Total duration 10D9N Singapore is 13hrs ahead of Cancun, Mexico and Lima and Cusco, Peru and 11hrs ahead of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Flight time is 17hrs 50mins on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Newark, New York. Flight time from Newark, New York to Cancun is 3hrs 35mins on Viva Aerobus. Flight time from Cancun to Mexico City is 2hrs 45mins on Aeromexico. Flight time from Mexico City to Lima is 5hrs 50mins on Aeromexico. Flight time from Lima to Cusco is 1hrs 21mins on Latam Airlines. Flight time from Cusco to Lima is 1hrs 30mins on Avianca Airlines. Flight time from Lima to Rio De Janeiro is 5hrs 10 mins on Avianca Airlines. Flight time from Rio De Janeiro to Rome is 10hrs on Alitalia Airlines. Flight time from Rome to Singapore is 11hrs 50mins on Singapore Airlines.
Early morning flight from Singapore to Newark on 23rd Feb at 1250am and arrival in Newark in the morning at 530am on the 23rd Feb. Same morning flight from Newark to Cancun on the 23rd Feb at 925am and arrival in Cancun at 2pm in the afternoon. Flight from Cancun to Mexico City on the evening of 24th Feb at 740pm and arrival in Mexico City at 925pm with a transit of 2hrs 30mins and overnight flight to Lima on the 24th Feb night and arrival into Lima at 645am on 25th Feb morning. Same morning flight at 910am from Lima to Cusco on the 25th Feb and arrival in Cusco on the at 1033am on 25th Feb. Flight from Cusco to Lima on the morning of 28th Feb at 1055am and arrival in Lima at 1225pm on the 28th Feb. Same day overnight flight from Lima to Rio de Janeiro in the night of 28th Feb at 930pm and arrive in Rio de Janeiro in the early morning of 29th Feb at 440am. Flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome in the afternoon of 1st Mar at 4pm and arrive in Rome in the morning of 2nd Mar at 7am. Same day flight from Rome to Singapore in the morning of 2nd Mar at 1050am and arrive in Singapore in the early morning of 3rd Mar at 540am.
This escape plan was planned as a solo trip for a couple of reasons. First, my other half does not have enough leave and so I had to go on my own. Second, everyone has an impression that its not safe to travel to Mexico and South America, so I had to go alone first. Lastly, the itinerary is not very enjoyable due to a lot of time spent on traveling so I had to do it alone. I planned it this way because having flown so far away from Singapore to this part of the world, I would want to clear see all the 3 wonders situated around this region so as to get the best out of my time (unfortunately not money)!
Budget nature: Budget Buster
Costs of living was pretty affordable in these places except for the touristy areas. However, due to how I have planned my itinerary. My choices of accommodations include those that were just next to the sites (like Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu) and flights that were inflexible due to the tight schedule and some of these are expensive. International flights flying from countries to countries were expensive too.
A lot of time was required to plan this to get the best movement. Flight planning was very challenging as not all routes were available country to country (such as from Cancun to Rio de Janeiro) and as I had chose to redeem miles for 2 of my flights, waitlist created some adjustments to my flights. I even screwed up one overnight flight which I bought wrongly resulted in money going down the drain.
I was also timing my itinerary to be within the schedule of 10 days, to fly off on the midnight of Sunday and to return on the early morning to minimize any impact to family time. Also I was also timing to attend the Champions’ Parade of the Rio de Janeiro Carnaval. In trying to visit the 3 wonders, cater for the long journey to and from Machu Picchu and getting to watch the Carnaval, this is one of the most difficult itinerary I have planned to date!
On the first day of 2020, I woke up disappointed to find the sun already up so early in the morning. Nonetheless I took a few photos of the late sunrise and then forced myself to get changed and go for a run.
Had googled a running route and as encouraging as I saw that there was one safe enough to run ( didn’t want to get knocked down by the motorcycles or breath in the exhaust from them), I was unable to do so smoothly. Once I exited the hotel and crossed the road to the riverside promenade, I headed in the north side direction in the hope of reaching a park. But after running some 600m, the route ended and to continue I had to cross the road and run in the street which I thought was a bad idea. Made a complete U turn and ran south which was not too bad as there was a nice pathway all the way for 2km. The pathway was littered though due to yesterday’s night countdown and there were a few people lying on benches but nothing unusual.
