We Wander to Wonder

Heat rises from my face. Sweat drips and trickles past my temples. We deliberate, shall we turn back?

For hours we had been looking for the waterfall we trekked to two days earlier. After an epic two hours of rough terrain we stumbled into the next village. What has taken us the best part of the morning is an easy 20 minute walk along the main road.

Damn it.

We sat and ordered lunch in a simple local restaurant. After we felt rested, conversation turned back to the elusive waterfall. The temptation to plunge into cool mountain water was a hunger that could not be satisfied as easily as our empty bellies. It was hot and we wanted release. Our decision made, we decided to go just a little further up the only main road we hadn’t been down yet.

After another 20 minutes we found a higher river. My heart skipped. With a new found energy I bounded up the path and walked quickly along the precarious edge of a rice paddy, one foot out of place would mean tumbling over a precipice into the river one side or sinking into knee deep mud the other.

Following the narrow path over boulders and onto a ledge, I found it; a patch of river higher than the village. Down stream women washed clothes. Up stream two boys played at fishing. Peeling my muddy shoes and socks off, I could not wait a second longer. I was in. The water was so refreshing on my feet. I waded further, climbing boulders until I found a pool wide enough and deep enough to swim in.

As I lay on my back and let the current gently pull me further into the pool I felt it: One of those moments when life is perfect. I looked up and could tell Alex felt it to. This is it – in this moment – this is why we seek. This is what keeps the wanderlust alive in our veins. We wander to seek. To seek places like this. And in seeking we wonder. And in this moment I wondered at just how wonderful life can be. And how blessed I was to be. Just be.

We wander to wonder.

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang Guide – How to Get There, Tips and More

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang Guide

An In-Depth Guide to Vietnam’s Famous Theme Park, Vinpearl Land Nha Trang – How to Get There, Admission Cost, Opening Times and More

Information at a Glance

Vinpearl Land Ticket Price – 800.000vnd per person Admission

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang Opening Hours – 8.30am – 9pm Daily

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang

Carved into the island of Hòn Tre, this fascinating theme park, water park, aquarium and zoo is Vietnamese billionaire Phạm Nhật Vương’s pet project. Feeling like a rather disjointed Disneyland (the park even has Disney-style music playing as you walk around), it’s a fascinating visit on many levels, and a must if you are visiting Nha Trang.

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang
Vinpearl Land – Still a lot of fun on a rainy day

Vinpearl Land Admission Price

With admission prices currently at 800.000 vnd (roughly $35usd or £26 – keep up to date with the latest prices, here), the cost of Vinpearl Land may seem a little daunting to those travellers on a budget. Don’t let this put you off however, as the park really is packed with plenty to do, with more and more attractions opening each year.

How to Get to Vinpearl Land, Nha Trang

You could make things easy and get a taxi, the cost is roughly 62-70K VND if you get Grabtaxi.

For the more adventurous (and budget conscious), get the bus. For just 7000VND you can grab the number 4 bus, which runs every 15 minutes 5:35am to 7pm – someone has made a Google custom map of the route, here (bear in mind that this route is in reverse, coming back from Vinpearl). The bus says ‘Hon Xen = Nguyễn T-Thuật = Vinpearl on the front. You can catch it anywhere on Nguyễn Thiện Thuật road, we caught it next to the Vietcom Bank at number 48 – just look for the blue bus signs.

Hail the bus and get straight on. Someone will approach you to ask for money for the bus, give them the 7000VND per person. It takes around 30-45 mins.

Potential Scam Alert

Just a word of warning – when we took this bus it stopped just short of the entrance to the park. A woman clad in green got on the bus and shouted “Vinpearl Land tickets!”. They claimed that you cannot buy tickets at the park itself, which is not true. We didn’t go for it so we are not sure how much commission they would add on top. Although Nathan Vandermost claims that these tickets are legitimate and cost the same as the park’s ticket office – so it’s entirely up to you.

Perhaps it is a way to avoid queuing at the park (when we arrived, there was no queue at all) at busy times. If in doubt, ask the person selling you the tickets here how much they are and compare this with Vinpearl Land’s price on their official website.

