A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

In Transit - Vietnam to New Zealand

28 October 2011

Up really early, but as any other travel day, I was up two or three times during the night. The walls in the hotel are pretty thin and there were others who left earlier than we did.

0630 and we were on our way to the airport. Saigon is crazy, even at this hour. The streets were full of cars and motos and we saw many children on their way or arriving at school.

Our Jetstar flight left right on time (0900) and we arrived in Singapore just about 12noon. Singapore is one hour ahead of Vietnam.
Singapore’s Changi Airport – I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest airports I’ve ever been in. London Heathrow’s new (in 2008) Terminal 5 comes in a distant second. Safety is taken to a new level here – they scan your bags on your way “out”. Even though they found something suspicious in Jim’s bag, they were very nice, letting us go through the bag until we found what they were looking for, asking us about our trip and setting us off in the correct direction once they were satisfied that Jim’s small knife was not a threat. As we were headed to drop off our bags in “left luggage” so that we could go on the free city tour the airport offers, we were approached by one of their “Airport Ambassadors – Mr. Paul Lee” who gave us great information. (Background info – if you fly with Jetstar, many times you have to pick up your bags upon landing and recheck them in. To do this, you need to go into the departure area. That being said we found out that we couldn’t access the free tour area BUT Mr. Lee gave us great information, suggesting we check out Terminal 3 (we were in Terminal 1) and have some lunch. There are many restaurants but also a food court area in the lower level that was wonderful. Tons of little local food kiosks: I ate braised duck with noodle soup. Yum!

We were under the impression that we couldn’t check our bags until three hours before the flight but Mr. Lee told us he thought we could do it earlier. Finishing lunch we headed to the Jetstar counter and found out we could check our bags any time after 1:30pm (it was now about 1:45pm) – great news. Bags checked and we headed into the main part of the terminal. It’s HUGE – plenty of shopping and comfortable chairs. Our wait, though quite long, was not terribly uncomfortable.

2000 hrs and we were on our way to New Zealand. Even though we were enroute, it still didn’t seem real.

More info on Jetstar – no free meals or drinks but you are able to pre-order or buy on the plane. We opted to have something shortly before we got on the plane and with that were able to get a pretty good snooze in before arriving in Auckland.

29 October 2011

Our layover was short, enough for a cup of coffee and a snack. We had our first “new terminology” lesson right from the get go. Cup of black coffee and coffee with milk, please! Nope – how about a long black and flat white. ??? Same, same but different but very delicious.

A quick layover and we were off to Christchurch. It had been a really long trip but thanks to the “flat white” I was not feeling too bad. Conditions were cloudy until we came in over the South Island. I started to see some land and then some partially snow covered mountains but I wasn’t prepared when the plane dipped below the clouds: beautiful lush green valley floor with snow crusted mountains as a stunning backdrop – as far as I could see left to right. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places in this world but that sight compared only to the time I saw Mt. Everest from the air. Through very misty eyes, the view was unbelievable. As we made our descent into Christchurch, the valley floor grew longer, dotted with farms and flowing rivers but still with the beautiful mountains standing guard. I think that was the moment I fell in love with New Zealand.
Our luggage arrived safely and finding our way to our shuttle proved just a bit tricky but we were shortly on our way to Haka Lodge. Our driver gave us a brief overview of the area and the toll the earthquake took on Christchurch’s downtown area. It’s one thing reading about the area and that it is closed but another to see a whole downtown area behind a chain-link fence. There has been quite a bit of rebuilding since that latest damage in February, but today (Sunday) there was a celebration downtown with some areas being opened up. It will take a very long time but I have no doubt that the Kiwi’s will fill the void that mother nature left them.

Haka Lodge will be our home for the next three days and we’re excited to be here. The lodge is a large converted family home owned/operated by Haka Tours. Sara greats us, shows us our room and fills us in on what’s what. The lodge has a large living room, well equipped kitchen and nice dining area. Our room is one of four on the second floor. The four rooms share two bathrooms, which is a good ratio when you’re talking shared facilities.

We get settled and after sitting for so long feel the need to walk. Sara had filled us in on a couple of local restaurants close by, so off we head to the Holy Smoke. We walked in and had a feeling that maybe we were a little underdressed. It’s a sharp café that may have been a store front at one time but with brick walls, wood floors and simple furnishings extends a comfortable vibe. Not sure if we’re going to have dinner, we sit at the bar and are greeted by Doug the bartender (who we later find out is the manager). He fills us in on the local beers and wines and since were’ not familiar with any - makes some excellent suggestions. I start with a Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc (in honor of Jim’s Mom’s hometown) and end with a glass of the same from Jules Taylor – both NZ wines and both very nice. In our tired state, we decided that a nice dinner just wouldn’t be appreciated so we opted for a couple of starters: Clevlond oysters and Whitebait Pancake. The oysters were cooked, ever so slightly, with bacon and cheese. Jim usually eats oyster raw, not something I enjoy but I did take a taste of these and they were awesome. Just what I need another expensive culinary desire. Whitebait was also something that we weren’t familiar with: very small fish that are local and in season right now. They were cooked with a little egg (I think) and served with a beurre blanc sauce – OMG!!

