Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yay! One step closer.

I have (finally) enrolled in my course. I am starting my Thai Language course in November in Chiang Mai. Here's hoping Stray enrolls in his English Teaching course soon :) or I am on my own...just kidding!

My course consists of only 2 lots of 2 hour lessons per week, which I am really looking forward to. I know nit noi (very little) Thai, but am trying to learn as much as possible before I go.
The grounds of Chiang Mai University look quite impressive, according to Google maps...
...and I do remember passing them on a previous visit, as we were climbing the mountain to Doi Suthep (I think...it was a few years ago). So we might enjoy slightly cooler weather for the few months after we arrive. We'll be studying at 'C', if you can see it.

While Stray is completing his 4 week course in November, then looking for work in December, I will be doing my course, looking for other (than student) accommodation and learning the layout of the city (Chiang Mai) in more detail. I think I will be relying on songthaew, a cross between a taxi and a bus...natural air conditioning.
In the past we have found they charge about 20 BHT per trip, and for the locals, 10 BHT per trip. Today that's about 66 cents per trip for us...not bad! But, having said that, if Stray is supporting me on a Thai wage...I may be walking. If Stray decides to hire/buy a bike for the duration, I think I will be taking my own Australian made helmet. While in Vietnam, very silimar, one of the local helmets flew off his head and cracked like an eggshell.

When we settle down, I am looking forward to receiving visitors, working on my Chalk Art book/tutorials, Children's book and websites. Nothing like a holiday, is there?
That's it for now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day 23 Home Sweet Home

Leaving Saigon.

Day 22 Saigon

Shopping day today...just a few souvenirs to take home, eating and relaxing. Nothing interesting to tell so below are a few pics.

Vietnamese electricity cables.
Stray writing postcards to Sophie and Chu.
Tim Tams...even in Vietnam!
The quieter end of District 1
One of the more affluent homes in the hills of Dalat

Pretty in Pink.

Day 21 Saigon - Cu Chi Tunnels

Today we went on a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels, which we had booked through our hotel. Only US$5.00 in comparison to the US$25.00 options we had seen elsewhere.

Even though the day was incredibly hot and humid, it was interesting and going through only 25 metres of the 50 metre tunnel open to tourists, was unnerving. It's hard to believe that 16,000 people used the 3 levels of the 250 km of tunnels over a period of 20 years. Barely big enough to squat in, we crawled most of the way. We had the luxury of dim lights in the tunnel, but in one part it became pitch black...spooky!

To survive they created a sanitation system, a way to hide the smoke from their cooking, ventilation and many different traps to snare the enemy.

The whole time we were being guided through the grounds, in the distance the sound of gunfire could be heard...also a little unsettling had we not known tourists can pay to fire guns, which were mounted and unable to turn to face anything other than the targets.

Day 20 Saigon

Bored with the area our hotel is in (OK if you like Gucci and expensive souvenirs), Stray went looking for another hotel with Hieu, a taxi bike rider. The power went out where our current hotel was, which made packing our bags really uncomfortable and poor Stray had already spent the morning running up and down stairs in about six different hotels.

We decided on Madame Cuc's 3 Hotel which is located in the same district, but in a more interesting area not far from the Ben Thanh Markets...and we saved a massive US$14.00 per night :) The hotel had no elevator, but it did have an electric winch to upload and download luggage.
The staff where wonderful, even sharing their cooked duck embryos with Stray. The room came with a free modest breakfast, dinner, and all day bananas, tea, coffee and juice. It was by no means the Ritz, but a lot more entertaining and personal.
People watching from the hotel entrance was always a good time passer...like why are Vietnamese people walking into the police station next door with pink books in the evening, or why are young men riding around on bicycles at night shaking rattles as they go?

The pink books turned out to be records of foreigners staying at the local hotels, passport details etc. Their way of keeping track of who is where. We probably do the same, but in a computerised version.

