With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

KL: Shoppers’ Delight

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 25, 2017

Thursday, May 18th – 21st, 2017

Not only do I love KL, but I also love my rapper-designed quick-dry active shorts.

When I packed my bag at the start of this trip, I thought I had packed light. The long trail of discarded clothes, gadgets, and what-naughts from Hanoi to Cambodia left in my wake proved otherwise. I thought I was clever packing 2 pairs of reversible shorts that made it look like I had 4 shorts. But, they took forever to dry. And really, who cares that you might have 4 pairs of shorts when all you ever wear are damp shorts?

I was lucky to find not 1, but 2 pairs of quick-dry shorts that were so light and thin they literally could be folded up and placed in the pocket of one of the old shorts without much of a bulge. They were in the little town of Mui Ne, Vietnam and where designed by a rapper I had never heard of. The brand is called RBX and it’s marketed as “athletic apparel at an affordable price”. Along with affordability, I like that these shorts are active wear without the “active wear” look.

Travel clothes are expensive. They are light, dry quickly, and some don’t even need to be washed often. But travel clothes are also very expensive. It’s roughly $60 to $90  for a t-shirt. I’m talking US dollars here, not Laotian kip or anything for one measly shirt.

A more economical option is to buy sports clothes. These clothes are light and dry quickly. You probably have to wash them as often as you do your regular clothes, though. The problem with sports clothes is that they look like sports clothes. They are flashy and cause all eyes to be directed at you when you are in range. You will look like you got lost on the way to the gym and somehow ended up on a plane to Malaysia when you wear them.

So what I do, is go into stores like Sport’s Authority and search through rack after rack hoping to find the least athletic looking shirts, pants, and jackets. It’s a very hard task. Many times I come so close to finding something decent, only to have to choose between a boring black and a neon green shirt with orange trim.

But, the shorts inspired me. If I could find two pairs of plain, ordinary looking shorts that happen to be light and quick-drying, then there must be hope for some shirts too. I searched online for recommendations. One travel blogger talked about Uniqlo’s Airism collection. These were cool (as in temperature) clothes for the summer.

Uniqlo, if you don’t know, is like Japan’s Gap or Old Navy. The clothes are affordable and not too flashy. This is rare; Japan is mostly 80% flash where clothes are concerned. The problem with Uniqlo in Japan, is that they mostly have smaller sizes. They do sell clothes that fit me, but they usually sell out before I get to the store.

But Kuala Lumpur is a more international city. The Uniqlo there would have more bigger sizes in stock. And best of all, the prices at Uniqlo are about the same world-wide. If a shirt costs 20USD in L.A. it will cost about 2000JYN in Tokyo, 15GBP in London, and 85RM in Kuala Lumpur.

Mark and I went shopping in KL. I bought a few shirts that cost about 18USD each. But, Mark went full-on Uniqlo. He took this opportunity to dump all of his clothes. He bought 3 shirts and 2 pairs of shorts. They were all athletic quick-dry clothes that didn’t look sporty.

He didn’t buy it all at once though. He got one shirt, liked it, then came back for more. Then he bought a pair of shorts, liked them, and bought another. In the course of 3 days he had a whole new backpacking wardrobe. “If only I could get a new quick-dry wife, my life would be complete,” he joked.


Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get their visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful when taking taxis.
  • HSBC ATMs do not charge ATM fees.
    • Use ATMs responsibly. Use the ones indoors where you are least likely to get robbed.
  • Kuala Lumpur had a free bus service. Check the route out before getting a cab or bus ticket.

Central Market 

How to get there:

Address:

  • Jalan Hang Kasturi, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 1-300-22-8688

Websites:

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 21:30

Notes:

  • The food stalls around the market seem to be a better choice than the restaurants at the food court.

KL Tower

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.152813, 101.703655

Address:

  • Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2020 5444

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 22:00

Notes:

  • There is a free shuttle near the base of the hill the tower sits on.
  • This tower has short lines, but is a little overpriced.
  • The Petronas Towers are more expensive and there is a loooooong line for the tickets.

Petronas Towers

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.157916, 101.711620

Address:

  • Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2331 8080

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 21:00

Notes:

  • They are named after a Malaysian oil and gas company and nothing Potter related.
  • Tickets can only be bought on the day starting at 8:30am until they run out.
    • People start lining up at 7:00am or earlier.
  • There is a mall near the tower. If you cannot go up, you can at least go in.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3°08’30.7″N 101°41’23.4″E

Address:

  • Jalan Lembah Perdana, Tasik Perdana, Wilayah Persekutuan, Perdana Botanical Gardens, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2092 7070

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • 14RM

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 18:00

Batu Caves

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.237939, 101.684015

Address:

  • Batu Caves, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 1-300-88-5050

Websites:

Cost:

  • Some areas are free others cost 5-15RM.

Hours:

  • 7:00 – 20:00

Notes:

  • If you’re taking the train from  KL Sentral, be careful not to get on the train heading to Butterworth.
  • Monkeys will rob you.
    • Don’t bring food to the caves.
    • Keep your pockets empty.
    • Keep your things zipped up in your bag.
    • Don’t let the monkeys get too close.
    • Monkeys will take food, glasses, cameras, phones, anything!
  • The caves are:
    • Temple Cave – Stays open the latest
    • Dark Cave – closes the earliest and is sometimes closed for reasons.
    • Cave Villa – lots of lights
    • Ramayana Cave – tells part of a Hindu epic
  • Dress modestly. No shorts, tank tops, or low cut shirts.
  • There are lots of nice vegan and vegetarian restaurants right outside the caves.

