Category Archives: Vietnam

If you stop walking you will get hit

When I was in Saigon I made a tutorial video showing how to cross a busy street in Vietnam. I speak Swedish in the video but to sum it up “If you stop walking you will get hit”. The key to crossing a busy street in Vietnam or anywhere in Asia is to just keep walking in a slow but steady pace. Drivers will see you and swerve around you.

Eat a snake heart in Vietnam

Snake eating is a new bizarre attraction drawing adventurous backpackers to the village of Le Mat in Vietnam.  The village is also known as Snake Village. Restaurants keep live reptiles on site ready to be prepared for hungry patrons. On the menu are potent snake blood cocktails, bile vodka shots and you can even sample a still-beating snake heart (see video below).

One blogger described his experience of picking out a snake to eat like this:
“When you’ve selected the tastiest-looking snake the host will pull it out of the cage, throw it on the floor and start poking it with a stick. If it starts hissing like a punctured tire and tries to kill everyone in the room, you’re good to go.”

Read more here.

More about Vietnam here. 

Sri Lanka is much cheaper than Thailand

When it comes to travelling long haul, the best value can be found in Sri Lanka, according to the UK Post Office Long haul report. When looking at a typical ‘basket’ of 10 items, including a bottle of water, a beer, suncream, insect repellant postcards and a three-course meal for two with wine, Sri Lanka came out as the best-value destination for the second year in a row. Thailand followed, with a drop in local prices balancing out the weak sterling exchange rate, with Vietnam close behind.

Sri Lanka is both cheap and beautiful

Prices are down by a third on the Indian Ocean island, making it an ideal destination for budget-conscious travellers seeking winter sun. The drop in prices makes Sri Lanka 38 per cent cheaper than Thailand, its nearest rival on the list of affordable long haul holiday spots.

The travel report by the Post Office found prices have fallen in over two-thirds of popular destinations, with a 27 per cent drop in South Africa after the World Cup-related boom.

Tourists dead after boat overturns in Halong Bay

On Thursday night a cruise ship (QN 5198 Truong Hai) overturned near  Ti Top Island in Halong Bay, Vietnam due to engine problems that caused the boat to gain water. According to witnesses the boat was submerged after only one minute. Most Tourists were already in their beds sleeping when the accident occurred. Among the victims were two Swedish women in their 20s. Other victims include tourists from UK, France, Russia and Denmark.

Typical Halong Bay cruise ship

Name of the victims in the tour ship accident this morning has been officially confirmed:

1. Mccormick Stuart (Male, born 1980): British
2. Pyle Holly Michelle (Female, born 1985): American
3. Taylor Samantha Kay (Female, born 1989): American
4. Voropinova Elena (Female, born 1962): Russian
5. Voropinova Anastasia (Female, born 1987): Russian
6. Nakahara Jumpei (Male, born 1990): Japanese
7. Noblecourt Laetitia Francoise Monique (Female, born 1983): French
8. Bankestad Viola Birgitta (Female, born 1991): Swedish
9. Krok Anna Ellen (Female, born 1990): Swedish
10. Gerber baniamin charly (Male, born 1985): Swiss
11. Dinh Van Thang (Male, born 1983) : Vietnamese
12. Lam Ngoc Chau (Man, born 1979) : Australian

List of passengers who survive

1. Stobbe Marie Elisabeth (Female, born 1990): Danish
2. Pedersen Kasper Kammersgaard (Male, born 1987): Danish
3. Scattarelli Claudio (Male, born 1990): German
4. Sacconi Stefand (Male, born 1978): Italian
5. Corda Stefand (Male, born 1975): Italian
6. Fosmire George William (Male, born 1988): American
7. Nguyen Khuong Duy (Male, born 1975): Australian
8. Abrard James Dany Michel Eddy (Male, born 1983): French
9. Smhmidli Ramona (Female, born 1990): Swiss

A local government official says initial information suggests part of the boat broke without warning.
“So far the rescue team has rescued 15 people, including nine foreign tourists and six crew, and pulled out 12 bodies,” Ngo Van Hung, director of the Halong Bay Management Department, told Reuters by telephone.

