A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam ...continued

rain 97 °F

Week 2 and 1/2

It rained the whole trip to Nha Trang, stopping momentarily as we walked to our hotel – Nha Trang Inn. Nice small hotel about a five minute walk from the beach. Rooms are basic, A/C cooled and the owner (Minh) is very helpful.

We had dinner at Omar’s (Indian) just down the street and we settled in for a good night sleep with hopes that tomorrow I would not still be feeling the effects of my “illness”

Friday – breakfast and a walk to check out the beach. We found an area right in front of the Louisiana Brewery which rented umbrellas with beach lounge chairs ($2 pp/pd)….great deal. We rented three and headed back to the hotel for beach attire. The scenery was beautiful – blue water with a backdrop that reminded me of Maui. Jim also liked the scenery – two Russian girls on lounges in front of us in their very small thong bikinis…that and beer made the day for Jim.
Relaxing in Nha Trang

Relaxing in Nha Trang

Saturday – We weren't sure when we’d have the chance so it was back to the beach!!! This time we started the day dressed in beach attire, had breakfast and got there early. Another beautiful day!!
Waiting for the train Nha Trang

Waiting for the train Nha Trang


Ridin' the Rails

Ridin' the Rails

Sunday through Thursday– Up really early for a 0645 train ride to Danang and from there a short van ride to Hoi An. Our original plan was to stay three nights in Hoi An with the possibility of extending our stay there or in Hanoi. We wanted to make sure that our hotel was nice before we made our decision and after just one day – we decided to extend. Lantern Hoi An was wonderful. The rooms were very nice, pool very refreshing and staff wonderful!!! We took a cooking class with Mr. Tai, ended up getting some clothes made from Mr. Lai and Brenda also found a cute couple who made nice silver jewelry. Add to that some really good food, we could not ask for more. Brenda headed out early one morning for an early bike ride to the beach and another day to snorkel at the Cham Islands.

View from above Hoi An

View from above Hoi An

Cooking Class with Mr Tai

Cooking Class with Mr Tai

Tomato Rose

Tomato Rose

Perfect spring rolls

Perfect spring rolls

Green Papaya Salad...yum!!

Green Papaya Salad...yum!!

Hoi An

Hoi An

Mr Tai and family

Mr Tai and family

Local food in Hoi An is some of my favorite – ok – I like just about all Vietnamese food but Crispy Pancakes and White Rose are high on my list.
Hoi An was a definite highlight of the trip.

Friday…off to Hanoi. The decision was to either take a 15 hour train ride for $70 or a 90 minute plane ride for $90…..no brainer there.
The flight to Hanoi was effortless with a driver from our hotel waiting for us.

We have decided (especially with three of us traveling) if our hostel/guesthouse/hotel is able to provide pick up and drop off service either to train station or airport…we’re taking it. It just makes things SO much easier and usually the same price or cheaper.

Our hotel in Hanoi was the Hanoi Glory Hotel. We booked it through our hotel in Hoi An and it was supposed to be as nice as the Lantern….it was ok but nowhere near as nice. It was centrally located in the Old Quarter and for just for a couple of nights with a trip to Halong Bay in the middle – it worked.
View from our room at Glory Hotel

View from our room at Glory Hotel

Hanoi - Old Quarter

Hanoi - Old Quarter

Saturday - Halong Bay was a nice trip. The ride out about 3 ½ hours – weather OK, the boat...not huge – about 20 people, bed pretty comfortable (though we were right over the bilge pump which went on and off all night). We woke to beautiful blue skies and Brenda got to see the “beautiful Halong Bay”. Breakfast and it was a slow cruise back to catch the bus back to Hanoi - short but sweet!!

Peg Pic ...Halong Bay Style

Peg Pic ...Halong Bay Style

Only way to eat prawns

Only way to eat prawns

Yummy fish served on our boat

Yummy fish served on our boat

Hang Sung Sot - Surprise Cave

Hang Sung Sot - Surprise Cave

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Sunrise over Halong Bay

Sunrise over Halong Bay

View from our boat

View from our boat

Brenda enjoying Halong Bay

Brenda enjoying Halong Bay

View while kayaking on Halong Bay

View while kayaking on Halong Bay

Full Moon over Halong Bay

Full Moon over Halong Bay

Sunday and Monday….Back to Hanoi and the weather was brutally HOT!!! so we spent the day enjoying good food and cold beer. My restaurant recommendations: Ying and Yang and Green Mango and any of the Gecko’s (which were abundant with cold beer and good food).

