Nha Trang, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Made it to Nha Trang, one of the main tourist/beach resort areas in Vietnam. The hotel is a 45 minute drive from the airport in an SUV with shitty AC. The Yasaka Nha Trang hotel is shit. Japanese investment capital and Vietnamese service and upkeep seem to make for a poor marriage. The room is run down looking, with cheap furniture, beds, and TV, and wireless internet. The only incentive is it will encourage you to spend more time outdoors, but it’s hot and humid, more so than anywhere else I’ve been in Vietnam, which is about right since this is the furthest south I’ve been. 4 days and 4 nights in this place might be more than I can handle.

Yasaka is Vietnamese for 'crap'

Yasaka is Japanese for "crap"

edit: Looking back, I realized that the hotel wasn’t plush and ritzy for a reason. It was a beachfront hotel, so they didn’t want you to go to the beach, then come back to your hotel covered in sand and seawater and sit in fancy chairs and drip water all over the nice carpets. So they replaced them with crappy chairs and crappy carpets. It’s the same setup as the ski lodge I stayed at in Japan. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit.

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Hoi An, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Had lunch on the drive from Da Nang to Hoi An. Skipped visiting famous China Beach in Da Nang, took the Hai Van Pass which was not as scenic as advertised. Had a set menu with a dish called tom su sist bo toi, shrimp in garlic sauce that was delicious with bread. I have to find this dish back in the US. The drive was fun, got some good video footage of the journey.

Outside Da nang, might be China Beach

Outside Da nang, might be China Beach

Arrived at the beach resort, which was nice, great pool, surf was too strong to risk swimming. Rented a bike and went to Hoi An town. Kind of disappointing. The touted sights were dull, the people unpleasant, and the restaurant (that was recommended by the tour girl from Hue) was crappy with poor service from annoying waiting girls. The tour girl had mentioned I was lucky to visit Hoi An on the weekend, when shops hang up lanterns for sale and the city is aglow with their light. Makes me sad to think how shitty this town would be on a weeknight without the lanterns.

Most tourists weren't buying, they just wanted pictures

Most tourists weren't interested in buying, they just wanted pictures

Rode back to the hotel in the dark and without directions, frightening but exciting. Somehow made it back to the hotel. On the way, instead of crossing a bridge that was under construction, I took a boat ferry to get back across the river. Nice old guy was the ferryman, helped load the bike on the boat. This is a 10 ft long by 5ft wide wooden boat, to give you an idea of what rickety means. Ferryman really appreciated the $5 I paid, since normal fare was $1.25 (I didn’t have change).

Went for a nice swim in the empty swimming pool, lost a contact lens. It’s strange that the beach resort has such a nice elaborate pool on its grounds, since the beach is about 100 feet away behind the resort. I guess with the strong surf, it’s safer to let people swim in a pool. Viewing the beach at night and in the dark was frightening. The few times the surf crashed into the raised shelf of the beach, it felt like a hand reaching out from the sea to drag you to your grave. No one else was around, adding to the effect.

Hue, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I made it to Hue, entirely as scheduled and problem-free, which was kind of shocking. There was a driver at the airport who took me to the hotel, a nice place in Hue called Hotel Saigon Morin, got checked in and everything went smoothly. Had drinks at the deserted bar, chatted with the 2 bar attendants. They taught me some Vietnamese, I taught them some English while I got buzzed on some drinks that I think lacked their advertised alcohol content. I found out (or was reminded) that Vietnamese couples are only allowed 2 children. I thought that kind of restriction was only in place in China, but it fits since it’s a socialist government here too. That helps explain the desire to birth boys instead of girls.

Vietnamese lessons from the bar keep

Vietnamese lessons from the bar keep

Second night, tour girl Huong picked me up on “her uncle’s” scooter and we had dinner at one of the shops on the main road in town. If she hadn’t been there to pick a survivable eatery, I might not be alive now, or I wouldn’t have bothered trying one of these small shops at all. Had a lot of fun riding around behind her on the scooter. I got a few looks from other riders so I asked her if it was weird that a girl was driving a guy around on a bike. Her usual response, “of course” followed, but then she suggested I drive the bike. We pulled off to a quiet street and she hopped off, showed me the ropes, and I took off down the street. It was great. Next she got back on the bike as the rider, and I drove us through town back to the hotel. Had a close call with a bus, but otherwise it was a blast. Almost completely changed my opinion of the tour girl.