Sunken ship in Halong Bay

The owners of the cruise ship Truong Hai is set to face legal charges according to Police authorities.

Halong Bay is a very popular tourist destination luring over 2 million each year. The boats sail off into the sunset and Tourists think the standard of safety at home applies also in Vietnam. This accident proves once again that this is not the case.

In September 2009 three foreign tourists – two from Britain and one from France – died along with their local guide when their vessel overturned during heavy rain on the bay. In 2006, a powerful wind storm on the bay capsized several boats, killing 13 people. No tourists were among the dead. In 2002, strong winds capsized two tourist boats, killing several foreigners. There has also been a numerous  incidents resulting in Tourists being injured and taken to hospital.

Trailsurfers visited Halong Bay in 2010 and you can read our review  here.

See video from Reuters about the incident here.

Welcome to Vietnam

Vietnam is trying very hard to establish themselves as the number one competitor to Thailand. One of the latest moves to ensure this development is the opening of a new airport in the Mekong delta. Can Tho International is sited on more than 20,000 square metres of land, it  cost a wopping $150m to build and will handle as many as five million passengers every 12 months. Six routes are presently being flown (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc) and, while a couple of these will end over the next few weeks, four more are scheduled to be added.

Main building

A Visa question for Vietnam

I had some questions from Swedish readers about the Visa requirements to Vietnam. Straight from the Visa office mouth to you:

As a Swedish citizen, you must have a visa to enter Vietnam, if you plan to stay longer than 15 days. For stays of 15 days or less you need no visa but you must be able to present a ticket for departure on arrival to Vietnam.

All other citizens are required to get Vietnam entry visa before departure (Vietnam visa issued prior to departure by Vietnamese consulates or embassies) or a pre-approved Vietnam entry visa (visa is issued on arrival at Vietnam’s International Airports) supplied before arrival in Vietnam.

Since there are only a lucky bunch of us that do not need a Visa there might be some questions raised from inexperienced check-in staff at your departure airport. One time I got stuck in Bangkok for an hour while convincing the check-in staff that Swedes have a no Visa requirement. Only after several phone calls to colleagues did they let me through. Swedes do not need a Visa since we aided Vietnam during the war, or something like that. So go there, feel VIP at the border and enjoy Vietnam.

Halong Bay cruise review

Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site where some 3.000 islands create a picture perfect get-away in the Gulf Of Tonkin. The scenery is very romantic and your camera will snap many pictures during the cruise.

Sunset over Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Your first contact with Halong Bay is with Tour Agents in Hanoi or other cities in Vietnam. The Tour Agents have themselves never visited Halong Bay or stayed at the accommodation they recommend. They purely base their opinion on commission and the information sent to them by the Cruise companies, hotels and resorts. The Tour Agent will show you several books with pictures of both cruise ships, accommodation and suggested itinerary. After careful screening and many questions to the Sinh Cafe Tour Agent we selected Asia Cruise 2 nights tour including an overnight stay at Monkey Island resort. We wanted to splurge so we opted for the $10 extra  Deluxe accommodation at the resort. The Superior bungalows, a downgrade from Deluxe, also looked great with large rooms and nice ocean views. We paid $94 for our package which included a $11 discount. All tours except for Hanoi Backpackers  ($130) are excluding drinks on the ship or in hotel/resort. They allow you to bring your own water, but soda or spirits will be confiscated or you must pay a surcharge (approx. 100.000 dong).  The average party-goer will spend 2 million dong per person and others 300.000 dong. The prices range from 50.000 dong for a cocktail, 35.000 for a beer and 25.000 for a soda. There is only one ATM in Cat Ba and you have to request a stop there. Its best to go to an ATM in Hanoi or Halong City before you depart.

