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One World in One Lifetime

Archive for May, 2009

Bad Taxi Driver!

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 21, 2009

June 1-4, 2008

All Pictures

A rainy day in Ho Chi Minh City

So Long, Farewell…

The last few days in Vietnam were bitter-sweet for me. I knew that in a few days I would be heading back to China and then to countries I had only dreamed about visiting. I would also see my brother and mother. It had been almost a year since I’d seen my brother and about six months since I’d seen my mom. But at the same time, I would have to say good-bye to my new friends. I would probably never see them again.

eating Pho in Ho Chi Minh City

We spent our first day back in Ho Chi Minh shopping. We bought cheap jewelry and lovely trinkets. Dong is worthless outside of Vietnam and no one will change dong back into dollars. So, anything that caught our fancy, we bought. It started to rain, but we just put on our rain ponchos and kept going.

The next day, two of the ladies left to go back to their homes in Europe. The day after that, another one left to continue her tour of Asia in Cambodia. I was the last to leave.

My flight to Beijing was on the morning of the fourth. It was an early morning flight, so I woke up before the sun rose in order to pay my hotel bill and waited for a taxi. The front desk clerk called one for me. When the taxi arrived, the door man help me into the cab.

He put my backpack in the trunk and told me that the ride shouldn’t cost more than 100,000 dong. I already knew that the ride should cost about $5, because I had asked many agents and other tourists about it. I even made sure to set aside double that, to make sure I could get to the airport alright as well as to give the cab driver a nice tip.

A Street Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

To me, the price didn’t really matter, I planned to give the cabbie all the dong I had left which was about 300,000 dong. The ride lasted about 8 minutes, but even from the start I knew something was wrong with the cab’s meter.

The meter started at 50,000 dong. When it hit 100,000 dong I looked back; I could still easily see my hotel out the rear window. When we got to the airport, the meter said 382,000 dong! I didn’t have that much money on me.

I handed him a 100,000 dong note. He waved his arms furiously, refusing to take it and pointed at the meter. I told him that the hotel man said it should cost less than 100,000 dong and that was all he was going to get.

He took my money and folded his arms. He wasn’t going to move until I paid his full amount. I told him that I wanted my backpack and pointed to the trunk of the car. He ignored me. I was not going to get out of the car and give this man the opportunity to drive off with my stuff.

During my trip I noticed that people in Vietnam like to shout a lot and I figure I would try it. I sat back in my seat and I screamed at him, “I want my bag NOW!”

He turned around looking quite shocked. I had yelled so loud, all the people standing outside the airport turned around to look at me. I opened my mouth, about to yell again, but he was already out of the car. He ran to the back of the taxi to get my bag for me. Once he was standing on the sidewalk with my backpack in hand, I got out the vehicle.

He handed me my bag. I put my arms through the straps, turn to him and politely said, “Thank you.”  I did drag him along for a bit when I walked away because he didn’t let go of my bag. But he couldn’t hold on forever.

I reached Peking 7 hours later and ended up giving my useless dong to the people affected by the earthquake. They took up a collection on Dragon Air.

Shopping in Ho Chi Minh

The Tourist Rate

I usually don’t mind paying the tourist rate for things. As a tourist, I pay more for items sold on the street than a local would. It’s a bit unfair, but the things bought in South East Asia are still pretty cheap even with a price hike. A dollar might not mean that much to an American, but its worth a lot to that vendor.

I think it’s more about how the vendor makes you feel that determines whether or not you really feel scammed. Let’s face it, it’s all a scam. Tourists will always pay way more than the locals and not just in South East Asia. But were you charmed out of your money or intimidated out of it? Did you feel you had a choice to say no?

What I hate is when I’m backed into a corner and I have to pay an unfair amount. That taxi driver looked at me. I was a female traveling alone. He probably thought I didn’t know any better and even if I did, I would be too scared to not pay his overpriced charges. I was already given the ride; I had to pay, right?

I don’t mind paying 20% extra for fruit from a vendor who walks all day in the hot sun to feed her family when I choose to. If I feel the price is too much I walk away; there’s no feeling that I’m going to get in trouble or hurt if I don’t buy anything. But I will not pay 282% extra to an obnoxious cab driver for an 8 minute ride, in a cab with an obviously broken meter, who is trying to bully me into to over paying.

I understand that maybe this cab driver also has a family to feed. Maybe he even has more bills to pay because he also has a car to take care of. I don’t even mind the cab drivers that claim to not have any change. If the change is not too large I just let him or her keep it. It’s a bit cheeky, but there no feeling of being threatened. I just didn’t like to feel intimidated. I knew how much the fare should have cost and he was charging me almost three times that and there was no negotiating or walking away. Well, there was some walking away because that’s what I did.

And I was going to give him all the dong I had…

All Pictures


 

 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

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:

Posted in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Endless boating

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 21, 2009

May 30-31,2008

All Pictures

boating on the Me Kong Delta

Phở Away From Home

We finally decided on a Mekong Delta tour. We left our big backpacks at the front desk of our hotel back in Ho Chi Minh City. Since we were coming back, the hotel staff agreed to hold them for us. I also left most of my money in the hotel’s safe. We then had a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of phở at one of the many phở restaurants before starting the day.

Phở is also eaten for lunch and dinner in Vietnam. But it’s all the rave as breakfast.

getting cozy with a snake along the Me Kong Delta

Another Tourist Trap

On the tour, we were taken to several places where we could buy stuff like coconut candy or things made from bamboo. There were countless opportunities for me to waste my money. This is probably why the tour was so cheap. At one point, we were driven around by a poor tiny horse. There were 7 of us in the carriage and the man kept trying to get the horse to go faster. The horse took us to a place where we had free honey and tea and we could get our pictures taken while holding a snake.

At our home stay along the Mekong Delta

We just want to talk.