Getting ready for a scooter ride through downtown Hue

Getting ready for a scooter ride through downtown Hue

Day 4 in Hanoi, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m starting to wonder about the maturity of the Vietnamese tourism industry, as far as the travel agencies and tour operators are concerned. I suppose it’s a little unfair to judge them at this point, as a lot of the problems for myself and other travelers at this time involve a typhoon named Hagupit that is passing through with potential flooding rain, making it too risky to venture to Halong Bay, one of the premier tourist draws for these travel agencies.

The cruise around Halong Bay would have taken up 2 days including travel time, so instead we’re left milling about Hanoi, waiting for the weather to clear up before continuing our journeys. For me it would have been ok since the travel agent has been accommodating by booking the extra night at the hotel room and trying to find other tourist activities to fill my waiting time.

Unfortunately these other destinations require additional fees, which boggles the mind since I already paid for a 1.5 day cruise around Halong that includes lunch, breakfast, and dinner, wine tasting, a cabin on the “junk” boat, and all sorts of sights to see on the leisurely cruise, all of which had to be canceled thanks to Hagupit. Compare that to the cost of 1 night’s hotel stay and breakfast, and they want to charge more for a one day side trip to another tourist spot? No thanks, I’ll kill another day in Hanoi before I (hopefully) fly out to Hue tonight.

Had to settle for this pretty picture instead of the real thing

Had to settle for this pretty picture instead of the real thing

Day 3 in Hanoi cont, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Wandered around Hanoi in the rain, looking for a place to eat and maybe some female company to ask those pressing questions about your typical Vietnamese person’s hopes and dreams about leaving this 3rd world burg. I finally found a welcoming place to eat, and there was another guy by himself, so I asked him if I could join him (see, I’m not antisocial, just a private person). Guess what, another Singaporean, except he’s here on business. He told me about Viet khieu, the term (derogatory perhaps) for Vietnamese who return to the old country for whatever reason. We had a great conversation about all sorts of stuff while enjoying pho bo (my father would not have enjoyed it, but he’s very picky about his pho). I also had some Tiger beer (mildly chilled) and do-it-yourself spring rolls. At Vernon’s (the SG guy) suggestion, I asked the serving girl to roll the spring rolls for me. She was reluctant (how’s that for Vietnamese hospitality) but conceded. She really appreciated the $1 tip I gave for the spring roll service.

Restaurant in Hanoi

Restaurant in Hanoi

Walking back to the hotel, I made the mistake of showing interest in a sidewalk vendor’s wares. 15 minutes of haggling, begging (on her part), and me trying to get away, I ended up buying an NVA cap (that barely fits my big head) and two bracelets for $5. Entirely unsatisfying experience, especially when 3 other vendor types joined in trying to sell me stuff and/or convince me to accept the first vendor’s offering price. I held firm, taking the price from 150000VND to about 83000VND ($5). It really sucked when she saw the other $6 in my hand and told me to give her one more, even after we agreed to the price. I told her I needed it for dinner and walked off. She had followed me for a block trying to close the sale.

edit: I went to the famous Vietnamese water puppet show. I don’t want to jade anyone else’s future experience, but I didn’t get much out of this. I think it was because everything was in Vietnamese so you couldn’t follow along, it was just puppets moving around the pool of water, with a narrator speaking a foreign language. You need about 5 minutes of that before you’re ready to walk out. The singing and musical performance were cool though. According to the brochure for the show, I was required to pay $1 for taking pictures. I didn’t pay.

Musical performance during the water puppet show in Hanoi

Musical performance during the water puppet show in Hanoi

Day 3 in Hanoi, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So here I am, day 3 in Hanoi. I woke up early after another night of jet-lagged sleep so I could be ready for checkout and pickup for the Halong Bay cruise on the next leg of the tour. It’s raining outside, but I miss rain, so a cruise in the rain would be fun, just resting in my cabin while rain pitter-patters on the window (as I write this I realize I wouldn’t have had internet access in my cabin on the cruise, which with the rain would mean a day sitting in my cabin twittling my thumbs). Unfortunately, I got a call from the travel agent (kind of surprising they bothered actually) that the cruise has been canceled. The rain is due to a typhoon passing through the area. I knew about the typhoon, should have seen this shit coming, but I’m forever the optimist, right to my f*cking grave, at which point on judgment day I will optimistically wait for heaven, and end up in f*cking purgatory. I only recalled later that if I had started the tour as originally scheduled, I would have beat the typhoon and been able to go to Halong bay. Instead, I get to spend another 2 days in lovely Hanoi and missed out on one of the premier tourist destinations in Vietnam.

