630am and I was already up and trying to get ready early for the long trip to Hue with a return to Da Nang for the night instead of Hoi An.
All packed and ready to go by 730am though K had some trouble waking up. At the breakfast, the entire place was crowded, not like the previous day! Looked like everyone was an early riser even on a holiday! We had our fill and mommy settled the bill for dinner the night before and then we were checked out.
We met up with the female guide “Happy” and she immediately loaded us up in a Mitsubishi Xpander after introduction to the driver Tin and we were on our way to the first destination, about an hour and a half drive away.
First, we arrived at the top of a mountain Hai Van pass where there were some ruins left. This was supposedly at the border of Da Nang and Hue from which we could see both the cities. Took photos with the ruins there and of the surrounding scenery before leaving the crowded place as many huge tour buses stop there for a break and tourists stop for a photo.
Then it was another 20mins downhill to Lap An lagoon, with a short stop at Lang Co bay for photo taking. The lagoon was a large area of calm water with the backdrop of mountains; the place looked pretty nice. There was a certain seafood smell that K didn’t like but it was because the area was also used as place for oyster farming. The farmers used tyres for oysters to attach themselves which was interesting. We didn’t have any though even though it was cheap since we didn’t stop long and were on our way to old town Hue.
An hour and a half of drive plus lotsa made up games I came up with on the fly to keep K entertained, we finally arrived at the one the tomb for worst emperor of Vietnam (at least that’s what the guide said), Khai Dinh, but the tomb itself was the most elaborately designed. The Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh, or Ứng Mausoleum, wasn’t the biggest and it was a quick walk around the beautiful tomb while listening to the historical stories before we boarded the car for the next destination.
Just a short 10mins drive and we arrived at the Tomb of Minh Mang which the guide advised as one of the best emperors of Vietnam. The tomb was huge and much bigger than the previous one, though not as intricately designed. The arrangements with lakes and buildings made it looked like shape of a human, according to the guide. We walked along and fed some fish for 5k dong and K was happy. On our walk back, there was a slight drizzle but we managed to avoid getting drenched.
The car brought us to the lunch location at Life Bar restaurant near to old Hue Citadel and we were given the set lunch. I was busy replying email and trying to sort out some internet banking with their free wifi, the food was only ok though the portions were quite big. After lunch and using the restrooms, we proceeded with the last 2 locations of our tour.
First it was the Hue Citadel, which reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. However it wasn’t as huge as that and a lot of the buildings were already destroyed. We did spend quite a good deal of time there looking at some of the old photos of those emperors and listening to the historical stories narrated by the guide. There was a nice garden near the end and it was quite nice to walk through. We exited the gate which was built with the same design like Khai Dinh tomb and boarded our car to the final destination.
The Thien Mu pagoda was the last stop for our tour in Hue. It was actually a monastery for most part of this location but there were still things to see as like the story about the monk who burnt himself up in protest and there was the car on display that he used to drive himself to the protest location. We were also told of the monks schedule which included waking up really early at 330 and only getting to bed at 930, talk about tough life.
Today was chill day and boy did we chill. It was initially planned with something else but the recommendation to combine both Hoi An and My Son the day earlier and that led to this day being left empty. Which sometimes is a good thing during a trip where you simply want to stay in and do nothing.
We all woke up late and only left for breakfast at 10am, with some 30 mins left. We were the only ones left but were treated like kings since all the attention were given to us. They even served us though this was a self service buffet style breakfast and I shamelessly accepted that treatment! Kudos to the excellent service staff! We had quite a full breakfast and by the time we left it was already 11am.
Returned the room to laze a bit and while K catch some TV, I busied myself trying to find some activities for kids. There were in fact plenty of recommendations online (the resource was unbelievably good on google, just google Hoi An for kids) such as Vinpearl theme park, motorbike rides, visit to farms and coconut forest. But eventually we decided to just chill.
We left after noon time and walked to the old town, this time on the other side of the river to check out what’s there on the same island where our accommodation was on. Along the way we took photos as we walked and were blessed with clear blue skies that accentuate the colours of Hoi An and the calm rivers provided the beautiful reflections. Perfect setting!
