Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vietnam Vacation: Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh for my little vacation late Wednesday morning.  My friend Leslie was to meet me there that evening, so I was on my own for the afternoon.  It was exciting!  I elected to take the bus from the airport, instead of getting a taxi, just for the adventure of it.  My online research paid off, and I found Bus 152 just to the right as I exited the terminal, directly across from Burger King.  It cost me 5,000 dong for the ticket and another 5,000 for my suitcase.  (The exchange rate is 21,000 dong to 1 US dollar).  The ride was 25 minutes long, and soon it was standing room only as the bus kept stopping to let people on in the city.  

I got off at the Ben Thanh Market bus station, which according to my research was about a ten-minute walk from my hotel.  It took my wheeled suitcase and me more like half an hour trundling along the sidewalks, but that was because I missed the hotel, went way too far, and had to turn around and come back.  At least there were good sidewalks for dragging a suitcase on!  

Along the way I stopped to buy a snack from the woman in the picture.  The items on the left side of her cart are cooked, breaded bananas.  She cut them up into a disposable container for me and added a few scoops of sweet coconut sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  It was delicious, especially eaten warm.

The Dragon Palace Hotel is so narrow that it's easy to miss if you aren't paying attention to the numbers on the buildings.  If only I had realized that it's located right between a Subway and a Baskin Robbins!  Looking for those landmarks would have been much easier than looking for the name of the hotel (which was hard to see on that side of the street).

I arrived at 1:45, and my room wasn't quite ready (the website had said it would be ready by 1:00 p.m.).  That was a little frustrating, but I only had to wait five or ten minutes.  (The website also said that checkout time was noon, but at the hotel we found out it was really 11 a.m.  However, they were glad to keep our suitcases for us between when we checked out and when we were ready to leave for the airport.)

Though narrow, the hotel is eleven stories tall (as you see at the upper left).  My room was on the 5th floor, which was really the 6th, since the ground floor wasn't counted as one of them.  The window in the room only looked out to the hallway (I think the picture of the room on the website was fake), so we kept the curtains closed the whole time.  This is the nighttime view from the hallway window just outside our room (right).  

The purple and red that you see (above right) are tables and chairs at a little outdoor restaurant right across the street from the hotel.  As you see in the picture to the left, we ate lunch there a few days later - it was good!  (Don't ask me why I have such a weird look on my face.)  We really enjoyed this chicken and pineapple fried rice served in a pineapple!
Anyway, our room in the Dragon Palace Hotel was pretty nice.  I mean, it's a 3-star hotel, so we didn't expect luxury, but it was clean and had everything we really needed.  The free wireless internet was great!  I had done a little research beforehand and discovered that the voltage in Vietnam is 127/220, with sockets for two-prong plugs, so fortunately I had brought a converter and was able to charge my laptop and camera.  

I took the picture to the right as we were on our way down to check out - it was neater when we first came in! 
To the left is the bathroom (again, as we were leaving).  No tub, but there was plenty of hot water in the shower.  The shower did leak onto the bathroom floor, but the hotel provided flip flops, so it didn't really bother us.

I didn't get a picture of the breakfast area, but that was one of the best parts.  They had a variety of both Western and Asian items to choose from each morning, including fruit, bread, bacon, sandwiches, noodles, kebabs, etc.  There was even a lady behind the counter who would cook eggs for you any way you wanted them done.  The only trouble was, breakfast didn't start till 7 a.m., and one morning we had arranged a tour for which we had to leave right at 7:00.  But when we told the front desk about it the day before, they assured us they would pack us a breakfast to take along.  And they did; we each got a sub-style sandwich on a tasty baguette, hard-boiled egg, banana, and two plain slices of bread.  More than sufficient. 

The people at the front desk were very helpful in other ways, too.  My first afternoon there without Leslie, I asked them if they had any recommendations for what I could do in the area.  They volunteered to call a tour guide who would take me around on her motorbike and show me the sights.  In retrospect, I probably should have bargained for a lower price.  I paid $50 US for a three-hour tour, which included admission to one museum and a good pho (noodle soup) dinner, as well as a lot of stops by interesting buildings and other sights.  The guide was knowledgeable and friendly and happy to take lots of pictures for me everywhere we stopped.  I'm not sorry I did it, but I don't think it was quite worth as much as I paid.

The hotel people also helped us book tickets at the Water Puppets Show, and even went to pick up the tickets for us early in the day.  At our request, they called a van service for us to take us back to the airport the day we were leaving (since the bus timetable didn't fit our schedule well that day - apparently the one going to the airport only comes by once every hour, and not at an exact time).  We had booked a couple of tours (of the Mekong River Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels) ahead of time online, but it turns out that we could easily have arranged them when we got there, through the front desk at the Dragon Palace.  (Actually, I passed lots of places between the bus station and the hotel advertising the same tours, plus others as well.)  

Anyway, the Dragon Palace Hotel suited our purposes very well, and as long as you're not the type who has to live in luxury, I recommend it.  The staff were friendly, professional, and spoke great English, and they definitely helped make our stay pleasant and memorable.

Click here to read my blog post about seeing the sights in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

... or the one about my boat tour of the Mekong Delta

... or the Cu Chi Tunnels (from the Vietnam War)

... or a water puppet show!

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