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One World in One Lifetime

Making Friends

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 20, 2017

Monday, May 1st-6th, 2017

There are many ways to make new friends while traveling. The easiest way is to start by looking around your hostel dorm room. Most of the people who I have befriended and stayed in contact with, I’ve met because we stayed at the same place during the same time.

It’s the easiest way for me, because I don’t feel rushed into a friendship. I’ll see someone several times over a few days. We can have short conversations here and there. If we like similar things, we could even hang out together or go sight-seeing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an extrovert; I just need time to feel comfortable around new people.

Another way to make new friends is by joining a tour group. These can last for a morning, an afternoon, or a day. The method is a little harder for me. Unless the people I’m with are a lot more outgoing and proactive than I am, after the tour ends, there is no further contact. We may all have a great time, but no e-mails or Facebook information will be exchanged.

Mark and I haven’t stayed in a hostel since Hue. Living in hotels can become a bit isolating. The accommodations are generally nicer, on the whole, but way more effort has to be put forth to be social. You cannot just sit on your bed and start conversations with strangers like you can at a hostel.

Mark and I tried to meet new people on a day tour of Mui Ne, but nothing came of it. We had a great time and met some nice people from France and Canada, but then we never saw them again. At no point during the tour did it feel natural to ask for anyone’s contact information. Not only would it have come off as rushing the relationship, but I didn’t even have enough time to know if I even wanted to keep in contact, even for a few weeks after the tour.

This photo is so fabulous, I’m going to have to use it at least twice on this blog.

Then one day in Mui Ne, walking up the hill to our hotel after swimming all afternoon we heard someone call out to us. “Hey! I know you guys.” We looked around, at first assuming that who ever was mistaking us for someone else; no one, in Mui Ne, knows us.

It was our friend Mimmu, whom we met our first day in Vietnam. She had the bunk right next to Mark’s. We talked about all the things we planned to do and see in Vietnam before we took off to Ha Long Bay and she headed to some national parks.

We sat down together and filled each other in on what we had done on our travels so far. Without realizing it, we had been following each other for the past month, us missing her by a day or the other way around.  We were all headed to Ho Chi Minh City next. This time we would meet up and sight-see together.


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Mui Ne

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.939414, 108.292279
  • Mui Ne has no bus or train station. So here are your options.
    • Train:
      • Take the train to Phan Thiet Railway Station.
      • Then take the red #9 bus to Mui Ne. (frequency ~20 min. Ride ~30 min.)
      • The train station is the last stop, so jump on any red #9 you see.
    • Bus:
      • There are sleeper buses and tour buses that will deliver you close to your hotel in Mui Ne.

Websites:

Notes:

  • Depending on where you go, the beach might be hard to get to. Sometimes you have to walk around several resorts to find an alleyway to the beach.
  • Taxis are not that expensive, especially if you take just one or two rides. Still, keep an eye out for buses to keep costs down when traveling around town.

White Sand Dunes
(Đồi Cát Trắng)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.066075, 108.428244
  • You can take a taxi, rent a scooter, or join a tour group.
    • Most hotels in the area can help you find a tour group.

Address:

  • Hòa Thắng, Bắc Bình District, Bình Thuận Province, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • 15,000VND per adult
  • If you’re on a group tour, this fee is included in the tour cost. You don’t need to pay extra.

Hours:

  • Always open

Notes:

  • It’s best to go around sunrise.
  • It’s pretty, but if you’ve ever been to any other dunes before just skip this. All dunes look alike.
  • Renting a quad bike is quiet expensive and not in a “for Vietnam” way.
  • If you’re going to rent a sled to slide down the dunes, do it here. The Red Sand Dunes are not as good for sledding.
  • Don’t expect peace and tranquility here. It’s very noisy with so many people getting quad-bike rides to the top of the dunes.

Red Sand Dunes

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.032945, 108.373126

Address:

  • 706B, Mũi Né, Tp. Phan Thiết, Bình Thuận, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 94 696 69 19

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • Always open

Notes:

  • These dunes are a lot smaller than the white dunes.
  • Personally, I was not very impressed with these dunes.
  • You can see more red sand along the Fairy Stream.

Fairy Stream

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.956872, 108.260919
  • From the middle of Mui Ne, you can take the red #9 bus.
    • This is the same bus that goes to the train station and Lotte Mart.

Address:

  • khu phố 4, Hàm Tiến, Phan Thiet, Bình Thuận Province, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free to enter
  • 10,000VND to leave shoes on a rack.
    • You could also carry your shoes with you for free.

Hours:

  • Always open, but it’s best to go when the sun is up and you can see where you’re going.

Notes:

  • This was by far my favorite thing in Mui Ne.
    • Even if you think it looks great in the photos, it doesn’t look as nice in photos as it does in person.
  • If I were to do it all over, I would skip the dunes and just do this.
  • I went with a tour group, so I couldn’t spend as much time here as I wanted to.
  • Tips:
    • Take the bus.
    • Wear flip-flops and put them in your bag when you walk in the stream. That way, you don’t have to exit the stream where you enter.
    • Bring money. There are lots of smoothie and drink stands along the way and restaurants a little off the path.
      • There are many signs telling when you’re near a restaurant.
    • There are some exits along the stream that lead to taxi stands.

Fishing Village

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.941386, 108.278759

Address:

  • Mũi Né, Phan Thiet, Bình Thuận Province, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free to look at
  • There might be people willing to boat you around for a fee.

Hours:

  • Always available, I guess.

Notes:

  • This is not worth a stop.
  • The place stinks (probably from rotting fish left out too long) and there is trash all around.
  • There are better fishing villages in Vietnam to visit.

Map:

Posted in Mui Ne, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hotel Hopping

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 15, 2017

Tuesday April 25 – May 1st, 2017

Finding Accommodations 

Mark is the one who works out the logistics of travel. He figures out how we get from point A to point B. He finds the hotels and books them. Before we left for Nha Trang he asked me which I valued more, cheap accommodations, clean accommodations, or being close to the beach. The more you have of one, the less you have of one or both of the other two.

I couldn’t decide which I wanted more. Clearly the more money we save, the longer we can travel. If we run out of money after a few months of traveling, we will have to stop and get jobs. So I really needed a cheap hotel.

But, I didn’t want to stay in a dump. I like being in a clean hotel. I don’t want to sleep on dirty sheets with questionable stains or odors. I hate moldy old bathrooms that leave be feeling more icky after taking a shower. The room doesn’t have to be fancy, but up to a normal level of clean.

On the other hand, Nha Trang beach was supposed to be one of the best beaches in Vietnam. It wouldn’t do to be so far from it that it was too much trouble to go see it. We did that in Hoi An. We never even set foot on any of Hoi An’s beaches and the regret of that weighed heavily on me.

“Let’s get the cheapest place near enough to the beach that we can still walk to the water,” I told him.

“Are you sure? You might not like it,” He warned.

“I probably won’t,” I agreed.

Then, Mark came up with the most ingenious plan. “Why don’t I just book 2 nights at one place? If we like it, I’ll extend our stay. If we don’t, we’ll just go somewhere else.”

That was the perfect plan. I didn’t (or couldn’t) see anything wrong with it.

Accommodation 1: The Grubby Hostel

This first place cost us 5USD per night per person. This included breakfast and a fresh towel each day. We checked the reviews and everyone loved it. It had something like a 4.8 out of 5 rating.

Normally I am a bit suspicious of 5 dollar hostels, but we stayed in a really nice one in Hanoi that cost $6 per night with similar amenities. It too, had very good reviews. So, we thought, this place would be nice too. The problems I anticipated were related to its distance to the beach. It claimed to be a 10 minute walk to the sand, but thinking about our hotels in Da Nang I wondered, “How far is it really?”