Posted by pjburke 08.30.2014 13:50 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Vietnam 2014 – South to North

rain 90 °F

I've been back almost a week...still feeling jet lag. Computer problems on my end made posting along the way difficult - sorry. Hope you enjoyed what are now (mostly) wonderful memories of our trip.

Thurs - 24 July 2014

Week 1

Another HUST Summer Camp session came to an end with the same mixed feelings as last year. We were excited to start new travels but sad to be saying “until we meet again” to our students and Wuhan. We know now that that statement is true.

Fresh was waiting in the lobby to say goodbye. We were originally told that TA's would not be able to go to the airport with us. Fortunately, that situation changed and we were traveling in a van not just a car. She was very happy to be able to go with us: always taking care of me.  The Wuhan International Airport is much smaller than the Domestic, so getting to our gate for our trip to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon or HCMC) was very easy. We flew through Bangkok and arrived in HCMC with the dark skies threatening rain.

With our “Invitation Letter” (obtained while we were still in the US) the VOA (Visa on Arrival) process was very easy. $45 and a passport photo in hand, we filled out the applications and within ten minutes our names were called. With visa in hand, we passed through immigration, picked up our bags and located our driver and it was off to Hotel Luan Vu. Even though it was 2330ish, Bien Vue (which is a major backpacker area) was hoppin’. No problem getting something to eat and a cold beer…holiday had begun.

Luan Vue Hotel

Luan Vue Hotel

Friday - Our stay in the HCMC area is a little chill time for us but adventure for Brenda. She headed off on moto tour of the city,which we did on a previous trip. JB had done his homework and found us a nice place for lunch: Temple Bar and then off for a little spa time at Glow. Oh..we're loving Luan Vue - staff is great and the beds are SOOOO comfy.

A rather tough decision was made today was to head home from our trip early. We got news from home that my Mom had fallen and after a short hospital stay and pacemaker tweak, she was heading to a rehab facility to regain her strength. I was receiving regular emails from friends (angels) at home who were checking in on her. BUT....I found that I really felt "home" was where I should be. Friends at home convinced me that I didn't need to rush home and that Mom was being well taken care of so while Brenda was out scooting around HCMC we made our return reservations for the same day (and on some of the same flights) that Brenda would be taking home on August 23rd.

Saturday, Brenda off today for a tour of the Chu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple – Jim and I relaxing…and it rained.

Sunday, we were all off to an overnight tour of the Mekong Delta area. Jim and I had traveled in this area back in 2009, coming into Vietnam from Cambodia. Brenda expressed an interest in the area and we wanted to see how things had/had not changed. Our 2009 trip was a three day tour, this one only an overnight but it was a good, quick overview staying in Can Tho and arriving back on Monday late for dinner and a quick night sleep…it’s off to Mui Ne in the am.

P and J on the Mekong

P and J on the Mekong

Mekong Riverboat

Mekong Riverboat

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue

Smile!!

Smile!!

Selling Veggies

Selling Veggies

Life on the Mekong

Life on the Mekong

Mekong Floating Market

Mekong Floating Market

Working on the Mekong

Working on the Mekong

Making rice paper

Making rice paper

Anytime...anywhere!!

Anytime...anywhere!!


Tuesday –Feeling sad to leave our comfy beds but our adventure continues. We headed off to Mui Ne (a small beach town east of HCMC). Travel entailed about 5 hours on sleeper bus which at first we were NOT excited about but ended up being much easier than regular bus. The bus let us off at Sunrise “something” Hotel– at first look we thought – this can’t be our hotel – too nice. .well it wasn’t. We had to get a cab to our hotel, a little north of the resort area: Sunrise Village Hotel – room nice, nice pool, nice people. B didn’t feel like dinner so Jim and I headed out and stopped at a BBQ/Hot Pot place. We were the only westerners except for another couple who were with a nice young Vietnamese lady who was either a guide (or friend). She helped us out with ordering –goat hot pot, the specialty. We also ordered a couple of beers. When they arrived they were warm (not good) but served with a bucket of ice. Can you see where this is leading??? Yes, another “rookie mistake”…DO NOT use ice delivered to you in a bucket – only cubed ice!!!!
Sunrise Beach Hotel

Sunrise Beach Hotel

Dinner was good going down…not so great coming back up. Within a few hours of dinner, I was sick, sick, sick. It was reminiscent of our first trip to Vietnam when I was convinced that I had Dengue Fever but most probably only had a little food poisoning along with dehydration… it really sucked then and was only a hair better this time. Symptoms lasted all night and Wednesday was a lost day for me. Fortunately(for me), it rained all day. B and J took off to explore a bit of the tourist area, had a few beers at a beautiful beachside hotel (or so I was told) and wandered back later in the afternoon, as I was starting to return to the land of the living. We used this off day as a planning day. Since it appeared that cancellation openings for the Orangutan trip were not going to materialize….

