Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mr & Mrs Robyn visit Mr & Mrs Martin in Viet Nam

Hi all - this is a guest blog by my sister-in-law Robyn, who comments regularly here as "anonymous".  Robyn and her husband Kevin came to visit us in early September. OK - over to you Robyn!

This is my first ever blog and warning, I am not a writer!  A big thanks to our host for posting this guest blog.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) at Tan Son Nhat Airport to a warm 31 degrees, after we cleared customs and immigration (no immigration papers to complete - most unusual as transiting in KL our finger prints were recorded and checked arriving and leaving).   We exited the arrivals area into a sea of Asian faces behind the barricades.  How would we find Mrs Martin who had arranged to meet us?  We searched for our name on a welcome sign without success.  We kept walking and at the end of the barricades was the smiley face of our host.  Mrs Martin was quick to identify a taxi and we were whisked away to District 1 - our home during our stay in Saigon.

We received a very warm welcome from the friendly staff at Sweethome Apartment.

Mrs Martin had ordered in bread and pastries for our lunch, we were very impressed with our first taste of Viet Nam's pastries.  After refreshments and a quick unpack it was off to the local market for a look.  We passed by the motorbike taxis at the end of the street and declined their offer of a ride.   We quickly reached the market on foot - so much to see!  Everyone was going about their business at their own slow pace.  We then headed to Material Street (Hai Ba Trung -K) as I wanted to purchase material and try and get a couple of dresses tailor made.  After strolling through the many shops (too much choice – Centrepoint fabrics in Auckland could learn a thing or too from the HCMC material shops) I found a nice purple spotted and pastel paisley material suitable for dresses. 

It was then into a taxi and off to the ANZ Bank to change US dollars into dong (great, we were now millionaires).  It  was difficult at first coming to grips with spending 200,000 dong which only equates to a little over $12.00 NZ), but we soon got accustomed to the large denominations.

It was then time for afternoon coffee and  so we headed to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee shop at the Kumho Plaza.  Mr Robyn was very happy as he had his first cafe coffee fix in Saigon.

Mission accomplished with two pieces of material purchased and some local currency, we were swiftly in a taxi and off to Orchids tailors at 84 Le Loi Street, District 1.  Hang looked after my tailoring, she had a  very good understanding of what I wanted.  I chose to have two dresses made in the same design as their stock samples.  A deposit was paid and I was to go back in 2 days for a fitting (all very painless – compared to my many tailoring experiences in  Thailand).  To my surprise when we returned in 2 days the dresses were finished to a high standard and slight alterations made whilst we waited.  Would definitely recommend Orchids tailors and use them again.

The next task was to book our tour to Cu Chi Tunnels for day 2, so another taxi ride to Vietsea Tourist Travel Service in Distict 1 and we booked and paid for our tour.

Into another taxi and to the Optician to collect Mr Martin's new glasses.  We looked very closely at the stock in the shop after Mrs Martin told us the price of Mr Martin's 2 pairs of glasses.  We both purchased glasses and are very happy with the workmanship and price at Kinh Hung, 72 Hai Ba Trung, Tan Dinh, District 1. 

We had accomplished so much in day 1, could we keep up this pace?

Mr Martin had a very busy day at work so we met him at a local restaurant at dinner time.

A very pleasant dining experience.

When we arrived home it was time for pressies from home.  Mrs Martin unwrapped her goodie  bag with delight:

 The sweet treats from home had been put away for when Mr and Mrs Martin needed a sugar and creamy chocolate hit and the wine we hope they will enjoy on their forthcoming first wedding anniversay!   (We did!  Thank you!)

 Mr Martin tried on his Rugby World Cup shirt and undies, presents from Mum and Dad

We were up early on day 2 and into a taxi to meet the start of our tour at the Saigon River.  We went on a scenic trip for 1.5 hours on a speed boat to Chu Chi.  We toured the tunnels and surrounding area and gained an insight into the hardship the people experienced, very sobering.  We both managed to climb into the tunnels and tried being tunnel rats.  We  declined shooting high powered weapons.  We returned to Saigon by bus and got a good look at the countryside on the journey.  Again we were met by our hostess, Mrs Martin and it was time for coffee at a local cafe.  Mrs Robyn was very pleased as the cafe had fresh coconut juice.