Map:

Posted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Travel Tips for Cambodia

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 20, 2017

2017

You have to bring:

  • Prescription medication.

Everything else can be bought in Cambodia, but not as cheaply or as easily as in Vietnam. But, it can be done.

Quick disclaimer: We only stayed in hotels in Cambodia. For 2 people, hotels were either cheaper or just slightly more expensive.

Things you can buy here but you should bring with you:

  1. Luggage
    • Bring a backpack instead of a suitcase.
      • It’s easier for bus rides.
  2. Clothes
    • Everyone sells the same exact clothes here.
      • You can get a good deal, if you are good at haggling.
      • Larger sizes are harder to find. So, if you are taller or chubbier than average I would not depend too heavily on finding lots of clothes.
      • Many pants are unisex and one size fits most.
    • You might not find your usual style.
      • You will look like every other backpacker, unless you shop at malls which only carry smaller sizes and have less discounted prices.
    • You will need to have at least one short sleeved (non-tank top) shirt and one pair of shorts or a skirt that covers your knees to enter some temples. This is true for men and women.
  3. Towel
    • All hotels provide guests with towels.
    • But, I don’t know about hostels.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
    • All hotels provide guests with shampoo and body wash.
      • Sometimes I didn’t like the shampoo or body wash so I bought my own.
    • You are never given conditioner.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in Cambodia.
      • You can find many popular brands like Dove, Pantene, Finesse, and Lux.
    • But, I don’t know about hostels.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant
    • You can find this here, but the brand selection is limited.
      • It’s mostly Dove, Nivea, and other brands I’ve never heard of.
  6. Sunscreen
    • It’s mostly Banana Boat and Nivea.
    • Many (not he Banana Boat brand) come with “skin whitening” (whatever that means).
    • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and suncreen at a convenience store, but they will be cheaper at grocery stores. Grocery stores will have more variety, too.
  7. Over the counter medicine
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone

Tuk-Tuks:

  • Settle on a price before getting into the tuk-tuk.
  • Some will have a laminated flyer with destinations and prices.

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
  • Get US Dollars.
    • Make sure, when given change, you get “legit looking” bills.
      • No bills with writing, odd marks, dirt, or anything that looks counterfeit.
  • Make sure you use up all the Cambodian Riel before you leave.
    • No one out side of Cambodia wants it.

Scams:

  • No scams in particular.
  • Just watch out for overpriced things and tuk-tuk rides.
    • Even overpriced items are cheap when compared to prices back home.
    • Overall, almost everything in Cambodia is inexpensive except for some restaurants.
      • Restaurants away from the tourist areas are FAR more inexpensive.

Visa:

  • If you need a visa to enter (Americans do) get a visa beforehand to save time.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. (I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.)
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Posted in Cambodia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

2017 A Flight Oddity

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 15, 2017

Thursday, May 18th, 2017


Mark and I flew out of Cambodia on an inexpensive Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur. There was a moment when I thought we would have had to stay another night in Siem Reap. When we were at the airport there, I saw a very weird looking guy walking around the airport. He wore a Rugrats t-shirts and, I think, a wig.

He walked up to the Dairy Queen counter and asked the price of their beer. Dairy Queen doesn’t serve beer, at least not at the Siem Reap Airport. He made a little scene where he over acted his astonishment at the lack of beer. He looked around to see what attention he got. Not many people noticed him, so he walked away to cause a disturbance else where.

Inwardly, I hoped he was not on my flight. He was not just a weirdo. He was an attention seeking weirdo. One that wasn’t getting the attention he craved. This could not lead to anything good. I had just become aware of the existence of this man and only after a few minutes I knew that trouble followed this guy wherever he went. At best, he was just some guy with mental or social problems. At worst, he was up to no good.

When we were on the plane and everyone was seated and ready to go, the flight attendants closed the door. We just sat there waiting. Then the door opened again. Walking down the aisle was an airport official wearing a reflective vest and talking into a walkie-talkie. Behind him was Mr. Rugrats. He walked down the aisle glowering at some passengers and giving goofy smiles to others.

The airport guy walked Mr. Rugrats to his seat and got him to sit down. Then the airport guy left. Once the official was off the plane Mr. Rugrats got up and walked to the back of the plane to speak with a flight attendant. I don’t know what Mr. Rugrats said, but it upset the flight attendant. He ask Mr. Rugrats to sit down. But every time he sat down, he would get up 2 minutes later to bother another flight attendant or glower at passengers.

Flight attendants walked Mr. Rugrats back to his seat several times. We had not even left the ground and already these hard working people were exhausted taking care of just was silly man in a Rugrats t-shirt. He just wouldn’t stay seated long enough for them to do their jobs.

Finally another official came and took Mr. Rugrats off the plane. There was a very normal acting man who Mr. Rugrats sat next to, the few seconds he actually sat down. He was Mr. Rugrat’s friend. He was given the option to stay on the plane or leave and help keep Mr. Rugrats calm. He left with his friend.

