This year has been full of travel! (Hence our sporadic postings!) We have so much to catch you up on! In February, I took a tour with Intrepid Travel called the Cambodian Traveler. It took me to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. My first stop- Ho Chi Minh City.
The trip started on a really high note when after checking into my Cathay Pacific flight I was called back to the check in counter and asked for my boarding pass. As a jaded New Yorker my first thought was “Oh crap, what’s wrong now?”, but instead I was handed a new boarding pass with a new seat assignment….Business Class! My chin hit the ground and I thanked the check-in agent and walked away quickly before he could change his mind. I was in shock! Inside, I was jumping up and down like a little kid and I called Renee and told her the good news. Needless to say, she was a bit jealous!
I located the Business Class lounge at JFK and waited there until my flight was called enjoying a light breakfast as well as a glass of wine before the flight. Why not?
The flight time to Hong Kong was almost 16 hours during which I ate like a king! For airline food, Cathay Pacific serves up dishes that are actually restaurant worthy.
Marinated prawns with grilled asparagus and artichoke mousse
Imperial fried noodles and Chinese dim sum
Chicken with chili vinegar sauce egg fried rice and kalian
All of that plus a strawberry smoothie, cheese and fruit and a piece of chocolate truffle cake. Oh, and a snack of barbecued duck in noodle soup! I think I gained weight for sure and the trip had barely started.
I slept comfortably in my pod, watched a few movies and countless television shows before we finally landed in Hong Kong where there was a 2 hour layover before another flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City a little after 6pm on Friday and the amazing thing is that the hustle and bustle of the city starts right at the gate of the airport! There was no break from the din of horns and the frantic frenetic nature of the driving for the entire ride into the city center!
I checked in, showered and went to explore the area. One curious thing about some hotels in Vietnam is that not all rooms have windows, and mine was one of them. It certainly made for good sleeping because it was so dark, but it also was a bit cave like and you never knew what time of day it was.
As I ventured out into Ho Chi Minh City, even at almost 9pm, the flow of motor scooters seemed never ending. I later found out that there are about 4 million scooters registered in the city! Incredible!
On my own for a few days before the official tour began, I took advantage of the time and tried to see as much as possible. That first night I found a great little place up an alley and off a side street-The Huong Viet Restaurant (Vietnamese Aroma) where for 250,000 VND (about $12) I had an appetizer of spring rolls followed by beef rolls served with a very light noodle that looked like rolled gauze and just melted in your mouth like cotton candy. I also drank a liter bottle of Tiger beer hoping it would help me sleep. I was wrong! I got back to the hotel and fell asleep quickly but was up by 3:30 am-jet lagged and not knowing what day or time it was.
I stayed wide awake until breakfast which turned out to be an interesting and eclectic mix of eastern and western food. But not just breakfast foods, there was spaghetti bolognaise being served right next to the bacon and a steaming pot of Pho simmering by the omelet station.
My first morning was filled with so many sites. I toured the Reunification Palace, Norte Dame and the Ben Thἀn Market. By mid afternoon and the temperature was already in the 90’s- a big change from the winter I was experiencing in New York right before I left-and the heat and lack of sleep had finally caught up, so it was time to head back to the hotel for a cool shower and a very long nap.
The largest lacquer painting in the world is housed in the Reunification Palace
The Dining Room
Ben Thἀn Market
Sunday was my last full day in Ho Chi Minh before I’d met the tour group for our trip to Cambodia the next day. My first stop after breakfast was The War Remnants Museum. It was extremely interesting to see the Vietnam War from the other side. It was also no holds barred either in their description of the horrors of the war. They certainly don’t hold the same feelings towards the French as they do with the Americans. I was actually taken aback a bit, but only because I didn’t fully expect to confront the anger that is still predominate.
I was also surprised to see in the gift shop that they were selling original dog tags. From what I could make out, they looked as though they belonged to South Vietnamese soldiers. I was left to wonder what happened to the original owners of them. An odd souvenir for purchase.
After the museum I needed a little uplifting so I took a cab across town to Chinatown and the Binh Tay market. I was really hoping to find some good food stalls but I left disappointed because I could not find a single one! It was mostly house wares and such. So after a quick snack it was nearly time for me to meet the group I would be with and have our first of many group dinners, so I just headed back to the hotel to get ready.
The thing about traveling with a group is that you never know what kind of people you are going to get. Thankfully, everyone seemed really amazing! There were 12 of us total and people came from every corner of the globe; New Zealand, Vancouver, Germany, UK, and a few Americans all ranging in age from mid 20’s to mid 70’s. Our guide, Sky, was Cambodian and really got us excited for the adventure we were about to embark on.
Tomorrow, an early bus ride to Phnom Penh….