Completed my run with some stops along the way for photos and returned to the hotel. Went to the club house to get some bottled water before a visit to the swimming pool which was at the roof top together with the sky bar and spa.
The swimming pool was rather small but the surrounding sitting area provided a paranomic view of the surrounding. Took in the view and the fresh air and panoramic photos before returning to the room.
Had my bath and went back to bed since both mommy and K was still sleeping. Mommy was awoke soon and we were concerned that the breakfast time was going to be over so I went down first (we had the option of going to the clubhouse for breakfast but knowing that the area was much smaller, we would rather go to the main restaurant which would have more variety). The staff was excellent and they had no issues for me taking out food so that I can bring it back to the room. However I was given quite a small packaging so I couldn’t back take a lot of food, which made me decide to just pack those that K liked and later have my breakfast in the restaurant itself.
Went back to the room to tell mommy the plan and I returned quickly to the restaurant. They gave me a seat and acknowledged that mommy would be coming later. Then I ordered an egg Benedict which would be delivered to my table, went around to get samples of the buffet and gobbled down quickly. Though I missed the enjoyment of tasting the food, at least it filled my stomach and honestly, I thought the quality was pretty good. Returned to the room with my bottle of tomato juice and mommy went down for her breakfast.
It wasn’t long that K also woke up and then he would have his breakfast in bed while I fed him, talked about enjoying breakfast in bed! After that, I called to request for late check out and was given 1pm and we spent the rest of the morning packing and enjoying the last bit of TV and comforts of the room before bringing down all our luggage to the left luggage.
We returned to the Vincom center again as we saw some brands of clothes that were having a sale the night before and wanted to see if we could get anything. We visited the Old Navy store and got something as well as from OVS store. Left at 215pm and ended up at a Trung Nguyen Legend Cafe, one famous coffee brand of Vietnam and bought some 3-in-1 coffee for home and drank their Legend coffee in the cafe, which was going at 170k per glass. The coffee was indeed very good, and so was the air conditioning that we enjoyed as we escaped the midday heat outside!
We returned back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage and booked a Grabcar to the airport for 137k+10k (not sure what the 10k was for) which arrived very quickly. The journey to the airport was so much faster than the time we took from the airport to the hotel as they weren’t any jams during that time. We arrived with plenty of time to check in for our flight at 555pm.
Went through immigrations which took a short while to clear and proceeded to go to Big Bowl for our last Vietnamese meal (about USD14 for fresh spring roll and big bowl of pho) before returning back to Singapore and a ice cream sundae from BK just next to it (as K was asking for ice cream).
Window shopped around for a bit, used the toilet and then waited at the gate before the call to board.
We were on the Scoot flight back to Singapore and the plane was late coming into Vietnam. Once onboard there weren’t much biggies. Our pre-ordered food arrived and we swapped to suit to K’s taste. The food package was simple and tasted ok, not fantastic. Then later K spent the rest of the journey on the iPad. We landed 10mins delayed into Changi, a big part was due to the initial delay.
This year end trip planned for NYE celebration overseas in Vietnam was pretty enjoyable, largely because we had most of the land tour and private transfer being arranged by a tour agency (Went with Sparrow Travels, the same team that arranged for our Hanoi trip) for a hassle free journey. The weather was pretty decent most days and the costs were not very expensive. Because of the guides, for the visits especially to the old towns and ruins, we had learnt quite a bit on their history and culture which we would never have if we had gone by ourselves. But because the tours were private, we had more flexibility on timing and not under time pressure to push on, which would be a problem given K would have a hard time keeping up or I would need to carry him around more often then as it is.
Day 8 was supposed to be our last day in Phu Quoc before our onward journey to the last destination of the trip, Ho Chi Minh City! It was the also the last day of 2019 and we thought that HCMC should be the best place to countdown.
We woke up with enough time for breakfast and this time, there wasn’t a queue and our faces were registered pretty quickly. We tried to get a seat and this time we were closer to the buffet table. But the egg station is still serving invisible hard boiled egg. I managed to get my omelette though.
After breakfast, we were on our way back to the room and met a balloon artist in a clown costume. K asked for a red sword which he made promptly but he’s had the capability to come out with more intricate designs like a 2 coloured water gun that he made for another kid. While waiting, I asked for an extension of check out to 130pm which was also when the shuttle was arranged for us to the airport.