An attendant made an announcement to explain what happened. The 2 guys landed at the airport earlier in the day, but the government refused them entry to Cambodia. They had to go back to their country, Malaysia, and our flight was the last flight to Malaysia that day. Cambodia wanted Air Asia to take the 2 with them.

But, they did not fly in on Air Asia, and our pilot didn’t want to take responsibility for the one who was behaving oddly. He was willing to take them to Malaysia if, and only if, Cambodia provided 2 escorts to accompany the strange man. Cambodia did not or could not do that. So, our pilot refused to take Mr. Rugrats. Cambodia retaliated by refusing to give our plane clearance to take off or to allow anyone to get off the plane.

I don’t know how things got resolved. After an hour and a half stand-off, our plane left without either of the 2 guys. Who knows what happened to them.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Posted in Cambodia, Siem Reap | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Angkor Wat

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2017

Monday, May 15th to 18th, 2017

We went to Siem Reap for one thing and one thing only. We wanted to see Angkor Wat. We weren’t really enjoying Cambodia that much. I’m not sure, maybe it was the genocide being less than 40 years ago, but it just wasn’t half as fun as Vietnam was. So excluding the day we arrived and the day we left, we stayed only 2 days in Siem Reap.

Arrival Day  

  • Option 1: Buy AW Tickets after 5:00PM and see the sunset?

The very first day in Siem Reap we made our first Angkor Wat orientated decision. We chose not to see the sunset at Angkor Wat. You see, on the day you buy a ticket, if the ticket is purchased after 17:00, you can enter the Angkor Wat complex without it affecting how many more days you have left to tour the temples. It’s like a sunset freebie.

  • Option 2: Sunrise at AW?

We were tired from traveling the 7 hours it took to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh. So, not only did we not head right over to the Angkor Wat ticket office, We didn’t even schedule a tuk-tuk to take us there early enough to see the sun come up the next day. Instead, we agreed that he should come pick us up at 8:00 the next morning. Actually, I groaned on the inside at the thought of not being able to sleep in the next day, but then nodded at his suggestion that an 8:00 pick up would be ideal if we didn’t want to see the sunrise.

Mr. Le

Siem Reap Day 1 — Option 3: Buy either the 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day ticket?

  • Option 4: Bike or Ride?

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Le, showed up as scheduled and took us right to the ticket office. I read online about people who rent or borrow bicycles from their hotels to get to Angkor Wat. We passed a few of them on our way and I thought they were crazy. It was very hot even this early in the morning. “Most of them will not make it back this afternoon,” I thought. Even if I were in the greatest of physical shape, the heat alone would deter me.

  • Option 5: Buy a sarong?

Mark only had shorts, having thrown out all his long pants in Vietnam. They were all too hot for the Vietnamese climate and they weighed his pack down. So, now he had no pants that completely covered his knees for Angkor Wat. There, knees need to be covered, even male knees.

There are shops at the ticket office selling snacks, drinks, food, bags, sarongs, and all manner of tourist items. Mark walked into a store to pick out a manly looking sarong. He tried on a few, holding them around his waist and looking at himself in the mirror. None of them were “him”.

Seeing what Mark wanted the sarong for, a sales lady told Mark, “Pants okay.” She pulled on the end of Mark’s shorts to show that it stopped almost below the knee. The shorts didn’t fully cover the knee, just most of it. He did not need a sarong after all.  

I had to yell at some tour group people to get out of the shot, right before this photo was taken.

  • Option 6: What order?

We read about “temple fatigue” and knew we would be very susceptible to it. We had already suffered from “travel fatigue” a few times on the trip. These syndromes happen when you have too much of a thing. You become overwhelmed by or tired of temples, travel, or whatever.

The best cure is to stop doing the thing that you are tired of for a day or two. For travel, Mark and I might spend a day in the hotel watching movies, hang out at a park, or stay at a café where Mark reads online articles and I blog. (I’m writing this right now in a café in Bali as a cure for “beach fatigue”.)

It wasn’t a matter of “if”, but “when”. So, we chose to visit our must-sees first. That way we could leave when the “temple fatigue” hit. We chose to see, Ta Prohm, Bayon (Head Temple), and Angkor Wat, in that order.

Ta Prohm, the temple from Tomb Raider, was picked to be first because it is a popular afternoon stop for tour groups. These groups move through the temple 30 or 40 people strong. They are slow, constantly stopping to take selfies, and always getting in your selfies.  Once you get stuck behind a tour group, all you can do is wait, or have clumps of tourists in all your best shots. It’s best to avoid tour groups at all cost.

We picked Angkor Wat, the temple all the other temples are collectively named after, for the afternoon. Most people will have seen it shortly after sunrise. So, we hoped that it would be least busy after lunch. I don’t know if that is when it is least busy, but we did manage not to run into a tour group until our way out of Angkor Wat.

We also explored Elephant Terrace since it was not too far from Bayon, the temple with all the faces. There were so many photo-perfect moments interrupted by other tourists mindlessly stepping in the way. It was also hard to not be a mindless tourist myself, since at any given time other people were having photo-perfect moments themselves.