It was about a 15 minute walk back to Haka, chatting with some of the other guests and a great night’s sleep. We’re in New Zealand!!!!

Posted by pjburke 21:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Mui Ne and HCMC

Bye Bye Vietnam!!!

22 October 2011

0700 comes early on the train and it was not an easy sleep. This train was a little bit more “basic” than the one from Hanoi to Danang; a little dirtier, the bed a little less comfortable and a lot noisier. There was an occasional rattle in the wall of the train right near my head that seemed to start just as I was falling asleep. Baguette and a banana for breakfast and we said good bye to our cabin mates as they got off in Nha Trang. The remaining passengers included one Vietnamese family who now lives in Houston and a family with the cutest little boy I have seen in a long time. He decided we were pretty interesting. It started out as a game of peekaboo where he would giggle so hard I couldn’t help laughing right along with him. He wandered into our cabin as Jim and I were playing cards; I took his photo which absolutely mesmerized him. I took a few more photos and it was time for his family to depart but he didn’t want to leave. He left the train crying in his Dad’s arms….sorry!!

Our stop at Muong Man was a very small station in the middle of the dragon fruit growing area of Vietnam. We were told by the GH that it would be about 400K VD (about $20) for the 45 minute ride to Mui Ne – they were right on the money. Once we were about where we thought we should be, it took us few minutes but we found the sign for the GH….up the hill about 10 minutes and we arrived at Mui Hills Guesthouse – very nice!! The location is up, away from the busy street but close enough to walk to the beach, shopping, eating – in about 10 minutes. We’re met by Jacob (American from Oregon) who gets us settled. He lets us know that the GH owners (Erik and Long) also own a bar/restaurant Red and Blue. If we want lunch (or dinner), we order at the GH and they bring it up on moto. With little to no sleep on the train, that is a perfect option for us. A dip in the pool and a nap – we’re ready to check out the town for dinner.
Mui Ne Hills Guesthouse

Mui Ne Hills Guesthouse

We wandered the main street for a bit when we realized that a great many tourists here are from Russia. Most of the signs are in Vietnamese, English and Russian; not what we’re used to. We decide on Red and Blue for dinner, and a good choice it was, the BBQ’d squid was perfectly done and the Mojitos – almost as good as mine!!

23 October 2011

A good nights’ sleep and I’m up early for a special SKYPE. My sisters, Peg and Judy, are in Lambertville, NJ, my Dad’s hometown, visiting family. Trying to coordinate times was a little tricky. After meeting with cousins earlier in that night, Peg and Judy met with my cousin Mary Kay a little after 8pm (ET) to get on line with me at 7am the next day in Vietnam. We had a wonderful visit – 45 minutes from Vietnam for free – I love SKYPE. They only down side was that we couldn’t figure out how to conference Chris (MK’s sister) in from Florida. Boo!!

This morning, after breakfast I caught up on the website. It was a brilliantly sunny day. We could hear surf and sand calling our names. Mui Ne Hills GH has an association with the Coco Beach Resort so off we headed for a day at the beach. The South China Sea is very warm, the sand soft and the view stunning. We enjoyed the resort most of the day until it was time for the finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup which we watched with 100 of our closest friends at the bar at Coco Beach. Turns out there are not only Russians in Mui Nei but a fair amount of Kiwis and French. Of course, we were rooting for the All Blacks and they held on to win 8 to 7. It was a heart stopper.

As we walked along the beach on our way back to the GH, we took time to watch about 15 kite surfers skimming the blue water as they made their way back to shore, the sun setting over the sand hills. Kite surfing is a big draw to this area. We’re told that in the next couple of months, the winds will pick up and so will the crowds and also the cost of rooms. I think we’re here at just the right time.
Dinner was at a seafood buffet and was really quite good: 119VD (about $6 each) for hotpot and stir fry although their Mojitos didn’t come close to the Red and Blue.

24 October 2011

Our last full day in Mui Ne and Jim has planned a moto trip (we’re riding not driving) to some of the surrounding sites: the Fairy Stream, the local fishing village and the sand dunes which are about 20km outside Mui Ne. They reminded us of the dunes near Yuma. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Mui Ne Hills organized a set menu dinner (at Red and Blue) for people staying at the GH. We had a great night. Along with Erik and Long (the owners) and Jacob (manager), we joined about 15 others guests. Dinner was family style and included four dishes. A tasty slaw salad was followed by beef wrapped in grape leaves, shrimp and pork lettuce bundles (which I have to make for a unit party) and best of all was the beef soup (Long’s family recipe) with rich stock and quail eggs. What a nice way for us to end our trip to Mui Ne.

25, 26, 27 October 2011

Up early (we had to catch the bus to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) at 0830) and for the first morning since we arrived, it was overcast. The view while eating breakfast was still very nice – the sun was trying to peek through the clouds.