My group and I paid the extra money for a family stay. We thought that we would sleep in a bungalow near a Vietnamese family’s house and we would eat and socialize with our host family. That was exactly what we got, except that the family never seemed to want to talk to us. Other than at meal times, we never saw them. They were nice to us and cooked us very delicious meals, but we all got the feeling that they really didn’t like us.

Free tea with honey along the Mekong Delta

Water water everywhere, but not a place to pee.

The next day on our tour, they boated us around the Mekong Delta from one place to another to buy more souvenirs and to look at things on the water. Just when we were all thoroughly sea sick and on the verge of tossing our cookies into the river, they let us go and we were able to stand on dry land again. There was a mad dash for the pay toilet.

One of the ladies on our tours who got to the bathroom first didn’t have exact change for the bathroom. Even though there was clearly plenty of change in the valet’s tin, the lady was denied her change. “Well, then I will pay for all my friends,” she shouted back to us. “Ladies, this pee is on me!”

After our free pee we got on our bus and headed back to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course no long tour bus ride in Vietnam would be complete without several stops at gift shops to purchase everything from candy to nonsensical items like hundred-pound stone lawn statues.

It seemed to me that people go to the Mekong Delta to say that they’ve been there. There isn’t a whole lot to do on the swampy land but look at it and buy crappy coconut candy.

All Pictures


 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

The Mekong Delta
(đồng bằng sông Cửu Long)

How to get there:

  • 10°10’24.3″N 106°08’12.5″E

You can take a bus there or go with a tour group. Unless you have something particular to see, I recommend taking a tour group. Ask other tourists who have been there what group they went with, what it included, and how much they paid.

There are tons of agencies all over Vietnam that you can book a tour with. Shop around and do not ever feel pressured into buying a tour. Remember there is a high agency to tourist ratio in southeast Asia.

And as always, if something seems shady, go somewhere else.

Notes:

  • You might not want to stay here for too long.
    • You can’t swim in the water… well you can, you just might not want to.
    • The bugs are really vicious in some seasons.
    • And, it is freakishly hot!
  • The extra money you pay for the home stay, might not be worth it. Try to find people who have done the home stay and ask them about their tour.
  • Never go anywhere in Vietnam, southeast Asia, or the world for that matter without your own soft TPPurell, and coins to pay to get into the bathroom.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

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

Scooters, naps, and PJs

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 21, 2009

May 28-29, 2008

All Pictures

Taking a self-guided tour of Saigon with new friends

Leaving Paradise

There were four of us from Paradise Resort that were going to Ho Chi Minh City, so we decided to travel together. We left Paradise and spent a short time in Nha Trang. We reserved our train tickets from the travel agent that the owner of the resort recommended. The agency wasn’t all that great.

The lady there was a bit rude to my friends and me. We bought the train tickets with no problem, but then she tried to trick one of my new friends into buying an overpriced visa to Cambodia. The lady lied, by telling my friend that a visa cannot be bought at the border. Then she tried to pressure us into buying a package tour of the Mekong Delta, but refused to tell us what was included in the tour unless we paid first.

on the train to Ho Chi Minh City

We walked around Nha Trang for a few hours sampling street food and browsing in a very nice book store with no books in English. When we went to pick up and pay for our tickets, we ran into a couple who had left Paradise a few days before. They joined our group to Ho Chi Minh City.

Picking a hotel

Saigon

We all boarded the train and talked about our plans for our time in the city that used to be known as Saigon. The choice was between the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Since I am a bit claustrophobic, I had very little interest in wandering around a cramped underground labyrinth.

Once we got to Ho Chi Minh City, it was easy to find accommodations. We stood on the sidewalk in the part of town we wanted to stay. We put all our packs in a pile and as we were about to plan our next move, the hotel guards started to approach us. Guard A from Hotel A offered us a price. We turned to guard B from Hotel B and asked him if he could beat Hotel A’s price. In the end, we went with a really fancy, yet forgettable hotel because it gave us the best deal and it came with free internet.

Most hotels, but not all, in Vietnam have free internet for guests.

Using the Lonely Planet walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City

We did a walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City courtesy of the Lonely Planet: Vietnam. On our tour we saw lots of the sights the city had to offer.

Since most of the things I did on this leg of my trip were planned and executed by other people, I don’t have the information about them like I usually do. I didn’t have this blog back then and I didn’t take notes.

While traveling in Vietnam I did noticed three things about the city dwellers.

Napping on a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City

1. People sleep any and everywhere.

Naps are very important and you should do it wherever and whenever you feel the need to snooze. The most popular type of nap in Saigon is the scooter or motor bike nap. There’s also the hammock in a bus nap, the butcher’s meat cutting table nap, the park bench nap, the sidewalk nap, the chair nap, and many more! This inspired me to make a special album called Naps Around the World.

2. People love to pile stuff onto their scooters.

How many family members can you get on your bike? Just five you say?! You are going to have to improve your motorbike stacking skills. You could at least try to get some dogs on there! How about 4 or 5 fat pigs, a chicken, and a couple boxes of geese? I’m sure grandma wouldn’t mind holding onto a TV or two as you speed down the dirt road at a whooping 35 mph. While she’s got the TVs your nephew can hold on to your week’s worth of recycling. You should also never leave home without a few empty cardboard boxes to pick up anything else that might catch your eye. Remember, the key is to never have empty hands aboard you scooter. Everyone must do their part.

3. Women love to wear pajamas outdoors.

They could be cotton, silk, or satin. They could come with or without cartoon characters. You don’t have to stop wearing your PJs when you get out of bed, or even when you leave your home. Neither do you have to wait until dusk to put them back on. Wear them to work. Wear them to school. Wear them to the temple. Wear them when you just need to go outside to yell at people. You have a fancy party to attend? Why not wear those silky pajamas you got for Christmas last year?

