pour like crazy shortly after. I lay in bed thinking that we wouldn’t be able to rent a scooter and go around the island. I trust Tim’s driving skills but the rain here is crazy and we would just be soaked within seconds (having no ponchos). The weather gods were kind to us though, because minutes after the torrential downpour the sun made an appearance! I know, I seem to be hung up on the weather here, but it’s because there isn’t much to do in Phu Quoc besides lounging around in your hotel/resort or going to beaches (all of which are outdoors). The list of “things to do” on this island is a pretty sad looking list.
We went for breakfast and both had a bowl of Pho and some samplings of the other items. Billy was there walking around greeting everyone as they ate breakfast. He calls us Mr. Tim and Mrs. Kate. I’m impressed by the service here. Everyone is so friendly and Billy always says hi and calls everyone by name when he sees them. We never received the same service when we stayed at the Grand Wailea in Maui – Tim likes to mention that a lot. Since the weather was so good, our original plan of renting a scooter was a go.
We rented a scooter from the hotel for 150,000 VND = $8.75 CAD for a full day (so cheap) including “4L” of gas. The last time we rented a scooter while on vacation was 3 years ago in Koh Samui. That was one of the most memorable/best days of our Thailand trip. Since Phu Quoc has a population of just over 100,000, we knew we wouldn’t have to deal with road conditions like any other Vietnamese city. I know Tim misses riding his motorcycle, which he sold 9 years ago, so riding a scooter is the closest thing he’s done since. Obviously not the same, but it’s a start!
Our only plan for today was to go to Sao Beach, which is on the southern part of the island, which according to Billy used to be part of Cambodia. Our hotel is sort of in the middle of the island, closer to the main town of Duong Dong, so getting to Sao Beach took around 40 minutes. The main highway to get there was really easy to ride on with newly paved roads and it even had a median from oncoming traffic. However, the dirt road to get to the actual beach was another story. Phu Quoc is not very developed so there are only certain areas with paved roads, many of the routes on the maps are dirt roads. The dirt road was super bumpy. I had to hold on tight from bouncing too high off the seat.
There are two parts of Sao Beach you could go to – one of them being public and free and the other one you have to pay to park and stay (the cost would’ve been the same price as our bike rental). We opted for the free parking and public beach. The parking lot was filled with taxis, scooters, and tour buses. There’s an open air restaurant along the beach, which we didn’t end up eating at because the prices were outrageous (ie 50,000 VND = $3 CAD for a steamed bowl of rice!)
Maybe because we picked the public beach area, the sand wasn’t very well maintained. So my first impression of the beach was that it was pretty worn and there was a lot of garbage washed up on to the shore (further down away from where most people camped out). The water, however, was gorgeous, and appeared to be clean. Tim read that the part of Sao Beach that charges is spotless because they have staff cleaning up garbage constantly. We found a spot under a small tree where Tim hung out and read and I hung out in the water.
I walked down the beach to an area that wasn’t as busy and came across a huge jellyfish that was really close to shore. I got freaked out because at first I thought it was a plastic bag (since there was garbage) but it was a jellyfish the size of a grocery store plastic bag! After passing by it a few times and using a stick to poke it to see if it would move, I came to the conclusion that it was dead. My walk down the beach was a bit disappointing because there was sooo much garbage that washed up on to shore. Sao Beach could be even more beautiful if the shores were cleaned up. If you just stay in the water and put blinders on, you won’t see all the garbage. But if you just walk a few meters in either direction you can’t avoid it.
After spending a few hours at the beach we were ready to hit the road. We headed further south to a town called An Thoi, hoping to find something to eat. Our drive into town was another bumpy affair. Instead of dirt, it was uneven gravel. Lucky Tim is so steady because if I were driving, we would’ve crashed. As we drove down through town I saw four dog (thit cho) restaurants in the span of a few minutes. Suffice it to say, I didn’t notice any other restaurants that seemed appetizing to me.