We spent some time in the room getting ready and playing with K’s toys for a bit before K and I went to the beach leaving mommy in the room. It was quite a distance from our tower and K was already complaining about walking so long and wanting me to carry him. We got our towels from the pool counter and walked along the pathway that separated the Vinoasis resort and the Radisson Blu.
The beach was pretty crowded with all the seats under the shelter taken. So I just found myself a tree and placed our bags and towels there before getting onto the super soft but hot sand of Bai Dai beach! The beach was quite wide and a distance to the decently calm waters where K could enjoy the wave crashing into him. We busied ourselves with playing sand, myself trying to build a sandcastle and K just scooping and dumping sand inside the water, simple joys. The clouds were helpful in shielding off the hot sun most of the time and it was great fun. But when the sun came out, we could see through the clear water and sometimes caught sight of a few tiny fishes.
We returned to the room close to 1230pm and quickly ate some food for lunch that mommy had ordered for room service. Then we hurried to check out at 130pm. Check out was no fuss but waiting for the shuttle was a blur, but I’m kinda used to the chaos and the relaxed pace already. We were told to just stand around and wait and when the big bus came, we figured that’s the bus and asked again before we loaded up the bus.
Once onboard we slept all the way to the airport arriving at 230pm. We unloaded the luggage and proceeded to check in at Jetstar pacific for 405pm flight to HCMC. Went through to the departure area and went window shopping for a bit at the multiple stalls selling different products. Saw a few Kipling bags that looked very suspicious. Then we proceeded to have our small lunch at Star Cafe, having just a sandwich and 2 coffees for 193k.
A short wait at the gate before we boarded the small plane and it was just a short hour trip before we arrived into HCMC for the final leg of the trip.
Upon arrival, we picked up the luggage and was stopped for the random luggage checks (we sort of have this thing of getting stopped at these checks). After exit, we booked a Grabcar to our hotel for 88k ( no one picked up my request but mommy got a match quickly) and it took almost an hour to reach our hotel, the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon, after negotiating the heavy traffic to district 1, made worse by the fact that it was New Year’s eve and revellers were all heading to popular pedestrian street of Nguyen Hue in district 1 for the countdown.
We paid 100k for the ride and the bell took over our luggage. The check in was smooth and quick and we were happy that we were given the 2nd highest floor which would boost a good view of the river and the New Year fireworks! I had to confirm a couple of times to ensure that our room had also the view of the fireworks and was assured so. Thankfully the room was booked really early with a bet that the fireworks would be at the river and it paid off! In terms of costs, I didn’t think there was anywhere else that cost less for a room with a window view of the fireworks so it was definitely a good value!
The room had a really good view of the river and we were really glad! Because the room also came with club benefits, we proceeded to the 18th level to get some food.
When we arrived, we were shocked to find it extremely crowded, and I supposed it’s because of the view, which fortunately for us, we have the same view in our room. We initially wanted to go back to the room to consume our takeaways from the club and the staff actually agreed and even suggested to help us bring the food there (very impressive service)! However, one couple left and let us have the table and so we stayed.
There was quite a bit of variety but because we were not there early, the cakes were not being replenished so we took the leftovers. This was probably why the food didn’t taste fantastic.
We left the hotel to walk the streets and enjoy the festivities that’s going on. A walk thru the Nguyen Hue walking street, we saw the concert stage with the lights flashing and music booming. We walked away from the stage towards government building (People’s committee of Ho Chi Minh) at the other end and saw many people making their way or just sitting around waiting for the countdown to happen. The atmosphere was electric!
We made our way to Vincom center and entered that building with so many floors of shopping. We wanted to go to Funnyland check out if there were more affordable toys and using their free wifi, we could find these stores on the B2 with other similar children related stores. There weren’t any differences with what we saw in Da Nang and so we didn’t get anything. There was also a big Lock N Lock store here as well.
Went down one level to B3 and settled for some Japanese Ramen at Hachiban Ramen for dinner, as K was missing his ramen fix. Spent about 160k for a bowl of ramen, fried rice and apple juice. We ate till the mall was closed and had to climb up the escalators to the main entrance to exit the building.