Our train got to Nha Trang 2 hours late. By the time we checked in and got to the room all our roommates were fast asleep. We couldn’t find the locker that is practically standard with many hostels. Not wanting to wake anyone up, we just put our packs on the floor and climbed into bed. We would sort everything out in the morning.

The military school next door

At 4:30 in the morning I dreamed that I was being chased by a trumpet. I couldn’t get away from the possessed instrument. I ran as fast as I could, but it just played louder and louder. Then I woke up. The trumpet was real.

It wasn’t being played very well. “Who is practicing music this early in the morning?” I wondered as I tried to will myself back to sleep. It was still dark out. I hadn’t slept much that night. My bed was very squeaky. Every move I made caused the bed to make noise. Whenever I changed positions the noise woke me up. And just as I got so tired I could sleep through the squeaking, I was woken up by Reveille.

Once the sun and most of my roommates were up I got out of bed to check out the room. The dorm room was packed with too many bunk beds. The room could have fit 2 or maybe 3 bunks nicely, but it had 4. This left very little floors space. My roommates kept their packs on what little floor we had…

Because, the lockers were tiny. It was a set of eight 1X1X1ft3 lockers, the size you would find at an overly crowded high school. You could not fit your whole pack in these lockers. Everyone had to choose their most important items and hopefully they were less than 1 cubic feet.

The window was a reasonable size had this been a bedroom for one. But it was way too small for 8 backpackers with damp towels and wet swim suits to air out. This left a permanent musty smell in the air.

I hung my head down from my top bunk bed to see what Mark was doing below. He was already online looking for the next place. He motioned me to come down and join him in his bunk. I sat next to him, pressing my hand on the wall to stop the bed from squeaking. “This was the highest rated hostel in the area,” he told me. “I think we should try a hotel next.” I agreed.

We went upstairs for breakfast. Every hotel and hostel does breakfast a little differently. Some places do things buffet style. In others, you have to choose one or two dishes. We stood in front of the food waiting for a staff member to tell us what we should do. We asked a lady who looked like she worked there.

“You have to pay 2 dollars,” she told us and waited for the payment.

“I thought breakfast was included,” I said.

“Not for the first day,” she explained. “Tomorrow it will be free. Today you must pay.” She put her hand out for the cash.

“But, what if I only stay one night?” I asked. This set up made no sense to me. “Then breakfast would not be included at all.”

The lady shrugged and continued to demand money. Then her coworker overhearing the conversation came over. She asked, “When did you check in?”

“Last night around 11pm,” I told her.

“Breakfast is included,” the coworker told the first lady. Then she turned to Mark and me, “Just eat what you want. It’s a buffet.” Then she motioned for us to get plates and eat.

The first lady apologized. “I didn’t know you checked in last night,” she said with a phony smile.

It turned out that the beach was, in fact, a 10-minute stroll from the hostel. We spent most of the day there. It was a very nice beach; crowded, but very nice. Many vendors peddled their wares along the shore. You didn’t have to leave the sand to buy food or water. Hell, you could buy sunglasses from right in the water!

The next day, I talked to the lady who saved me from getting scammed.

“Are you checking out today?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I told her.

She looked at me a little dreamy-like and asked, “Where are you going next?” She seemed to live vicariously through the backpackers.

Without thinking I blurted out, “Oh, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying in Nha Trang.” As soon as the words were out, I realized how it sounded. “I just wanted a place closer to the beach.”

This was non-sense and she knew it. The beach was not that far from the hostel. She sighed. “I understand. Too many backpackers…” She shook her head. “Most of them like here for cheap drinks. They don’t care about noise. They make so much noise… and they don’t care about cleaning…”

The hostel did run a bar from 6 to 10:30PM. It was also next to many other bars. They specialized in a bucket cocktail which was very cheap and could be shared with many friends. This meant that there was always someone left to finish an only partially consumed bucket. That person would usually wake up in an alleyway the next morning not remembering the night before.

Accommodation 2: Decent Hotel

At the hostel we paid 5 USD per night per person or $10 a night. The next place, a hotel, cost $20 per night. We were living it up for the next two days! The new place came with a pool, but we still swam mostly at the beach. And best of all, there were no military schools anywhere near the hotel.

We did have the cheapest two person room in the hotel. This afforded us with a great view off the fanciest hotels with a view of the beach. We could look at their guests looking at the beach and it was amazing.

The story could have ended here. Mark went online to book more days, but there were no rooms available. Thinking that something must be wrong he went to the reception to sort things out. He came back dejected.

“Well,” he explained, “this room is available for the weekend.”

“That’s good,” I smiled.

“It will cost $75 per night.”

“That’s bad,” I hissed.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that weekend was a big holiday. All we knew was that all the hotels in town were sold out. Nothing in our price range was available. Everything a few steps above our price range was taken. Rooms several steps above that were all gone. All that was left were rooms that cost a several hundreds US dollars a night. That was out of the question.

Accommodation 3: Fancy Hotel Away From Downtown

There was one option left to us. If we took a taxi and went a little outside the downtown area, there were a few more hotels to choose from. It’s still Nha Trang, just a 20 minute cab ride away. Mark found us the cheapest room in a fancy hotel; a beach adjacent hotel. How long did it take to get to the beach? It was just across the street.

Is it raining outside? I have no idea.

So what is the cheapest room in a fancy, beach side, non-downtown hotel like? It was $50 per night and had no windows. Yup, no windows. We were also on one of the higher floors, but it didn’t matter. We had no view.

If we did have a view it might have looked like this. This photo was taken on the third floor.

This beach here was even nicer than the one downtown.  It was quite similar, yet not as crowded. The hotel provided beach chairs, big shady umbrellas, and beach towels.

The hotel pool was really nice too. Oddly shaped, but half of the pool was always in the shade. (Guess who hates putting on sun-screen.)

The best part of the hotel though, was the amazing breakfast. It was a buffet that took up half of the second floor and it had everything. There was a bread station, a coffee and tea station, an egg station, a rice and noodles station, a cereal station, a juice station, a fruit station, and a dessert station. Did I leave anything out?

So, how did I like the different hotels?

I liked the mid-range hotel the best. If the hostel were clean and quiet I would have liked that one. I really like saving money, but not to the point of being too uncomfortable. The fancy hotel had the best amenities, but I did not like not having a window. It was difficult waking up. If we stayed there long enough, we would have had to start using an alarm.

Vietnamese food in Vietnam

RTW Trip Rule #2 When in Country A eat only Country A’s Food.

We’ve made some rules for ourselves. They help us to better enjoy our year of traveling. The first rule is to avoid, whenever possible, taking taxis to or from airports. This is a very good rule that saves us a lot of money.

The second deals with eating exotic foods. Just don’t do it. It always leads to disappointment. For example, when in Japan stick to Japanese food. Don’t fly all the way to Japan to eat in a French restaurant. French food in Japan is expensive and it won’t taste like real French food. Maybe if you go to a very expensive and posh restaurant they might serve authentic French food, but that’s beyond our budget. Besides, we can have French food when we get to France.

Sometimes there is a gross misunderstanding about what the food should taste like. Once in Busan, South Korea Mark and I went to a Mexican restaurant. There was a picture of “nachos” on the menu. It looked very delicious, so we ordered it. When our plate of “nachos” came it looked a little off. I tried it, picking up a chip, sliding it across the plate to get some cheese and toppings on it, and popped the chip in my mouth.

It was awful! What should have been cheese was honey mustard. These fools at the restaurant probably only saw a picture of nachos and assumed what the ingredients were. It was an all around huge mistake.

But still, the urge to have familiar food still pops up every now and then. Mark saw a menu for a place calling itself, “Pizza King”. It had photos of the pizzas it offered. I had to admit, the pizzas looked good. I was curious.

Sometimes, in Vietnam, the photos of dishes are found online, and are only a representation of the food you get. In a photo there is a lemon or a salad, but the dish comes with no lemon or salad. So, I wondered how close to the picture the actual pizza was.

