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Up and Down in Vietnam

Author: Brian W Fisher (More Trip Reviews by Brian W Fisher)
Date of Trip: November 2013

Hue is an interesting city steeped in history. There are examples of both Asian and European past influence but over recent decades the Vietnamese have gradually stamped their mark.
As well as doing a bit of individual 'nosing', I asked my guide to show me the most important landmarks. I can say that he relished the fact that I listened to his explanations of each venue we visited.

After taking a short cruise on the Perfume River, where I viewed what looked like very tranquil riverside villages, he took me to the Thiem Mu Pagoda, the Imperial Citadel, the tombs of emperor Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.

Another fascinating place is the Dong Ba Market, a thriving shoulder to shoulder example of free enterprise, commercial life piled high with goods, inviting to local folk and tourists alike.

Hoi an
vietnamI was really looking forward to the 140 kilometer drive up and over 'The Pass of Ocean Clouds' from Hue to Hoi an. This was reputed to be the best way to view the mountainous, panoramic scenery. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't going to cooperate. Torrential rain coupled with dense, mountain mist made it impossible to see further than the bonnet of our car for 90% of the journey. A real pity!

That journey took almost twice as long as normal and both the driver and I were certainly relieved when he applied the car's parking brake on arrival at my booked hotel, the Vinh Hung 2. I'd chosen this accommodation on the advice of Asia Tour Advisor, as being in the perfect location for the exploration (by foot or cycle) of all this city's highlights, which, happily, are congregated in one small area. That advice turned out to be perfect.

In one single afternoon, walking alongside my knowledgeable guide, I experienced the sights and sounds of the ancient quarter, where Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese history displayed its various stylistic architecture and way of living.

At a leisurely pace I was escorted across the Japanese Covered Bridge (built in 1593),visited the amazing Chua Ong Pagoda, a 200 year old Chinese merchant's house, the ancient Assembly Hall where, in years gone by and after much haggling, commercial deals were struck.

Noting farmers fertilizing their crops with seaweed from the local lake was an eye opener. Eating with Vietnamese families was fun (and tasty) as I joined in cooking tan huu (spring roll) and banh xeo (pancakes).

Nha Trang
A short flight from Hoi an took me to Vietnam's popular beach resort of Nha Trang, where I'd planned to relax for few days after so much traveling and visiting so many attractions. Well, that was the plan - but it turned out to be a time of vivid contrasts and wildly differing experiences.

Let me start with the accommodation I'd chosen – the Hanoi Golden Hotel, located in the centre of the highly touristy area comprised mainly of two streets – streets lined with advertisement hoardings printed in Russian. That came as a bit of a surprise, as at no time over the past eight days had I seen such.

This hotel was to be my only disappointment. Although recently built – and with most 'mod-cons', for whatever reasons, the establishment seemed to be dysfunctional and oddly managed.

Each day saw the hotel lobby crammed with arriving tourists awaiting allocation of rooms which were not ready for occupation. An under-manager explained to me privately, that the reason was due to guests of a certain nationality, refusing to vacate their rooms by the allotted time. Of course such a situation caused friction and overheard altercations between guests and the harassed front-office staff struggling to cope, were commonplace.

Another most confusing rule was the one where a guest wishing to use the small rooftop swimming pool, had to travel via the elevator from whatever floor their room was located, down to the lobby, wait to be 'registered' for a towel, sign accordingly and then travel upward again to the pool. This rigmarole taking place while the so-called pool area staff sat half hidden behind a screen playing computer games! Quite weird, to say the least.

Then there was the incident where I, having duly recorded the possession of a towel, arrived at the pool – a pool surrounded by a narrow timber decking – slipped off my sandals and headed for a vacant lounger. After a reactive shout of, “Ouch!” I found a shard of glass embedded in my right heel. My shout did alert a staff member who raced off to acquire some basic first aid kit. The glass splinter was easily removed, the wound treated with antiseptic and duly covered. An accident of course, but when I noticed many more small pieces of glass littering the decking and asking when the deck was last inspected and cleaned...the answer was conspicuous by its absence.

It is difficult (and most unusual) for me to pen such a negative review of a modern hotel but if the way it is run is to be improved, then perhaps, when management reads it, the necessary 'corrections' will be implemented to the benefit of guests?

But, unfortunately the issues don't stop at this point. Many guests had pre-booked excursions - with hotel pick-ups arranged for 0700 hrs, so, naturally, they wished to take breakfast early. A quite startling scenario faced them. The opening times – displayed on notices and in-room info packs – are stated to be 0600 hrs to 0900 hrs. On each of the three occasions I entered the dining room at 0600 hrs along with many other guests (mainly Russian) the only person present was a cleaner wielding a floor mop.

Not until almost twenty minutes has passed, did restaurant staff begin to bring items of food to the buffet table and prepare tea and coffee machines. This was a total shambles which led to unpleasant outbursts by way of the Cyrillic alphabet.

I did bring this (and the other issues) to the attention of middle management but failed to secure an interview with the hotel's General Manager – although I had requested such on three occasions.

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