After checking out of our hotel in Ho Chi Minh, we took taxis to the Hydrofoil port. We finally had ended up buying the tickets for the hydrofoil online and figured out where the port would be thanks to our guide, Phung, from the previous day’s tour.
The hydrofoil is like a giant speedboat/ferry. The trip from Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau was about an hour and 15 minutes. Tickets were fairly cheap, about $5US for the kids and $10US for the adults.
I will be honest. I have a difficult time making small talk with people – especially strangers. I avoid it when possible. So when an older Vietnamese woman sat near me, I avoided making eye contact and started reading my book. But when she asked me for help reading something off her phone, I couldn’t ignore her. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the vacation. We spent the entire hour talking about her life in Vietnam during the war and how it impacted her and her family, and later how her experiences during the war led her to want to see the world. She has traveled to more places in the U.S. than I have, not to mention at least a dozen different countries. It was fascinating hearing her story, and I felt like old friends by the time the hour was up. It was a good reminder that when traveling, some of the best experiences happen if you open yourself up to them.
Once in Vung Tau, we were picked up by a driver that we had prearranged with the hotel. Now, I am going to take this moment to acknowledge that I didn’t really do my homework as well as I could have about Vung Tau. My primary goal was to find a hotel on the beach that could accommodate all of us. This I succeeded in. I probably should have spent more time research where the hotel is and what Vung Tau is all about. Apparently Vung Tau is where the locals from Ho Chi Minh get away for the weekend, not a touristy spot. This in itself would be okay, but then our hotel was another 30 minutes away from Vung Tau in Long Dien, which was basically in the middle of nowhere. But, we did have a beautiful place to stay, and it was on the beach.
The staff at An Hoa Residence was amazing. When we checked in, there was only one other family at the resort so they offered to upgrade our 2-bedroom villa to a 3-bedroom villa for the first three nights as long as we would be willing to move to the 2-bedroom for the last two nights because they would be filling up for the New Year.
Our villa for the first three nights was absolutely stunning. And, actually, since there ended up being an air conditioner problem in one room, they opened the top level of the villa, the VIP suite, for us to use as well.
The villa even had its own private pool! This was probably our favorite part. It was great being able to step outside our villa door and go swimming. And, as an added bonus, I loved the sign posted by the pool. I have gotten so used to seeing the odd English translations in the UAE, that it was fun to see a whole new variety of errors.
We ordered in room massages our first night at the villa. It wasn’t as relaxing as I had hoped, probably because I could hear all the kids playing in the pool just on the other side of my room. For dinner, we ordered in, and they served us like royalty.
The next day, we arranged to have a taxi take us to the grocery store. This turned out to be rather expensive. As I mentioned, where we were staying was kind of in the middle of nowhere. We were taken to the Metro which turned out to be a warehouse style store. We were charged a higher price on items because we weren’t members and then there was some confusion on our part about needing to gather boxes from outside to carry our purchases. But at least we had purchased some staples for a few light meals.
Another great aspect of our hotel was its proximity to the beach. Just down from our villa was the beach. It was a bit too windy on one of the days resulting in sand uncomfortably blowing everywhere, but the rest of the time was nice beach weather.
On New Year’s Eve, the locals checked in – by the dozens. Gone was our peaceful, quiet, empty hotel as it was replaced with people doing karaoke long past midnight. Clearly I am getting old. I was completely content to ring in the new year reading a book while trying to tune out the noise.
For our last two nights in the hotel, we were moved to a 2-bedroom villa. Although it was still nice, it wasn’t nearly as nice as the room we had been in. The layout was odd. The living room and kitchen were downstairs, but to get to the bedrooms, you had to go upstairs, outside, and into the rooms. It didn’t feel very private since the bedroom doors opened to another stairwell that was shared with other hotel guests. It made us feel like we had to constantly lock the entrance to both our bedrooms and the downstairs area because people would accidentally open the door to the downstairs area thinking it was part of the stairs.
Gabe’s birthday is on January 1, so we started the day off with a birthday bike ride into “town”. Or, at least we attempted to, but Gabe and Kass were a bit frightened by the motorbikes zooming by.
Then in the evening we had a huge seafood BBQ done for us on our patio. I am not sure why I didn’t take any pictures of the mass quantity of food they made us – probably too distracted by eating. It was insane. We had enough for all of us for dinner plus dinner the next night as well.
The staff were wonderful and brought Gabe a cake as well as a birthday present. Included in his gift was a bottle of what we thought was apple cider. We realized later, after he took a drink, that it was cider beer. Apparently this is what you give a 12 year old in Vietnam?
We spent our last day in Vung Tau just relaxing. Honestly, there wasn’t much else that we could do. I was able to get 5 books read on the trip. Certainly not as many as I would normally read on a vacation, but considering the number of kids I was traveling with this time, not too bad.
We had a driver take us back to Ho Chi Minh instead of taking the Hydrofoil. We were able to spend another two hours at the Ben Thanh market haggling our way into shoes, souvenirs, and a wallets.
For lunch we ate at McDonald’s. Maybe it is because the trip was coming to a close and we were too tired to navigate any more Vietnamese food, or maybe it was because they had a McPork Deluxe that my husband just had to try.
Then we found our way to a Starbucks. I had seen it on our first day into town, but I had assumed that I would find more Starbucks around town. I was wrong. Apparently it was one of only three in Vietnam. But luckily, I was able to get the all important souvenir mug for my dad before leaving for the airport.
And so this end the Vietnam adventure. It was a whole new experience traveling as a big family, but I think we managed quite well. Now, what about spring break?