We headed back and I kept an eye out on places to stop for lunch along the way. There wasn’t much going on in Phu Quoc, just a lot of construction everywhere. I get why Billy says if we come back in a year or less it will look different. We saw some massive developments for resorts being built along our drive. We passed by some of the tourist attractions on the island – Phu Quoc Prison and one of the main waterfalls. Neither of the sights really interested us so we passed. Tim wouldn’t have minded seeing the waterfalls but when we passed by the parking lot, it was packed with tours so we decided not to go.
We rode through Duong Dong town and saw some more promising options for lunch. I saw a guy grilling some meat outside a restaurant and it didn’t say thit cho (dog) so I was interested. Luckily the sign out front was something that we were familiar with – Com Tam (broken rice with grilled pork). The ladies spoke to us in Vietnamese and were surprised we didn’t understand them. There was no menu so we didn’t have anything to point to. I said “com tam”, and they looked very confused. Then I pointed at the meat being grilled, then they’re like ohh…I forgot that c’s are pronounced with a “gee” sound, so I was saying it wrong. The meat was really good, Tim liked it better than the one in Can Tho. I couldn’t remember what that one was like. Our two com tam’s were 60,000 VND = $3.45 CAD, I forgot how cheap things are in Vietnam.
After a delicious lunch we headed back to the hotel. We were sandy, a bit damp (since we were wearing our swim suits), and sticky (from the sunscreen and sweat). We rinsed off and went to the pool to cool down. The pool was a lot busier than it was yesterday. A family (10 of them) of Americans just checked in today so they were all in the pool. The Americans were on one end of the pool and there was another French family (8 of them) who were there too. All the Asians in each of the families were Vietnamese and all the spouses were Caucasian. It was nice watching all the families vacationing together and further solidifies how close Vietnamese families are.
We washed up and then went back into town to the Dinh Cau Night Market for dinner. The night market was pretty small, made up of some jewellery stalls, a lot of seafood restaurants, and a couple of other (not so great) food stalls. All the seafood restaurants had everything they had in tanks out front and you pick what you want to eat and they BBQ it for you. We ordered a squid (40,000 VND = $2.30 CAD), four prawns (10,000 VND each = $0.58 CAD), and garlic bread (10,000 VND = $0.58 CAD). I just wanted to try a bit of seafood since we were here. There were a lot of Vietnamese people there all with large parties (big families) and were feasting!
We walked up and down the strip of the night market twice and then decided to head back to the hotel. Since it was dark out, I didn’t have my sunglasses on and dust/dirt kept flying into my eyes. It was not a very comfortable ride back. We passed by the club that keeps playing all the loud rave music and the music wasn’t actually as loud as we thought it would be. I think the music just echoes and we’re the unfortunate recipients of the loud music at night. After our second night here, I’m already used to it.
Today’s post is going to be pretty boring. Phu Quoc is the first place we’ve been to this trip where we’re happy to just hang out at the resort and do nothing. I guess you can say it’s a vacation from a “vacation”. Our first night here was good. There was some serious heavy rain last night that woke Tim up (Tim: Actually, I was just still up when it started raining). It’s unfortunate that down the hill in town there are bars that blast rave/EDM music until pretty late at night. We could hear it fairly clearly even when our doors are closed. I feel bad for Daisy Resort. It’s not their fault the bars here are crazy. If you paid for a nicer room farther up the hill it probably wouldn’t be an issue.
When we woke up it was pouring rain. We called the front desk to get an umbrella so we could walk to breakfast. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was pretty busy. It was like everyone was trying to escape the rain. The majority of guests here are Vietnamese tourists and about 10% are Europeans (mostly French and German). The breakfast selection is decent – a mixture of western and Vietnamese options. They have a soup noodle and egg station that are made to order. My favourite thing at the breakfast was a caramel flan they had.
After breakfast we hung out in our room waiting for the rain to die down. As soon as it stopped and it looked like there was a tiny bit of light, I got changed and went to the pool. I basically stayed outside all morning and early afternoon. Swimming, reading, and relaxing! It was pretty much overcast all day but still about 27 degrees (“chilly” for SE Asia).