I ♥ Vietnam!!


 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

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:

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Paradise

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 20, 2009

May 19-27, 2008

All Pictures

Morning at Paradise Beach Resort

Reservations for one

For the first time ever, I planned ahead before going to Nha Trang. I looked online for a nice place to relax for a couple weeks and found it in Paradise Beach Resort in Doc Let. Then I made, dear I say it… reservations. I sent an email with my expected date and time of arrival.

This will most  likely never happen again. So take pictures now.

me and my bungalow

While traveling in Vietnam, I had heard stories of tourists who got into cabs and asked to be taken to Hotel A only to be told that either Hotel A is closed, Hotel B is better, or they are taken to Hotel B and told by the driver that it is Hotel A. The cab driver usually gets a commission from Hotel B to drop off naïve tourists.

You should travel with a picture of your hotel and its address if you have made reservations.

The Market in Doc Let

I knew that by the time my train pulled into the Nha Trang station I would have been on the train for over 24 hours and I would be in no mood to deal with dishonest or pushy cabbies. So in my email I asked the resort owner to have a taxi there waiting for me. Because of the low price of the lodging I knew that the taxi would not be free. The guy that was called had a deal with the hotel and charged me a flat rate of $20 for the hour-long drive to the resort.

Other guests who got their own taxis ended up paying two or three times what I paid. One cab driver who said he knew where the resort was got “lost” and demanded an unreasonable amount of money as a “getting lost” fee. The driver’s logic was that the place was so hard to find that he should be compensated for the extra time and gas he took locating the place. This would have been alright, if the driver had not stated at the beginning of the trip that he knew exactly where Paradise beach resort was and because of that statement he was chosen over other drivers.

Paradise Beach Resort, Vietnam

I still don’t want any pineapples!

When I got off the train, there were vendors galore! About twelve people tried to talk me into buying a pineapple before I made my way to the pushy cab drivers. Many of them tried to carry my backpack for me. I was successfully ignoring most of them when I saw a lonely looking man in the distance standing next to his van as if he were being punished by his grade school teacher. He was half-heartily holding up the most wonderful sign I had ever seen. It said, “Josie — Paradise”.

Enjoying the sunrise

Guest 1: And What did you do today?

Guest 2: Nothing.

Paradise was a great place because there was nothing to do; absolutely nothing to do. There was free internet there, but it seldom worked and it was really slow when it did. The resort was never crowded during my stay. When I first arrived there were five guests, including me. My days were spent eating, swimming, reading, and sleeping.

My day would start around 6 am. I would just lie in bed, then go for a swim. Sometimes I would wake up earlier to watch the sunrise. After swimming, I would go to the main building for breakfast. By 7:30 am, I would be full and would have met everyone staying at the resort. Everyone seemed to wake up early there. At breakfast, we would talk about traveling, the best spots at the resort for a nap, and how great it was to be there and not at an office or in school.

I would take a nap after breakfast, then read a bit and go swimming before lunch. All of this was done without the aid of a watch. The teenaged girls who worked there, walked around the resort at meal times, calling everyone to eat. After a while I stop caring about the time.

boating in Doc Let

In the evenings everyone would have dinner together. Since there was no TV to watch and nothing to do, we would all sit in the main hall after dinner and just talk. We would talk into the wee hours of the night, like 8 pm, and then head off to our beds.

I met all sorts of fun and interesting people there. I ended up traveling with 3 of them to Ho Chi Minh City. There was nothing eventful that happened while I was there, except for the day the Russians showed up, the two snorkeling trips, and the two times I went to the market with the owner.

When the Russians came everyone got blazing drunk and all the Russian women went on and on about how beautiful I was. I liked them! They kept wanting to buy me things, but there was nothing to buy. “If we were in Russia I would buy you a (insert Russian thing here) and you would like it so much.” “If we were in Moscow I would take you to “insert Russian restaurant here” and you could eat “insert Russian food here” until your head exploded.”

They only stayed for one chaotic and noisy day. Like a harmless storm they swept in, caused quite a stir, and swept out. Then the resort when back to being laid back and quite. For the next few days conversations started with, “You know Ivan said to me?” or “You know what Anya did once?” After about a week the Russians were forgotten.

…Oh, and the meals there were great. If you go there, try the salad. I would have stayed there for the salad alone! Everyone eats together, like one big or small family depending on how many people are there. There was always salad, a main dish or two, and fruit for dessert. Sometimes there was soup and once there was banana cake.

I left Paradise totally relax and unable to cope with the real world. It was hard to use a watch again.

All Pictures.


 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

Paradise Resort

How to get there:

  • 12°34’01.0″N 109°13’59.1″E
  • Go to Nha Trang, either to the train station or the airport and take a taxi from there.
  • It’s best to call the resort and have them reserve a taxi for you.
  • If you don’t, just know that the ride should cost about 20USD more or less. (about 15USD if you are going by motorbike.)

There is a bus, but I don’t have any information about that. (If you have information about the bus, please leave a comment.)

Cost:

The depends on the room. The one I had was 20USD per night for single; 15USD per person per night for double, and that was in 2008. The 20USD, or what ever rate you pay for your room, covers 3 meals a day.

Phone:

  • 084-58-670480

Website:

e-mail: paradise_doclech@hotmail.com

Notes:

  • Paradise is in the town of Doc Let, which is near Nha Trang. It takes one or so hours to drive to Doc Let from Nha Trang.
  • There is nothing to do here. The website advertises “internet services” but there really isn’t any. There is a slow dial-up connection in the owner’s office and if you ask nicely he’ll let you use it. But it’s not good for anything more than sending a quick email to family and friends to say you’re still alive.
  • Don’t expect to get any surfing done at the resort. There is an internet cafe within walking distance. But, keep in mind that on a really hot Vietnamese day, nothing is really within walking distance.
  • There are no TVs.
  • You can wash your clothes by hand or for a small fee you can pay one of the ladies to wash your clothes for you. They will do it by hand.
  • If you want to go into town (Doc Let), the owner will gladly give you a lift for free. He drives into town just about everyday in his WWII era jeep. Just be ready to leave when he’s ready and to head back to the resort when he heads back. If not, you can pay someone with a motorbike to take you to the resort. There’s always someone willing to make a quick buck, umm dong.
  • Bring some books and lots of sunblock.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Doc Let, Nha Trang, Vietnam | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Mangosteens & Rombutans

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 16, 2009

May 16, 2008

All Pictures

Ngoc Son Temple

Ahhh… The Mundane Life!

