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Tales from Vietnam: Surprised by Rach Gia

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Rach Gia wasn’t supposed to be more than a layover stop on the way from Phu Quoc to Can Tho, and I at first I didn’t even plan to spend the night there, thinking I could take a morning ferry from Phu Quoc, and upon arriving in Rach Gia take a cab straight to the bus station and hop on the next bus into the heart of the Mekong Delta. Upon second thought though, I decided the journey would be quite long (30 mins to the port, 2.5 hours on the ferry, 30 mins taxi, 3.5 hours on the bus, which makes this a 7-hour travel day), and why stress myself? I had time, I wasn’t in any rush, and if I spent the night in Rach Gia I could also take a later ferry and maximize my time on the island.rach gia street with blooming treeI looked up hotels in Rach Gia and when I saw that the second best rated hotel was a $10-a-night hotel right across the street from the ferry port (the best rated hotel was an $11 homestay, btw), my decision was made. I was also intrigued by the advertised “8 free taxi rides per day included in your stay”, making me wonder how in the world this hotel was making any money.rach gia pierLucky them: I love walking, so instead of calling a cab I used my two feet and set out to explore the town.

There aren’t many sights in Rach Gia, but I decided to still check out what the guidebook recommended I should see in Rach Gia. The temple the Lonely Planet thought was noteworthy, Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel, and since I do love me a good temple, I decided to start my exploration of the town right there.rach gia nguyen trung templeThe temple is dedicated to a Vietnamese resistance fighter, Nguyen Trung Truc, who led a raid against the French army when they arrived in Vietnam in the 1860s. He burned a French war ship and was eventually executed for this in the market place of Rach Gia. The temple features a sculpture of Trung Truc on the altar, and various interesting details inside the main temple as well as the grounds surrounding it, including beautiful dragon-shaped bushes and an altar built into the trunk of a majestic old tree.rach gia nguyen templeI crossed the footbridge across from the temple, crossing the first of two rivers that cut through the city. After reading the lackluster description of Rach Gia in my trusted Lonely Planet, I didn’t expect much beyond a boring port city, but to my surprise, I found the town rather charming. I wandered along tree-lined streets, flowers blossoming in big flower pots on the sidewalks, a few chickens and roosters roaming the streets, and many cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks. The many trees on the sidewalks offered natural shade – perfect to have a glass of iced coffee underneath one of them.rach gia sidewalk cafeMy first stop was Lau Chay Hoa Sen – the vegetarian restaurant Hoa Sen – which I had found thanks to Google (thank God for GoogleMaps and modern technology – it is now so much easier for vegetarians to find meat-free restaurants!), and which turned out to be a Hot Pot restaurant. If you ever had Hot Pot, you know that it is usually a dish that’s to be shared, but since I was starving, I ordered it anyway, even though I was by myself.rach gia vegetarian hot potAs the family who runs the restaurant started setting up the food in front of me, I realized that I had no idea how to cook all the vegetables the right way. And while I was still looking at the hot pot and the large plate with raw vegetables (half of which I had no clue what it was) and herbs with a puzzled look on my face, the family’s grandpa came over and motioned to me if he could add some veggies to the sizzling mixture of broth, tofu and mushrooms. English was not spoken here at all, but luckily, body language goes pretty far, and after I nodded and gave him my brightest smile, he started to break the large vegetables up into smaller pieces and added them to the mixture.rach gia hot pot chayHe then showed me how to add the rice noodles that they’d served on a different plate, and how to get the right mix of herbs, veggies, tofu and broth in the little bowl they put out there for me. The entire family was sitting at a table across the room from me, laughing and watching me enjoying my first hot pot experience. And how I enjoyed it! I kept thinking how flavorful the herbs were, how fresh everything tasted, and how I didn’t want the meal to end (just like with all the other meals I’ve had in Vietnam so far). But an hour later, I left the restaurant stuffed and grateful for their hospitality.rach gia streetOne thing I noticed on my stroll through town was how much more welcoming the people here were – every cafe I passed I heard excited ‘hellos’, every kid I passed waved at me and also practiced their limited English skills (‘hellooooo’), people who drove by me on their scooters waved at me. I hadn’t felt that welcome in any of the places I’d visited so far, but that said, Rach Gia was only the third stop on my Vietnam trip after Saigon and Phu Quoc. People in Saigon seemed to have the typical “big city grumpiness” to them, and people in Phu Quoc seemed mostly annoyed with all the foreigners on their little island. One bar owner told me that Russians, who make up the majority or tourists there, could be pretty obnoxious, so I can’t blame them for their indifferent way of acting.rach gia nguyen trung temple sculptureIt seemed like I was the only white person in town, and I was so aware of this that I got excited when another “mi chang”, as the Vietnamese call white people, passed me on his scooter, barely able to resist the urge to excitedly wave at him. What I found so pleasant about Rach Gia was the fact that this wasn’t a touristy place whatsoever. Instead of ticking off sights I was able to just wander and soak up the atmosphere, take in the local life, people watch and observe.rach gia gateOn Nguyen Trung Truc Street, I was walking by plenty of fancy-looking boutiques and clothes stores, intercepted with little areas on the sidewalk where people set up their street food stalls and sold banh mi sandwiches or noodle dishes. I stopped at a cafe for an iced coffee, and somehow ended up with three drinks.rach gia drinksThe main street of the city, Lac Hong, is a wide 4-lane boulevard that leads all the way down to the waterfront, and is lined with shops and small cafes, some of which were so hipster-cute that they could’ve been straight out of Seoul or Bangkok. I strolled down the boulevard to the very end, where it merges into Park Cong Vien Bai Duong (Ocean Beach Park). Stone tables are set up right on the shore here, so that people can enjoy the vast sea views.rach gia sunsetThis is a place that is particularly scenic during sunset, and I lingered for a while before I headed over to Eden, a stylish Korean restaurant / coffee shop right next to the park.eden coffee drinkThe hotel had recommended it to guests in an old-fashioned folder with restaurant and bar recommendations (which I truly appreciated, considering the Lonely Planet didn’t have a single food recommendation), along with Boulevard Cafe, just one block away, and where I had to stop for a quick coffee simply because it was so pretty with hundreds of lights installed in the many trees right in the courtyard of the cafe.rach gia cafeIf you’re looking for something to do at night, head to Ton Duc Thang, which I walked all the way north from Lac Hong until I reached the bridge. I don’t know how many karaoke bars I’ve passed – it seems like people in Rach Gia take karaoke very seriously, considering the karaoke bars were all so big that from afar I assumed they were casinos. There are also a number of bars on this street were DJs were playing loud house music – the bars all felt like clubs to me, only that nobody was dancing. Instead, people were sitting around the tables, sipping beers and watching the DJs spinning records (can you still say that when they actually use a laptop?).rach gia barIf you’re looking for a quieter place, head to Cafe Seaview, which is right across the street from the river front and in addition to coffee has a large food menu.