We had lunch at the hotel again. Tim was craving spaghetti bolognese so he ordered that and I had bun cha, a Hanoi dish. The food at the hotel has been really good so far. I liked the bun cha here better than the famous bun cha place we went to in Hanoi. Tim was very happy with his spaghetti. Home stretch before we can have comfort food at home!
After digesting, I went back outside and hung out by the pool and swam. Tim had “Tim time” in the room (Tim: my favourite). Late in the afternoon, the sun actually came out which was nice. As soon as the sun came through the clouds it was scorching, so maybe it was good it was a bit overcast or else I probably wouldn’t be outside the whole day.
Happy to have this time to relax and really reflect on our trip as a whole. Been jotting down notes of summary posts and our overall experience. Did you know we’ve slept in 43 different beds so far? Lucky for us we can both get a good night’s sleep in any bed. We were planning on getting a new mattress after we got married because our mattress was pretty bad (Tim: “old”) so all these hotel mattresses have been a luxury compared to it (not sure if Tim will be defensive about his mattress).
Since we’re staying at Daisy Resort for over 3 nights, they offered us 50% off any spa services, which is perfect! Tim got a 60 minute Vietnamese massage ($11 USD) and I got a Swedish massage ($10 USD) in the evening. Both our massages were good and we had an enjoyable time listening to the sound of crickets and toads (lots of toads around).
We had a late dinner after our massages. Tim ordered the bun cha that I had at lunch and I had a chicken caesar salad. We’ve been alternating who orders the western option.
Tomorrow we’ll see if the weather in the morning is more stable. We’re thinking of renting a scooter and checking out the beaches and the island.
Our “long” (Tim: I added the quotes) day of travel started at 9am this morning. We checked out after a quick last breakfast at our hotel in George Town and hopped into a cab to take us to Penang International Airport. The front desk suggested leaving the hotel at 9am just in case there was traffic. Our taxi driver was a friendly Indian man who liked to listen to Frank Sinatra songs and sing along to them. He had the meter running while we were in the car but we already paid the hotel a flat rate (his meter only said 40 MYR and we paid 50 MYR). Oh well, not all taxi drivers are apparently as friendly as him.
We arrived at the airport earlier than expected. We checked into our Air Asia flight to Ho Chi Minh City, walked around the terminal, and went through customs and security. The only souvenir I bought from Penang, and Malaysia for that matter, was a (smaller) box of pandan egg roll cookies (7.50 MYR = $2.50 CAD) from a place called Ban Heang. We passed by one of their main shops yesterday but I didn’t take a close look, which I should have. Ban Heang is a Penang store that specializes in an assortment of cookies and tambun biscuits. They also had quite a few durian products, which is very Malaysian. The Ban Heang store at the international terminal was located right before you cross security. Ban Heang seems quite popular amongst Asian and Malaysian tourists. We still have a bunch of MYR left over. We spent less than we expected in Malaysia.
Once we crossed customs and security, there wasn’t much going on in the international terminal. They had some stores and a couple cafes but nothing that was very interesting. We’ve noticed that with many SE Asian airports, all the good stores and chain restaurants are all outside the gates. Once you go past security, other than the typical duty free stores, the stores aren’t great and often times they look like they’re selling really random junk.
Our Air Asia flight took off on time and we landed a bit earlier than scheduled. I have a head cold and was pretty congested so flying today really stunk. I felt bad for the lady beside me as I blew my nose throughout the whole flight. Just as long as I don’t get a fever it’s okay. I don’t want to be quarantined at the airport being caught by those infrared scanners.
We landed in Saigon, crossed customs (no issues), collected our bags, and walked to the domestic terminal. We gave ourselves a few hours to make our flight to Phu Quoc and thankfully everything worked out smoothly. We used the Vietnam Airlines self check-in kiosks and then lined up to drop our bags off. The Vietnam Airlines check in area was very disorganized and there was no one at the baggage drop off counter. It was a bit of a mess. We felt like we were truly back in Vietnam while standing at the counter on our turn. A couple came up right beside Tim and flash their IDs in front of the lady helping us like Tim was invisible. This was all happening while the lady behind me pushed her cart up against my legs to make sure no one budged in front of her.
