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Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer, the "Golden City", is located on the westernmost frontier of India in the state of Rajasthan. Close to the border with Pakistan, the city is known for its proximity to the Thar Desert. Desert Safari in the sand dunes of Jaisalmer is an unforgettable experience.

The city is dominated by the Jaisalmer Fort. Unlike most forts in India, the Jaisalmer Fort is a living fort. There are shops, hotels, age old havelis (homes) inside the fort area.

permalink written by  garisti on September 1, 2008 from Jaisalmer, India
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Delhi, India

Delhi (Hindi: दिल्ली, Urdu: دلّی, Punjabi: ਦਿੱਲੀ) [1] is northern India's largest city. One part of it, known as New Delhi (Hindi: नई दिल्ली Naï Dillî), is officially designated the capital of India, but the names are often used interchangeably.

permalink written by  garisti on September 1, 2008 from Delhi, India
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Singapore, Singapore

Singapore (Chinese: 新加坡 , Malay: Singapura, Tamil: சிங்கப்பூர) is an island-state in Southeast Asia, connected by bridges to Malaysia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since Independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries, sporting the world's busiest port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences and a lush tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a happening, vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.

"Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations" - William Gibson

permalink written by  garisti on August 1, 2008 from Singapore, Singapore
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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Despite its reputation as a 'rough' city, Phnom Penh is easy to get around and is a great introduction to Cambodia.
[edit] Understand

For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It can be very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is lacking, and it is a very poor city - much poorer than, for example, Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). In the past the visitor who could not adjust to rubbish filled streets and large numbers of beggars could give Phnom Penh a miss.

But things are changing. The infrastructure is improving rapidly - fewer power outages, streets are paved, rubbish is collected more frequently - and the city retains much of the beauty that made it a Paris of the east before 1970. Beautiful wide boulevards, fine colonial architecture and a parklike riverfront with cafés and restaurants aplenty help make Phnom Penh a worthwhile destination. Not necessarily for its standard tourist sights, which are few. But as a place to relax, watch the streetlife and absorb local color Phnom Penh rates very high among Asian cities. The beggars are still there, along with a great number of street kids and kids selling tourist paraphernalia, but this is most visible in heavily touristed areas. And generally the touts and kids are less aggressive and persistent than say their Indian or Vietnamese counterparts.

Those who find themselves struggling with Phnom Penh's current state should recall the terrible times the city has been through in recent decades. In 1975 it was choked with up to 2 million refugees from the war between the then U.S.-backed government and the Khmer Rouge, and after it fell to the Khmer Rouge, it was completely emptied of civilians and allowed to crumble for the next four years. Most of the already small class of skilled professionals were murdered or driven into exile. The city fell to the Vietnamese Army in 1979, but the new Cambodian government had no money to spend on urban improvement until the peace settlement of 1992.

As Cambodia's economy has recovered a new rich class has arisen in Phnom Penh, and a crop of new hotels and restaurants has opened to accommodate them and the tourist trade; as yet however there's very little in between the extremely rich and the extremely poor. But here too there are changes in the wind; take a trip to the green-domed Sorya mall and you're transported to the consumerist world to which the emerging middle and upper classes aspire.

The free Phnom Penh Visitors Guide by Canby Publications (available from hotels/guesthouses and some restaurants) contains lots of good info on Phnom Penh, including accommodation/bar/restaurant/shop details, travel & transport options, maps, etc.
[edit] Orientation

All of Phnom Penh's streets are numbered, although some major thoroughfares have names as well. The scheme is simple: odd-numbered streets run north-south, the numbers increasing as you head west from the river, and even numbers run west-east, increasing as you head south (with some exceptions, e.g. the west side of the Boeung Kak lake). House numbers, however, are quite haphazard. Don't expect houses to be numbered sequentially in a street; you might even find two completely unrelated houses with the same number in the same street.
[edit] Get in

See Cambodia for more information on getting into the country.
[edit] By plane

Departure taxes

International flights: US$25
Domestic flights: US$6

Both must be paid in US dollars cash. In theory, you can pay by credit card, but the option is usually unavailable.

Phnom Penh Airport (PNH), formerly but no longer called Pochentong, is Cambodia's largest international airport and most flights into the country pass through there. There are daily flights from all major regional airports (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Taipei) as well as from Luang Prabang in Laos. Airlines include Bangkok Airways, Lao Aviation, Shanghai Airlines, Thai Airways, Silk Air, Dragon Air, among others. Malaysian low-cost carrier Air Asia has daily flights from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The new terminal is a thoroughly pleasant and modern facility, and features a post office, bank (including ATMs), restaurants, duty-free shop, newsstand, tourist help desk, and business center.

Visas are available on arrival at the airport, and the process is easy if a little cumbersome: queue once to submit passport and visa application, once more to pay and pick it up, and only then proceed to immigration. Fees must be paid with USD notes; one passport photo is required (or else a US$1 surcharge must be paid). Single entry 30 day tourist visas cost US$20 (can be extended once only, to 60 days total). Single entry 30 day business visas cost US$25 (can be extended indefinitely, and become valid for multiple entries after the first extension).

The airport is about 11km from the city centre (Sisowath Quay). Taxis from the public taxi stand at the airport cost a flat US$7. Pay the fare at the taxi desk inside the door exiting the terminal, at which point you will be allocated a driver. Alternatively, you will find plenty of drivers immediately outside the exit from the terminal building. For visitors on a budget without a lot of luggage, it's worth catching an official moto for US$2, or walking out to the main road to save even more.
[edit] By bus

There are bus services to Phnom Penh from Poipet (on the border with Thailand) and from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam ($8-10, 5-6 hours), as well as from points throughout Cambodia. Two of the largest bus companies, Sorya (formerly Ho Wah Genting) and GST, both arrive and depart from the rather chaotic "station" at the southwest corner of the Central Market. Capitol Tours runs buses throughout Cambodia and onward to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, where they link up with Vietnam travel giant Sinh Cafe. Advance bookings are advisable, and can also be sorted out by most travel agents and guesthouses for a token fee.

Many travellers arriving from Thailand break their journey with a detour to Siem Reap, site of the ruins of Angkor. Most buses depart from/to Siem Reap in the early morning, a few more follow around noon; the journey takes about 5 hours. There are also frequent services to Sihanoukville. Basic air-con bus fares start around US$3-4; double-deckers with comfy seats, toilets, drink, food and bus-hostess charge up to US$10.
[edit] By boat

Ferries connect Phnom Penh to Siem Reap; tickets for foreigners typically cost US$20-30. Many (but not all) of these ferries offer the option of sitting on the roof, which makes for a much more scenic - although much less comfortable - ride than the bus ; take sunblock, a hat, and enough water to last you for several hours in case the boat gets stuck (12 hour boat rides are not unheard of).

Fast boats leave every morning around 8am from Chau Doc in Vietnam's Mekong Delta and take 5 hours to reach Phnom Penh. The boats make the return journey the same day and leave Phnom Penh around 1 PM arriving in Chau Doc in the early evening.
[edit] By train

There is a very slow, once-weekly train service between Phnom Penh and Battambang via Pursat. The journey is scheduled to take 14 hours but may be much longer, even though the distance by rail is only 275 km. It costs US$5 one-way for foreigners.

Phnom Penh to Battambang : Saturdays, departs 06:20, arrives 20:00
Battambang to Phnom Penh : Sundays, departs 06:40, arrives 19:00
[edit] Get around

Phnom Penh's main streets are in good shape; however other streets and footpaths are often rutted and pot-holed, clogged with garbage, stagnant water, parked motos, sleeping people, livestock and building materials. Many smaller streets either lack signage or bear misleading signs, however, Phnom Penh is logically laid out (see orientation) and navigating the city is not difficult if you know where you're going.

* Motorbikes (but not self-drive cars) are available for rent, however traffic is chaotic and public transport may be safer for casual visitors.

* Motorbike-taxis (motodops/motodups in local parlance) are ubiquitous and will take you anywhere for a small fare. A trip from Sisowath Quay to Central Market costs about 2,000 riel (50 US cents). Fares are higher at night and with more than one passenger.

* Taxis are available at a few locations - most notably outside the Foreign Correspondents Club on Sisowath Quay. Taxis do not have meters, and fares must be agreed in advance. Fares vary, due to fluctuating fuel prices; ask hotel/guesthouse staff for assistance (hotels and guesthouses will organise taxis on request).

* Tuk-tuks Cambodian-style consist of a motorcycle with a cabin for the passengers hitched to the back. They are cheaper than taxis and offer a scenic experience of the city. Their clientele is exclusively tourists, and most drivers speak some English.

* Cyclos are three-wheeled cycle-rickshaws. Considerably slower then a motodop, and gradually becoming less common in the city, they are still popular with locals and foreigners alike. The nature of the seat lends itself to a quick and easy way to transport all manner of goods from one place to another, even other cyclos and the occasional motorbike as well.

* Walking can be a challenge, as cars and motos do not stop for pedestrians. To cross safely, judge gaps in the traffic and proceed with care - give oncoming vehicles ample time to see and avoid you, or try to cross with the brightly coloured and revered monks. There is almost no street lighting off the major boulevards, and walking at night is not recommended.

[edit] See
Sisowath Quay as seen from FCC
Sisowath Quay as seen from FCC

* Sisowath Quay is an attractive boulevard running along the banks of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, and is fronted by a pleasant park. The built-up side of the street is home to cafés and shops and the better class of bar, and is extremely popular with tourists and expat Westerners. The esplanade along the river is equally popular with Cambodians, who come here in the cool of the evening to enjoy the quasi-carnival atmosphere. It begins at the Royal Palace (or rather, at the river-front park opposite the Palace), and is perhaps best experienced in the early evening. See A Stroll on Sisowath Quay for a self-guided tour.

* The Royal Palace and the two magnificent pagodas in the Palace Grounds, the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, are among the few public buildings in Phnom Penh really worth seeing. They were built in the 19th century with French technology and Cambodian designs, and have survived the traumas of the 20th century amazingly intact. See them early before it gets too hot. They are in any case closed 11:00-14:00, when all sensible Cambodians take a nap. Entrance fee is $3 for both, plus $2 for a camera or $5 for a video camera. No photography is allowed inside the Silver Pagoda and some of the Palace buildings. You're expected to dress decently (no bare legs or shoulders), but you can rent sarongs and oversized T-shirts for a token 1000 riel (plus $1 deposit) at the entrance.

* The National Museum (opposite the Royal Palace; admission $3). Contains an excellent collection of art from Cambodia's "golden age" of Angkor, and a lovely courtyard at the center. The pleasant little park in front of the Museum is the site of the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony, at which the success or otherwise of the coming harvest is determined. You may have heard stories of sightseers carrying umbrellas inside to avoid showers of bat droppings, but alas (?), the bats moved out after the renovation of 2002.

* Wat Phnom (admission $1) is on a hill at the center of a small park near Sisowath Quay, on St. 94. The temple itself is notable more for its historic importance than what you'll see there today, but the park is a pleasant green space and a popular gathering place for locals. A few monkeys keep quarters there as well and will help themselves to any drinks you've left unattended.

* Independence and Liberation memorials - impressive Buddhist-style Independence Memorial, commemorating the departure of the French in 1953, dominates the centre of the city. Nearby is the very ugly Stalin-style Liberation Memorial, marking the Vietnamese capture of the city in 1979. Although the Cambodians were glad to see the back of the Khmer Rouge, they don't like the Vietnamese much either, and have demonstrated this by neglecting the memorial for 20 years. It seems to be used mainly as a convenient urinal.

Tuol Sleng Prison
Tuol Sleng Prison

* Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) (Street 113, Boeng Keng Kang 3, Chamkar Morn, Phnom Penh; tel. 855-23-300-698, fax 855-23-210-358) [1] was a school converted into Cambodia's most important prison in 1975. More than 14,000 people were tortured here before being killed at the Killing Fields south of Phnom Penh; only 8 prisoners made it out alive. The museum is easily accessible and a must-see for everyone interested in Cambodia's horrific recent past. The infamous "skull map" has been dismantled, although there are still skulls stacked in cabinets, implements of torture and disturbing photographs. For a introduction and further reading, try David Chandler's "Voices from S-21" (ISBN 0520222474).
o The Documentation Center of Cambodia (66 Preah Sihanouk Blvd. P.O. Box 1110 Phnom Penh; tel. 855-23-211-875, fax 855-23-210-358) [2] manages the museum as part of its mission to record the history of the Khmer Rouge and gather evidence, should any Khmer Rouge leaders ever be brought to trial.

The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields

* The Killing Fields at Cheoung Ek, about 17km south of Phnom Penh, is where the Khmer Rouge killed many thousands of their victims during their four-year reign of terror. Today the site is marked by a Buddhist stupa packed full of human skulls - the sides are made of glass so the visitors can see them up close. There are also pits in the area where mass graves were unearthed. It is a serene yet somber place.

* Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump, [3]. Where hundreds of the poorest of the poor, including many small children, swarm over the refuse hoping to find anything of value. A certain type of tourist visits this place - if it's you, make sure you stop by the NGO "Pour sourire un enfant" [4], which helps the children of this place, and make a donation.

[edit] Itineraries

* A Stroll on Sisowath Quay - a half-day tour connecting together sightseeing, eating and shopping

[edit] Do

* Thunder Ranch is a shooting range near Cheoung Ek. Moto drivers, apparently oblivious to the reaction most visitors have, will try to include this in a trip to the killing fields. Rumors abound that cows and other farm animals used to serve as targets, but this is probably no longer the case. Prices range from USD30 for an AK-47 to USD200 for a rocket launcher.

[edit] Buy

As elsewhere in Cambodia, transactions are made in US dollars and in Cambodian riel, and only upmarket places will accept plastic. Take lots of low denomination US notes - notes above USD20 can be difficult to change. In place of coins you will get back riel, at a set exchange rate of 4000 to the dollar. There are a number of international ATM machines dispensing US currency around the city, including the Sisowath Quay tourist strip and in Sorya Market.

