Travelling with the BF

Regular readers would know I’ve been back a touch over a week from my 10 day holiday to Vietnam via Malaysia with the BF.  We’ve been dating for about a year, and this is the first ‘proper’ holiday we’ve taken together.  We had been away for weekends interstate, and moved in together in August.

Before the holiday, we were both pretty stressed, preparing for a week away from work, and handing over work to others. I was a right royal pain in the backside (I assume) around the house, as I have pretty exacting standards.  I was even a little worried I was just a cranky pants, and I might ruin the holiday with all my ‘it’s not quite right’ feelings.

Sad Panda? Or Happy Panda?
Sad Panda? Or Happy Panda?

However, there is something just magical about holidays.  I knew the moment that I stepped into the airport, I would be in ‘holiday’ mode, and I would be as excited as a grown mature adult should be. Therefore I tried to limit my childish hand clapping, and big grin, but it was hard to contain!  There’s nothing I love more than checking in for a long haul flight at an international airport in my home city! And that excitement ratchets up further as the plane pushes me back in my seat and we take off into the night to somewhere new and different.  The BF asked me more than once as I peeked through my row to his row, what was up.  He’d probably not seen me this excited in a long while. (The seperate rows were because the plane was empty, so I capitalised on the opportunity, and lay across three seats for most of our Sydney to Kuala Lumpa flight, sleeping!)

For the love of coffee.  With coffee, there is love!
For the love of coffee. With coffee, there is love!

I love travelling. (I love it til I get used to it.)  I love the unknown, the feeling of uncertainty, but all the time in the world to grapple with the difference and similarities in a new country and a new city.  I was so pleased to be seeing two new countries and two new cities (and the inside of Kuala Lumpa’s airport… which is a different country, but I can’t really say I’ve seen the city).

In the first 24 hours, there were some hiccups in our trip!  We spent a little more time in KL than we perhaps should have 😉  What I loved was that neither of us turned into screaming angry cranky pants, even though the BF had hardly slept on the 8 hour flight.  We saw the bright sides – like access to the McDonald’s and a Starbucks.  And somewhere to browse sun glasses.  And the lovely smell of cinnamon doughnuts – which were in fact cookies (and yes, I enjoyed two!).  We both know what each other needs to be ‘ok’.  He needs a cappuccino ASAP after waking! I need naps when possible, and seeing I’d been doing droptober, I needed sweet treats stat, to make it feel like a real holiday.

I couldn't agree more! And celebrate with cheesecake (this was the much mentioned NY Dessert Cafe!)
I couldn’t agree more! And celebrate with cheesecake (this was the much mentioned NY Dessert Cafe!)

As it was our first experience with a week of unscheduled time, there were countless questions of ‘what do you want to do now/next?’.  Thankfully, I’m pretty easily pleased, as I shared in my post about my holiday plans.  When in doubt, turn on the TV or pick up a book.  I think the BF was a little worried that I might come away from the holiday thinking we ‘did nothing’ but to be perfectly honest, no matter where I go in the world, I like to take the time to relax on the holiday, as well as seeing things.  I’ve never been a huge one for running myself ragged! Overall, I think the BF was pretty patient about my commitment to relaxing and laziness, letting me have ample time to laze around reading books, blogs and snoozing! That being said, on reflection, I think our next holiday would probably benefit with me having a clearer idea of the activity options available (including costs) and roughly working out what to do each day. Had we done that this time, we might have asked about bike riding and rafting tours sooner, and ended up with enough time to take the tour we preferred rather than being offered the only thing running the next day (which we declined).  We also looked into visiting an amusement park in Nha Trang, but some presearch (new word!) might have told us it was pricey for what it was without getting our hopes up!

Back at the markets!
Back at the markets!

Overall, I feel like we got on better than I was willing to hope.  I suppose I’ve been tired and cranky more often than not since we’ve moved in together, thanks to work getting busier, a full dance card outside work, and not getting enough sleep.  Thankfully, the holiday allowed us both to sleep soundly in air conditioned comfort of luxurious hotel rooms.  Our days were filled with eating out, which I love – although by the end of it, you almost want to wake up and make something yourself!  I had some genuinely great moments – room service, the Sheraton in general, the buffet breakfast and the mud baths.  I even got excited taking the photo of the pretty plane and uniforms, which I showed you yesterday.  And finding Banana Republic (I will share my spree there soon, I promise).  And the departure from Sydney! Those moments, those are the gems in the crown of a holiday.  Those sparkles make the experience richer, and I’m so glad I was able to share my wonder and joy with the BF!