At 8:30 am we where picked up by a tour representative at our Guest-house. Once on the bus we where informed that Asia Cruise was fully booked and we had been transferred to Hapro Travel. The representative ensured us that the ship was in the same condition as Asia cruise and our experience would be the same, or even better than the one we had paid for. We had no problems with this transfer as the ships seem to all look the same from the pictures we had seen at the Tour Agent. One thing we did ponder over was if we had actually ended up with the correct tour group since we had specifically requested a ‘No Party’ cruise (see party cruise here) and the people in our bus where already drinking Vodka from bottles. But early into our transfer to Halong City, where the ships depart, we where told that the party crowd where going on another ship. The party crowd went on the Asia Cruise ship that we initially booked. Make sure when you book that you do not end up on a party cruise, if you do not want to of course. Most cruises are geared towards the party crowd since they spend equal value  in spirits to that of the entire cost of the tour. We met a group of English girls on the day after their party cruise and they said it had been “a very, very messy cruise”.

Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay with hundreds of ships waiting near shore for their tourists. The hotels in the area are high-rise, plain and empty.

Once on the ship we settled into our small but nice cabin. Dinner was served at 6 pm and we got acquainted with our fellow travellers. After dinner we did some squid fishing and sang Karaoke. At 10 pm the crew turned off the Karaoke and most guests went to their cabins.

Last song for the evening: Dreams with Fleetwood Mac. Did we do this song justice? Think not 🙂

The sea food dinner experience was average and the entertainment below average. If you do not eat sea food then request with the Tour Agent that you get other food. The squid fishing was more of a joke among participants as the crew stuck a long bamboo rod into our hands, pointed to the water and said “Squid”. The Squid fishing lasted in total 10 minutes as we all had a turn for 1 minute before happily giving up the bamboo rod. The Karaoke was an IKEA set-up where you make your own fun with the equipment provided. A smaller group stayed and sang favourite songs from the extensive selection provided. Our ship anchored in a bay together with  32 other ships for the overnight stay.

In the morning we where awaken at 7 am for a transfer to Cat Ba island and new adventures. In Lonely Planet Cat Ba island is described as “something straight out of Jurassic Park”. I am very sure that the author never visited Cat Ba as the island is more accurately described as “one long asphalt road connecting the other jetty”. Before we took off to ‘explore’ Cat Ba we had to wait for another group to join ours. When they did arrive, one hour late, it was the party crowd that we travelled with on the bus from Hanoi.

On the way to the other Jetty we stopped for hiking or biking near the Cat Ba National Park which was such a disappointment. We opted for the biking and where given very bad bikes near total breakdown. Most of the bikes did not have working breaks. With these bikes we cycled on one straight road, stopped, waited and turned around and cycled back on the same road. It is very unclear what the actually intention was with the biking. Maybe the Vietnamese believe that we do not have bicycles in our countries so cycling on the road, turning around and cycling back again satisfy our sense of adventure. The biking lasted for 1 hour and if you opted for the trekking they take you into to park for 1,5 hours. You where also given an option of visiting a cave which was used during the war as a hospital. For a quick walk into the cave you have to pay 20.000 dong. The entry fee is not included in the package.

From Cat Ba we where hurdled onto a smaller boat for our transfer to Monkey Island and its exclusive resort.

Monkey island resort is nothing like the pictures in the Tour Agents book or on their website. The pictures must have been taken more than 10 years ago and optimized by a Photoshop wizz-kid (see pictures on their website and compare to above). On Monkey island we went Kayaking, swimming and trekking to a nearby beach where we fed some monkeys. Monkey island is average for Vietnam standard and a dump compared to islands in Thailand. On the beach there is construction on both sides and a concrete sand-wall in the middle. The water was dark and murky with a funky smell.

The return journey to Halong City gave camera-trigger-happy travellers several opportunities for beautiful snaps of cliff formations. Its amazing what mother nature can do when we do not intervene.