Most people tried to be as respectful of other people’s shots as possible. It was a little hard with so many tourists taking photos at all times. The only people who just didn’t care about ruining other tourists’ shots where the ones in tour groups. Something about being in a tour group makes people obnoxious and act like everything belongs to them. Tour group patrons would jump the queue of tourists patiently waiting to take photos with certain statues or doorways or take forever with a thousand and one selfies before pulling out another camera to take more photos.

  • Option 7: Buy a guide book?

At the entrance to every temple there are touts trying to get you to buy stuff. The most common thing they sell are guide books. You can buy one for really cheap, I hear. But, like me, most people have done their research before getting to Angkor Wat and a guide book at this point is a bit useless.

The Cambodian government would rather you buy from the adults, if you are going to buy something, and not from the children. Kids are recruited to sell things because they are cute or pitiful. The people forcing them to sell, think that tourists are more likely to buy from them. These kids are taken out of school to sell junk. If people stop buying from the children, their overlords might let them go back to school.

Sometimes you just have to rest and enjoy an icy drink.

  • Option 8: Stay for sunset?

We never did get “temple fatigue” because regular old fatigue and the heat got to us first. We spent 2 hours wondering around Angkor Wat after lunch and had to take many breaks and several liters of water to get through it. There were a lot of stairs to climb.

To cool down we ate some ice cream at a shop near the temple before looking for Mr. Le again. He asked us where we wanted to go next. It was only 3:00 in the afternoon. I couldn’t climb any more steps. We asked to be taken back to our hotel.

On our way back we passed a few tuk-tuks with bicycles shoved in the back cab. The cyclists looked so tired, many of them could barely sit up. “I knew it,” I thought. At least they didn’t have to bike back to their hotels…

  • Option 9: How will we recover?

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel’s pool. Later we were even too tired to go out for dinner. We ordered room service and went to bed early. It was a great day.

The following day we leisurely walked around town going from coffee shop to coffee shop. I did some writing and Mark got a 2-dollar haircut and shave. We felt like rich people because everything was so cheap.

Then we walked into an upscale mall. It had shops like Armani Exchange and Montblanc. I couldn’t even afford to buy a pen in that mall. I went from being a high roller to a peasant by just walking through the door. We didn’t stay long.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Siem Reap
(ក្រុងសៀមរាប)

How to get there:

Websites:

Notes:

  • During the hotter months, I recommend getting a hotel with a pool.
  • Other than Angkor Wat there are lots of adventure sport things to do in Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat
(អង្គរវត្ត)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 13.376835, 103.880741 (Ticket Office)

Address:

  • Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phone:

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • One day 37USD
  • Three Days 62USD
  • Seven Days 72USD
  • Cambodians can enter for free
  • Tuk-Tuk ride 15 – 25USD

Hours:

  • Ticket Office 5:00 – 18:00
  • Sometime before sunrise to sometime after sunset.

Videos:

Notes:

  • Be sure to see:
  • Always keep your ticket with you. If an official asks to see it and you cannot produce it, you will be fined.
  • Food at the site can be a bit overpriced and not very delicious. Try the Golden Monkey in front of Bayon and Angkor Wat temples.

Map:

 

Posted in Cambodia, Siem Reap | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The History Tour

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 5, 2017

Wednesday, May 10th – 15th, 2017

Learning History Through Travel

In high school I was a pretty good student. I went to class, paid attention, did my homework, passed my tests, and passed all my classes. I did, however, put more effort into courses steeped in math and science. I thought of these as more absolute classes, with questions that have real answers. I did well in subjects like literature, religion, and history, but I saw them as less important. Their questions came with vague answers based on feelings and emotions or other very subjective foundations.

History was the worst of them all. Not only was it very subjective and most of the time one-sided, but history lessons were unforgivably boring. Even when I tried very hard to pay attention in class, I just couldn’t. To be honest I studied history just to pass tests. I didn’t think history had anything for me since it didn’t interest me in the least.

This was before Youtube, John Green, and even the History Channel.* For me history was dead and I never had a good teacher to bring it to life. Once in my freshman V. I. history class, I asked my high school history teacher why the Danish sold the Virgin Islands to the US. They sold three Caribbean islands for 25 million USD, which is not a lot. “What did the Danes get out of the deal, really?” I asked. My teacher responded with a curt, “That’s not going to be on the test, so don’t worry about it!”

This seemed like typical history teacher behavior. I felt their job was to get us through tests, where as science and math teachers were there to help us learn things. In high school I always got the feeling that most history teachers didn’t know much more than what was in the textbook. So, asking them anything too complicated was equivalent to harassment.

I did have some very bad history teachers. But I’m sure even the really good ones must ask themselves what the best way to get students interested in history are. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have found two. My methods would be hard to implement in a classroom setting, unfortunately.

*There was a time when I thought the “H” in the History Channel logo stood for “Hitler” because every other documentary they aired was about World War II. Then they started making really interesting shows like “The Universe” and airing non-World War II documentaries that were just down right fascinating. I would spend many Sunday afternoons watching documentary after documentary. They still have good stuff, but now, I think it’s better to watch their shows online where you can pick out the better shows. Ancient Aliens is entertaining and all, but there are only so many episodes of the show one can watch before it becomes repetitive.