Getting In

Get in via the normal entrance, it’s hard to miss. The staff in the ticket booths speak English so you should have no problem getting in. Pay in VND or use a debit or credit card (international cards accepted).

Make sure to grab a free map as it will help you get around.

Your bags will be checked before getting on the cable car – you are not allowed to bring in your own food or drink (including water!). This said, our bags were not thoroughly checked as I hid a bottle of water at the bottom and got it through just fine.

Vinpearl Land’s Cable Car

We were warned that during peak times the queue for the cable car can be anything up to 1 hour – although according to Wikipedia, the cable car system can ferry 1000-1500 people per hour. We managed to get straight on however, as we arrived relatively late in the day and with poor weather.

The cable car is great fun and lasts around 10 minutes.

Vinpearl Land Nha Trang
The Cable Car adds great value to your ticket

What’s There?

  • Bubbleland (Waterpark) and Watersports
  • Safari/Zoo (King’s Garden)
  • Blooming Hill – Biodomes and Giant Ferris Wheel
  • Aquarium
  • Theme Park (Rollercoasters etc)

When you hop off the cable car, Vinpearl Land’s wide, open spaces beckon you in. But where to go first?

Vinpearl Land map
Official Vinpearl Land Map from the Vinpearl Land website

The Waterpark (Bubbleland)

We decided to head straight to the waterpark, which is found at the south west side of the park. It takes a bit of navigating, but use your map and look for ‘Bubbleland’ on the signs, and you will get there in no time.

Enter the waterpark and queue up to get a locker key – costs a small fee + a 10,000vnd deposit fee in case you lose the key – which can happen. Make sure you fill in the deposit slip they give you straight away and keep it safe or else you may not get your deposit back. All the lockers are squeezed in tightly together in a small space, so you may have to navigate some close quarters interaction with people!

It’s a bit of a walk to each ride, and the grippy plastic flooring they put down can be quite painful on the feet so it might be a good idea to wear flip flops. If you do, you will have to leave them at the bottom of each ride. There are a few reports of people stubbing toes and getting cuts whilst walking around, so do be careful.

The waterpark’s rides are split up into two sections: the ‘Amusement Ride Zone’, and ‘Family and Children Games Area’.

Vinpearl Land Waterpark

Amusement Ride Zone

This is where the real fun starts.

Be aware that certain slides are open at certain times (this was the case when we were there, as the park was not very busy). When we arrived most rides were open apart from the Space Hole.

The Slides

6-lane multislide, Kamikaze slide and body slide, all are fast and fun. You will certainly get a face full of water on these!

Tsunami

This 2-person slide’s near-vertical drop at the beginning is hilariously intense!

Space Hole

The dreaded Space Hole! Out of our party of four, only one of us didn’t come out with a minor injury! After a slow and winding start, the Space Hole accelerates and you hurtle into the bowl at some speed. The entry into the bowl is accompanied by a drop of about 2 feet, which, quite frankly, hurts. The ride finishes with you slowly losing speed around the bowl, before very ungracefully sliding backwards (or upside-down) through the ‘black hole’ at the bottom of the bowl into a plunge pool. Definitely one to experience – but you have been warned!

Family and Children Games Area

After all the thrills above, it may be time to chill out and relax. Take the Family Rafting Slide – you will have to carry a huge, six person ring across the park, and onto the ride’ s elevator.

The Wave Pool is worth checking out too, and there’s a kid’s pool for the little ones.

Don’t forget the Lazy River! Float around slowly in the chilly water, and try your best to capsize your friends’ rings without the lifeguards seeing.

Beach Sport Games

Make sure to check out Splash Bay, which is an inflatable assault course set up just out beyond the park’s rather nice beach. It’s inclusive and free to use with your ticket. It’s a great bit of fun and an awesome way to get some exercise and embarrass yourselves falling over time and time again.

On the beach you can also hire a jetski – 500,000vnd for 15 minutes on the faster jet ski, or a water hoverboard.

The Water Park is fun for a few hours, but after a few bumps and bruises, it may be time to get some food at the cafe near the lockers. Prices here are relatively expensive, but just about right for a theme park! You can get a mixture of Western or Vietnamese fast food here.