We had lunch at Popeye’s and Burger King. I had a Whooper Jr. and Tim had chicken tenders. The last time we were at this terminal was on our way to Da Nang, back when Tim wasn’t feeling great, so he couldn’t enjoy the chicken tenders. So I guess he’s making up for that.
I’ve never heard as many delays or change of gate announcements than at the domestic terminal in Saigon. It seems like every 3 minutes there’s an announcement. It was pretty much inevitable that our flight to Phu Quoc would also be delayed. Our flight time of 3:50pm came and went without an announcement. Finally at 4pm, they announced that our flight was delayed at 4:35pm and our gate changed.
We finally boarded our last flight for today. It definitely is summer holidays because our flight had a lot of kids. The flight time to Phu Quoc was only 30 minutes, and it was fairly smooth until we approached Phu Quoc and the turbulence was bad as we were passing through a thunderstorm. Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island (same size as Singapore) and is actually closer to Cambodia’s southern coast than Vietnam.
After landing safely, we picked up our bags and saw a representative (later learned his English name is “Billy”) from Daisy Resort holding up a sign. When we approached him he gave us a warm welcome and led us to the van. Daisy Resort is around 15 minutes away from the airport and sits on the side of a hill with views of the ocean. It took us a while to figure out where to stay in Phu Quoc. Beach front would’ve been nice but Daisy’s glowing Trip Advisor reviews and price ($58 CAD/night) won us over.
Billy was telling us in the car that Phu Quoc has been changing quickly and probably won’t be recognizable if we come back to visit even in a year’s time. Just three years ago the Vietnamese government began putting a lot of money into Phu Quoc wanting it to become a tourist island. There are 5 star resorts on the island and I’m sure there will be a lot more in the future. Billy said many of the hotel staff are from Saigon or Hanoi (he’s from Hanoi) and management from other parts of SE Asia, showing them the ropes.
Once we got to Daisy Resort, we checked in and were given welcome drinks. It had just finished raining and the sun was about to set so we didn’t get a great look at the grounds in the day light. From what we saw it looked nice and very cozy. The rooms are all villas and tiered on the hill. Since we booked the cheapest standard room, we’re at the bottom of the hill and face the courtyard gardens. The pool is nice and should have nice views of the ocean during the day. It’s down/rainy season right now so hopefully it won’t rain every single day we’re here!
We settled into our room and rested up a bit. We decided to eat at the hotel tonight and be more adventurous with what’s around tomorrow. The restaurant prices were about double the price of street restaurants but it was still very reasonable by western standards. We shared a vermicelli bowl with grilled beef (140k VND = $8.20 CAD) and an order of spring rolls ($7.30 CAD). When the food came it was so nicely presented compared to the street food we’ve been eating. Our bill came to $16 USD for our food, two fruit smoothies, and a coke. So it won’t be a horrible option to eat here more than once.
Looking forward to spending time here and relaxing. Hopefully we get a bit of sun!
Today we were flying to Luang Prabang, Laos at 6:50pm, so we had a pretty full day in Hanoi before we had to go to the airport. We had a leisurely and large breakfast upstairs. I ordered Vietnamese fried rice and it was a lot larger than I expected, so that was basically our early lunch.
After breakfast we went back to our room and started to book flights and some hotels for our last 3 weeks on the road. We’ll be going to Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Phu Quoc before making our way back to Saigon (then home!). We’ve booked all our flights until KL, we’ll do the rest in the next couple of days.
Since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until later in the afternoon, we asked for a late check out and we didn’t head out into town until 1pm. I think if we asked for even later they probably would’ve given it to us. The staff at the hotel was really accommodating!
We finally checked out and headed out for lunch. We hadn’t eaten any food in Hanoi that we really wanted to have again, so it made deciding what to eat for lunch a bit challenging. Tim is always down for eating more banh mi so we decided to try to find a new place.