We went inside and Mark ordered a sausage pizza with extra cheese. Below is the culinary abomination he was served.


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Map:

Posted in Nha Trang, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

2017 A Train Oddity

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 10, 2017

Tuesday April 25 

We took the yellow public bus #01 from Hoi An to Da Nang and took the train from there. The train ride was pretty uneventful except for one thing. Mark and I shared a berth with an old guy from North Carolina, but he spent most of the ride getting drunk in the dining car.

Eventually, he stumbled back to the cabin, crawled into his bed, and asked us to wake him up before the next stop. Mark and I agreed but wondered how we would know when we were about to get to the next stop. It didn’t matter; the guy never stopped talking long enough to fall asleep.

He rambled on about this and that but mainly stuff that didn’t make any sense. Somehow in our mostly one-sided conversation it came out that Mark and I had been playing cards earlier on our train journey. “Oh, I can play cards… mumble mumble mumble.” He insisted that we take out our pack of cards and allow him to show us how great he was at whatever game we were playing before.

He talked a good talk about being awesome at “cards”. Mark dealt and we let him go first. “What do I, what do I, how should I… ?” He had no idea how to play the game or even what the game was. Mark reminded him that we were playing just regular Rummy. “Oh, yes,” he stammered, “yes, I, I, I. I usually play the Monte Carlo, um, rum… um, Gin.”

“Rummy,” we kept reminding him. “Gin Rummy is a different game.” I had also never heard of a “Monte Carlo” version of Rummy, but I’m no expert on all card games. It’s just that Rummy is a game that church ladies happily play. It’s not exciting enough to have a Monte Carlo version. I think he just wanted us to think of him as a “high roller”.

He tried to play a card. “No,” I stopped him. “You have to pick up a card first. Then you play or discard.”

“You know,” he started staring up at the ceiling to let old memories come back to him. “You know who used to try to cheat at cards? All the time… ALL THE TIME!” Mark and I had no idea where this was going. But since we didn’t really want to play anyway, we humored the drunk geezer.

“No. Who?”

“Willie Nelson!” He shook his head recalling past events.

“Is that a cousin of yours?” I asked. Surely, he couldn’t mean THE Willie Nelson.

“No, he wasn’t my cousin. I’m talking about THE Willie Nelson. The singer. Oh god, how old are you two? You’ve never heard of Willie?”

We had heard of Willie. Who hasn’t? But even if we didn’t we would never admit it. If we didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, we might have to go back to playing cards. I wasn’t sure if Mark and I were playing the same card game he was.

“How did you find yourself playing cards with THE Willie Nelson?” I hoped that that question would get him to put down his cards.

“Oh I was a back-up singer for him. That was before I retired. Willie, Aretha…” Then he listed a million names of people I had never heard of. “I wrote some songs too,” he boasted. “Have you heard…” he said something unintelligible.

I asked, “What?” It started an almost endless loop of him mumbling and me asking, “What?” about 10 times. I just gave up and admitted that I was unfamiliar with that particular ditty.

“No!? This generation. You don’t know the greats…” He mused about the passion needed to make a good song. It was something that today’s singers and song writers apparently lacked. He tried naming other songs he wrote, but I hadn’t heard of half of them and the other half, I just didn’t understand what he was saying. I almost wanted to tell him that I have never concerned myself too much about music or even the latest releases of even the biggest current singers. But, I liked that he thought that I didn’t know about the songs of the previous generation because I was too young and not because I was uncool.

Suddenly he stopped reminiscing. He picked up his cards again and asked, “What do, what do, I,  I do here?” Mark and I gave each other looks. I didn’t want to play cards. And I didn’t want to explain the game to this drunk chatty guy. We wondered how to get out of this game. Neither of us wanted to continue. But then the train slowed down.

“Hey, it’s your stop!” I tried not to sound too overjoyed. He was so grateful that I reminded him when his stopped approached that he felt the need to give me some gift. He opened his bag, searching in it for a long time, and pulled out a squashed avocado. He sniffed it then handed it to me. I took it, quizzically.

“What the hell am I going to do with this?” I asked Mark after the old song writer left.

“Don’t eat it, what ever you do!”


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 6: Interac

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 5, 2017

March 2015 – March 2017 

This is the continuation of the entries I did on the overseas jobs I’ve had. Previously I wrote about my time at GEOS, English Channel, SMOE, BFITS, and my time in the JET Programme.

Leaving for Interac’s Orientation

A Different Company

Before I even signed up with Interac, I knew this company was different from all the other companies I had worked for so far. First off, they do not pay for your flight to or from Japan. They give you nothing to cover moving expenses; not one red yen.

Let’s see, GEOS gave a contract ending bonus which paid for your flight home, assuming you completed the full year with GEOS. English Channel paid for your flight to South Korea up to $700 and there was a contract ending bonus. You got the $700 after working for English Channel for 6 months and the other bonus, you got after completing the contract. SMOE paid for your flight to Korea and back, up front. Plus, there was a yearly pay increase. BFITS did not pay for any travel expenses, but for every year you re-signed you got a raise. The JET Programme, like SMOE paid for your flight to Japan up front and your flight back. They also showed you how you could trade in your plane ticket for cash, if you wanted cash instead. With JET there was a raise for every year you re-signed too.

With Interac, you get nothing other than your paycheck. There are no travel expanses paid, no contract completion bonus, nothing. This would not be so bad, if Interac didn’t pay so little compare to all the other companies I worked for. But since I lived in Miyoshi, and Interac is the only game in town, my choice was Interac or nothing.

not bad

I was surprised when Interac put everyone up in a fancy hotel for orientation. I was half expecting to foot the bill for the accommodations, but no, Interac paid for it.

Orientation lasted a little less than a week. We started at 9:00 usually, and ended at 17:00. Then there were “optional” meetings we had to attend until about 22:00. This was to avoid having to pay us over time. If these extra meetings were officially mandatory, they would have to pay us. Making them “optional” made it legal for them not to pay us for it.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the extra meeting scam so much. They were, after all, paying for us to stay in a really nice hotel and everyone got their own room. I would much rather not get the extra pay than have to stay in a roach motel with a room mate.

One of my many schools

We were drilled in the arts of ESL lesson planning. It was quite boring for me because I have been doing this for years. But there were many new teachers to the game who just didn’t get it.

Interac made it as simple as they could. They showed us exactly what they wanted. For example, they would show us a game that we could play with our students to drill some new vocabulary like… days of the week. Then we were put into groups to demonstrate what we would do to drill some other new vocabulary, say… months of the year.

I would sit in my group as my team members would rack their brains to come up with some new and innovative game. Then I would say, “Why don’t we just do what they did, just swap out ‘days of the week’ for ‘months of the year'”. Since my suggestion would come when there were only a few seconds left, everyone would reluctantly agree.

All the other groups with their fancy ideas and convoluted instructions would get chastised. Their instructions would be too complicated. The activities required too much pretending for equipment and props that were not there. Then my group would come in and repeat exactly what the trainers had done, but with the new vocabulary. And the praises would pour in.

They kept telling us that no one was expected to reinvent the wheel, but a few people just didn’t get it.

Sports day

The job itself was easy. My coworkers were nice people and I got along with everyone. There were some schools that I liked more than others, but no school was so terrible that I would contemplate quitting.

They did pay for my train ride back to Miyoshi from training.