After my trip to Ha Long Bay, I had one more night in Hanoi. When backpacking I think it is important, every now and then, to spend a day doing nothing but wandering around the city aimlessly. I like to pretend that I live in whatever city I’m visiting and just do mundane things like read a book on a park bench or buy fruit.

Motor Bikes in Hanoi with a poster of Ho Chi Minh

No Thanks.

As I roamed Hanoi that day, I realized how impossible it is for anyone to just walk down the street quietly. I had to walk while constantly saying, “No, thanks”, “I don’t want any,” or “I already have one,” to all the street vendors. The most aggressive of the vendors, were the ladies who sell pineapples. During my short stay in Hanoi I would be chased for blocks by two or three of them at a time, whenever I went out. I can only eat so many pineapples before my mouth gets sore!

Rambutan

I had a long train ride to Nha Trang and I wanted some fruit to take with me on the journey. I wanted to try some new fruit. I can buy pineapples and oranges anywhere. I was dying to sink my teeth into some crazy, funky Vietnamese fruit that I had never tried before. I had seen ladies selling unique looking fruit as they walked down the street. They always seemed to just wiz right past me not giving me a second look. On my last day in Hanoi, I stopped one of them.

She had some sea-urchin looking fruits in one basket and small black round fruits in the other. The baskets were balanced on her back in a yoke-like device and she walked as if she were late for a very important meeting.

I had to grab her arm because she was going so fast. She stopped to look at me as if she thought I wanted to mug her. I asked her, “How much?” She didn’t understand me. I pointed to both baskets of fruits with both my index fingers at the same time.

She put down her yoke and handed me one of each. Again, I asked her how much it was. Then she took out a knife, cut the fruits open for me, handed them back to me, picked up her yoke and went along her way. I quickly ate both fruits and ran after her. By the time I caught up with again her she was selling a bag of the “sea urchin fruit” to a local woman. I pointed to the bag and then to myself to say, “I want some too.”

hiding atm machine

She seemed completely confused. “Why does this foreigner want to buy this common fruit when there are lots of pineapples around?” Of course, the pineapple ladies from all over Vietnam smelled a fruit buyer and had encircled me. I begged and pleaded for this lady to sell me her fruit while trying to shoo the pineapple people away. Finally she sold me a bag of “sea-urchin fruit”. I point to the basket of the other fruit and she flat-out said, “No.”

While I was paying her two motor bikes crashed into each other head on, spilling cases of Tiger beer into the street as a result. Both drivers were fine, and in the commotion I was able to sneak away from the pineapple people without them noticing.

on a train in Vietnam with my bag of fruit

You Own Me 10,000 Dong!

That evening, I left Hanoi for Nha Trang. When I got to the train station I showed my ticket to the uniformed lady at the door and she let me in. As soon as I was inside, some guy in a uniform came up to me, grabbed my ticket, and told me to follow him.

I noticed that his uniform was different from those of the station workers. So, I grabbed my ticket back from his clutches and headed for the train. There was only one train in the tiny station so it wasn’t difficult to guess which one was mine.

A train in Vietnam

I walked quickly, slipping through the crowd alongside the train to get to my car. The man chased after me. He was yelling at me and complained that he had shown me how to get to my train and now I owed him 10,000 dong.

I stopped and turned around to look at him. He was still running behind me and needed a little time to catch up. I told him, “Actually, you are following me. So YOU owe me 10,000 dong.” He didn’t think it was funny. He walked away feeling dejected and probably cursed me.

All Pictures


 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

Nha Trang
(Nha Trang)
About this sound

How to get there:

  • Nha Trang Railway Station 12°14’54.0″N 109°11’02.8″E

The cheapest thing to do is to take the train from Hanoi, or wherever you are, to Nha Trang. This is a 30 hour train ride.

You can buy your train tickets at any hotel, hostel, or shady looking travel agent selling on the sidewalk sitting on a cardboard box. Though I would recommend that you buy your ticket from a place that looks like it will be there again tomorrow.

There is also an airport in Nha Trang.

Website

Notes: 

I bought my train ticket through the Hanoi hotel in which I was staying, Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel.

Map:

Click for Google maps

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

Ha Long Bay

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 15, 2009

May 15, 2008

All Pictures

the junk

Overpaying and Getting Less

Through the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel, where I was staying, I booked a 2 day, 1 night trip to Ha Long Bay. Standard accommodations cost $45 and deluxe accommodations were $65. The price included transportation to and from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi, 4 meals, all the water and tea needed for the stay, kayaking, and sightseeing of one cave. Beer and soda could be bought on the boat. Deluxe accommodations came with an a/c room and more meat dishes with the meals.

In Vietnam I noticed that many prices were given in U.S. dollars or Euros. Some places even encouraged payment in these currencies. So, there is no need to change too much cash into dong.

a cave at Ha Long Bay

Most of the people on the boat booked their trip through the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel or one of the sister hotels. I had actually met two of the people, a father and daughter, on the trip back in my hotel lobby the day before.

There were two guys, however, who paid for the boat stay through an agency. They had to find their own transportation to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi and back. To add insult to injury, they paid $95 each for standard accommodations.