Do you remember your first holiday with your current or past partner?  Did it go well?  What stories do you have to share?

Observations of a Vietnam holiday

There’s so much I observed and want to share with you!

Here is more or less a stream of thoughts from my last day in Nha Trang (and two days before our holiday was due to end).   Sadly many of the random thoughts don’t have photos – sorry! So random holiday photos are mixed in wherever! More posts on packing, what I wore and what I bought to come though.

Flowers every where!
Flowers every where!

Like Nha Trang’s second language (after ‘Vietnamese’) would have to be Russian! There are SO many Russians, and so often we were handed the menu in Russian, and as we said ‘thank you’ they whipped it out of our hands to bring us another menu!

Full face mask, and hoodie despite the heat (to prevent tanning or the fumes)
Full face mask, and hoodie despite the heat (to prevent tanning or the fumes)

Women really cover up when scootering or bike riding – including the most amazing face masks. You can also buy long gloves, to protect ones fingers and lower arms. And there are even nude coloured sock (with a gap for the part of the shoe that goes between the big toe and the other toes). Seems getting any darker is NOT ok!!

Not the common cafe, but the upmarket 'Western' style NY Dessert Cafe.  All the decor was so thought out
Not the common cafe, but the upmarket ‘Western’ style NY Dessert Cafe. All the decor was so thought out

There’s a very strong ‘café’ culture here (Vietnam). Seriously, we went to a few nice shady tree covered cafes and struggled to find food – though there was lots of cake, so I never went hungry! Seems the BF has less of a sweet tooth, or is already enacting some of our diet plans for when we get home. There’s no end to variation of juices and smoothies – every fruit, with milk, yoghurt, ice cream, combinations. Almost every menu included variations with strawberries, and whilst I love strawberries, I seldom actually saw any for sale at stalls. And the few strawberries that did feature on the top of Tiramisu or Cheesecake, certainly looking a little… seasick? Passion fruit and pineapple, however, were for sale everywhere, and gosh darn, delicious too! As were lemon or lime juice – which is a misnomer, there’s nothing Vietnamese like more than sugar, so the above juices were mainly sweet, usually with a salty tang. I just love fresh lime or lemon juice like this!

This family of four stopped to look at the Halloween costumes at the restaurant we were leaving, and so I asked to take their photo! They were more than happy to be in my tourist snap!
This family of four stopped to look at the Halloween costumes at the restaurant we were leaving, and so I asked to take their photo! They were more than happy to be in my tourist snap!

Days are long when you’re on holidays with no commitments, and I think I realise how much ‘dithering’ occurs in a holiday with a family of five. We may not think of our family as patient, but I think we most certainly are! The schedule I shared with you for family holidays certainly still left lots of empty time for the BF and I. I was more than happy to while away countless hours of TV and reading, but given wifi was only in public areas in the Sheraton (for us lowly people who are not ‘Club’ members), there was only so much reading for him – most of his reading is on the tablet, and usually emails (I think… and some news).

Need a mattress?  Taken from The Watering Hole (a pub)
Need a mattress? Taken from The Watering Hole (a pub)

Therefore, there were more ‘activities’ than usual. Happy hour was often out at a bar – classy places like ‘The Drinking Hole’ and ‘Booze Cruise’ – places that offered free shots after a certain time, and free cocktails for ladies at other times!!! And let me tell you, alcohol is ridiculously priced. It seems the locals steer pretty clear of it, but a wayward team would have a field day here! Honest to goodness, in a market stall out of a tourist area you can buy a bottle of Gordon’s Gin (the BF’s chosen poison) for approximately $9! Compare than to $45 at least in Sydney. There was even a cocktail called the ‘Fish Tank’ which included a bottle (yes, a BOTTLE) of gin, vodka and rum! We actually wondered how you would drink it all before it got hot! Are there insulted glass holders for things that big!?

Inside the markets at Ho Chi Minh City!
Inside the markets at Ho Chi Minh City!
If there's Chinglish, is there Vinglish?
If there’s Chinglish, is there Vinglish? Just what is Union Rice?

Other activities we enjoyed were playing pool – I certainly had some lucky breaks, as I don’t really have a born talent at pool! Thankfully, the BF won. He likes to win. I won one game, thanks to him sinking the white ball when all he had left was the 8 ball. Interestingly, we saw a lot of snooker and pools halls (well, noticeably a few, whereas I can’t recall otherwise ever really seeing them anywhere). They seem to be a haunt mostly for men, though when we played at about 6pm, we were the only ones in a room of at least 12 tables. The staff were all women, and all… provocatively dressed. I started to wonder whether I was the usual clientele! I did observe that I felt more comfortable in a country where women can dress like this, that I too can wear shorts or short skirts – comparing it to my visits in the middle east, where I continually wonder if I’m doing something risqué or ‘wrong’.