One Morning Glory Signature restaurant caught our eyes as mommy called it out as one of the recommended restaurant to visit and so we entered, even though I wasn’t feeling all that hungry from the big breakfast that we had. It was situated on the second floor on the incredibly large building (which looked tiny on the outside but had lots of seating area on the inside) and the deco was really beautiful!
The top seating area had a nice view of Hoi An old town and the Japanese Covered bridge but while we weren’t sitting directly at the edge, it was good enough view. K was busy with the iPad while we ordered some local must-tries like Cau Lao and Banh Mi and the rose dumplings. The food was simply delicious, true to what the recommendations say! Paid 450k including tips and we left to cross over to Hoi An old town.
Took another street that we didn’t take before and there were quite a bit of retail shops here though mostly selling the same stuff. We ended up in one of the Hoi An Roastery which looked like Starbucks and feel like one.
We got ourselves a spacious corner seat in the small seating area and ordered black and milk coffee for me and mommy and vanilla and choco icecream for K, all for less than 200k ( the customer next to us informed that the coconut icecream coffee sounded better than it tasted so we were saved from having that). Spent hour or so just chilling out and having fun with K. As K was pretty loud, it sometimes invited smiles from other tables.
We left to return back to the hotel at 5pm and while the sun started it’s descent it again provided some nice scene for photography. We stopped by a small playground for K to try the swings and slide and fitness equipment before we finally walked back to the hotel.
Spend the rest of the time chilling in front of the TV with Cartoon Network and then a bath at the bath tub before heading for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. Ordered dried vermicelli and clay pot fried rice and banana fritter for desert. The desert was pretty interesting, the outer skin was coated with coconut which gave it the crusty sweet taste. (The bill was about 600k)
After dinner, it was some time in front of the mini projector (from Taobao) and YouTube cartoons before going to sleep. We had to wake up really early for the trip to Hue the next day.
Day 2 started early even with K’s frequent waking up throughout the night. I was woken up early by the bodily clock and also the noise outside that sounded like people moving metal stuff. I went to the balcony and found that bikers were traveling on the bridge to come to the island and the metal sounds came from the usage of that bridge.
We prepared ourselves before getting K up and he was surely in a good mood as he cooperated to get his teeth brushed, changed and went to breakfast.
The breakfast in the main restaurant was buffet style and was quite a selection. I took a plate full of almost everything and ordered egg Benedict from the egg station ( yes they have egg Benedict!). K was eating well with his pastries, yoghurt and cereal!
Soon after breakfast, we left to meet with our tour guide for a tour around Hoi An old town and My Son. He immediately recognized us and introduced himself as “Drew” (spelled as Trieu) and we boarded a shuttle buggy to the old town a couple of minutes ride away.
We arrived at the entrance of Hoi An old quarter and after he settled the tickets, he began the introduction of the old quarter. The good thing about having a guide was that you get to learn more than what you see on the surface and we surely did so as he brought us along and explained some of the stuff that we see.
The old town was nice and cool to walk early in the morning and not crowded as tourists haven’t arrived in droves as they were still making their way here. It was quite a bit of walking though.
We walked through small streets diverting out from the Main Street to see Thang Loi silk making factory, starting from silkworm to cacoons and then the collection of silk to embroidery. There was also lantern making and wood carving at the same place and eventually a store to sell clothing products which was pretty affordable for custom made pieces tailored to fit but unfortunately I wasn’t wearing these in Singapore and not worth it to buy any. But I was most impressed with the embroidery work as the needleworker created “photo-like” pictures on cloth! Some of these pieces of work were put up on the walls and they really looked like painting or photos from a distance! However, no photos were allowed.
We returned back to the Main Street and arrived at the Japanese Covered bridge built to link up the Chinese and Japanese quarter. It was a bridge with a shelter and a temple in it. We were introduced the historical information and was shocked to see the water level during the flooding of the area, indicated by a sticker on wall.
Continued on and we were brought into a Tan Ky Merchant house where we got to see how the merchant used the place for trading and storage, how the old houses were built for ventilation and the traditional furniture! Again the flood level was a real shock, and a good reminder to K why swimming is an important skill to pick up.