Zoo (King’s Garden)

Head straight up the hill, via the series of colourful escalators, and you will find yourself at the King’s Garden. Here you can explore the various ‘worlds’ and see flamingos, birds, monkeys, giraffes, lions and plenty more. We didn’t particularly enjoy this part of the park as the enclosures seemed a little on the small side.

Blooming Hill

One of the newest additions to the park (completed in 2017), this area is West of the King’s Garden and is a botanist’s dream. Dotted with biodomes (think Eden Project in Cornwall) that include everything from a desert dome filled with cacti, to jungle and even a temperate zone with rose garden! Finish off your time in this area at the Sakura Cafe watching the Koi or at the Classical-inspired Viewing Tower, with views over the North Beach.

Blooming Hill in Vinpearl Land Nha Trang

The Ferris Wheel

Finish off your trip around Blooming Hill on the iconic ferris wheel. Another recent addition, it’s hard to imagine the park without this 120 metre tall wonder, Vietnam’s biggest ferris wheel (and in the world’s top 10 largest)! It’s an ideal way to see the park and all the way across to Nha Trang.

Vietnam's largest Ferris Wheel

The Main Theme Park – Titan Peak

From bumper cars and bungee trampolines, to the (rather short) Mine Adventure, Evolution and ‘Rollercoaster’ coasters, to the somewhat more thrilling Revolution, Sky Drop, Giant Sky Chaser and Pirate Ship, there’s some quite fun, if not a bit mild, classic theme park rides to be enjoyed.

You must have a go on the Extreme Launcher, a great ride that has you careening down the mountain (near the Vinpearl Land sign) on go karts on rails. You have control of how fast you go. It’s a popular ride and you may get stuck behind slow people (like me). Look out for the two cameras and strike a pose – you can collect the prints afterwards for a fee.

Performances

There are plenty of performances going on around the park. The Mermaid Show is definitely worth a watch in the Aquarium. Keep up with the show times, here.

Dolphin Show

There are also daily performances from resident trained dolphins. We didn’t go and see it as we don’t agree with that sort of thing!

In many ways a symbol of modern Vietnam, Vinpearland Nha Trang certainly has plenty to offer. For the admission fee, there’s plenty included. Besides the chance of a minor injury in the Waterpark, Vinpearl seems to be very safe, and well up to international standards. The knock-off Disney songs, empty open spaces and simplicity of the park adds to the charm of the place, and puts it firmly in Vietnam’s must visit places!

Hiking to Dam Tre Bay, Con Son

The Đầm Tre Bay Hike

Hike Length – Roughly 11km round trip,
Hike Time – 5.5 hours including 1.5 hrs rest at the bay
Entry Fee – Free, but permission ticket required from National Park Office
Provisions – Take water and lunch/snack

Con Dao Hiking – The Đầm Tre Walk

Easily one of the most beautiful and secluded Con Dao Hiking options, it’s worth going up to the north side of the island for this walk, which will have you stomping along beaches, hiking through dense jungle with giant black squirrels and crab eating macaques, then finally rewarding you with a serene coral filled bay all to yourselves.

Dam Tre Bay , Con Dao Hiking - Adventure and Rambles
The reward – a beautiful shallow bay where you can relax and snorkel

Get an Entry Ticket at the National Park Office

You need to get a permission ticket in order to enter the hike to Đầm Tre. This is still the case at the time of writing in 2017. We went on this hike without one as we were incorrectly instructed by our guesthouse host that we did not need one, but upon arriving the ‘Ranger station’ at Đầm Tre, we were checked for the tickets. Fortunately, they took pity on us and let us go through, but we don’t recommend that you try your luck.

Grab the tickets for free at the office on Vo Thi Sau road just north of the main town. Search for ‘National Park Department’ on Google Maps.

Check the Tide

The timing of your walk will be dictated by the high tide. This is due to the airport’s runway, which struts out into the sea on Bãi biến Dong, the beach that you will be walking across before starting the hike into the jungle. At high tide this section of beach will need to be swum or waded across – not recommended especially in rough seas. Check this website for the tide times on Con Dao.