While I was out on my stroll, I walked by the Phuong Trang bus office to buy a ticket for the bus to Can Tho. According to Travelfish, they offer free hotel pickup which seemed too good to be true, but the lady in the ticket office confirmed that I’d be picked up the next morning at my hotel. We communicated entirely via GoogleTranslate – me typing questions into my phone and her typing her answers into her phone. I am starting to wonder how people traveled before everyone had a smartphone! How did I travel before I had a smartphone?! She didn’t speak a single word of English, my Vietnamese is limited to Hello and Thank You, and yet I was able to tell her when and where I wanted to go.rach gia pineapple vendorI would’ve happily spent another day in Rach Gia,but I was also excited for my next stop: the Mekong Delta, a place that’s been on my travel wish list for quite some time now.rach gia river

Rach Gia Practical Information:

Buses to & from Rach Gia

If you’re taking the bus from Rach Gia, be aware that the bus station is in Rach Soi, just south of Rach Gia (it took me almost 25 mins from my hotel to get there).

I used Travelfish.org for bus schedules and companies, and you can also find ferry information on Travelfish.

The Ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc

There are several ferries per day from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc – passenger ferries as well as car ferries, slow ferries and fast ferries. You can find a good overview over ferry times and ferry prices here.

rach gia hotelWhere to stay in Rach Gia

When I visited Rach Gia, there were no hostels in town, but since my visit, a hostel opened, and it looks great:

  • STAY hostel – a double room is US$11, a dorm bed is US$6.
  • Kiet Hong Hotel – the basic hotel I stayed at, right across from the ferry terminal. A double room for two is around $12.
  • Nho Hotel – a brand new (2020) hotel that is also right by the ferry terminal. Double rooms from US$9.

 

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Is It Safe To Travel In Thailand?

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While there are places that are deemed as tourist-friendly destinations, there are also places which are flagged as high-risk. Fortunately,

Top 6 famous cities you must visit in Vietnam and Cambodia

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Two small countries in Indochina, Vietnam and Cambodia are widely famous for their picturesque landscape, tropical palm-fringed beaches, mythical karst caves, French Colonial buildings, and amazing Khmer architecture. Vietnam and Cambodia can be visited almost all year round and be perfect for all types of travelers. 

Not convinced yet? My article below will introduce you to the top 6 most interesting cities in Vietnam and Cambodia and help you sure about whether to pick these 2 countries for your next holiday. 