Returned back the same way we came and this time, the walking street was getting more crowded than earlier on. We had to exit one of the street to a parallel street to continue, if not we would have been stuck in the crowd.
Back in the hotel, we spent the time on some play time and bath (unlike the previous rooms, this bath tub was a little small). And then it was time for the countdown.
Turned off the lights in the room to reduce the reflection from the windows and then we were treated to not one but 2 views of fireworks going off at 2 different places! The entire duration of the fireworks was about 15mins and we enjoyed the view in the comfort of our room. The street below us was full of people and we were glad we weren’t there!
After that it was lights out for the night, our first morning of 2020 in HCMC.
Woke up late since it was a day of fun at the water park which we got unlimited entry because of our stay at the the resort. But the slow pace of life continued from the day before.
There were 2 restaurants for breakfast and we were directed to the second one, not sure why. After reaching the start of the queue, we were supposed to scan our faces for entry but nothing was detected. Of course, as it wasn’t set up because during the night before, we were supposed to do it and now we realized why we were told to go to the concierge after check in (and we realized that was what was mumbled to us about). Anyhow they took our room numbers and we went in.
The area was in a mess, like a food war zone with many tables either taken or not cleaned up. One of the staff directed us to one table and she herself starting to clean up the table. The restaurant seemed severely understaffed. We settle K down and started to go to the buffet line.
Like many buffets before, this one had quite a variety and like many Vietnamese ones, there were options with pretty heavy, meaty stuff and rice. What was interesting here was that there was a kids station where the tables are shorter in height, designed for kids to go pick up their own food. It was an interesting concept, only thing that it was not that workable since I didn’t see any kids doing that.
However the pace at which the clean plates and bowls were being replenished was slow. I had to wait a while to get bowls so as to get K some yoghurt. And the hard boiled eggs tray had invisible eggs cos I never saw them. I couldn’t get omelette from the egg station and didn’t know the reason cos I couldn’t understand what the staff said, so I settled for scrambled eggs. K was disappointed without hard boiled eggs and didn’t like the scrambled ones.
Returned to the room to get dressed and brought along the water gun we bought in Da Nang and his safety vest and then we proceeded to the reception to get our photos taken and tagged to the individual room cards.
Along the way, we stopped by the kids club to check the place out. There were quite a number of children in there already. Most of the stuff in there looked more for kids in pre-kindergarten and K loved to play with those stuff meant for younger kids so he spent some time there and at the ball pool before we managed to get him out and continued our journey to the water park.
The tickets of the water park were tagged to the room cards and so we only needed to provide the cards for access into the park. Inside the small water park (by area), it did have quite a few options of fun. While mommy settled herself under shelter at the cafe, we went onto the lazy river, which in my opinion wasn’t lazy, the water was moving pretty quickly! So fast that some kids actually found themselves being washed away (it’s not deep so it’s ok). It felt nice sitting on a float as we went around pretty quickly.
We then went over to the wave pool which generated waves at certain periods (but I don’t know what’s the schedule as it seemed pretty random) and enjoyed some play time there. There was the usual play structure for children but K was afraid of the water splashes from the overhead big bucket and didn’t want to go there. He only tried twice on kiddy slides and then he was back at the wave pool.
For the adults there were bigger slides, I got on one with a mat (as K wanted me to go try and he watched) and it was pretty nice and decently fast. We couldn’t do the rest since those were for bigger boys but we can see that not all the slides were operational since there weren’t a lot of people.
We stopped for lunch and found that the only eating place was that cafe but it only served western food and had lots of people. We exited the park to go to the beach only to find a beach bar. In the end, we decided to go to Vinpearl land for lunch instead.
We walked back to Tower A where the pick up can be arranged and took the buggy there after it arrived (which was full as many people also had the intention to visit the theme park). It was a quick ride there taking only a couple of minutes. Went to the ticketing counter and was informed that there were no discounts for guests staying at Vinoasis but the only freebie was that guests who buy their tickets at the hotel itself would get unlimited entries whereas if we got the tickets from the counter itself, there was a dinner buffet from 5pm to 730pm. We didn’t have much of a choice and got the tickets for 1.4M (500k for adults and 400k for child).