Aim to start an hour or so after the tide starts going out.

Where to Start The Dam Tre Hike

You can park your motorbike close to Poulo Condor Resort. If you are coming from town there is a right turn close to where the beach begins, it’s a dirt track that leads down to a rocky path to the beach on your right. We parked our bike at the top of this rocky path. It was safe here. See our map for reference:-

Bãi biến Dong Beach – 2.5km

Walk down the rocky path onto the start of your journey to Đầm Tre. You will have to cross a stream on your left to get onto the main beach. Walk along the beach for around 2.5km and take in the sea air, watch locals searching for shellfish, and you may even see a plane landing or taking off.

Con Dao Hiking - Hike to Dam Tre Bay
A moody Bãi biến Dong Beach

When you eventually get to the far north side of the beach, the entrance to the hike is on the top left side – look for the park singage.

Con Dao Walking
One of the signs at the entrance to the walk

The Jungle – 3km, roughly 2 hours

Now begins the steep upward climb up the hill and into the jungle. This route is paved all the way – watch your step on some of the stones, as it can be slippy. There’s only one path so it’s impossible to get lost.

Keep an eye out for giant black squirrels and lizards. There are also occasional jumping stinging insects on the walk. They bite through clothes – and hurt just as much as a mild wasp sting – so watch out.

Con Dao Hiking
Walking through the hot and damp jungle

Towards the end of this section of the walk, we came across a few shy crab eating macaques, but they weren’t disturbed by our presence.

Arriving at Đầm Tre

You eventually begin your descent, and when you see buildings, chickens and people you have arrived at the ‘ranger station’, though it looks a great deal like someone’s family home. Here you will have to present your tickets – they will ask for them. You can use the toilet facilities here, and the people are friendly.

Con Dao Hikes - We have arrived at Dam Tre Bay
We made it!

Walk through the ranger’s area and turn left before you get out into the field. If you start walking towards the cliff and into fisherman’s shacks you have gone too far!

Dam Tre Bay Entrance - Con Dao Walks
The entrance down to the bay – easy to miss

Swim and Snorkel to Your Heart’s Content

Setup on the rocky beach and go for a swim out in the corals. The water here is quite shallow at the low tide, make sure you bring some footwear as there is plenty of sharp coral and oyster shells to cut your feet. Get out towards the mouth of the bay to find the coral that is alive and teeming with fish!

We spent about 1hr 30 in the bay – though we were chased out by a storm so you may find yourselves there for longer.

Snorkeling at Dam Tre Bay - Con Dao
Just got back from a snorkel

Back – 2 hours again

Have your lunch, say goodbye to the rangers and chickens, and head back into the forest. If you have timed it right, you should arrive back in time to walk past the runway section of the beach. If not, then it’s time to get a little wet!

All done. Why not celebrate your adventure with a nice beer or some food at one of the restaurants on Bãi Đầm Trầu, which is the beach on the other side of the runway.

Con Dao Hikes - Bãi Đầm Trầu
Walking along Bãi Đầm Trầu, ready to enjoy a rest!

Find out more about our adventures on Con Dao, and also why you should visit Con Dao.

6 Reasons To Go To Con Dao, Vietnam

Why Go To Con Dao?

Found south of Ho Chi Minh City, this isolated yet highly accommodating island showcases some of Vietnam’s most pristine and untouched tropical waters, beaches and quiet roads – all steeped in hundreds of years of fascinating history. As a way of celebrating our recent visit to the island, we’ve put together a quick summary of why you should visit one of Vietnam’s final tourist frontiers.

1. It’s off the beaten track

With return airfares over the 4 Million VND (£126, $176USD) mark, flights going on small turboprop planes a handful of times a week, and the only alternative an infamously rough ferry, getting to Con Dao isn’t as convenient as most destinations in Vietnam.

Quiet beaches…

2. A relaxed way to get into motorbiking in Vietnam

Con Son’s roads are quite smooth and relatively free from potholes, and more importantly – quiet. A world away from the insanity of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, it’s a great place for those who want to get to grips with riding a motorbike in South East Asia. Just watch out for snakes! Make sure your insurance covers you, and it might be best to get an international driver’s license – our UK readers can find out more about that, here.