Sometime after my sophomore year in college, I read a book. I liked it, so I read another one; then another one. I had read books before, but they were mostly books assigned to me by teachers or my mother. Once in a while someone would recommend a book to me and I would read it out of obligation. But, in my second year of college I started picking out my own books. I got a library card and I developed a taste for certain genres of literature.

I enjoyed biographies and historical fiction. I would read 3 or 4 books at the same time. There would be a book on CD in my car, a smaller book in my bag, a bigger book at my desk, and a more relaxing book to read before bed. Without realizing it, I began learning about the recent past. I learned about the Nation of Islam through The Autobiography of Malcolm X . I learned about life in China through many Amy Tan books. I learned about escaping a Russian gulag with The Long Walk. (Later I found out that a lot of that story was fabricated when I read Looking for Mr. Smith.)

I chose books because of some curiosity about a time, place, or person in history. Rather than learning about the past through a dry textbook, I saw the past through the eyes of people or characters. I had more of a feel of what life for that person was like. I could almost imagine being there myself and that these stories were distant memories.

After reading a book about one person in a time period and set in a place, I would read about another person in similar circumstances. This gave a more rounded view of events that felt a bit less one-sided than what my high school history classes offered. Take for example the books written about China during Mao’s rule. There are hundreds of them. Reading these biographies gave me more information about that time period than I could ever learn from just lectures. I could pick out any topic I liked and spend years reading up on them.

Traveling also helped me learn about history. Every city has a museum or two telling the stories of its past. But also, you begin to learn what the people who live there have known their whole lives. What is common knowledge about history to, say… a Korean, might be new information to other people who grew up elsewhere. Even if you did know more about the history of Korea, you will get a better hold of a Korean’s perspective after living in or visiting Korea.

Traveling and reading combined have taught me more about history and the world than high school ever did. Traveling to a certain city or town made me more  interested in that place’s history than in the history of areas I had not visited. Would I know as much about feudal Japan as I do if I hadn’t spent 7 years living in Japan? No. Was the Oxford Time series more exciting because I had lived in London once? Yes.

Before going to Cambodia, I knew a little about the genocide. There was an evil man named Pol Pot. He was an agrarian, like Mao, and believed that the country should be run by the peasants. He tried to kill all the intellectuals in the country. There was a ridiculous notion that intellectuals included anyone with glasses, anyone who had ever been outside Cambodia, and basically anyone of convenience.

I was vaguely aware of a place called the killing field. I didn’t know much about it. I just figured that many people died there. “Maybe, there was a mass shooting or something,” is what I thought. I would learn more after my trip to Phnom Penh.

Our first stop was at the Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S21. This used to be Chao Ponhea Yat High School. I walked through the place sadden that they turned a school into a prison of death and torture. The building still held many characteristics of schools in Japan where I taught. It even resembled my own high school in the Virgin Islands a little bit.

As I walked from one room to another, the museum told me stories of individual prisoners held here. None of the stories have happy endings. Almost all the prisoners died horrifically. Many did not die here, this was just where they were held and tortured. There are a few survivors, but they are far from lucky as most of their families did not survive the torture.

They were made to name others and to admit to the most insane things. They were forced to say they worked for the KGB, the CIA, and the Vietnamese all at the same time. The possibility of this would hurt the mind of anyone capable of logical reasoning. Almost no one here was guilty of the crimes they admitted to. No one deserved what happened to them here.

There were some rooms dedicated to the stories of some of the guards. Many of them were prisoners here too. Some were teenagers conscripted in the Khmer Rouge taken from their families who would never hear from them again. They too were forced, not to admit to crimes, but to torture their countrymen. Some of them did not last long as guards and found themselves shackled along side those they had helped torment. Many of the guards ended up with the same fate as most of the prisoners.

Listening to the audio guide that comes with the ticket.

The first thing I learned at the killing field was that there was no one killing field. There are many throughout Cambodia. Many towns and villages had one. There were over 300 killing fields in Cambodia.

The one in Phnom Penh called, Choeung Ek was once an orchard and a cemetery for Cambodians of Chinese ancestry. This was where many of the prisoners from S21 and other prisons around Phnom Penh ended up.

The guards, not wanting the victims to scream or yell, told them that they were being moved to a bigger prison. Some people from nearby villages who were under questioning were told that they were clear, but were being moved to another town for their safety. They were made to dig huge ditches.

At the site, you will see many tourists standing or sitting around the place. They are listening to the audio guide. It tells several stories about witnesses and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. The stories are very immersive and gives you information of the different sections in Choeung Ek. There are areas where visitors are sitting down and crying as they listen to Ros Kosal’s voice. Ros Kosal is himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and escaped the killing field. He lends his soothing voice to the audio guide along with others who tell their stories.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Choeung Ek was discovered to hold more than its expected old Chinese graves. The people were not buried very well and after heavy rain, many of them would surface. It took years to collect all the bodies. There are still more in the fields to this day and remains still get unearth after a hard rain. As I walked along the designated path I saw clothes and bones of victims.

According to Wikipedia, 8,895 people were buried here. They were placed in mass graves that many of them dug themselves before being murdered. They were not shot. That would have cost the government too much money to pay for all the bullets. These people were bludgeoned to death.

