Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:30:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Núi Dinh Mountain & Springs http://vietnamcoracle.com/nui-dinh-mountain-springs/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/nui-dinh-mountain-springs/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 10:59:20 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=24654 Continue reading ]]> First published February 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Some 90 minutes from Saigon, Núi Dinh Mountain is an unexpected swell of high ground, rising above the flat expanse of several river deltas. As unlikely as it seems from ground level – where the industrial sprawl along Highway QL51 appears to have poisoned the land as far as the eye can see – Núi Dinh Mountain is a peaceful retreat into the trees and streams on its rocky slopes, upon which perch dozens of Buddhist temples and pagodas. On the lower slopes, Suối Đá and Suối Tiên are freshwater springs which trickle down the mountainside, forming multiple natural pools that are good for bathing. Situated behind the pleasant streets of Ba Ria town, Núi Dinh Mountain and springs are easily accessible on two wheels (just 70km from Saigon), making them ideal for a day-trip from the city or as a stop on a longer road trip following the Ocean Road to Mui Ne.

Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, VietnamJust 70km from Sagion, the slopes of Núi Dinh Mountain are scattered with temples & freshwater springs

[Back Top]


GUIDE: NÚI DINH MOUNTAIN & SPRINGS


In this guide, I’ve written a description of Suối Đá and Suối Tiên springs and Núi Dinh Mountain, followed by information about nearby accommodation, and transportation from Saigon. I’ve plotted all the places mentioned in this guide on my map. (For more ideas about places to visit near Saigon, see Related Posts.)

Click an item below to read more about it:

MAP:

Núi Dinh Mountain & Springs, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


The Springs:

On the southern slopes of Nui Dinh Mountain, a gurgling stream runs through dense foliage and over giant boulders, flowing into several rock pools as it descends to the flat floodplains at the bottom of the mountain. Two points along the stream are easily accessible to visitors: Suối Đá and Suối Tiên. Although these two are connected by a steep and scenic pathway, there are also separate roads leading to the entrances of each one.

The road to Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamA concrete lane leads from Highway 51 up to the springs on the lower slopes of Núi Dinh Mountain

Suối Đá consists of five different bathing pools on multiple levels, where the stream has flowed into rock pools: some are natural pools, others are man-made. From the parking lot it’s a steep (and hot) walk between the pools (called hồ in Vietnamese). Each hồ is numbered 1-5, and it doesn’t take long to walk from one to another. But be careful on the pathways, because some of the stone steps are unstable and it would be very easy to twist your ankle. Entrance is free (at least it is during the daytime on weekdays when it’s very quiet, but there may be a small entrance fee on weekends or public holidays, when the springs get extremely busy).

Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamSuoi Da Spring consists of 5 levels of rock pools that are good for bathing in the cool water

The bathing pools are very attractive, surrounded by large rocks and greenery. Bamboo platforms with tarpaulin roofs have been erected around the water’s edge, where you can sit or swing in a hammock. Even during the height of the southern dry season (February-March) there’s still water in the stream. But bear in mind that the heavy rains of the southern monsoon (May-October) changes the character of the stream dramatically: after a storm, the area can be overwhelmed by water running off the mountain.

Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamWooden platforms covered by tarpaulins cluster around the pools for sitting, picnicking & relaxing

The water is clean enough to bathe in, and the temperature is lovely and cool – very refreshing on a hot, humid day. Food and drink is available from the makeshift shacks at all of the pools. One could easily spend a relaxing few hours here: reading a book, eating and drinking with friends, or dozing in a hammock listening to the trickling water.

Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamSpending a couple of hours wandering around the pools, chilling out & swimming is a lot of fun

However, if you want to enjoy the springs in peace and tranquility, try to arrive in the middle of the day on a weekday, because it gets very busy, noisy and dirty on weekends, when blaring karaoke muffles the sound of gushing water, and trash ruins the natural setting. The latter is a huge problem all over Vietnam, especially in beauty spots, such as this. During the week, the trash – which is all too apparent, strewn among the trees, left on the boulders, squeezed between the rocks in the stream – is just about bearable. But on the weekends, when groups of picnickers can be seen throwing their garbage in the water or the foliage, it’s too depressing to ignore. (I’ve written at length about the problem of trash here.)

Trash threatens to ruin Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamA common sight: sadly, trash threatens to ruin this natural setting; at the moment it’s just about bearable

Further up the mountain, Suối Tiên is accessed via a good road weaving through eucalyptus trees to the spring. (Alternatively, you can walk along a pretty pathway from pool No.5 [hồ 5] in Suối Đá all the way along the stream to Suối Tiên.) From the parking lot (entrance is free) several steep, rocky paths lead down to a large, blue pool of water surrounded by jungle vines, whose twisting roots spread over the smooth boulders dotted about the stream. It’s a lovely, shady enclosure, with plastic tables on a concrete bank where you can sit with a drink or snack from the little cafe-shack. Again, litter is a problem here, and again, if you want to avoid the crowds, visit during the middle of the day on a weekday.

Suoi Tien Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamAccessed via a different road, or on foot from Suoi Da, Suoi Tien is another cooling pool of blue water

[Back to Contents]


Núi Dinh Mountain:

The winding road to Suối Tiên spring continues up the mountain for a few more kilometres. It’s a pleasant ride along a good road through eucalyptus trees, with occasional glimpses of the flat, flooded plains below. The tarmac comes to an abrupt end at a fork in the road. Straight ahead is Chùa Diệu Linh Temple. But if you bear right onto the dirt road this eventually leads to Hang Mai Pagoda, near the top of Núi Dinh Mountain. Shortly after the fork, turn left up a very steep concrete path (signposted to Chùa Hang Mai). On busy days, you may not be allowed to ride this lane on a motorbike, in which case you’ll need to park your bike and hike to the top. However, during the week this shouldn’t be necessary. Riding up is a lot of fun, but the gradient is quite extreme and many sections are unpaved: if the weather has been wet, it can be very treacherous indeed, but in dry conditions it’s fine.

The road to Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamA paved lane (occasionally deteriorating into a dirt path) leads all the way up Núi Dinh Mountain

The scenic ride through the trees to the top of the mountain takes about 15 minutes. It’s wonderfully quiet up on the mountain, and the air is cooler than down on the plains. There’s nobody around: just you, your motorbike, the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, and the sound of birds in the trees. It’s a different world to the industrial sprawl that exists at the bottom of the mountain, along Highway 51.

Eucalyptus forests on Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamThe quiet pathway to the top of Núi Dinh Mountain goes through eucalyptus forests to Hang Mai Pagoda

At the top, the road descends sharply and ends at Hang Mai Pagoda. Although there has been a Buddhist temple here for years, it is currently undergoing major renovations and expansion. Constructed around a collection of giant boulders, the pagoda complex looks out over a vast landscape, including the surrounding mountains, fruit plantations, Phu My industrial zone, the ports and loading cranes along the river, expansive flood plains, and all the way out to the sea, near Vung Tau.

Hang Mai pagoda, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamHang Mai Pagoda sits near the top of Núi Dinh Mountain with expansive views over the delta & sea

The monks that live here are very hospitable and may ask you for tea and food (vegetarian food, of course). The new temple consists of four storeys, each one with opened-sided prayer rooms offering fantastic views. The wooden carvings, bas-reliefs, murals, altars, bells and gongs that decorate the pagoda appear (at least to my untrained eye) to be of a finer quality than many of the other Buddhist places of worship I’ve visited in Vietnam.

Hang Mai pagoda, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamHang Mai pagoda is being expanded. The monks living here are friendly & may invite you for food & tea

I can quite happily spend an hour or two up here, listening to the chimes of the gong in the late afternoon as the sun begins to fall to the west, bathing the river docks in a hazy orange light, picking out the container ships on the sea off the Vung Tau coast, and lighting the eucalyptus trees on the mountainside until they look like a forests of matches that have been simultaneously ignited.

Hang Mai Pagoda, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamHang Mai pagoda is a peaceful place: I can easily spend a few hours here, especially at dusk

But Hang Mai is not the only sacred place on Núi Dinh Mountain. Indeed, the slopes are home to dozens of temples, pagodas and shrines. The largest complex is Thiền Tôn Phật Quang which is also still under construction. When it’s finished it will boast a colossal seated Buddha. The monks here are particularly zealous (in a friendly way) and were very keen to convert me, dressing me in robes and prostrating me in front of the altar to pray. But of all the religious sites on the mountain (which can be accessed by numerous tracks and pathways), the one I feel most attracted to is Di Đà Sơn Shrine. Accessed via a paved lane before reaching Suối Tiên, there is nothing fancy here: just a collection of sculptures under a tripod of freestanding boulders. It’s a pretty spot with a certain ‘atmosphere’, and rocky ledges on which to sit in the shade of a tree and gaze out over the landscape.

Di Đà Sơn Shrine, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamDi Đà Sơn shrine: the slopes of Núi Dinh Mountain are scattered with dozens of places of worship

[Back to Contents]


Accommodation:

There’s no accommodation on the mountain (although if you’re lucky the monks might invite you to stay for a night at one of the pagodas), but at Suối Đá springs you can rent a tent (100,000vnd for as many people as you can fit), which is pitched on one of the wooden platforms above the water. Ask at any of the shacks on any of the levels (hồ) and they should be able to set it up for you. This is a good option for budget travellers to spend a night in the open. It also allows you to enjoy the springs in the early morning, when there’s nobody about. Otherwise, head into Ba Ria town, just a 5-minute ride up the road. Ba Ria is a clean, friendly and very likable place with a few good mini-hotels, which are perfect for a night after visiting the mountain and springs. Try Motel Le Hoa (149 Bach Dang Street), Galaxy 3 Hotel (190 Bach Dang Street), and Thanh Sang Motel (26-28 Le Thanh Duy Street), all offering simple, clean rooms for around 150,000-300,000vnd a night. If you have your own tent, it’s possible to ‘wild camp’ on the mountain, down the dirt tracks leading into the forests of eucalyptus trees. But if you decide to do this, make sure you do it discreetly and responsibly. For travellers wanting to stay by the beach, Ho Tram and Ho Coc are only a 30-45 minute ride away. Ba Ria also has lots of good, cheap street food.