The bus ride took about 5 ½ hours and we were very fortunate to be let out within walking distance from our GH (Hong Ha Hotel on Bien Vien).
The next few days will be planning days. We need to get some laundry done, shop for a few things to bring to New Zealand (we’ve both become attached to Vietnamese coffee) and I’m working to finish the Vietnam portion of the website.

HCMC is pretty much as we remember from two years ago – a little crazy.

Right now we’re both ready to begin the next phase of our journey.

New Zealand…here we come!!!!!

…and remember “Adventure is out there”

Posted by pjburke 06:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Hoi An, Vietnam

Momentous event (for me): I want to take this opportunity to say a big “Thank You” to all who are following our travels. I’m able to see the number of viewings for each entry. One of our entries hit the “1000” mark this week. WOW!!!! I’m overwhelmed. Also thanks to all for your comments - they are so encouraging.

16 October 2011

As Jim puts it, “We slept like dead people”. Yes, we had a good night sleep and woke to the sound of heavy rain, more like (as Jay Maitland would put it “a tarantula rain”. We head up to the 6th floor for breakfast (included in our $37 per night rate) and were pleasantly surprised: coffee, tea, juice, made to order omelets, four fresh fruits, breads, cereal, yogurt, two different Vietnamese soups, ham, bacon…I can’t remember it all.

Breakfast was a success but it was still raining. I was writing in my journal and I got a call from Jim, he’s said he was going to have a manicure. Really??? I’ve been try to get him to have one for years. I guess it took a beautiful young Vietnamese lady to change his mind. As it turned out he actually had a manicure (his first since 1967) and a pedicure (his first ever). Good for him.

A little later, it’s still raining so we head across the road to Son Hoi An for lunch. It was recommended by the hotel and by Trip Advisor. The location is very picturesque and the food was really good. The White Rose and Vietnamese Pancakes (local specialties) were very good, as was the BBQ squid.

After lunch, still a very light rain but we decide to take a walk towards the beach, about a mile away. We pass rice paddies, small shops and make our way to the small town of Cua Dai. The beach is actually very nice and would have been great if the weather was a bit nicer.

Our plan is to make it back to the hotel and watch the NZ/AU rugby match with Allen at the hotel. We heard it would be a really good match…and it was. Go All Blacks!!!

17 October 2011

Still raining!! Another lazy day. We took the 1500hr shuttle into Hoi An (about 5km away). We had lunch at a “Mermaids” recommended by LP. It was OK.

I wanted to buy some lanterns but found that they wouldn’t really travel very well. Boo!

Amid rain drops, we walked the old town in Hoi An. When we arrived at the waterfront, we discovered it was flooded with water rising! This is very different from the scene we observed on our last trip. I got stung by a bee while standing near the waterfront talking with an Aussie couple we had met in Hanoi. We also looked at the possibility of having some clothes made…just not in the mood.

18 October 2011

Morning comes and it appears to be another rainy day. Jim had made arrangements with the hotel chef to go to the market with him to buy some fruit. (Jim was given a list of unusual fruits by his Vietnamese hair stylist in Tucson). It was a quick trip and they came back with some tasty items. Afternoon comes and we got lucky – it stopped raining (at least for a while) and we took out a couple of bikes (free at the hotel). We started out biking towards the beach (about 2km). Decided to ride down a side street (alley), dead end, down another road, another dead end but we kept trying. Not really sure where we’re going but we really can’t get too lost. Our little trip ended up lasting about three hours and we ventured in areas that weren’t on the tourist trail. The local people were very helpful directing us towards Hoi An and we actually ended up going in a big circle-nowhere near the beach. We would have ridden a little farther but a tire on Jim’s bike was almost flat.

We headed into Hoi An for dinner. The water along the wharf has subsided and we head across the bridge. We ended up sitting next to an Aussie couple (Peter and Charmaine). With Vietnamese vodka in hand, Peter and Jim proceeded to do a number of shots. Mot, Hai, Ba, Uong!!! (One, Two, Three, Drink!!) It brought us back to a night in Nga Trang, two years ago, with our then, Irish traveling buddies Jeanne and Pader. Needless to say, I was the taxi procurer this night.

19 October 2011

Jim’s not feeling so well today. No crystal ball needed to predict that!!! Breakfast, computer work and Jim has decided on a “lay low” day. It’s not raining so I grabbed a bike and head towards the beach. I rode towards the beach at Cua Dai again. A couple of big hotels and a lot of construction. I did have a bit of a scare. I had stopped along the beach to take a photo. It was a very open area but there was no one around and this guy started walking from the beach toward me but not saying anything. I found this very strange – got on my bike and rode towards some occupied houses. I heard some running footsteps behind me but they stopped as I got farther away. (It was all so surreal that it didn’t really bother me until I was telling Jim about it later).