We were told that the young boys were offering massages and I think the person who told us this, really believed it. After Googling it, I found that they are actually male prostitutes.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 19 Saigon to Vung Tau

Last night we and Audrey dined at Quan An Ngon (Restaurant Delicious) of the same name as the restaurant in Hanoi. A similar set up and atmosphere and really nice food.

The hydrofoil from Saigon to Vung Tau (a beach town and popular with local tourists) only takes about an hour and a half. It's tourist season so tickets were hard to get and we had to settle for an earlier return than we had hoped. Even tomorrow ferries are fully booked.
It was great to see Mr and Mrs Hai, Van, Quang again and to meet Mr Hai's brother, Hoai. The time flew as we chatted and exchanged gifts. We visited the White House of Vung Tau, which was built during the French occupation in the early 1800's and was the last King's summer house.
Shrimp, crabs, fish hot pot, vegies and fried rice, with quite a few Mot, Hai, Ba, Zo's (1 2 3 cheers) for lunch by the sea.
We bid Audrey farewell this afternoon and are just about to head out for dinner.

Snap leaves me nothing to say again except hi to family and friends and hope you all had a happy easter
Later that evening....below is my letter of complaint to the Renaissance Riverside hotel:

Renaissance Riverside Hotel
Ho Chi Minh City

Dear sir or madam

In early April my husband and I treated ourselves to a massage at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel. We had been two years ago and had a good experience.

I chose the foot spa/massage and my husband, a full body massage for VND 190.000. We paid for our massages prior to having them. My massage (which was adequate) was performed by a student under the guidance of two teachers.

When she had finished I emptied my purse to tip her and commented that this is all the money that I had, approximately VN 10.000. I am fairly certain she grunted at me. I waited for my husband in the reception area. A few minutes later I noticed raised voices coming from the changing room. It was that of my husband and his masseuse.

My husband had offered his masseuse a VND 20.000 tip, as 10% is a very acceptable amount to tip, world wide. The masseuse said that this was not enough and called in a co-worker, from the reception area, for reinforcement. Together they argued loudly with him and 'demanded' persistently that he pay VND 100.000, a tip of more than 50%.

He showed them the contents of his wallet which contained a 20.000 and 50.000 dong note and told them we needed money for the taxi fare back to our hotel. The staff's response to this was 'NO...you stay here', meaning at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel and did not need taxi fare. We were not.

After several minutes of their hounding and yelling, they settled for the VND 50.000 tip.

We left upset, shocked and dismayed. The management of the hotel should be greatly concerned that the staff are treating customers and possible guests of the hotel in this manner.

Perhaps the staff need educating in the art of retaining customers, repeat business and gaining new business through recommendations and not just getting the most money out of the situation at hand.

Should you require any further information, please don't hesitate to contact us. For your reference, we will be posting a copy of this letter directly to the hotel.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 18 Dalat to Saigon

Saigon (or Ho Chi Ming City) is only a 50 minute flight away. The Dalat Airport looks brand spanking new and our flight was the only flight departing or arriving...just as well, because the control tower is still under construction.

Audrey was on the same flight so when we arrived in Saigon we went is search of a hotel together. Initially we headed for Indochine, which is recommended in Lonley Planet, but took one just a few metres further on, only because that's where the taxi dropped us off.

Nice hotel and of course Stray got the room for less than the going rate. Breakfast and then went down to the Pier to buy our hydrofoil tickets for tomorrow. Just as well, as they were nearly booked out and we will be returning a little earlier in the day than we had hoped.

We treated ourselves to a bit of western food in a cafe on the second floor of a Gourmet food store, for lunch. It stocks goodies from all over the world, including Australia and of course, Vegemite.

Day 17 Dalat

We took a City Tour today, visiting a monastery by cable car, the Summer Palace, a waterfall which had a small roller coaster down the hill to where it was located, and a few other places. All in all, an enjoyable day and met a nice lady from Sydney, Audrey.

Stray had a massage by someone from the Blind Centre. He has found them to be the best value and quality. They have the centres in nearly every large town and city, and not just in Vietnam.