The guards used the same tools they had for farming and repeatedly hit the prisoners with them. Shovels, hoes, axes, sometimes even a simple bamboo stick was used. It took a lot of effort and hate for these guards to keep up the killings.

Some guards didn’t have what it took. Their hatred either waned or it was never there to begin with. If a guard was just working here to not become a prisoner himself, his lack of enthusiasm would show and his fellow guards would become suspicious. Sometimes, all it took was for the other guards to dislike a coworker for a guard to be labeled a spy. The guard would be beheaded and tossed in a mass grave dug for treasonous ex-Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge uniforms for women and men.

The government was so chaotic and so blood thirsty. Many Cambodians did not make it through the 70’s. A quarter of the population died in camps, from starvation, or from sickness because all the doctors were murdered. Being on the side of the Khmer Rouge was no guarantee that your life would be spared.

Unless you were firmly on the top. The head of this whole movement, “Brother Number One”, Pol Pot, never received any form of punishment. “Brother Number Two” a man by the name of Nuon Chea wasn’t held accountable for his actions until 2014. He was placed in jail in 2007 and received life in prison after a trial in 2014 along with Khieu Samphan, another Khmer Rouge official, for crimes committed in the 70’s.

Many of the officials running the S21 prison either received no punishment at all or very late in life. In the 80’s many of the people who had positions of power in the Khmer Rouge held legitimate power in the new government. The Khmer even kept their seat in the UN until 1982, which made it look like the world was okay with what had happened in Cambodia.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
(សារមន្ទីរឧក្រិដ្ឋកម្មប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍ទួលស្លែង)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.549347, 104.917658

Address:

  • St 113, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phone:

  • +855 93 388 988

Websites:

Cost:

  • 3 USD
  • 3 USD for an audio guide

Hours:

  • Daily 7:00 – 17:30

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • You can probably meet Chum Mey. He seems to hang out here signing his book and answering questions.
  • Bring lots of water.
  • Check the times for the movies and special lectures for the day.
  • There are a few rooms with some air conditioning.
    • One is a library where you can sit relax and take in all the things you’ve seen.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
(Killing Fields Of Pol Pot)
(មជ្ឈមណ្ឌល​ប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍​ជើងឯក)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.484441, 104.901967
  • You will need to take a tuk-tuk or get a tour bus.
    • The tour bus costs about 10USD per person.
    • The tuk-tuk should cost about 15USD for the ride.
      • 1-4 people can fit in the back of a tuk-tuk.

Address:

  • Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phone:

  • +855 23 305 371

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • 6USD with audio tour included
  • The tour bus costs about 10USD per person.
  • The tuk-tuk should cost about 15USD for the ride.
    • 1-4 people can fit in the back of a tuk-tuk.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 17:00 daily

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The audio tour is very good.
    • You might start crying.
  • There is a museum that your ticket covers. There is air conditioning in the movie room there.

Map:

Posted in Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Travel Tips for Vietnam

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 30, 2017

2017

You have to bring:

  • Prescription medication.

Everything else can easily be bought in Vietnam for a lot cheaper than back home.

Would you rather carry up a backpack or a suitcase?

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage
    • Bring a backpack instead of a suitcase. Many hostels and hotels don’t have elevators making suitcases, even carry-on spinners, awkward to handle.
    • A backpack can be purchased in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City for a faction of the usual price.
      • Look at several shops that sell just backpacks before buying a pack.
    • You could bring just any old duffel bag and throw it away when you buy a backpack here.
  2. Clothes
    • You can buy lots of clothes here at a fraction of the usual price.
      • Larger sizes are harder to find. So, if you are taller or chubbier than average I would not depend too heavily on finding lots of clothes.
      • Many pants are unisex and one size fits most.
    • You might not find your usual style.
      • You will look like every other backpacker, unless you shop at malls which only carry smaller sizes and have less discounted prices.
    • You will need to have at least one short sleeved (non-tank top) shirt and one pair of shorts or a skirt that covers your knees to enter some temples. This is true for men and women.
  3. Towel (not needed)
    • All hotels and hostels provided guests with towels. Some, not all, even provided 2 towels, one for showers and one for the beach.
    • You might bring a towel for use at the beach.
  4. Shampoo (not needed), conditioner, and body wash (not needed)
    • All hotels and hostels provided guests with shampoo and body wash.
      • Sometimes I didn’t like the shampoo or body wash so I bought my own.
    • You are never given conditioner.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in Vietnam.
      • You can find many popular brands like Dove, Pantene, Finesse, and Lux.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant
    • You can find this here, but the brand selection is limited.
      • It’s mostly Dove, Nivea, and other brands I’ve never heard of.
  6. Sunscreen
    • It’s mostly Banana Boat and Nivea.
    • Many (not he Banana Boat brand) come with “skin whitening” (whatever that means).
    • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and suncreen at a convenience store, but they will be cheaper at grocery stores. Grocery stores will have more variety, too.
  7. Over the counter medicine
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone

General Tips:

Walking slowly will cause a taxi driver to ask if you need a ride.

Taxis:

  • They are all metered and cannot be turned on without turning on the meter.
    • In the past taxi driver’s in Vietnam were very sketchy, but the government intervened.
  • People say that Uber is cheaper, but taxis here are very cheap and it’s so damn easy to hail a cab.
    • You can stop one accidentally by waving to a friend, scratching your head, or standing on the sidewalk for too long.
  • Some cabs come with free wi-fi.
  • The bigger the cab, the more expensive it is. (They are all pretty cheap, though.)