I headed back along the beach road, through the little town and a bit north. There was a side road towards the beach, off I go. There appeared to be two cafes. I picked the one on the right – the lady made the most effort to get me into her place. Beachside seating and good food: this was a good choice. While lunching I noticed many Vietnamese ladies on the beach raking through the seaweed that had washed ashore. They were collecting wood that washed in with the tide. It seems they dry the wood and either use it for fuel or sell it. When you think your job sucks – think about these ladies.

A ride back to the hotel – uneventful with a quiet evening to follow.

20 October 2011

Jim’s birthday….one year closer to Medicare. :-) In our room, when we go back after breakfast, the hotel had left flowers and a cake. I can’t tell you how well we’ve been treated here.

There was also another little surprise – the sun was shining. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen that warm glow in the sky.
Grabbed a couple of bikes and headed to the beach. Nice ride and I took Jim on the same route I had taken the day before: maybe to exercise those demons of the “running man”. Lunch was also at the same little beach café. We had grilled fish that was one of the best we’ve had in all our travels. A little sunburn to show for our little outing – actually I look more like a raccoon.

Started to pack – happy hour across the street at SON and then dinner at the hotel. We’re ready to be on our way.

21 October 2011

Our last day in Hoi An and we’re getting a little antsy but it will be sad to say “bye” to the staff. They’ve really been wonderful. While we’re checking out, I noticed a guest list on the counter – group from OAT are staying at the hotel. Hmmm!! We’ve traveled with OAT to Peru and India – they made a good choice with Phuoc An River Hotel.

Of course, when we’re leaving town –the sun is high in the sky and very warm. We decided to head into Hoi An for lunch. When we were in Hoi two years ago, we took a cooking class at a little restaurant along the river. We were going to try dinner there a few days before but that was when the waterfront was flooded, so we decide to try for lunch. As we walked into Gioan, Ha (one of the owners) looked at us….”I remember you!!!” She was in the middle of a cooking class for two, arranging a cooking class for another two people but didn’t skip a beat when we asked if they were open for lunch. Come to find out, Vina (the other owner) and she opened a larger school in Vina’s family home about 10 minutes from downtown. A call is made to Vina, who prepares some of our lunch (with final prep where we are) and runs it down on the moto. They both look wonderful. So glad we decided to stop in. One of the dishes, chicken cooked in banana leaf, Jim crowned as THE best dish in Vietnam so far….and I think I’ve got the recipe at home!!! We stopped at their wonderful, new location on our way back to the hotel and are surprised at how big it is. They’re able to accommodate two classes of eight and do small parties….and it doesn’t flood up there. Good luck, ladies!!

Back to the hotel and Jim starts talking with a couple who had been at the hotel about the same time we had but our paths had just never crossed. What started as a short talk – ended a couple of hours later when they headed to the airport in Danang for their flight to Hanoi. Lucy and Hubert are Canadian, about our age and after retiring and selling their home in Montreal have been traveling the world for five years. We loved their stories and insight. Don’t worry Mom, we won’t sell the house and take off for parts unknown but another six month trip is probably not out of the question.

Off to the train station for the 2200hr train to Muong Man (near Phat Thiet) for our stay in Mui Ne.

Posted by pjburke 21:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (5)

Hanoi to Hoi An….say that three times fast!!!

12-15 October 2011

A couple of quiet days in Hanoi! When we were here two years ago, we spent about a week in and out between Hanoi, Halong and Sapa. This year’s trip is more of a stopover point. We enjoyed some good Vietnamese food, enjoyed people watching as we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake and we also took a cooking class Thursday morning.

Viet Fun 3 is pretty much as we remembered it. A little older, but aren’t we all! We also got the chance to see Ha and Twee’s boys, one of which was just learning to walk in 2009. The small street outside Viet Fun’s door is now much busier with more hotels and cafes. The Moon Café became a favorite for a relaxing afternoon beer.

Friday (10/14) seemed to be a bit of a wasted day. We checked out of our room late morning, headed over to Tandoori (an Indian restaurant we were familiar with from our previous trip) for lunch, walked around the Old Quarter, stopped at the grocery store to grab a few things for the train and made our way to the train station for a 1930 departure.

The train we took to Hoi An was the SE19 1730 train, soft sleeper (four bunk – two upper and two lower). We had an upper and a lower and we shared the cabin with two guys from Paris, one now working in the Congo and the other in Qatar. Nice guys and they gave us some good suggestions for next year’s trip.
The hardest seat of all

The hardest seat of all

Hard Seats on the SE 19 train from Hanoi

Hard Seats on the SE 19 train from Hanoi

Note to self – just a couple of suggestions the next time we take a train: More food and remember to lock the door to the cabin after all cabin mates are inside. Nothing bad happened but it seems that at each stop people getting on would check cabins to see if there are empty beds. This happened a few times which, of course, means I woke up each time. The SE 19 is supposed to be one of the newest trains in Vietnam but new to the VN Railway doesn’t always mean it wasn’t used for years by another railway. On the top bunk, at times, I felt like I’d been put in a blender. The train shakes pretty bad, up, down, sideways. (It actually took me about a day before I got my land legs back). The soft sleeper is actually the best accommodations on the train. The hard sleeper (not actually hard beds) is a cabin with six bunks, then there are soft seats, hard seats and for people who can’t afford any of those, people will actually sit and/or sleep on the floor. So all in all, it wasn’t so bad.