Popular tourist buys include Cambodian silk, local silverware, traditional handicrafts and curios (including Buddha figures), and made-to-order clothes.
The Art Deco dome of the Central Market
The Art Deco dome of the Central Market

* Central Market (in Cambodian called Psar Thmei - "New Market") is a 1930s Art Deco covered market near the Riverfront (Sisowath Quay) district. The market is well set out, and sells everything from flowers to video games. Sorya market, currently Phnom Penh's main Western-style mall, is nearby - less colourful that the traditional markets, but it is air-con and contains a range of cheap fast-food outlets as well as a well-stocked supermarket.

* Russian Market (Cambodian "Psar Toul Tom Poung" - it gained the "Russian Market" moniker following the Vietnamese occupation of the city in the 1980s, but many motodops are not familiar with the name) offers the opportunity to buy fake designer clothing, fake swiss watches and pirated software at low prices. It also has the best ice coffee in the city. Russian Market is located away from normal tourist areas, but motodop drivers who cater to tourists will know it.

Street 178, just north of the National Museum, is known as Artist Street and has many interesting boutiques.

* Colours of Cambodia, 373 Sisowath Quay. Handicrafts from around the country.

* Kravan House, #13 St. 178. Has a wide range of Cambodian silk products, including a wide range of ladies' handbags at a fraction of the price you would pay in a hotel gift shop.

* Stef's Happy Painting, Sisowath Quay (near St. 178, directly under FCC), [5]. Features brightly-colored fun and funky paintings of Cambodian life - a welcome relief after visiting some of Cambodia's more heart-breaking attractions.

Antiques dealers in Phnom Penh are an unscrupulous lot and may sell goods that theoretically should not be exported from Cambodia. See Heritage Watch [6] for listings of bad apples.

* Hidden Treasures, #9 Street 148, has antiques, art and curios from Cambodia's past and nearby South-East Asian cultures.

[edit] Eat

Phnom Penh offers some interesting culinary treats you won't find elsewhere in the country. Many of these include French-influenced dining as well as Thai, Vietnamese, and modern takes on traditional Cambodian dishes. The standard pizza-banana pancake-fried rice backpacker fare is also always easy to find.

The best area to wander is along the riverfront where everything from stand-up stalls to fine French bistros can be found. Take great care eating from stalls, however. Peeled fruit and vegetables and anything uncooked should be regarded with suspicion.
[edit] Budget

Take the cross river ferry to sit on mats and eat cheap hawker food while watching the sunset over the city.

* Jungle Bar and Grill [7], 273B Sisowath Quay, next to Riverside Bistro, has a varied international menu at very reasonable prices and a great happy hour. Free Internet and a great music selection.

* La Croisette, corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 144, is a French sidewalk café that's open all day.

* Setsara Thai Restaurant, #3D Street 278, is a very nice little Thai restaurant with a really good Thai chef, good music, reasonable prices and good service though a bit slow sometimes. They have some good French specialties as well.

[edit] Mid-range

* Bali Café, 379 Sisowath Quay, has pretty good Indonesian food. Try the Tahu Telur (Fried Tofu with Eggs). Be careful ordering water or you'll get the small plastic bottle of Evian - at USD3!

* Equinox [8] on Street 278 (near Street 51) has now opened a pretty good restaurant. Pizzas, baguettes, burgers, pastas and some more western specialities on the menu. Great indoor outdoor ambiance. Meat and salads come from a local organization who encourage and teach farmers in organic growing methods.

* Friends Restaurant, #215 Street 13 (50m north of the National Museum) is run by and for a non-profit that rehabilitates Cambodia's street children, and does delicious international tapas and main dishes.

* Frizz restaurant, #335, Sisowath Quay [9] has traditional Cambodian cuisine, and also operates the Cambodia Cooking Class [10].

* Garden Center Café, #23 Street 57 [11] is a garden setting café/restaurant that's popular with local ex-pats.

* Khmer Surin, #11 Street 57 (south of Sihanouk Boulevard) is a rather romantic restaurant that serves delicious Khmer and Thai food. The traditional Khmer seafood dish, amok, stands out.

* Lazy Gecko, #23B Street 93, Boeung Kak Lake, does a REALLY good hamburger, and a percentage of their profits go to Janine's Childrens Orphanage.

* Le Duo, Street 322 (between Monivong and Street 63) has excellent Italian food. Sicilian-born Luigi makes great pastas and pizzas.

* Metro Café, on the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 148 (opposite Riverside Bistro), is a stylish fusion of Asian and Western culture. Air-con. Good selection of small tapas-style dishes from USD1 and a great steak (about USD12).

* Paris Bubble Tea, 285-287 Preah Monivong (not far from the New York Hotel) tel 023 990 373; is pleasant and has fun and refreshing Bubble Tea. Try the classic Pearl Milk Tea.

* Riverside Bistro, #273a Sisowath Quay [12] occupies an old colonial style building and features comfortable outdoor dining with brilliant views of the Tonle Sap. Popular with local expats, tourists and local affluent Khmers. Try Khmer's "root of lotus".

[edit] Splurge

* 102, 1A, St. 102 (one block south of Le Royal), tel. 023-990-880. Probably Phnom Penh's top French restaurant, set in a modern, European-style surroundings. The food is quite competent and the onion soup is superb. Almost entirely undiscovered by tourists but popular with Phnom Penh's moneyed elite, so reservations recommended. $30.

* FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club), 363 Sisowath Quay. Modern colonial-style charm, superb views of the river and is a favourite expat hang-out that does particularly good desserts. Their signature cocktails, Tonle Sap Breezer and Burmese Rum Sour ($4.50 each), are also worth a quaff.

* Le Bistrot, #4D, Street 29 - French and Italian in an old villa.

* Xiang Palace (Hotel Intercontinental) Chinese - expensive fine dining, dim sum.

[edit] Drink

Superficial security

Most of the time, Phnom Penh bars and clubs are safe enough and a lot of fun - however, some of the more "hip" places are popular with the notorious local "elite" youth (and their minders) who carry firearms and other weapons, and who are allowed to pass through so-called "security" checks without being searched.

Places to hang out after dark include Street 104, Street 278, and Street 108 around the Street 51 corner, which all feature restaurant bars, hostess bars, and guesthouses.

* Barbados, south of Street 104 near the river, is a hostess bar. Buy 5 beers and get 1 free.

* DV8 Bar & Guesthouse [13] on Street 148 (near the riverfront) is a popular hostess bar with a good selection of spirits and a pool table on the 2nd floor - great if you're a single guy. Good accommodation on the premises.

* Elephant Bar, Raffles Le Royal. The classy bar at the classiest hotel in town, with frescos on the ceiling and live piano in the evenings. Try the Femme Fatale, a mix of cognac and champagne dreamed up for Jacqui Kennedy in 1967. Expensive.

* Elsewhere on Street 51 is an ex-pat hang-out with platform seating surrounding a small pool, in a French colonial villa. Big party first Friday of every month, when the place is packed.

* Equinox [14] on Street 278 (near Street 51) is a cocktail bar featuring paintings by local artist Soumey and photo exhibits by Isabelle Lesser, gaming room with a pool table and the unique bonzini foosball table of Phnom Penh, cool tunes, good food. Increasingly popular with expats.

* Golden Vine on street 108 next to VooDoo Lounge. Hostess bar with pole dancing and good food. Sunday roast recommended.

* Heart of Darkness has long been the most infamous nightclub in Phnom Penh, closed in August 2005 after a patron was shot to death but is now back in business. Some seating is reserved for well-heeled (gangster elite) Phnom Penh local youth, so move if you are asked. While certainly not the safest place in the world, more nights go by without incident than not. A number of expats avoid it now, however. Saturday nights are always packed.

* Martini Pub & Disco on Street 95 (one block off Monivong Blvd, across from the Total Gas Station) is an infamous girlie bar. Two full bars, food USD2-6, burgers & fries, pizza, Asian dishes, gaming room, disco, outdoor big-screen showing movies or sports. There some copycat Martini bars in other places like Sihanoukeville and Siem Reap, but this is the original. A place for single men and loose ladies.

* Monsoon Wine Bar on Street 104 is an intimate, cosy wine bar. Try a glass of wine from the well-chosen international wine list or nibble on something from the small but excellent Pakistani menu. Chilled vibe, cool tunes, friendly service.

* OneZeroFour Bar [15] on Street 104 is a popular low-key hostess bar, one of the few bars in Phnom Penh with a foosball table.

* Pit Stop on Street 51 is a popular hostess bar.

* Rubies on Street 240 is a wine bar favoured by young ex-pats working for local NGOs. Busy with a cliquey atmosphere on a weekend night.

* Sharky's Bar & Restaurant, #126 Street 130, Phnom Penh [16] Since its opening in 1995, Sharky's has been rocking & rolling. Located upstairs on the first floor above street level, Sharky's boasts a large space, huge center bar, outside balcony, and plenty of available seating. Most moto taxis will understand "Shockeee Bah". It's about three 1/2 blocks from the "Psar Thmei" (new market).

* Sugar Shack [17] on Sothearos (the street in front of the National Museum and Palace) is a classy little hostess bar featuring a nice wine selection.

* VooDoo Lounge on Street 51 near street 108 is a new bar with a great range of drinks, nice decor, air-con, happy hostesses, and a pool table. Two other hostess bars nearby.

* Walkabout on Street 51 has food and good pool tables. Many freelance girls congregate here. Popular after hours bar, also has rooms available. Open 24 hours.

* Zanzibar on Street 104 is high energy hostess bar with reasonable prices and a pool table upstairs, that's very popular among expats.

* Zapata Bar on Street 108 next to VooDoo Lounge is a stylish air-con hostess bar with a good range of drinks, and no pool table or food to distract you from the lovely ladies.

[edit] Sleep

Phnom Penh has a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from budget guesthouses (about USD5-20) through good quality mid-range hotels (USD20-50) to extravagant palaces (with extravagant prices to match).
[edit] Budget
Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh
Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh

Low-cost backpacker accommodation is becoming more abundant by the week. Most is clustered either near the riverfront or at Boeung Kak Lake.

* DV8 Guesthouse & Bar, #7 Street 148; tel. 012 620 441 / 012 776 885 [18] is a small boutique guesthouse located just off the riverfront; ground floor bar, second floor pool table. Rooms USD5-25.

* King Guesthouse, 141th Street, off Sihanouk Avenue; tel. 012 220 512; has ample rooms available to suit your budget. Provides own daily bus service to and from Ho Chi Minh City.

* Number Nine Guesthouse, #9 Street 93 Boeung Kak Lake; tel. 012 766 225 / 012 935 813 - well known and popular. Excellent sunsets by the lake. Rooms USD2-4

* Number Nine Sister Guesthouse, tel. 012 424 240 - just around the corner from, but not as nice as, the original.

* Rory's Guesthouse, #33 Street 178 (facing the Royal Palace and National Museum and 100 meters from the riverfront) tel. 012 425 702 [19] - rooms USD10-30.

* Simon's Guesthouse, #11 Street 93 Boeung Kak Lake, tel. 012 884 650. Tricky to find but the layout of the rooms (with bathrooms or shared) allows for a nice, cool breeze. Rooms USD2-3.

* Top Banana Guesthouse, #2 Street 278 [20] - A very laid back guesthouse with a cozy atmosphere and a wanderlust feel. Rooms for as low as five dollars a night, and suprisingly good food.

* Capitol 3 Guesthouse, #207Eo, Street 107, Sangkat Beng Prolit, 7 Makara, Phnom Penh; tel. 023 211 027. Next to the Capitol Tours office and a terrific value at $4 per night. Warm, friendly staff and quick laundry service. Five floors of squeaky-clean rooms that are out of the direct sunlight and never seem to get too hot - no elevators, though.

[edit] Mid-range

* California 2 Guesthouse, 317 Sisowath Quay (on the riverfront, close to Wat Ounalom) [21] has nice clean rooms with bathroom, air-con, 'fridge, TV. Laundry service. USD15-25 including breakfast.

* Golden Gate Hotel, #9 Street 278, Sangkat Beng Keng Kang 1, Khan Chamkarmorn (near the Independence Monument) tel. +855 23 427618, [22] is a reliable place to stay with a range of hotel rooms, from USD15 for a single in the older block to USD40 or more for a suite in the new block. Clean, safe and comfortable. Great place for long-term stays, with discounted rates. Restaurants, shops and Internet cafés within walking distance.

* Paragon Hotel, 219B Sisowath Quay. Riverfront, near lots of good cafés. Rooms have bathroom, a/c, tv, fridge. No breakfast, but close to restaurants that serve breakfast. USD15-30.

[edit] Splurge

There are a surprising number of 4 and 5 star hotels in Phnom Penh.

* Intercontinental Hotel, Mao Tse Tung Blvd. A favourite among visiting dignitaries, but rather out of the way in the southwest corner of the city.

* Phnom Penh Hotel, Monivong Blvd (just south of the French Embassy). Newly renovated with very nicely appointed rooms and suites.

* Raffles Le Royal, 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh (off Monivong Blvd), tel. +855 23 981 888, fax. +855 23 981 168, [23]. Phnom Penh's grand old hotel, originally built in 1929 by the French, used as a dry fish store by the Khmer Rouge but given a loving redecoration by the Raffles group in 1999. Walking distance to Wat Phnom and the river, excellent service, wonderful attention to detail and the "Landmark" rooms in the old wing still use bathtubs and even light switches from 1929 (plus broadband internet and walk-in showers). $150/300 low/high season.

[edit] Contact
[edit] Telephone
[edit] Internet

There is no shortage of Internet cafés in Phnom Penh. Most are in the 1,500 riel/hour bracket (a little under 50 US cents), but provide slow service, suffer occasional power outages and do not run firewalls or anti-virus programs.

* Sunny Internet, 178 Street (opp Foreign Correspondents Club), also Sisowath Quay (next to the Riverstreet restaurant). Provides a faster service at USD1/hour and is popular with tourists and expats.