This is me in a SHORT skirt.  But the photo was the capture the gorgeous colour of the uniforms, and the lovely colour of the planes (a teal).  Hands down my favourite plane colour scheme!
This is me in a SHORT skirt. But the photo was the capture the gorgeous colour of the uniforms, and the lovely colour of the planes (a teal). Hands down my favourite plane colour scheme!

We enjoyed a day at the mud bath – another very popular activity for the Russians, who seemed to arrive by the bus load! Like most of Nha Trang, the mud spa seemed big enough for many more guests than it was accommodating. For $15 we got entry and a mud bath, so hot and cold outdoor showers, and then some cool and warm pools. When I say ‘some’ it was really more extensive than that! There were countless pools – ones with artificial water falls, some with jets of water, others with slides, a large, shallow circular pool with a large covered perimeter with lounges, then pools more organically shaped with sandy peripheries and more lounges! There was of course the full suite of massage and spa services available, although at a far less competitive price to what’s available on the streets in ‘town’. Nonetheless, it was a well organised system – carefully handing in your valuables which were placed in a plastic bag to be entombed in sticky tape – ensuring that you’d notice any tampering. You were then led into a change room area, given a towel and a key, and if you didn’t have a swim suit, you could borrow one of their rather dashing suits (tongue firmly in cheek there!). The key corresponded to a locker, which was naturally of a woven fibre, and there were countless change rooms around the outer edge of the change area, large enough for one, with a curtain for modesty. The whole system was very well thought out! As the change rooms were in an arc, men to one side, women to the other, you exited to meet one another and follow a path to the mud bath area. Sadly I took hardly any photos as my phone was entombed in the plastic. Others did take their tablets from pool to pool to take photographs, but it did seem a little perilous with all the mud!!

The reflective pool in the middle of the circular change rooms for the mud baths
The reflective pool in the middle of the circular change rooms for the mud baths
I think the towel colours related to the service level you got - which package of spa/mud etc  Such an organised system!
I think the towel colours related to the service level you got – which package of spa/mud etc Such an organised system!

Any clues on what “Union Rice” is?

Food in Vietnam

Again, authentic tourist I am not! I like to eat what I like to eat, and the last thing I want is food poisoning! I have a good history of getting ill on holidays, so with much joy I came away from my trip to Vietnam unscathed.  The BF was not so lucky! Here’s a photo document of some of the meals (and some of the meals we didn’t have – ie market stalls!)

 

Yep, plain old pizza - tasty too, with just tuna and olives
Yep, plain old pizza – tasty too, with just tuna and olives
A flavour I've never seen - sadly I didn't try it.  This was the land of exotic juices
A flavour I’ve never seen – sadly I didn’t try it. This was the land of exotic juices
Kanye West Cheesecake - love the names the NY dessert cafe had.  We liked it so much we went back for dinner on our last night!
Kanye West Cheesecake – love the names the NY dessert cafe had. We liked it so much we went back for dinner on our last night!
Bad photo of bulk vermicelli - almost a zero waste option!
Bad photo of bulk vermicelli – almost a zero waste option!
Another 'didn't eat' - live fish in the market
Another ‘didn’t eat’ – live fish in the market

We went to an outdoor Barbeque restuarant. I have never seen so many staff! There was at least one staff member to each 2 chairs, I’d say! They pretty much did all the BBQ cooking for you, so much so they tut tutted when I went to take a skewer – they’d determined they weren’t yet fully cooked.

BBQ Garden - a hybrid of Korean BBQ and many other dishes.  I've never had so many staff attend to my meal
BBQ Garden – a hybrid of Korean BBQ and many other dishes. I’ve never had so many staff attend to my meal
Save for the coriander garnish, this noodle dish was tasty!
Save for the coriander garnish, this noodle dish was tasty!
We think this was Pho - the national dish.  The BF had no idea what he ordered would be a soup :(
We think this was Pho – the national dish. The BF had no idea what he ordered would be a soup 🙁
Club sandwich, with exactly 9 chips!
Club sandwich, with exactly 9 chips!
Nacho cheese: not exactly what we were expecting!
Nacho cheese: not exactly what we were expecting!

It’s sort of surprising at the same resturant as the Nacho cheese, we got the following two dishes:

Spring rolls (or nems)
Spring rolls (or nems)
Squid stuffed with pork and crab mince!
Squid stuffed with pork and crab mince!