Tips for working at Interac:

  1. Always get it in writing. Follow up any phone call or conversation with an e-mail. That way you will have proof of what was agreed on.
  2. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff for your classes. Instead of laminating a bunch of flash cards for every lesson, get the plastic covers from Daiso. You can put stick-on magnets on the back and switch out the paper inside for each lesson. Also, every school has a stationary room where you can use markers, magnets, post-it notes. Just use what you need and don’t be wasteful.
  3. If you want credit for your good work, brag about it to the higher-ups at Interac. Send them an e-mail talking about what a great job you did helping out with your school’s speech contest. If you have a great lesson, post that thing online where your supervisor will see it!
  4. Don’t burn yourself out trying to be spectacular. The credit you do get when you do a great job is a flimsy certificate and a standing ovation. There is no monetary reward and there is little room for promotion.
  5. Don’t be afraid of being unoriginal. If another ALT tells you that she has a great lesson, ask her if you can straight up steal it and use it in your class. (I get all my fun lessons from Mark. Then I take full credit for it at my schools. The students and teachers think I am a Powerpoint Presentation game god!)
  6. Don’t forget you will get reduced pay for the months of April, May, September, and January. (You are actually only working about 10 months of the year at Interac.)
  7. Be careful when telling anyone at Interac your personal information. At meetings throughout the year the supervisors tell anecdotes and cautionary tales of ALTs. They try to keep the people in these stories anonymous, but many times they fail at this. There was one story about an ALT that got kanchoed so often by students that the ALT had to visit the doctor many times. While the ALT’s name was kept private, the ALT’s gender, nationality, prefecture, and last year of work with Interac were freely given. Then there was a time when one of the supervisors forgot which group of ALT’s had shown up for the meeting and proceeded to tell everyone about a silly ALT who had gotten in trouble with the BOE. The story stopped when some shocked people from the “silly ALT’s” town told the speaker that the “silly ALT” was sitting in the front row. “Oh,” the speaker said, “I thought that happened to someone working in another part of Japan.” If you get sick, Interac will happily share all the details they know about your illness with your schools, unless you specifically tell them not to. There is no expectation of privacy here. So, if you don’t want everyone in town and their moms to know you personal stuff, don’t tell Interac.

Posted in Japan | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Keep Yourself Alive II

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 30, 2017

April 17 – 26, 2017

Keep Yourself Alive

In my last entry, I told you that most of my time in Da Nang was spent over coming dehydration and getting used to the extreme heat. Towards the end of my stay in Da Nang I made a better effort to drink water and to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day. Because of that the heat didn’t affect me as much as before and I started to feel better (as far as hydration was concerned).

I did develop a sore throat.  It started out as nothing that would stop me from going about my day. But by the time Mark and I hopped on the bus to get to Hoi An, I had a fever and a throbbing headache. I was in so much pain, that the first 2 days in Hoi An, I was in bed and fast asleep.

It was clear that this was no ordinary sore throat. Rest and time would usually get rid of a normal virus-caused sore throat. This sore throat came with no cough, but a migraine headache instead. I needed a doctor.

I looked online to find the nearest clinics and hospitals. I was in luck; there were several to choose from. One even promised to cure ailments with teas and incense. Of course, that one was crossed off the list of possible places to seek medical attention.

I checked the reviews of the medical centers on google. The highest rated one had a 2.4 rating. The complaints were all the same. The wait was too long. The medical staff was very rude. No one washed their hands. The hospitals were very dirty. And the bill at the end was very expensive.

I felt that I was too sick to wait a long time for treatment. Too sick to put up with rude people. Too sick to deal with any of that. I complained to Mark, “How do the Vietnamese deal with the long waits and expensive treatments? Most people I see work long hours.”

“Well,” He replied. “They don’t.”

Mark explained, from what he read online, most Vietnamese don’t go to the doctor. Doctor visits take too long and time here is money. They just go to the pharmacy. They talk to the pharmacist and get the drugs they need or want. They completely skip the doctor.

“And this is legal?” I asked.

“No, but no one really checks up on it.”

I thought about what this could mean for me. I was pretty sure I had strep throat. I’ve had it before and I had very similar symptoms now. I needed antibiotics and something for the pain. “Can I do that, instead of going to the doctor?”

I do not recommend skipping a doctor visit. I would never have done this if I weren’t so terrified of seeing one of the GPs whose reviews I spent all morning going through. (One reviewer said his brother walked into a clinic with chest pain and after waiting for hours, died in the waiting room.) I sent Mark out to find a pharmacy and get me some antibiotics.

He had looked up the typical treatments of strep throat and found 3 possible types of antibiotics. He easily found a pharmacist and talked to her about my treatment. She laid out 4 types of drugs of various brands telling Mark that anyone of these would do. One was not on his list and two were different brands of amoxicillin. Mark chose the one that said, “Prescription Only”.

It took about a day and a half before I started to feel better and several days before I felt well. I stayed in bed for the first 2 days. Even though the hotel had a pool, I stayed out of it until the 3rd day of my taking medication, so as to not get anyone else sick. I did feel strange taking antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription, but I really didn’t want to sit in a dirty waiting room for hours.

When Mark chose our hotel, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be near the beach or downtown. So, he picked a hotel sort of in the middle. Though, it was closer to downtown than the beach. The hotel had a pool, so there was no real need to head to the beach. Since I wasn’t feeling well, we skipped the beach and just went to the pool.

When I was really sick, we would eat at our hotel. The food was not that good and expensive. I ordered the pho and got a greasy soup without any vegetables. The broth was horrible.

As I got better, we ventured out more. We ate at the restaurants within one or two blocks of our hotel. There was one that was just plain awful.

We walked into the restaurant because there were a group of travelers eating there already. We ordered our food and waited. There were many Vietnamese people sitting around watching the Fast and the Furious 3 on the restaurant’s HDTV. Then I noticed something strange.

“Mark,” I whispered to him. “Why are none of the Vietnamese here ordering food?”

“What do you mean? That guy, over there, is ordering food.” Mark pointed to a man a few tables away from us.

“I don’t think he is.” I signaled to Mark later when a drink was brought to the man’s table. “Everyone here had only order drinks. We (tourists) are the only ones getting food.”

When our order arrived everything became clear. The food was terrible. It tasted like something I would have made by putting random left-overs in a pot. It didn’t even taste like bad Vietnamese food. It tasted like a microwaved dinner.

All the restaurants near our hotel were like that. And, until I felt well enough to walk downtown, that’s all I could eat.

Once I felt better and could walk further distances, the food improved. The best foods came from the little back alley vendors that sold one or two dishes. If the menu looked more like a laminated book, the food would be bad. The smaller the menu the better the food. If there was no menu at all, the food would be fantastic!

The old town area, unfortunately, doesn’t have good food. The place is over saturated with tourists. Everyone is working so hard to get tourists into their restaurant and they don’t spend much time on their cooking. The food tastes bland and plain.

At one Ancient City restaurant we ordered some “white rose”, a Hoi An specialty and fried spring rolls. The white rose (pictured on the right) tasted like forgettable indifference. Some of the dumplings were burst, which I would have easily overlooked if they tasted good. They had no flavor. The spring rolls too were void of seasoning and all joy.

They seemed to have so many tourists who come in and never come back. So, they don’t feel the need to make anything taste good. “Just serve them anything!”

After a few meals in the ancient city, Mark and I knew better than to go there hungry. The drinks on the other hand were great. My only recommendation is to stay away from the durian smoothies (top picture with some durians in the background); those are just god-awful!


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Hoi An – Da Nang Local Bus 

How to get there:

  • Coordinates:
    • Da Nang Bus station: 16.079889, 108.210453
    • Hoi An Bus Station: 15.886526, 108.321204
    • There are also many stops in between.

Cost:

  • 20,oood to 50,000d depending on how honest the fare collector is.

Hours:

  • First bus leaves either stations around 5:00AM.
  • Then they leave every 5 to 20 minutes after that, depending on the time of day.
  • Last bus leaves either stations around 5:30PM.

Notes:

  • The bus is always yellow with the number “01” on the windshield.
  • You might get the fare collector to be more honest if you take a photo of the fare chart (near the front door on the outside of the bus). Then show it to him while pretending you don’t understand why he’s asking for 50,000d.
  • Keep in mind that 50,000d, while a rip-off technically, is about 2.20USD and way cheaper than the fare for a taxi or taking a tourist/ shuttle bus.
    • Unlike a tourist / shuttle bus you can book through your hotel, the “yellow 01” leaves several times a day. If you miss one, just wait 5-20 minutes for the next one.
  • Ask at the reception of your hotel/ hostel for the nearest bus stop or check with google maps.