Accommodation at Suoi Da Spring, Núi Dinh Mountain, Ba Ria, VietnamYou can sleep at Suoi Da Springs in tents on wooden platforms above the water, or get a room in Ba Ria

[Back to Contents]


Transportation:

From Saigon, it’s a 90-minute to 2-hour ride by motorbike to the mountain and springs. It’s not a pretty ride because it involves going through Saigon’s industrial sprawl and then along busy Highway QL51. But the roads are in good condition, and if you leave early in the morning (before 5am) or late in the evening (after 7.30pm), you’ll avoid the worst of the traffic. Take the back route out of Saigon, via the Cat Lai ferry, and continue through Nhon Trach industrial zone before turning due south onto Highway QL51. The turn off the highway for Suối Đá springs is next to Chu Hai Church, and the turn off for Suối Tiên and the Núi Dinh Mountain road (Đường Xe Lên Núi Dinh) is just a kilometre or so further along the highway. Motorbike or bicycle is by far the best and easiest way to get to the mountain and springs, but you could also jump on one of the many Saigon-Vung Tau minibuses and ask to be let off at the turn off for the springs or mountain. However, you’d still need to get from the road to the springs, which is a fair walk. Another (more expensive) option is to take a taxi from Saigon. If you’re travelling by motorbike, you can easily continue your road trip from Núi Dinh Mountain to the Ocean Road, leading all the way to Mui Ne and beyond.

The road to Núi Dinh Mountain & Springs, Ba Ria, VietnamThe ride from Saigon to Núi Dinh Mountain takes about 90 minutes & the roads are in good condition

[Back to Contents]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/nui-dinh-mountain-springs/feed/ 0
The Floating Forest of Long An http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-floating-forest-of-long-an/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-floating-forest-of-long-an/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 05:21:47 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=24486 Continue reading ]]> First published February 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Only 100km west of Ho Chi Minh City, Làng Nổi Tân Lập is an enchanted patch of wetland where cajeput trees rise from the black, swampy waters creating beguiling corridors through which canoes glide and raised walkways wind. Located in Long An Province, whose vast, flat, agricultural lands stretch right to the Cambodian border, Làng Nổi Tân Lập literally means, ‘Tan Lap Floating Village’. However, I think ‘floating forest’ is both more accurate and more romantic, and that is how I will refer to it throughout this guide (which, I guess, would make it Rừng Nổi Tân Lập in Vietnamese). Within 2 hours’ ride of Saigon, the Floating Forest is ideal for a day-night trip from the city, especially by motorbike. There’s camping and accommodation at the Floating Forest itself, or you can combine a visit here with a night in a wooden hut at the wonderful lotus lake homestays in nearby Thap Muoi. Either way, this is a great way to spend 24-48 hours away from the Big Smoke.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamThe Floating Forest of Tan Lap is easily reached from Saigon, making an ideal day-trip by motorbike

[Back Top]


GUIDE: TÂN LẬP FLOATING FOREST


In the following guide, I’ve written an overview of visiting Tan Lap Floating Forest, including ticket prices, activities, and accommodation information. I assume that most travellers will make their own way here from Saigon on two wheels, via roads QL N1 and QL62. The Floating Forest is great as a day-night trip from Saigon, but also as a stop on a longer road trip in the Mekong Delta, for example the Mountains in the Mekong route, or Riding to Phu Quoc Island.


MAP:

Tân Lập Floating Forest, Long An Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back Top]


Ever since I first heard about Tan Lap Floating Forest, I was skeptical: Long An Province is not a place I associated with forests and natural beauty. Rather I saw it as an industrial suburb of Saigon: a place where the factories, which drive the southern hub’s economic boom, sprawl to the pollution-blurred horizon. But Long An is a big province, spreading 200km west of Saigon into the agricultural heartland of the Mekong Delta, and it changes quickly from urban to rural. Indeed, to get to the Floating Forest it is necessary to ride through the awful, dust-choked industrial zones, but, after an hour or so, the air clears and the traffic fades: fields and trees replace factories and fumes, the ashen sky becomes blue, green seeps into the landscape, and nature replaces industry. Suddenly, the idea of a natural attraction in Long An Province doesn’t seem so improbable.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamOnly 100km from Saigon, the Floating Forest is a breath of fresh air (literally) after the smog of the city

Làng Nổi Tân Lập is located just off National Highway QL62, only 25km from Cambodia. Trucks ply this route to and from the border, which is a shame because the noise from the road can be heard from within the Floating Forest, distracting slightly from the peace and stillness of the natural environment. The entrance to the Floating Forest is marked by a large gate and an enormous car park, which, if you visit during the week, will be entirely empty, but on weekends is likely to be full. Despite being open for several years now, construction is still ongoing: the reception and ticket office was surrounded by cement mixers at the time of my last visit. New accommodation was being built and more activities are in the pipeline.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamReflections: cajeput trees grow out of the swampy waters creating Tan Lap Floating Forest

Don’t let these first impressions put you off, because things only get better the further into the forest you go. At the ticket office, the price list for all activities, accommodation, and food and drink is in Vietnamese and English. Staff are nice and helpful (although a bit robotic) so there shouldn’t be any problem buying your tickets. There are essentially two activities on offer (although this will change in the near future as new ones are opened), but because the price is so cheap you may as well buy tickets for both: entrance (including a short ferry ride to the forest proper and access to the raised walkways through the trees) is 60,000vnd, and a 30-minute ride in a canoe through the floating forest is an additional 40,000vnd. Together it’s only 100,000vnd ($5) per person. Considering you can stay in the forest for hours, just wandering around on the raised walkways, this is pretty good value for money.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamA motorized canoe takes you into the Floating Forest from where there are boat rides & walks

If you intend to stay the night at the Floating Forest, there are two types of accommodation: camping (100,000vnd for a two-man tent, which is pitched near the entrance, rather too close to the road to be peaceful), and an eight-storey hotel, which is located inside the Floating Forest. As this is by far the tallest structure for miles around, there are fabulous panoramic views, over the forest canopy and wetlands, from the balconies. Prices range from 560,000-1,080,000vnd ($25-$50) a night depending on the floor level, day of the week, and number of guests. In my opinion, a night in the hotel is very atmospheric and worthwhile, but camping here isn’t great. Instead, I would recommend heading an hour further west for a night in the excellent lotus lake homestays in Thap Muoi District ($5 a night). Note that there is no food available beyond the reception area, but drinks are sold within the Floating Forest.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamThe hotel (on the horizon) is by far the tallest structure around, so there are fantastic views over the forest

A motorized canoe whisks you from the reception area to the boat pier on the edge of the Floating Forest. Again, this short ride isn’t very impressive, thanks to large dredging barges, quite a bit of plastic refuse in the murky waters, and lots of cajeput trees being felled in order to create space for more ‘eco’ activities. (This is often the irony of so-called ecological tourist sites in Vietnam: so much of nature is cleared in order to make way for the ‘eco’ developments.) But don’t despair, because it does get better.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamWater lilies in the Floating Forest, which is still undergoing development for new activities

The boat pier is a pretty spot under the shade of trees. This is where little canoes depart, rowing through narrow channels between the cajeput forests. The hotel is also located here, on the banks of the waterway, and the network of raised concrete walkways leading through the forest all begin and end here. Take care when boarding the canoe, because they are very ‘tippy’ vessels. You’re required to wear a life jacket, and everyone is provided with a nón lá (traditional Vietnamese conical hat) to keep the sun off your head.

The Floating Forest of Tan Lap, Long An, VietnamA 30-minute canoe ride takes you through the channels between the cajeput trees

The first ten minutes of the canoe ride are unremarkable, but once you turn down the tight, narrow channels, within inches of the dense cajeput trees, it’s very beautiful. The light just about filters through the canopy, illuminating the strange, papery bark of the trees. It’s eerily still and quiet in the narrow waterways as you row between tree trunks and under the arches of several walking bridges. The atmosphere is hot, heavy and steamy. It’s easy to imagine yourself in a scene from Indiana Jones: crocodiles lurking beneath the surface of the black water, guarding the site of some ancient holy relic. But the crocodiles, if there ever were any, are long gone, and the general feeling I had was one of peace, reflection, and tranquility.

Tan Lap Floating Forest, Long An, VietnamThe narrow channels are particularly atmospheric, calm and peaceful to row through

The canoe ride is a half hour loop, ending back at the boat pier. From here, head on foot into the forest on one of the concrete pathways, which wind under the canopy, a few feet above the water, for more than five kilometres. There’s a map of the walkways before you enter, but it’s difficult to get lost because they all lead back to the boat station eventually, and there are regular signposts in the forest. A few bamboo shacks provide drinks, bathrooms and rubbish bins along the way.

Tan Lap Floating Forest, Long An, VietnamThere are over 5km of raised concrete walkways leading through the Floating Forest

Providing you visit on a weekday, walking in the Floating Forest is very rewarding. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring all the meandering routes – through the trees, over lakes filled with blooming water lilies, up to the top of a look-out tower, over wooden bridges – stopping to read a book, listening to the sounds of nature (and the road), and just generally wallowing in the fact that only a few hours ago you were riding through the soot-covered industrial suburbs of Saigon, and now you’re in the calm embrace of a floating cajeput forest.

Tan Lap Floating Forest, Long An, VietnamEmpty on weekdays (but busy on weekends), wandering through the Floating Forest can be very relaxing

The density of trees does something strange to the quality of light under the canopy. The colours are vague, washed-out, and muted, like the sepia tones of an old photograph or an Instagram filter. The raised walkways, strewn with fallen leaves, are themselves very photogenic. The pathways twist between the trunks in front of you, before being swallowed up by the trees. Indeed, the Floating Forest has become a favourite place for Vietnamese youth to come on weekend road trips for a session of selfie-taking.

Tan Lap Floating Forest, Long An, VietnamUnder the dense canopy, the sunlight filters through creating a distinctive ‘washed-out’ light

Back at the boat pier, a motorized canoe will take you back to the reception area near the entrance. If you’re hungry, lunch is served in the dining shack next to the car park, but there are also local rice eateries in Thanh Tan town, 15 minutes back down road QL62.