To our dismay, we couldn’t find any other restaurant with sit in options other than Lotteria. Found ourselves seated with quite a crowd there and mommy went to purchase food while K and I waited and spent some time on phone games. And it was quite a long wait! The supposedly fast food only arrived after about 20mins of waiting.
Once done with lunch, we went on to look for rides (we missed the mermaid show and shark feeding show that happened during our lunch time and we decided to skip the water park there since most of the rides there were for heights 1.2M and above and K only already been to the water park within the resort) and got onto some of the rides like dizzy teacups and bumper cars (which was one of the popular ride) and later went into the much appreciated shelter (as it was freaking sunny) of the arcade zone. This was where we spent the most time (again), going from machines to machines to try out the different games, like what we did in Ba Na hills, even though the area here was not as big. There was a mini pirate ship but no one was operating it. K had a go at the indoor playground but there was no routes that led to the slides – the slides were more like a display.
After much persuasion (for K to leave), we managed to proceed to the aquarium. The aquarium was not very big but still there were some nice marine life to see, like one with a huge blue coloured fish with the huge moray eel, a baby shark tank with open surface and a long glass tunnel where we saw a stingray slapped against the wall. But compared to the time we spent at the arcade, we simply breezed thru.
Walked to the ferries wheel and there was a small queue for it. The wheel was going pretty slowly ( much like the pace of the entire island). While at the top, we were treated to a nice view of the surrounding in sunset hue. But soon after, we were down to the ground and it was over.
Went to the free dinner buffet which was close to the entrance of the musical fountain show and it was there that we saw most of the crowd (whereas the park wasn’t having a lot of people most of the time)! We got ourselves a table quickly and went to get the food from the buffet line which didn’t look good. Ate whatever we could eat (and worse off for K being a super choosy eater) for our dinner and proceeded to the fountain show to sit in.
K was looking extremely tired from not having enough sleep so we decided to skip the musical fountain show, thinking that we have seen enough fountain shows to know which were the good ones and which not. Also, coupled with the fact that after the show, there might not be enough transportation back, we decided to return. We boarded the buggy as soon as it arrived and we were back to the room, after getting ourselves some scopes of (paid but delicious!) ice cream from the stall near the bar for 55k each cup.
We spent the night watching YouTube videos of the fountain show and were gutted to find out that we were wrong! The fountain show looked really impressive but it was too bad that we made the choice to return to the room earlier. Spent the remainder of the night with K with his Beyblades and bath time before going to bed.
Our last day in Da Nang and with nothing planned, we slept in late but woke up just in time to allow us to have breakfast at the buffet.
After breakfast, went up to the 23rd floor to check out the kids club as K was interested to see what’s there. Spent a couple of minutes there as he tried the kiddy slides and small ball pool and a tiny fussball table that he played with other kids. Then we managed to get him to leave for the beach.
My Khe beach was just across the road as we made our way there. This was supposedly one of the best beach in the world with long stretches of white sand going as far as the eyes can see. We spent some time playing at the beach making sand shapes and volcano but the weather wasn’t good, with moments of rain mists and a very cloudy view. The waves were extremely choppy removing the possibility of any water play at all.
After the visit, we returned to the room to check out at 1230pm, after successfully requesting for late check out after our breakfast. We booked a Grabcar for 34k that brought us to a shopping more called Vincom Plaza. This was a decent sized mall and a couple of stores selling kids stuff on the 3rd floor. We went into one and bought some Beyblades toys which we thought was pretty cheap deal (5 starter beyblades, 1 booster and 1 launcher for 899k dong and the arena for 445k dong). Maybe it’s because it was made in Vietnam and these were older season ones.
The fourth floor had all the food restaurants which was weirdly most BBQ or hotpot related food but we found one Caracoli coffee that had Vietnamese meals of pho and sandwich. Paid 250k for lunch and we went to the ground floor for some window shopping and a visit to Starbucks before getting onto another Grab back to the hotel for 30k. Our driver to the airport was already waiting for us and as I quickly packed the luggage with the stuff that we bought, while mommy and K made their last visits to toilets before we were on our 30mins trip to the airport.
We alighted at the international airport but found that it was the wrong one, so we went back to the ground floor and walked the 5 mins to the domestic terminal before checking in at the Jetstar Pacific counter for our flight to Phu Quoc.