Con Son is a quiet island
Con Dao’s quiet and empty roads

3. The near-pristine wildlife and snorkelling

For those looking to go snorkeling in Vietnam, the main island of Con Son has an abundance of shore reefs which are still thriving. Just grab a snorkel and get out there – the left hand side of Dam Trau beach next to the airport is a good snorkeling spot. Dam Tre Bay, at the end of the Dam Tre Hike is another good and isolated area.

You can also see the giant black squirrel, crab eating macaques, turtles (which use some of Con Dao’s beaches to lay eggs), dolphins and sometimes dugongs. Make sure to only leave your footprints behind on the island – don’t leave waste and rubbish behind.

Snorkeling at Dam Tre Bay - Con Dao
Just got back from a snorkel

4. Beaches

If you want quiet tropical beaches, then Con Dao is your place. Not all are quite the quintessential, turquoise watered tropical beaches which you might find in Phu Quoc or South Thailand, but gorgeous ones none the less. Con Son has six accessible beaches. Our favourites are Bai Dam Trau in the north and Bai Lo Voi in the town.

Bai Dam Trau
The very beautiful Bai Dam Trau has just a couple of restaurants serving simple food, coconuts and beer

5. Local cuisine

There is street food to be found along the promenade (banh mis and vegetable fritters). There are plenty of restaurants in town, and lots of cheap, fresh fish.

Con Dao Street Food
Some delicious banana fritters being cooked up in Con Dao

6. The history

Like Phu Quoc, Con Son used to be a prison island. Hosting political prisoners during the French colonial era, and then North Vietnamese during the American (Vietnam) War, it was home to the infamous Tiger Cages, which you can still see today in the museum on the island (free admission).

All in all, Con Dao is a rare beauty, ideal for those who seek peace and quiet, wildlife with a fascinating lick of history. Its remoteness makes it all the more charming. So what are you waiting for?

Con Son Island, Vietnam

Week 2, Con Son Island

Con Son wasn’t originally part of our Vietnam itinerary.  After booking our flight to Thailand for the 17th October, we arranged to link up with friends in Vietnam 11 days later. This suited us, as we never intended to stay in Thailand for very long, but use it as a stepping stone for our onwards travel. We ended up spending days 1-4 in Bangkok before flying to Ho Chi Minh City. The plan was to find a nice beach south of the city for a mini holiday before our friends arrived.

Before doing much research we thought it would be easy to head to Vietnam’s south coast from Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that there were not any holiday style beaches south of the city. With our flights to Ho Chi Minh already booked and over a week there until our friends flew in to meet us, we needed to come up with a plan.

Looking at the map again I noticed Con Son. After a little research we were intrigued. However, at over 3.5million VND each for flights (GBP 120), it wasn’t looking like the cheapest option and this almost changed our mind. But, I’m definitely glad we went, as the extra bit of money we spent was definitely worth it, and I’d go again for longer next time.

We visited Con Son as the weather was beginning to become more changeable (the start of the low season), we had a mix of rain and sunshine on our visit.

As our tiny plane descended into Con Dao airport, it felt a bit like we were entering Tracey Park Island from the Thunderbirds!

The runway takes up the entire width of that section of the island and nothing but a concrete wall separates it from the beach. There were few western tourists, and most of these seemed to be staying at the Six Senses, which was way above our budget at £360 a night!

We had been told we could rent motorbikes from our hosts at the Airbandb homestay we had booked, but we hadn’t anticipated being picked up from the airport on a motorbike!

Our host, Hue, spoke very little English and her French husband Lionel was away on business when we arrived. She introduced herself as we came out of the tiny arrivals room and asked if we rode motorbikes.

“Errrrrr…” Alex looked at me, shrugged and said “Yes?!”.

She loaded my small carry on case onto her own bike and kindly carried my 36 litre rucksack on her back, Alex loaded his 65 litre rucksack onto his lap and I got on the back (after helmets were handed out). Luckily, their place was five minutes from the airport and our first motorbike journey was an easy ride.