Is the 2 night tour worth $94? No its not, but the most comfortable way of exploring Halong Bay is by package tour. How do you rate the accommodation? If you ignore words like ‘Deluxe’ or ‘Superior’ and just go with the word ‘room’ then you will not be disappointed. The room value is somewhere between $8-$12 per night and we give it 3/10. Are the ships in good shape and do the feel safe? The boats are average and provide basic accommodation (bed, cold shower). Safety is not really a concern since you are always surrounded by a minimum of 30 ships. If something goes wrong with the one you are on, its a 20-50 meter swim to another one. Is the information given by Tour Agents and Lonely Planet really that inaccurate? Yes, the information given is inaccurate. Keep this in mind when you book the tour so you do not get disappointed.

One of our Tour representative, Mr Ty, explained the Vietnamese view concerning ‘what you see at the Tour Agent you do not get’. The words “same, same but different” is a fun joke for tourists to have printed on their T-shirts but for the Vietnamese its serious words. They really mean it when they say “same, same but different”. For them a room is a room, deluxe or not deluxe. For them a ship is a ship and the name or standard of the ship is not important. When we book a tour and are shown pictures of accommodation and activities we take it to heart and are truly disappointed when these pictures are very far from the actual experience. The Vietnamese cannot understand our feelings since we were given accommodation, we sailed on a ship and cycled on mountain bikes. The lesson for all tourists is to enter into a Halong Bay journey with no expectations and treat every step as a naive child would. Then we can guarantee that you will have a great time.

Cruise ships in Halong Bay

Below you find the most popular Cruise Ships that sail in Halong Bay. I took the pictures during our Halong Bay journey.

Hanoi firar 1000 år

Hanoi är Vietnams andra största stad efter Saigon med 6,5 miljoner invånare och minst lika många motorcyklar. Från år 1010  till år 1802 var Hanoi den politiskt viktigaste staden i Vietnam. I oktober år 2010 firar Hanoi 1.000 år som stad med pompa, flaggor, uppträdanden och gatufest.

Vi hade tur att vara på plats under “1.000 nam thang long” invigning. Efter att vi checkat in tidigt på morgonen hos Hanoi Backpacker Hostel gick vi ned till sjön Hoan Kiem Lake för att gå en promenad. Väl vid sjön upptäckte vi att det var där alla festligheter ägde rum och vi hade kommit i tid till den officiella invigningen.

På kvällen utbröt kalabalik runt festivalområdet då över en halv miljon människor samlades. Det uppstod flaskhalsar runt några av scenerna där folk knuffades och slogs för att ta sig fram. Vi fick ta till flykt bakom en pissoar och gå en omväg runt festivalområdet för att undvika trängseln. Vi såg kvinnor som grät och män som försökte hålla folk borta från sina barn som klämdes.  Tyvärr fick kvällen ett tråkigt slut men vi är glada att vi fick vara med och fira stadens 1000 år.

Det gick inte att ta sig fram till uppvisningarna på scenerna då det var alldeles för mycket folk. Om man kunde önska något vore det att de kunde ha organiserat festivalområdet bättre. Kanske nästa gång de firar 2000 år så gör de rätt.

Top-five in South East Asia

It is very hard to come up with the perfect top-five as there are so many factors to consider. We decided to just go with our gut feeling as its based on first hand experience instead of conducting an empirical study. We will scribble down  some more top-fives as we go along.


1. Koh Wai, Thailand – a gem in the Koh Chang archipelago.
2. Perhentian islands, Malaysia – truly white and powdery beach.
3. Pulau kapas, Malaysia – endless and empty it embraces the island.
4. Kuta Lombok, Indonesia – underdeveloped and pristine.
5. Nha Trang, Vietnam – a taste of Europe in Asia.

1. Singapore –  both bargain prices and high-roller tags.
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – clean, organised and easy to find your way.
3. Bangkok, Thailand – bargain hunters Mecka.
4. Hoi An, Vietnam – dream for tailor shopping.
5. Phuket, Thailand – growing into a shopping princess.

1. Singapore – from fast food to Asian delights.
2. Dalat, Vietnam – cheap but with expensive taste.
3. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – this city has it all.
4. Bangkok, Thailand – good mix of Asian and global foods is available.
5. Luang Prabang, Laos – charming eateries and French inspired food.

More top-five will be published soon.