The train pulled into Hue about 1000 and 99% of the passengers got off the train. It was very strange riding to Danang with no one else in our car. I took a walk through the train. There were a few people in the hard sleeper cabin and a few more in the soft seats but the people sleeping on the floor had been gone by the time we woke up in the morning. Not sure where they got off.

The scenery between Hue and Danang was beautiful. The whole area has had so much rain that the ride paddies looked more like lakes, there were many waterfalls and the forest was a blanket of lush green.View from the train between Hue and Danang

View from the train between Hue and Danang

We arrived in Danang right on time – about 1400 and were greeted by the driver from Phuoc An River Hotel. Jim and I were both pretty sleepy but we made our best attempt to stay awake on the 30 minute drive to the hotel. On our previous trip to Hoi An, we stayed just outside the downtown area on a very crowded, busy street. The Phuoc An River hotel is about 2km outside town with the river across the street outside the front door and rice paddies in the rear. It’s a nice hotel in a lovely location. Our room is so nice with the most comfortable bed we’ve slept in since we left home.

A quick dip in the pool felt wonderful and a cold LaRue beer at the bar even better. We met Van Ang and Allen, the new owners of the hotel. They took over about six weeks ago and are in the process of making simple improvements. The hotel is very nice as it is and will be wonderful under their guidance.

Allen and I had a great chat while watching the France/Wales Rugby match. For the first time, I actually think I may understand the basics of the game.

After having almost no sleep last night, it was an early dinner for us at the hotel. Their restaurant is on the 6th floor, and has an awesome view of the area. It was a lovely evening and we were able to have dinner outside. Very relaxing!

Posted by pjburke 21:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Nanning to Hanoi by bus - the process!

11 October 2011

Finally morning came… Did you ever have one of those nights, when you absolutely need to be up early; you wake about 3am and can’t get back to sleep, or at least not a fitful sleep? That was my night. When the alarm rang at 0630, it felt like I’d never slept.

We had packed the night before, so there was very little to do but grab a quick shower, secure our packs and make our way to the bus station. As we made our way from the third level, we found Jim (Portland Jim) with some OJ and hot coffee to help us on our way. Good byes and good lucks were exchanged and off we went. Luck was on our side as we reached the main street: empty taxi was driving by. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the bus station and about 20 minutes after that we’re on our way to Vietnam. So far, so good!

Gao Jun, the owner of the Nanning City Hostel, and I had had a conversation regarding what to expect while making our way by bus to Vietnam. She knew the basics but was unsure of the specifics. She had asked other guest to get back to her but they hadn’t. The following may be a little more specific than you care about – unless you happen to be making the crossing.

First of all – price is about 160Yuan per person plus a 30Yuan service charge from the guest house. My suggestion: work through your guest house. It saves time and confusion.

Our bus was very clean and comfortable. There was a hostess on board who spoke English. Water is provided and we found out later – lunch (though basic – chicken, rice and sprouts) was also included. We thought there would be more westerners but - we were the only ones.
The ride from Nanning to border (Dong Dang) is very scenic, though due to my lack of sleep, was seen through have closed eyelids. The weather was clear and sunny and the roads we travelled were highways and not very busy.

We left at 0800, 5 minute toilet stop at about 1000, passport check by an officer who came on to the bus at about 1030 and then lunch break at about 1100. At the lunch break (25 minutes) we were able to exchange Yuan for Vietnamese Dong at a pretty fair rate. We were also able to pick up a SIM card, which worked in the phone Brenda let me borrow, for about $10USD.

Promptly at 1125 we left our lunch stop and at about 1200 we were dropped off at the first stop of our immigration process. We left the bus, where given cards to hang around our necks, got our luggage and headed to small (12 person) electric vehicles. Towards Immigration we go. The Chinese on board the bus are let out at the first stop. Jim and I and a Vietnamese couple were brought over to the Immigration Departure Processing Building: large (like everything in China), clean and efficient. We make it though, put our luggage through a scanner and head out the next door to another yellow transporter. From here, we’re taken to the Vietnamese Immigration office: not so big or efficient but it works. We hand our passports to the agent at Window #2 (there is no window #1) and told to move over towards Window #3 and wait. Maybe 5 minutes later, our names (or a reasonable facsimile of) are called out, take our bags to be scanned again and out the next door to a lime green electric vehicle. When that vehicle fills up, we head out. One more quick stop at the last passport check point and it’s on to another bus. Our green transporter knows where we’re supposed to go by the tags around our necks. This bus is a bit smaller and almost full – we got the last two seats together. Total processing time about 30 minutes: not bad!!! I’m not sure if this is normal. I’m sure during the National Holiday it was much busier.