Tan Lap Floating Forest, Long An, VietnamTan Lap Floating Forest can be visited as a day-trip from Saigon or as a longer Mekong trip

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-floating-forest-of-long-an/feed/ 0
Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Mekong Delta http://vietnamcoracle.com/floating-lotus-lake-homestays-mekong-delta/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/floating-lotus-lake-homestays-mekong-delta/#comments Thu, 25 Jan 2018 14:15:34 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=24492 Continue reading ]]> First published January 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Atmospheric homestays in wood-and-thatch structures in scenic locations are something I normally associate with the mountains of northern Vietnam. But, in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, in Vietnam’s southwest, a collection of bamboo and palm-thatch huts on wooden stilts above a sea of lotus flowers and rice paddy, prove me wrong. In the lush and largely forgotten (at least by travellers) district on Thap Muoi, several stilt villages, connected by raised, rickety wooden platforms, offer a night in a hammock or on a futon under a mosquito net in a hut, just a few feet above the frogs, the fish, and the lotus. There’s excellent, locally-sourced food available, plenty of local alcohol, and lots of friendly southern charm to boot. Oh, and it’s dirt cheap too. This is a wonderful way to experience the Mekong, and it’s only a 2-3 hour drive from Saigon. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for the Lotus Lake Homestays please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaIn the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, several homestays offer simple huts above lotus fields

[Back Top]


REVIEW: LOTUS LAKE HOMESTAYS


Address: Hamlet 4, Tan Kieu Commune, Thap Muoi District, Dong Thap Province [MAP]

Average Price: $5 per night for a hammock or futon

BOOK HERE


MAP:

Lotus Lake Homestays, Thap Muoi District, Dong Thap Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back Top]


Dong Thap Province, roughly 120km west of Saigon, is usually overlooked by travellers, who tend to focus on more famous Mekong Delta sights and towns, such as the floating market of Cai Be, and the commercial hub of Can Tho. This has left Dong Thap, a green and, by Mekong Delta standards, quiet and sparsely populated province, relatively unvisited. About halfway along Provincial Road DT845, there’s a turn off for Gò Tháp, down a peaceful, green lane. After crossing a small bridge, a smaller lane turns back on itself, leading through a shady grove of trees and along the edge of a large expanse of flooded fields, full of rice seedlings and lotus flowers. On the edge of this flooded farmland, there are about half a dozen homestays consisting of clusters of wooden huts constructed on raised plank-walkways above the lotus lake.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaThe Lotus Lake Homestays are located down a small lane in Thap Muoi District, 120km west of Saigon

It’s difficult to know which of the homestays to choose. Personally, I like Hai Lúa, one of the first in the row. But 9 Theo and Hương Sen, further along the lane, are also very good. During the week, it’s quite likely that you’ll have the whole place to yourself, at least in the evenings. The owners tend to go to bed early (around 8pm), after which the lights go out, and you’re left to enjoy the peace and romance of a night suspended above sleeping lotus flowers and croaking frogs. But on weekends and public holidays it’s a very different experience: Vietnamese groups from around the region come to eat, drink and be merry, which involves a lot of great food, loads of rice wine, and lots of noise from the karaoke systems. Of course, this is not the peaceful, rural Mekong Delta experience that you might want/expect, but it can also be a lot of fun. Therefore, before planning a trip to the lotus lake homestays, bear in mind the differences of visiting during the week vs the weekend. Also note that during the week there’s no need to book in advance, but on the weekend there could be limited availability.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaThere are half a dozen homestays to choose from: I like Hai Lúa, which is one of the first on the road

As there’s no public transportation, the homestays are best reached by motorbike, bicycle or hired vehicle. If you really want to, you could reach the homestays by a series of connecting public buses from Saigon, but for the purposes of this guide, I am assuming most people will come on their own wheels. Motorbike parking is by the side of the road, opposite the homestays. The owner or staff member will come out to meet you and then punt you across the muddy canal, separating the road from the homestays, on a wooden raft. This alone is a lot of fun, and it sure beats the marbled lobbies of five-star hotels for a theatrical entrance. (During the night, your motorbike is also punted across the water to be kept safe in the homestay).

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaA small wooden barge punts guests across the channel separating the lane from the homestays

Your hosts will sit down to discuss prices, sleeping arrangements, and food and drink. In most cases, not much English is spoken, but as people in the Delta tend to be gregarious and outgoing, there’s rarely any problem with communication. Sleeping is between 100,000-150,000vnd ($5-$7) per person. There’s usually a choice of a hammock or a mattress on the floor, both under the thatched roof of one of the wooden huts. (It’s worth noting that, as romantic as a night in a hammock sounds, it’s not that comfortable after a few hours, so if you intend to get some sleep, it’s probably better to opt for the mattress.) The huts have mosquito nets, power sockets, WiFi, and small trash cans.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaSleeping is in wooden huts above the lotus fields: either in a hammock or on a futon under mosquito nets

Dinner is also negotiated on arrival, so that the family can prepare the ingredients for your meal. Most homestays have a full menu with prices. In general, each dish is between 50,000-150,000vnd. The food is all local: indeed, much of it is sourced from the homestay itself. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of lotus dishes on the menu – the lotus plant is famous in Vietnam for every part being edible: the stem, root, seed, flower; even the leaves are used to steam rice inside. In Vietnamese, lotus is sen, so make sure you order something with sen in it. Vegetables, including the ubiquitous and much-loved rau muống (morning glory), are very good, and so are the ‘Mekong meats’, such as rice fields rat (chuột đồng), snake (rắn), eel (lươn), frog (ếch), and snakehead fish (cá lóc). I know some of this might some too ‘weird’, but trust me, it’s all delicious, especially the rat and the eel and the fish. If you’re not feeling adventurous, there’s plenty of free-range chicken () dishes to choose from too. Alcohol options include the usual insipid Vietnamese beers, but much more interesting are the liquors (rượu). Try the rượu sen (29% proof lotus liquor), which is dry and slightly bitter. Depending on how many guests there are, your host may dine (and drink) with you.

Dinner at the Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaFood is locally sourced & very good, including lots of lotus-based dishes, like rice steamed in a lotus leaf

Most of the homestays are arranged in similar fashion: the host’s living quarters, dining area, and communal bathrooms are at the front, on a dyke between the canal and the flooded lotus fields, then a network of wooden platforms and walkways extend out over the lotus lake for about 50 metres, with a dozen or so thatched huts every few metres. The bathrooms are kept very clean but do not feature familiar Western-style conveniences, such as flush toilets and showers. Instead, a large amphora is filled with water, and a plastic scoop-bucket used to self-flush toilets and to shower. There’s running water from the taps in the sinks outside for brushing your teeth or washing your hands.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaMost homestays are similarly designed, including clean bathrooms but with self-flush toilets & showers

The most atmospheric times of day at the lotus lake homestays are dusk, night, and early morning. At dusk, as the temperatures cool, the homestay families work the lotus fields: checking the plants, catching fish and frogs (which live in the flooded fields), making repairs to the wooden plankways, and preparing dinner. At night, the chorus of cicadas and frogs is hypnotic and romantic: this is a good time to sit out on the walkways staring out over the dark fields. However, mosquitoes are a constant irritation, so make sure you cover up and bring good repellent. Also, remember to bring a flashlight, because there are many potentially dangerous wires and obstacles on the wooden walkways. The mornings start early, with motorized canoes on the canal, cockerels calling, and dogs barking. The lotus flowers are in full bloom during the first few hours of the day; they close from midday onwards.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaThe lotus & lilies are in full bloom during the mornings; at night the chorus of frogs is hypnotizing

Close to the homestays is the historical site of Gò Tháp/Tháp Mười. Recently excavated and restored, this is the site of several ancient towers, which were places of worship during the time of the Funan Kingdom. The towers, which are now little more than brick foundations, were active places of Hindu and Buddhist worship between the 4th-12th centuries CE. While there isn’t much to see here, there is a certain ‘sense of history’, and the area is also a nice, green, shady place to walk around. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Lotus Lake Homestay please BOOK HERE].

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Dong Thap Province, Mekong DeltaPrices are around $5 a night (food & drink is extra). You can check rates, availability and BOOK HERE

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this homestay and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/floating-lotus-lake-homestays-mekong-delta/feed/ 2
Eating Bánh Khọt in Vũng Tàu http://vietnamcoracle.com/eating-banh-khot-in-vung-tau/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/eating-banh-khot-in-vung-tau/#respond Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:38:40 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=24408 Continue reading ]]> First published January 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Bánh khọt are lovely little things: crispy discs of rice flour batter and coconut milk (fried in individual molds until they’re crunchy on the outside but moist on the inside), coloured with turmeric, topped with shrimp or squid, sprinkled with shrimp powder and spring onions, then served – a half-dozen at a time – on a plate piled high with big green leaves (lettuce and mustard leaf) and fresh herbs (sweet basil, water mint, perilla, fish mint) for wrapping and rolling, and then dipped in sweet and spicy fish sauce, and devoured in one go. Looking like a collection of asymmetrical coins from a haul of ancient treasure, bánh khọt are mostly found on the southeast coast, but nowhere more so than the thriving beach town of Vũng Tàu. Here, bánh khọt eateries are as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven stores in Bangkok: you’re rarely more than a 5-minute walk from one. Every Vũng Tàu local, and every Vietnamese foodie, has their personal favourite, but there are loads to choose from and I’ve rarely been disappointed with any. On this page, I’ve put together a list of just seven of the many good places to try bánh khọt in Vũng Tàu.

Eating bánh khọt in Vung Tau, VietnamBánh khọt are delicious little gems, and Vũng Tàu is arguably the best place to try them

[Back Top]


GUIDE: BÁNH KHỌT IN VŨNG TÀU


Bánh khọt is cheap, fun, finger food: it can be eaten at anytime of day; as a snack or a full meal; enjoyed alone or as a group. However, check the opening times of the places listed below, because not all of them are open all day. The following places to eat bánh khọt in Vũng Tàu are in no particular order: they are all good places to sample this dish, but none of them are perfect. This list is by no means exhaustive and I make no claim that these are the ‘best’ places to eat bánh khọt: keep an eye open for signs all over Vũng Tàu saying bánh khọt and you’ll surely discover many more. They tend to be in clusters in certain parts of town. Most are informal, family-run operations, many of which have been in business for years. To eat bánh khọt as the locals do, pick up one of the fried discs and wrap it in a big leaf with the smaller herb leaves inside, add some pickled radish or green papaya, fold it into a parcel, and dip it in the sweet-spicy sauce. It’s hands-on, finger-licking, fun food. Enjoy!

Click a name below to read more about it:

MAP:

7 good places to try Bánh Khọt in Vũng Tàu


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back Top]


• Bánh Khọt Gốc Vú Sữa

  • Address: 14 Nguyen Truong To Street [MAP]
  • Price: 50,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 7am-2pm (weekdays), 7am-8pm (weekends)

A golden oldie, Bánh Khọt Gốc Vú Sữa is named after the old, purple star-apple tree that grows beside it. This is a family-run, local place that has stood the test of time. The low tables and stools on the tiled floor are always packed, and the owners are fiercely proud of their product. Here, they use wood for their cooking fire: not gas or coal. This is the real deal, and, incidentally the first bánh khọt in Vũng Tàu that I ever had, (god knows when that was: probably 9 years ago now, but the experience has stayed with me). Today, this place is one of Vũng Tàu’s ‘famous’ go-to joints for bánh khọt. The little fried medallions are perhaps the least oily of all the ones in this list. The plate of greens is good and fresh, and there’s plenty of perilla (my favourite). The shrimp are large, and the overall flavour is lighter than others in this list. However, on the back of its fame, prices have gone up: these days, at 50,000vnd per dish, it’s one of the most expensive in the city.