Thus began our introduction to driving motorbikes. If you are planning your own trip, get your international driving licence before you go to avoid voiding any insurance you might have. UK residents can find out more about getting theirs, here.

Our rides from the airport

We didn’t know it at the time but Con Son would would turn out to be our highlight of Vietnam. The cheaper flights often sell fast and it is a popular destination of many Vietnamese holiday makers, keeping the island a path less travelled by western tourists. We discovered this is rare in Vietnam, especially if you head to any of the top destinations like Ha Long bay or Hoi An. I’m not sure if it will remain so, as we saw lots of roads being built to more secluded places.

After dropping our bags off and eating some of Hue’s amazing and very reasonably priced food I decided I needed to give driving the motorbike a go. Learning with someone on the back isn’t the easiest way to learn, however, I managed OK (apart from when I ran over a snake).

Con Son's quiet roads
Con Son’s quiet roads

We spent our days driving round the island, exploring local beaches and sampling local food. The main town has a long promenade with crumbling French-style streetlamps – where you can see turtles and rarely dugongs. You can also pick up some amazing street food here including Banh Mi.

Our first banh mis!

There’s also a lovely little beach that we swam in at dusk one evening.

Swimming at dusk at Bai Lo Voi

We did an epic trek one day which involved walking down the beach on the north side of the island. The walk to Đầm Tre needed timing correctly with the tide, or else we would be stuck wading through the sea around the airport’s runway wall. The walk along the beach took an hour or so, followed by a jungle trek. For more information about this walk, click here.

The wildlife on Con Son is amazing and included giant black squirrels, crab eating macaques, not to mention the turtles, and possibly dugongs and dolphins.

After a long slippy walk through the jungle, we arrived at a Rangers Station, and despite not having a ticket, they let us through and we swam out into the coral reef. We didn’t venture far out enough to the deeper reef that was in a healthier condition, but there was still some amazing snorkelling.

I sat on a rock and watched Alex swim out further as storm clouds began rolling in.

We made a dash for shore and got caught in the start of a wonderfully tropical rain shower. There was nothing for it but to recline in a hammock and see if it would pass, but as time ticked on we became increasingly aware that we needed to make it back along the beach before high tide, and that we had a two hour hike ahead of us.

So we slipped and slid back along the forest trail, through newly formed streams that cascaded across our paths, before eventually navigating along the beach and back onto the bike.

Driving along Con Son’s coastal paths was such a delight, and we were often joined by one or two white herons, who took flight as we passed.

On our second to last day Lionel arrived home and he recommended a good spot on the local beach to snorkel, which was wonderful, despite the poorer visibility due to the rain.

You know you’ve fallen in love with a place when you really don’t want to leave, and that’s how we felt on our last day, when we finally did have to say goodbye. In fact, we nearly didn’t leave as we almost missed our flight, only realising when we double checked our departure time during a leisurely lunch on the beach, and then having to make a mad dash back to pack and then rush to the airport, but maybe that’s another story!

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”3″ gal_title=”Con Son”]

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

21st October – Saigon

We arrived into Ho Chi Minh City after sunset, a steady tropical rain drummed the roof of the arrivals terminal at Tan Son Nhat.

As our Airbandb host was no longer able to help us with our pickup, we ordered an Uber. Normally, Uber removes any worry about a language barrier – you just put in your destination, the driver accepts it and you are on your way. Unfortunately, this was not the case here, as our driver kept repeating “Map”, and even pulled over outside the airport until we could convince him of where we needed to go. After some confusion, we eventually showed him our Airbanb’s location on Google Maps, he seemed satisfied enough, and finally set out into the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City.

Nothing prepares you for the hustle and bustle of traffic in Vietnam’s busiest city – all the more chaotic in the evening tropical downpour – scooters, blaring horns and bumper to bumper cars.