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
    • HSBC (free I think) and TechCom (66,000VND ~ 3USD) Bank has the lowest rate.
  • Exchange money at banks.

Scams:

  • No scams in particular.
  • Just watch out for overpriced things.
    • Even overpriced items are cheap when compared to prices back home.
    • Overall, almost everything in Vietnam is inexpensive. I had to used the phrase “expensive for Vietnam” to clarify the prices of things.

Visa:

  • If you need a visa to enter (Americans do) get a visa beforehand to save time.
    • Visa at the airport (you did nothing beforehand) — 2 to 3 hour wait or denied entry.
    • E-visa — 15 minutes.
    • completed vise — no wait

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 »

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 25, 2017

Friday May 5th – 9th, 2017

What are you going to do?

Before leaving Mui Ne I asked my new friend Mimmu what her plans in Ho Chi Minh was. “I don’t know. I think I will find a frozen yogurt place then wait for you guys to plan something. Then I will follow you.”

I looked at her suspiciously. “Really? Because I was going to ask if Mark and I could tag along with what ever plans you come up with.”

One problem with long term travel is the constant planning. We go to a new city or town and have to think of things to do. If we’re lucky, the city is known for something. “If you go to Paris, see the Eiffel Tower.” “In Rome? See the Colosseum.” But what happens when you go to, say… Ho Chi Minh City?

Instead of lollipops we get fruity drinks, ’cause we’re adults!

I. Get Shots

We started our RTW Trip vaccines in Japan. By May it was time for the next round of shots. We first went to the Institut Pasteur in Nha Trang, but I got freaked out when I saw the doctor treat patient after patient without washing his hands, using gloves, or using alcohol to clean the area where the shot was given. Even though we had signed up for shots, I grabbed Mark and ran out of the clinic before seeing a doctor.

Back at the hostel, I talked with a doctor. Well, he wasn’t a doctor-doctor. He was a doctor on paper. He had his degree; he just hadn’t done his residency yet. He would do that after backpacking through South East Asia. He told me, that it was better to get the shot than not, even if the doctor didn’t ever wash his hands or use gloves. He did suggest that I bring my own alcohol wipes and clean my arm myself if the doctor didn’t.

Rather than go back to Nha Trang’s Pasteur clinic, we went to Ho Chi Minh’s. They didn’t use gloves or do any hand washing there either, but they did slather bales of cotton soaked in alcohol on each and every arm before and after each shot, so there was some measure of comfort.

II. Go see some statues

I called Mimmu to ask her if she made it safely to HCMC and what her plans for the next day were.

“I got in Yesterday,” she messaged me. “But, I have no plans. You said you would be the one making the plans.”

“Did I?” That didn’t sound like me. I messaged her back, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. How else do you explain the fact that I have made no plans for myself?”

I couldn’t explain. “Well, then… why don’t we… see some… ummm…. statues?”

Mimmu thought it sounded like a wonderful idea. She let me have 2 hours to put the whole tour together while she terrorized some Japanese girls in her dorm with her in-your-face Finnishness. What exactly Mimmu did, I’m not sure (and neither was she), but she assured me that one of the girls seemed dreadfully afraid of her every time she entered the room.

So, I went on google maps and made a walking tour. I tried to gather as much information as I could, but it was only 2 hours. And while Mimmu was inadvertently harassing her roommates, I spent about half an hour getting to know one of mine and had invited her to join my badly planned tour.

In the end, we all had a wonderful time walking around the city. We posed here and there and everywhere while asking each other about life back home. “Have you ever toured Paris?” I asked Gabriel, my roommate from France.

“No,” she said. “I live there, so I don’t go sightseeing. That’s for tourists. Have you ever toured Tampere?” She asked Mimmu to prove her point.

“No, there is nothing to see there,” Mimmu answered.

“That’s true,” I agreed. “I’ve been there. Everyone had left town and everything was closed.”

Mimmu nodded thinking fondly of her home.

III. Learn about history, see a garden and a sad zoo, then do some shopping

This day, Mark did the planning. He picked a history museum and a botanical garden. The museum was nice, but the botanical garden turned out to also be a zoo. The zoo didn’t take care of its animals very well. We had to leave when it got too depressing looking at scrawny, mangy lions and other animals that were locked up in cages too small for them.

We made our way to the Ben Thanh Market. It had a vast array of things for sale. We walked around while all the shop keepers tried to entice us to buy their products. It was very crowded and the sales people were very aggressive. None of us wanted to buy anything, we just wanted to look around, but no one would leave us in peace. We didn’t stay long.

We found ourselves at Sense Market. It was a smaller, better organized version of Ben Thanh Market with part of a western styled mall thrown in for comfort. We ate dinner there then looked around at the stalls. There was still pushy shop keepers calling to us, but they weren’t too aggressive.

Twice!

IV. Eat 

I made a food tour. I had a list of foods to try in Vietnam. I still had a few items on the list that I hadn’t eaten yet. I wanted to knock them all off in one day. I didn’t find all the places; some restaurants aren’t where google maps say they are. But I found all the dishes even if I had to get them from alternative shops. We didn’t have breakfast or lunch. We ate here and there and there and here.