Bánh khọt Gốc Vú Sữa, Vung Tau, VietnamBánh Khọt Gốc Vú Sữa is a local favourite, and it was the first I ever tried in Vũng Tàu, 9 years ago

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt Cô Xuân

  • Address: 438 Ba Muoi Thang Tu Street (30/4) [MAP]
  • Price: 25,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 3pm-9pm daily

As soon as you arrive here you know you’re somewhere good. Bánh Khọt Cô Xuân is out of the way, but it’s well-worth the trip. It doesn’t promise much from the outside (remember that good dining in Vietnam is rarely about appearances), but venture down the narrow corridor and you’ll find a hive of food-related activity. Locally famous (many Vũng Tàu residents will tell you that this is their favourite), Cô Xuân remains extremely informal: long rows of metallic tables and plastic stools line-up under a makeshift roof on a concrete floor, strewn with discarded tissues, sprigs of greenery and spillages of chilli sauce. The bánh khọt are cooked in full view of the customers; the whole place echoes to the sound of sizzling oil and joyful diners. The little fried rice flour coins are fresh, thin, crisp, tasty, soft, not too oily (though still pretty oily), and nice and creamy in the centre (thanks to plenty of coconut milk, I imagine). Head to Cô Xuân if you’re a street-food foodie – you won’t be disappointed, because this is about more than the food: it’s the full dining experience.

Bánh khọt Cô Xuân, Vung Tau, VietnamBánh Khọt Cô Xuân is a very local and informal place with a great dining atmosphere

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt 14

  • Address: 14 Hoang Hoa Tham Street [MAP]
  • Price: 50,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 7am-8.30pm daily

Bánh Khọt 14 is a relative newcomer, and it’s noticeably ‘higher end’ than other places in this list. All seating is inside, on ‘normal’ height tables and chairs (not stools), the walls are made of brick and have been plastered and painted, there’s a real roof on the building, and there’s no sign of corrugated iron anywhere (the preferred building material of many of the places in this list). All this unnecessary attention to decor might put some people off, but, what Bánh Khọt 14 lacks in street-style ambience, it makes up for in quality and presentation. The bánh khọt here are beautifully presented: so pretty it seems a shame to disturb them. The serving is big and generous, the leaves and herbs are enormous, and the family running the place are warm and welcoming. There’s a big price to reflect all this: 50,000vnd per plate. But when you think about it, some of the other so-called ‘famous’, long-running places in the list have the same price-tag, so what’s the difference. Also on offer here is bánh khọt mực sữa (baby squid), an interesting alternative to the traditional shrimp.

Bánh khọt 14, Vung Tau, VietnamBeautifully presented and boasting generous portions, Bánh Khọt 14 is a relatively new place

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt Cây Đa

  • Address: 21 Ly Thuong Kiet Street [MAP]
  • Price: 25,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 6am-1pm (weekdays), 6am-6pm (weekends)

On a pleasant leafy street (there are many of them in Vũng Tàu these days), Bánh Khọt Cây Đa is named after the banyan tree that’s growing right in the middle of this eatery: its twisted roots spiral up from the concrete floor and shoot through a hole in the corrugated iron roof. This feature, and the heaps of fresh green coconuts piled around the altar next to the trunk, make it a particularly atmospheric place. The bánh khọt are crispy and thin – more dainty and petite than other places in this list. They’re loaded with coconut milk and hence creamy on the inside and very flavourful. The herbs are not quite as fresh, clean and crisp as I’d like, but the cool and crunchy shredded green papaya makes up for this. It’s cheap too: 25,000vnd per dish.

Bánh khọt Cây Đa, Vung Tau, VietnamWith a banyan tree growing inside the dining area, Bánh Khọt Cây Đa is cheap and light

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt Miền Đông

  • Address: 59 Ba Trieu Street [MAP]
  • Price: 25,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 6am-9.30pm daily

Another cheapie, and a favourite among many Vietnamese foodies, Bánh Khọt Miền Đông is tucked away on a small back-street. An informal, friendly place serving local families, Vietnamese visitors from the bright lights of Saigon, and a smattering of Vũng Tàu expats, the bánh khọt here are small, crunchy and tasty, and the atmosphere pleasant. At 25,000vnd per dish, this is one of the cheapest in the list, and it’s much better value for money than other ‘famous’ bánh khọt joints that have doubled their prices because of their fame-tag.

Bánh khọt Miền Đông, Vung Tau, VietnamA local favourite, Bánh Khọt Miền Đông is a friendly, good quality place to eat

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt Cay Sung Cô Hai

  • Address: 17-19 Hoang Hoa Tham Street [MAP]
  • Price: 50,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 7am-8pm daily

Part of the fun of eating at Bánh Khọt Cây Sung Cô Hai is watching the cooking take place. The kitchen, where the little pancakes are fried in individual trays, is open to the street, allowing visitors to gaze at the process. The food itself is pretty tasty (but also pretty oily), and the older couple running the place are welcoming to diners. The herbs are especially good, and the shrimp are big and juicy. However, this is yet another ‘famous’ place whose fame has gone to its head, and the price no longer represents value for money: 50,000vnd per dish.

Bánh khọt Cây Sung Cô Hai, Vung Tau, VietnamGood and crispy, Bánh Khọt Cây Sung Cô Hai is centrally located but quite pricey for the quality

[Back to List]


• Bánh Khọt 368

  • Address: 25 Thong Nhat Street [MAP]
  • Price: 30,000vnd per dish
  • Opening times: 3pm-8.30pm daily

Unpretentious, cheap, very friendly and very good, Bánh Khọt 368 is not one of Vũng Tàu’s famous ones. But, to me, that’s a big part of its appeal. Located on the corner of a bustling intersection, opposite a park, this place is a palm-thatched, opened-sided shack, where a lovely family serve up good bánh khọt. Cooked out front on the sidewalk, over a coal-fired stove, the texture of the discs is just right, and they come with a basket of big, healthy-looking leaves (although there’s no perilla leaf). If you’re still hungry after, they share the space with another vendor who does fabulous grilled rotisserie chicken and pork.

Bánh khọt 368, Vung Tau, VietnamA delicious and unassuming place, Bánh Khọt 368 is located on a bustling city corner

[Back to List]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/eating-banh-khot-in-vung-tau/feed/ 0
Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An http://vietnamcoracle.com/lasenta-boutique-hotel-hoi-an/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/lasenta-boutique-hotel-hoi-an/#comments Fri, 12 Jan 2018 03:43:23 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23501 Continue reading ]]> First published January 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | MORE POSTS

In Hoi An, the general standard of accommodation, and value for money across all price ranges, is superb. Massive competition drives prices down and quality up. I recently passed through town and stayed at Lasenta Boutique Hotel. Even by the high standards of Hoi An, this is an excellent accommodation and very good value. These days, Hoi An and its immediate environs are very chic: it’s a sort of genteel suburb of Central Vietnam. The whole area is very tidy, pretty, affluent and friendly. While this might be something of a facade and perhaps not representative of the country as a whole, it’s a very attractive and charming place for foreign and Vietnamese tourists alike to stay. I was impressed with the way Lasenta Boutique Hotel created a pleasing, comfortable – and typically Hoi An – synthesis of the exotic and the familiar, the modern and the traditional, and Asian and European elements. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Lasenta Boutique Hotel please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamLasenta Boutique Hotel boasts rice field views, classy rooms and a marvellous outdoor infinity pool

[Back Top]


REVIEW: LASENTA BOUTIQUE HOI AN


Address: 57 Ly Thoung Kiet Street, Hoi An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Price: $60-$80 | Website: www.lasentahotel.com

BOOK HERE


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


Located on Ly Thuong Kiet Street, just northeast of Hoi An’s famous old quarter, Lasenta Boutque is a clever location for a new property. Since most riverside and old quarter locations have either already been developed or are so expensive that it’s no longer a viable option, Lasenta has positioned itself out of the old town (but still within easy walking distance of it), and traded river views and old quarter ambience for rice field views and rural tranquility. Indeed, as Hoi An has become such a huge draw for tourists, it’s actually rather nice to be just out of town: away from the thousands of walking visitors in the old quarter, and in the peace and greenery of typical Vietnamese farmland.

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamLasenta Boutique is located next to a peaceful sea of rice paddy, away from the crowded old town

At first glance, from the outside, Lasenta looks like a high-end boutique shopping mall. But inside it has a much more personal, small-hotel feel. The main entrance, lobby and concierge open onto a courtyard dotted with small water features, large ceramics, tropical plants and flowers, and tables and chairs. The courtyard is, in fact, an atrium, with the hotel’s six storeys of balustraded open-sided corridors, all dripping with greenery, spiraling up towards the open sky. (I wonder what happens when it rains.)

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamThe inner courtyard, or ‘atrium’, is tranquil & green, even during the hottest times of the day

The hotel’s restaurant, a rather glassy affair off to one side of the atrium, serves pretty good food throughout the day, including Asian and Western dishes. Breakfast, which is included in the room price, is large, varied and nicely presented, although I found some of the food strangely tasteless, but perhaps my taste buds hadn’t woken up yet on that particular morning.

Breakfast at Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamBreakfast, included in the room price, is good & well-presented, although perhaps a little bit bland

Apart from all the glass – which is good because it allows in lots of light and views of the countryside, but bad because it heats up the rooms during the day – the hotel has a distinctive Mediterranean feel: the tiled floors and white-washed walls, the open-sided, echoing corridors and courtyards. In the midday sun it can be a bit stark and unforgiving, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before some of the trees and vines grow out a bit and soften the surfaces.

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamThe tiled floors, open corridors & white-washed walls give Lasenta a Mediterranean feel

There are several room types available, but even the cheaper ones are large, spacious and well-equipped. Some rooms have balconies, but this isn’t necessarily worth paying more for, because all rooms have large windows that open fully, and because the hotel’s shared outdoor space, particularly around the infinity pool, is so good. However, I would definitely recommend booking a ‘nature view’ over a ‘city view’, because the former offers splendid vistas across a sea of green rice paddy, which is beautifully framed by the arched windows. (Note that the colour of the fields is, of course, subject to change depending on what stage the harvest in at during your visit.)

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamRooms have large windows or balconies with fabulous views over the countryside or city

Guest rooms are very neat, and the furniture is tidily arranged so as to make the most of the space: everything seems to fit perfectly into place, like Lego blocks. There are a lot of lines and angles, and the décor is modern and clean, verging on minimalist. Yet, there’s nothing impersonal or sterile about the rooms. This is partly because they are so thoughtfully laid out and designed, and partly because of the repeated floral motifs – on the floor tiles, the window rails, the pillow covers, the wall paintings – and the palatial windows which link the modern interiors with the green, rural world that exists outside. With views like this, you won’t forget that you are in Vietnam.