It had been raining a lot. As we neared our homestay, the taxi driver slowed to plough through great puddles of water. We finally arrived, and waved goodbye to the driver, who, bless him, was waiting to make sure we got in OK. We quickly gathered our bags, bracing ourselves against the the rain, and fumbled about trying to find the entrance to our homestay. We rang a few doorbells, and finally someone called us in through a gate. Here we met the charming Uncle Nam, who ushered us in out of the dark wetness and into our room.

After taking an obligatory selfie with Uncle Nam, and exchanging a few words on Google translate, we set out once again into the chaos, navigating rivers of motorbikes and cars, to go find ourselves some sushi for dinner – and we found it in the form of a fantastic busy little restaurant which had their kitchen on the street, fantastic sushi for pennies!

Day 6 – 22nd October – The Motorbike Tour

After a good night’s sleep marred only by a fight with our first cockroach, and the screeching meows of the hostel’s cat, we woke up and prepared ourselves for the motorbike tour that Ruth had organised the night before. Only $9 each, this ‘not for profit’ tour was led by students from Ho Chi Minh’s University of Medicine who wanted to learn a little more English, and we were to see all the sights of the city from the back of a motorbike!

After whipping up a improvised dragonfruit and rice cracker breakfast, and waiting for another deluge of rain to pass, our guides appeared outside the hostel. We had a guide each, plus an extra who wanted to learn the ropes. The group was led by Duang, who spoke amazing English and really put us at ease with her conversational tone. Jumping on the back of the motorbikes, we set off into the city.

We were led through Districts 7, 4 and 1 to the famous Ben Thanh Market.

Our guides parked the motorbikes with one of the many parking officers around the square, and the bikes disappeared into the system.

Glorious colours, sweets, and trinkets awaited us in the market, although we were advised not to part with our money here as it is a very overpriced place to shop (it was great to have local advice like this).

We found the bikes and resumed the journey to Bến Nghé and the very French Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, and Saigon Post Office, with pretty Parisian street lights outside. Ruth cracked up here as she found some ‘Ruth’ lip balm (a Vietnamese-American brand, also lots of people think that the name Ruth is either a man’s name or surname here).

Then we scooted over to the Independence Palace. The building’s grand facade, including tanks and jet fighters, sweeping lawns and an impressive fountain, invited us in to learn more.

Also known as the ‘Reunification Palace,’ the current building was a product of the Vietnam war, re-built from scratch in 1966 after the previous palace was destroyed by two members of the Republic of Vietnam Airforce who rebelled and diverted from their mission of bombing the V-C (Viet Cong).

The architect designed the building in the shape of a Chinese character meaning ‘good fortune’, and it featured many floors hosting stately meeting rooms, bedrooms and the fascinating bunker, the latter of which still had plenty of war maps and diagrams of the Republic of Vietnam’s final movements. Another highlight was the roof section, featuring a Huey helicopter and an open space for the South Vietnamese president to use as a ‘relaxation area’ – but he ended up using it as a party space.

After the palace, our guides whisked us through more traffic to the eerily deserted south of District 7, home to the richest residents of Ho Chi Minh City. High rises and fast food chains, it was a world away from the bustling, compact neighbourhoods throughout the rest of the city.

We finished off the day with a visit to a noodle restaurant of Duang’s choice. With her assistance, we ordered two To Lon (large) Phở Bó, Vietnam’s iconic noodle dish with beef.

Duang opted for the Bun Bo Hue, a delicious prawn-based broth with thick udon noodles, beef and sausage. All very delicious and made delectable with lashings of hot sauce, dried chilli and lime. We also had the nuoc sam to drink, a sweet and cloudy ginseng cold tea.

Unfortunately, there was a little confusion here as we discovered we were expected to pay for the girls’ meals. Duang explained that they were only given an allowance to cover parking and petrol by the organiser.

Turns out that that this ‘not for profit’ organisation pocketed a great deal of the $9, and there was no communication to us about paying admission fees and food etc for our guides. Nevertheless, we settled up with no hard feelings (towards our guides) and headed home for another rainy night at our hostel.

The motorbike tour was fantastic – a great way to see the city, just as the locals do everyday. On top of this, we made a great friend in Duang, who we were to see again in just a weeks time.

It was time to pack up and get ready for our journey to the island of Con Dao.