Monday, March 10, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City Airport Transfers

 Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam, as well as being the country's former capital. With everything from touristy, westernised bars and clubs, to buzzing street markets selling everything from souvenirs to delicious, freshly-made street food, Saigon really is an awesome city to visit. Along with Hanoi, the capital city, with its temples, museums and parks, there is a completely unique and eye-opening city break experience on offer in Vietnam.

However, if the bustling, crazy vibes of the city are a little too much, there is also the seaside resort of Na Trang, which not only offers superb Vietnamese beaches, but also a lively, urban atmosphere and some incredible scuba diving experiences. Then, there are the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hoi An to enjoy, just south of Da Nang. And if you're seeking deeply authentic Vietnamese culture and heritage, head to Hue, where the weather might not be up to much, but the fascinating historical sites and beautiful sights, will!

Tan Son Nhat International airport is Vietnam's largest international airport, both by area and number of passengers and is located in the city of Ho Chi Minh. If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, then you are, no doubt, aware of the large amount of scams you will need to watch out for whilst on your travels. Many of the scams operating in Vietnam are associated with taxi cabs, with many bewildered tourists being robbed, overcharged or otherwise harmed simply in the process of getting from A to B.

One of our friendly, professional drivers will be waiting at the airport to take you directly to your hotel with zero stress and zero worry. And, I'm sure you'll agree, that's what you'll be hoping for, after a long flight!

Phu Cat Airport Transfers:

The lively city of Quy Nhon is just a short transfer journey from Phu Cat airport, and, as a city largely undiscovered (as yet!) by western travellers, it retains the authentic beauty so sought after. With beautiful surroundings, Cham temples and gorgeous beaches, the cleanest and prettiest of which is at Bai Xep, 10km south of Quy Nhon. Because of its less well-known status amongst travellers, the people of Quy Nhon are likely to be much more welcoming and friendly, and the scent of tourism is barely to be whiffed. As such, it is one of the finest destinations in Vietnam, and a guaranteed way to have a unique and memorable visit, minus the stress associated with dodging scams in the bigger cities!

Situated 19 miles north west of Quy Nhon, Phu Cat airport is both a commercial airport and a base for the Vietnamese Air Force. One of our friendly and professional drivers will be ready and waiting to whisk you away to your destination, so you can start exploring Vietnam as soon as possible!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Putting your motorbike on the train in Lao Cai

My boyfriend and two friends recently spent nearly a week motorbiking in northwest Vietnam. Having reached Sapa they didn’t want to spend another couple of days driving back to Hanoi along a relatively boring road (compared to where they’d been) so they opted to put the bikes on the train from Lao Cai.

Given this wasn’t quite as straightforward as expected I thought I’d impart a few tips to make it as painless as possible. The process will be similar at most stations.

Firstly, not all trains transport motorbikes. They were booked onto the SP8  but had to put the bikes on the SP2, which left half an hour earlier. No big deal – the bikes were waiting for them when they got to Hanoi. As far as I can find out, there’s no definite pattern to which trains take bikes and which don’t, so you’ll just need to get to the station at 16:00 – see below – and find out.

On arrival at Lao Cai station, you will be accosted by people trying to persuade you that you need their help and advice. Paul was told they’d have to change their existing train tickets and travel on the same train as the bikes – this isn’t true and will end up costing ridiculous amounts. Don’t trust anyone – go straight to the booking office to buy bike tickets.

The booking office is to the right of the main ticket office/waiting room, just on the right of the tunnel through to the platform and facing the road. Do not go to the room which leads off the tunnel – it’s the staff break room and disturbing them there will not win you any brownie points. The office opens at 16:00.

As for price, it should cost around 250,000 VND per bike — much more than that and you should argue the case.

Once you’ve bought your bike ticket, take the bike onto the platform. A woman there will fill out a form with bike details such as license plate, make and engine size and will give you a receipt. Leave your bike there and it will be put on the train.