Our trip into Hanoi took about four and a half hours – I think. There is a time difference (Hanoi is an hour behind China). There is also a stop at about 1330 – it was good to stretch. These seats weren’t as comfortable as the first bus. No highways in Vietnam until we get close to Hanoi but the scenery was beautiful. It’s an area we didn’t get to on our last trip here.

We make it to a bus station and there is a woman on the bus who helps us get a cab. She told Jim the ride to our stop should be about 150000dong. NOTE: TAXI SCAM WARNING – We get into the cab and he puts our bags into the front seat – leaning against the meter. I also notice as we’re moving that there is business card up against the meter. This was our own fault!! When we get to our destination and go to get out, the meter shows 400500dong ($20) and then he wants a tip!! We pay what is on the meter. Always agree on a price prior or look at the meter before you start– we know better than this.

Putting that experience aside, we get to our hotel (Viet Fun 3) and Ha (the owner) does a double take. He remembered us from two years ago. He gave us the option of a room on the 4th floor, up a very narrow winding stairway that we were only too familiar with or a room on a lower level at his new hotel down the street. We opt for the 4th floor. Fortunately, he insists that two of his employees take our packs up. Making my way upstairs, I notice that the stairway could us a little work but our room is huge (three beds) and very clean.

Jim felt like some western food, so dinner was at the Kangaroo Café. His burger was pretty good – the fish of my fish and chips – not so much. I actually missed having Asian food but the beer was cold and it was just a short walk from VF3.

After a long day, it’s an early night for the Burkes. Since we spent so much time here in 2009, we’ll spend the next couple of days wandering around and head for Hoi An on Friday.

Posted by pjburke 17:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Guilin (again) and Nanning

05 October 2011

Not a bad day – no sun BUT no rain either. On the suggestion of our Wada GH staff we head off to Dei Cai Park. It’s a lovely park set amoungst the karsts. We spend a few hours walking up and down the different areas. It appears bigger than it is only because you’re usually walking up and around these large peaks.

The birds-eye perspective of Guilin was worth the climb. From ground level you don’t realize how the city bends and weaves in and out around these magnificent pinnacles.

For a late lunch, we walked along the river with intentions of finding a recommended dumpling place. No luck on dumplings but we found a small place that specialized in mutton. The dish was served in a small wok over a stove in the middle of the table. Spicy peppers and mutton were not two items I would have put together before this trip….I will now.

The city is still busy with tourists for the holidays. A walk along Shan Lake (walkways we had seen from the boat on our first trip here) was teaming with families and photo taking.

All and all…a very pleasant day!!!

06 October 2011

The saga of the forgotten documents continues….

First let me preface with the fact that Jim suggested I call Monique (who was bringing our paperwork) to see if she was on her way. I didn’t think it was necessary….I was wrong. We had just arrived at the bus station and I got a text stating that Monique was on her way and would be in about 11am. Back to the GH, we go and then back to the bus station at 11. Don’t feel too bad, it really wasn’t a long walk, but it was raining.

Second time to the bus station and I get another text telling me that Monique and our paper work were at “some” bus station we weren’t familiar with. I call her and find out; it’s not the bus station we’re at but the bus station for the shuttle to the airport. Note: there is more than one bus station in Guilin. Fortunately, we figured out it wasn’t far and off we go (as Jim kept reminding me -in the rain). Monique was waiting inside. We offered to get a cab for her but she said she had other business in Guilin and would be on her way. Thanks so much to Yvonne at the Outside Inn and Monique for helping us retrieve our documents. You would think after traveling so much that things like wouldn’t happen…but they do.
No end to the rain in sight so we revert to our “rainy day” stand by solution – the movies!!! There is a movie theater in the mall across from our GH. On our way back from the bus station we attempt to locate it. No luck but we find out that there is a large cafeteria/restaurant on the 5th floor of the mall. Looks good for lunch a little later.

Our GH staff came through again, directions to the theater, a note in Chinese and a VIP card – all one needs. Captain America is the only movie in English so we’ll be back at 1600… but first lunch. Up to the 4th floor -we check out all the different foods. There are probably 10-15 different areas with different types of food but first we have to buy a card. There is no money exchanged when getting your food. It’s all deducted from the “card”. Jim decides that 80yuan should be good but when we get a strange look from the cashier I’m thinking 80 might be a bit much. We decide on our food primarily because there are two young ladies, trying out their English and telling us how good their food is. They were great fun. We enjoyed our food and left with a wave and a smile. As for the cost, we ended up turning the card it and got 50yuan back. Lunch cost less than $5.00.

Just a quick note – Captain America will never win an Academy Award (nice eye candy though – but I digress), but it was very strange watching a very tongue in cheek American type movie with an all Chinese audience. I found myself wondering what they thought of this “American” movie.
Back at the GH, ran into Louise (my biking partner from Yangshuo). She shared wonderful photos from the rice terraces. I made sure I had her email and we said our good byes and my wishes that the rest of her time in Shanghai went well.

Tomorrow – off to Nanning.

