Double the Delights of Vietnam

Happy in Hanoi, GREG HACKETT hits the road to Vung Tau. Literally.

I came. I saw. I broke a big toe. (Apologies to Julius Caesar.) However, Vung Tau might just be my lucky break. I’ve been on the hunt for an “easily do-able” South-East Asian seaside destination to replace Cambodia’s diabolically destroyed Sihannoukville, and this south Vietnamese pearl is looking perfect. Even an aching toe (I don’t suppose you can sue a municipal council for an uneven footpath injury in this part of the world, eh? Haha) doesn’t seem so bad, with the aid of osteo-paracetemol, Saigon Green beer, a beach, and a thousand smiling faces.

Pullman Perfection

Variety is the essence of this Vietnam journey: imagine French Versailles one day, Ancient Sparta the next; from a Hanoi Pullman luxury suite to a standard room at Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam guesthouse. This is how I travel. And I love it.

My first time in Hanoi, and the Pullman makes it easy. An optician across the street from the hotel’s entrance is handy – I have my eyes checked with the hi-tech gadgetry, and order (with same day delivery) several new spectacles of the same or superior quality, and half the price, of those I bought in Melbourne. The Pullman is located on the edge of the Vietnam capital’s “embassies precinct”, with the Temple of Literature, Uncle Ho’s Museum and all the other bits and pieces that tourists seek. The Pullman’s concierge provides a map for a casual 40-minute “cultural walk”.

Embassy “Spy” tail

Now with good vision (and a full stomach from the breakfast buffet) I gladly put the map to use. As I strolled (or semi-hobbled, with a crook back) past the Ukraine embassy’s gated entrance, a 30-something, hair shortly cropped, blue eyed blond bloke, dressed all in trendy black, emerged with a beautiful Vietnamese girl. He nodded “hello” to me, and I nodded in acknowledgement and let them pass, as I further studied my “cultural walk” route. By pure coincidence, we headed in the same direction – him chatting to his young companion and darting glances back at me, and me schlepping along about 30 metres behind, happily absorbed in trying to decipher street directions. Ten minutes later, we passed the Chinese embassy and crossed the intersection, to Lenin Park. With a quick frown in my direction, he ducked out onto the street, stopped a taxi, hurriedly bundled his lady acquaintance into the back seat, jumped in himself, and off they sped to their … afternoon assignation.

The silly bloke. If he thought I was tailing him, Putin’s spies must now be half the height and twice the age!

Choice accommodation

Smaller, “no-frills” guesthouses and hotels (the ubiquitous sign Nhà Nghi in Vietnamese) suit a solo traveller such as myself, and the Hoang Cam guesthouse, at US$7 a night, ticks the boxes: fan and aircon, WiFi, mini fridge, cleanliness, location and a bonus balcony. However, for a traveller, a couple or a family wanting quality/price comfort, I can’t speak (or write) highly enough of the Hanoi Pullman. My many friends and contacts who have followed my travel writings over the years are familiar with my praise for the Accor accommodation properties Pullman/Sofitel/Novotel – because I’ve simply never had a problem with them. And I can be blunt in my assessment.

Travel Tip: Always tip the hotel/guesthouse manager the day you arrive, not the day you depart. It makes sense.
At Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam hotel, The reception lady mistakenly overcharged me when I prepaid my bill. The following day, the manager informed me and reimbursed the cash. Most Vietnamese and Cambodians are good like that …


In a couple of years the smart accomm operators – Accor Novotel, Marriott Le Meridien, InterContinental etc – will bring class and sensibility to Cambodia’s coastal playground. Meanwhile, it’s all Chinese-only casinos and rubble. They didn’t have to bulldoze the little guys: the shorefront bars, eateries, and US$10-US$20 a night guest houses; there’s 100km of undeveloped coastline.   Anyway, “Cheers” and Choum reap lear


Sihanoukville dispatches: Always trying to be positive … at least crabs aren’t a worry. It took a tuk tuk tour to find what’s probably the last available guest room , with hot water (call me picky), that accepts Westerners. US$30 a night is steep and it’s a rear room, but the Cambodian staff are fab and it’s a joy to watch Chinese families splashing in the pool. I expect this will soon be bulldozed to make way for a casino resort. – Makara Bungalows.



Sihanoukville dispatches: How to put this tactfully… Don’t expect a tourism Phoenix to rise from these ashes and rubble; at best, maybe a gold/jade balut egg. This is Lord of the Rings alternate ending where Sauron wins. Star Wars, where the Empire has demolished the rebel freedom fighters’ last base, is rebuilding it as a Mega-Death Star, and Darth Vader now speaks Mandarin. A game of Monopoly, where you pass Sihanoukville, and go straight to Otres Beach and collect $100. Serendipity Beach I have renamed as Calamity Cove. An hour in Sihanoukville is an hour you could have spent somewhere nice…



Phnom Penh dispatches: Not unlike an Alabama catfish that’s been stunned numb and dumb by an electric eel, I’ve been thoroughly “therapied” by a blind massage therapist; my lumbar osteoarthritis pummelled into submission. Kneaded and prodded like Topolino’s pizza dough. Therapists obviously have varying degrees of blindness: one bloke has a flash Rolex wristwatch, and I catch my therapist with one hand working my arm while the other is checking messages on her mobile phone. $US7 an hour (for foreigners) and well worth it…