Finally, at Hanoi station, go and get your bike on the platform — if you get in before it you’ll be able to wheel it off the train yourself, if you get in later it’ll be waiting for you. Be warned, they will have drained the petrol from your bike before putting it on the train. Don’t expect to get any back. If you can, switch on the reserve when you leave it in Lao Cai and you might have enough to get back to your hotel, otherwise you’ll have to push it just outside the station and find a vendor.

Hanoi’s train station

Most visitors to Hanoi will have some occasion to use the train station, whether travelling north to Sapa or down the coast on the Reunification Express. So here’s a quick guide to where it is, how to buy tickets and what to expect when you get there.

The train station is split into station A and station B. Station A, the main one, is located on Le Duan Street, just under two kilometres from the centre of Old Quarter. It’s an imposing, grey concrete structure clearly marked as Ga Ha Noi.

Enter through the main doors, under the sign, and the ticket office is on the left. Large white posters are pinned to the walls displaying train times and prices: the Lao Cai and Hai Phong posters are next to the main doors and the Reunification Express posters are round the corner. They’re a bit hard to navigate, and we’ve been told that prices are not always completely up to date, but at least they give you a starting point.

At the entrance to the ticket hall sits a small machine manned by a couple of staff. If it’s operating, take a ticket number and go through. Given the Vietnamese aversion to queuing, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get seen in exactly the right order, but having a ticket is better than the free for all that occurs when it’s out of action.

Ticket numbers are called out and appear on the screen over the booths, so keep an eye on that and head to the correct booth when called. Be assertive and push past anyone who tries to jump the queue or you really won’t ever get served. It is possible that once they realise you don’t speak Vietnamese — if you do, good on you — they will direct you to a different booth, where the operator is more likely to speak English, so the pushing may need to start again.

Our advice is to write down where you want to go, the time, the train number and the type of seat — in Vietnamese — and show that to the operator. If you don’t mind what train you’re on, or are flexible on dates, make a note of that too. Make sure you check the ticket when you receive it.

All that said, a lot of the tickets are sold on to agents well in advance, so chances are you won’t be able to get a ticket at the station. If you’re on a really tight budget and have the time, then it’s worth a go, but sometimes paying the extra few dollars to an agent is worth it.

Doors to the tracks run along the back wall as you enter and the waiting room is on the right of the main entrance. It can also be accessed directly from the car park outside. When the train is ready for boarding you will be directed through the correct door and have to show your ticket to an attendant. Platforms are reached by walking over the tracks. You may be approached by people trying to carry bags or ‘upgrade’ your ticket: avoid them and head straight to your carriage.

Station A has a few food and drink options outside: Lotteria, a fast food burger chain, is dominant, with smaller stalls near the waiting room. You will also find vendors on the platforms selling drinks and snacks. They tend to charge more than the minimarts and stores so buy in advance if you can.

Parking is available at 5,000 VND for a motorbike. Pay in advance and collect a ticket. Note that your bike is likely to be moved so don’t panic if you can’t see it straight away when you get back.

Station B, for trains to the north, is on the other side of the tracks and reached by an entrance on Tran Quy Cap. To get there, walk across the level crossing off Le Duan to the north of the station and follow the road round to the left. Tickets to Lao Cai can be purchased here. Ticket office opening hours are 04:00 to 06:00 and 16:00 to 22:00, though we have seen it open at other times as well, so it might be just luck of the draw.

When arriving for your train at Station B, if you’ve bought a ticket from an agent on one of the private carriages — which make up a large proportion of the train carriages nowadays — you will need to exchange it at the relevant desk. Don’t worry, it’s easily done. Desks are either just inside the waiting area — on the right of the ticket office — or in one of the huts at the back.

When your train is up on the board in the waiting area, walk through the gate for a ticket check and to reach the trains. The same rules apply regarding not giving anyone your ticket or bags.

Food options are more limited than for Station A — well, there’s no Lotteria — but plenty of snack food and pho sellers can be found both outside the gates, on Tran Quy Cap, and in the car park