I didn’t think that the deluxe deal was worth it. There were only 2 people who had paid for better  accommodations, an Australian lady and me. There was a lot more meat with each meal, but we couldn’t eat it all and ended up sharing with everyone on the boat. At night, even though it was never hot, we cranked up the a/c to freezing and used extra blankets to justify paying $20 more than most of the other guests.

sea vendors

I don’t want undelicious cookies; I want batteries!

If you go out to Ha Long Bay there is no need to bring water, soda, beer, or horrible tasting cookies. There are more vendors rowing around selling these things than there are people willing to buy them.

No one wanted to buy any of that stuff because these items were for sale on our tour boats at lower prices. Plus the tour boats keep their drinks refrigerated. And you don’t have to yell over the side of a boat or haggle over prices.

You should, however, bring extra batteries, sunscreen, chocolate bars, and tasty snacks, because none of the vendors there will be selling any of these obviously sellable items.

All Pictures


 

 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

Ha Long Bay
(Vịnh Hạ Long)

How to get there:

  • 20°48’13.4″N 107°13’09.7″E

There are many companies that offer trips to Halong Bay from Hanoi and other cities in Vietnam. Just shop around and ask other tourists for their advice.

Cost:

65USD should get you an air conditioned room for a 1 night trip with a roommate for 2 days and one night. More than that and you are just being ripped off. It’s about 45USD for standard accommodations.

Don’t feel like you must shell out extra cash to pay for an a/c room on the boat. At night it gets pretty cool and all you need is a fan which comes with standard accommodations.

Transportation and food and water should come with the package as well as a few activities. Beer and extra activities will come with additional charges.

Website

Map:

Click here for Google maps

Posted in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Fun With Uncle Ho

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 15, 2009

May 14, 2008

All Pictures

Hanoi

No Dong

The bus dropped me off somewhere in Hanoi. I had no dong and no plans, but I met a cute couple from my bus. We chatted at one of the rest stops. They had reservations at a hotel in Hanoi and planned to take a taxi there. Since it would cost nothing extra for me to ride in their cab they told me that I could join them. Once again I would like to say that I love the name the Vietnamese picked for their currency!

Me and temples…

No Rooms

Once we got to their hotel, I was told that it was fully booked. The receptionist, who happened to also be the owner of the hotel told me that she and her sister owned another hotel. She called a guy who she referred to as “little brother” and told him to take me to the other hotel. I hopped on his scooter, shoved my afro into a helmet, and held onto my backpack. He took me to the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel.

When I got there, the receptionist, who happened to be the sister of the first lady, started to check me in. (I’m not sure if they were biologically sisters or just good friends.) When I told her that I didn’t have any dong, she said that it didn’t matter, “You pay when you check out. This not China!” I loved her instantly.

I ate dinner at the hotel because I could put that on my bill and pay it later. I even signed up for a few trips. I knew that I would find an ATM at some point before I planned to check out or at least stay until I found one. If all else failed I could pay in US dollars or Euros, both are welcomed if not preferred over the dong.

HSBC was my bank of choice. They have ATM’s in many countries. When I got money in Vietnam from an HSBC ATM, I paid no ATM fees. I have since closed my account at HSBC because it’s hard to talk to a human when I call. I have to know a hundred and one codes just to log in or call. And there was something else… oh this.

Uncle Ho’s House

Just to meet some people

In the hotel by the front desk, were posters of day and overnight trips. There was a book that had the trips laid out in detail, with prices for different levels of accommodations. One great thing about the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel was that the sisters who own it, also owned a junk on Ha Long Bay.

A trip to Ha Long Bay is a great way to get ripped off if you don’t know who to book your trip through.

I usually don’t like tours, but I was traveling alone and wanted to meet some people. There was also the additional benefit that while on a tour, I would not get lost. I picked one of the Hanoi City tours with tickets to see a water puppet show in the evening.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

We first went to The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Uncle Ho looked a bit creepy, but the man has been dead for almost 40 years. He was the first dead communist leader I had ever seen. I would end up seeing many more. Actually, only two. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il has still eluded me and it turns out that they eventually buried both Stalin and Evita Perón, not that Eva was a communist or a leader.

Next it was Ho Chi Minh’s vestige right next to the Mausoleum. I loved that the house he chose to live in was so modest with 3 or 4 BMWs parked out back. I’m sure it’s what the people wanted.

Our next stop was to the Ethnology Museum. It’s really not very interesting indoors. I really don’t care about the many races of Asians that live, or have lived in Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. Which means I care even less about each individual group’s pottery. To be honest I’m only impress by air-tight containers

But the grounds of the museum was interesting. There were many displays of housing for the plethora of peoples who peopled south-east Asia. Tourists are encouraged to climb in, on, up, and around the structures. And I did! Plus there were some very interesting fertility tombs. Though, I think that once you’re dead, you’re pretty much infertile for good.

We passed by a few forgettable temples. The only one that stood out in my mind was Ngoc Son Temple which was in the middle of the lake. There were some monks doing some serious praying that day, but I don’t know what for.

Dry Water Puppets

Then there was the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The water puppets show was all in Vietnamese and lasted 50 minutes. It got boring within the first 10 minutes, but the theater had air-conditioning so I stayed. It was worth all 20,000 Dong (2 dollars at the time) of the ticket price just to cool down!

All Pictures


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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

Hanoi
(Hà Nội)
About this sound

How to get there:

By Bus from Nanning, China –

The bus station is called Lang Dong Bus Station. You can get there from Nanning Train station by taking city bus #6. The city bus costs 2 Yuan. There might be more buses that go between the train station and the bus station, but the #6 is the one that I know.

Once at the bus station you can buy a ticket on the next available bus out. They seem to run every two hours or as they fill up. There will be empty seats on the Chinese bus because the bus in Vietnam is much smaller. You change buses at the border, so the drivers never leave the country. The ticket costs 150 Yuan.