Wireless and wired connections for laptops are available at a number of outlets - most five-star hotels (which provide high-speed broadband access, but at a premium), and a number of cafés along Sisowath Quay including the Foreign Correspondents Club, Fresco Café (under the FCC), K-West Café (at the Amanjaya Hotel), the Jungle Bar and Grill, and Phnom Penh Café (near Paragon Hotel).
[edit] Post
[edit] Stay healthy
[edit] Stay safe

Phnom Penh has a partly deserved bad reputation. In the old days Phnom Penh was a rather dangerous place. Things have changed a lot but there are still more bad guys with guns than you might find in some other Asian cities. Official figures (almost certainly underestimates) report an average of 50 incidents per month (Cambodians and foreigners), leading to 5 deaths and 10 serious injuries. Most commonly Cambodians are victimised for their cell phones or motorbikes. Violent interactions with tourists are rare. Still, avoid walking at night, try to find a dependable moto driver and don't carry more than necessary. Bag-snatching by thieves on bikes is common so if you must carry a bag, try to keep it on the side facing away from the street. This is a particular problem outside popular ex-pat hang-outs (e.g. Elsewhere) on a weekend night. Some moto-dop drivers may be in league with the thieves. Moto drivers who work the riverside are generally quite reliable. In terms of personal safety the greatest danger in Phnom Penh is not getting robbed by hoods at gunpoint, but rather getting whacked by a motorbike in the chaotic traffic. Exercise common sense in your travels around the city and you should be alright.
[edit] Cope
[edit] Get out

Sihanoukville, Battambang, Siem Reap and Angkor are within a few hours' reach; see above. Some companies also offer services to Kampot and Bokor National Park.

Several tour companies offer day-trips to Tonle Bati, which includes Ta Prohm, an Angkor-era temple not to be mistaken for the Angkor-area temple of the same name.

permalink written by  garisti on July 1, 2008 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Siemreab, Cambodia

The town of Siem Reap, in northern Cambodia, is the primary access point for the Angkor Archaeological Park.
city map of Siem Reap
[edit] Understand

Siem Reap, literally "Siam Defeated", commemorates a Khmer victory over the neighboring kingdom of Thailand. These days, however, the only rampaging hordes are the tourists heading to Angkor and this once quaint village has become the largest boomtown and construction site in Cambodia. It's quite laid-back and all in all a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. It's a nice compromise between observing Cambodian life and enjoying the amenities of modern services and entertainment, thanks to the large expatriate community in Siem Reap. As business has increased, so have the numbers of people wanting your custom. Expect to receive almost constant offers for motodop and tuk-tuk rides, along with everything else which drivers may be able to offer to you.

Be sure to pick up your free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide from your hotel/guesthouse. It contains lots of info on Siem Reap and Angkor, including hotel/bar/restaurant/shop info, travel info, maps, etc.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Siem Reap - Angkor International Airport (IATA: REP | ICAO: VDSR) [1] has frequent flights from Phnom Penh and several flights weekly to Sihanoukville. Internationally, there are direct flights to/from Laos (Pakse | Vientiane | Luang Prabang), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, Taiwan (Kaohsiung | Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok | U-Tapao/Pattaya) and Vietnam (Danang | Ho Chi Minh City). Low-cost carriers Air Asia and Jetstar Asia now fly to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively, but the popular route to Bangkok is still monopolized by Bangkok Airways, which charges accordingly.

Visa on Arrival costs US$25 (children US$10), US$2 more if you've forgotten to bring a colour photo. The airport is less than 15 minutes from the town centre by car (US$5) or motodop (US$4 or less).

There are separate terminals for international and domestic flights. International departure tax is a steep US$25 (children US$13), payable after check-in and before clearing immigration. Often this can only be paid in cash, as the credit card facility is unreliable. Airport fee upon departure on national flights, to Phnom Penh, is US$6.
[edit] By land

Cambodian highways have improved considerably in the last few years (although there's still plenty of room for further improvement) and some routes that were once epic adventures are now sealed roads. For most routes you have the basic options of chartering or sharing a Toyota Camry taxi, sharing a ride in a pickup truck, or if it's a sealed road, taking the bus.
[edit] From Bangkok
Street between Siem Reap and the border town Poipet (March 2006)
Street between Siem Reap and the border town Poipet (March 2006)

The most popular and direct overland route from Bangkok is via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.

From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, either take a 1st class public bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (frequent departures, 160-207 baht) or else travel by train from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station (two trains each way daily, all 3rd class, 48 baht).

From Aranyaprathet bus or train station, continue by tuk-tuk (50-60 baht) to the border market, and cross the border to Poipet on foot.

The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is not sealed, hence the condition varies seasonally and much depends on when it was last re-graded - for recent reports see Latest Road Conditions between Siem Reap and Poipet.

Whichever route you take, beware of scams, touts and pickpockets at the Poipet border crossing. See the Poipet article for information on the irritating Visa on Arrival process. Once you're through all of that, take the free shuttle bus from outside the entry stamp office in Poipet to the transpotation depot about 1 km away. Tourist travel in Poipet is currently run by an unofficial monopoly, unfortunately, and you're not allowed to bargain directly with drivers.

The fastest and most comfortable way to get from Poipet to Siem Reap is by Toyota Camry share taxi - US$60 for the whole car ($35 for the driver, $10 for the government, $15 for the monopoly) - in which case the entire trip from Poipet to Siem Reap could take less than 3.5 hours on an good day. The car can be shared by up to four people.

If US$60 is too much, you can take the official bus for US$10/person. The bus leaves when full - and only then, even if it takes a few hours - and can take about 15 people, with all the bags on the back seat. Extra people will be squeezed onto the back seat if necessary, which might not be so comfortable. Two fold down seats in the centre aisle are also not so comfortable. The trip is advertised as taking 3-5 hours, but in reality it takes at least 6 hours when the road is not too bad. An enforced stop after 2 hours at a restaurant can add to the time of the trip, depending on how long the driver wants to stay. There is the possibility of additional delays (e.g. "mechanical faults") and these are almost certainly due to the same reasons as the Khao San scam-bus: getting you to Siem Reap late, tired and ready to take whatever guesthouse you're delivered to.

If even this is too much, you can try to hop on the back of a pick-up truck for a fraction of the price, but these are now hard to arrange from Poipet, due to the travel monopoly operating there. Also, the ride is a lot more uncomfortable, takes longer and may require a change of vehicle at Sisophon.

Alternatively, you could join the backpacking masses and pay a couple hundred baht for an uncomfortable bus ride directly from Khao San Road all the way to Siem Reap; any travel agent in Bangkok will be happy to sell you a ticket. Buses leave Khao San Road around 8am and arrive in Siem Reap between 5pm and 3am. How long it takes exactly does not really depend on road conditions, but on the mood of the driver. Because he can "sell" you to a guesthouse in Siem Reap he will try to arrive there as late as possible, because if you are tired and afraid of walking around in Siem Reap late at night, his chances increase that you will stay at the guesthouse of his choice. (There is no obligation to stay, regardless of what the guesthouse owners tell you.) Even if you start in Bangkok on a big aircon bus, you will almost certainly find yourself in the back of a pickup or stuffed minibus for the Cambodian part of the journey. For the return trip, expect to pay around US$11.

If you arrive in Poipet the Khao San Road buses, you'll be swarmed by offers of extra help and assurances that you're better off paying 1000 baht (US$30) or even more for the visa - which should cost US$20. Stand your ground - the bus won't leave without you, because the driver wants the guesthouse commission you represent.
[edit] From Phnom Penh
Roadside Petrol Cambodia-style
Roadside Petrol Cambodia-style

There are several bus companies that you can take to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The most popular bus companies with tourists include Capitol Transport, GST, and Mekong Express. Each bus company leaves from a different location, although there are many located around the Central Market. Nearly all of the bus companies have buses leaving at 7:30am and 12:30pm, and the trip costs US$3-6. Expect to get to Siem Reap in 5-7 hours. In contrast to the Siem Reap-Poipet road, the entire road is paved, making for a much more comfortable ride. If you're driving yourself, watch out for the make-shift patrol pertol stations next to the road, selling petrol in olg 2 litre Coke bottles. Much cheaper than the real thing, but who knows what the quality is...
[edit] By boat

Fast, Soviet style Hydrofoils also make the journey from Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap lake. Asking price for a "foreigner" ticket is typically US$20-25, US$15 is a good price to pay. There are also services between Siem Reap and Battambang (asking price US$15, pay US$10).

These can be fantastic trips which give travellers the opportunity to view life on the lake, floating houses, fishermen going about their work, and to get a sun tan if you choose to sit on the roof of the boat. However if you travel on a windy day and you have not kept waterproofs and sunscreen out of your luggage you could be in trouble. These journeys take anywhere from five to eight hours and without waterproofs and sunscreen you will become incredibly cold and will be burned by the sun at the same time. As the boat is generally packed with travellers, those on the roof will have to stay up there, and once your bags are in the hold, they stay there.

If you are planning a week long trip in Siem Reap, the boat journey is fine, but if you are only planning two to three days, I would advise taking the bus. If you are specifically taking the boat to see the floating village, don't. The floating village is at the very end of the boat journey. You could ride the bus from Phnom Penh, get a guest house, take a tuk-tuk to the port, tour the floating village, and be back in Siem Reap before your friends arrive from Phnom Penh by boat.

A word of caution: If you find yourself taking the boat/bus and person asks for your name to have his friend pick you up, he is in actuality selling your name to a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. This is a fairly convenient way to get from the port to Siem Reap, just be prepared for an extremely hard sell to one of his select guest houses, restaurants, etc. If you just "roll with it" he will take you to a guest house and you will quoted US$10 for a normally priced US$6-8 room. Since the tuk-tuk driver has now pinned you for a "sucker", he will try to sell you on his services to the temples for about US$20-25 a day. Be firm, and negotiate, they will bend towards the market rate. You'll never really be ripped off, but keep in mind that if you are staying for longer than four days, that tuk-tuk surplus would be much better served through a charitable donation.
Along the Siem Reap River
Along the Siem Reap River
[edit] Get around

* Most of the sights in Siem Reap can be seen on foot. For the foot-sore and sun-weary, you'll have plenty of offers from locals on motorbikes. Only the longest rides should be more than US$1 though prices go up at night. Simply agree a price and hop on the back.
* Another excellent way to see Siem Reap is by bicycle. Most guesthouses provide them free for "round town" use, or US$1 (single speed) - US$2 (with gears) per day. It's also a good way to see Angkor Wat on your own, but leave early to avoid the mid-day heat.
* Guesthouses can usually arrange a driver and car for you; this works out at about US$20-25 per day and is a good way to visit the temples if time is short. Ask for Mith Bundy (Tel: 012 942 561) for a very friendly driver with basic (but workable) English skills.
* Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike with driver for a full day for US$8-10 or so. The driver should be able to provide you with a helmet if you'd like one. Wear a handkerchief across the mouth / nose as the roads can be very dusty!

Note: The rental of motorbikes to tourists (expatriates, however, are allowed) in Siem Reap is prohibited. However, foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (eg Phnom Penh).

* Tuk tuk drivers can be hired for US$10-15/day to take you wherever you like, they will arrange meeting places with you or wait where you tell them to. They are a great way of see the surrounds without the barrier of a car window! A word of advice, pay them for their services after everything you have arranged is completed. For example, if you arrange for a later trip to the airport and pay them, chances are that you will have to find another ride.
* An additional and very convenient way to get around the area, and also get to and from the airport, is to use an 'official taxi', which are available at the airport for the fee of US$7 to the city and payable to the counter at the airport. Whilst in the taxi you will be offered the services of the car and the driver for US$25/day, which is very good value if you want to visit several temples in one day. They also have the added luxury of air conditioning, which you will be craving after walking around temples for a couple of hours The US$25/day is payable directly to the driver, who will speak English, have had training, will have a proper driving license and also have knowledge of the temples and surrounding area. The Tourist Transport Association [2] also have an office just behind the tourist information office in Siem Reap, which you can contact if you have any questions or queries. All other services and prices are listed on the back of the receipt you receive when you pay the US$5 at the airport for the trip into town.

[edit] See

The reason most people come to Siem Reap is the Angkor Archaeological Park, and is thoroughly covered on its own page.
Piles of mines, Landmine Museum
Piles of mines, Landmine Museum

* Landmine Museum, [3]. Located a bumpy 15-min ride from the main road to Angkor (any motodop or tuk-tuk driver will know), this jungle shack was set up by local deminer Aki Ra to educate locals and tourists about the dangers of land mines. Piles of defused mines and UXO lie around the site and the guides are mostly teenagers who were orphaned or injured by mines, all now living nearby. A very worthwhile trip that brings home the scale of the problem and shows you a slice of "real" Cambodia. Free entry, but donations very welcome — everything will be used for mine clearance.

* A short distance outside of the city center, there is a small bone stupa to mark the Khmer Rouge killing fields that were near Siem Reap. There is no cost to enter, but donations are requested, as the temple that hosts the memorial is under expansion.

* An alternative trip when you are feeling 'templed out' is to visit the Tonle Sap lake a few miles from town and take a boat trip past the floating villages. The fast hydrofoil to Phnom Penh also passes this way.

Kampong Phluck
Kampong Phluck

* The silk worm farm is worth the hike. Again, ask any tuk-tuk driver.

* Kampong Phluck, off the Highway to Phnom Penh, is only reachable by motorbike and then boat, and is a much more authentic 'floating village experience' than the one close to the Tonlé Sap-ferry harbour. Enquire at your local hotel for a day trip to this fascinating village on stilts. This day trip should cost around US$30 and it takes about 2 hours to reach the village, depending on the road conditions and water level.

[edit] Do

* Hidden Cambodia Dirt Bike Tours, Tel. + 855 (0)12 934 412 or (0)12 655 201, [4]. HCDBT offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore the countryside of Cambodia in a safe yet exciting way, by motorbike or 4-WD.

* Apsara Theatre, tel. +855-63-963-363. [5]. The only air-conditioned theater in town presents various traditional popular and classical dances and serves a set of local specialties. Booking recommanded !

* Another - albeit weird - solution to temple fatigue is offered at the army shooting range near Banteay Srei and Kbeal Span. An alarming amount of armament and explosives are available, and the only limit appears to be the cash you're willing to spend. Even a short round is pretty expensive (US$30 minimum), but listening to the soldiers-turned-used car salesmen put the hard sell on a new machine gun is almost worth the trip.

[edit] Buy

As usual in Cambodia, dollars and even Thai baht are preferred over riel for all purchases except the very smallest. There are a number of large, flashy souvenir shops around town, complete with temple-style decorations and a surplus of staff, which happily charge 2-5x the going price elsewhere in town and are best avoided.

Despite what you may be told at the Thai border, international ATMs in Siem Reap are plentiful, and banks can do cash advances from credit cards.

* Angkor Market, Sivatha Blvd. Siem Reap's closest thing to a supermarket, offering a good range of food, snacks, alcohol and even some souvenirs. Clearly marked, non-negotiable but reasonable prices.

* Psar Chas (Old Market), to the south of town. Sells a reasonably attractive collection of artifacts and tourist junk. Please don't buy anything purporting to be antique; it probably isn't, but it's stolen if it is.

* Central Market, at the corner of Sivatha Blvd and Achamean Street. Offers an eclectic collection of clothes and trinkets for good prices. Don't forget to bargain down the price. Most stalls carry the same selection so you can shop around and find the cheapest price. Many of the goods here cannot be found in Thailand.

[edit] Eat
Red Piano restaurant, Pub Street
Red Piano restaurant, Pub Street

There are many hundreds of restaurants in Siem Reap, and you will have no trouble finding something which suits your tastes and your budget. If you don't want to go out, most guesthouses have a basic restaurant attached, and can quickly whip up a decent fried rice.

For something a bit more special, head into town. There are whole streets catering for the travellers tastes, with pizzas, hamburgers, or tasty westernised offerings such as Amok and 'Khmer curry'. Many of the most authentic Karaoke-style restaurants are hidden in the backstreets, though your moto or tuk-tuk driver will no doubt know where to take you. He will be happy to wait (or join you) if you are really out in the boonies.
[edit] Budget

The street directly west of Pub Street is lined with lots of stalls offering simple yet filling meals for about a dollar apiece. The food is clean.

* Chiang Mai and Chivat Thai 2 on Wat Bo Rd offer basic Thai fare. Lunch sets start at US$1.50, dinner costs a bit more.

* The Markets - If you get tired of paying US$3 and up for just an ordnary lunch/dinner you may try one of the markets. You can get a whole meal for US$1 and below there.

* Angkor Famous on the small alley parallel to pub street offers tasty Thai and Cambodian fare at reasonable prices. Two-for-one beer specials and friendly staff.

[edit] Mid-range

Pub Street is best known as a watering hole, but it has also many nice restaurants that won't break the bank. Nearby you'll also find a whole range of pizzerias, including the original Happy Herbs Pizza, which depending on how the police are feeling that day either may or may not sell you cannabis-laced "happy" pizza. Don't try the "extra happy" unless you know what you're doing, and note that they will not sell you any herb without the pizza.

* Blue Pumpkin, Pub Street. Upscale, clean, air conditioned, wifi connection, need I say more.

* Khmer Family (formerly The Temple). Tasty and cheap local grub, although it's rather toned down for the foreign palate and often tastes like Thai food without the chillis. Pleasant, breezy second-floor balcony. Mains US$2-4.

* Khmer Kitchen, located in the alley behind bar street. Good value and very popular.

* Kama Sutra, Pub Street (opposite D's book shop). Authentic, yet slightly upmarket Indian food. Expect to pay around US$4-5 for a main course.

* Maharajah Next to CAB Bank, Old Market area, Tel: 092-506622 maharajahcuisine@yahoo.com [6] Royal Indian Cuisine - excellent new Indian restaurant just in the Old Market area just one street over from Pub Street. Very nicely prepared, very reasonably priced, 100% Halal Royal Indian dishes - uniquely spiced north Indian dishes with an emphasis on meat (chicken, beef, mutton, fish) dishes. There's also plenty of veg dishes to choose from. The Indian breads are excellent. 10:00-23:00

* Red Piano, Pub St. It has a well-known "Tomb Raider" cocktail and a good selection of Khmer as well as international dishes for US$3-5.

* Viva, Pub St. Siem Reap's first and only Mexican restaurant, with a menu containing just about everything you'd expect in your local TexMex restaurant. Good food, reasonable prices.

There are a few good options elsewhere in town. The numerous Karaoke restaurants offer a real authentic experience of modern Khmer dining. Try to sit far from the speakers, and prepare for mozzies. There is often no english menu, but one of the staff will no doubt be happy to help you order. Try phnom pleurng, a delicious cook-it-yourself beef barbecue. Another sensational dish, which is only available at these types of restaurants, is the trei bung gancheyt - a whole fish bubbling in a tasty peanuty sauce with green veggies.

* Café Moi Moi, Angkor Rd (to the left, after Meridien, before ticket booth). An unpretentious alfresco restaurant with a delightful little garden, serving up Khmer dishes, some traditional, some with a Japanese twist. Their version of amok, the classic dish of fish stewed in coconut milk, is cheap and tasty (US$3.50), while more adventurous diners can opt for minced pork mixed with the pungent Cambodian fish sauce prahok (US$3) and served with sliced raw onion to ease the pain. Nibble some pickles and sweet peanuts, try their famous pumpkin pudding for dessert and wash it all down with a large beer.

* Samapheap is a large and popular restaurant pleasantly located on the eastern riverbank a short hop down from Route 6, catering to both Khmers and tour groups. The menu is extensive, service is quick, prices are reasonable (most mains US$2-5) and the food is good.

[edit] Splurge

* Abacus. Beautiful garden setting and a temple-stone bar. Renauld, the Maitre 'd, adds flair and style, and the excellent menu is a real treat. At around US$10 for a main, you might not be eating here every night, but it is well worth splashing out at least once.

* L'Angelo, Le Meridien. Probably Siem Reap's most daring restaurant, serving fusionesque Italian cuisine like foie gras on a bed of white asparagus and balsamic vinegar ice cream in a setting so achingly modern that the only decoration is a cloud of black dots on the white wall. There's a price to pay though: a full meal with a glass or two of wine on the side can easily set you back around US$100 for two.

* Meric, Hotel de la Paix. Acclaimed by some as the best Khmer restaurant in all Cambodia, it is set in a chic hotel with a minimalist modern feel. You are liable to forget where you are. The chefs here painstakingly source out the freshest (and strangest) ingredients to build their multi-course seasonal menu (US$28). A typical set will have you dining on dried snake salad and grilled frog, but rest assured, it all actually tastes good. Arrive before 9.15 for the four course prix-fixe Khmer meal with wine selection. Sit in airconditioned comfort, or outside tables and lounge furniture. The hotel also has a modern bar with local art displayed.

[edit] Drink

Most of Siem Reap's watering holes are concentrated in a few lanes north of Psar Chas (the old market), mainly on a street known appropiately as "Bar Street" or "Pub Street". Drinks usually US$2 and up, although most if not all bars have happy hours before 8 PM and draft Angkor often goes for as little as US$.50.
The Art House
The Art House

* Angkor What?, Pub St. The pub that started it all, still going strong after ten years and covered in years of scribbled notes from travellers to prove it.

* Temple Club, Pub St. A popular western-orienated (But Khmer owned) nightclub featuring Angkorian decor, three free pool tables, and a rocking dance floor, it's not uncommon for this place to be open until sunrise. Inexpensive drinks

* FCC Angkor, (west river bank next to post office), [7]. Opened in October 2002, this is far and away Siem Reap's hippest place for a bite and a drink. A branch of the legendary Phnom Penh Foreign Correspondents' Club, the FCC offers food (~US$5) and drink (~US$3) in a marvelous blend of modern style and colonial architecture... if at a fairly steep price, at least by Cambodian standards.

* Le Tigre du Papier, Pub St. Free movies most evenings, a huge selection of used books upstairs and cheap shots of the aniseed liquor pastis. French-run.

* Linga Bar, the only officially gay-friendly bar in the village that attracts gay and straights alike. In the words of the owner, your grandmother would feel comfortable here. Great drinks opposite the markets, parallel to the "bar" street.

* Soup Dragon, Pub St. A restaurant/bar on one of the corners of the "bar" street in the old part of town. Great sunset vista from their rooftop with the added bonus being it is the same time as happy hour - two for one cocktails, drinks range from US$2-4. The food is mostly vietnamese, good and cheap plus they make their own ice cream.

* Warehouse/The Art House. Two bars for the price of one: downstairs has an appropriately warehouse-y feel with lots of red brick and a "Service Entrance", while upstairs is a clean white art gallery that also happens to serve drinks. Free draft beer offered at various times on Friday, though courtesy dictates you have a drink or two before or afterwards or dine from the food menu.

* Laundry Bar A popular French-owned expat hangout with a sophisticated setting and chilled atmosphere, this is definitely a late-night bar. It features a huge selection of music albums for sale at US$5 for 7 albums (On one MP3 disk). Free pool table.

[edit] Sleep

Accommodations range from towering air-conditioned hotels by the airport (mostly for get-in-get-out all-inclusive tours) to local rooms-for-rent and a range of modest guesthouses in town, particular on and around Wat Bo road.

If you arrive with a tour bus or van you will be taken to a "suggested" guesthouse. Usually these are not too bad and you'll probably be too tired to argue.

If you arrive by plane, you may wish to contact a guest house in advance. They will then usually arrange for free transportation to their place. Otherwise just take a motorbike (US$1) or a taxi (US$2) to town. If you don't know any place to go to, they will ask for your budget and will then 'suggest' one.
[edit] Budget

* Earthwalkers, Sala Kanseng Village, 1,5 km from city centre just of Highway 6, tel. + 855 (0) 12 967 901, [8]. High quality budget accommodation with comfortable rooms with fan or A/C from US$4-17 with full en suite facilities.

* Two Dragons Guesthouse, Wat Bo, [9]. Guesthouse run by Gordon Sharpless of Tales of Asia fame. A/C, hot water, cable TV, and the self-proclaimed cleanest rooms in Cambodia, from US$7.

* Rosy Guesthouse, Slar Kram Village, tel. 012 916 930, 012 951 692. Rooms with fans, satellite TV and shower with hot water inside. Rates are US$5.

* Home Sweet Home Guesthouse, No. 0111 Wat Bo, tel. 063 760 279, [10]. Rooms with fans and shower inside are US$8, shared shower US$5.

* The Queen House Villa, No. 0209 Wat Damnak Street, Tel. 011221838, [11]. Big, clean rooms with fan, hot water, A/C, start from US$6. Free breakfast and bicycles. Just 2 Minutes from the center!

* Family Guest House, No. 019 Mondoul 2, Svay Dangkum, tel. +855 (0)12 841 864. Newly built concrete building with aircon and fan only rooms, TV and hot water available. Restaurant with good Khmer and western food. Start at US$6 (main season).

* The LyLy Guest House, No. 547, Svay Dangkum, tel. 012705959, email has rooms from 3 to 6 US$ and is run by a friendly family (speaking French and English).

[edit] Mid-range

* Mom's Guesthouse, #0099, Phom Wat Bo, [12]. One of the longer-running guesthouses in Siem Reap, now in a new if somewhat characterless building. Mom will be happy to make all sorts of travel and transport arrangements. Rates US$15/20/30 for air-con singles/doubles/triples with breakfast, hot water and airport transfers included.

* Molly Malone's, [13]. Irish Bar and Restaurant has a number of air conditioned rooms, starting from US$20. Family-sized rooms available. Friendly staff and good food, located in the center of town.

* Golden Banana B&B, [14]. 5 minutes walk from market/bar area, quiet garden setting. Free-standing a/c rooms with hot shower, swimming pool. Breakfast included, Khmer style lunch/dinner. Gay-friendly. Transports and temple guides can be arranged. US$23/25/28 for single/double/twin. Recently opened (08/2006) Golden Banana Boutique Hotel, [15]. Same owner, same location, better rooms. US$45/50/55 for single/double/twin.

* Auberge Mont Royal d'Angkor, [16] Just off the main strip sits this charming little hotel with brilliant staff, great service, beautiful a/c rooms, new pool and spa and a good restaurant. They will pick you up at the airport and will arrange day-trips, guides and anything you might need while in Siem Reap. US$25-50 per room.

[edit] Splurge

* Angkor Village Hotel & Resort, tel. +855-63-963-361. [17]. The architecture of both hotels is directly inspired from cambodian traditional villages. Built in true khmer tradition, the wooden houses nestled among tropical ponds and gardens, secluded from the hustle of the town, offer peace and serenity . From US$147.

* Prince D'Angkor, Sivatha Blvd, tel. +855-63-763-888. [18]. Upmarket hotel and spa. Fairly central location a 10-minute stroll from the center of town. From US$180.

* Amansara, [19]. Prince Sihanouk's former guesthouse, close to the main entrance to Angkor Wat. Rates from US$650 up.

* Casa Angkor, Oum Chhay / Oum Khun Street, tel. +855-63-963658, [20]. Former boutique hotel now expanded to three times its previous size and trying to claw its way upmarket. It looks pretty from the outside, the miniature pool is nice and the polished cycle-rickshaws add a cute touch, but at heart it's still a thoroughly generic mid-range concrete barracks that doesn't deserve the price tag. From US$80.

* Hôtel de la Paix, Sivatha Boulevard, tel. +855-63-966000, [21]. The newest and, just maybe, the best five-star in town. Tastefully done in a colonial-modern fusion style, with pool, spa and very good restaurants. Location is very central. From US$200.

* Le Meridien Angkor, Vithei Charles de Gaulle (the road to Angkor), tel. +855-63-963900, [22]. Opened in 2004, the ordinary-looking exterior hides what feels like a slick, modern big city hotel. The large pool/spa complex, set off from the main building, is particularly remarkable. From US$150.

* The One Hotel, Angkor, The Passage, tel. +855-12-755-311. [23]. Located in a charming central side street in a freestanding French colonial building, this hotel has only one (1) suite for one or two guests. Street view balconies and a private roof top jacuzzi garden. US$250.

* Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, [24]. Siem Reap's grand old hotel, originally built by the French. Subject to a boycott in some quarters as, when their waiters and bartenders had the audacity to ask to keep their tips, they fired the lot.

[edit] Contact

Internet cafés abound in Siem Reap, prices being US$.75-1.50 per hour. Speed of connection, and speed of PC, very much depends from place to place.

* E-Café, on Sivatha St north of Psar Chas, [25]. A cut above the rest in connection and service quality, as well as price at US$1.50/hour.

* Figo's cafe's food is a bit more expensive, but offers free wireless internet to its customers.

[edit] Stay safe

Generally the Siem Reap area and the temples of Angkor are relatively safe, however the usual cautions still apply as with any town or city. Whilst visiting the temples, however, beware of off duty police officers, who are in uniform, that start walking beside you and start showing you around the temples. At this point either say that you would like to see the temples yourself, or agree on a price at the start. Several people have been requested for a fee of over US$10 at the end of the temple tour and you are not going to argue with a member of the police force! The official wage for a police office is very low, so they can easily double their salary by being tourist guides.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temples have long since been thoroughly demined.
[edit] Get out

* If you haven't seen enough temples yet, the ancient capital of Koh Ker and the commanding hilltop ruins of Preah Vihear next to the Thai border might be worth a trip.

permalink written by  garisti on July 1, 2008 from Siemreab, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya (อยุธยา) is an ancient capital and modern city in the Central Plains of Thailand, 85 km to the north of Bangkok.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
[edit] Understand

Founded by King U-Thong in 1350 within a bend of the Chao Phraya river, Ayutthaya was the capital of the Thai kingdom at its mightiest. Conquered and sacked by the Burmese in 1767, today only ruins of its splendor remain.

Among Thai cities, Ayutthaya's English name is probably the least standardized. Ayutthaya, Ayuttaya, Ayuthaya, Ayutaya, Ayothaya, Ayotaya, Ayudhya and even the Sanskrit original Ayodhya (usually referring to the Indian city) are all used.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By train

The cheapest and most colorful way of reaching Ayutthaya is by train. All north and north-east line trains depart from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station and stop in Ayutthaya, a trip of about 1.5 hours. Second class costs 35 baht (seats can be booked in advance), while third class is just 20 baht (no reservations).

Ayutthaya's train station is to the east of the central island. The easiest way to get to central Naresuan Road is to walk straight ahead from the station and take the cross-river ferry for 2 baht.
[edit] By bus

Buses operate every 20 minutes or so from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit) directly to Ayutthaya. First class air-con buses charge 45 baht, while second class is 35 baht. Allow at least two hours for the trip since the buses stop rather frequently and there are often jams on the roads out of/into Bangkok.

In Ayutthaya, the central BKS bus station is on the south side of Thanon Naresuan next to the Chao Phrom Market. songthaews to Bang Pa-In also leave from here. Some 1st-class buses to Bangkok, however, leave from the north side of the road some 500m to the west, on the other side of the khlong (canal); the queue for air-con buses is easy to spot.

From Kanchanaburi, take a local bus from the main bus station to Suphanburi for 45 baht (2 hours), then another local bus to Ayutthaya for 40 baht (1.5 hours). A taxi from Kanchanaburi costs 2000-2500 baht (2 hours).

There is also a central bus station east of town serving northern destinations. It can be reached by songthaew - ask around to find the appropriate stop.
[edit] By minibus

Convenient minibus service (can get stuck in traffic, but makes no stops like regular buses) operates from the Victory Monument square in Bangkok. Take BTS Skytrain to the Victory Monument station, and go right on the elevated walkway - keep on it until you cross a large road, then descend - the buses are parked at the side side of the main traffic circle). The cost is usually ~80 baht, takes around 1 hour.

Minibuses from Kanchanaburi can be arranged by guesthouses or any tour operators for around 350 baht.
[edit] By boat

Cruise boats run up the river from Bangkok, often stopping at Ko Kret and Bang Pa-In along the way. You'll need to book in advance as there are no scheduled services, just trips for tourists. It's a fairly lengthy trip (at least one whole day) and some of the larger boats offer (pricy) overnight tours.
[edit] Get around

It is advised to rent a bicycle. You should get a copy of a map for free at the shop that rents you the bicycle. If you are physically larger than most Thais, be warned that the larger bicycles are not necessarily well maintained, so be sure that they work properly (seats well attached, handlebars don't slip in relation to front wheel direction) before you leave.

Alternatively, you can hop around town by tuk-tuk or motorbike for 20-30 baht a pop. Ayutthaya's tuk-tuks are larger than the Bangkok variety and you can easily squeeze in four or more on the two songthaew-style facing benches. Only "official" tuk-tuk drivers can pick up passengers from the train station (their photos are displayed on a board at the southern end of the platform) and they are required to work to a fixed scale of charges.

The local bus to Lopburi leave the main bus station every 20 minutes and pass Wat Nah Phra Meru.
[edit] See

Most of Ayutthaya's sites are on the protected western half of the island, while the modern city sprawls to the east. There are additional sites off the main island.
[edit] Temples

The temples with entry charges are usually in ruins, so there is no dress code, although visitors are still requested to refrain from blatant stupidity like clambering up the Buddha statues. Working temples tend to charge no fees and there are often no officials to check that dress is appropriate.

* Wat Phra Si Sanphet (Sri Sanphet Rd) is the largest temple in Ayutthaya, known for its row of chedis (Thai-style stupas). Housed within the grounds of the former royal palace, the wat was used only for royal religious ceremonies. It once housed a 16-meter Buddha covered with 340 kg of gold, but the Burmese set fire to the statue to melt the gold and destroyed the temple in the process. Entrance fee of 30 baht.

* Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopitah (Sri Sanphet Rd) is next to Wat Phra Si Sanphet and houses a large bronze cast Buddha image. No entry charge.

* Ancient Palace (access through Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, no additional entry charge) is mostly low-lying ruins set in large grounds, with only a few free standing buildings remaining.

Wiharn at Wat Thammikarat
Wiharn at Wat Thammikarat

* Wat Thammikarat (U-Thong Rd) is a working wat, but also contains the ruins of a large chedi and a huge wiharn which has a large tree growing picturesquely out of the side of one wall. No entry charge.

* Wat Ratchaburana (Naresuan Rd) stands out for having a large prang recently restored to its original condition, clearly visible if you come in from the east. A major find of golden statues and other paraphernalia was made here in 1958, although much was subsequently stolen by robbers — the remnants are now in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum. You can climb inside the prang for nice views and a little exhibit. The mysterious staircase down, leads to two unrestored rooms with original paintings still visible on the walls. Entrance fee of 30 baht.

Headless Buddha statues, Wat Mahathat
Headless Buddha statues, Wat Mahathat

* Wat Phra Mahathat (Naresuan Rd), across the road from Wat Ratburana, is a large temple that was quite thoroughly ransacked by the Burmese. Several Leaning Prangs of Ayutthaya are still feebly defying gravity though, and the rows of headless Buddhas are atmospheric. This is also where you can spot the famous tree that has grown around a Buddha head. Entrance fee of 30 baht.

* Wat Phra Ram (Sri Sanphet Road) consists of one huge prang and some smaller chedi and outbuildings, all in disrepair though the top of the prang is complete. Staircases to the side of the prang give views of Ayutthaya. Entry charge of 30 baht.

Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai
Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai

* Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai (U-Thong Rd) is a white and gold coloured chedi built as a memorial to a previous queen. Set in a small, well-kept gardens. No entry charge.

Chedi at Wat Phu Khao Thong
Chedi at Wat Phu Khao Thong

* Wat Phu Khao Thong (about 3km out of town, west off the Ang Thong Rd) is a huge white, and slightly wonky, chedi set in a big field. The actual nearby wat is still working and has small grounds with a smiling fat buddha image set in the ruins of a small viharn. You will see the Monument of King Naresuan the Great on the way. No entry charge.

* Wat Cheung Tha (about 1km out of town, east off the Ang Thong Rd) is a small working wat with small grounds with chedi and viharn ruins and some buddha images. No entry charge.

* Wat Nah Phra Meru (about 1km out of town, east from Wat Cheung Tha) has a large viharn containing the biggest bronze buddha image in Ayutthaya, cast dressed in full royal regalia. The viharn is set in well maintained grounds with buddha images, a small koi carp pond, and three ruined chedis, one of which has a large bodhi tree growing out of the top of it. No entry charge.

* Wat Phanancherng (on the Bang Pa-in Rd, about 1.5km out of town) is a working wat which contains the oldest large cast bronze Buddha image in Ayutthaya, though it was covered in scaffold in June 2006 for refurbishment. There is a small room to the right of the main hall which contains a nice collection of Buddha images and the room is painted with many individual unique pictures, in bright colours offset with gold. Entry charge of 20 baht.

Wat Yai Chaimonkorn, Courtyard with Buddha Images
Wat Yai Chaimonkorn, Courtyard with Buddha Images

* Wat Yai Chaimongkon (on the Bang Pa-in Rd, 1km east of Wat Phanancherng) is a large working wat, with ruins that appear on some of the well known photos of temples in Thailand. It features a large reclining Buddha in saffron robes in its own ruined wiharn, and, most spectacularly, a huge chedi swathed in golden cloth set in a courtyard which is lined by Buddha images all wearing saffron robes. Very photogenic. Entry charge of 20 baht.

[edit] Museums

* Chao Sam Phraya Museum (Rojana Rd) is where you can find some of the Buddha heads that are so conspicuously missing at the sites themselves. Opened in 1961 and looks the part. Perhaps the most interesting displays are the golden regalia from Wat Ratchaburana, on the 2nd floor of Hall 1. Open Wed-Sun from 9 AM to 4 PM, entrance 30 baht.

* Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre (Rojana Rd), across the road and to the east of the Chao Sam Phraya museum, is a more modern museum that tries to depict life in Ayutthaya with models. A good place to start or end your tour, but a little pricy (by Thai standards) at 100 baht.

[edit] Parks/Other

* Phra Ram Park (behind Wat Mahathat) is a large wooded area with paths and bridges over waterways leading the way past various statues, buddha images and buildings. No entry charge.

* Khun Phaen Residence (Sri Sanphet Rd) is a renovated traditional teak house set in a good-sized park with water and various seating areas. The elephants doing the tourist circuit stop here for photos, with Wat Phra Ram in the background. No entry charge.

* Monument of King Naresuan the Great (in front of Wat Phu Khao Thong), is a large bronze statue of King Naresuan on a horse. Situated on the entrance road to Wat Phu Khao Thong.

[edit] Do
[edit] Buy

* Chao Phrom Market. Corner of Naresuan and Uthong Roads (on the east edge of the island). A bustling provincial market. There are particularly many protective Buddha amulet vendors here.

[edit] Eat

* Siam Restaurant (Chee Kun Rd) serves unremarkable Thai and Vietnamese food, but makes up for it with an excellent location with views of Wat Mahathat as you eat, air conditioning, and possibly the best toilets in the city. Most mains 50-100 baht.

* Boat noodle In front of telephone authority building. Original boat noodle was cooked on a boat. It's noodles and soup with meat and vegetables. They are served in a little bowl and most people would eat more than one to relieve their hunger. Expect to pay about 10 Baht per bowl.

* Vegetarian Restaurant,Khlong Makham Rieng Rd (50 metres south from the junction with Naresuan Rd), is one of the usual Thai rahn a-hahn jair. With 8 different meals available and side orders of gluten and gluten. Daily early-2PM. 15-25B.

* The usual excellent night market fare is also available, ask your guesthouse for the most recent night market locations. At the same time, you may wish to ask some advice on what to order if you don't speak any Thai.

[edit] Drink

The main traveller oriented area is Soi Torgorsor, between Pamaphrao Road and Naresuan Road opposite the western end of Chao Phrom Market. It has a number of bars staying open until late, some with projection screens for sports.
[edit] Sleep

There are a large number of traveller-oriented guesthouses on an Soi Torgorsor between Pamaphrao Road and Naresuan Road, opposite the western end of the Chao Phrom Market. Accommodation in the upper price brackets is limited though, and many people choose to day-trip from Bangkok.

* Ayutthaya Guest House - a friendly place offering aircon rooms with TV for 400 baht, and fan-only with TV for 300 baht, all en-suite. With internet access and a 'order what you like' restaurant. The three 300 baht rooms along the side alley have air vents open to a public restaurant next-door.

Other guest houses:

* Thong Chai Guest House - on a road directly opposite Wat Ratchaburana and a little away from the main action, but closer to the sights. Offering fan-only rooms at 200 a night with private bathrooms, this is a more Thai-oriented guest house.

* P-U Guest House - despite its name, the place provides very clean rooms for a decent rate (~300 Baht for twin with fan and private bath, some knowledge of Thai may net you a small discount). It's hidden off Soi Torgorsor, keep walking north until you see the P-U sign on the left, it's at the end of the small lane.

[edit] Stay safe

Ayutthaya has a lot of hungry stray dogs in poor condition. They can particularly be a problem in the off-season when there aren't so many people in the streets. While largely docile and harmless, to avoid being chased around by a pack of them it is best not to walk around alone, particularly at night. For those accustomed to travel in developing areas, there should be no problem.
[edit] Get out

* The eccentric palace of Bang Pa-In, 20 km to the south, is 40-minute songthaews ride away

permalink written by  garisti on July 1, 2008 from Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.
[edit] Understand

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and hosts many government institutions, museums and memorials. It retains much of its older colonial charm even though it was in conflicts during most of the worldwide modern architecture movement. For that reason, few buildings in the city center area are higher than five stories.

The Tourist Information Center - tel: (84-4) 926 3366 - on Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren't completely without bias, however, and seem to support certain companies, for example An Phu Tour (bus company).
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Departure tax

As of November 2006, international departure taxes should be included in the price of your ticket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be - check with the airline to be absolutely sure. If not, the tax (sometimes called "passenger service charge") is payable in US dollars (US$14) or in dong.

Most folks arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport, 35 km (45-60 minutes) north of the city. Several airlines run flights from Noi Bai, including:

* Vietnam Airlines - 25 Tràng Thi (corner of Quang Trung) tel: (84-4)9349660 fax: (84-4)9349620[1]. The primary national carrier.

* AirAsia (tel: +603 8660 4343) [2]. Low-cost airline with daily flights to Hanoi from both Bangkok in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

* Cathay Pacific [3]. Upscale airline with flights to Hong Kong.

* Hong Kong Airlines [4]. New carrier with daily flights to/from Hong Kong.

* Lao Airlines [5]. Small airline with 4 flights a week to/from Luang Prabang in Lao.

* Pacific Airlines (tel: 84-4 9550550) [6]. Newer, discount Vietnamese carrier.

* Tiger Airways (tel: 84-4 9454565) [7]. Low-cost airline with daily flights to/from Singapore.

[edit] From the airport

* Taxis to downtown Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai. The driver may try to deliver you to a hotel of his choice so he can collect a commission, but if you are specific about your destination, they usually give in. Taxis from the city centre to Noi Bai Airport charge a fixed rate of about US$10.

* Public buses to the city center from Noi Bai airport charge 5000 dong and take about an hour. Bus #07 crosses the Thang Long bridge and goes to the Daewoo Hotel on the western part of Hanoi. Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter.

* Shuttle-buses to the airport depart from opposite the Vietnam Airlines Office on Quang Trung (see below). Tickets cost ~US$2 and are sold in the building in front of which the minibuses park. From the airport, the fare is US$4.

[edit] By train

Trains arrive at the main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co, 120 Le Duan, tel: 825 3949) daily from cities in the south including Hue and Nha Trang. The Reunification Express goes all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, although there is very little 'express' about it.

There are train services to the north-west (including Lao Cai, from which you reach Sapa - the onward route to Kunming in China is no longer open). To board trains bound for these destinations, you have to enter the railway station compound through the "backdoor" at Tran Quy Cap station. Just tell your driver which destination your train is heading to.

However, tickets for all destinations are sold in the main station, though there are two counter halls, north and south, serving the respective destinations. Buy your tickets as early as possible, since especially sleeper-tickets can be sold out several days in advance. If you can't get a ticket anymore, try a travel-agent who still might have stocks. You may also try your luck in the station just before boarding time, agents still holding tickets will be eager to sell as the departure draws near.
[edit] By bus

Most of the "open-tour" bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, with Hue the next (or previous) stop (12-14 hours, US$8-9), and from there to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam, depending on the bus company.

Many of the same companies also sell tickets to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos (US$16-18), but do some research before you buy a ticket - rattle-trap scam buses abound on this route.
[edit] Get around
Hanoi traffic and commerce
Hanoi traffic and commerce

Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap and fun way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, though. There are several different cab companies, and each has different starting fares and per kilometer rates. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters known as xe om) are popular too.

Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. Unless you are familiar with distances and fares in the city, it is probably safer to insist on using the meter. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind! Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol.

Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Even if it is not their usual job, a quick dollar can be made taking tourists around to and from the sights, so be expected to be offered a ride every half-block or so. Negotiate a fare in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day. You might want to write down the negotiated fare to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000! A typical 10 minute fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well.

Motorcycles can be rented for around US$5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores.
[edit] See
[edit] Museums

* Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Open mornings only, 8-11am; closed afternoons, Mondays, and Fridays. Admission free.) The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, short pants, or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken overseas for maintenance.

Gone bananas at the Ho Chi Minh Museum
Gone bananas at the Ho Chi Minh Museum

* Ho Chi Minh Museum (19 Ngoc Ha St., Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84-4 846-3572, fax +84-4 843-9837; Open 8-11:30am, 2-4pm, closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 15,000 dong.) bthochiminh@hn.vnn.vn Right around the corner, this gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. Guards won't allow photos of the giant bronze Ho Chi Minh statue at the top of the stairs, but tend not to care about photos of the rest of the exhibits, which include cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, and a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point.

* Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area (No.1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84 08044529, fax +84 08043064. Open 7:30-11am, 2-4pm in the summer, and 8-11am, 1:30-4pm in the winter. Closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 15,000 dong.) The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's cars and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French, and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait.

* One-Pillar Pagoda. Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. Travelers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. Either way, it's free.

* Fine Arts Museum (Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật), 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.

* Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) (On Quoc Tu Giam St., south of the Mausoleum. Admission 5,000 dong.) The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates.

* Army Museum (Bảo Tàng Quân Đội), Dien Bien Phu Street. Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter and T-54 tank.

* Air Force Museum (Bảo Tàng Không Quân), Truong Chinh Street (Southwest of center). There's a decent outdoor collection of Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.

[edit] Parks
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

* Hoan Kiem Lake is a pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch early-morning tai chi or sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, who grabbed the sword and carried it down to the depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater - see below.) The giant turtles reportedly still inhabit the lake, and were last seen in 2002.
o Ngoc Son Temple (admission 2,000 dong) extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen.

* Ho Tay, or "West Lake", is northwest of the city, and has become a popular site for gaudy villas owned by the well-to-do.

[edit] Wartime sites

* Hoa Lo Prison ("The Hanoi Hilton"), Hai Ba Trung Street. Originally built by the French and later used to hold captured U.S. airmen, little remains of the structure besides the "Maison Centrale" gate and a small museum. Most of it has made way for a new high-rise building, though it's not the new, real Hilton hotel - even for Vietnam that would be a bit too ironic.

* B-52 Lake. Until December 19, 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tam Street, about 1 km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it, too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.

* Downed Aircraft Memorial. Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.

[edit] Theatre

* Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (57 Dinh Tien Hoang St., across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake; tel. +84-4-824-9494, fax +84.4.824-5117) [8]. A visit to the water puppet theater is a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but a list of titles is available in several languages. Tickets are 20,000/40,000 dong. There are several performances throughout the day, but it's virtually impossible to buy tickets for the same day, and most performances for the following day will be sold out as well. Camera passes are an extra 15,000 dong, but whether you buy one or not is purely on the honor system. Don't worry about getting wet, but the seats are very small, and visitors with above-average height will have to squirm a bit.

[edit] Do

If you're the adventurous type or simply bored temporarily of the city atmosphere, then consider a cruise in the northern countryside. A round trip will bring you to a lot of charming villages and through hills and valleys with stunning nature. Main roads are generally in good condition and you can easily do a couple of hundred kilometers a day. The villages and provinces are generally safe at night, and you get to see a lot of Vietnamese culture such as various tribe folks. While bus services are in fact available (albeit not always reliable), a recommended alternative is to rent a bike or car and make the trip on your own. Motorbikes in decent quality can be rented for as little as US$5 a day, and many places have suggestions for routes.
[edit] Learn
[edit] Work
[edit] Buy

Hanoi is a shoppers paradise for silk, lacquerware, wood, custom tailoring and other Asian inspired design. The bargains are among the best in Asia. Artisans and craftsmen have set up shop in the Old Quarter for generations, and each street is named after the item traditionally sold there. Among the more interesting sights are the streets close to the lake full of nothing but stores overflowing with wave upon wave of white shoes, and a few shops offering to custom-carve black marble tombstones (complete with portrait) for anyone passing by.

In the quarter between Hoan Kiem Lake and the Cathedral, you'll find numerous shops with the same selection but of better quality. Vendors know that, so prices are higher than in the Old Quarter. Shops can sometimes arrange shipment to overseas destinations, and even with the added costs you'll still have a bargain.

There are two major shopping malls in Hanoi, Trang Tien Plaza and the new-built Vincom City Towers. Both are located in the Hoan Kiem District.
[edit] Eat

A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat (thịt chó), which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of restaurants along the Red River that specialize in it. Another exotic regional taste is ca cuong, an extract from the belostomatid, or giant water bug. Just a few drops are added to noodles for the unique aroma.

On Tô Tich, a small street connecting Hang Quat and Hang Gai, you can help yourself to a refreshing fruit milkshake (sinh tố) at one of the stalls (~7000 dong).

You can also try BBQ pork (slice) in soup with vermicelli and lots of vegi at DAC KIM (24, Hang Ga, Hoen Kiem, Hanoi; open 8am-8pm). They serve spring rolls too.

[edit] Budget

Look to the Old Quarter for atmospheric street stalls and reasonably priced Western fare.

* Huy Café & Pizza Inn (32 Dinh Liet Street) offers a large Italian dinner combo (garlic bread, soup/salad, pizza/pasta, drink) for only 65,000 dong.

* Papa Joe's Coffee (112 Cau Go, tel. +84 926-2544; open 8am-11pm) Despite the name, this is actually a full-on restaurant, with pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches, and pretty good burgers (vegetarian included). Drinks and desserts are also on hand. Entrees are 45-65,000 dong. The best reason to eat here, though, is the view over the frantic traffic square and the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake below.

[edit] Mid-range

* Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca Street, also 107 Nguyen Truong To Street) - this establishment is so famous, the street is named after it, instead of the other way around. There's only one dish on the menu, fried fish, but they've been serving it for five generations.

* Hapro, a Vietnamese vodka company, maintains two locations on the southwest corner of Hoan Kiem lake; the indoor location has free wi-fi Internet access.

* Little Hanoi - basically Western food with some Vietnamese food.

* Little Hanoi 2 is very good for Western breakfasts and sandwiches.

* Moka Café

* Tamarind Café (Ma May 80, Old Quarter; tel. +84 4 926-0580) [9] Has a menu full of inventive vegetarian dishes, lots of fresh juices, and a relaxed, stylish interior. Don't come here if you're ravenous and out to fill your belly, though, as the portions aren't very big, and it's a tad pricey.

* La Salsa (near the church in old town) - French food and ex-pat hang-out.

* Paris Deli (near St Joseph's Catheral)offers delicious Italian meal (pasta, pizza, bread, soup etc.)

[edit] Splurge

* The Press Club Restaurant

[edit] Drink

Bia Hơi is abundant in the streets of the Old Quarter. At the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen five separate venues fill up with travelers in the evenings, but you can get more local atmosphere on some of the side streets.

* Bar Barracuda, To 4A, Phuc Tan, (04)9323244 hanoi_barracuda@hotmail.com is reportedly the most fashionable ex-pat hang-out, with live music, a beer garden, sports bar and dancing area.

* Culi Café, 40 Lương Ngọc Quyến, (84-04)9262241 culicafe@wideeyedtours.com [10] - for the feeling you haven't left your hometown or just need a break from Bia Hoi, this Kiwi-run bar might be the answer. Air-con lounge upstairs, with wireless connections, sports occasionally screened in the bar downstairs. The same bar also runs a travel agency.

* Green Lake (Ho Guom Xanh) 32 Le Thai To, is a crowded bar with weekly performances by popular local singers. A place for the definitive Vietnamese entertainment scene.

* Le Maquis is a small bar on the norther end of Ta Hien. It's more like a loud rock music binge and smoke pub than a stylish lounge, but there's usually a happy crowd until late and the place has an authentic feel.

[edit] Sleep

Hanoi hotel scams

Although most of the hotels in Hanoi are helpful and trustworthy, there are still some scam artists around. Touts will try to lure you into a hotel. If you decide to go, be sure to have them pay the transport, and don't hesitate to leave if you do not like the place. Also, do not believe anybody other than the front desk clerk if they tell you that a certain hotel is "full". They'd rather take you to a place that pays them a commission. Any hotel will be keen to have you book a Ha Long Bay trip through them, but wait a day to judge the quality of service you're receiving there - that'll give you some idea of what kind of travel agency they intend to pass you off to.

Be aware that unscrupulous hotels will promise deals that are poorly explained until check-out - for example, "daily free water and fruit" that is only free on the first day. In the Old Quarter, Thien Tan Hotel, Old Street Hotel and Ocean Star Hotel indulge in this scam, so avoid them. If you've booked into a rotten hotel and you're planning to leave, don't be shy about taking photos of the minibar right before you leave, lest a few bottles go missing while the staff are "checking" your room. Also, ask explicitly whether tax is included in your room rate. Better hotels will include the tax, but scam-havens like the Old Street Hotel see it as an opportunity to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of you.

With the overwhelming amount of motorbike traffic and the common rule to honk a few times before even considering the brakes, it is wise to check your hotel room's location before taking it. Having a room on the street side means being exposed to the honking which doesn't end till 1 AM and starts again around 5 AM. If you go more upmarket, chances are there will be sound-proof glass, but it is still wise to check first.
[edit] Budget

The Old Quarter is littered with guesthouses and hostels catering for budget travelers.

* Real Darling Café Guesthouse, 33 Hang Quat, Old Quarter (2 minutes walk from the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake) tel: +84 4 826 9386 fax: +84 4 824 3468 darling_cafe@hotmail.com has basic but cheap rooms (US$6+, dorm beds US$3/night, long stayers can get lower rates) with fan, hot showers and optional air-con; there's a steep climb up to all the rooms. Helpful and friendly staff; the café on the ground floor does a good breakfast; they run a cheap and fair travel agency downstairs that doesn't try to rip you off; bicycles and motorbikes for rent. Keep an eye out for construction on Hang Quat (Fan Street), though.

* Wing Hotel, 23 Hang Non, Old Quarter, not far from Real Darling, the Wing Hotel has clean rooms, friendly and professional staff and a book exchange. Breakfast is available. Some rooms have balconies overlooking the street. A double can cost as low as 160,000 dong, although the standard price is 192,000.

* Thang Long Opera Hotels (formerly Thuy Tien Hotel) - only three minutes to Hanoi Opera House and five minutes walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake or Hanoi Old Quarter.

[edit] Mid-range

* Continental Hotel - 24, Hang Vai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi [11] Boutique-style hotel, has clean and spacious rooms; Hotel staffs are courteous, friendly and warm. Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Late, easy access to restaurants and shops. (around US$24 for a single room, US$28 for twin sharing, incl bf and taxes)

* Green Park Hotel - overlooking the immense green of the biggest park of the city and along the vicinity of Thien Quang Lake. Its architectural design combines the 19th century French assembly with modern Vietnamese concepts.

* Hanoi Elegance Hotel, No 85 Ma May Str & No 8 Hang Bac Str., tel: +84 4 9263451, fax:+84 4 9263452, info@hanoielegancehotel.com [12] is in a street in the Old Quarter that thanks to a curb doesn't see as much through-traffic and thus is quieter than most. The newly built boutique hotel offers luxury accommodation in elegant settings with modern facilities & amenities served by professional staff. Rooms US$28-70 with TV, fan, air-con, hot shower, bathtub or Jacuzzi and optional breakfast. In-room computer with Internet access is free of charge. The friendly staff can help with arranging tours etc.

* Huyen Trang Hotel - one of the most beautiful 2 star hotels in the city, next to Hoan Kiem Lake.

* Majestic Salute Hotel - in the Old Quarter, a newly built boutique hotel with marvelous French architecture.

* Quoc Hoa Hotel - in the Old Quarter. Opened in 1991, and one of the first private boutique hotels in Hanoi.

* Sunshine Hotel, 42 Ma May Street [13] has clean rooms in the middle of the Old Quarter (around US$30 incl. taxes & breakfast)

* Sunny Hotel - enjoys views towards both the Old Citadel and the West Lake.

* Viet Anh Hotel, 11 Ma May St., Tel: +84-4 9261302, Fax: +84-4 9261306, [14]. A terrific hotel with friendly staff, reputable tours, and newly remodeled rooms, located on a shady, beautiful street in the Old Quarter. Internet and a good buffet breakfast (with chef on hand) are included in the room rate. Room rates can be negotiable depending on the season, with some as low as US$15, but official prices range from US$18 for a standard room to US$60 for a family suite.

* Zephyr Hotel - just a few steps from the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, and within walking distance of the Opera House.

[edit] Splurge

* Daewoo Hanoi Hotel

* Fortuna Hotel

* Guoman Hotel - on Ly Thuong Kiet Street.

* Hanoi Horison Hotel - opened in 1997.

* Hanoi Hotel - near the city centre and International Trade Exhibition Fair Centre.

* Hilton Hanoi - US$80-105

* Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel - adjacent to the Hanoi Opera House.

* Melia Hanoi Hotel - city centre, 5-star.

* Nikko Hanoi Hotel

* Sheraton Hanoi Hotel - on the shore of Hanoi's largest West lake, with lush gardens, sweeping lawns and tranquil courtyards.

* Sofitel Hanoi - 15 Ngo Quyen Street (between the lake and the Opera) [15] US$169-390

* Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel - within walking distance of the Hanoi Opera House, Hoan Kiem Lake, etc.

* Sofitel Plaza Hotel (formerly Meritus West Lake) - renowned as the most scenic hotel in Ha Noi with a zig zag facade and stepped architecture.

* Sunway Hotel - boutique style, 143 rooms

[edit] Contact

There are hordes of internet cafés all over the city. Most are full of Vietnamese teens playing online dance or battle games, but if you want to be the one square who's using the internet for text, well, that's up to you. Rates vary, but can be as low as 3000 dong/hour. Some of the better cafés, particularly in the Old Quarter, have computers that are Skype-capable for international phone calls.
Monks crossing the street
Monks crossing the street
[edit] Stay safe

Like everywhere else in Vietnam, traffic in Hanoi is dominated by an incredible amount of motorbikes, all of which seem to be making a mad, desperate dash for something just out of reach — all of the time. In other words, pedestrian traffic can be overwhelming for visitors, especially in the narrow streets around the Old Quarter. When you leave the curb, look both ways, and take each step slowly and patiently while trying to make eye contact with any oncoming drivers. The key word here is slowly — don't rush. This way the drivers are aware of you, and can take you into account (along with all of the other motorbikes). Be patient and pay attention when you're crossing any street, large or small, and you should be fine.
[edit] Get out

* The Perfume Pagoda is a Buddhist pilgrimage site about 60 km southwest of Hanoi. A full-day excursion involves a boat trip, hiking up a mountain, and visiting various temples and grottoes.

* Cao Bang, featuring the beautiful Ban Gioc waterfall, is five hours away by bus, near the Chinese border.

* The Cuc Phuong National Park is the largest national park in Vietnam, and an easy day-trip from Hanoi.

* Staying overnight in a boat on the breath-taking Ha Long Bay (or in a hotel on Cat Ba Island) is the most popular side-trip from Hanoi.

* The northern village of Sapa, home to ethnic minorities and gorgeous mountain scenery, is also a popular two or three day trip.

permalink written by  garisti on June 1, 2008 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Ha Long, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay (also Halong Bay) is in northern Vietnam, 170 kilometers east of Hanoi. The bay is famous for its scenic rock formations.
[edit] Understand

"Ha Long" is literally translated as "Bay of Descending Dragons." Prior to the 19th century, this name was not recorded in any document or archive. When mentioning the present-day Quang Ninh Sea or Ha Long Bay, old historical books often referred to them by the names of An Bang, Luc Thuy or Van Don. Not until the late 19th century did the name of Halong Bay appear on a French Marine Map. The Hai Phong News, a French newspaper of the time, had an article, Dragon appears on Ha Long Bay, reporting the following story: In 1898 a sub-lieutenant named Lagredin, captaining the Avalanse reported seeing a huge sea snake on Ha Long Bay. This was also witnessed by many of the crews. Thus emerged the European image of the Asian dragon. Whether this appearance of a strange animal looking like a dragon resulted the name of Ha Long Bay is not known.
[edit] Get in

From Hanoi: 165 km or 3 hrs 30 minutes drive

From Hai Phong: 75 km or 1 hr 30 minutes drive

The best way to get to Halong Bay is to rent a car from Hanoi. It costs approximately USD100 return.

There is also a tourist open bus services offered by travel agencies around the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Cost: USD8 net/ person/way

Public buses leave from Long Bien Station to the Bai Chay Station (other side of Red River, 5 km from Hoan Kiem Lake) every 30 minutes from 06:00 to 18:00 and cost 50,000 dong/person each way. This is not recommended for foreigner's travelers, as these buses are often crowded, slow and unsafe.
[edit] Get around

Mong Cai border City - there is a hydrofol service from Bai Chay to the border city with China

Cat Ba Island - rent or book a seat on a junk to Cat Ba Island

Haiphong City - buses leave from Bai Chay Station to Hai Phong City
[edit] See

Rent a junk to visit the bay for either several hours or overnight on the bay
[edit] Do

* Kayaking
* Swimming
* Climb to the top of Titov Mountain

[edit] Buy
Sunset Vendor at Halong Bay
Sunset Vendor at Halong Bay
[edit] Eat
[edit] Drink
[edit] Sleep

* On board You can sleep aboard on Halong Bay, there are several kind of junks providing overnight cruises on the bay including most luxury cruise of wooden junk.

* Emeraude Classic Cruises
* Dragon Pearl Junk

* There are several new hotels on Cat Ba Island, most cater to package overnight boat trips.

permalink written by  garisti on June 1, 2008 from Ha Long, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Hue, Vietnam

Hue (Huế) is located in central Vietnam and is the former imperial capital.
Guardian statues at the Tomb of Khai Dinh
Guardian statues at the Tomb of Khai Dinh
[edit] Understand

Hue is intimately connected to the imperial Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, who ruled from 1804 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in favor of Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary government. The city went through tough times during the Vietnam War, when it was conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days; the VC slaughtered around 1,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South, and American bombardment before retaking the city probably killed just as many if not more.
[edit] Orientation

Hue is easy to get a grip on. The main landmark is the Perfume River (Huong Giang), with the old city and the Citadel on the north side and the newer city, including most hotels and restaurants, on the south side. Much of the riverside has wisely been done up as a pleasant promenade and park dotted with bizarre sculptures. If you do not like Hue, then you should visit Daklak Province. One of the finer highland cities of Vietnam, Buon Me Thuot is the capital of the province. Once you are there, remember to visit Y-Niem Cafe & Nightclub. It is simply the best region. Take my advice.
[edit] Climate

Hue's weather is infamously bad: the Truong Son Mountains just to the south seem to bottle up all the moisture, so it's usually misty, drizzly or outright rainy, and things get even drippier than usual in the winter rainy season. Bring along an umbrella any time of year.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Hue's small Phu Bai airport fields daily flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but flights are quite often disrupted by poor weather and it's 40 minutes away by taxi. Danang's airport, only two hours away by car now that the Hai Van Tunnel is open, is busier and more dependable. The airport is relatively out of date as most of its structures were built by the American garrison during the Vietnam War.
[edit] By train

Several trains a day to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang (4 hours) etc. The journey down south through the Hai Van Pass is particularly scenic, and from Danang you can take a taxi or motorbike to Hoi An.

A second-class sleeper ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue costs 455,000 dong and offers a wonderful travel experience. The traveller gets to sit, lie and sleep in a very small cabin for 23 hours with five other people (nearly always Vietnamese), eat four plain but tasty and filling Vietnamese meals, listen to a fine selection of Vietnamese pop songs on the PA, and see some incomparably beautiful countryside, particularly in the last section between Da Nang and Hue. It's an excellent way to see the country and meet ordinary Vietnamese, who are unfailingly friendly and helpful, even to travellers who have not bothered to learn a word of their language. The trip is especially recommended if you like babies.
[edit] By bus

Public buses from all the bigger cities connect to the main bus station (Ben Xe Hue). Although open-tour buses take you directly to the hostel area, they charge more and tend to keep you from contact with locals.

* Sinh Cafe, 7 Nguyen Tri Phuong St, [1]. Direct buses to Hoi An cost US$2 and leave twice daily: the 07:30 service crosses the Hai Van Pass and makes three stops, stretching travel time out to 6 hours, while the 13:30 service goes through the tunnel and manages the trip in four. Pick-up directly from your hotel.

[edit] Get around
[edit] By taxi

Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is served by metered taxis (sedans), and un-metered cyclo-taxis and motorbike-taxis.

Taxi drivers are usually reasonably honest, but do make sure they turn the meter on: trips start at 13,000 dong for the first 2 km and then tick up at 8,000 dong/km. A metered trip out see two tombs, with waiting time, should come to around 200,000 dong (US$15).

With cyclos and motorbikes, you need to know where you are going and how much it should cost, or you will be overcharged. The drivers do not see this as cheating - you are rich and they are poor. No trip in Hue should cost more than 20,000 dong.
[edit] By bike

Hire a motorbike and join the locals as they swarm across the bridges and along the main roads at a leisurely pace. Available for around USD5/day from hotels and shops.

Cycling is also a good option, offering a great range of possibilities for no more than USD1/day.
[edit] On foot

Central Hue is quite compact, so you can reach most of the sights easily on foot. However, you'll need some transportation to get out to the emperors' tombs.
[edit] See
[edit] Imperial Citadel
Courtyard of Ngo Mon, with the Thai Hoa Palace in the background
Courtyard of Ngo Mon, with the Thai Hoa Palace in the background

The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. It is also delightfully peaceful - a rare commodity in Vietnam. The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. Some of it is now empty fields, and while restoration has been going on for 20 years there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry US$8, open 06:30-17:00.

* Ngo Mon. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door, and the bridge connecting to it, were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principle entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The Emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.

* Thai Hoa Palace. The emperor's coronation hall, where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.

* Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain.

[edit] Tombs of the Emperors
The tomb of Khai Dinh on a misty morning
The tomb of Khai Dinh on a misty morning
Lake and pavilion at the tomb of Tu Duc
Lake and pavilion at the tomb of Tu Duc

The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, but the best way to see them is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise, which takes between four and six hours and costs between 30,000 dong (for a group) to 150,000 dong (for a boat all to yourself). This cost includes an excellent lunch, but does not include the admission to the tombs themselves, which is usually 55,000 dong, or the cost of a bike trip between the wharf and each of the tombs, which can range from 30,000 dong to 150,000 dong, depending on how hard you bargain. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharf, with the walk taking anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The bike operators are pretty shameless about overcharging tourists so be prepared to be firm - you shouldn't be paying more than 50,000 dong and even that is overcharging you. The tombs themselves are worth the cost. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are fine examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. Khai Dinh's tomb dates only from 1925 and is well preserved. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.

* Tomb of Gia Long, 40 km from Hue. The most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic and about as far from Communist ideals as possible.

* Tomb of Khai Dinh, 10 km from Hue. Dating only from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact, impressively grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the Emperor, complete with statues in attendance, architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons.

* Tomb of Minh Mang, 12 km from Hue. In this opulent complex, the main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). The mausoleum features large gardens and lakes: a pleasant place to sit and relax. If you're dropped off by boat note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.

* Tomb of Tu Duc, 7 km from Hue. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest -- the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle.

* Thien Mu Pagoda, 4 km from Hue. Perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue.

[edit] Phu Bai Airport

If you are in the area to see relics from the Vietnam War, Phu Bai Airport is a must see. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War, then during the Vietnam War, an American garrison was assigned there and built the airport up building concrete bunkers, paving the airstrip, and added a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue City supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when "Charlie jumped the line". The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans, however, they are retrofitted for use by the Vietnamese. If you have time if you are flying into the city, it would be worthwhile to check out the airport and the grounds.
[edit] Do

* DMZ - Hue agents offer inexpensive tours of the Demilitarized Zone, supposedly a buffer between the North Vietnamese Army and the Americans during the Vietnam War of the 1960s, but which saw intense fighting. Well worth a day trip, sights include former airfields, bases, part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and tunnels used by the locals to hide.

[edit] Buy
[edit] Eat
Bún bò Huế at Bun Bo Hue
Bún bò Huế at Bun Bo Hue

Hue is famed for its Imperial cuisine, originally prepared for the emperor and his retinue. Although the emphasis is more on presentation than taste, an imperial banquet is well worth trying.

The most famous local dish is bún bò Huế, a noodle soup served with slices of beef and lashings of chili oil. Another tasty local treat is sesame candy (mè xửng), which is peanutty, chewy and quite tasty if fresh, and goes for under 10,000 dong per box.
[edit] Budget

* Bun Bo Hue, 11B Ly Thuong Kiet. This eponymous eatery specializes in its namesake dish. 15,000D gets you a bowl with a generous, mouth-meltingly soft if fatty cutlet plopped on top.

* Friendly restaurant, D Pham Ngu Lao, an excellent choice with charming staff and a wide range of Vietnamese and European food. Opened in 2005 and owned by a Vietnamese family, Friendly restaurant is in the town's centre.

* Mandarin Cafe, 12 D Hung Vuong. The owner is also a good photographer and many of his pictures hang on the wall. Worth a look.

[edit] Mid-range

* Little Italy serves the best pizza and pasta in town - call 054826928 for home delivery.

[edit] Splurge

* Tinh Gia Vien, 20/3 Le Thanh Ton, tel. +84-54-522243. Wonderful old Hue-style nha vuon garden villa on a quiet side street, formerly the residence of a princess, converted by a bonsai enthusiast into a restaurant serving Imperial cuisine. There are three set menus at $10/12/15, the main difference being — to quote the menu — a "big", "bigger" or "biggest" fish, but all sets have 11 courses and are guaranteed to fill you up. The food wins full points for presentation, but is unfortunately somewhat toned down for the foreign palate.

[edit] Drink
[edit] Bars and clubs

* DMZ Bar & Cafe, 44 D Le Loi. Stays open late.

* Café on Thu Wheels, 1/2 D Nguyen Tri Phuong. It's a little bar owned by the charming lady Thu.

* B4 Bar-Cafe, 75 D Ben Nghe. A charming Belgian-Vietnamese owned bar, with a welcoming interior and free pool.

[edit] Sleep

Lots of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels as well. The largest cluster is along the short lane of Pham Ngu Lao, not quite as backpackery as its Ho Chi Minh City namesake but still a definite tourist magnet.
[edit] Budget

* Halo 10A/66 D Le Loi, has spotless rooms, spacious, with large bathrooms and tv if you want it. There is a balcony to sit at night, and it's close to all the nightlife in Hue. A double costs 160,000 Dong. That's about USD10 for people who refuse to use the national currency! Find it up an alley coming off the main road, where there are an array of other guest houses. You can see a small sign for it along with some others at the alley's entrance.

* Binh Duong I + III Hotel offers rooms from USD5, including hot water & satellite TV.

[edit] Mid-range

* Asia Hotel. Opened only in December 2004, but despite the token modern TV the the fittings seem much older. The rooms are well enough equipped though and the rooftop restaurant and pool have nice views. Rooms from a slightly overpriced US$30, including a decent buffet breakfast.Eat on the side of the streets for the best tasting meals is my recommendation.

[edit] Splurge

* Saigon Morin, 30 Le Loi St. Hue's grand old hotel, opened by a Mr. Morin from France and running strong for over a hundred years. Excellent riverside location, white-washed colonial charm and a pleasant inner courtyard, although the rooms could use a little fine-tuning. Rates from US$100.

[edit] Get out

* Hoi An - this old merchant port is 100 km away (about 4 hours by road or train) and can also be visited as a day trip, with Marble Mountain and China Beach as potential stops along the way

This article is an outline a

permalink written by  garisti on June 1, 2008 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An (Hội An) is a beautiful city in Vietnam, just south of Da Nang. It's an ancient trading port, and its old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
[edit] Understand
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam

Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the foreign influences are discernible to this day. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Danang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While most all shops now cater to the tourist trade the area has been largely preserved as is, unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully - it's mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors.

The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

The nearest airport is in Danang, which has frequent connections to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and some flights to Bangkok, Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia (for Angkor Wat). A taxi from the airport to Hoi An costs about US$15 thanks to the cartel, but only about half that in the other direction.
[edit] By train

There is no railway station in Hoi An. The nearest is in Danang (see below), which receives several trains a day from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang etc. Most travel agents and hotels can book a train ticket for you.
[edit] By bus

Traveller buses run daily up and down the coast from Da Nang, Hue and Nha Trang. Note the road to Nha Trang is awful and the trip takes all day; it is much better to take a train.
[edit] By motorbike or taxi

It's easy to take a motorbike or taxi to and from Da Nang via the Marble Mountains (see below), from where you can catch a train onwards.
[edit] Get around

The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Unfortunately, bikes have not been banned from the center yet, so particularly at night keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes.

To go to the beach, or reach some of the more remote hotels, it is easy and cheap to hire a bicycle. Taxis are few and far between, but can be called by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option. Motorbike taxis are always an option. You can also charter boats for about US$1/hour.

Almost all of the hotels will rent out motorbikes at about five USD a day. It's standard practice for them to rent you the bike with just enough petrol to make it to the next petrol station. If you value your money, go to a gas station, rather than the hand-operated roadside pumps -- the markup at the latter is vicious. Use the bike to visit My Son, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.
[edit] See
[edit] Old Town
Chinese shophouses and Communist propaganda
Chinese shophouses and Communist propaganda

Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where US$5 gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one family house, one Chinese meeting hall, the art performance theater and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Kong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung St.

* Japanese Covered Bridge (Cau Nhat Ban or Lai Vien Kieu), on the west end of Tran Phu Street. Hoi An's best-known landmark consists of a covered bridge and pagoda. The bridge was constructed in the early 1600's by the Japanese community, roughly 40 years before they left the city to return to Japan under the strict policy of sakohu enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Last renovated in 1986. Entry one coupon.

* Museum of Trade Ceramics, 80 Tran Phu St. The dusty displays of broken pottery in this house are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough. Entry one coupon.

* Phung Hung House, 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St (just west of the Japanese Bridge). Traditional two-story wooden house, inhabited over 100 years by eight generations — and the current one attempts to guide you around in hope of a tip. Entry one coupon.

Chinese meeting halls. Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents met and socialized, are dotted about the town. They are typically named after their home region, such as Fujian and Canton. Entry into any hall one coupon.

* Cantonese Meeting Hall, 176 Tran Phu St. Calm courtyard with ornate statuery. Take a peek at the half-hidden back yard and its kitchy pastel dragon statues.
* Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall, straddling Tran Phu and Phan Chu Trinh Streets.
* Chinese All-Community Meeting Hall, next to the Fujian hall, also spanning the block.

[edit] Other

* The colourful waterfront Market

* The paper lanterns and candles floating down the river in the evening.

* The Hoi An Orphanage is located right next to the Roman Catholic church. A British non-profit organisation, called the Kianh Foundation,[1]works permanently at the Orphanage to improve the children’s health, education and quality of life.

[edit] Do

* Cua Dai Beach A place to unwind a few kilometers away from the town centre. A taxi from the town centre to Cua Dai Beach costs around US$3. It's also possible to cycle there, which gives you a good view of the rice farms along the way. Along the beach are a number of mini restaurants selling seafood and drinks. They also provide deck chairs and tables right on the beach. There are a number of upmarket resort hotels in the area.

[edit] Events

* Full Moon Festival

[edit] Buy
Lantern shop
Lantern shop

Made-to-measure shirts, blouses, dresses, suits etc. from the renowned tailors. When last counted in 2002, there were 140 shops in the city and the number is now well over 400. Be careful who you choose to manufacture your clothes. As a rule of thumb, give all tailors 2 days advance to prepare your garment and keep going back until you get your clothes right!!

* Cloth Market, located next to the Central Market and looks like a cloth warehouse. Inside are many small tailor stalls that are generally cheaper and more reliable than shops elsewhere. Orders usually take a day or two.

* Yaly, Tran Phu Street. They have a great and extensive range of fabrics to choose from and the staff are very attentive and extremely patient. Ignore the fixed price claim! Discounts can be given for multiple purchases.

Hoi An also has a good selection of Vietnamese art, both modern and traditional, serious and kitschy. Galleries can be found all over town but Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, just across the Japanese Bridge, has the heaviest concentration.
[edit] Eat

Food in Hoi An is, even by high Vietnamese standards, cheap and tasty. In addition to the usual suspects, there are three dishes that Hoi An is particularly famous for:

* Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles which are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The secret is the water used to make it, and authentic cao lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies.

* White rose (banh bao vac), a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose.

* Wantan dumplings, essentially the same as the Chinese kind, served up in soup or deep-fried.

[edit] Budget

Prices in the very center of Hoi An are generally a little inflated by the tourist trade - cross the bridge over to An Hoi island for a selection of basic but cheap eateries.

* Hoai River, 44 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Terrific food, but long waits.

* Thanh Phuong, 56 Cong Dong (An Hoi island, just across bridge). Cheap and cheerful local eats. A steaming seafood hotpot for two and a large beer will set you back US$3.

* Trung Bac, 87 Tran Phu. 100 years of cao lau and still going strong. A bowl of chewy noodles and lots of veggies will set you back all of 8000 dong.

* White Rose, 51 Hai Ba Trung. The shop that actually makes most of the "white rose" dumplings served all around town. 15,000 dong per serve, and if you ask nicely they'll let you try to make them yourself. Open from 7AM until they run out, usually in the afternoon.

* Cafe Bobo, 18 Le Loi. Popular and reasonably-priced place. The frappucino-style mocha shakes are great.

[edit] Splash out
Gỏi cuốn fresh spring rolls and cao lầu noodles at Brother's Cafe
Gỏi cuốn fresh spring rolls and cao lầu noodles at Brother's Cafe

* Brother's Cafe, 27 Phan Boi Chau, [2]. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Probably Hoi An's nicest restaurant, with a lush landscaped garden in a wonderful riverside French colonial house. The fresh spring rolls (chả giò) are excellent — and priced to match at US$4.50 a plate. The 6-course $16 set meal for two is good value though.

* Cafe des Amies, on the main street next to the river - a couple of minutes away from the chinese bridge.

Do not miss this culinary experience. The main chef and owner, Mr Kim, cooks award winning food (Vietnamese, not French as the name might suggest) - he's also an interesting guy to talk to after your meal. For something like $5/6 you get a 5 or 6 course meal. It's a set menu each night, where you chose between seafood, meat or vegetarian; but beyond that it's a nice surprise to see what turns up at your table. They will provide you with stunning food, intereting background music, and excellent service. If you think this is a little over-enthusiatic for a restaurant, ask to read the guest book they keep with comments from all the customers. If you're backpacking on a budget a $6 meal seems a little extravagant (!) but it is well worth it - an excellent evening was had, and i recall it as one of the best meals i've ever had. The meals cooked are different every day, so it's tempting simply to return every evening...


[edit] Drink

* Before & Now, 51 Le Loi St, ☎ +84-510-910599. Very popular two-level bar and restaurant.

* Tam Tam Cafe, 110 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Cafe, bakery, restaurant and bar all rolled into one. Stylish, popular and not too badly priced.

[edit] Sleep

Hotels in Hoi An are fiercely competitive, which means plenty of choice, low prices and generally high standards. Many are clustered around Hai Ba Trung St (formerly Nhi Trung St), just north of the Old Town and within easy walking distance, and also along Cua Dai St, off to the east and a bit of a hike away.
[edit] Budget

* An Phu, 30 Nguyen Duy Hieu St., ☎ +84-510-914345, [3]. One of the biggest budget hotel operations in Hoi An. South of the center, about a 5-10 minute walk away. Nice rooms and a relaxing pool in the middle. $10-15.

* Thanh Binh 3, Ba Trieu St. (off Hai Ba Trung St), ☎ +84-510-916777. Popular budget hotel done up like a Chinese temple, with a pool and pleasant rooms, all air-con equipped. The mattresses are on the hard side though and the breakfast isn't much to write about. $15-30.

* Nhi Nhi Hotel, 60 Hung Vuong St., ☎ +84-510-916718, [4]. Situated in the Old Quarter, Nhi Nhi Hotel offers affordable, nice rooms in an authentic Vietnamese neighborhood. Hoi An market and restaurants and coffee bars are nearby. $15-$20 including breakfast.

* Grassland Hotel, (Thao Nguyen Hotel), 22 Hai Ba Trung St, ☎ +84-510-921921, [5]. Provides free bicycles and 1 hour free internet per day. Room start at US$15(including breakfast) for a single room, US$ 18 for a Superior Twin & Double room.

[edit] Mid-range

* Phuong Nam Hotel Hoi An, 16-17 Ly Thai To Street, ☎ +84 510 923400/923430 (phuongnam@dng.vnn.vn), [6]. Situated in a peaceful area, just 5 mins walk to the old city and 20 mins walk to the beach. Free shuttle bus from 8AM-10PM to the old city. Internet Service.

* Hoai Thanh Hotel, 187 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, ☎ +84 510 861171 (info@hoaithanhhotel.com, fax: +84 510 861135), [7]. About 200 meters from the center of town. Rooms $24-75.

* Hoi An Indochine Hotel, Cua Dai Road, ☎ +84 510 923608 (infor@hoianindochine.com, fax: +84 510 923578), [8]. Only 5 minutes walk from the beach, by the calm and romantic river and garden. French style architecture with 61 riverview rooms. US$65/night (10 superior rooms), US$75/night (45 deluxe rooms), US$105 (6 suites).

* Ha An Hotel, 6 Phan Boi Chau Road, ☎ +84 510 863126. Located in a quiet area beyond the main markets, this hotel consists of a few buildings built in a semi-French colonial style around a central courtyard. The rooms are airy, light and pleasant with air-conditioning, bathrooms and TV. There's a collection of books in the reception area that can be borrowed by guests. The price includes a good breakfast. Rooms $30-40.

[edit] Splurge

Many of Hoi An's higher-end hotels are located not in town itself, but by the beach some 5 km away from town.

* Lotus Hotel, 330 Cua Dai Road, Hoian, ☎ +84 (510) 923 357 (hoianlotus@dng.vnn.vn), [9]. Beautifully designed resort-hotel draws from a range of styles & influences resulting in a perfect blend of Eastern culture & French architecture, while our rooms are immaculately furnished and equipped in a relaxing combination of Vietnamese , Japanese and French styles. Free ADSL / WiFi is available in the whole hotel $ 36 - $ 55.

* Life Resort Hoi An, 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, ☎ +84 (510) 914-555 (hoian@life-resorts.com), [10]. The classiest hotel near the town center, located by the river a short stroll from the market. $98-268.

* Victoria Hoi An, Cua Dai Beach, ☎ +84 510 927 040, [11].

* Dong An Beach Hotel, ☎ +84 510 927888 (info@donganbeachhotel.com), [12]. Overlooking the Thu Bon River, and < 5min walk to the Cua Dai beach. Some 5 km away from town. $79-195.

* Hoi An Pacific Hotel, 167 Cua Dai Street (halfway between beach and town), ☎ +84 510 923 777 (info@hoianpacific.com), [13]. Opened in spring 2004, it boasts 3 restaurants and bars, including the "Sky Bar", the tallest in town at seven stories. $70-120.

* Furama Beach Resort, [14]. Brand new luxury resort on fabled China Beach. Approximately 20 minutes to Hoi An by taxi (5 minutes to Da Nang)

[edit] Get out

* My Son - Cham ruins in the jungle a few hours away (lots of agents offer day trips).
* The Marble Mountains, halfway to Da Nang, are well worth a stop. The hills loom out of the surrounding coastal plain and feature a group of Buddhist temples built into caves - a popular pilgrimage site for locals. Make sure you wear walking shoes, as reaching many of the caves on the map require clambering over rocks and through crevices. An small entry fee applies and guides are available.
* Hue - Ancient imperial capital a few hours away by car or train

permalink written by  garisti on June 1, 2008 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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