Hoi An Ancient Town

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 15.878077, 108.328625

Address:

  • Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • 120,000 d
  • This is a one time fee and good for 2 weeks.
  • Just keep your ticket and present it when ever an official asks to see your ticket.

Hours:

  • Open 24 hours
  • After 5 or 6PM the area is closed off to cars and scooters.

Notes:

  • Just keep in mind that some of the buildings are people’s homes.
  • They don’t ask everyone to pay for or show their ticket. But, everyone should pay.
    • The money goes to restoring the area.
    • Buy your ticket at a ticket station.
    • Be careful. Some tourist have stories about fake tickets. Make sure to buy your ticket from a ticket station.
  • In my opinion, the restaurants here are not that great. They are overpriced and the food is mediocre.
    • Look for food stalls outside of Old Town.

Thanh Nam Quan

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 15.883481, 108.326264

Address:

  • 19 Trần Cao Vân, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam

Phone:

Cost:

  • Very inexpensive
  • Menu

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 21:30

Notes:

  • This place has very delicious food.
  • I recommend eating here before entering the old city.

Map:

 

Posted in Hoi An, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Keep Yourself Alive

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 25, 2017

April 10 – 16, 2017

The Da Nang dragon spits water on the people to cool them down.

Keep Yourself Alive

Mark and I left the resort at Hue beach. It took about half an hour to check-out and wait for a taxi to the train station. We sat in the heat willing the air-conditioned taxi to come pick us up as quickly as possible. When the cab came we were disappointed to be seated in a car with the windows rolled down.

“Well, hopefully the train station will be air-conditioned,” I thought.

Was it?

Nope.

We sat in the hotbox that was the waiting area of the Hue train station. There were fans, but there were too few of them and they were all set to low. They did have a placebo effect on some commuters who angled themselves to sit in the fan’s faint breeze. But, when I tested it out, I felt nothing.

After 45 minutes of sitting in the hot waiting area the doors to the platforms were opened. We stood near the tracks to do some more waiting. “Surely,” I thought, “the train will have air con.”

It did, sort of. The normally hot air was cooled to slightly too warm. Mark and I squeezed into our seats and tried to think cool thoughts. I didn’t drink much of anything to avoid having to use the bathroom on the train. But having a drink, even a room temperature soda, would have helped me to stay cool during the 3 hour train ride.

By the time the train pulled into the Da Nang train station I was feeling very unwell. My backpack felt heavier than normal and standing up was too much effort. Mark found a taxi, or rather, a taxi driver found Mark and delivered us to our hotel.

Once in our hotel room with the air conditioning on, I took one of the free bottles of water on top the mini fridge. Because I started to feel better after drinking water and sitting in a cool room, Mark and I concluded that I was probably dehydrated.

In Vietnam, the most popular type of bottled water is mineral water. Many times, when looking for water at a convenience store, that’s the only type being sold. I hate mineral water. I much prefer spring water since it has no taste. So when I have mineral water, I tend not to drink as much of it as I would spring flavorless water.

I think that here, spring water is considered “cheap” and that mineral water is the top-tier water type. Mineral water costs more in the stores. When you get a free bottle of water on buses, in hotel rooms, and on tours, it’s always spring water.

My dehydration made me think about being more responsible about my health. If I were sick at home, I’d just stay at home. It’s not a big deal as long as I still have “sick days” left at work. But on vacation, I’m paying to stay in a hotel. I’m paying for food. I’m not getting paid from a job. A sick day is a waste day. So I need to make sure I have as few “sick vacation days” as possible.

Mineral Water Alternatives

Here is my wellness list:

  1. Drink enough water.
    • If the water tastes funny, either drink it anyway or drink something else.
      • DO NOT drink tap water in Vietnam.
    • Drink juice, drink all your soup, eat juicy fruits.
    • Carry a coffee tumbler with water and put the ice from your drinks into it. Now you have cold water.
  2. Eat Fruit (bananas) & Vegetables Order dishes with lots of green leafy vegetables in them.
    • Go to a grocer’s and buy fruit.
    • No matter where you go you will always find bananas and they will be the cheapest fruit. Eat them; they’re good for you.
      • They keep you regular.
      • If your accommodations come with a free breakfast, chances are you will get an unlimited supply of bananas in the morning.
  1. Look where you’re stepping.
    • Walking down the street in Vietnam is like walking along an obstacle course. Watch out all the time!
    • Be extra careful when it rains.
      • Many businesses like to use marble tiles in front of their buildings and it gets really slippery!
  2. Look both ways before crossing the street.
    • Then continue to look both ways as you cross.
    • Cross with other people when you can.
    • Watch out for drivers going the wrong way on a street.
    • Watch out for scooters driving on the sidewalks.
    • Watch out for scooters driving indoors. (Yes, this does happen occasionally.)
  3. Wash your hands, often.
    • This is one of the best ways to prevent a cold.
    • Bring your own soap with you.
    • Wash your hands before you eat.
  4. Get your shots. (For Vietnam)
    • Hepatitis A & B; Tetanus; Typhoid.
    • Other vaccines to consider: Cholera; Japanese Encephalitis; Diphtheria;

Mark showing off how healthy he is

It took me a few days to recover from my dehydration. Until I got used to the heat, I had to make sure I was indoors from 10:30 to 16:00 every day. The heat really zapped my energy and even my thinking slowed down when I stayed out too long during the hotter parts of the day.

Our first hotel was chosen because it boasted a 5 minute walk to the beach. We tried it. It was not a 5 minute walk. Well, maybe it used to be, before a huge 5-star resort parked itself between the hotel and the beach. Now, tourists have to pay to enter or walk around. And our hotel really needs to stop advertising itself as close to the beach.

You can almost see the beach from here.

We started to walk around the resort only to find another resort, and another, and another. There was just resorts after resorts all along the road. Where there wasn’t a resort there was a construction site for a new resort. All in all, the “5-minute” walk to the beach was a 35 minute walk.

I couldn’t handle that. Even after drinking lots of water and staying in the shade as much as possible it was too much for me. By the time I got to the beach I would have a throbbing headache and feel over tired and dizzy.

Once at the beach, the water didn’t look that great. The sea looked rough for most of the day. In the mornings, when the beach was calmer, it was crowded. Actually, it was crowded, though less so, at other parts of the day too.

We changed hotels. We found one across the street from our “5 minutes to the beach” hotel. We weren’t any closer to the beach, but our new hotel had a pool. We stayed in for most of the day, swimming in the pool.

1 bowl of pho = 1 USD

In the evenings we would walk along the beach sightseeing and finding cheap places to eat. Da Nang beach has many lovely cheap places to eat. But, none of them are near the beach. You have to walk down back alleys or go away from the beach. The street our hotels were on had many nice, inexpensive places to eat.


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Asia Park

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 16.039287, 108.228556

Address:

  • 1 Phan Đăng Lưu, Hòa Cường Bắc, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 236 3681 666

Websites:

Cost:

  • 300,000 d – Non-Vietnamese adult
    • Sometimes, they charge foreigners 300,000 and sometimes they do not.
  • 200,000 d – Vietnamese adult

Hours:

  • 15:30 – 22:00 Daily

Notes:

  • The park is mostly empty.
  • Sometimes you have to wait for enough people to get a ride started.
  • The food inside is mediocre, but not expensive.
  • Not all the rides are completed.
  • Some rides are under repair.

Dragon Bridge
(Cầu Rồng)

How to get there

  • Coordinates 16.061210, 108.227019

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Every Saturday and Sunday at 9PM
  • It changes colors for about a hour.
  • The fire breathing and water spitting lasts for about 10 minutes.