Then another diversion out to another street where we were introduced to a freshwater Ba Le well and then to a family business (of centenarian Mr Ngo Thieu) that sold black sesame paste. The black sesame paste was really delicious and smooth but they didn’t sell them in instant package form as they were meant to be served hot. We could only bring home sesame biscuits though. We managed to catch a glimpse of the senior man resting on his bed and we were told he was already 104! Amazing! The biscuits were pretty affordable for a bag of 4 for 50k.
The final location to visit was Hoi An Fujian assembly hall and within the compound, there was a temple in which we had learnt quite a bit; from the deity who saved the people, to the 6 generals that came to Hoi An and their descendants being still in Hoi An, the different deities for worship and why. We made a donation of 2 bags of rice for 300k for the CNY and got to put our names on a board. It was a nice feeling to be able to give, and what more on Xmas day! By the way, Xmas wasn’t celebrated in Vietnam, evident as kids were still in school while we were touring.
After a quick walk through the central market of Cho Hoi An (as we were looking for a Vietnamese hat for K), we went to have lunch in a Dao Tien River restaurant which was included in the tour (that we thought weren’t included) and they served fish, chicken and eggplant with white rice and fried dumpling as starters and fruits as desert. We had to pay for drinks and we ordered Vietnam coffee, black for mommy and mine with milk. The food wasn’t fantastic but the place had a riverside view. We left after paying 150k for the drinks.
Drew got us on a vehicle and we were soon traveling to My Son, an hour journey away. There weren’t much to see along the way and I had to keep K entertained as he didn’t want to take a nap. But it was all going downhill as I started to have a stomachache. The driver had to make a quick stop to get himself some lunch and I was worried I couldn’t hold it in!
After a while more of driving, we entered the smaller lanes and arrived at the entrance, both K and myself ran for the toilet as he was in an urgent need to pee too. I went straight for the only cubicle there, which was thankfully not occupied and relieved myself. However, the feeling escalated to nausea and I also threw up, everything I had for lunch. I was suspecting the coffee as the main culprit. It took a while before I recovered and rejoined my family, with K enjoying his cone of icecream.
Drew had already got our tickets and we had to walk to the buggy station some distance away. The buggy that drove us to the ruins site which was quite far away for people to walk (though we did see people walk) and after disembarking, another distance to walk to the main ruins.
My Son (pronounced as “Mee Son”, which was close to Chinese pronounciation of beautiful hill) had ruins from the Hindu temple built for Shiva and here we learnt again what some of the architecture were, how to distinguish between the temple and storage buildings, how the bricks were prepared and why some of them had moss growing and those that were prepared for the purpose of building the temple didn’t, about some imperfections of the architecture that were purposely done so and how the statue of Shiva looked like.
Though it wouldn’t sound interesting for a 5 year old, I thought K was pretty amused exploring the ruins and Drew did a good job keeping his level of interest high!
Other than historical facts we were shown some of the remains from the Vietnam war, bomb craters, missile shells and shrapnels that can still be found on the ground. We were also shown one statue with a hole that was made from a bullet being shot from the top.
All these activities took up the time we had for the tour. We returned to the buggy station, buggy back to the entrance and walked back to the carpark.
The return journey was easy as we slept most of the way and arrived back in the hotel in time for sunset. Paid tips to both Drew and the driver and we returned to the room to rest for a bit and to take a bath before getting out to the old town for dinner.
We walked to Viet Ngon Restaurant and found it along the road. We were the only customers there but the local cuisine they served was delicious, just as described in online reviews. We ordered beef noodle soup and duck breast vermicelli and it was tasty. We had fried spring rolls that didn’t taste like the usual spring rolls that we were used to but these were tasty too. Completed with mango juice which was thick and wholesome and my lime juice as I didn’t want to upset my stomach further, all these for 465k including tips.
After dinner, we walked through Hoi An to see how it looked like at night. With the lanterns lighted up, it was more colourful then it was during the day. It was getting crowded the closer we got towards the riverside and bridge but still walkable. We proceeded through the Hoi An night market which had many stalls selling fruits, and some stalls selling goods but there were mostly selling more or less the same stuff. Then we decided to call it a day and return back to the hotel.
It was quite a distance from the old market back to the hotel and we took about 15mins to walk back. Away from the main sights the streets became dark and quiet but never felt dangerous as minimarts and accommodations were sparsely located and provided the brightness to the surroundings. We arrived at the fussball machine at our hotel entrance, played a bit of that before returning to the room.