We walked through the old town and close to Hoan Kiem lake to see what we could find. We found a Banh Mi shop called, Banh Mi Pho Cho. It looked promising. We ordered two sandwiches and took a seat. I ordered a roasted pork sandwich and Tim had the classic deli meats and pate banh mi. Both our sandwiches were pretty mediocre. I can see now why Banh Mi 25 is supposedly the best banh mi in Hanoi, there isn’t that much competition for good banh mi in Hanoi’s old town.
We walked through old town and decided to go to Cong Caphe to escape the heat for a bit. We are usually indoors during mid-afternoon so it was especially draining being in the sun during mid-day. We wanted to go to Cong Caphe since we weren’t going to be having it again (unless Saigon has one, but we may not have time to go). We ordered a coconut coffee and a frozen lemonade (the exact order we had the first time we went). Both were delicious as usual and we got to spend some time watching over Hanoi’s hectic streets.
We walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, which was nice because it was mostly shaded by all the trees. After we made a loop around the lake, we made our way back to the hotel to cool down a bit before the car took us to the airport. The hotel manager and staff were nice and gave us cold towels (seeing how much we were sweating) and cold juice while we waited for our car. The manager also gave us a Vietnamese lacquered plate as a souvenir – that was really nice of him. Then about 5 minutes later he asked us if we would write a review on Trip Advisor for them. I was going to write one for them any way, but for a small business, I can see how good reviews on Trip Advisor are basically their life blood if they’re in the tourism industry. I told him that’s how I found this hotel, through Trip Advisor, so obviously I was going to pay it forward.
Right at 4:30pm, our car came to pick us up and we said bye to all the staff at the hotel. It took about half an hour to get from Old Town to the airport. There’s a lot of traffic trying to get out of the city, but once you get on the highway it’s smooth sailing.
We arrived at the international terminal and it was a lot nicer than Hanoi’s domestic terminal – mainly because it’s newer. The airport was pretty dead. There were a few flights leaving for Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong. The Lao Airline counter was not busy at all. It seems like the majority of the passengers on this flight to Luang Prabang are westerners and only about 10% Laotian.
Once we got through security and Vietnamese exiting customs, we walked around the departures terminal and ended up getting Popeye’s for late lunch/early dinner. The international terminal prices are all in USD and are a lot more expensive than the domestic terminal.
As we neared our boarding time, we weren’t boarding and I knew our flight was going to be delayed. Sure enough, we heard an announcement saying that our flight was delayed from 6:50pm to 7:10pm. Then 7:10pm quickly came and went and we still hadn’t boarded. Another announcement came on saying that the flight has been delayed to 8:40pm due to technical issues. They gave us a small sandwich and some water, which was probably what we should’ve eaten on board as our dinner. We finally boarded close to 9pm.
The plane was pretty small. It’s the type of plane you would fly from Vancouver to Seattle (Tim: Actually, it was an ATR 72 and I think it’s bigger than any plane I’ve been on from Vancouver to Seattle). The flight time to Luang Prabang is only an hour and a half (thankfully). When we arrived at the airport, we were the only flight that was there. It seemed like the only people working at the airport were the customs officers.
Laos requires a visa upon arrival so we tried to walk faster than the majority of the plane since we knew that 90% of the plane would need a visa. Depending on what country you’re from, you have to pay any where between $30 USD – $42 USD for the visa. Lucky for us, Canada is the only country that is $42! Even Afghanistan is $40 USD. Most other western countries are $30 USD. There was a big chart at the visa line with a list of all countries and their prices. Since we landed after normal work hours, it was an extra $1 USD to process. We had passport pictures printed at Costco before we left for the Laotian and Cambodian visas, but had we known that it would only cost an extra $1 USD for them to just photocopy a picture for you, we may have considered that.
After the visa line we took our passports to the customs line. They were having technical difficulties with their computers so we had to wait longer in that line. Finally, we got through, grabbed our bags and the hotel car was waiting for us outside. Lucky our hotel had free airport transfer because there were no cabs or tuk tuks around at all.