Notes:

  • I recommend taking a taxi here if you don’t know exactly where to go.
  • There are lots of food vendors in the area where everyone watches the bridge.
  • Enjoy the horrible talent show while you wait for things to get started.

Map:

Posted in Da Nang, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hue Beach

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 20, 2017

Saturday April 8 – 9, 2017

Time to Relax

Gone were the Hanoi times of hot days and cool evenings. Hue was blazing hot during the day and manageably hot in the evenings. This was not the weather we wanted to go sightseeing in. Walking around took too much effort at these temperatures. Breathing took too much effort. It was time to relax.

Mark and I headed to the beach. We heard many backpackers going on and on about Hue beach. They would rent a scooter and drive out there in the afternoon and come back to Hue in the evening. We wanted more. We would stay at the beach for several days.

We found accommodations in a grass hut bungalow. That sounded real-island-like. We packed our stuff, leaving behind more clothes to lighten our bags and headed over. It looked like a dream come true as we walked down the semi-tiled path to the beach and to our hut.

We entered the hut. There were six bunk beds, meaning the bungalow could sleep 12 people. Each bed had a fan and a mosquito net. But, only 2 were made up and ready to be slept in.

Sometimes the wind just blows the doors open.

“Where are the lockers?” Mark asked.

The lady showing us around opened a cupboard made of dried grass and bamboo. The door was held close not by a lock, but by friction. She pointed inside.

I took a look. I could see that some termites had had quite a feast there recently. “How does it lock?” Mark asked knowing fully well that it could not be locked. The lady shook her head.

“Well, we’re the only guests in this hut,” Mark thought. “As long as we keep the front door locked we should be okay.”  Then he asked, “Where is our key?”

The lady showed us the door, pointing to an obvious lack of a key hole. “No key,” she said. Then she walked outside to show us the bathroom.

We looked at each other wondering if it was too late to get our money back. It would not do for us to be robbed the first month of our around-the-world trip. We weren’t given too much time to think about things. The lady was out the door. “This is the bathroom.”

We followed her. The bathroom was very rustic. The toilets were okay, I guess. But, the showers could have done with more walls or a bigger door at least. There were three showers each with a set of 2 feet long saloon doors about 3 feet off the ground. No locks. No curtains.

It was actually the shower for the beach goers. It was meant to be the place where swimmers rinse the salty ocean water off themselves. These people would be clothed in their swimsuits and didn’t need complete privacy.

Mark and I would be using these same semi-open showers as showers. We would not be wearing clothes.

But, we didn’t want to admit that the place was a dump. Or at least that we pick the dump option of this resort. Our hut hotel was operated in conjunction with another resort, one that cost 350 euro a night.

The pamphlet for our bungalow was made up of mostly photos of that resort. The resort had several indoor pools. Some rooms had their own pool. There was an outdoor pool and a room of marble pillars, for some reason. On the last page in the corner was a picture of our hut.

The huts were the “backpacker friendly” accommodations at 8USD per night. So, we weren’t expecting much, just a locker and a private shower… the essentials.

It’s way past shower time.

After our tour we sat on the beach to discuss things. “What are we going to do?” I asked Mark.

“I guess we can put all our stuff in the bamboo cabinet and hope no one looks in there. If all our stuff is put away, maybe people will think the hut is empty and that there is nothing to steal.” Mark tried to sound reassuring.

“And I guess we could shower really early in the morning and really late at night…” I added.

Things didn’t seem so bad. We ordered food from the kitchen and took photos of the beach. Maybe everything would be okay…

That used to be Mark’s face.

For the first few days things did seem alright. We woke up with the sun and took showers. We got dressed and put all our stuff away. But then we got more comfortable and started hiding everything except our swimsuits and towels; they needed to dry.

We tried swimming. The beach was very nice, but the water was too rough to relax in. Even when the water only came up mid-thigh, it would be just a matter of time before a wave would come along and knock you over. I could only be in the water for about 15 minutes before getting tired of being thrown about.

Sand flea bites one week later

Then one night we stayed out on the beach a little too late. We got bitten up by sand fleas. This got us to our breaking point.  We were ready to get the hell out of Dodge.

While we were at the beach we made friends with other guests. Not the guests from the 350 euro a night resort, but other guests like us. They told us about beaches further south that were better and calmer than this beach in Hue. Mark and I decided then and there that we would beach hop our way to Ho Chi Minh City.

Checking reviews on google, booking.com, and hostelworld.com.

This time, we would choose our hotels more carefully. This time we would read online reviews and make sure our next stay will be more pleasant.

I know how complaining about our stay at a beach may come off. Three weeks earlier we had jobs, responsibility, and winter coats. No matter how you looked at it, this was an improvement.  …sand fleas and all.


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Posted in Hue, Vietnam | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Best beer and coffee?

Posted by mracine on May 15, 2017

Beer
Let’s stop and talk about locally crafted beer.  Do you look for fresh, high quality malt and hops?  Does the brand or batch size matter to you?  Or do you, as a connoisseur of the bubble brew, look for a different aspect to determine your enjoyment?

If you are anything like me, then you’ll be pleased to know that in Vietnam you can get a special kind of beer that pleases the pallet at an extraordinary price. “Bai hoi” also known as “fresh beer” can be found littered all over Vietnam, but predominantly in the northern regions.  I was first introduced to this delectable treasure in Hanoi.

So by now, you must be wondering what magic makes this beer stand out from the rest.  Well, it’s outstanding price.  It’s usually priced around 5,000 dong.  For those who need a price conversion, it come to 22 cents per glass.  In other words, you can drink a small kegs worth for what you usually carry in your wallet.   In fact, the first hostel I stayed in gave it away for free during happy hour.

 

P4020117

Okay… Maybe more like happy half hour.

Now, beer this cheap comes with a catch.  That would be favor.  In a fair contest, PBR would retain its ribbon and Budweiser would still be king.  But if your watch is often set to Miller Time, then you’ll have no problem pushing down this kind of libation.  Also the alcoholic nature of the drink is less than its kin.  It hovers around the 3% mark.
To those who come to South East Asia, you’ll quickly learn that beer can be inexpensive and tasty.  I suggest giving “fresh beer” as taste, but also give other locally brewed beer a chance.  Many like “Bai Saigon” and “Huda” have much more to offer in overall satisfaction.  The price may be an exponentially higher at four or five times the cost; but as with all things in life, you get what you pay for.

P4230742.JPG

Food goes down better with local beer.

Coffee

Do you remember this legendary scene from Happy Gilmore?

 

This begs the question; why not have poop for breakfast?  Well, maybe not that exactly.  You see, I had the synthetic version.

Ever since I watched the movie “The Bucket List”, Kopi luwak was something that was on my radar. Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for about US$3,000 per kilogram (2.2 lbs).

kopi

The specialty Vietnamese coffee beans are made with the help of wild civets also called “weasels” here.  Now, don’t imagine these weasels wearing barista aprons.  Instead, they help with the bean selection.  They supposedly only select the ripest and, as a result, the best coffee berries.  Then the weasels eat them.  After some time and nature doing natures work, the berries arrive on the other end of the weasel.   In what I assume to be “the new-guy-at-he-coffee-farm’s job”, a person goes around collecting the digested oblong berry logs laying on the ground.  The weasel excrement gets washed and then the beans goes through the same process as the rest of the coffee that gets served to us.

luwak-2-reu.jpg

And I helped.

Now, I want to make clear that I did not drink Kopi luwak.  For one thing, I hear rumors of some weasels being mistreated.  Some farmers looking to profit, cage and force the beasts to only consume coffee berries to maximize yield.   For another, most poop coffees are fake.  They are just regular coffee bean passed off as the genuine article.  And lastly, I’m not insane enough to pay more than Starbucks’s prices for coffee and I rarely allow myself to do that.