07 October 2011

Wet but no rain – wonder just how long that will last. Off to the bus station and at 0920 (right on time) we’re off to Nanning. About half way there and its pouring rain. It continues into Nanning. The traffic around the bus station is crazy. Getting a cab was hopeless so we settle for a tuk tuk. We pile (and I do mean pile) our packs into the tuk and off we head …right to the gate to our GH. Still pouring rain. The Nanning City Hostel GH is a bit difficult to find but we knew that would be the case, the written instructions on the brochure we had were perfect. They lead us right to the GH door.

Love this GH…. It’s a former corporate apartment – now guest house – on the 11th floor. We’re greeted by July and head up to our room on the 3rd level. It’s a really big room – two oversized twin beds, a pappasan chair, desk, night stands, a wardrobe and big ensuite bathroom. On the first level there is a living room/dining/kitchen/reception area – all very comfortable. We meet Owen and Charlie from the UK and Jake (AU). It’s like being in someone’s home. We end up watching a movie and then heading out to find a bank and get some dinner. The menu for dinner had pictures but we couldn’t figure out what anything was so we resorted to our standby method: look around at what others are eating – if it looks good – point!!! Hasn’t failed us yet!! We had a wonderful chicken dish with what I think was a tamarind sauce. It was wonderful.

Back to the GH, talked with Jun (she and her husband Weston are the owners) and arranged for our Visas.

08 October 2011

No rain but pretty grey today - this will be our “checking out Nanning” day. We walked through The Museum of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It’s a small museum with only two exhibits and a small garden area. From the museum we head up to Wal-Mart. We’re looking for sunscreen (we still have some but not much) and figure we should be able to find it there. Actually we do, but at almost $30, we decide to make the most of what we have. While I’m picking out some fruit for breakfast, Jim is approached by two girls from the local university who want to speak English. They would ask some questions, we would talk for a bit, they would giggle and walk away and then come back, more questions. The one girl came back and asked where we were from, when I told her “America” – she blurted “ohhh….I’m so excited!!” and walked away with a huge smile. Made my day!!

Back at the guest house, Charlie is still around, Owen and Jake are gone but I meet Jim (my Jim met him yesterday). He’s an American from Portland working here teaching English. Turns out he’s from an area of Portland where my friend Debbie grew up. We’re trying to figure out if they have any mutual friends.

Dinner tonight was at a nice restaurant that was recommended. Truth be told, it was very “nice” and Jim got to check off one of his “to eat” dishes but we decided we prefer the smaller local places.

Back to GH, a few beers and chatted with Jun, Jim and Charlie. Charlie is off tomorrow…on his bike. To those of you who think we’re on an adventure – check out Charlie’s website – he’s really on an adventure. www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk Safe travels Charlie!!!

09 October 2011

Beautiful Sunshine today!!! With the sunshine comes the heat but there is still more of Nanning to explore. We walked towards the local lake – beautiful and no one around. Even though it’s Sunday, we find out that with the holiday people have to make up for having days off so most are working. Sunday does not have the same significance here – no day of rest here in China.

Spent the afternoon taking it easy and watching a movie and then headed out after dark for dinner. Back we went to the small place we had dinner two nights ago. A wonderful dinner was had, all by a suggestion from the waitress and our favorite “pointing” system).

Note Jim got an email from one of his students today. He is enjoying the website but requested more information about the photos. Owen, thanks for the suggestion. Starting today, I’ll try to explain the photos in more depth and when I get a chance, I’ll go back and update previously posted pics. I appreciate your feedback.

Posted by pjburke 00:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yangshuo

Part two

2011 October 1

What a difference a day makes…but not here at the Outside Inn. Yes, there are more people. We’re told they are totally booked for the whole week but this is a small guest house so it doesn’t really seem crowded.

Over breakfast this morning, we met two different groups of people from NZ. We got some great information and contacts. Judy, we’ll see you next month!!

It was a cold, rainy day – perfect day for a cooking class. We were picked up about 3pm and taken into Yangshuo. Jennifer, our contact and, we find out later, our teacher from the cooking school meets us about 4pm. We headed over to the Market with the rest of our group: three Americans (Matt, Aaron and Dave), an Aussie – Becka and Josephine from the UK. The guys had this desire to see the cat/dog area. Needless to say, this was a market and not a petting zoo; the animals were not there to be adopted. I opted out of this little excursion but wandered around to check out the other delicacies. Via taxi, the cooking school was our next destination. Pretty location along the Li River! There were two groups of students: our group of seven and a larger group – possibly a tour – of about 15-20 people. Jim and I agreed it was more fun with a smaller group. We cooked up 5 different dishes. Our favorite and one that we hadn’t had before was the Egg Dumplings. The filling was similar to dumplings I’ve made at home but instead of a wrapper, the outside was a small amount of beaten egg that was fried in a wok. I’ve already put them on the “to make” list for when we get home. With that dish and the other 4 we made, it was a good way to combine dinner with a cooking lesson.
The group invited us out for beers but with the rain and holiday we opted to head back to the GH. Ultimately, that worked out for the best. It was so crazy just trying to get out of town. There were people trying to flag down an empty taxi (none to be found) and traffic jams everywhere. I’m sure the group did just fine without us.