V. Remember war is hell

In the afternoon we visited the War Remnants Museum. The place is depressing, it’s heavy, it’s awful, and, unfortunately, it’s very necessary. War is not glamorous. It is not heroic. It’s seldom black and white. There is never a real winner. There are always many losers, even years and decades afterwards. Usually, everybody is in the wrong, some more than others.

VI. Eat Bun Cha

I know. It’s a Hanoi dish. But, it’s my favorite Vietnamese food. This was the last thing I ate in Vietnam before getting on a bus to Cambodia. There are many places in HCMC that serve Hanoi style bun cha and I tried as many of them as I could find. They were all delicious. When I go back to Vietnam, bun cha will be the first thing I 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.

Ho Chi Minh City 
(Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)

How to get there:

  • 10°49’24.2″N 106°37’48.3″E

You can get here by train, plane, boat, or bus.

Airport –

The Train –
Long Distance Bus Stations –
  • Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station – This one is downtown and near many tourist sites and hotels.
  • Mien Dong Bus Station – Buses to and from northern destinations
  • Mien Tay Bus Station
  • Cholon Bus Station

Website:

Videos:


Institut Pasteur in Ho Chi Minh City

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.786372, 106.688647

Address:

  • P. 8,, 167 Pasteur, phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3823 0352

Websites:

Cost:

  • The shots I got cost 755,000d or 33USD.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 17:00 Everyday
  • Go early!

Notes:

  • I went there for Hep A&B, Japanese encephalitis, and Typhoid vaccines, not medical care.
    • What I got cost 755,000d or 33USD.
    • There might be other vaccines, but these were all I asked for.
  • From start to finish my whole visit took 45 minutes.
  • The person giving the shots did not wear gloves or wash his hands between serving different patients.
  • Tips:
    • Get there early.
    • Bring a hand fan and some ice water.
    • Bring enough cash.

Statues of Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour

How to get there:

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 2 to 2.5 hours
  • More if you get lost. Less if you run.

Notes:

  • There are other statues along the way, but I don’t have any information about them.

Phuoc Hai Temple
Jade Emperor Pagoda

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.792044, 106.698005

Address:

  • 73 Mai Thi Luu St., Dakao Ward, District 1, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3820 3102

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • Sunrise to whenever it closes

Notes:


Vietnam History Museum

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.787952, 106.704844

Address:

  • 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • 15,000d

Hours:

  • Closed Mondays
  • 8:00 – 11:30 & 13:30 – 17:00

Notes:

  • Most of this museum is not air conditioned.

Saigon Zoo And Botanical Garden

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.787304, 106.705301

Address:

  • 5, 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, TP. Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3829 1425

Notes:

  • This place has very little garden; it’s mostly a zoo.
  • This is a terrible zoo. The animals are not treated very well.

Ben Thanh Market

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.771929, 106.698358

Address:

  • Công trường Quách Thị Trang, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Thành Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free entry
  • Then haggle haggle haggle after that

Hours:

  • Daily 6:00 –24:00 unless it’s closed at 19:00 for “reasons”.

Notes:

  • This place is very crowded.
  • The sales people are quite pushy.

Sense Market

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.769280, 106.693742

Address:

  • 04 Pham Ngu Lao, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Ho Chi Minh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3836 4057

Websites:

Cost:

  • There are shops with reasonable set prices and stalls where you can haggle.

Hours:

  • 8:30 – 20:30

Notes:

  • For those who don’t like crowds or very pushy sales people, this is a great alternative to Ben Thanh Market.
  • The food court, which is more like a regular western food court, is quite nice.
    • Delicious affordable food.

Walking Food Tour of Ho Chi Minh City

How to get there:

  • Goi Cuon Thai Binh for Goi Cuon (Spring Roll)
    • Couldn’t find this particular stall, but we found another one that served goi cuon.
    • It was delicious, but I didn’t like the dipping sauce.
  • Banh Cuon Hai Nam for Banh Cuon (Savory rice cake rolls
    • This was the most delicious thing I tried on this tour.
    • I still have cravings for these treats months after leaving Vietnam.
  • Bánh khọt Cô Ba Vũng Tàu for Banh Khot (small savory pancakes)
    • The pancakes were overpriced here. You could go to many other places for better prices.
    • The pancakes were delicious.
  • Some random convenience store for charcoal ice cream.
    • Very delicious. Not sure how long this will be offered.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Most of these dishes were very inexpensive and for the one exception, there is a better and inexpensive version.

Hours:

  • various

Notes:

  • I tried to keep things simple and inexpensive.
  • I only went to the fancy mini pancake place because, looking at it online, I didn’t realize how expensive it would.

War Remnants Museum

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.779475°N 106.692132°E

Address:

  • 28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3930 5587

Websites:

Downloads:

e-mail:

  • warrmhcm@gmail.com

Cost:

Hours:

Notes:

  • War is depressing. This museum is heavy, but very imformative.

Bun Cha 145

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.766321, 106.691710

Address:

  • 145 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh, phường Phạm Ngũ Lão Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3837 3474

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 20:00

Notes:

Map:

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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 »

 
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