P5061077

That’s $20 per cup for possibly fake weasel coffee!

However, I learned that there are legitimate fake poo coffee at a reasonable price.  Now, that’s the kind of thing I go for. You see, the weasel poo coffee get’s its fame for two things.  The selection of the best coffee beans and the digestive enzymes in the civet’s stomach which rounds out the flavor and adds to it somehow.  Some Vietnamese companies learned how duplicated this process chemically.  Now all I had to do was to buy some.

However, I encountered some difficulty in getting my synthetic poo coffee.  In Hanoi, they are trying to sell you the “real thing”.  However, the “real thing” isn’t real at all.  It’s either synthetic poo coffee or just regular coffee.  But this doesn’t stop them for trying to sell it for “real thing” prices.  There are also lots of companies selling coffee with a picture of a weasel on them.  Technically, they don’t say its real poo coffee or synthetic poo coffee, it’s just coffee with a picture of an animal and if you get the wrong impression, well…  It gets really confusing very quickly.

Look, I’m just your average tourist looking to sit down somewhere and have a nicely brewed cup of coffee that mimics the beans that been digested by weasels.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Well, after studying up on it online, I learned that Vietnam was the second largest supplier of coffee in the world.  And I also learned that Vietnam also has a problem with some places selling fake coffee beans.  Yes, you read that right.  Fake coffee beans.  Apparently, you can dye soy beans and bake them a certain way to resemble and taste like coffee.  And it actually fools people.  What I can’t understand is why there isn’t coffee flavored tofu on the shelves of my local supermarket?  I would eat that.

So after some time, I found a few brands that sell the actual synthetic poo coffee with real coffee beans.  Imagine that!?  When I discovered this, I was off going in and out of stores asking where they kept their best “weasel dropping beans”. I eventually found a box that met my qualifications, I bought it and brought back to my hotel to try.

Both my wife and I were excited to give it a try.  However, a coffee pot wouldn’t work for this.  Mostly because we didn’t have a coffee pot in our hotel room.  Instead, we did like the locals and used a device that slowly drips the brew directly into our coffee cups.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We precisely measured the amount of coffee grinds needed with our eyes.  Slowly poured in the hot water over the coffee grounds and waited.  Using my expertise, I wanted to know if I could detect all the subtle differences between regular Vietnamese coffee and this special kind.  When the coffee making device finished I looked inside my cup to discover that my wife, in tradition to how most Vietnamese make their coffee, filled it half way with condensed milk.

So did my sophisticated pallet discern the hints of weasel dung over the condensed milk?  Well, no.  The major flavor in the forefront was the delightful sweetness that is condensed milk.  Then it’s followed up by the espresso like taste of the coffee.  The subtle earthy hints and chocolate flavors or the less bitter taste didn’t really come through.

On my second go, I had my weasel manure flavored coffee straight.  And this time, I tasted… coffee.  Yep, a good cup of coffee.  A bit anti-climatic I know, but there is one good take away I get from this.  The next time I make a pot of coffee and someone tells me it taste like crap, I’ll just take it as a complement knowing how much crap coffee can cost.

gourmet-sht

 

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hue

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 10, 2017

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The Forbidden Purple City

This was the day it suddenly got hot. In Hanoi it was warm. But in Hue, it was hot. I brought a coffee tumbler with me on the trip. This was the day I started using it religiously. It is a Starbucks Lucy Tumbler. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold for hours. This tumber is saving my life right now.

We would buy some cold drinks, preferably one with lots of ice. When all the drink was gone and I had nothing but ice left, I would put that ice in my tumbler with water. Then I would have cold water all day.

The Forbidden Purple City is so beautiful. I wanted to take way more photos than I did. It was just so hot. I would walk around for 15 minutes then have to look for a place in the shade to sit and sip my cold water. If the place wasn’t so spectacular, I would have given up and spent the day in an air conditioned coffee shop.

My Recommendations for surviving a Hot Day in Hue:

  1. Bring lots of water.
    • Even if you don’t have a coffee tumbler.
  2. Get an umbrella.
    • Mark bought his on the walk from the hostel to the ancient town.
  3. Go early in the morning (8:00 – 10:00) and then in the evening (after 15:30).
    • Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day.
  4. Wear a hat and sun screen.
  5. There are sections of the palace that have fans and an air condition unit. Hang out there for a while.
    • Unfortunately, the doors of the air conditioned areas are never closed. So, it’s cool only right in front of the ac units.

Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Imperial City
(Hoàng thành)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates: 16°28′11″N 107°34′40″E

Address: 

  • Huế, Thua Thien Hue

Phone:

  • 0234 3501 143

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 8:00 -17:30

Notes:

  • The Forbidden Purple City in the restored part of the ancient town.
  • This place is very beautiful.
  • Bring lots of water.

Map:

Posted in Hue, Vietnam | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Trains in Vietnam and Other Ways to Get Around

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 5, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017 — 19:30

Top Bunk

Come and Ride the Train

Mark bought our train tickets from the travel agent at our hostel. He was a little dissatisfied with this process. He kept having to explain what he wanted. He also had a hard time understanding what the agent said too. With the length of time it took to get the ticket, he felt the commission rate the agent took was too high. In the end, Mark felt confused and he just hoped everything worked out all right.

It did. But not wanting to go through that again, Mark turned to the internet the next time we took the train. Buying the tickets online, doing it yourself, and doing it in English leaves little up to chance.

Bottom Bunk

Later we met a man and his cousin who wanted a compartment to themselves. They went to a travel agent. She told them to get a compartment for just the two of them, they would have to book all four beds in a soft sleeper berth. “Fine,” they said. “Give us the best bunks you have.” One was sold 2 upper bunks and the other sold 2 lower bunks.

When they boarded the train they found that the two sets of bunks were in two different compartments. One compartment had a screaming brat of a child. The other had Mark and me.

It took a while for Mark and me to find our berths. There was a big drunk guy fumbling with his ticket pulling a rather large non-spinner suitcase behind him and blocking the way. “I don’t have my glasses,” he kept repeating. “I don’t have my glasses.” If I wanted to hurry things along, I had to help him find his bunk.

I took his ticket and looked at it. “Oh, you’ve past it,” I told him.

“Did I?” He seemed very surprised. “I don’t have my glasses, you know. I couldn’t tell where I had to go.”

“Yes,” I said. “I think you’ve mentioned something about that.”

He spun around, but with his suitcase in front of him, he was too drunk to move it. Both he and his luggage were too large for him to just pick the suitcase up and place it behind him. He kept spinning around hoping that one more try at turning would somehow get to suitcase on the other side.

It took no time at all for a line of people to form in the corridor. I had to get this fat man out of the way quickly. He was just so drunk and clumsy.

“Hey!” I tried to get his attention, but he kept turning. “Push it instead of pulling.” He didn’t seem to hear me. “Or you could walk backwards.” I got no reaction out of him. “Probably to uncoordinated for either of those anyway,” I thought to myself.

Then I suggested that he step into any compartment, pull his luggage further down the way, then step out again. That would have easily solved the problem. But by then he was squeezing around his luggage. He wedged himself between the wall and his suitcase. There were groans and inelegant Chris Farley-like twitching.

I looked past the drunk and saw some train officials headed his way. The man was still telling everyone about his lack of glasses as he struggled to get free. Just as the officials got to him he popped out on the other side of the suitcase as it fell over.

I got everyone to back up a bit and showed him to his bunk. The train officials carried his enormous suitcase for him and placed it next to his bed. Thankfully, he was on a bottom bunk.

Later I heard him, a man of about 60, flirting with some teen-aged school girls. It made my skin crawl.

the neighbors

When we got to our bunks there was a man in his bed already. He had a little radio blasting old timey Vietnamese music. Mark and I got into our bunks and waited for everyone else to get on the train. We both had top bunks.