1. Hanoi 

Not only as the center of the political, cultural, historical, and social-economic quintessence built up over a thousand years of national construction of Vietnam, Hanoi, the capital is undoubtedly a must-see spot in your journey in Vietnam. Hanoi has enough interesting things for you to discover in several days, from ancient temples, beautiful sunset on the lake, colorful local markets, unique museums, to French colonial architecture. Besides, Hanoi is a heaven of tasty street food. Let’s treat your inner foodies with numerous local cuisines including Bun Cha, Pho Bo (Beef Noodle), Vietnamese Banh Mi, and Che (Vietnamese sweet bean soup). To discover Hanoi, you should take a cyclo tour which takes you around 36 Streets of Hanoi Old Quarters, pass through many famous tourist attractions including Hoan Kiem Lake, Turtle Tower, Temple of Literature, Ba Dinh Square, Tran Quoc Pagoda, and Thang Long Citadel.

Best time to visit: 

You can visit Hanoi all year around. Please note that from June to the middle of September, there are often heavy rains which may cause a flood in the city

What to do in Hanoi

  • Take a cooking class 
  • Try the world-famous egg coffee 
  • Take a cyclo around Hanoi’s Old Quarters 
  • Go shopping in Dong Xuan Night Market 
  • Grab some Vietnamese Beer at Ta Hien Street 
  • Discover the heaven of street food 
  • Biking around West Lake and savor the beauty of romantic sunset 
  • Visit Bat Trang Ceramic Villages 
  • Explore the Duong Lam Ancient Villages 

2. Hue

Located along the banks of the Huong River, Hue is one of the most romantic and charming towns of Vietnam. Being the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, Hue was designed as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993. The highlight of Hue is The Empire City with palaces and shrines and The Forbidden Purple City, once the residence of the royal family and severely destroyed during the Vietnamese War. 

Traveling to Hue, you should visit Thien Mu Pagoda – the historic temple built on a hill overlooking the Perfume River, and some royal tomb such as Minh Mang Tomb, Tu Duc Tomb, etc. When the night falls, let’s embark on the Dragon Boat in the Perfume Rivers, savor the sparkling, charming natural beauty while listening to the Hue Chamber Music. Also enjoying all cuisines and specialties in Hue is such a great experience as it is famous for the delicate imperial cuisine. And, the affordable street food offered by vendors is also hard to resist. Let’s taste “Com hen Bun Bo Hue and the heaven of cake here.

Best time to visit

From January to August is the most suitable time to visit Hue. For the rest of the year, there is often rain which makes city sorrow. 

What to do in Hue

  • Visit the Imperial Citadel and Forbidden City 
  • Go Biking along Perfume River 
  • Discover the Huyen Tran Temple 
  • Journey to Bach Ma International Airport 
  • Enjoy Hue Chamber Music 
  • Admire the charming beauty of the city from Dragon Boat 
  • Explore Hon Chen Temple 

3. Sapa 

Despite just a small town in the mountainous northwest of Vietnam, Sapa has always been listed as one of the must-see destinations in Vietnam. 

Coming to Sapa, tourists will be amazed by the magnificent mountains looming in front of their eyes. Steep hills, the golden rice terraces, and the marvelous mountain peaks are an irresistible appeal to visitors. 

If you are an adventure-lover, Fansipan peak – the summit of Indochina crowned with a headdress of ice will be an amazing experience. 

Besides enjoying the stunning landscapes, Sapa is also an ideal place to get closer to Vietnamese tribal groups such as H’ Mong, Tay, and Dao. Visiting the villages like Ta Van, Ta Phin or Cat Cat, following them to the rice terraces, or going to the local market and even making local dishes will be meaningful moments.

Some must-try dishes are Sapa Cap Nach Pigs, Thang Co, Khang Gai Dried Meat in Sapa, Sapa Fructus Crataegi Wine, Sapa Chinese Black Mushroom, Sapa Pau Play Day Cake and many more.

Best time to visit

You can visit Sapa almost all year round as in each season, Sapa has its beauty. If you’d love to admire the magnificent golden rice terraces, let’s visit Sapa in September and early October. If you love trekking, visit Sapa from February to May when the temperature is pretty comfortable. 

What to do in Sapa

  • Visit Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Trekking to some ethnic villages including Muong Hoa Village, Cat Cat Village 
  • Conquer Fansipan Summit 
  • Explore Hoang Lien National Park 
  • Go shopping for some handicraft in the local markets 
  • Join the Sapa Love Market 
  • Dine with the locals 

4. Halong Bay 

Listed as a New World Seven Wonders, what coming to visitors’ minds when thinking about Halong Bay is spectacular scatter of islands with towering limestone pillars and tiny islets jutting out from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. What is more astonishing than sitting on the boat, chatting with friends or family, sipping wine and enjoying fresh seafood under the romantic night in Halong Bay? 