OK…back up – our original plans were to go to Vietnam and then to Borneo and take a klotok (small boat) into the jungle to see Orangutan in their native environment. Well, one company kept stringing us along with an apparent price increase which never materialized and neither did the reservation. We decided to check with another company but by that time it was too late – everything was booked but they would keep us on their cancellation list. So it was on to Plan B but we had to decide just what Plan B would be.

…. we decided to look for a side trip to fill in before we were scheduled to travel to Bali…what to do, what to do!! Jim had read in Lonely Planet about an area in West Java called Cianjur. It’s off the main tourist route and sounded like an interesting trip. Since, I was not feeling up to it, Brenda and Jim took the lead planning this portion of our trip. They emailed Cianjur Adventures, confirmed that there was room, got air reservations from Hanoi and also confirmed that we would be able to get our Visas on Arrival in Bandung Airport. For this portion of the trip, I’ll just be along for the ride!!

Thursday and I’m feeling much better. Today it's time to move on but before we needed to catch our bus I finally felt like a walk on the beach. The skies were threatening but no rain (at least not yet) and although our hotel is just about 60’ from the beach, it’s not a pretty stretch of land. As B and I ventured out around an old shack to the beach, we found the local fishermen (women) had just brought in the morning catch. It was pretty cool The boats were being brought up on the beach with the assistance of the small waves. The families would then collect the fish from the nests. The remaining task of refolding their nets kept them busy for quite a while. Hard work!!

Boats on the beach

Boats on the beach

Morning Catch

Morning Catch

It rained a bit more as we waited for the bus to take us up to Nha Trang. We were going to take the train, but that would mean an hour ride to Muoung Man and then a five to six hour train ride. Sometimes buses are just easier.

Waiting for the bus

Waiting for the bus

Posted by pjburke 08.30.2014 13:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Summer Camp

HUST 2014

sunny 96 °F

07 July 2014 – 23 July 2014

HUST Summer Camp

This year’s HUST Conversation English Classes with TFF (aka Summer Camp) was three weeks of great fun.

Brenda Rubacha and I, were again teaching partners – by design. Our feeling, when something works – don’t fiddle with it. We got together in AZ a couple of times to go over last year’s lesson plans. Most worked, some didn’t – we tweaked (not twerked) the fine points and were ready to go from day one.

School this year was the same as last’s – five days on, one off, five on, one off and five on. Having just one day off is rough but this year’s weather was nowhere near as hot as last year, plus most of the students now had A/C in their dorms. Really made a difference!!
Below you’ll find highlights from our three week session, with a few off time photos thrown in. Enjoy!!!

Week One

Koko in a role play

Koko in a role play

Reconnecting with former student Nicol

Reconnecting with former student Nicol

Celebrating birthdays

Celebrating birthdays

Shadow enjoying our first group mixer

Shadow enjoying our first group mixer

The beginning of new friendships!!!

The beginning of new friendships!!!


First Day off ...Raining .....Raining!!!

Jim..playing in the rain!!

Jim..playing in the rain!!

Greeting us on our river cruise

Greeting us on our river cruise

Week Two - More Fun

Student creations!!

Student creations!!

My Chinese name

My Chinese name

Patty and Wan

Patty and Wan


Exploring on our second day off

Dumplings, wontons etc - Wuhan Street Food

Dumplings, wontons etc - Wuhan Street Food

Xiao Long Bao - Wuhan Style

Xiao Long Bao - Wuhan Style

Jim's Class

Hellen, Eva and Syliva

Hellen, Eva and Syliva

Clement and friends having fun in Jim's Class

Clement and friends having fun in Jim's Class

Mike and Allen

Mike and Allen

Jim's students having some fun

Jim's students having some fun


Celebration!!! Our last day of Class.....

Linda - having a little fun

Linda - having a little fun

Enjoying our last time together

Enjoying our last time together

Talent show fun!!!

Talent show fun!!!