2011 October 02

Cool but no rain – a good sign!!

Jim and I headed out for a walk to investigate the areas near the inn. We walked for about two hours, checking out the bamboo raft area by the bridges (just north of us). It was crazy busy. There were buses heading up and down this one lane road, tons of Chinese tourists bicycling and greeting us with “Hello, hello!!!” At one point we stopped to consult our map and within minutes there was a small crowd surrounding us just because they wanted to speak English. One gentleman was with his ten year old daughter. He was an Electrical Engineer and familiar with HUST. After a short chat, we were on our way. Crossing over the river we found that just outside the raft area there was no one. A local man on his moto was the only person we saw. This was a really nice way to spend the day.

2011 October 03

We talked about doing a bike ride this morning but Jim wasn’t feeling too well. But I was in luck; Kylie, her Mom (from NZ) and Louise (from Sweden) were going riding and invited me along. Keilee and Jean were going to take a bamboo raft back but Louise was riding back. We started out about 1030ish and the first thing we ran into was a large traffic jam between our guest house and the rafting area. It was difficult to get bikes between the vehicles but we made it. We traveled over the most south bridge and north towards Dragon’s Bridge on a small road west of the river. A good portion of the road was paved. Most of the road that was not was easy to maneuver but a portion was a bit to narrow. Jean and I walked that area. There were some hikers and bikers coming down from Dragon’s Bridge but not that many. Louise and I parted company with Kylie and Jean with them negotiating with a rafting person. Normally a whole boat costs 100yuan but over the holiday season it was 150yuan per person with not much leeway.

Heading out of town, Louise and I headed down one lane but it dead ended at a school so we turned around and headed in another direction. Per our map, there was supposed to be a small road off the main highway to the left but I missed it. We went just a little further and it just didn’t seem right. We stopped for directions and as always happen, if one person is asked for directions, more people will gather for a group discussion. They turned us around and told us …on the left in about 2 minutes….and they were right!!

From that point, we meandered down a dirt road, passing very few people. It was fun being with Louise, she’s young and adventurous and willing to take the “road less traveled”. We tried one of these roads and it landed me in a ditch, a little scratched up but no worse for wear. At that pointed, we headed back and tried the other road which ultimately lead us right back to the trail where I fell on but we decided to continue and walk the bikes. It turned out to be a really good decision. As we continued, most of the trip was on small trails through rice fields, over a stone bridge that I can only imagine how old it was and through small villages with Chinese children trying to tell us how to get to the main road. Once we got to the north bridge, I knew exactly where we were. I had gotten Jim lost there just the day before.

As we made our way through the rafting area, it seemed that the traffic hadn’t cleared up the whole time we were biking. Another traffic jam!! This one we maneuvered a little better and made it back to the GH about 3ish – with a bin pijiu calling our names!!! Kylie and Jean arrived shortly after a little adventure of their own. Good day ladies!!! (I think I’m going to be really sore tomorrow.)

2011 October 04

Rainy night and a rainy, rainy day and it’s time to leave Yangshuo and the Outside Inn.
We caught a taxi with Alex and Chou who were heading up to the rice fields. Alex is from Austria and Chua is Chinese and she was heaven sent today.

Since there are buses every 15 minutes we were told that we didn’t need to get tickets in advance. A word to the wise, if it’s a holiday week – get your tickets in advance. We minded the bags while Chou went for tickets – first one window which directed her to another window. She waited in a long line at the 2nd window only to be told that they weren’t selling tickets to Guilin, just wait and get on a bus and pay the driver. One bus came but the driver wouldn’t let anyone without a ticket on the bus. Then we were told to cue up (unknown concept in China) at another location in the parking lot. After waiting in the driving rain for about 15 minutes, Chou asked us if we’d be willing to share a taxi…oh yes we would!! She made a few calls, we tried to flag one down and finally after venturing around the corner she reappeared in a bright blue taxi. 300 Yuan for a taxi vs. 80 for the bus but well worth it!! Alex and Chou were let off at the train station and the taxi took us right to our guest house.

We were greeted with “welcome back” smiles at Wada House and we settled in for some hot noodle soup to ward off the rainy cold!! As I started to check email, I remembered that I left a folder (with our International Driver’s Licenses among other papers) in the drawer of the night stand at the Outside Inn. A quick call to Yvonne and yes, she found it but we still haven’t figured out how to get it up to Guilin. Hopefully someone leaving tomorrow will be willing to bring it and we’ll travel where ever we have to, to pick it up. Arhggggg!

2011 October 05

UPDATE!!! I received an email this morning and then just got a follow up call from Yvonne regarding our paperwork. A friend of hers is coming to Guilin tomorrow. Our plan is to meet her at the bus station at 0930. We’ll see what happens……

Posted by pjburke 21:25 Archived in China Comments (1)

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