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamGuest rooms are very neat & well-appointed: comfortable & cosy yet modern & sleek

Bathrooms have a separate shower and bathtub, next to which there’s an interior window allowing you to see through the bedroom and out to the green fields. However, there is one irritating bathroom feature: the taps on the sink are too close to the edge of the basin, so that when you hold your hands under them the water splashes over the side. It’s a small issue, and perhaps not all the taps in the other rooms are fitted in the same way, but this kind of ergonomic oversight annoys me, especially when most other aspects of the room seem to have been carefully thought through.

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamRoom decor is modern & angular but softened by repeated floral motifs and tiled floors

Then there’s the hotel’s showpiece: the gorgeous 4th-floor, outdoor infinity pool. A beautiful blue-grey body of water flush with the side of the hotel, so that the water appears to fall over the edge, Lasenta’s infinity pool is just about large enough to swim lengths (when there’s no one else in it), but mostly it’s for lounging around, enjoying the views and, let’s face it, taking selfies. The pool-side bar has good drinks and high chairs overlooking the rice fields. It goes without saying that this where you come for a gin-based cocktail (in my case, at least) at around 5pm to watch the setting of the sun.

The infinity pool at Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamLasenta’s showpiece is the gorgeous outdoor infinity pool, which appears to float above the rice paddies

Walking from Lasenta to the old quarter is easy – the reception issues all guests with a map of town – and there’s also a daily shuttle service to the old town and An Bang beach. Staff are lovely but just a little cold and impersonal. This, I imagine, is due to their training, rather than their individual character. However, I’d expect service to get better over time, as staff become more comfortable and assured. Overall, my stay at Lasenta was very comfortable, relaxing, and enjoyable. I particularly liked the views, the pool, the location, and the room décor. When I stayed it was also excellent value for money, but I have noticed the prices creeping up, especially around public holidays, so bear this in mind when booking. [To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Lasenta Boutique Hotel please BOOK HERE].  

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

The infinity pool at Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An, VietnamLasenta Boutique is a great option for mid-range travellers in Hoi An looking for a peaceful setting

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this hotel and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/lasenta-boutique-hotel-hoi-an/feed/ 2
The Coast Road: Saigon to Hoi An & Beyond http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-coast-road-saigon-to-hoi-an-beyond/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-coast-road-saigon-to-hoi-an-beyond/#comments Fri, 05 Jan 2018 11:48:11 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=24045 Continue reading ]]> First published January 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Saigon to Hoi An is one of the most popular long-distance road trips in Vietnam. There are several fantastic routes (of which I have no particular favourite) between these two destinations. But most people find themselves deciding between a mountainous (western) route, or a coastal (eastern route). Of the latter, there are two commonly held misconceptions: 1. that you must take Highway 1 (QL1A) most of the way; 2. that it’s a busy and not very scenic route. Thanks to new coast roads and small back-roads, neither of these are true. You can now ride from Saigon to Hoi An (and beyond, to Hue and Dong Hoi) along the coast on generally quiet and scenic roads, with a total distance of 1,425km: only 350km of which are on Highway 1. What’s more, even the sections that are on Highway 1, happen to be some of the most scenic stretches of the entire south-north main artery. At the right time of year, this coastal route is a highly satisfying, salty, sunny, sandy, scenic, and feel-good ride.

Coast Road: Saigon to Hoi An & BeyondTake the coastal route from Saigon to Hoi An & Dong Hoi: a 1,425km ride, only 350km on Highway 1

[Back Top]


GUIDE: COAST ROAD: SAIGON TO HOI AN & BEYOND


ROAD TRIP DETAILS:

  • Total Distance: 1,425km
  • Duration: 4-10 days
  • Route: coast roads (avoiding Highway 1) from Saigon to Hoi An & beyond [MAP]
  • Road Conditions: new highways, back-roads, some rough patches, light traffic
  • Scenery: empty beaches, arid coastal stretches, fishing villages, beach towns


CONTENTS:

Coast Road: Saigon to Hoi An & BeyondThe Coast Road passes dozens of great beaches & stays off busy highways as much as possible

ABOUT THIS ROUTE:

As with all the motorbike guides on this website, the main focus of this coastal route is to stay on good, scenic roads as much as possible, and to avoid horrible, busy highways. Obviously, this means it’s not the most direct or the fastest way from Saigon to Hoi An and beyond. When it comes to deciding which route you want to take between these two destinations, it will depend on a number of factors, such as the duration of your stay, time of year, your preference of scenery, and the purpose of your trip. Personally, I don’t have a favourite route, but if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand, the following coastal route is definitely the one for you. The best time of year is between March and October, when there’s a lot of sun and sporadic tropical downpours. The southern dry season (November-May) is also good, although conditions can get cooler, wetter and grayer anywhere north of Nha Trang from November to March. You could spend as little as 4 days to as many as 10 days riding this route, depending on how often you want to stop and how many hours you’re prepared to spend in the saddle each day.

Coast Road: Saigon to Hoi An & BeyondNew coastal routes & old back-roads make it possible to stay close to the ocean & avoid Highway 1

[Back to Contents]


ABOUT THIS MAP & GUIDE:

Note that this is not a full guide: rather it is a detailed, annotated route map followed by a short image gallery illustrating the kind of roads and scenery along this coastal route. The map below shows the entire 1,425km route from Saigon to Hoi An and Dong Hoi (only 350km of which is on Highway 1). I’ve included map markers for major towns along the way (the red pins), good beaches (the blue parasols), several accommodation options which I have reviewed (the orange beds), and specific sections of road (the green motorcycles). The majority of these map markers contain links to other Vietnam Coracle guides for more details: If you click on a map marker, a dialogue box will open which contains a link to one of my guides, or a section of one of my guides, which will have more information about that particular place, or accommodation, or section of the route.

[Back to Contents]


ROUTE MAP:

The Coast Road: Saigon to Hoi An & Dong Hoi | 1,425km


View  in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


IMAGE GALLERY:

The following images are all taken along the coastal route between Saigon and Dong Hoi as outlined in the map above. Read the captions below the images to find out exactly where they were taken.


Mui Dinh coast road, Ca Na to Phan Rang, VietnamView of the Mui Dinh Coast Road snaking along the arid, rocky cliffs between Ca Na & Phan Rang


Bai Mon Beach, Vung Ro Bay, VietnamView from the road of Mon Beach, just south of Tuy Hoa city, in Phu Yen Province


Mui Dinh Cape, Ninh Thuan Province, VietnamTaking in the sand dunes in Vietnam’s desert, just south of Phan Rang on the Dragon’s Graveyard Road


Fishing canoe, Quang Nam coast, near Hoi An, VietnamA fishing canoe on the long empty beaches of Quang Nam Province, just south of Hoi An


View from the Hai Van Pass, VietnamView from the Hai Van Pass between Danang & Hue, one of the most famous stretches of coast road


Relaxing on Ke Ga Beach, VietnamRelaxing on a beach near Ke Ga lighthouse, on the Ocean Road between Saigon and Mui Ne


Dai Lanh Beach, VietnamView from the road of Dai Lanh Beach between Nha Trang & Tuy Hoa, in Khanh Hoa Province


Wooden fishing boats, Cua Viet Beach, near Hue, VietnamWooden fishing boats drawn up on the sand on the long, empty beaches between Hue & Dong Hoi


Vung Ro Bay, VietnamView from the Ca Pass of the fabulous Vung Ro Bay in south-central Vietnam


Beach in Phu Yen Province, VietnamView from the road of Xuan Hai Beach, just south of Quy Nhon on the central coast


Hon Gom Sandbar, Khanh Hoa Province, VietnamThe long, empty sands of Hon Gom Sandbar, in Khanh Hoa Province, north of Nha Trang


Floating fish farms on Vung Ro Bay, VietnamFloating fish farms & fishing boats on the turquoise waters of Vung Ro Bay


Me and my motorbike on My Canh Beach, Dong Hoi, VietnamMe and my motorbike, Stavros, celebrating our arrival at My Canh Beach, in Dong Hoi


View from the Nui Chua Coast Road, Ninh Thuan, VietnamChecking the view in the mirror on the Nui Chua Coast Road, between Phan Rang & Cam Ranh


Coast road north of Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamAn empty stretch of coast road just north of Quy Nhon city, in Binh Dinh Province


Empty beaches near Dong Hoi, VietnamMore empty beaches on the coastal back-roads between Hue & Dong Hoi, on the central coast


Colourfully painted fishing coracles near Tam Ky, Quang Nam, VietnamColourfully painted fishing coracles on the long sandy beaches south of Hoi An, Quang Nam Province


Lang Co Beach, Thua Thien Hue Province, VietnamView from the Hai Van Pass of Lang Co Beach, in Thua Thien Hue Province


Empty coast road north of Quy Nhon, VietnamA long, straight section of empty coast road between Quy Nhon & Quang Ngai, on the central coast


The top of the Nui Chua Coast Road, Cam Ranh Bay, VietnamStopping to take in the views of Cam Ranh Bay at the top of the Nui Chua Coast Road

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-coast-road-saigon-to-hoi-an-beyond/feed/ 9
Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon http://vietnamcoracle.com/bai-rang-beach-quy-nhon/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/bai-rang-beach-quy-nhon/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 10:53:19 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23497 Continue reading ]]> First published December 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The coastline immediately south and north of Quy Nhon city is justifiably gaining a reputation for unspoiled beaches. Away from the mass tourism of more established beach destinations, such as Mui Ne, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc, the bays, coves and inlets around Quy Nhon have all the charm and peace that most travellers seek but rarely find. A small selection of backpacker hangouts, campsites, and a couple of high-end resorts have sprung up in the last few years, peppering the gorgeous honeycombed coastline above and below Quy Nhon. But, for me, the beach I come back to again and again when visiting Quy Nhon is Bãi Rạng. A small crescent of toast-gold sand lined with coconut palms, squeezed between two rocky bluffs topped with tropical foliage, Bãi Rạng is still a local, working beach. There’s no real tourist infrastructure here, despite the bay being in plain sight of the main coast road. A couple of informal seafront eateries with hammocks and showers is all that graces the sand. Other than that, Bãi Rạng is a just a small fishing community nestled on a beautiful beach.

Bai Rang Beach, Quy Nhon, Phu Yen, VietnamA small, sheltered cove 15km south of Quy Nhon, Bãi Rạng is a little gem that’s yet to be developed

[Back Top]


GUIDE: BÃI RẠNG BEACH, QUY NHON


The following guide is a brief overview of Bãi Rạng, including general information about the beach as well as suggestions of places to stay nearby, and my annotated map of Bãi Rạng and the surrounding area.