Jim's Class presents the Fisherman and his Wife

Jim's Class presents the Fisherman and his Wife

Florence leading our two class at the Talent Show

Florence leading our two class at the Talent Show

Class photo 2014

Class photo 2014

Dale - my Scottish brotha from anotha motha

Dale - my Scottish brotha from anotha motha

See you next year!!!!

See you next year!!!!

Last day.....Final lights out!!

Last day.....Final lights out!!

Me and Brenda... HUST Summer Camp 2014

Me and Brenda... HUST Summer Camp 2014

Posted by pjburke 08.08.2014 02:37 Archived in China Comments (4)

Reunion

sunny 90 °F

06 July 2014

Ok, one thing I didn’t miss about HUST is the beds….really hard but as in previous years I know I’ll get used to it.

Chinese buffet and noodle soup for breakfast – yup, we’re back at HUST.

Brenda, Wendi, Joy and Patty

Brenda, Wendi, Joy and Patty

Brenda and I met Joy and Wendi in the lobby. Charles (Jim’s TA from last year) was supposed to meet us but he didn’t wake up in time, so Jim begged off and it was just the girls for coffee. We walked up to the large open market and found a number of new businesses had been added to the courtyard area in the past year including (as I would later find out) the first McDonald’s on a university campus in China. We tried out a new “very western style” restaurant for refreshments and chatted for a long time. Finally we had to go – Joy’s parents were on their way to help her pack up her dorm and take her home. As luck would have it, we dawdled enough so that Joy’s parents were close by and I was fortunate to get the chance to meet them. We spoke through Joy as our translator –though we all seemed a little nervous, they are very nice. I told them that they have a lovely daughter and they should be very proud. I made her promise to tell them "exactly" my words. Hugs and fewer tears than last year, we said our farewells and bid each other safe travels and “until I see you in America!!”

Meeting Joy's Parents

Meeting Joy's Parents



As much as I was sad to see Joy go, both Brenda and I were looking forward to dinner that evening - a special dinner indeed!! Wendi had gotten in touch with our students from last year and found that a few would still be on campus.

Excited, surprised and touched were just a few of the words to express our feelings when we saw ten of our former students around a large table in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms. They looked great but not so much the college freshman we had last year but the, more mature, soon to be juniors.. but they were still our great, fun loving students. We talked and laughed until the dining staff had to ask us to leave which also reminded us that the alarm clock would ring early the next day for the start of class.

Thank you Wendi, Jerry, Nicol, Jeff, Nero, Jesse, Kevien, big and little Lance, Sam and Michael for such a special night!!!

Good to be back together!!

Good to be back together!!

Reunion with 2013 Students

Reunion with 2013 Students

Lance, Jeff and Kevein

Lance, Jeff and Kevein

Sam and Michael

Sam and Michael

Posted by pjburke 08.04.2014 22:54 Archived in China Comments (3)

Catching up ........

overcast 90 °F

03 August 2014

Well, it’s been a little more than a month since we landed in Asia. There has been an abundance of highs with a low or two sprinkled in which has made me appreciate those highs so much more.

On 01 July, an early (0545) flight from Tucson, through LAX, landed us in Shanghai as a rainy dusk was settling in over the city…a mere 24 hours later but a world apart. We’ve traveled on the Maglev (high speed train) from Pudong Airport on a previous trip but with two of us it’s not that much more expensive to take a taxi, so off we went with our “printed in Chinese” hostel address.

Note: so far this trip I’ve made a few “rookie” mistakes. You’ll find small notes throughout these next couple postings, highlighting these in hopes that they might help someone else not relive my mistakes.

BUT…I digress – we arrived at Shanghai Soho International Youth Hostel without incident. Our room is good sized, clean and the hostel is centrally located within a five minute walk to the closest metro station and (much to my happiness) about a ten minute walk to Huang Street which has our favorite xiao long bao shop, Yang’s. XLB is a good sized pork dumpling, about the size of a puffy golf ball. The dumplings are cooked in huge, flat pans so that when cooked the bottoms are crispy but the tops still chewy. These little delicious morsels are probably one of my most favorite Chinese foods. The surprise comes for the uninitiated when you bite in – there is a luscious, steaming hot broth inside that should be slurped out through a small hole in the top made with one’s chopstick. Unless of course one forgets, which will result in a small explosion, sending hot broth all over the front of the eater. I guarantee you, that will only happen once.