We’re staying at “Le Bel Air Boutique Resort“, which is about 5km away from the airport. We couldn’t see much in the dark but Luang Prabang seemed very quaint and quiet as there weren’t many scooters or cars on the street at night. The hotel looked very Thai or I guess very Laotian. The reception and restaurant area are all open air and each room is in its own villa area. We were brought to our room and were pretty surprised at how nice and large the room was. We’re lucky it’s down season because they had a “stay 3 nights, pay for 2” promotion, so we’re paying $60 CAD/night. Hotels in Laos aren’t as cheap as Vietnam.
After a really long day, we washed up and went to bed. Both really looking forward to exploring the city more tomorrow!
It was our last morning on the boat and we were making our way back to the mainland. No one wanted to do tai chi in the morning so we got to sleep in a bit and have breakfast a tad later than yesterday. Breakfast was the same as yesterday except we also had some fried noodles which were really good. We wouldn’t be eating until we got back to Hanoi so we knew to eat a bit more.
After breakfast and chatting to the Aussies for a while, we all headed back to our rooms to pack up. Our two nights here flew by! We had a great time on the cruise and were really happy we opted for a smaller ship. Everything was very personable and we got to meet a lovely family along the way. The cruise was my favourite part of Vietnam so far.
When we got to shore, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and went into our separate shuttles back to Hanoi. We didn’t book or pay for a private car but our shuttle bus ended up being private (lucky us)!
We got back to our hotel in Hanoi (same hotel as before) at around 2pm. We checked in and then headed down the street for lunch. Tim wanted a banh mi that wasn’t Banh Mi 25. We walked two blocks down from our hotel and found a place that served banh mi but it seemed more like a meat shop. We ordered a pate and ham & pate banh mi. It was basically just the meat in the baguette – no veggies and no frills. They weren’t cheap either, it was 45,000 VND each = $2.58 (okay, it’s not that expensive, but expensive for Vietnam). The meat was actually refrigerated like a deli (which was good) and very good. I just wished they had pickled vegetables in it – would’ve been perfect. Tim really liked the pate, said it was the best one yet in Vietnam.
After lunch we grabbed an egg coffee (Hanoi speciality) at a nearby cafe. We sat and enjoyed our first one. It was like a thick egg nog with espresso. It was tasty and was the first hot coffee I’ve had in Vietnam.
We went back to the hotel, caught up on our blog, and chilled out for a bit. We’re leaving for Laos tomorrow and are running low on our sunscreen supply so our errand for today was to get more sunscreen and mosquito repellent. There aren’t many London Drug type stores at all in Vietnam so we knew it would be a bit difficult to find sunscreen and mosquito repellent. I saw a pharmacy earlier in the day so we went there but they basically only have prescriptions and nothing else. We continued on and went back to the supermarket by Hoan Kiem Lake and ended up finding everything we needed on their 2nd level. The sunscreen selection is pretty small. The options are expensive and the bottles are small. We bought the biggest bottle they had (70g) and the only mosquito spray they had. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.
For our last dinner in Hanoi, we decided to go for Pho since we hadn’t had it yet here. We decided to try Pho 10, which was across the street from our lunch banh mi restaurant. Pho 10 is a no frills pho restaurant with disinterested staff and service. Pho was good though. The beef I had was pretty tender.
As much as we’re both enjoying all the food we’ve been eating in Asia, it’s also reconfirmed what we already know – Vancouver’s Asian food is really good. I don’t think we’ve had something in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, or Vietnam that I thought blew our minds and was way better than at home. The main difference is the food in Asia is cheaper (sometimes a lot cheaper).
After dinner, we went to a smoothie place down the street from our hotel that we passed by each day. We ordered smoothies (sinh to) and sat under the fans for a bit. The family who ran the smoothie shop was eating dinner while we were there. I would be happy to go again tomorrow before we leave for Laos.
Our first night on the boat was very comfortable. We both slept in and didn’t make it to 6:30am tai chi. We got changed and went up to the dining room for breakfast. We got there after the Aussies and saw their table full of food… too much food. We sat down and Chris asked us what kind of eggs we wanted. They brought out eggs, bacon, sausage, croissants, and 6 slices of bread! I hope they didn’t waste all the food they prepared for us, we barely made a dent in it.
