Luxury retreat–Cheap style

28 Jan
4 star pool

4 star pool

So actually I stopped traveling to be with my BF and his family – bye bye lonely planet, bye bye tourist traps – to do what the Vietnamese do. And what do the Vietnamese do for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year? – right: travel. So I went on a 2-day outing with my boyfriend and his friends, to visit a class mate from the olden days. She was a hotel/resort manager now – and she wouldn’t do less than 4 stars… So off we went to test the fancy Ho Tram Beach resort & spa, a 4 hour drive away from Sai Gon – and to play cards, lots of cards, and eat sea food, lots of it as well.

It all happened on a crazy evening when some old school friends of C got together to catch up and wish each other well for the new year. And as they (seem to) do in Vietnam, no new year get together can be worthy of that name, without playing cards – and drinking beer and munching on some ‘delicious’ snacks (e.g. dried squid, spicy dried meat, chicken feet, boiled soggy peanuts, etc). I did loose quite some Dong (a few thousand=virtually nothing), as the Vietnamese rules of Black Jack (getting as close to 21 points as possible) were diverging systematically from the ones I learned in my non-existent casino past.

Nicely landscaped gardens...

Nicely landscaped gardens...

Together with the cards, a friend of C’s all of a sudden threw the idea on the table of visiting this other school mate that had relocated to Vung Tao, THE beach of the Saigonites where they would pass the weekends… Mobile phones surfaced and what started with a crazy idea became reality literally overnight.

The first challenge though was to get transport. There are buses, but they would be full (it was Tet, and there are many Vietnamese, that all have the same Vietnamese ideas of spending the Tet holidays at the beach. The boat – idem. So there was no other possibility than to go by car. There were cars aplenty (brothers, parents, uncles do not seem to mind to lend their 4 wheels here), but who would drive it. They even looked in my (or C’s) direction for a while, but having seen the kind of traffic in Sai Gon (see the You tube film) I nearly got a hart attack by the sheer idea of it. So we just had to charter a car for 8 (ecological concerns haven’t reach the typical 4×4 owners here) with driver – a new companion for the next 2 days ;-) Only 2 million (appr. 100 euro)

This also meant that we could stop on the way where we wanted, and go for dinner to places we wanted and be dropped off where we wanted. We basically rented a private

Over the top new year decorations...

Over the top new year decorations...

chauffeur with car (definitely a new experience for me). So on the way there we stopped at those typical road side restaurants, eating local specialities, and continuing our road to luxury.

The Ho Tram resort was beautiful. A few dozen antique-style bungalows, restaurant buildings and spa-center set in a tastefully landscaped garden, with 2 swimming pools, just in front of the beach. We got a guided tour of the friend before winding down at the pool side. Our rooms were actually the rooms of the family owning it, squatting their beds for a night. One female friend joined the female hotel manger. There was a room for the (straight) ‘couple’ – and then a room for the remaining 3 guys… Were we not a couple???

So how do I get into the food? Me that doesnt like to operate on my food...

So how do I get into the food? Me that doesnt like to operate on my food...

That evening we were going to do what all Vietnamese do at the sea-side: eat Sea Food, lots of it. To the extent that there are hangars built overlooking the sea to cater for all the Vietnamese tourists and their sea food appetite. I on purpose don’t call it a restaurant, because corrugated tin roof and the metal tables and folding chairs wouldn’t deserve that appellation. But you can eat there – and many do – judging from the battle fields left by previous families and groups. Tables were covered with corpses of crabs, shrimps, beer bottles and some escaped vegetables here and there.

Clearing a table was never this easy...

Clearing a table was never this easy...

As there was no table available when we arrived the over worked and under age waiters, just wiped the remnants of the previous feast meal… on the floor. I should have worn wellies (rubber boots) in stead of open sandals, because the lobster tentacles and crab claws felt a bit weird on my toes… Another challenge was not to slip over shells or carcasses when going to the loo (oh, don’t get me started on the WC there…).

I just went with the flow. The ordering was done communally: I had nothing to say – even they decided for me I should have Heineken dish-water instead of the good local beer – because I was foreign, so probably liked import… And then the food started arriving. A five course feast – 5 dishes I had never ever eaten before. A culinary discovery. I surrendered to my taste buds. We had some kind of white clams, then the crabs arrived with the cracker tools to get into them, grilled oysters with some herbs and cheese (!!! Mmm !!!) on top, the traditional hot pot (even though with a toxically fuming gas burner instead of a clay pot) with veg and meat and spicy prawns on a stick.

  • Veeeery spicy prawns, not just for the taste buds...

    Veeeery spicy prawns, not just for the taste buds...

    WARNING: I decided to take the head, skin and feet off the prawns (even though everybody was eating them) which resulted in quite a mess on my plate (which I just chucked on the floor with the rest) – and greasy hands. (and here’s the warning for the men) DO NOT go and wee standing up after touching spicy prawns!!! (unless you have a Hoodiny magic trick to wee wee without touching the veeeeeery vulnerable parts)!

That evening, when back home, the cards appeared (of course). The funny thing was though that we had to buy play money (for the same value as we actually paid) for the card game. Playing cards for money is forbidden, and police apparently is cracking down

Playing cards for new year...

Playing cards for new year...

on this omnipresent practice. So we just bought play money – played till 4am – and then exchanged our left over play money for real money again… Someone tell me what’s the difference??

That night, Mr number Three of us 3 guys sharing a room, for some reason did not come to bed… but gentlemanly slept in a hammock outside. So in the end we did have a second ‘couple room’ for us. How nice ;-)

The next morning we splashed out on the 4 star breakfast (wow, yoghurt again, omelet and bread, bacon and sausages,…) and took to the beach, pool, spa and as much as we could before we left again to the hustle and bustle of Sai Gon.

And beach again - this seems to be a recurrent theme in my trip...

And beach again - this seems to be a recurrent theme in my trip...

Not for long though – read more here.

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