The domestic airport was quite small, after we got through the checks and did some window shopping, we ended up waiting at the gate. The plane we were taking was small too and we had to take a bus there to board. The bus arrival was very infrequent and we had to wait for quite a while before we could board it to get to the plane. It took a while for us to board the plane and settle in with a line of people doing the same. Soon we were in the air and K was also fast asleep.
The 2 hrs flight was pretty uneventful to say the least, most of the time I spent sleeping, and while seated at the aisle, I missed the sunset outside the window. We landed in Phu Quoc ahead of time.
The luggage came from the belt and we found stickers pasted onto them, with the information that we were winners of some gifts and thought that these might be scams. We brought them thru the to the arrivals (and after a stringent check by one of the airport staff there to ensure we got the right luggage by checking the luggage tags, so luckily we got the sticker luggage tags with me), a staff gave us some gifts in exchange for a photo. The gifts were Vietnamese candies.
Immediately after the arrivals outside was a Vinpearl counter where we confirm our registration for the shuttle bus to the Vinoasis Phu Quoc Resort. We then realized that as more and more people gathered, we weren’t going to get to the resort quickly. As predicted, things were moving pretty slowly. We only got onboard the bus at 710pm and by 8pm, we arrived at the sprawling resort.
Went to check in and took a while before we were given our rooms. There were so many people moving around and trying to check in that it felt pretty chaotic. Plus I couldn’t quite catch what the staff was saying so we just proceeded to our rooms.
The room looked luxuriously designed though not big as the previous ones but I wasn’t complaining and was happy to be in the room. We settled down for a bit before we went to the Almaz cuisine and leisure center to check out the place for dinner.
The night view of Almaz center looked pretty nice. The retail shops didn’t look fantastic though, mostly retailing goods that we had no interest in. There were quite a few restaurants and we ended up in a Almaz beer club. There were not many patrons inside the bar itself and the staff was playing Vietnamese KTV music inside. The food took a long time to come and it was just frustrating that we had to keep asking for the food. K spent his waiting time with books (amazingly in a bar and waiting patiently). The food was ok though but it was just taking too long. We left the bar at only 1030pm and paid 807k for the dinner.
We returned to the room walking after exploring the ground floor of the resort for a bit, the place had many Xmas decorations of balloons to take photos with. The night was spent mostly on battles with beyblades and we went to sleep reluctantly at close to 1am.
After the long day yesterday, it was hard to get out of bed especially for K. We got most of our stuff ready and had to take some time to wake K up and warm him up before bringing him to the buffet breakfast. (Tried asking if we could bring food back to the room but wasn’t able to)
The restaurant was already crowded but there were still tables available. Got ourselves some food from quite a variety, there were just lots of meat and I thought it was rather a heavy breakfast.
We were supposed to meet the driver at 830am but we arrived at 850am instead. Couldn’t tell which was the driver and so just waited on the first floor while mommy and K went to the supermarket to get some stuff. The driver whom was already there actually went back to the car to write my name on a paper and then that’s when we met up.
Started our 45mins journey to Ba Na hills and along the way at 5mins before the arrival, the driver let us buy our tickets at one of the shops along the street, probably to avoid the crowd at the actual place. Even though my email communication with the tour agent mentioned the inclusion of the tickets, the driver wasn’t aware so I just bought the tickets to be sure. The tickets costed 750k per adult and 600k per child.
After alighting, we went to board the bus that brought us to the entrance, seemed like taxis or cars were not allowed to let passengers alight there. There were multiple cable cars up to Ba Na hills and we just carried on walking to find the shortest queues as hordes of tour groups queued at the Hoi An station, supposedly the one that goes to the famed Golden Bridge made viral by social media. Our station was Suoi Mo station where the queue was still long but at least it was moving.
We got onto a rather large gondola and what we didn’t expect was the time it took to get to the top. It took very long! From the gondola we could see the sprawling green forest below and at a distance there were the other cable cars line running to the top too. Then we began to enter into the fog which made it looked like we were travelling into the clouds.
At the top, we could feel the temperature was already lowered and while I was there with short sleeve and chinos, it wasn’t unbearably cold. Once we exited the station, we entered into what looked like French historical architecture, bringing us into imaginary France!
