Monday, December 31, 2012

Delta Life, Saigon and the Seoul Dash

Living the chill Mekong Delta Life with the Locals

We arrived and crashed at our budget hotel in Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon). Immediately the next day we headed out to the Mekong Delta. We arranged a tour a few days prior with the company, Innoviet, because we wanted to do a homestay and didn't have spare time to arrange it ourselves. The company was excellent and we ended up being in our own private group.

Rowing through the Mekong Delta

Helping our host mom cook dinner.
Yeah ... that's a fake smile. Again, Jane and I are not quite the homemakers.

Floating Market before 7 am.
We managed to keep the early rises to a minimum on this trip, but this was an exception. We saw a local non-touristy market which was not as vibrant as expected, but still interesting. Locals bring their goods to trade here. That's durian and jackfruit in the background.We did not purchase that!

Biking around the delta.

This was one of our favorite activities. We saw no other tourists while winding through the narrow paths. We observed people going about their daily life and even heard "Watermelon! Watermelon!" (in Vietnamese of course) being sold from the boat guy on the canal. 

Rice fields abound.

Our host mom making rice paper.

She makes about 500 a day which takes ~5 hours and makes about $5. We were glad that our staying with them helps out financially.

Our host mom and her grandaughter. 

There was also her husband, another baby, Hue and a very excited puppy. Her daughter, son and their spouses live and work in the city.

This homestay was amazing. We were only there for 1 night/2days. It was very relaxing and remote, exactly what we wanted. We only wish we could stay out in the delta one more day. We definitely recommend Innoviet. It was a bit pricey, but they work closely with two local families and our guide was wonderful at giving us lots of insider perspective and history.

Cu Chi Tunnels

We headed back to Saigon. The next morning, after much bargaining and arguing via pen and paper, we finally got our disgruntled taxi driver to take us to the more remote Cu Chi tunnels (Ben Duoc) about 2 hours outside the city and 15 minutes farther than the popular one. It was totally worth the extra effort because we were the only ones on the entire grounds and got a private guide all for 1/4 of the price of the more touristed site.

Underground Tunnels

We got to experience these underground tunnels that the Vietnamese hid out in for months during the war. The tunnels were no more than a meter high and 0.5 m wide and there were 3 levels of them.

US helicopter

We were only in the tunnels for a few minutes, but the rest of our hour tour was more interesting as we saw the grounds of the battles, rebuilt huts and explanations of life during war.

Back in Saigon
War Museum

This was the only site in Saigon that we marked as a must-see. It was a very somber experience and interesting to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective. It seems that whenever I leave SE Asia, it is on a depressing note. The last time was the Phnoem Penh killing fields in Cambodia.

 View of Saigon from our hotel roof.

One of our favorite meals! We ate it twice.

Bun Bo Hue. Yummy spicy noodle soup. 

The first time we had this soup, a nice local at our table ordered for us. He got us "tourist" meat, meaning nothing too weird. The second time we ordered it on our own and we definitely got a more interesting variety, but still delicious!
 Madness in the streets of Saigon

Overall, Saigon wasn't our favorite city.  We aren't really the type to see every temple, museum, etc. We stayed 2 days in the city, but would've preferred one day less, but sometimes you never know. We did enjoy the food, fresh fruit juices and movie style cafes for people watching on the street. We ended up just chilling the last day anyways. We got a second round of relaxing massages and hung out at a local cafe reading.

Cold Seoul Dash

We had an 8 hour layover in Seoul. Should we stay in the comforts of the new, modern city airport or dash out into the cold streets in search for the perfect kal gook su? Definitely option 2!

Brrr! Yes, that is snow on the ground. 
We just came from 95 degree weather with 95% humidity.

Slipping through the streets of Myeong Dong

We were on a very specific hunt. The Myeong Dong Kalgooksu restaurant that Jane remembered from her childhood and then these awesome walnut red bean filled pastries. I'm all about traveling for food! With limited time, we literally had to dash around. Fortunately Jane has some memories of her summer spent here 5 years ago, but we still had to pop into a few hotels/tourist offices to inquire.

Success and happiness! Kalgooksu and mandu. The perfect meal.

We even found our pastries. Now we could leave Seoul satisfied. We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare for our last torturous leg home.

Sadly, homeward bound

Vietnam was all that we hoped for, and we have been hoping for a lot after all these years. We were glad that we saved this SE Asia country for later as we probably would not have appreciated it as much if it were sandwiched in with the other countries. Yes, it is probably one of the more developed ones, but it was still fascinating to explore. We also noted that we made two major upgrades in our travel style: budget hotels (yes, still budget cause we have to keep it somewhat real) and transfers to/from the airport. Since it's SE Asia we could afford these luxuries and we weren't traveling for long so as working women, we took full advantage of it! It greatly improves quality of travel.

Another awesome trip with Jane. There will be more in the future. Who knows when or where, but rest assured, it will happen!

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