Night was standard procedure, getting ready for bed after some funny Xmas cartoons on Disney channel with Mickey and gang and a couple of rounds of handphone games on mommy’s handphone (a new craze for the both of them) before lights out.
Our last trip of the decade started really late as we woke up from an afternoon nap on Xmas eve and only had slightly less than 2.5 hrs to get to the airport. We got out of the house after our baths and getting ready.
The traffic was pretty smooth, with the exception of one accident on PIE which we had to divert to ECP. Arrived at terminal 1 with about 1.5hrs to spare before boarding.
Checked in at the shared automated auto check in machines between Qantas and Jetstar but went to the wrong bag drop. Luckily the Qantas staff was quick to stop us and we embarrassingly walked back to the Jetstar counter to bag drop.
We took a few photos with the Xmas trees there with our parents before biding goodbye. The immigration was busy since everyone seemed to be leaving Singapore for travel and after a wait at the queue, we finally got through and proceeded to the food court for dinner. Chicken rice, quick and tasty choice but more importantly, acceptable to K’s increasingly limited acceptable choices for dinner.
We realized we forgot to pack our lightning cable for charging our devices and I quickly went into an electronics shop to get one for 15ish dollars while mom and K went on their way to the gate first, which was at the tail end of the terminal.
After a quick visit to the toilet, I caught up with them and found ourselves being the last passengers. The displeased staff let us through after the Xray scan and reminded us about being timely for our boarding and we moved quickly to board the almost full plane.
Our flight took off only after 20mins of taxiing on the tarmac and it was a smooth 2.5hrs flight and almost too boring since there weren’t any entertainment onboard. My phone provided the main source of entertainment of games when we alternate turns. Bought ourselves an apple juice for 4 bucks and tried to go to sleep but it didn’t work out and before we knew it, we were landing.
Went through the initial single counter immigrations that quickly opened up to another 3 lanes and we were quick to get to the first of the queue when a new one opened but had to wait for our luggage anyway. After picking up, we visited one of the many counters there selling SIM cards for unlimited data at irresistible prices, like 240k D for 10days throughout Vietnam and we installed that onto our IPad mini for hotspot use.
Immediately outside the Arrivals I found a man standing there with a board with my name on it and he was the driver for our private transfer that we arranged with the tour agency( which we engaged since being with them for our Hanoi tour). He brought us to wait by the road and while waiting for him to return with a vehicle, we took some photos with the Xmas tree there. Soon he came with a huge vehicle and then we were on our way to Hoi An River Town hotel, about 40mins drive away.
It was quick an easy drive without much traffic but nothing much to see along the way, as colourful restaurants were sparsely located. The big roads became smaller roads before we crossed a bridge to the island where our hotel was situated. The driver got lost for a moment before I tried to explain that he had gone the wrong way with my google maps but in no time, we disembarked at the entrance of the hotel.
The bell helped with the luggage as we checked in, that came with welcome drink and cold towels, then we were brought to our room on the 4th floor. It was a huge room and had a huge toilet and we were pretty satisfied with it. K had some time to play his toys and after a quick shower down and some milk and story books, it was time to get to bed. Tour starts early the next day so we had to catch as much sleep as early as possible
Total duration 9D8N Singapore is 1hr ahead of Da Nang. Flight time is 17hrs 15mins on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Newark Airport, New York. Return flight is 2hrs 10mins on Scoot from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore.
Evening flight on 24th Dec at 650pm and arrival in Da Nang in the Night at 835pm. Return flight from Ho Chi Minh on the 1st Jan at 555pm and arrival in Singapore at 905pm.
This escape plan was to getaway to somewhere close and not too expensive while at the same time, see how people are doing Xmas and New Year’s Eve.
Budget nature: Inexpensive except when in the resort
Costs of living was pretty low in Vietnam and thus we found that things were relatively inexpensive. We catered SGD$800 but wouldn’t have overspend if we didn’t buy stuff along the way. It could also be that we had paid upfront for private tours and transfers and even so, it was still affordable.
It was easy since most of the transportation was taken care by our private transfers and tour. Phu Quoc transfer was taken care by the resort while Grab app worked pretty well in both Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh.