I didn’t really know what to expect from Batam, having never been there and not having much general knowledge about it. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a village. I was wrong.
My Batam adventure began quite unfortunately. Somehow I managed to misplace and lose my ferry ticket before I even got on my ferry. There was a mad rush to get a replacement ticket, but eventually I made it (although I had to fork out another SGD24 to get a return ferry ticket later on).
Batam, contrary to my earlier misconception, is not a fishing village. Granted, it is less modern than Singapore, but not without its own city/urban comforts. We paid about SGD150-160 for a 3D2N package, with lodging at Golden View Batam Resort. The hotel is nice enough, if you aren’t a stickler for 5-star treatment, beds that are a tad too hard, and consistency (my room was missing a fridge and safe, but no matter). Although, it would have been nice to have gotten a room that didn’t smell of stale, unclean carpet. Thankfully, that smell disappeared after a day (it helps to leave the air-conditioning on). But what they lack, they make up for with relatively friendly and helpful staff, complementary dinner (on the first night) and breakfast, and a lovely pool.
The pool was godsent considering the ‘beach’ they had was really entirely not beach-holiday appropriate; it was resplete with rocks. Not where you want to lie out and soak some sun. Luckily for us, we took advantage of the sunny weather on our first day, because it was sadly gray and downtrodden on the second day of our trip.
Batam is the perfect place to do many of the things you would have done in Singapore, but for much, much less. You can watch movies, sing karaoke, play arcade games, get massages, eat till you can no longer wear your pants, all at a fraction of the price.
- Movies- SGD2.50. Of course, with a smaller variety of English movie choices to choose from, unless you speak Bahasa Indonesian.
- Karaoke- SGD5.00 per person, for 2 hours worth of singing your lungs out. And yes, they do have quite a modern selection of English/Chinese/Korean/Japanese songs.
- Massage– our massage was complementary with our package, but I’m sure you can get one there for about SGD20+ or so. Of course, if you are a guy, be prepared to get offered some ‘extra’ services.
- Cheap(er) alcohol
- Tim Tams for SGD1.00
But most importantly, your trip would be a waste if you didn’t venture forth and try their cheap (I mean, really cheap) and good food. Where can you find a meal that costs SGD1-2? Batam! Indonesian food is very flavourful, and everything packs a punch. Right down to their fried rice (you should see the way the hawker pours his heart and soul into frying that rice, I tell you). Things to try:
- Indomie goreng
- Teh botol- I believe it translates to ‘tea in a bottle’. Very refreshing.
- The best chilli kangkong (spinach) ever– it’s sweet and spicy at the same time. Different from the type of chilli kangkong you get in Singapore.
- A&W– a chance for all Singaporeans to get their A&W fix, though if you’re looking for curly fries, you’re better off at..
- BFC– Best Fried Chicken (I believe). Think fast food serving both East (Indonesian fare) and West (curly fries, shakes, burgers), but at ridiculously cheap prices. Ridiculous (like SGD1-2++). Your loss if you don’t try.
- Coffee Town– You can find it in most of the malls in Batam, I think. Though a chain restaurant, it serves great food. Try their coffee susu (milk) and teh susu (tea with milk) that’s diabetic sweet but somehow fantastic. They also serve curly fries and the best fried kway teow (noodles) I have ever tried. It looks bland and tasteless, but trust me, it’s an explosion of flavour in your mouth. You will not regret trying it.
- Ayam Penyet
- Seafood– Batam is known for its cheap and fresh seafood. Even the grilled/bbq fish we had at some roadside stall was succulently fresh and delicious. Make sure you order cereal prawn. The hotel we stayed at had a seafood restaurant within its premises, apparently quite a famous one at that.
- Kueh Lapis– apparently a famous Batam produce. I can’t tell you who we ordered our cake from (because we did it through our tour agency, and I wasn’t expecting much), but my god, it was good and not too oily.
We didn’t manage to try much water sports, something I’ll be on a lookout for the next time I go to Batam. But really, if you’re looking for a cheap and relaxing get-away, lots of food and just hanging out with company. Batam would not be a bad choice at all, though probably just for about 3-4 days (maximum), before you get bored.
The problem with reaching HCMC at 4am in the morning is…that it’s 4am in the morning. Nothing is opened and the city is, for the most parts I believe, asleep.
We trooped back to our HCMC hostel (my my art house) but since we couldn’t check in, we could only wait for daylight to break as we tried to catch some shut eye while lying on the table/chairs. Daybreak came, we washed up a little, and then set out on our last day in Vietnam.
Our last day was designated street food day (since at least we’d only suffer traveller’s diarrhoea either on the plane back or in the comforts of our own home). We put that to practice. Breakfast was some soupy pho noodles from a stall snuggled right in the alley leading to our hostel, near the main road. It was cheap and tasty, served with innards of course, and lots of vegetables on the side. Good healthy start to the day.
Then, we rushed off to Sinh tourist to catch our guided tour to Cuchi tunnels on the outskirts of HCMC. You might be thinking of trying to get there by yourself, but it’s near impossible to do so (they only allow visitors via guided tour) and not advisable because your tour guide will be able to give you a good informative session on all the secret hideouts and wonders of the tunnels.
In all honesty, we probably over-estimated ourselves and our ability to withstand the claustrophobic back-bending walk through the tunnel. It’s definitely something you need to do when you’re young-ish and healthy. And I thought the tombs in Egypt were difficult, these are harder!
We only made it 40metres through the tunnels, before the sheer lack of space in there was too much. Also, because you literally have to bend down to walk through it, your face WILL be in someone’s butt. Try not to eat anything that will cause flatulence, and try to walk behind (and in front of) someone you actually like. That said, Cuchi tunnels is the one thing you MUST visit when in HCMC. It’s quite amazing to see all the (direly) clever contraptions of the Vietnamese. They are very resilient, I will say. A good history lesson, it is.
After the tunnels, we hopped on the bus back to the city. The Cuchi tunnels tour will take you half a day; we reached HCMC at about 3pm or so. After negotiating bike rentals (I believe it was USD7 per bike for a day), we set off to find the elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant for lunch. We failed and decided to make for the Reunification Palace before it closed. Some street snacks and coconut juice were grabbed as reinforcements before we died of hunger.
Warning: their coconuts do not come with a spoon for you to carve out and savour the flesh. BUT, if you really want to have a go at it, you can do it cavemen style (like we did) and try using bits of the coconut as a primitive spoon, or better yet, trying cracking the coconut apart with your bare hands or against the wall, and then eating the flesh off the inside of the shell. You probably shouldn’t try to do that while hiding at a trashbin, behind a pillar, at the palace though. Probably.
The Reunification Palace is essentially where the last pivotal moment in Vietnam’s civil war occurred. Armed with ‘Lonely Planet’ as our guide, we toured the grounds. To be quite honest, after Cuchi tunnels, the palace came up a little short. It was nice to see the old stomping ground of the former Vietnamese President (like his reception room, offices, etc), but all the rooms are basically cordoned off so besides taking a gander, it’s not very engaging. The guys will probably find the tour of his underground shelter and command center a tad more interesting though.
Starved, we headed to Ben Thanh market (which also took a while to find). Ben Thanh is going to be where you do your shopping for coffee beans (I bought weasel coffee that I still haven’t tried), those little Vietnamese coffee contraptions, and well, if you are my mom, you would ask me to buy cashew nuts. Do not ask me why.
In all honesty, after going to the Russian Market in Cambodia, and Chatuchak in Bangkok, I don’t find Ben Thanh market particularly interesting or exotic. I guess once you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all, with the exception of Chatuchak. Ben Thanh is really more of an eye-opener for the Western traveller, or Asian traveller who hasn’t been to markets like these before.
So after making our aromatic purchases, we headed straight to the food section. Have you ever had crab meat noodles? Neither have I, so we tried it at what appeared to be a very popular stall (i.e, lots of people must = good stuff). It was good and although deceptive, it is quite filling. They use fresh crab meat too; you can taste it. Well worth a try.
We wanted to explore more of the streets opposite Ben Thanh, but sadly it started pouring and we, being not of the umbrella-toting sort, were forced to retreat indoors to Pho 24 for some dessert and more Vietnamese coffee. The rain eventually stopped and we were able to explore the area. Typical goods are sold such as Teeshirts and such, of which we bought some. Nothing much otherwise, it seemed.
So we decided to give one last attempt at that elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant. We rode, we walked in one direction, then back in the other direction. On the way, we stumbled across a roadside stall selling noodles, offering shelter under a makeshift canopy. The noodles soup consists of innards, even pig’s blood and is just a tinge spicy, but really the perfect hot piping thing to have in rainy weather. As usual, it’s served with lots of vegetables.
Later, we finally realised why we couldn’t find the restaurant although we were on the right road. Quan Nam Giao is not located just along the main road. Instead, it in snuggled deeper in one of the alleys by the road. A small sign is present, to signal you in the right direction; the sign is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.
Quan Nam Giao serves ‘Hue’ cuisine; you can find their address and menu offerings here. We ordered a mish-mash of food- soup noodles again, some fried oysters (or something I can’t remember) thats served with a crispy side. The fried oysters were pretty tasty, but the soup noodles were nothing special, I felt.
After that, we headed back to our hostel for a night’s rest (although not after squeezing in some time for drinks etc). We arranged for a cab driver to pick us up for our transfer to the airport (via our hostel owner) and ended our Vietnam trip with more good Vietnamese coffee and breakfast, and then some very expensive and very bad Viet coffee at the airport (you are warned). All in all, Vietnam was a good trip; hope to go back soon and hit up some of its other destinations (:
Our day 3 in Dalat began early. After enjoying a fantastic hot shower in Dream Hotels’ dreamy bathroom (jacuzzi jet sprays, anyone?), we trooped down to our complimentary breakfast. The breakfast spread put up is really quite incredible (especially for the USD37 that we paid for our room). Breakfast consisted fresh fruits- think mangoes, watermelons, etc- a baguette and all its usual fillings of bacon, tomatoes and the like, coffee & juice, and 2 eggs. Filling, indeed.
After that hearty breakfast, we filed into our rented car for the day (the hostel will book one for you for about USD50-60). First stop of the day was ‘Crazy House’, one of the top 10 strangest buildings in the world. An entrance fee of 20,000 dong (about SGD1.00+) later, and we entered cam-whoring heaven. Crazy House is an actual hostel/hotel, if I’m not wrong. The rooms are themed e.g. Kangeroo room, Tiger room, etc. but overall pretty spacious and comfortable-looking. The architecture of the place is difficult to describe (hence, its’ name), with winding stairs, narrow bridges, steep steps, and holes in the walls.
Crazy House is resplendent with weird-looking statues, random spider webs, gongs and so on that make for good photo-taking opportunities.
Next Stop, the Emperor’s Summer Palace. To be quite honest, the Summer Palace is not as elaborate as I thought it’d be. However, bearing in mind that this was built and lived in by the Royal Family in Vietnam in the early 1900s, I suppose it’s really not bad.
The palace grounds are filled with opportunities for posing with horses and the Monkey God, taking mini-horse rides and so on. Of course, those things come at a tourist price. I chose to skip those frills.
At the entrance of the palace, you will be required to slip on cloth bags over your shoes. It’s a little strange, but really quite a clever idea imposed by the Vietnamese. It keeps the palace as clean as it can possibly be from all that human traffic, and is not surprising. The Vietnamese, as I have observed, are very conscientious about keeping their property and the area around their property clean. Outside storefronts, you can spot store-owners and staff washing the street area (directly outside their store) with water, and sweeping it clean of rubbish. That’s something you don’t necessarily see in Singapore. A word of caution: if you have small feet like I do, the shoe slip might slip off your feet halfway through your tour. And you’ll be left retracing your path to locate the missing slip.
Within the palace, you become privy to the Royal Quarters. It’s nice to take a look, and the view of the garden from the King’s quarter is quite pretty.
Third Stop of the day was one of the temples/pagodas in Dalat. Apologies for I don’t remember the exact name. The area is home to monks, and if I’m not wrong, only a portion of the whole place is open to visitors. The real gem of the attraction is really the tranquility of the area (sans tourists).
Venture downwards, and a path through the trees will lead you to a lake. Not many of the visitors there did this, and it’s a pity for them (but awesome for us). Anyway, walking across the lake will lead you to a few stalls where you can rent a boat or a couple of Swans to pedal out on the lake. Beware, if you have shoes that lack friction (like mine), it’s slippery getting onto the Swan and falling is a genuine possibility. Getting laughed at is also a genuine possibility.
After all that walking and pedalling, ’twas time to break for lunch. Lunch was at another Lonely Planet recommendation- Trong Drong Restaurant. We ordered a number of dishes- a caramelised fish dish, some Vietnamese spring rolls, and a number of side dishes served with a sweet-tangy-spicy peanut sauce that just really hits the spot with all its paired with.
The caramelised fish dish is highly recommended. The fish is very fresh (and doesn’t have that fishy smell/aftertaste), and has a good balance of spicyness. The rich taste is complemented by the Asian staple- white rice. Overall, it was a very, very good Vietnamese meal, and quite affordable, really.
After lunch, we headed to Domaine de Marie, another religious attraction. The church itself and its grounds are pretty, although very recently built (1992). However, it’s probably an attraction you can skip if you’re pressed for time. The plus point about it is that it’s a great vantage point of Dalat.
You can apparently buy fresh produce like Strawberries from the Sisters that live on the grounds, although I did not see any.
Next, we moved our lunch-bloated bodies to gaze upon one of Dalat’s many waterfalls. The attraction offers you a ride downwards to the waterfall, if you’re in a rush, or in our case, kind of lazy. Pay about 30,000 dong for the ride down (and more for a return trip), and you’ll be treated to a pleasant surprise- the ride was unexpectedly fun, like a mini-rollercoaster.
The waterfall itself is not the most magnificent, but still a good sight to see. It’s a place to whip out those cameras and start snapping too.
The last tourist-y stop of the day was Dalat’s Railway station. It now offers 30mins (or so) rides to nearby areas, and has 2 of its old trains stationed permanently at the station for photo-taking opportunities. Or, if you’ve always wanted to examine the engine room/whatever you call it, you can as well. You can skip this attraction if you’re out of time. Entrance is free though.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel and asked for a recommendation for a place to get massages. The owner recommended a place about 400m away from the hostel. They offer Thai massage, and various hot oil and hot stone massages at 60mins, 75mins, 0r 90mins. Prices are extremely affordable and in my opinion, highly worth it. I love massages. I don’t however, recommend getting manicures there. Their cuticle cutting skills were rough around the edges, and left my fingers bleeding and hurting slightly the day after. Their nail painting skills are also not much to shout about. All in all, a 60min hot oil full body massage and manicure cost only SGD13.
While we were getting our nails done, the guys went to rent some bikes. We then took a ride around Town, determined to find a affordable French restaurant. We failed on the affordable aspect, but we did succeed on ‘French’. In the end, we dined at Le Rabelais, a place that Lonely Planet advised to cart in wheelbarrows of dong, just to pay for the meal. Our payment experience was not so dramatic, although we did have to pay in a combination of dong, USD and credit card. A 4 course meal costs USD65 each. The dress code here is not rigorously implemented- I was wearing leggings, an oversized shirt, and Toms with 3 holes in them (on each foot).
The restaurant is gorgeous and located in an equally gorgeous colonial building. Think of its as the Raffles Hotel of Dalat. The starters were alright, and I did enjoy the cheesey sauce/cream and meat pairing, although I thought the vegetable soup (as much as I adore vegetables) was really average.
I’m probably going to get shot by some for saying this, but it was the first time I tried Foie Gras and I liked it. Foie Gras is the fattened/overgrown liver of a Duck or Goose who has been force-fed. Okay, yes even the definition of it makes it sick. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it does taste terribly yummy & was possibly the best dish of the meal 😐 It was served with apple crisp and a side of vege.
My main was braised veal cooked in red wine, served with a stick of beef (or was it pork), garlic bread and a serving of tomato-sauce. The veal was on the tough side; it was a tasty but not very outstanding meal. By the time dessert was served, I was beyond stuffed. That said, I could taste the sweet (thankfully light) dessert through my full stomach. The sweetness of the apples and bananas were balanced with the biscuits, and the sorbet was really fantastic with the surprise of a muffin/cupcake below! Quite a genius combination I must say. Who would have thought of combining a sorbet with a muffin?
That night, we departed from Dalat on a night bus back to HCMC. With seats that recline by quite abit, complementary sleeping pillow & blanket, plus the lack of trafffic on roads(and fast driving by the bus driver), we made it comfortably back to HCMC in 4 hours.
On Day Two of our Vietnam trip, we woke up bright and early to catch a 745am bus ride to Dalat. HCMC (at least in the backpackers district) is a city that sleeps late, and rises early. It was about 7am when we ventured out of our hostel, and the place was bustling with street food stalls, hawkers, and motorbikes everywhere.
Bracing ourselves for what we thought would be a 5-7 hours ride (it turned out to be 8), we grabbed a breakfast baguette & iced coffee combo right from a street stall opposite ‘The Sinh Tourist’. You can choose to take away your meal, or eat it on some plastic chairs facing the road, which is not a bad option for people-watching.
Their iced coffee remains the best one I had in my entire Vietnam trip. It’s bitter-sweet, with a slight nutty taste to it. The baguette is tasty & extremely filling- they basically fill it with meat, vegetables and a sauce, so it’s a good start to my day, especially at SGD2.50! Take that Subway!
We sat on the backrow of the bus to Dalat, which was a really unfortunate thing since it can be quite a bumpy ride up the mountain, and makes it a little difficult to get shuteye sometimes (although I have found that I have this talent of sleeping anywhere that’s relatively clean).
2 stops & 8 hours later, we arrived in Dalat. As a side note, I am happy to report that the toilets at the stop overs were very clean. The downside is that the stopover for lunch only had one option, which sucked and was a rip-off.
Dalat is supposedly known as the Little Paris/Europe of Vietnam. I suppose it’s called that more for its weather which, during the day, hovers at a PERFECT 20degrees celsius (although it gets colder at night). There, we stayed at the highly-recommended ‘My Dream Hotel’ which has 2 branches (Dreams 1 and Dreams 2).
The hostel owner is a friendly and trilingual lady (she speaks Vietnamese, English and French). The spacious hostel room we stayed in was originally meant for 2 but in reality, fit all 4 of us. The toilet is incredibly clean and honestly looked just like a hotel’s. It’s got a jacuzzi shower! And if you want, you can enquire about using the hostel’s hot tub. No pictures though, I was too bus weary.
Dalat’s cool climate means that taking a walk is not a sweaty ordeal, although one will get tired. If you don’t want to explore Dalat by foot, you can always directly rent a bike from the hostel. We checked out Dalat’s market on our first day there; if you’re interested, it’s not too bad, and it’s quite interesting seeing the live poultry, fish, and street food that lines the street. You don’t get that in Singapore anymore.
At night, we headed for dinner at another Lonely Planet recommendation- The Art Cafe. The name is derived from its owners artistic ambitions. The walls of the restaurant, with its prominent bamboo themed decor, is adorned by the owners’ artwork. The cafe is warm and inviting and serves fusion Vietnamese food. The mains are not particularly mindblowing, but the French Onion soup is spectacular. Under a layer of cheese hides a generous, salty, flavour-packed amount of onions. Likes. Very. Much.
Later, we hopped on our bikes and braved the winds for a round of hot drinks and traditional Viet Coffee at a Cafe near the market. A row of pubs/cafes with inviting atmosphere overlooks the slope, so have your pick of any one of them. Vietnamese coffee works by piling on your coffe powder into that simple steel contraption you see. Pour hot water in it, and allow your coffee to slowly drip into your cup. Add condensed milk and enjoy. Beware: it is extremely thick because of the use of condensed milk so make sure you have enough coffee to balance that out.
The day ended with a chilling windy ride through the town/city, back to our hostel. I have a video of it, perhaps I will upload it one day if I’m not too lazy. More to Come!
Guess who’s back, back again….It’s me! Here’s a recount of the past few days…in parts of course.
HO CHI MINH CITY- DAY ONE.
Our Vietnam adventure began and ended in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)/Saigon. HCMC’s international airport is clean & modern, and honestly, not the worst I’ve seen. If you need a visa to enter Vietnam, your wait might take a little while though. SGD0.30 will put you on a clean, air-conditioned bus (#152) from the airport to central HCMC. Our hostel ‘My My Art House’ along with tonnes of other hostels is located in the main backpacker’s district at Phan Ngu Lao.
‘My My Art House’ is admittedly a little bit difficult to find. Its’ entrance is located in a back alley, so you will need some navigational skills. The easiest way is to find Allez Boo pub, make a right turn into an alley and find your way through (assuming Allez Boo is on your right). Asides from its slightly mysterious location, the Art House is clean and follows a ‘no footwear’ policy, so take off your shoes before stepping in.
A picture of our twin room & the toilet- simple and clean. If you need drinks like bottled mineral water, beer or soft drinks, you should find it in the mini-fridge in your room, or just ask the hostel owner who’s friendly and will be glad to help you. Free internet usage at the ground floor as well.
A note of caution if you are a shower/hygiene freak like me, the water supply for the bath rooms come from a water tank, so if many guests are using the shower at the same time, you run the risk of running out of hot water, if any even flow out of the tap. I had to find out the hard way, after shampooing my hair into a soapy state -.- Also, I found the level one toilet to smell abit like poop; that could just be my sensitive nose.
Anyway, the great thing about staying at Phan Ngu Lao is that it’s got a great atmosphere that’s partly created by the locals and by the international crowd of backpackers.
By day, the area is buzzing with activity. Money changers, tour operators, street food vendors and cafes are available for your needs. ‘The Sinh Tourist’ (formerly Sinh Cafe) is pretty reliable and offers many buses and tours to numerous locations in Vietnam and beyond. It also has a money changer inside which offers pretty strong rates- 1 SGD: 13,500 Vietnamese dong. We arranged for a bus (that departs at around 745am) to Dalat there.
If you can’t take a bus that leaves Dalat in the morning, you can arrange for an overnight bus trip back to HCMC (or to other destinations) when you are actually in Dalat, from other bus service operators.
At night, there are plenty of pubs to chill out and people-watch at. A few notable pubs are Allez Boo (which apparently features quite a few hook-ups, if you know what I mean), GoGo, and Crazy Buffalo. We visited GoGo and Crazy Buffalo on Day Four and Day One respectively, and I have to say that the crowd and atmosphere (but not necessarily the drinks) at GoGo is definitely the stronger of the two. Crazy Buffalo tends to play very mambo-like music, so if that’s your thing, the music isn’t a problem.
Nevertheless, both are good places to people watch. If you’re sitting right next to the road, you are going to be facing plenty of street vendors hawking their wares (anything from pirated books to cuttle fish). If you’re interested in taking home some art, there are plenty of art shops/galleries here that do great affordable pop art and replicas. Elsewhere in HCMC, we visited the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office (which is right across the road from the cathedral). We really should have just taken a taxi to these places, but we wanted to walk. Mistake. Hot, humid and not much fun when you get lost. But, oh well.
The War Remnants Museum is a good visit. A ticket costs about 15,000 dong and will bring you 3 levels of exhibits and a prison model. The exhibits not only showcase weapons used in the Vietnam war, but also provides photographic documentation of the victims of Agent Orange. If you’re easily disturbed, you probably will find the images upsetting. Outside the main building, there is a prison exhibit of what imprisoned Vietnamese had to endure.
When visiting this attraction, it’s a good idea to bring along a fan, just in case the air conditioning is not switched on. It gets especially stuffy on the 2nd and 3rd levels. Notre Dame is a pretty enough cathedral, though nothing particularly breath-taking, in my humble opinion. The Post Office is architecturally picturesque, and its quaint colonial interior is probably what draws tourists. It was fun to pretend to use those phone booths (still functional, apparently), but not much to shout about over all. You could always send out a post card.
Let’s now talk about FOOOOOOD! First food stop was Lam Cafe over at Phan Ngu Lao. Turns out it was a good random choice. I had the Beef Pho, while my other friends had the Chicken Pho, curry and yes, there was a burger ordered by someone.
The beef pho is sweet and I do honestly think it’s lovely. The pho noodles in Vietnam is textured with ridges, which really gives it this fantastic QQ/chewy bounce to it.
But the Star of my meal there is the Strawberry juice and shake. It’s thick and you can really taste the generous amount of strawberries put into it. Yummy.
Dinner was at Pho 24- a Vietnamese chain restaurant- that was recommended by Lonely Planet as the best pho. Our opinion? It was ‘meh’ and definitely not up to expectations, so you can skip it if you wish. The fried Spring Rolls were yummy though, so you can give that a try.
That marks HCMC, Day One. In other news, my dad’s just has his heart bypass operation. So far so good, hopefully it stays that way. Good night, World.
I am still Upset about the (now I’m sure) stolen camera & more importantly the pictures in it! Grrrrr. I know the whole experience & memories are more important, but memories fade and pictures serve as a fantastic physical capture of the moments. Alas, I have to satisfy myself with ‘refurbishing’ my photo album with ‘koped’/’grabbed’ pictures from my friends Facebook. I pray to God that they are as huge camwhores that I think they are and will have more than enough pictures capturing significant moments (like my jumps and poses at the Step Pyramids, Pyramids of Giza, especially the Great Pyramid & Luxor Temple & Karnak Temple in Egypt, and the breathtaking view from the mountain-top at Al Ain in UAE!).
In any case, in my search for photos, I stumbled across a fantastic shot of gorgeously beaded shoes and slippers that can be found in the Middle East.
I tried on a few myself, unfortunately my feet did not find them too comfortable & I was broke. Nonetheless, they are incredibly pretty to look at!
Other buys from Dubai were:
Nine West Ankle Booties & Nine West Strappy Heels (together they cost less than SGD 100)
Forever 21 Oxfords
Pictures courtesy of my phone.
More pics to come as I compile photos from the trip!
Blogging from Abu Dhabi International Airport’s service centre right now…We took a cab down from Somerset in Dubai over here, in a Dubai Taxi. The cab driver was an eccentric character, who only offered to send us ALL the way to Abu Dhabi instead of just dropping us off at the bus-stop in Dubai to take a coach to Abu Dhabi because ‘all my friends have gotten customers to Abu Dhabi except for me!’. He is a crazy driver who was going at 150km/h down Sheikh Zayed road, and who kept exclaiming ‘This is Abu Dhabi!!! This is what an Emirates is like!’, while gesticulating crazily with BOTH HANDS off the wheel.
Nonetheless, quite entertaining for me.
Cairo men are also quite perverse, though I got harrassed substantially less, probably because the guy to girl ratio was 2-to-1. I had the boyfriend & friend flanking me on both sides. One of the sales people actually said it looked like I was a Princess with 2 body guards.
Cash is running terribly low and I haven’t checked in my baggage. My hand-carry is ridiculous, I hope they let me pass through (especially for Air Asia).
Till I’m at home or till I get Internet Access next!
Well, not quite. Blogging from our hostel here in Luxor, home to Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Luxor Temple and manymore! No peektures for now cause I’m using my friend’s laptop and I’m terribly lazy to blog anything now except for thoughts and words!
We are awaiting our train back to Cairo right now. A quick recap whilst I do that…
In our 2 days in Dubai, we visited Ski Dubai (sking is mother tough btw, I now totally understand the ‘Hot Ski Instructor’ shindig), factory outlets, went to a pub, saw the fountain show at Dubai Mall, and shopped somemore. We took a day trip down to Al Ain as well- a few museums, a good meal, we went to the camel market, got locked in a camel enclosure because one of the guys wanted tips which were with our guide (who was in the mini-bus and not with us), and went up to the mountain at Al Ain which blessed us with a breath-taking view.
Then, we wanted to go clubbingz at Dubai, unforunately, ill-timing struck because that just happened to be their Islamic New Year. All clubs weren’t serving alcohol and so we sadly returned back to Somerset Dubai, wondering why we were so unlucky (everytime we wanted to go clubbing, nothing goes to plan!).
At approximately 1230am, our friend knocked on the bedroom door, and told us ‘Bad news guys. Remember we thought our plane to Cairo is at 330pm? Erm, it’s actually 330am!’. Thus came the scramble to pack and go to the airport. We had 3/4 a day to kill in Cairo, with baggage and no where to crash. So we hurriedly booked a hostel at Cairo airport (Terminal 2, which was another 100m walk from the terminal we landed at, and btw, we totally UNDERESTIMATED the coldness of the weather. It was FREEZING and I was severely underdressed).
Fast forward to us arriving at our first Cairo Hostel- Jasmine Hotel. The exterior and surroundings at approximately 9am or so in the morning looked like a warzone. Apprehension filled me; then we went inside. The hostel was surprisingly clean, albeit spartan. We crashed into our beds and knocked out for a few hours. I rejoice in the fact that there was hot water available, and free breakfast, although I personally find the hostel owner Dubious with a capital D.
With a few hours left to kill, we left for the Egyptian Museum. If you are looking for sheer density of artefacts, it certainly passes with flying colours. The Museum is jammed pack with historical artefacts, statues, tombs and yes, mummies (for a price of course). It is a chaotic arrangement of artefacts however, and it would do good to get a guide, although we did not but I still enjoyed viewing the artefacts and reading what blurbs was available. It is quite a pain in the ass to get into though.
We had dinner at a nice intimate restaurant before heading back to the hostel and rushing to the train station to meet our other comrades. The Giza Train Station is INSANE and a MOTHER-MESS. There is no signage, and everything-the trains and the people- operate on Egyptian time and style. We were told that our train was supposed to come at either 830, 840, or 10pm. And even our ticket looked freaking dubious, to the point where we were unsure if we even really bought a train ticket. To make matters worse, we were totally cheated/’toked’ for the tickets, paying US$50 for them.
After repeated asking around, and operating like a troop (at the head is my friend, the Commando), we found out that we had to board the train at the last carriage at the opposite end. Cue the Amazing Race style running and literal jumping onto the train. Insane! (But fun on hindsight). The sleeping sitting train is however, surprisingly clean and roomy on the inside. The seats are even better than airplane seats.
We reached Luxor in the early morning, freezing our asses off in the cold. I believe it was 9 degree celsius. Since then, we have visited Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and 3 other magnificent temples. Pictures another time thought they don’t allow photography and Valley of the Kings and Queens. I have seen King Tut’s mummy though! A shirvelled up blackened (with tar) body. Nonetheless, it is all quite miraculous to see these temples and bodies, conserved for thousands of years. One can’t hep but wonder at what it was like to walk though those pathways then. Egyptian history is wraught with in-breeding.
We have gone on a Horse Carriage ride and gone to the Souk here; I must say I really don’t like shopping here. I think Luxor men are very pervetic; I am tired of the perpetual “oh, you’re beautiful! beautiful!” and them rubbing my hands and trying to kiss my cheeks (and trying to get me to kiss their cheek) even when I am with a big group (majority boys) and my boyfriend is right outside the store! Trying to buy something here at the Souk is a major journey of bargaining and fending off crazy men (even when you’re just walking down the street)!
I will say however, that the people at Princess Hotel here in Luxor are very friendly and nice and the place is clean! The hot water is abit faulty though.
Most of the buildings here in Luxor are not complete, creating a very haphazard and somewhat eyesore-effect. They are left incomplete to make use of a loophole in the law, which makes it compulsory for all owners to pay a 40% tax per year (based on the value of the land and building).
Next up is the mad rush for Cairo & Pyramids of Giza! Perhaps we shall visit Alexandria in lower Egypt before we head back for an extra day in Dubai (but yay! nice apartment (: )
For all the pain for the course I had to take, and for all the pervy dudes, I must say that this has been an excellent experience. A little surreal sometimes!
Running low on cash though ):
Since my last post, we have been to Doha, Qatar and am now in Dubai.
Have been shopping abit, shisha-ed once or twice, and fallen victim (slightly) to the flu. I hope to visit the outlet shops and more souks soon! Haven’t bought my fill of lingerie, shoes & shisha pipes!
Dear Friend who asked, the Doha International Airport is kinda like Changi Airport Terminal 1 but alot smaller. Meaning your Duty Free browsing/shopping can be done is about 30 minutes. If you take your time. There is WIFI but it is a little slow. I’m not sure if you can exit the airport given that you’re in transit, but if you do, the malls have more shopping and the Islamic Art Museum is AMAZING.
More on that when I get back I suppose!