MAP: Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon


View in a LARGER MAP


I first visited Bãi Rạng is 2005, when I was on my bicycle, riding along the coast from Hoi An down to Mui Ne. It hasn’t changed much since then, but as travellers, and the travel industry in general, begin to recognize the tourist potential of the Quy Nhon area, there is bound to be significant development in the near future. If you want to see Bãi Rạng as it appears on this page, it’s probably best to visit as soon as you can. Weather is pretty good year-round, but temperatures can be surprisingly cool (locals find it decidedly cold) and skies grey from around December to February. My favourite time to visit is between April and October, when the sun is bright, the sea is clear, calm and blue, and the foliage is bursting with colour.

Bai Rang Beach, Quy Nhon, Phu Yen, VietnamBãi Rạng is still a local fishing beach: there’s hardly any significant tourist infrastructure…..yet

Bãi Rạng is near the border of Phu Yen and Binh Dinh provinces, 15km south of Quy Nhon city, via a beautiful stretch of coast road on Highway QL1D. It’s possible to take a taxi or a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) from Quy Nhon, but by far the best way to get here is on your own motorbike or bicycle, which, if you don’t have your own, can usually be rented (with some perseverance) from hotels or cafes in and around Quy Nhon. (For travellers riding the length of Vietnam, Bãi Rạng is a stop on my Beach Bum route between Saigon and Hanoi.) Although there’s no accommodation on Bãi Rạng beach, there are a handful of excellent options very close by, including the cheap, cheerful and charming budget digs at Life’s a Beach Backpacker, the mellow and tasteful pastel tones of Haven Guesthouse and Life’s a Beach Apartments, and the serene luxury of AVANI Resort & Spa. (If you have your own tent, you can also ask to camp on Bãi Rạng beach itself, but this takes a bit of negotiating.)

Road QL1D near Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon, VietnamRoad QL1D leads south of Quy Nhon, squeezed between the mountains & the coast, to Bãi Rạng Beach

From the main road, Bãi Rạng is signposted down a narrow, concrete lane leading steeply through whispering eucalyptus trees. The lane ends at a small, sandy hamlet of brick and corrugated iron buildings. There’s a parking lot for motorbikes and a couple of hastily-erected beach shacks, consisting of concrete platforms on the sand and brick pillars holding up tin-sheet roofs. Plastic tables and chairs dot the concrete floor, deckchairs sit on the sand, and hammocks swing from branches in the shade of casuarina trees. It’s a very temporary-looking, makeshift setup that’s typical of the early stages of tourism on Vietnam’s beaches. But there’s a charm and simplicity to it, especially with the pitched arc of Bãi Rạng beach curving away beyond the trees.

Bai Rang Beach, Quy Nhon, Phu Yen, VietnamMakeshift beach shacks sport plastic tables & chairs, and hammocks hang between casuarina trees

Food (including fresh seafood) and drink (including cold beer) are available from the beachside kitchen, which appears to be run by an aging, toothless couple who, despite their general hospitality, might rub foreign visitors up the wrong way on account of their direct, no-frills, shouty approach to service. Next to the kitchen, there are showers (dank and dark but clean enough) which you can use for 10,000vnd. Rather worryingly, karaoke systems are available for hire (70,000vnd per hour). This would change the atmosphere dramatically, but in reality this service is only likely to be utilized by domestic tourists on weekends and public holidays. As always on Vietnam’s beaches, try to visit on weekdays if you prefer empty sands and tranquil surrounds.

Women talking on Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon, VietnamLocals like to relax in the shade by the beach where refreshments are available from a small kitchen

It’s general etiquette to buy a drink or something from the kitchen before you settle down into a hammock or a deck chair or run onto the sand and jump in the sea. Prices are reasonable and remember that, once this beach is developed, you probably won’t be able to access it at all unless you’re a paying guest. The swimming is good and there’s even some modest coral in the bay. The water is shallow enough to feel safe and the bay is sheltered so it’s generally calm. The beach is fine, golden sand with some rocky outcrops. Casuarina trees grow at one end of the bay, giving way to coconut palms at the other. Coracles, nets and other fishing paraphernalia are drawn up onto the sand. A clutch of blue-painted wooden fishing boats moor offshore. A small fishing community live in a dozen or so simple dwellings under the trees close to the beach. In the mornings and afternoons the children, chickens and dogs play freely on the sand, while the adults work or bathe in the sea. At the southern end of the bay, located on the rocks, there’s an informal eatery called Vuon Luu, which is a good viewing point.

Mending fishing nets on Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon, VietnamThe small fishing community living on Bãi Rạng spend their days tending to fishing equipment

Litter hasn’t been a significant issue on any of my visits to Bãi Rạng. But keep in mind that this is a working beach which is slowly transitioning to a tourist beach. Fishing-related debris can sometimes be an ‘eyesore’ (or even a safety hazard) from the point of view of a Western visitor. Fortunately, the local fishing hamlet is small enough that household trash seems to be relatively under control. On the other hand, tourist trash, in the form of plastic food and drinks packaging, can occasionally be a problem. It goes without saying that you should dispose of your own rubbish responsibly. Also, if you see trash on the beach it’s a good idea to pick it up and put it in a bin: perhaps other people will follow your example.

Fishing canoe, Bãi Rạng Beach, Quy Nhon, VietnamBãi Rạng has yet to be spoiled by trash: the water quality is good & the beach is clean. Let’s hope it lasts


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/bai-rang-beach-quy-nhon/feed/ 0
Hải Đăng Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon http://vietnamcoracle.com/hai-dang-vegetarian-restaurant-saigon/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/hai-dang-vegetarian-restaurant-saigon/#comments Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:38:36 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23896 Continue reading ]]> First published December 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

I’m lucky enough to live in an area of Saigon where there are a handful of good vegetarian eateries (cơm chay in Vietnamese). But Hải Đăng is my favourite. The main reason for this is the sheer variety of vegetable dishes on offer (not just tofu and ‘fake meat’) and, providing you arrive at the right time of day, the freshness of the food. Since I moved to within a couple of minutes’ walk of Hải Đăng vegetarian restaurant, about three years ago, it has changed my daily diet for the better. Each time I enter its simple, unassuming facade (always a good sign in Vietnam) I’m filled with excitement at the colours and crispness of the dishes, and gratitude for the existence of this little, informal treasure trove of healthy, vegetarian fare so close to my home.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamHải Đăng vegetarian restaurant has a great range of vegetable dishes, not just tofu & ‘fake meat’

[Back Top]


REVIEW: HẢI ĐĂNG VEGETARIAN EATERY


Address: 131 D1 Street, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City [MAP]

Price: 20,000-40,000vnd per meal  | Open: 6.30am-2pm | 4pm-8.30pm (closed two Sundays a month)


MAP:


View in a LARGER MAP


Located on the increasingly clogged (and imaginatively named) D1 Street, Hải Đăng vegetarian restaurant is in Binh Thanh District, not far from one of the city’s more recent monoliths, Pearl Plaza. I first started visiting at lunchtimes, after swimming in the nearby pool at Van Thanh Park. Its scruffy exterior belies the richness and colour of the food that awaits you inside. If possible, try to get here between 10am and 12noon, when the food is at its freshest and most colourful. Hải Đăng can get fairly busy during the day, particularly when the lunchtime rush is in full swing. Indeed, the place gets positively swamped on the 1st and 15th days of the lunar month, when many Vietnamese partake in a vegetarian diet (a custom which has its routes in Buddhism). However, these are also the days when the spread of dishes is especially large and various.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamFrom the exterior it’s an unassuming place, just like many great Saigon eateries

As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the most appealing aspects of Hải Đăng is that there are so many vegetable dishes on offer. Many Vietnamese vegetarian eateries specialize in ‘fake meat’. The assumption is that diners would rather be eating meat but are obliged to eat vegetarian food for religious or dietary reasons. Therefore, many vegetarian dishes are made to look and taste as much like meat as possible. Mostly this involves a lot of meat-shaped, meat-textured tofu – which ends up looking like a gallery of tofu sculptures. These are usually pretty tasty, but it’s so sad not to see any vegetables in a vegetarian restaurant. At Hải Đăng, however, there are only a few tofu-sculpture dishes; the vast majority are bright, shiny and crisp vegetables.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamColour, freshness & choice are what make Hải Đăng stand out from other local vegetarian eateries

At my last visit, I counted 31 different dishes. Take a look at the photo below. This only represents about a third of the dishes on display that day (I couldn’t fit all of them in one photo). Clockwise from top left: shredded white cabbage and carrot, sliced chayote (a kind of green squash-cum-gourd), spicy baby eggplant, fried tofu and lemongrass, sauteed ‘stringy’ mushrooms (I think they might be enokitake mushrooms), sauteed morning glory with garlic, tofu stew with tomato and onions, erm, god knows what the next one is (someone help me, please), stewed aubergine with chilli, beansprouts and chives, banana flower with peanuts (this is amazing), and bitter gourd with egg. Impressive. There are even more options on the menu. These includes vegetarian versions of classic Vietnamese soups, such as mì quảng, bún bò and hủ tiéu.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamVariety: there can be up to 30 different dishes available each day, most of which are fresh vegetables

Ordering is easy. It’s school dinners-style: point at a dish and it gets put on your plate over rice. The cost is rarely more than 20,000-40,000vnd per person (that’s about $1-$2). Pretty darn good value. Personally, I’ve got into the habit of ordering a bunch of different vegetable dishes without rice and then getting it to take away. Back home (just around the corner), I poach a couple of eggs and serve them on top of the vegetables. This has become my routine for recovery after two hours of tennis in the midday heat. It works a treat.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe vegetables are usually served over rice, but I often get them without and then poach an egg on top

Hải Đăng isn’t really a ‘restaurant’, it’s a quán, which is essentially a more informal, less fussy, less-money-spent-on-decor kind of place. I quite like the term ‘eatery’ as a general translation of quán. Often, quán can be a little on the filthy side: even though the food might be fantastic, the furnishings and cleanliness may leave something to be desired, especially in the eyes of many foreign visitors. But Hải Đăng scores pretty high for a quán. It’s got a little, clean, air-conditioned dining room, separated from the ‘serving room’ by a glass partition; wooden tables and chairs laid out on a tiled floor; and the walls are decorated with portraits of Buddha and dozens of famous vegetarian icons throughout history (although I doubt the veracity of some of them). Opening times are a bit weird and I’ve often been disappointed to find the place closed. Generally speaking, it’s open daily from 6.30am-2pm and 4pm-8.30pm; or all day on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month (Google that for the solar equivalent); and it’s closed all day for two Sundays every month.

