Revisiting Vietnam after a Decade: The Painstaking Planning
Visiting Vietnam for the second time around is much more fun for me. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy my first time there with my family, but nothing beats chilling with friends in a new scene, and escaping from the realities back home. The first time I visited Vietnam was way back in high school, where my sister was assigned there for work, and we were able to travel for free. We were able to stay in one of their most luxurious hotels, where even the foreign ambassadors stay. We dined in hotel buffets, high end restaurants, and their famous floating restaurant.
More or less after a decade, I found myself again in the biggest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. My friends and I are really not planning to visit Vietnam, we actually wanted to visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. But since there's no direct flight from Manila to Cambodia, we either had to pass Thailand or Vietnam to get there. When JE found that Cebu Pacific is having a seat sale last November, we took the opportunity and automatically booked a flight to Vietnam in February, which just cost about P4.5K. Cheap flight to Vietnam, checked!
My college friends made a pact that we should take turns organizing our trips, but one way or another, I always end up as being the travel organizer. As I had no choice, I had to plan our itinerary for the trip. First thing first, I had to find out how to get to Cambodia from Vietnam. We had to options, either travel by bus or by plane. I checked both Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar, but found that there is no cheap Cambodia flights. The flight costs about P13K, which beats the purpose of booking a cheap flight to Vietnam.
Checking the second option, I found out that it would take about 13 hours to get to Siem Reap. But stupid us, we didn't realize that we only had 3 days of travel when we booked our flights to Vietnam. We thought we had four days of travel, but when we double-checked our flights, we realized we only had 3 days of travel, as the flights were on the wee hours of the night. Hmmm, the cons of being random.
After asking my friends and giving up of finding a cheap flight to Cambodia, we decided to just visit Vietnam. George said he wanted to visit Hanoi, and go to Ha Long Bay. And so again, I search on how to get to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh. We had 3 options, either by bus, train or by plane. Again, the bus or train route is not a good option, as it would take about 6-7 hours. The plane ticket would cost about P5K-P6K.On top of that, we had to find a Ha Long Bay cruise. Again, had to give up Ha Long Bay trip due to time and budget constraint.
Having gone to Vietnam already, I had to find a different tour from the one I had the first time I went there. Good thing Maan, my officemate, gave me her itinerary when she went to Vietnam. I booked the Half-day Cu Chi Tunnel tour from the Sinh Tour travel agent. Sinh Tour is one of popular cheap travel agents in Vietnam, formerly known at Sinh Café. They also offer tours to Cambodia, Thailand and other neighboring countries.
I also found one of the cheap Vietnam hotels, Madam Cuc, which is really more of a guesthouse for backpackers. Their rates are really cheap, at $32/night for a room good for four. Their location is also very strategic, situated at Pham Ngu Lao area, which is the district for backpackers, with other neighboring cheap hotels and guesthouses, and near local markets and malls.
So we have a place to sleep in, and an activity for our day 1. I decided not to book a Ho Chi Minh city tour, and thought that we could just roam around the city on our own. So our day 1 would consists of the Cu Chi Tunnel tour in the morning, and our own city tour in the afternoon. Now, I had to find what we can do for the next couple of days. Being a beach bum, and the summer season just a couple of months way, I decided to look for the closest beach from Ho Chi Minh. After the surfing the net, I found Mui Ne beach in Binh Thuan which is about four hours away from Ho Chi Minh. It's suppose to be the destination choice for adventurers who like to wind surf, kite surf and just plain surfing.
I found that Sinh Tour travel also offers bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne which just cost about $12 per person for a round trip, so naturally I booked that. Now, a place to stay in Mui Ne beach. I found the official site for Mui Ne travel, which is very useful as it already provides accommodation per category, from five star hotels to cheap inns and guesthouses. Of course, I opt for the cheap hotels and guesthouses. Skimming through the different options, I found Mai Am guesthouse to be the best option, as it is the only one who has a website amongst the different cheap hotels and guesthouses listed. I've booked 2 rooms for us, for just $25/per room for a night.
At last, our itinerary is complete! We have a flight, accommodations and tour, all within our budget.