The ride is about 7 hours, but it will seem longer than that once they start to play the horrible Vietnamese pop music and the guy next to you starts throwing up in the aisle. I heard the Hanoi-Nanning train is worse, though I can’t see how.

I recommend getting someone to write a note for you stating that you want bus tickets to Hanoi.

Website

Notes:

  • Make sure to bring your own pen. They do not have pens at any of the border controls and you will need to fill out a few forms.
  • Depending on what country you are from, you should get your visa before going to Vietnam.
    • As an America, I needed to have a visa before entering.

Hanoi Blue Sky

Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel
(Khách Sạn Hanoi Blue Sky)
The Golden Time Hostel*

How to get there:

Address:

2 Hàng Gà, Hà Noi, Hanoi, Vietnam

Phone:

  • 3923 0514
  • 3923 1849

Website

Videos:

Notes:

  • *While looking up information on The Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel, I noticed that the name has changed. They might have redecorated too.
  • You can book tours of Hanoi and to Ha Long Bay here.
  • They have free internet.
  • There is a restaurant in the hostel.
  • You can pay to have your laundry done here.
  • You don’t have to stay at Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel or any of the other sister hotels to book a trip or tours with them.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
(Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)

How to get there:

  • 21°02’11.6″N 105°50’05.5″E

It is about a 30 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. It shouldn’t cost too much to take a taxi, motorbike taxi, or a cyclo. You can also take bus #9 or #14.

Address:

5 Pho Ngoc Ha Hanoi, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 4 942 1061

Website

Cost:

  • It is free to enter, but you are not allowed to bring anything like a purse, camera, water bottle, etc in with you.
  • There are lockers you can rent for a fee. If you are on a tour, your tour guide will hold your stuff for you.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 11:00  Tues-Thur & Sat
Videos:

Notes: 

  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.

Museum of Ethnology
(Bảo tàng Dân tộc học Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • 21°02’22.6″N 105°47’52.9″E

The Museum is located in the Cau Giay district, twenty minutes by taxi from the city center. Take the #14 minibus which runs from Dinh Tien Hoang Street, north of Hoan Kiem lake, to the Nghia Tan stop a few blocks from the Museum.

Address:

Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay, Hano

Phone:

  • (84-4) 37562193

Website

Hours:

Everyday 8:30 – 17:30 except Mondays and Vietnam New Year’s day

Cost:

  • Adult – 25,000VND,
  • Kids – 5,000VND,
  • Kids under 6 – Free

Notes:

  • Don’t forget to check out the grounds.

Ngoc Son Temple
(Đền Ngọc Sơn)

How to get there:

  • 21°01’49.7″N 105°51’09.3″E

It’s the shrine in the middle of  Hoan Kiem Lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is in the tourist district of Hanoi. Most hostels or hotel worth visiting are within a walking distance of this lake.

If you have a hard time finding this place, just stop anyone walking around and ask them for directions.

Remember that you can get a free map from just about any hotel or hostel.

Cost:

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 17:00 everyday
Videos:

Notes:

  • It gets pretty hot in Hanoi during the day. It might be a good idea to walk around this place in the evening rather than in the middle of the day.
  • You could even end your walk with a visit to the water puppet theater. It has air conditioning!

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
(Múa rối nước)

How to get there:

  • 21°01’54.3″N 105°51’12.9″E

It is very near Hoan Kiem Lake. Ask anyone in the area and they will be able to point you in the right direction.

Address:

57b Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Hanoi – Vietnam

Phone:

  • (84) 4 39364335 or
  • 39364334 or
  • 38255450

Website

Cost:

  • About 1 USD
  • with an extra .50USD if you want to take photos.

Hours:

Shows last for about 50 minutes. The first show starts around 13:45 and the last around 20:00. There is a 9:30 show on Sunday mornings.

Notes:

It’s one of the few things in town with air conditioning!

Map:

Click here for Google maps

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

Crossing Over

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 13, 2009

May 13, 2008

All Pictures

The China-Vietnam Border

Want some Dong?

When I got to the Lang Dong Bus Station, a bus to Hanoi was just pulling out. I bought a ticket on the next bus and went downstairs to the KFC and had breakfast. I got some water and snacks from one of the “mini-mart” stands near the waiting area.

If you take this bus, make sure to use the bathroom before you get on. There is no bathroom on the bus and the first rest stop is a good 2 hours away.

I made sure that I was the first person on the bus. I might have even annoyed the gate attendant by constantly asking, “Can I get on the bus now?” I wanted a seat in the front row. If this bus were to crash, I wanted to see it coming.

Before we pulled out of the station they handed everyone a bottle of water and a barf bag. Then they played a Hong Kong action/comedy with English subtitles. I couldn’t watch it because reading on buses makes me nauseous, but at least it wasn’t one of those horrible loud music videos.

Before traveling to China I went to my bank in Korea and got some money changed into yuan, euros, and pounds. They didn’t have any dong or tögrög (Mongolian money). But at the border, right before going through the Chinese immigration check, there were money changers. They surrounded us and told us about the great rate they would give us. They spoke in Chinese, English, Vietnamese, and French.

I thought about changing some yuan into dong there, but there were so many of them and they were yelling at me all at once. It was a bit intimidating and I wasn’t sure about how legal changing money on the street was. (In many countries changing currency while not inside a bank is illegal.) So I entered Vietnam with no dong to my name.

I think one of the most enjoyable things about traveling in Vietnam is being able to constantly refer to their money as dong, which is pretty much what it’s worth.

A ride to the border

A Mad Rush

The Chinese border is on the eastern end of Pingxiang. There we got off the bus and into a glorified golf cart, provided by the bus company. It drove us up to the entrance of the Chinese immigration building. We went in, filled out a form, and stood in line. Everything was somewhat orderly.