A picture smörgåsbord from Vietnam

Hoi An är Askungens dröm

Om du älskar shopping måste du åka till Hoi An när du är i Vietnam. Hoi An är en mellanstor stad på Vietnamns centralkust som har gjort sig känd för sina skräddare. I Hoi An finns över 500 skräddare som bokstavligt slåss för att få sy dina drömkläder för småpengar. Turisterna myser likt Askungen när skräddare flockas för att mäta, justera och skapa. Hoi An är en vacker stad med gammal arkitektur samt har en bildskön flod som flyter utmed centralmarknaden. Du kan med lätthet spendera ett par dagar i Hoi An. Men om du reser med en shop-o-holic bör du undvika staden helt och hållet då du kommer att fastna här tills pengarna tar slut.

Frågan är bara vilken av alla dessa skräddare du ska välja? Svaret är inte lätt då alla butiker ser likadana ut och deras lovord sjunger samma visa. Du får helt enkelt chansa eller sy upp samma plagg i två olika butiker. Plaggen är så pass billiga att det kan löna sig att sy upp fler av samma ändå. En klänning i Thai silke kostar $20, ett linne $5, underkläder $1-5 och en kostym $50. Du kan även köpa skor från skomakare $10-50 och tillbehör som sovlakan i silke för $1. Allt du någonsin drömt om att få skräddarsytt finns i Hoi An. Att få exempelvis en klänning uppsydd tar 24 timmar, en kostym lite längre.

Skräddarbutikerna ligger bredvid varandra på alla gator i Hoi An.

Först väljer du ut design, färg och material. Butikerna har flera tjocka kataloger att bläddra i. Det går självklart lika bra att ta med sig en utskriven bild (helst i färg).

Mått tas med stor noggranhet.

Efter att plagget är sytt är det dags för justeringar.

Du kan alltid få tips på plagg att sy. Bara att fråga.

Resa med tåg i Vietnam

Att resa med tåg i Vietnam är en upplevelse då du får se den härliga naturen åka förbi ditt fönster och du får möta nyfikna vietnameser som vill öva sin engelska. För att boka din biljett kan du antingen gå direkt till tågstationen och köpa biljetten i kassan eller gå till en av de tusentals resebyråer som finns på varje gata i Vietnam. Påslaget som resebyrån gör på biljetten för hantering är relativt liten och bör ligga på cirka en till tre dollar.

Om du exempelvis är i Hoi An och ska till Hanoi är närmaste tågstation i Danang som ligger 45 minuter med bil från Hoi An. I det fallet lönar det sig att köpa biljetten från en resebyrå då du slipper åka en och en halv timme fram och tillbaka, för att senare återigen åka tillbaka till tågstationen för avgång. Under högsäsong bör du boka dina biljetter minst tre dagar innan avgång och under lågsäsong kan du boka senast dagen innan för att få bra platser.

När du bokar din biljett kan du välja mellan Hard Seat, Soft Seat, Hard Sleeper och Soft Sleeper. Hard Seat finns på de gamla TN tågen som också har de sämre tidtabellerna. Soft Seat finns på de nya SE tågen och är som flygplansstolar. Hard Sleeper finns i både SE och TN tågen och är staplade i 3 våningar. Nedersta sängen kostar cirka 15% mer än sängen som är högst upp. Soft Sleeper finns bara på nya SE tågen och är i en hytt med fyra sängar.

Följande priser är från 2010 års tabell när man köper biljett på tågstation. Priserna gäller Hard Sleeper:
Saigon – Hanoi $63
Saigon – Danang $42
Saigon – Hue $45
Saigon – Nha Trang $19
Hanoi – Saigon $63
Hanoi – Hue $31
Hanoi – Danang $34
Hue – Danang $4
Danang – Nha Trang $21

Soft Sleeper kostar mellan $3-5 mer och Soft Seater mellan $10-12 mindre.

