We left Phnom Penh on Feb 26 after a very nice stay in Cambodia. We had allowed an extra 3 days for processing of our visa at the embassy of Viet Nam, and were surprised when they had the processing done, and our passports back to us on the same day we applied! This gave us an extra 3 days in Phnom Penh for relaxing, shopping etc before bussing to Ho Chi Minh City (new name for Saigon but everyone still calls it Saigon).
The bus ride to HCMC was fine, including an efficient crossing of the Cambodia, Viet Nam border. HCMC is a large, prosperous, swept clean, busy city with cleaner air than expected. We found it to be a better "city experience" than PP in Cambodia but then it has come further with a lot more economic help .
One of the remarkable things about the city is the traffic. Everyone owns motorbike and they all drive like the crazy from every direction!!!! We found the city to be beautiful and green, and good for walking (check all ways before crossing the street, as they drive on the right, just like in the US)
After a few days in HCMC we bussed to the resort town of Dalat in the central highlands. It was a 7 hour bus ride to the town, which is situated in mountains that look a lot like north Georgia or eastern Tennessee, at an altitude of 5000 feet. We rented a motorbike for $4.50 per day and drove all over the surrounding countryside especiallythe coffee plantations. One of the main crops in this part of the country is coffee and it's some of the worlds best. The locals call it "Ca Fe Sua Doc", and it's served in a small drip strainer perched on top of the coffee cup and brought to your table. The coffee is as thick as syrup and VERY strong. Although strong, it is very smooth, and not bitter at all. We liked it a lot and now order "Ca Fe Sua Doc" sometimes when we want coffee. Dalat is the "California" of Viet Nam, because much of the available land is cultivated for growing everything from artichokes to zucchinni and all types of flowers. It is a lovely landscape, covered with small farms everywhere. Meals in Dalat, as well as in the rest of the country are VERY cheap, and highly nutritious with lunch for 2 was usually about $5 and dinner for two about $10 often including Dalat wine.
After a few days in Dalat we bussed to the town of Nha Trang on the South China Sea coast. Nha Trang is the best beach in the country and it has islands offcoast for diving. The beach front is the equal of any we have seen. It is clean, safe and beautiful. There are several high rise hotels on the beach (Sheraton, Novatel), and 4 new high rises going up along the main road. This is the beach capital of Viet Nam but we see our share of those types of towns.
Before our arrival we were concerned about how we would be received as Americans. We have been pleased and surprised that there is no anomosity in the Vietnameese at all. We were in a photo shop in Nha Trang and the operator offered to shake hands with Chuck and said "Viet Nam and America friends now. No more war".
We took a dreadful overnight bus ride [had a flat and it had no restroom] to a wonderful centuries old port town called Hoi An and we really liked this location a lot. It had many restored merchant homes and trading buildings, temples, meeting houses and performance pavillion houses that were preserved and that could be toured.
We met a couple from New England that spend the winter in our hotel ever year for 5 years now and come back to the US with more money that when they left cuz it's so cheap to live in Vietnam for 3 months a year. The architecture and history was fascinating but we saw some traditional entertaining, folk dance, song and opera, that really was wonderful and so different and dramatic.
We took a tour to some historic runs built by the Champs, pronounced "cham", who originally came from Java and went back to very early man there. They were converted to Hinduism and built a series of impressive temples without mortar in the 1st through 5th century AD. Some damage was done during the war but much remains and is being preserved.
Some shots around Hoi An, one of our favorite places
Courtyard in traditional building in Hoi An
Fruitseller with new friend in Hoi An