Hai Dang Vegetarian Restaurant, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamMore an ‘eatery’ than a restaurant, Hải Đăng is adorned with portraits of Buddha & other veggie ‘celebs’

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: all my content is free and all my reviews are independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this vegetarian eatery and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/hai-dang-vegetarian-restaurant-saigon/feed/ 4
Tomb Rider: Hue to Dong Hoi on Back-Roads http://vietnamcoracle.com/tomb-rider-hue-to-dong-hoi-on-back-roads/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/tomb-rider-hue-to-dong-hoi-on-back-roads/#comments Fri, 24 Nov 2017 11:44:46 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23515 Continue reading ]]> First published November 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Thousands of elaborately decorated traditional Vietnamese tombs are scattered over the landscape along the central coast. Coastal back-roads, covering almost 200km of completely empty beach, lead from the old imperial capital of Hue to the up-and-coming coastal city of Dong Hoi, gateway to the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The coastal region between these two cities is rarely explored by foreign visitors: most people, if they stop here at all, head to war-related sites around the former DMZ, between the coast and the mountains. This has left a barely believable stretch of unbroken beach almost entirely unvisited. While Danang, Nha Trang and other darlings of Vietnam’s booming beach scene become increasingly touristed and built-up, this strip of central coastline remains essentially untouched. Characterized by calm blue sea and long arcs of bright sand where fishermen pull up their svelte-looking wood-and-weave fishing canoes, this road trip takes you on paved and dirt back-roads along an incredible coastline strewn with royal-style tombs.

Tomb Rider: Hue to Dong Hoi on back roads, VietnamThe coast between Hue & Dong Hoi is beautiful, rarely visited & scattered with thousands of tombs

[Back Top]


GUIDE: TOMB RIDER: HUE TO DONG HOI


ROAD TRIP DETAILS:

  • Total Distance: 185km one-way | 375km round-trip
  • Duration: 1-2 days
  • Route: one-way or round-trip from Hue to Dong Hoi on coastal back-roads [MAP]
  • Road Conditions: good minor highways, paved back-roads, dirt road sections
  • Scenery: long stretches of empty sand beach, extensive ‘tomb-scapes’, fishing villages


ABOUT THIS ROUTE:

There are several ways to ride this route: as a one-way day/night road trip between Hue and Dong Hoi (185km), or as a loop (375km) by returning on the faster inland roads (see the red line on my map), or as part of the Beach Bum route between Saigon and Hanoi, or as a much larger loop by combining it with the spectacular Western Ho Chi Minh Road for the return leg via Phong Nha, Khe Sanh, and A Luoi. Time of year is important: visit during the spring and summer months (April-September) when the weather is hot and dry (most of the time) and the sea is calm and velvety. During the autumn and winter months (October-March), this region can get surprisingly cold, grey and grim, and winds churn the sea into a Hokusai-esque scene of white froth and towering waves. Also, the wet weather during these months can turn the sections of dirt road into slow-going muddy tracks. There are a few accommodation options on the Tomb Rider route, which I’ve included in the guide below, or if you have a tent, camping is good thanks to miles of isolated sandy beach and coastal casuarina forest.


ROUTE MAP:

Hue to Dong Hoi on back-roads | 185km one-way (375km round-trip)


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back Top]


Leave the former imperial capital of Hue in the early morning. Hue is a relatively languid city by Vietnamese standards, but it can still get busy and clogged in the morning rush hour. Leaving early will avoid a chaotic start to this road trip. What’s more, the city looks its best in the fresh morning light: illuminating the trees along the Perfume River and the old stone walls of the royal ramparts and palaces and gateways. Hue is still one of the more aesthetically pleasing of Vietnam’s urban centres.

Road through an old imperial archway, Hue, VietnamLeave Hue early in the morning and find the streets empty and the city beautiful

Heading due north of the city along the Pho Loi River, the urbanity morphs quickly into semi-rural, riverside scenes. Little allotments and vegetable gardens grow by bodies of water – canals, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, lagoons: the province of Thua Thien Hue is a watery world. In good weather, these scenes are warm and attractive: a benevolent countryside, bountiful and docile. But in the winter months, when typhoons sweep in from the East Sea and lash the low, flat, defenseless coastline, it feels vulnerable, fragile, and cold.

Along the Pho Loi River, Hue, VietnamAlong the Pho Loi River, urbanity quickly turns to rural life just 10 minutes out of Hue

Before reaching Thuan An, road QL49B veers northwest, crossing the Perfume River first and then the Tam Giang Lagoon on new, blade-like bridges. Tombs start to appear by the roadside and waterways. From monochromatic sarcophagi nestled in wet rice paddies, to colourfully-painted monoliths emblazoned with dragons and serpents, shooting up from the wetlands like an exotic crop.

Tombs by the roadside near Hue, VietnamAs the road veers northwest, colourfully-painted tombs start to decorate the roadsides and fields

Once on the peninsular, the road ploughs straight and true, following the shores of the lagoon. Road conditions are excellent, traffic is light, and the vast, flat landscape with billowing clouds hanging above it, casting great blue shadows over the fields, dykes and watering holes, is reminiscent of 17th century Dutch landscape painting. Buffalo and cows populate the plains, while school children, on their way to class dressed in white and blue uniform, flood the sandy pathways and country lanes. From here all the way to Dong Hoi, you’re unlikely to see any other foreign travellers, save for a handful of road-trippers and tour groups visiting the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

Cows on the coastal back-roads near Hue, VietnamThe coastal roads northwest of Hue are quiet, peaceful & rural: there are more cattle than cars

Bear right off QL49B towards the ocean. Here a narrow paved lane stretches all the way to the mouth of the Thach Han River, running parallel to the coast. Although this road can be a little bumpy at times, it’s easily rideable on any motorbike. Threading through shady groves of casuarina and eucalyptus trees, there are little concrete pathways at regular intervals leading off to the beach. Take any of these and you’ll emerge from the trees onto seemingly endless swathes of white sand and sparkling blue sea. Clusters of picturesque fishing canoes, unlike any I’ve seen on the southern beaches, are pulled up onto the sand away from the wash. Occasionally, a tanned, leather-skinned local fishermen will be tending to his boat, or a conical-hatted woman sat on the sand fixing her nets, but in general the entire beach is deserted during the searing midday heat. Take your time, have a swim, and wallow in the quiet and open space.

Empty beaches along the coast road near Hue, VietnamThe beaches along the coastal back-roads are long & empty save for pretty fishing canoes on the sand

On the inland side of the road, the tombs are ever-present and ever more elaborate. Dotting the sand dunes behind the trees, or rising in formation on hillocks like terraced rice fields, the dead far outnumber the living in this dry, salty, sun-drenched region. But these are not ancient tombs; they’re recent. Indeed, dozens are still under construction. Wealthy Vietnamese buy plots of land for their entire families, and commission large mausoleums with intricate carvings and decorative motifs, depicting symbolic stories.

Elaborate tombs near Hue, VietnamThe tombs along the coast road sport elaborate carvings of motifs and stories

One of the most important considerations when choosing a site for a tomb is (as it was for the emperors who commissioned the famous royal tombs outside Hue) the principles of feng shui (or phong thủy in Vietnamese). Meaning literally ‘wind and water’, this is an ancient Chinese system which takes into account the lay of the land and other natural phenomena to assess the best location for a structure, among many other things.

Elaborate tombs near Hue, VietnamThe ancient principles of feng shui dictate where a tomb should be constructed

Just before crossing the Thach Han River as it empties into the sea, the route joins Road DT64. From here on the road conditions are excellent all the way until the dirt road sections, which begin nearer to Dong Hoi. A new bridge spans the estuary, on the other side of which is the small beach settlement of Cua Viet. There are some good seafood restaurants (nhà hàng hải sẳn) along the beach here, and a couple of empty-looking resorts and guest houses. If you fancy staying the night, Nhà Nghỉ Trung Hiêu (0985 740 777) will suit budget travellers, while mid-range riders can stop by at the Sepon Boutique Resort. In good weather, the beach at Cua Viet is fantastic, with yet more picturesque slender fishing canoes and miles of empty sand. There’s also the possibility of taking a boat out to the strangely circular island of Con Co, which has only started to attract attention in recent years (inquire at your accommodation).

Empty beaches near Cua Viet, Quang Tri Province, VietnamThe beach near Cua Viet is fabulous, as are these slender, woven canoes that I rarely see anywhere else

After another 10km of empty ocean road passing under casuarina trees, the road spans a second river mouth, the Ben Hai. A surprisingly painterly estuary with tree-lined banks and flotillas of fishing vessels, there’s a small, slightly scruffy beach resort on the other side, called Cua Tung. There’s a military presence here, a reminder that this river was once one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world, between 1954 and 1975, when it was the dividing line between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (to the north) and the Republic of Vietnam (to the south). Eo Bien Xanh Hotel (0533 823 811) is OK for a night if you need it.

Boats at the Ben Hai River estuary, Quang Tri, VietnamBoats near the mouth of the Ben Hai River, the former dividing line between north & south Vietnam

Just a few kilometres further up the beach, through a particularly lush and lovely stretch of coastline, is another relic of the long and painful wars of the 20th century. The Vinh Moc Tunnels were dug in the late 1960s, allowing local villagers to shelter from intense bombardments from American planes. The tunnels run for 2km at a depth of over 20 metres. They sheltered hundreds of people at any one time, mostly local families, whose children were schooled in the tunnels, and whose mothers gave birth in the tunnels. Vinh Moc is clearly signposted from the road. Entrance is 20,000vnd, including an English-language tour of the tunnels.

Road near Vinh Moc Tunnels, Quang Tri, VietnamVinh Moc is quiet & peaceful now, but the tunnels underneath this road are a reminder of a terrible past

From Vinh Moc, Road DT9 heads inland until it joins Highway QL1A at Ho Xa. Here there are a couple of roadside motels, including Trung Son Hotel (120 Le Duan Street) if you’re running out of daylight hours. From Ho Xa it’s necessary to stay on Highway 1 for a short and easy stint until the turn off back to the coastal back-roads. A few minutes after Highway 1 splits into two branches, turn right (due east) to Le Thuy Beach. From here a small road runs along the coast all the way to Dong Hoi. The road conditions are reasonable: about 60% is paved or concrete, but large portions are red dirt. The latter can cause trouble in very wet weather, but in any other weather (even light rain) it shouldn’t be a problem at all. (If you find road conditions are too bad, then you can always just drop down to Highway 1 and take it all the way to Dong Hoi instead.)

Red dirt coastal back-roads to Dong Hoi, VietnamThe last sections of coastal back-roads to Dong Hoi are red dirt: fine in dry conditions, not in wet

Le Thuy and Hai Ninh beaches both have some seafood shacks by the ocean, and there’s accommodation at Hai Ninh in the form of Song Ngư (0163 365 8686). The road goes through trees most of the way, but there are always little pathways leading to the long beaches, which if anything are even finer than the ones at the beginning of this route.