We met Mr Martin for dinner at Black Cat - a famous hamburger restaurant and had a very tasty dinner and then went to a coffee shop close by the Caravelle Hotel.   The hotel had a large inflated Rugby ball outside the first sign that the Rugby World cup had commenced back home.  It was interesting people watching in the cafe there were young ladies dressed up and obviously looking for foreign ATM's.

Day 3  we visited the War Remnants Museum with Mr Martin before he went to work.  The museum has many tanks, guns and planes housed in its grounds and inside the museum is the Historical Truths, Requiem collection of war documentaries taken by 134 journalists from 11 nationalities killed during the Indochina war.  There is a collection of Japanese documentary photos and a prison showing the life like conditions during the war. This was a very sobering experience, so much pain, hunger and inhumanity was endured during war time in Viet Nam.

We met Mr Martin in his lunch hour at Guitar street.  Mr Robyn and Mr Martin were in their element going from shop to shop, picking up guitars and strumming some notes. 

We then went to a Vietnamese cafe which specalised in Pho (a very tasty broth) and then on to do more shopping at Saigon Square 2.   

 Typical Vietnamese market 'shower curtain' style changing room! -K

Along the way we spotted a wedding couple posing for photographs at a very busy intersection (apparently a common wedding photo pose and one we hope Mr and Mrs Martin will not add to their wedding photographs).  On our way back to District 1 we experiened the worst traffic jam we have ever been in, eventually we ditched the taxi and walked the last few blocks home.  Surprisingly there was no road rage everyone seemed incredibly patient.

That evening we had a very pleasant dining experience at Cafeif .

We were up early the next morning to take a Jetstar flight north to DaNang - an hour's flight.  Mrs Martin had pre-seated us in an area where there was plenty  of leg room making it a very comfortable flight. 

There was a taxi driver waiting for us at the airport and we were whisked away past stylish resorts and manicured international standard golf courses to Hoi An around one hour travel time.  On the way we stopped  at a marble factory and Mr Martin bought his prized marble carved eagle. (This object is supremely ugly and deserves a blog post of its own - K.)

We were meet by the very friendly staff at Hai Au Hotel

 After settling in it was time to explore the ancient town.  We walked over the Japanese covered bridge, by museums of history and culture and past markets and art and craft workshops.  There were colourful shoe shops and tailors every few metres, very tempting.  We all had a cyclo ride around Hoi An for 30 minutes. 

We returned to the hotel and had a swim in the hotel pool before we headed out for dinner to the Mango.Mango, another excellent meal.  It was new moon and  the children were out dressed in lion costumes banging loud drums and encouraging everyone to put money in the lion's mouth (apparently it brings you luck, hope it works)!

Whilst walking that evening we passed a sweat shop! 

We took a taxi the next morning to An Bang Beach (China Beach) and  a very pleasant day was spent at Jaspa's beach club

That evening we searched for a cafe that Mr and Mrs Martin  had dined at previously.  We were the only patrons in the sports bar/cafe and had an excellent inexpensive meal (the ownership had changed since our last visit! It wasn't a sports bar before, but we decided to stay anyway... K.).
We arranged for a taxi driver to take us to My Son and we toured the World Cultural Heritage site. 

My Son is where the ancient Champa people arised to be masters of art in building brick from the 4th century to the 13th century.  A worthwhile tour and we got plenty of exercise!  On the return journey we stopped at a Catholic church on top of a hill.  We climbed to the top of the hill to view the church and scenery.  This was the first Catholic church we had seen on our holiday in Viet Nam that was not pink.  Yes the Catholic churches must have got a bulk deal on pink paint!

Some highlights of our time in Hoi An are that Mrs Robyn finally got to ride a bicycle in Viet Nam, something she has been wanting to do for 20 plus years, but Mr Robyn was not keen.
We all took a cyclo ride around Hoi An, it was fun and we got to see so much.  Mr Martin had wanted us to take a cyclo ride in Saigon but we were not keen, we are pleased we waited to do the ride in a small city.  On our last evening in Hoi An we visited NA Spa and had a body scrub and moisturising massage for $30.00 for two.  We were very impressed with the high standard of the spa and the cost, a very pleasant experience.