Poor cultural joke up ahead:

I'm kidding, they surely are not food! But it was weid to come across them on the pavement on an footpath otherwise devoid of walking trade
I’m kidding, they surely are not food! But it was weid to come across them on the pavement on an footpath otherwise devoid of walking trade

We certainly weren’t that adventurous! And to go with all that eating?  Drinks! I love all things pineapple, so there were lots of blends of juices.  I also enjoy mojitos, and some margaritas, and even a caipirihna to swap out that mint and rum.  And the BF was all over the gin and tonics – with a side of beer sometimes.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

Loathed to admit my love of luxury

I feel a little uncomfortable posting about my holiday, and that’s because my highlights weren’t particularly culturally unique to Vietnam, but about the luxuries I enjoyed. We spent some nights in Ho Chi Minh city (or Saigon) and a number of nights at the beach side town of Nha Trang.  The weather was incredibly warm and steamy – at least 30 C (or about 90 F) daily with high humidity.  It really made being out and about a tiring and sweaty business.  That being said, we strolled around a lot and saw as much of ‘normal life’ as possible.

Old Saigon against new Saigon
Old Saigon against new Saigon
Let me start by saying that I usually travel with my parents/immediate family or alone.  When I travel with my parents, they cover all the costs, so we usually stay in cheaper hotels.  When I travel alone, I usually stay in hostels where that’s normal (ie Europe and Northern America) or in cheap hotels in the Middle East and Asia.  That being said, in my recent few independent trips, I’ve created my own tradition of a ‘night of luxury’ usually on my return leg, where I stay somewhere fancy, and enjoy the modern comforts of a private shower, and a big bed rather than a bunk!  So I’ve spent a night in Abu Dhabi’s Hilton, and a night in the Bahamas Sheraton.  Both nights were an amazing rest and a great end to a holiday!  I felt clean, even if all my clothes weren’t!!
Travelling with the BF, well let me tell you, it was a new experience for us both.  The BF’s only travelled for sailing competitions in Australia and South East Asia, and as such, was often sponsored by the boat owner.  He stayed where he was put up.  So, this being our first international trip together, the expectations were to be discovered.
The shot from the bathroom vestibule, through the shower and bath room with glass walls
The shot from the bathroom vestibule, through the shower and bath room with glass walls
My one ‘thing’ was that I wanted a hotel with a nice bathroom – ideally not dated, or growing mould in the silicon (as you know, I dislike even discolour silicon and had two attempts to fix it in the loft!).  Thankfully, both places we stayed have certainly met, if not exceeded my expectations in bathrooms!  It certainly has helped that the cost of things in Vietnam is far cheaper than in Australia.  When we compared the costs of the two hotels we stayed in, they were cheaper than nights we’ve paid for in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Orange.  I have no idea what my stay cost at The Holiday Inn in Melbourne, as I was kindly put up by the conference company.  The other thing is, whilst we pool finances (and used our ‘team account’ for some dinners out, and some accommodation costs), we both see the room rate at half of the listed price, essentially our ‘part’ in the price.
View to die for! Even better than home!
View to die for! Even better than home!
That was my long winded justification of our week long lap of luxury!!
A lovely bed with equally tasteful art (so uncommon in hotels!)
A lovely bed with equally tasteful art (so uncommon in hotels!)
I thoroughly enjoyed staying four nights in the Sheraton.  There was the world’s biggest king sized bed, with a snow white fluffy doona to combat the 19.5 C temperature the air conditioning constantly pumped out.  There was BBC World and CNN on the TV along with endless repeats of Amazing Race, and interesting Discovery Channel shows.  There was even French cartoons, Russian news in English (that was a revelation) and an Australian channel.  I spent many an hour horizontal, between reading the novels I bought with me, watching TV and napping.  I think the BF was surprised at just how chilled out I can be!
Looking out to the bay from the 6th floor pool
Looking out to the bay from the 6th floor pool
We enjoy the pool – with views of the bay.  Although the winds whipped up at time, making it positively cold, it was great to laze around in a modern pool setting.  You only needed to raise the flag and a man would come running to take your order from the menu, which was kindly floatable!  Seriously, it was behind a plastic cover, but it was essentially a kick board!
There was also a beach right across the road from the Sheraton in Nha Trang.  The traffic is pretty constant, though worse at night than during the day.  We visited one evening, and again the morning of our departure to have a proper swim.  Interesting, the Sheraton (and the neighbouring (not so) Luxury Hotel) offer staff to assist in crossing the road at the pedestrian crossing! Complete with a Sheraton bat they usher you to the middle, and then across to the other side.  Once on the sand, if you’re lucky you can score a lounge, but nonetheless there’s a supply of fresh towels.  Again, the kick board menu is available – although I’m disappointed I didn’t see the main road dash to get the food to the beach!!
Waffles and pancakes!
Waffles and pancakes!
To fully appreciate the luxury, I enjoy room service – we ordered two coffees, which were potently strong!  Then we got waffles and banana pancakes.  Sadly, there was just not enough maple syrup (see I do my Canadian readers proud, I hope!), but they were delicious all the same.  I did feel like a princess!  And all for less than $20, which seems close to reasonable, compared to what it would cost for room service in Sydney.
Healthy I was not!
Healthy I was not!
The last morning of our stay, we enjoyed the buffet breakfast, which wasn’t included in our room rate, as it was about $20 per person.  Let me assure, there was nothing lacking from the buffet! There was Vietnamese soup, a salad bar, cold meats and cheese.  Say nothing of the omelette making man, who would also do eggs any way you wanted. There were reading made waffles, pancakes, crepes and mini French toasts, but of course the man would make you a fresh crepe! There was croissants, bagels and doughnuts.  This doesn’t even go into all the condiments, and fruit, and juices.  Let’s just say, Droptober was well and truly over come November 1 when I consumed my fair share!  It certainly made up for some of the less plentiful buffets we had in Saigon and also the Luxury Hotel.
As I said, I feel somewhat uncomfortable recounting these highlights of the trip.  What I do realise is that I enjoy experiences.  I like feeling ‘special’ and ‘splurging’.  By contrast, the first ‘thing’ I bought was a set of metal cup measures!  Seriously, the BF eclipsed me in the first week, but I came out strong in the end (largely due to finding a Banana Republic, which we don’t have in Australia, and I find the clothes are exactly my style).
What makes an authentic tourist, or a proper holiday in your mind?  I’m ready to make it controversial, so please be honest!