Nha Trang till Hoi An med nattbuss

Att åka buss i Asien är som att spela på lotto – ibland blir det bra och oftare katastrof. I början av vår resa när vi köpte bussbiljetter ställde vi inte många frågor men efter 104 timmar på en buss börjar vi få rutin.  “finns det platser längst fram?”, finns det toalett på bussen, som fungerar?”, “är det en plats per person eller ska man dela?”,  “finns det filtar?”, “är det med AC eller inte?”, “åker bussen på motorvägen eller genväg över landsbygden?”, “stannar bussen i staden eller en bit utanför?, “är bussen på bilden som du visar verkligen den bussen vi åker med?” och så vidare.  Alla dessa frågor gör att man själv får en gnutta kontroll över sitt bussöde. Att ha viss kontroll resulterar i färre besvikelser när man intar sin plats på en buss som inte ser ut som den på bilden och du måste dela plats med en annan samt toaletten på bussen har inte fungerat på två år.

Bussresan mellan Nha Trang och Hoi An på Vietnams östkust tar 10 timmar.  Vanligast är att man köper en biljett på en ‘sleeper bus’ som åker i ilfart på nattsvarta vägar. Bussbiljetten kostar 200.000 dong med Sinh Cafe som anses vara en av de bättre bolagen. Oftast i regnperioden börjar det regna och åska under resans gång vilket gör att det blir ännu svårare att se vägen för förare och passagerare. När rädslan får övertaget tar man tag i stolens kant i hopp om att det ska skydda när man krockar med en mötande lastbil. Bussföraren tutar frenetiskt vid varje korsning, vägkrök och på allt som rör sig i natten.  Efter att man stirrat ut i kolsvarta fönster som reflekterar tillbaka ens spegelbild sluter sig ögonen och sömnen sköljer över en. Efter en timmes sömn vaknar man av ett ryck då bussföraren har tvärnitat framför en nattvandrande hund. Så fortsätter resan tills att du når målet. Väl framme stapplar man av bussen klockan fem på morgonen, hittar sin ryggsäck och möts av tjugo taximotorcyklister som insisterar att du ska åka med dem, på en gång till ett hotell som de vet är den bästa i staden. Allt man tänker är “för fan lämna mig ifred!”.

Stranden i Nha Trang bjuder in till lek och motion

Att bo nära en strand har sina fördelar då det inbjuder till motion, lek och umgänge. På dagen är stranden i Nha Trang i Vietnam nära till tom, men när skymningen infaller kommer lokalbefolkningen.

Jag övar att stå på en hand. Än så länge klarar jag bara att stå i 5-7 sekunder (om jag räknar snabbt).

Tvä äldre damer på väg in i vattnet för sin dagliga vattengymnastik.

Tre tjejer är på väg in i vattnet för att leka. Det är normalt att kvinnor i Asien har på sig kläder när de badar. Oftast iförda jeans, långarmad t-shirt eller luva kliver de in i vattnet och plaskar runt. Då endast ett fåtal kan simma är det plask och lek som gäller.

Open-Tour bus in Vietnam or not?

Travelling in Vietnam is very easy as there are a variety of ways to get from one city to another. The trains runs along the coast and stops in major towns and cities. The bus network is extensive and takes you even to the smallest dots on the map. We even saw a group travelling on bicycles.

Although there are plenty of options most travellers rave about the Open-Tour bus tickets you can buy from establishments like the Sinh Café. During our travels in Vietnam we considered buying an Open-Tour ticket but in the last second we changed our mind. If you decide to go for the Open-Tour you have to decide where you want to have your stops. Since we were not sure where we wanted to go we did not want to commit to any cities only to find out later that we wanted other destinations. The price for the Open-Tour package is a couple of dollars cheaper than buying single tickets but that is a small cost for freedom. An Open-Tour prepaid ticket between Mui Ne and Dalat costs 5 dollars and a single ticket cost 6 dollars. If you are dead sure about your route then sure go for the Open-Tour but if you hesitate, like we did, then opt-out. Buying single tickets are dead easy as there are several bus companies serving most towns. You can even buy single tickets from the Open-Tour companies as late as on the day of departure.

Check out our Holiday Price Index for more information.