We had an early start the next day as a taxi driver was picking us up at 7.00 a.m. to drive us to Hue (three hours north).   On our way north we stopped at Ngu Hah, known as Marble  Mountain, 9 kilometers from central DaNang city.  We took the lift to almost the top of the mountain.  A very scenic spot of the surrounding coutryside and China beach.  We explored the many caves and saw the amazing Mount of Water, Mount of Metal and Fire with the famous Quan the AM and Huyen Vi caves and Quan the AM pagoda, set on the quiet Coco river with beautiful surrounding scenery. 

We arrived in Hue at midday and checked into the Orchid Hotel (or Orchard Hotel as Mr Martin calls it).  We were shown to very nice large rooms, we freshened up and then were off to find a local restaurant recommended by the staff at the hotel.  Along the way we were followed by a very persistent cyclo driver who finally gave up after following us for around 30 minutes.  At the restaurant we tried a special pancake which was a local crispy pancake that you fill with greens (including Vietnamese mint) and a mushroom sauce, very tasty and very cheap!

A short walk after leaving the restaurant we spotted a French Bakery and the temptation was too much for us! We ordered brioche and chocolate croissants to take away.    They were the best pastries we had eaten in Viet Nam and made a very nice afternoon snack.

Most of the afternoon was spent visiting Hue Monuments and Conservation Centre, Forbidden City - another amazing World Cultural Heritage site.   We explored the city on foot for a few hours and then took a cyclo ride to the History Museum, attached to this was the American and French war museums.  So much bloody history on display and very sobering.  Loads of tanks and guns for Mr Martin to photograph!

It had been recommended that we try a restaurant with a set menu for tourists so we took a taxi ride to Y Thao Garden Restaurant.  Very nice garden setting and excellent dinner with six courses of local cuisine.  We returned to Orchid Hotel for an early night as we had to be up early in the morning for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

 Yes, we did try to impress our guests with as many chicken-shaped meals as possible! - K

The taxi drive to the Hue airport was very memorable as I think every mosquito in Hue had nested in the vehicle.  We all including the driver spent the 30 minute journey swotting mossies!

We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City mid morning, Mr Martin headed off to work and after a quick freshen up and completing the list of things to do before we depart, it was time to head to L'usine for lunch.  L'usine is a trendy lunch cafe frequented by foreigners. Their baguettes are amazing and the mango smoothie was the best I have had.  Attached to L'usine is a shop that sells all types of quirky things, well worth a visit.  Mr Martin just happened to be having lunch at L'usine when we were there so we got to meet a couple of his work colleagues.

Mrs Martin took us to Benh Thanh Market area as I wanted to buy soccer strips for grandsons and Mr Robyn walked on to hardware market (a street full of shops with all sorts of hardware and tools).  Mr Robyn was very happy when he met us at the Highland's Coffee in the Tax Centre as he had purchased a ratchet and special sized socket set, good quality and price.    We then visited the famous Rex Hotel where the war journalists based themselves during the Viet Nam war.  It is a grand old hotel with a great roof top garden bar.   It was then time to go to the Optician to collect my glasses which had a new prescription of lenses put in them.  The optician very kindly gave us extra nose cushions, screws and cords.  We walked home past the local market and bought fresh coconut and fruit for breakfast.

It was our last night and we planned to dine at a restaurant called Cuc Gach Quan. An amazing restaurant built by an architect.  We had great meal in the roof top area of the restaurant.  Every inch of the building has been made good use of, well worth a visit.

It was now time to make our farewells as we were flying from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur.  Mr and Mrs Martin were up early to farewell us.  I had glassy eyes as I hugged my little brother and sister in law goodbye.  
We had a very happy and most memorable holiday in Viet Nam, thanks to our much loved brother and sister-in-law who were superb hosts.  It was really great sharing the Viet Nam experience with Mr and Mrs Martin and sharing stories old and new along the way.  We hope that we will be able to return to visit Viet Nam again one day to experience more of the beautiful country.  Mr and Mrs Martin will no doubt remember us for our shopping, walking, touring, eating stamina! (We're still recovering... K) 

We were in a new country and we were there to experience as much as we could and so we accomplished our mission!


  1. Thanks Mrs Martin for helping make us world famous. You did a great job with the photos and we liked the additions!

  2. looks like a lovely time was had by all! That pose with Mr Robyn and Mrs Martin is cute. I want that Rooster with the spring rolls!