After breakfast, we had some free time before going to see a Halong Bay fishing village. Tim and I went up to the roof deck to lie around and read until it got too hot, and then we took refuge in our air conditioned room. Here are some of the beautiful sights we saw today. We didn’t get bored of the scenery.
We arrived at the fishing village and went on a row boat to see where the fishermen and their families live. The end destination of the row boat was a fishing museum. The museum showed the history of the people living in the area and how they survived.
After the fishing village we went back to the boat to rest for a bit before lunch was served. Lunch was another large meal, but it was good because we would be kayaking and climbing up 400 steps in the afternoon. We had about 2 hours to digest before we made it to the next stop. Tim stayed inside to read and I attempted to do some sun tanning on the roof. I lasted for like 5 minutes before going back downstairs. The plastic from the chairs smelt like it was literally burning and the sun was scorching. I quickly went back downstairs.
Kayaking was fun. We had double kayaks and we went under a cave into an enclosed area. We saw a lot of jellyfish around and I wanted to touch them with the paddle… It’s not safe to swim in deep waters right now because it’s jellyfish season and you could see them all around. I’ve never seen so many jellyfish in the wild before, so it was neat. After going through the enclosed area we went out into the open water and paddled around before going back to the boat.
Once we were all in the boat, we headed to the hill we were going to climb to get nice views of the bay and go swimming. When we arrived to the beach area, it was so packed with people who were on day boat tours. The beach looked pretty dirty and not that inviting. I think it’s basically the only beachy area in Halong Bay – likely man made for tourists. We started to climb the 400 stairs up to the top of the hill. We took breaks every 100 steps – Pippa was counting. The views from the top were really nice. We only brought our GoPro up so the pictures weren’t as great as we would’ve hoped for. Climbing back down the steps was more dangerous than going up. The stairs are pretty uneven and we were wearing flip flops, so we were being careful not to twist an ankle.
When we got to the beach, I walked into the water and it was pretty warm – probably about 25 degrees. Tim and Pippa went right into the water while I watched. The beach wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was earlier which was good. Tim was sure not to stick his head into the water as it looked pretty dirty. After about 30 minutes or so hanging out we headed out of the water and back to the boat.
We washed up and went upstairs to the roof to see the last sunset. The roof deck is so much nicer at night. Tim and I got a drink and lay around relaxing upstairs. The Aussies joined us and we waited for dinner. Before our dinner tonight, the chef was going to show us now to make spring rolls. We all got to make spring rolls and he deep fried a combination of ones he made before and the ones we rolled ourselves for our appetizer.
Dinner tonight was served family style. Again, it was a lot of food that we didn’t come close to finishing. Everything was delicious and I enjoyed the chef’s cooking on the cruise. It was basically like home cooking, but plated nicely.
After dinner, Tim and I spent the evening laying on the chairs on the roof looking at the stars. It was still quite warm out but there was a nice refreshing breeze. I really enjoyed our time on the cruise and staring up at the stars from the boat was pretty magical.
We went back to our room and watched some TV that Tim had on his tablet and went to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be our last morning on the boat and then we’ll be heading back to Hanoi for the night.
Steps today: 2,000 (Tim: Again, seems low, likely because we were on a boat).
This morning we were going to be picked up shortly after 8:00am for our two night cruise in Halong Bay. We woke up a bit earlier to pack up, had breakfast, and checked out. We were both looking forward to getting out of the city and just relaxing.
We were picked up in a nice “van limo” filled with five British girls. The ride to the port was about 3.5 hours long… a pretty long ride. Luckily, there was pretty good WiFi in the van and the seats were very comfortable. When we got to the dock, we realized not all vans are the same – definitely lucked out! There was a 20 minute break about an hour in to the ride. It seemed like the same rest stop was used by all the other cruise companies. It was full of souvenirs and over priced snacks – luckily we had our goodies from Hanoi.