We didn’t walk around but went down to the Fantasy Park first. The park consisted of 3 floors of games and play and seemed like a paradise for children. However, after spending some time there, we realized there actually weren’t many rides available. The few of the exciting ones K was too short for it. We took 2 simulation rides which was quite ok, K spent some time at the indoor playground but didn’t quite enjoy it since there weren’t any other kids around and he’s kinda scared being alone (since parents weren’t allowed either). There were some carnival games but we didn’t play those and the rest were dominated by arcade games which we spent the most time at. These games were all free but didn’t generate any tickets (since there were already free) and thus were just demo games for people to try.
After we managed to get K to stop playing, we proceeded to get lunch. We went around and ended up at the wax museum which we found required entrance fees and so we only took a few photos with the transformers before heading to the France. Back at the open area, we saw a certain Thai Market and decided to have Thai food for a change. We ordered Phad Thai and fried rice and 2 cups of drinks and sat at the tables available there. The food didn’t taste good. It cost about 300k in total.
We thought we would get some cheesecake to supplement and went to the Starbucks there. The place was just too crowded and we tried to look for other bakeries and found one bakery that sold cakes. Bought a coconut choco and one caramelised cake and 2 coffees to eat.
After that, we took a stroll around and as we headed to the back, we realized that there was a pagoda and a viewing deck. Mommy and K didn’t want to go up and so I made my way up quickly to have a look. Took some photos of the pagoda and the area around and went up the bell tower to shoot an aerial view of the town. The bell tower was an automated one with the log being activated by a machine.
We took the cable car from Morin station to Depay station and saw the long queue for the alpine coaster which we skipped (but most likely the best ride there in Ba Na hills judging from the long queue). Upon reaching the station, we proceeded quickly to the funicular so as to bring us to the Golden Bridge quickly.
Disembarked and we were lost as there were no signs pointing to the bridge, only to the garden which we didn’t have time to visit. Asked around and finally found the way there but the entire place was so foggy and we couldn’t get a clear photo of the gigantic hands. Went to queue for the cable car to get back to ground level.
The journey down was long and so was the queue for the cable as everyone seemed to be returning at the same. Again there were just many tour groups of people and the queues became a massive amount of people trying to get to the cable car. Thankfully we didn’t have to squeeze in the cable car and soon, after passing through some time in the fog in the gondola, we arrived at the bottom of the hill.
On the way back, we got some snacks from the food stall (K had his icecream that he had been asking the whole day but because it was cold up there we didn’t agree to it). Got on the transfer bus and alighted back at the location where we were left off and Whatsapp our driver who managed to find us at the bus station.
On the way back, the driver returned the money to us for the tickets after clarifications with the office. K fell asleep during the 45mins back.
Upon arrival at the hotel, K and mommy rested back in the room while I went alone to the top of the hotel (where there was a bar and swimming pool) on the 25th floor to catch a panoramic view of the beach and Da Nang and it was beautiful! We then spent the evening in front of TV and bath time.
Before heading out to dinner, I brought K to the top to see the area lighted up. Took another couple of photos before meeting mommy at the lobby.
We walked down the street to a small restaurant called the Red Window for dinner. It was ran by a group of locals who also ran the accommodation and the food served was delicious. The humble people didn’t want to charge us the pancake because it looked too ugly but we couldn’t accept that and paid 350k in all including some tips.
Our Grab taxi picked us up and dropped us all at the Dragon bridge for 48k. I mistakenly asked us to be dropped at the tail and had to walk the entire bridge distance back to the head where it’s supposed to spit fire at 9pm (only on weekends and holidays). We joined the crowd which was already gathered near the head to see this spectacle and at 9pm, the traffic to the bridge was stopped and the show began!
There were 2 rounds of fire spitting and 2 rounds of water spray. Since we were closed we could feel slightly the heat of the fire! Luckily we couldn’t feel the water as the wind blew the other direction and drenched the people standing at the other side of the road! We were too close for a good photo and it would been nicer to stand further away near the bank rather than on the bridge.
After this short but interesting show, we walked back along the road, passing by a super crowded Son Tra night market and stopped near a building to book another Grab back to the hotel. This ride was 25k and the driver took awhile to arrive, having to negotiate the crazy traffic to get to us.
Our night was spent getting ready for bed which wasn’t difficult considering the long day out.
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.
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.