Now I’m back in my hotel room, after waiting in the hallway for 10 minutes while the maids (young girls in maid outfits) made up the room. They don’t have AC in the hallways, so I was sweating nicely by the time I got back into my room. The travel agent said he’d rebook the Halong Bay cruise for tomorrow if possible, but that basically crams a 1.5 day cruise into .5 days, since I have to fly to Hue tomorrow evening. Not to mention the lunch and dinner on the cruise that I paid for and probably won’t get, but don’t want to bother fighting for a refund since this is all bullshit anyway.

Forgot to mention, after taking the call from the travel agent about the cancelled cruise, I said not quietly, though not as loud as I’d have liked, how I should have visited Japan instead. The hotel reception desk girl smiled sheepishly, though I don’t know if she heard exactly what I had said.

Idle thoughts from 2nd night in Hanoi, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well so far so good, at least for getting back alive and unscathed. I walked around looking for pho restaurants but found none. I did answer a question however. Earlier in the day I had been discussing with Patrick (the Singaporean) about how Asian families still prefer birthing boys instead of girls. We agreed on the point, but I wondered why in these modern times (versus in farming times) they would rather have boys, since a girl can get suitors and married off at least. Walking down the street near my hotel gave me an answer. In every shit shop on the road (there are about 20 crammed lining each street, all selling about the same cheap shit at tourist prices) are about 3 or 4 young girls sitting around chatting or staring into space, killing time. Some shops had a guy there too, and some had “trained security personnel”, almost always a slovenly looking guy in an unwashed security uniform (no weapon I could see) sitting on a chair at the entrance, also staring into space, killing time. Though some of these girls were cute, they were basically sweatshop fodder, except more leisurely, so they probably made less than the typical sweatshop girl. So there was my answer. Instead of shit shop attendants, your son could be doing something concrete to bring in some money. Don’t ask me what. I’d rather have females giving the tours instead of the guys I saw doing most of the guiding.

Shop-keeps or farm-hands? Tough choice...

Shop-keeps or farm-hands? Tough choice...

I ended up settling for dinner at a western-type restaurant where I had Tiger beer (highly recommended by Patrick the Singaporean) and a dish of bo luc lac. The Tiger was bad until poured into a glass so it could breath. Not sure what it is about places like Vietnam (and Singapore), but they serve the beer tepid to slightly cooled. Beer should be served frosty cold (forget that German warm beer shit, that’s why they lost 2 world wars, warm beer drinking pansies). The bo luc lac was again disappointing, and will be (probably) the last time I have this dish in Vietnam. It’s my fault of course, since this is Vietnam. Not like they’re going to serve ribeye or even sirloin beef in these dishes. I’d guess this was round or chuck steak at best, if it was beef at all. I wonder what yak meat tastes like, or maybe I already know now?

I did eventually find a pho shop on the way back to the hotel on the sidewalk where a guy sat behind a portable counter with a boiling pot of soup and some unrefrigerated meat in a display case. He actually had 2 customers chowing down on pho on the sidewalk. I had already eaten, or I might have risked it for some authentic Vietnamese sidewalk cuisine. When I say they were chowing down on the sidewalk, I don’t mean like a sidewalk cafe like you might see in Europe. They were sitting on stools on the sidewalk, eating their dinner. Around 7PM, most of the shop attendants were eating at the entrances to their shops. If you walked up, they’d stop a minute to attend to you, then go back to eating when you left.

I saw this group of college or high school aged westerner girls at the restaurant I ate at (unchaperoned). One was this fairy looking blonde girl in a dress out of Pollyanna (is that a movie or a character from a movie?) Really cute getup, just completely out of place in Vietnam. She caught me looking twice, and was noticeably unsettled being stared at by a surly looking local guy eating and drinking beer by himself (that would be me, except I’m not a local and I’m not really surly, but what’s the difference to her). edit: This is yet another picture I wish I had taken: Pollyanna in Vietnam.