When we came out the other end the “golf cart” was waiting for us. Some people chose to ride in the cart, others walked to the Vietnamese immigration check on the western end of Dong Dang. The cart cannot enter Vietnam, so those who rode in the cart had to walk part of the way anyhow.

In the Vietnamese immigration building it was a mad free for all. I had no idea what to do. I had to push and shove my way to the front of the crowd to ask questions. The man behind the glass window handed me a form to fill out. He didn’t say a word to me or even look up from his paper work. I had to hand in my passport along with the form.

The officer doesn’t just take your passport; you have to almost sneak it into the pile of passports on his desk. Anyone with a Vietnamese passport can jump the line by placing their passport on the top of the heap. There really isn’t an actual line, just a line-like form of chaos where people crowd around and yell until they get to go next.

I watched as he worked on his pile with my passport in the middle. Vietnamese people who had just arrived would toss their passports at him and quickly get it returned to them. Eventually my passport made its way to the top of the pile. When he was about to pick up my passport and check my visa to let me through, his co-worker plopped a mountain of passports on top of mine. That moved me to the back of the “line”.

I thought of some excuse, like, “I forgot to write the date” to get my passport back. I pretended to write something on the form and I put it back on top of the pile. This enabled me to skip all those people and move onto the next section of the immigration check.

This proves that I’m healthy.

Is the Doctor in?

Next was the health check. Vietnam wants to keep out contagious diseases so they do health checks to make sure that people don’t bring in any. They do this by charging you 2,000 Dong or 2 Yuan then giving you a piece of paper that says you’re healthy. There is no actual doctor nor is there any screening for any disease or virus; just a piece of paper.

Once I had my piece of paper an official pointed to a door and indicated that I was to go through it. I opened the door and walked in. Surprised to find myself outside I turned around to ask the official what to do next just in time to have the door slam in my face. It was locked. I checked to make sure I had my passport with the appropriate stamps. Everything seemed to be in order. I was in Vietnam, I guess…

After my unceremonious entrance into Vietnam I looked for my new bus. My old bus went back to Nanning taking the people who came in from Hanoi. I found the new bus. It was significantly smaller than the Chinese bus.

Because I was among the last to get on the bus, my new seat was in the last row next to a very fat man who kept trying to use me as a pillow when he wasn’t throwing up. How that man slept through all those pot holes and horrible, loud Vietnamese pop songs  I just don’t know. I do have a theory on why he threw up so much.

Just like the bus in China, the one in Vietnam also provided us with drinks. But instead of water, we were handed cans of… well, I’m still not sure what it was. It might not have even been a drink at all. It could have been soup or dessert. What ever it was, the picture on the can didn’t spark any feelings of thirst or hunger in me.

I handed mine to the fat man since he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his own wonky beverage. He showed his appreciation by chugging the drink in one go and smiling ecstatically afterwards. So, I guess his getting sick was, on some level, partly my fault. I made it up to him by unwillingly catching his head with my shoulder every time he dozed off.

All Pictures


 

 

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.

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 airport either in your country or in Vietnam. 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 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.

 

Hanoi
(Hà Nội)
About this sound

How to get there:

By Bus from Nanning –

The bus station is called Lang Dong Bus Station. You can get there from Nanning Train station by taking city bus #6. The city bus costs 2 Yuan. There might be more buses that go between the train station and the bus station, but the #6 is the one that I know.

Once at the bus station you can buy a ticket on the next available bus out. They seem to run every two hours or as they fill up. There will be empty seats on the Chinese bus because the bus in Vietnam is much smaller. You change buses at the border, so the drivers never leave the country. The ticket costs 150 Yuan.

The ride is about 7 hours, but it will seem longer than that once they start to play the horrible Vietnamese pop music and the guy next to you starts throwing up in the aisle. I heard the Hanoi-Nanning train is worse, though I can’t see how.

I recommend getting someone to write a note for you stating that you want bus tickets to Hanoi.

Website

Notes:

  • Make sure to bring your own pen. They do not have pens at any of the border controls and you will need to fill out a few forms.
  • Depending on what country you are from, you should get your visa before going to Vietnam.
    • As an American, I needed to have a visa before entering.

Map:

Click here for Google maps

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Posted in China, Dong Dang, Nanning, Pingxiang, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The People That You meet When You’re Walking Down the Street…

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 12, 2009

May 11-12, 2008

All Pictures

The People’s Monument by Rolex

The People That you meet When You’re Walking Down the Street…

Through the hostel where I was staying I was able to purchase a ticket on 6:59pm train to Nanning. This gave me a free day with nothing to do but wander the city.

Some of Chongqing looks like the ghetto. But there are very nice parts to the city. Downtown Chongqing is quite ritzy. In fact the monument in the middle of the shopping area is made by Rolex.

Downtown Chongqing

The people I met were very friendly. It seemed that anyone in town who could speak English came out to talk to me that day.

One Chinese guy, who travels to Vietnam often, walked around with me a bit and gave me advice on the must-sees in Hanoi. Another Chinese man sat and talked with me about the year he lived in Philadelphia. I spent most of the afternoon with a German guy who lived in Shanghai and was in Chongqing for vacation. He tried to get me to go with him to a beer garden, but I didn’t have time and I hate beer.

Chongqing train station

Well, what do you know?

When I got to Nanning it was late at night. My plan was to get to Vietnam as soon as possible. I left the train station and took the first nice-ish hotel I could find. Soon after, I regretted not going to a hostel. Although their English was just a little less than okay, the ladies at the front desk did not know enough about Nanning to be able to answer any of my questions.

I asked, “Where can I buy bus tickets to Hanoi?” They said, “We don’t know.”

The bus company had an office about two blocks away from the hotel. I couldn’t buy tickets there, but they gave me directions to the bus station. They also wrote a note for me in Chinese that said, “Please sell me a ticket on the next available bus to Hanoi.”