For dinner we went to Dung's friends place who rents student accommodation. The Vietnamese version of a Studio Apartment. Very small but functional.

Eight of us (Ms Dung, Mr Trường, Phương, Ms Anh, Linh, Dương, Stray and I) sat around a small table and enjoyed one of the best meals I have had so far in Vietnam. Of course the good company made all the difference.

Hot pot, which is a pot filled with a soup base, on a burner in the centre of the table and into it goes shrimp, squid, beef and vegetables. Poured over some noodles...it's DELICIOUS :) Finishing the evening with a drink at a local juice cafe.
Hello from Hcm as usual Snap has said near everything i would like to add thanks to duong and phoung whoes room we ate at and also dungs friends anh linh and girls name sounded like phoung aswell :P sorry for spelling errors
Its funny how the little things have the greatsest meanings dinner in this 3x3 room so out ways dinner in a flash resturant when the company is so exceptional

Day 16 Dalat

Stray has been suffering with stomach troubles, so I went out for a cup of coffee and bought back baguettes and butter for his Vegemite. We also asked to be moved to a quieter room...to heck with any views, always ask for a back room if staying in Vietnam. We caught up on some sleep and went to a cafe on the other side of the (dry) lake for a light lunch, where we chatted with a couple of Aussies for a while. The lake has been emptied while the construction of a new bridge takes place.
They suggested we see Crazy House. It's a 'sort of' hotel built by a Vietnamse lade who spent 15 years in Russia and was inspired by the work of Gaudi, in Spain. It is crazy in design and some parts are still under construction. I doubt whether anyone would actually stay there with the amount of tourists looking around.

Three Mini Bundies all in a row!
Dinner with Dung and one of her neighbours, Mr Trường.

Day 15 Nha Trang to Dalat

After quite an interesting night with a young lady from Holland, Estra, we headed to Dalat by bus. I wasn't sure if we would actually be on time to board...as Stray found a bottle of Bundaberg Rum on the shelf in a bar, a couple of doors down from our hotel. Say no more!

Say no more i got blind i didnt even see it coming ,the rums were like double or triples
i think i had about 7 of them and half way thru this evening i have no memory of
i did appologize to Snap and Estra the next morn appartently i couldnt walk and they both helped me back to our room I couldnt have been to baddly behaved because Snap is still talking to me :)

The bus (which was comfortable and clean) took the new road, which in parts, was not sealed and a bit 'hairy', especially when passing an on coming truck. We passed through some beautiful, mountainous scenery, which overlooked streams lined by boulders, waterfalls and exposed granite rock faces.

Overtaking on the mountain roads doesn't seem to be a problem, the driver just beeps the horn louder when going around blind corners. The trick is...don't look!

The rural area approaching Dalat is scattered with small (roughly made) farm houses made from timber, some milled, some logs. Pine I suspect, as the area has many pine plantations. They looked like they would be bloody cold in winter. I smiled to myself when I caught a glimpse of a computer set up through one of the windows and a satellite dish attached to the side of the house.

We arrived at 12.15 pm and the bus company provides a free taxi to your hotel, which we had not booked. No problem, he recommended one not far from the lake, which has been drained to enable the construction of a new bridge. US$12 per night, huge, basic, clean rooms, not much English at reception but heaps of smiles and a willingness to assist.

After getting settled we went in search of a memory card for the camera. Not having any luck on our own, we stopped and asked some school girls who kindly drew us a map. Along the way we asked a few locals if we were on course and they happily kept us going in the right direction. AU$28 later I had a new card inserted in my camera. Electronic equipment is one of the few things that is not cheap here.

We stopped to buy some cigarettes on the way back and noticed a man playing a guitar in the back of the small store. His wife, who served me, opened a book of English songs, some they had written and some, not. She happily sang us a few lines from a few songs. Lovely people!

Dung and her boyfriend, Minh, joined us for dinner and showed us the night market afterward. I bought a cardigan, as it was quite cool and Dung gifted Stray a jumper and me, a beautiful purple scarf.