Hai Ninh beach near Dong Hoi, VietnamLe Thuy & Hai Ninh beaches continue to offer miles & miles of empty white sand & blue surf

Several kilometres before reaching Dong Hoi, the road widens into a new, four-lane expressway (called Vo Nguyen Giap), with no traffic whatsoever. This is Dong Hoi’s beach road, constructed with the future development of gigantic resorts in mind. So far there has been little activity, until you reach the traffic circle at My Canh, where Dong Hoi’s excellent municipal beach can be accessed as well as the sprawling Sun Star Resort. Turn left (due west) at the traffic circle and head across the bridge over the Nhat Le River to Dong Hoi city. (At the time of writing, a second bridge across the Nhat Le River was being constructed a little further downstream. It should be operational by the time you read this).

Fishing boats in Dong Hoi, VietnamThe picturesque Nhat Le River separates Dong Hoi’s municipal beach from the main city

Dong Hoi is a very appealing place to spend a night or two. Its location – on the banks of the river, with easy access to a good beach, and beautiful mountains close by – reminds me of a smaller, more manageable Danang. The riverfront promenade is very pretty, the boulevards are wide and relatively quiet, the back-streets have lots of good street food, and there’s a good range of hotels available. Budget travellers can try the familiar Western backpacker vibes of Buffalo Hostel which enjoys a pleasant riverside location, or the Vietnamese-style backpacker vibes of Van House Homestay, or for beachside budget digs try the Beach House Homestay. Very good mid-range accommodation with city and river views can be found at the Amanda Hotel and the Riverside Hotel. Finally, $50-$70 gets you a large room with city and sea views and access to all the facilities at the Muong Thanh Luxury Nhat Le Hotel. Many famous central Vietnamese dishes can be found on Dong Hoi’s back-streets. Try the bánh nậm and bánh lọc at Hương Hoài (02 Le Thanh Dong Street). For an evening tipple, a game of pool, and backpacker socializing head to Buffalo Pub.

View of Dong Hoi city, Quang Binh Province, VietnamDong Hoi is a very likable city with good accommodation options in all ranges & plenty of street food

Where to next? From Dong Hoi you can complete a round trip back to Hue by following the faster return route inland (marked in red on my map), or by riding up to Phong Nha and taking the spectacular Western Ho Chi Minh Road via Khe Sanh and A Luoi. Or, if you’re following the Beach Bum route, continue up to Phong Nha and head north through the mountains all the way up to Hanoi. Dong Hoi is, of course, the gateway to the caves and limestone scenery of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which is only a 40km ride away on good roads.

The Western Ho Chi Minh Road, VietnamWhere to next? This limestone scenery near Phong Nha on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road is close by…

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/tomb-rider-hue-to-dong-hoi-on-back-roads/feed/ 10
Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa http://vietnamcoracle.com/binh-chau-hot-springs-resort/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/binh-chau-hot-springs-resort/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:11:50 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=22615 Continue reading ]]> First published November 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Easily accessible from Saigon, Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa is an interesting mix of very fine, traditional Vietnamese elements, and kitsch, cartoonish adornments. In some ways it’s a good barometer of current Vietnamese trends. The natural hot springs here are famous, and they’ve been turned into a sprawling complex of thermal swimming pools, mud baths, and beauty spas. Binh Chau Hot Springs can be visited as a day trip, but staying overnight is a good option: partly because, these days, the standard of accommodation is very good, and partly because the hot springs are particularly attractive and quiet in the mornings and evenings, after the day-tripping crowds have left. Providing you choose the right room type, a night or two at Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort can be very relaxing; the perfect antidote to the noise and chaos of Saigon, just 2-3 hours away by road. [Average rates are between $45-$70 a night. To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Binh Chau Hot Spring please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaA relaxing and easy getaway from Saigon for a night or two in lush, quiet surrounds

[Back Top]


REVIEW: BINH CHAU HOT SPRINGS


Address: Highway 55, Binh Chau, Xuyen Moc, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Price: $45-$70 | Phone: (+84) 064 387 1131

BOOK HERE


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


Binh Chau Hot Springs is located a couple of kilometres inland from Binh Chau fishing village, on the Binh Thuan coast, 120km east of Saigon. The resort and the springs are one and the same: Saigon Tourist effectively owns and runs both, and the swathe of land they control is enormous. Accessed via a good road branching off Highway QL55 and the Ocean Road, the Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa covers many hectares of lush, tropical woodland, where the thermal springs bubble up from primeval-looking pools of dark water. Although a concrete walkway leads around the hot springs in their natural state, most of the hot spring-related activities are heavily commercialized and built-up: don’t expect to be bathing under a natural cascade of steaming water. However, Saigon Tourist has recently revamped the entire complex and things are now looking more attractive than ever. A daytime visit to the springs is a lot of fun (read more about it here), but in this review I focus on the accommodation at Binh Chau rather than the springs themselves.

Map of Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaBinh Chau is an enormous complex of activities & accommodation, as illustrated by this map

Saigon Tourist-run hotels and resorts used to be cheaply-built mid-range accommodations at high-end prices: a facade of luxury masking very average quality. But, in the last few years, Saigon Tourist has been busy improving its facilities, upgrading its building materials, and refining its general aesthetic. This is particularly apparent at Binh Chau Resort & Spa, where even the reception – a handsome little wooden ‘shrine’ at the entrance to the hot springs – is beautifully made with large wooden beams, hanging lanterns, traditional Vietnamese wooden furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and softened by imperial-coloured textiles.

Reception at Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaThe reception is an attractive little ‘shrine’ of a building and handsomely furnished

Upon checking in, guests are issued with a map of the resort and hot springs complex. This is when you begin to understand the size of the grounds: there are over thirty markers on the map, from cafes and restaurants to spas and crocodile enclosures. In general, the resort facilities are all on the left of the main walking avenue that bisects the complex, and the myriad hot spring activities are on the right. One of the most appealing aspects of Binh Chau Hot Springs is the abundance of tropical greenery: pathways winding through the resort are lined with low-growing palms and giant old-growth trees, while the flowerbeds are planted with colourful heliconias and West Indian Jasmine. It’s a peaceful, perfumed (and hot) stroll from reception to the rooms.

Pathways through greenery, Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaBinh Chau is very lush: paved pathways lead around the complex, making for a pleasant stroll

During this 5 minute walk, you’ll pass through a few ‘sections’ of the resort (all marked on your map). The first is an ‘animal garden’ dotted with gaudy models of flamingos, giraffes and such. Immediately after this, the path moves through an attractive collection of wood and tile pavilions, under which handsome traditional furniture is lit by hanging lanterns. Colourful murals of dragons and other Vietnamese symbolism decorate the walls. I found this a particularly atmospheric place to sit and read: a sort of contemplation shrine. The architecture and decor are wonderful, and I’d gladly build my house along similar lines.

Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa, VietnamThe resort gardens are dotted with places to sit or to play: some are kitsch, some elegant

Then you reach the accommodation. Guest rooms are spread over several separate buildings, including long single storey bungalows and private villas under the jungle canopy. However, the best option – and the one you should try to book – is the new Binh Tam Hotel building. This attractive, two storey, white-painted structure is where the Executive Deluxe rooms are housed. Surrounded by impressive tropical foliage and echoing to the sound of birds in the morning and frogs in the evening, the Binh Tam Hotel has good, spacious rooms and a large private swimming pool in its courtyard fed by the hot springs.

Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa, VietnamThe Binh Tam building has an attractive white facade surrounded by lush gardens & a courtyard pool

Whether you get a pool-view or a garden-view, on the ground or the first floor, the rooms are all very agreeable. Plainly but comfortably furnished – including some pretty bamboo tables and chairs – all rooms feature balconies or floor-ceiling opening windows, bathtubs, TVs, decorative tea sets, and all the standard modern conveniences that you’d expect, such as air-con and a minibar.

Guest room at Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaGuest rooms are fairly plain but comfortable and large with pool or garden views

The pool is a great place to relax and good for kids too, because it’s quite shallow. The temperature of the water is not as high as the main hot spring bathing pool (see your resort map) and this is probably a good thing, because the water there is so hot it zaps your energy. The water in both pools is supposed to have curative properties, and many of the guests are older people – grandparents visiting with their extended family – which, I found, creates a pleasant, convivial atmosphere.

The pool at Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaRooms are arranged around the courtyard pool which is fed with warm water from the hot springs

Breakfast is included in the room price. Served in the impressive ‘Forest Flower Restaurant’, the quality of the food does not match the grandeur of the dining room. However, dinner ordered off the à la carte menu is a lot better, especially if you choose from the many Vietnamese dishes available. And this is a good thing, because there are few, if any, other dining options within walking distance of the resort. There is, however, a good cafe opposite the restaurant. With slat windows opening onto the verdant gardens, the cafe serves decent coffee, cakes and snacks, and, once again, is furnished with handsome tables and chairs.

The cafe at Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & SpaThe cafe is an attractive place to while away a couple of hours with a coffee, especially on rainy days

There are many activities on offer at Binh Chau Hot Springs: from spa treatments to golf driving, from fishing to boiling eggs in the hot spring water. However, just ambling through the grounds on a morning or late afternoon is a pleasant enough way to spend your time. What’s more, Binh Chau Hot Springs is paired with Ho Co Beach Resort, just 15 minutes away by road. This beach resort on the Ocean Road is also run by Saigon Tourist, and guests of either receive free entrance to the other. If the weather is good, make sure you take a trip to Ho Coc Beach Resort to wander along their long stretch of sandy beach and swim in their pools.

Saigon-Ho Coc Beach Resort, VietnamGuests of Binh Chau Resort can also use the beach & facilities of the sister resort on Ho Coc Beach

I used to think of Binh Chau Hot Springs as a rather tacky, overpriced destination, aimed mostly at domestic tourists. But now, after recent improvements in facilities and decor, I really enjoy spending a quiet night here among all the greenery, soaking up to the remedial qualities of the hot spring water, and lounging in the large Executive Deluxe rooms. Combined with a night at Leman Cap Resort in Vung Tau and the ferry boat ride from Saigon, Binh Chau Hot Springs can be part of a relaxing and rewarding mid-range city getaway.  [Average rates are between $45-$70 a night. To check current rates, availability & make a reservation for Binh Chau Hot Springs please BOOK HERE].

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa, VietnamBinh Chau Hot Springs has improved a lot in recent years: it’s now a satisfying & easy retreat from Saigon

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this resort and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]


RELATED POSTS:

[Back Top]

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/binh-chau-hot-springs-resort/feed/ 2