The fourth person in our compartment entered, pulled out a vodka bottle, and tried to talk to everyone. Only radio man could speak Vietnamese. Vodka guy asked Mark and I, “Where from?” But that was the limit to his English. We told him, but he did not understand our reply.

Giving up on conversation, he tried offering everyone vodka. Mark, radio man, and I declined. Not wanting to drink alone he left the bottle on the table unopened. Vodka guy offered many more times, after dinner, right before everyone  went to sleep, as soon as he woke up the next morning, after breakfast, and a few more extra times. There were never any takers, so the bottle sat on the table the whole ride, unused.

Since talking was out (I guess radio man was not that interesting) and drinking was unsuccessful vodka guy took out his smartphone and played American pop music. This was probably a gesture on Mark’s and my behalf. But, mind you, radio man was still playing his radio.

I began to wonder how I would deal with this. Listening to one persons bad music was one thing, but two! Then the train itself started to play very loud awful music too. It was deafening. Both Mark and vodka guy scrambled around looking for a volume button to turn down.

Once they found it, the train music was turned off. After that the duel of crappy music didn’t seem that bad. At least it wasn’t horrendously loud.

About an hour before I wanted to sleep, radio man’s radio had long since been turned off and vodka guy’s phone’s battery was dying. I prayed that he left his charger at home. Right by his head was an electrical outlet. I knew that the outlet worked. Both Mark and I had been charging our electrical devices.

Vodka guy took out his charger and my heart sank. He plugged it in. He waited a while then unplugged it. Then plugged it in again. His outlet didn’t work! He had to turn his phone off to save power. I was never so glad for a dying battery.

The Train

Best Information: Seat 61

Buying Tickets: Baolau

Pro:

  • Usually cheaper and faster than buses.
  • Generally more comfortable than buses.
  • It has air conditioning.
  • You can buy food on the train.
    • There are meal, snack, and drink carts that come by.
      • Everything cost 20-30,000 VND
      • If you are in the first car, the food cart might run out of food before it gets to you. If this happens just go to the dining car at the opposite end of the train.
    • There is usually a dining car at the caboose.
    • At longer stops, vendors from that station will jump on the train and quickly sell drinks, food, and snacks.
  • There is always a bathroom you can use.
    • If the nearest bathroom is extremely filthy, try the other end of your car or another car.
    • All train bathrooms are dirty, but not all are filthy.
    • There is usually toilet paper, but it might not get restocked often enough. Bring your own to be safe.
    • Bring your own hand soap or hand sanitizer.
    • Unlike in other countries, the toilet is never locked when the train stops at a station. This is the best time to go!
  • Very low chance of being in a traffic accident.

Con:

  • You have to go to the train station which is usually a cab ride away from your hotel.
    • Many tour/ long distance buses pick travelers up in the downtown area just a few minutes walk from most hotels and hostels.
  • Doesn’t run as often as buses in some areas.
  • Doesn’t stop at every city.
    • Some towns are between two train stations.
  • Trains only run north or south.
    • If you need to travel east or west, you have to take a bus.

Tips:

  • Bring your own toilet paper, hand soap, and hand sanitizer.
  • Bring your own snacks.
    • Even though they sell lots of snacks on the train, you might not like any of them.
  • There are hot water dispensers on every car, but they look really, really gross.
  • Book your tickets online (https://www.baolau.com/) or from your hotel.
    • Don’t buy tickets from someone who doesn’t speak English very well. You might not get what you asked for.
    • You pay a smaller commission when buying tickets online than buying at your hotel or hostel.
    • If you buy your tickets at the train station you pay no commission, but that might be quite a hassle.
  • If you try to buy your tickets on the same day you plan to travel, you run a huge risk of either getting no seat or getting a really bad seat.
    • You don’t have to buy your tickets too far in advanced, unless the day is on or near a holiday.
    • Buying tickets a few days ahead of time will do.
  • Get a soft sleeper for long rides or a soft seat for short ones.
    • The soft sleeper is softer than the hard sleeper, obviously.
      • The bottom bunks are better, in my opinion, but it costs more. (Like a few dollars or so more.)
    • The soft sleeper has 4 beds per cabin; the hard sleeper has 6.
      • You can sit up in a soft sleeper, but not in a hard sleeper.
    • I’ve never tried a hard seat, but it just looks like torture to sit on for more than a few minutes.
      • Essentially, it’s just a wooden park bench on a train.
  • Since the toilets aren’t locked when the train is pulled into a station, that’s the best time to use it since it’s not moving.
  • Don’t expect too much.
    • The trains are dingy, but so are the buses.
    • The bathrooms are dirty, but so are the ones on the buses and at rest stops.
    • The dining cars are also dingy, but so are a lot of restaurants in Vietnam.
  • Unless you are leaving from Hanoi or Saigon, your train will depart behind schedule.
    • When heading south, the further away from Hanoi you are, the more off schedule your train will be.
    • When heading north, the further away from Saigon you are, the more off schedule your train will be.

The (Sleeper) Bus / A Rest Stop / Bus Ticket

Best Information:

Buying Tickets: Baolau

Pro:

  • There are more bus destinations than train destinations.
  • Sometimes, they pick you up right from your hotel.

    The Sleeper Bus (bottom bunk)

  • The stops are right in the down town area.
  • There are many buses to choose from throughout the day.
    • There are tons of bus companies.
  • You meet a lot of backpackers.
  • The bathrooms at the rest stops are better than the ones on the train. But, only in that the train moves making it harder to aim.
    • Bring toilet paper and hand soap/ hand sanitizer.
  • You are usually given a bottle of water for free.
  • Most of them come with wifi
    • It’s good enough to check your e-mail, but that’s about it (if it works at all).

Con:

  • They are more expensive than trains and have longer travel times.
  • There is no sleeping on a sleeper bus.
    • They are uncomfortable. There is never enough room.
    • They are usually either too hot or too cold.
    • Every time you drift off to sleep, the driver will honk loudly at no one in particular on the road.
    • If you are in the bottom bunk, the person above you will constantly drop things on you and never ever apologize.
    • If you are on the top bunk, things will always slip out of your hands when the driver swerves. It’s not your fault; never apologize!
  • Half the time horrible loud music will be blasted from cheap speakers.
  • On board, there is usually no bathroom or the bathroom is broken.
  • Companies try to pack as many people aboard as possible.
    • This is not too bad on buses.
    • On vans, this means that someone (or a few someones) has to sit in a jump seat.
  • There is a higher risk of traffic accidents with the bus than with the train.

Tips:

  • Don’t take a bus if you have a weak bladder.
  • Use your headphones. (You’ll be surprised how many backpackers act like they’ve never heard of headphones or earbuds.)
  • Don’t drink too much water. Bathroom breaks are too few and far between.
  • Keep a jacket and a fan with you. Sometimes it will be too cold; sometimes too hot.
  • Bring snacks and water.
    • But, again, don’t drink too much water!
  • Wear comfortable clothes. (Well, if you’re traveling, you’re probably wearing comfortable clothes everyday anyway.)
  • Some seats are better than others.
    • On the sleeper buses, there are seats that are a lot shorter than the rest.
    • You might prefer a bottom bunk or a top.
    • Ask about the seats when you buy your tickets.
  • Take the train, if you can!
    • I have met people who genuinely enjoyed taking the sleeper bus. I’m just not one of them.
    •  Do research. There are some sleeper bus companies that have high road accident rates.
    • As for non-sleeper buses, if it’s a short trip (3 hours or less) it’s okay. Still do your research of the bus company’s safety record.
    • Check online reviews for the company before buying tickets.

And of course there is always flying. Air fare is sometimes cheaper than train tickets, but getting to and from the airport can be a big hassle. I would fly if I were pressed for time. Since I haven’t flown domestically in Vietnam, I can’t do a pros and cons list.

Tip:

  • Take a shuttle bus to and from the airport. Try not to take a taxi.

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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