One of the most satisfying things when coming to beaches and especially a world natural wonder is sunbathing and swimming. The clear blue water, white smooth sand beaches twinkling under the golden sunshine and fresh air create a wonderful landscape for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, fishing, or kayaking.Also, numerous exciting activities like snorkeling, diving, swimming or sunbathing will satisfy all visitors from kids to adults. Those who enjoy nature will love the view and appreciate its beauty. Or renting out a junk to stay overnight to just enjoy the quietness and beauty of Ha Long Bay is not a bad idea.

Moreover, taking a deeper discover into floating villages, visitors will find out a lot of interesting features of the daily life of Halong Bay’s locals. They live there and make ends meet from the diversified supply of marine life. 

Last but not least, there is no better way to witness Halong Bay fantastic limestone karsts and caves from the seaplane. Just imagine how amazing it is when all the famous islands, almost all famous landscapes of Halong Bay like Dau Go Cave, Tuan Chau Island and so on will be in our eyes. But it is quite expensive, so consider carefully!

Best time to visit

You can visit all year round except June to September. During these months, Halong Bay often suffers a lot of tropical storms and typhoons which may cause cancellation of all cruise trips. 

What to do in Halong Bay

  • The best thing to do in Halong Bay: 
  • Embark on a Halong Bay Cruise 
  • Discover beautiful karst cave 
  • Visit Cat Ba Island and Bai Tu Long Bay 
  • Take a cyclo tour to visit some local villages 
  • Get sweet burn while relaxing and swimming in the Monkey Island 
  • Go hiking to Cat Ba National Park 
  • Check out Hon Trong Mai – The Fighting Cocks Island 
  • Go night squid fishing  
  • Go hiking on Ban Sen Island 

5. Hoi An 

As one of the oldest cities in the country, Hoi An attracts millions of tourists every year for its unique architecture, colorful lanterns, and ancient streets perfectly dotted with unobtrusive street vendors. It is also the best place for foreigners to get a deeper understanding of Vietnamese lives, traditions, and customs. Hoi An is an ideal destination for all types of travelers as it offers you a wealth of activities. If you love discovering the culture, let’s take part in a cooking class to prepare Vietnamese Cuisine by yourself, visit Tra Que Village – the lush-greenery herbal village to learn more about the local lives. If you favor outdoor activities, try the crazy dancing boat on the Thu Bon River, get some sweet burn on An Bang Beach, go fishing with local people, or visit Coconut Forest and experience to be a farmer and a fisher in one day. 

Hoi An is also famous for its diverse and excellent food as one of the 25 most attractive destinations for foodies around the world. Don’t miss Hoi An Chicken Rice, Mi Quang, Cao Lau and White Rose in Hoi An.

Best time to visit: 

It’s better to visit Hoi An during the dry season that lasts from February to July 

What to do in Hoi An

  • Take a cooking class 
  • Take a picture in the Japanese Covered Villages 
  • Relax on the An Bang Beach and Cua Dai Beach 
  • Explore the Cham Island 
  • Visit My Son Sanctuary 
  • Admire the colorful street lit up by hundreds of flower lanterns 
  • Try to ride a buffalo like a local farmer 
  • Experience the life of local farmer and fisher for one day 

6. Siem Reap 

Being the seat of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century and the closest city to Angkor Complex, Siem Reap is the fastest growing place in Cambodia. The main draw of any trip to Siem Reap is visiting Angkor Wat – the massive temple of an intricate stone building with the ornate design. Being the largest temple of the complex, Angkor Wat is pictured on Cambodia’s flag and become a national symbol. Located only 4 kilometers to the north Angkor Wat is the Angkor Thom – the last capital of the Khmer Kingdom. Angkor Thom, as its name suggests, is a “big city” or “great city” with a wealth of ancient temples and historical interests. Angkor Thom boasts 126 giant stone faces and is home to Baphuon Temple – the three-tiered temple mountain built in the 11th century, Ta Prohm – a beautiful state of ruins with a giant tree and its massive roots, Bayon – the richly decorated Khmer temple located at the heart of Angkor Thom. In addition to the hauntingly beautiful ruins down the road, Siem Reap offers a wealth of activities such as watching the traditional Apsara Dance, join the show at the Phare Circus, grab a beer while enjoying Cambodia’s delicious street foods and visit the Relics of Human Cruelty in Wat Thmei.

Best time to visit

From September to December is the best time to visit Siem Reap when the temperature is cooler and the sky is clear, which make it perfect for viewing sunset and sunrise in Angkor Wat.

What to do in Siem Reap 

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