I asked, “Where can I find an internet café?” They said, “We don’t know.”

The internet café was three blocks away. This is when I learned about the earthquake. I was probably on the train at the time it hit.

Then the easiest question I asked was, “Where can I buy a bottle of water?” Again they didn’t know.

There was a mini-mart one block away from the hotel. They must see the store as they pass it everyday on their way to work. Or are they blindfolded and pushed out of a car that slows down a bit as it passes the hotel?

That was the last time I would ever stay in a hotel in China!

All Pictures


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Chongqing
(重庆)

How to get there:

  • You can get there by train, bus, plane, or boat.
  • 29°33’48.9″N 106°33’04.7″E

Videos:

Notes:

Bus 503

  • Use to go between the train station and Chaotianmen Gate (朝天门) near Chongqing Ying Bin Bus Station (重庆港迎宾汽车站).
  • Cost= 2 Yuan

Bus 120

  • Use to go between the train station and Chaotianmen Gate (朝天门) near Chongqing Ying Bin Bus Station (重庆港迎宾汽车站).
  • The #503 is a better choice when going to the train station because the #120 doesn’t stop in front of the station.
    • If you’ve gone through the tunnel, you’ve gone too far.
  • Cost= 1.o5 Yuan

Bus 608 –

  • Runs between the airport and Chongqing Ying Bin Bus Station (重庆港迎宾汽车站) near Chaotianmen Gate (朝天门).
  • Cost= 1 Yuan

Nanning
(南宁)

How to get there:

Plane –

Train –

There are also buses and boat into and out of Nanning.

Website

Notes:

Map:

Posted in China, Chongqing, Nanning | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Hell is in Beautiful China

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 12, 2009

May 10, 2008

All Pictures

The Gates of Hell

I’m Back!

On this trip I visited Chongqing for the second time. The last time I didn’t get a chance to see the Ghost City in Fengdu, so I had to go back. Lucky for me, Chongqing is almost on the way from Beijing to Hanoi.

Ghost Pirate?

A Really Great Place to Stay

I took a business card from the hostel in Beijing for another hostel in Chongqing. It had the directions on the back, but I still had a little trouble finding the place. It was great and the people there were very nice. Since I was the only female guess at the time, I got a room all to myself for about 5 USD a night!

On the train I managed to rip my backpack. When I asked at the front desk about a place where I could get it repaired they told me to leave the bag at the hostel and they would take care of it. When I got back from my day trip the hole was gone. The lady at the desk had fixed it herself and she didn’t charge me anything.

The mountain next to 丰都鬼城

Hell

The next day I went to see Taoist Hell. The bus ride to Fengdu is supposed to take 4 hours. Since this is China, you have to add in the extra time needed to wait for extra passengers to show up and for construction delays. It actually took about 5 hours to get there and 6 to return.

There was a rest stop along the way, but I didn’t know that. I thought that I had reached Fengdu. That is when I met the lady that saved my day. She showed me where the bathroom was then urged me to get back on the bus. She spoke very little English and I had forgotten my phrase book back in the hostel in Chongqing.

When we got back on the bus she sat beside me. She asked me where I was from, where I was going, and all the other standard questions. When she found out that I was going to the ghost city, she polled everyone on the bus until she found someone who lived near there to make sure I got to hell safely.

It was a bit difficult communicating where I was going. I drew several pictures of ghosts which didn’t communicate “City of the dead” very well. Either Chinese ghosts don’t look like western ghosts or I just have no artistic talent whatsoever.

What are they afraid of?

The Ghost City is very beautiful and there were only a few people visiting when I went. The gates of hell are up a mountain with a wonderful view of the Yangtze. I walked all the way up and took the ski lift down. I recommend doing the opposite.

I also recommend reading all the wonderful, not-so-good-English signs along the way. You will have to read some a couple of times before you understand what they are trying to say. Others you will never understand.

There were many statues and pictures of demons torturing souls. The painted demons were very beautiful. The tortured souls were very expressive. The view of the river was exquisite. It all made hell such a wonderful place.

Life in Hell

Let’s face it, it’s just the two of us.

When I was done I found only one taxi driver waiting at the entrance. He was just walking around in circles like he really wanted something to do. He seemed so happy to see me and asked me if I wanted to go to the dock.

This is a common cruise stop, so if you do not look Chinese the taxi drivers will assume that you are from a cruise and will take you to the dock unless you tell him otherwise.

I had the girl who brought me to hell write in Chinese on a piece of paper, “I would like to go to the Fengdu bus station and buy tickets to Chongqing.” I handed him the paper and got into his van. I talked him down from his original price, but I think we both knew that I would end up riding in his taxi. I had no other taxis to choose from and he had no other passengers to carry.

All Pictures


 

China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Fengdu (丰都县) &
the Ghost City (丰都鬼城)

How to get there:

  • 29°53’03.5″N 107°43’23.5″E

From Chongqing go to the Hongqing Ying Bin Bus Station (重庆港迎宾汽车站) near Chaotianmen Gate (朝天门).

Buy a ticket on a bus to Fengdu. One ticket one-way costs 66 Yuan. When you get to Fengdu you have to a take a minivan/taxi to the Ghost city. The cost of the taxi ride will depend on your negotiation skills.

Website:

Cost:

  • The Ghost city itself will cost 80 Yuan.
  •  If you don’t want to walk up or down the mountain it will cost 15 Yuan extra each way to use the ski lift.
Videos:

Notes:

  • I recommend using the ski lift up and walking down. You will definitely want to see the crazy stuff on the walk to/ from hell’s gate.
  • There are 2 sections of the Ghost City. The more interesting part is up the hill.
  • If you are visiting during the non-peak season you should make sure your taxi driver will come back to get you.

Map:

Click for Google maps

Posted in China, Fengdu | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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