Holiday! Vietnam activities

The BF and I are going overseas! We’re going for just over a week from Friday night 25th October to Monday 4th November.  I’ve tried to queue up some posts, but I can’t imagine I’ll reply to all comments as promptly as usual.  And I might not be commenting and reading all your posts either.  What are holidays for, but a little digital sabbatical?  We’ll see – I might not be able to resist the lure!

If I'm not replying to your comment, here's why! source: www.fanpop.com
If I’m not replying to your comment, here’s why!
source: www.fanpop.com

We’re spending two nights in Ho Chi Minh, and then some nights in Nha Trang and then back to HCM city.  Whilst I’ve been a blogger, I’ve not been overseas, but I love travel.  On average, I make one BIG international trip a year, usually for a few weeks, to either Europe or the US.  I like to go back to old faithfuls, but it’s just as important to me to see new cities and countries.  I’ve never been to Vietnam.  I did do a project in primary school about it though!

I’m not a huge tour girl, which is sort of in line with my no guide book motto from Honeymoon with my brother, which I mentioned in my all time favourite books post.  That’s not to say I don’t think about and research what I’d like to do on my holiday.

I’ve done a fair share of my travelling with my family.  They’ve structured most of it the same way.  It goes a little something like this:

I can already hear the theme tune! source: www.bbc.co.uk
I can already hear the theme tune!
source: www.bbc.co.uk
  • wake up (and read/watch BBC world/CCN <- it’s not a holiday if I don’t see one of these news channels!)
  • eat breakfast
  • wander/shop/sight see
  • eat lunch
  • nap/read/watch trashy movies
  • cocktail/happy hour in the hotel room, sometimes with board games (scrabble is a favourite)
  • eat dinner
  • sleep
  • repeat

So much better than the usual eat, sleep, (rave), repeat.  (Sorry, it’s a song lyric of a song I can’t stand, and whilst I don’t rave (though I do Neon Run), but the song is so pervasive!) I really mean eat, sleep, work, repeat.

Cu chi tunnels source: www.grandvietnamtours.com
Cu chi tunnels
source: www.grandvietnamtours.com

Here’s what I’m considering as activities whilst we’re there:

  • visit flower farms
  • visit silk worm farms
  • zip lining (though there’s been some deaths, so maybe not!)
  • cu chi tunnels from the war in HCMC
  • sampling endless Vietnamese coffee, and pastries (seeing they were once a French colony)
  • visit Hoi An
  • mud baths and hot springs
  • get cheap manicure and pedicure for…
  • get sandals made!! in Hoi An (I love some leather sandals that are dying, from Greece)

What would your must see/do/buy be in Vietnam?  Have you been?  What would lure you to visit?