We finally arrived at the Bhaya Cruise terminal where we were greeted with iced tea and checked in by our cruise director, Chris (actual name is Tuan), who is a 24 year old Vietnamese guy with really good English. We waited about 30 minutes before we were boarded on to our boat. There were a lot of people in the waiting area. Lots of Vietnamese and Aussie tourists. We were happy that we decided to go for the “premium” (smaller) boat instead of the cruise with 20 cabins. Our only other cruise mates were a nice family of three from Melbourne. I was really happy they were our cruise mates!
Chris took us to our boat and showed us our rooms. The boat we were on only had 4 cabins for guests. Since there were only 5 of us, there were only 7 crew members (apparently there are usually 8). All the rooms on this boat had balconies and were on the same side of the boat. We had the room closest to the front of the boat and our new Aussie friends were in the room beside us. The room was quite nice, bigger than some hotel rooms we’ve stayed in on this trip.
After we got settled in, we headed to the dining room for lunch. We were served a wonderful and very filling 5 course meal. After we had lunch, it was clear that we were going to be treated and fed quite well on this cruise. I was also slightly relieved because we went higher end on this cruise to make sure we didn’t have a horrible experience out at sea (which is probably one of my fears – being at sea on a dirty boat, with bad food, with no escape). The regular price for this cruise is $319 USD per person, but we waited to book under 1 week so we got 20% off – $255 USD. The price for a 1 night cruise on Bhaya was more expensive per night than the 2 nighters, so we opted for the longer cruise. The itinerary for the 1 night and 2 night cruises are the same but the difference is that we get to have more free/relaxation time.
After lunch we went up to the roof and took lots of pictures while admiring the beautiful bay!
Our only activity for the afternoon was to visit a cave in Halong Bay. When we walked in, we thought it was a pretty narrow cave but as we kept walking we were pretty shocked at how big the cave was. There were a bunch of uplights inside to show off the various stalagmites and stalactites. It was nice inside and it almost felt like being on a set in a movie. Unlike in New Zealand, people were free to touch the rocks as they pleased.
After our little excursion, we headed back to the boat and went to a pearl farm. The guide there showed us how they farm pearls. They seed oysters with small beads made of oyster shell and implant those beads into other oysters along with a small piece of harvested oyster membrane. Whatever colour the interior of the shell was from the oyster whose membrane they harvested, is the colour of the pearl that will form. I wear pearls everyday and I actually had no idea that pearls were farmed in that way. Chris told us that the Vietnamese pearl farmers went to Japan to learn from them (probably at Mikimoto’s pearl farm). As expected, they had a show room at the end of our tour for us to browse and buy jewelry. No one from our boat bought anything. The ladies did give Pippa (the 6 year old on our boat) a ring for free though.
When we arrived back on the boat, we had free time before dinner. We spent a lot of our time on the roof deck admiring the scenery and trying to catch a sunset. It was really nice having so few of us on board, it felt like we chartered our own boat and the roof was basically ours. Most of the time, it was only Tim and I up there (especially during the day time). Chris came by to talk to us before dinner. He just started working for Bhaya about a year ago after graduating from tourism university. He said he learned English in school but improved it mostly from watching American TV shows and interacting with people on the cruise.
Dinner was served at 7:30pm in the kitchen and we were in for another wonderful 5 course dinner. We got to know the Melbourne family pretty well since we were the only ones on the boat. They were in Vietnam for the first time and were spending about 2 weeks here. We talked about our Australia portion of the trip and they told us how they were just in Vancouver visiting family – it was nice to talk about home. Before going on the boat, we knew our boat would be small so we were pretty lucky we were paired up with some great people.
After dinner, Chris gave us the option to go squid fishing. Tim, Pippa, and the Dad went to go try catching some squid. But Chris warned us that it wasn’t really high season for squid so it would probably be a challenge. It was cool, however, to actually see some squid and lots of jellyfish in the water. But unfortunately, no one caught anything.
As you probably could guess, there was no internet on the boat. At first I was a bit annoyed that there was no WiFi because I thought there was supposed to be. But at the same time it was nice to disconnect for a bit.
Steps today: 4,000 (Tim: though I think the apps I use for tracking steps had trouble when we were on the boat).