Shanghai Soho International Hostel

Shanghai Soho International Hostel

This is our third trip to China where we’ve used Shanghai as a little “get over jet lag” stop. We try and take it easy, stay up as late as possible our first night and then try NOT to sleep in or take afternoon naps. Normal weather in Shanghai this time of year is pretty rainy and hot...so this trip we revisited the Shanghai Museum, rested, grabbed a movie at the IMAX (Maleficent – would not recommend it), ate XLB and other yummy Chinese food and went to the local train station to get our tickets to Wuhan. After being stuck for 6-8 hours in Pudong due to rain delay last year, we decided that the train was the way to go.

Floating Beauty

Floating Beauty

Watching Water

Watching Water


Note: Rookie mistake about to occur.

We found out from the front desk at the hostel, where we could get our train tickets to Wuhan - Shanghai Southern Railway Station. Being pretty familiar with the metro system, it wasn’t a problem getting there. I knew which station we needed to leave from and where we were going to, what I didn’t do was to have the people at the hostel write that information in Chinese. There are times when I think my Chinese sounds pretty close but there are times when “close” is not good enough. We got to the train station and with the help of a nice gentleman, in a white shirt; we were directed to the “English Speaking” queue, asked for tickets, got tickets, paid for tickets and headed back to the hostel. BUT…something just didn’t seem right – I checked the tickets again and when I asked at the front desk to also check the tickets, I found out we were not going out of the train station that I thought we were…we weren’t even in the right city. MY BAD!! Back to the train station, at least now we know exactly where to go, WITH A NOTE IN CHINESE, got the new tickets from one line but had to go to a second window for our refund on our “mistake” tickets. Lesson learned!!

English Speaking Queue

English Speaking Queue

05 July and it’s off to Wuhan, home to Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) and our home for the next three weeks. We’re returning to HUST for the third time – Jim’s third time teaching and my second. A little background: the program with TFF (Teach for Friendship) provides teachers for a three week Conversational English Program (aka Summer Camp) for university students at HUST. Most Students are between freshman and sophomore year, though there is a smattering of different ages and grades. HUST is a leading science and tech school and one of China’s top 10.

It's early morning and we're off . Though the Hongqiao Train Station is HUGE, the process was effortless. The train was very clean and the seats very comfortable. I thought I had asked for first class seats but we paid for second and didn’t regret it. Five hours from start to finish with about a half dozen stops along the way. Waiting for us, when we arrived at Wuhan Station, were the smiling faces of Sia (Jim’s TA) and Fresh (my TA). Jim got quite a chuckle as the two girls tried (and succeeded) in carrying one of our bags – one on each end. I think it probably weighed about half as much as they did.

A short ride to HUST, check in was easy and we had just a short time to rest before meeting the other teachers for dinner.

One thing we did change this year was our accommodations, not the location but our room situation. Last year we discovered that two teachers trying to work out of one small room just did not work. I talked with our group leader this year and she assured me that since we were both teaching that we could each have our own rooms. It worked out so much better. Being just one room apart, I set up all my clothes, toiletries and teaching materials in “my” room but slept in his. As well as a sanctuary to plan quietly – it also served as a “snoring” escape room :-).

Our group leader, Nancy Lutz, had planned a dinner so that all the teachers, former and new had a chance to meet before classes got underway. Of the 20 teachers in the 2014 group, we knew about half: Nancy, Brenda (of course), Phil W, Phil F, David, Lynn, Pat, me, Jim and our friend, Linda L’ai (Jim’s longtime friend from Peace Corp days who we encouraged to apply this year). Adding to the mix were new and former TFF teachers, Linda, Andrea, Stacy, Anthony, Astrid, Elvire, Dale, Syndie, Lily (Pat’s granddaughter), Lillian and Olidia and Maggie from Texas.

While it was nice getting together with the teachers, the highlight of my day was slipping away from dinner to meet with Joy, my TA from last year. We’d been in touch and I was very excited to see her for many reasons, the main one being that, soon, she will be much closer than 7,000 miles away, she’ll be finishing her BA at UC Riverside this coming September. We had a lot to talk about!! Seeing her in the lobby, brought tears to my eyes! We went up to “my” room and talked for a couple of hours about school, China, California, the list was endless. She left with plans for the two of us to meet with Brenda and her TA from last year, Wendi, for coffee in the am.

Falling into a peaceful sleep, it felt very comfortable to be back at HUST. Kinda like coming home!!

Posted by pjburke 08.04.2014 21:58 Archived in China Comments (0)

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