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!

Waste Wednesday & Vietnam

With 10 days away in Vietnam, I have a hybrid waste weigh in post. I weighed the trash before I left Friday week ago, and let my house sitting brother free for all with a new liner. I came home to all empty bins, and started the count again from Monday. Only I’d be sad that the bathroom and bedroom bins were emptied without weighing them, wouldn’t I? Silly I know.

Friday’s weigh in was 161g.  Then today I weighed in at a hefty 347g which included 3 months worth of dryer lint and vacuum fluff that’s been hanging out in the laundry.  Total: 508g

Before flying out Friday night (a week ago)
Before flying out Friday night (a week ago)
After our return - including 3 months worth of dryer fluff and vacuum bag fluff
After our return – including 3 months worth of dryer fluff and vacuum bag fluff

Oh my, travelling is far from a zero waste endeavor! I took the stainless steel water bottle I have, but it was useless. It’s hard to get filtered water, so you end up being given water (usually 300ml, which is half a ‘normal’ bottle in Australia) or buying it. And with planes, there’s constant surrendering of filled bottled. I hated all the plastic bottles, and all their plastic shrink wrapped necks, but at the same time, I couldn’t risk my health.

Thankfully, most people seemed ok when I said ‘no plastic bag’ when buying at the supermarket or in the markets.  Thankfully a friend (and reader) gave me a collapsible bag made of parachute material – incredibly light and strong, and it worked a treat.  When in my handbag, I don’t notice it, but is so much better than another single use bag!  The BF was also pretty good at also asking for no bag (he was mighty proud of that), but a few did slip in, which is as to be expected.  Oh, and the super markets have bulk rice! Seriously, just scoop it up from a big bin!

Thankfully, a low cost carrier meant no added freebies, so I did without plastic wrapped eye masks or blankets.  Sure they exist, but most people opted out of the ‘pay to use’ items.

We did have a lot of Starbucks (shame on us, I know, but they are air conditioned and have great toilets and free wifi), so we used a lot single use cups, with straws.  So many straws on our trip, for boys and for girls!  Can anyone see how addicted I am to pineapple based drinks?  (There were many mojitos, just no photos of them it would seem!)

Fancy cocktails, with straws a plenty!
Fancy cocktails, with straws a plenty!

So there you have it, a weighty weigh in for what was a shortened week over a fortnight (anyone confused yet?).  So tell me readers, what’s your favourite cocktails or mixed drink?

Packing for Vietnam

The BF & I booked with Air Asia, a budget airline from Malaysia. We’re flying from Sydney to Kuala Lumpa to Ho Chi Minh City. We decided to buy 20kg of luggage to share, as we thought it was unlikely we’d each get in under than 10kg carry on limits.

Here’s what I plan to pack:

Short dresses - two for night, one for day
Short dresses – two for night, one for day
Three pairs of shorts: denim, white and navy
Three pairs of shorts: denim, white and navy
Jeans - likely to be worn on the plane
Jeans – likely to be worn on the plane
Two (mini) skirts: denim and pink and white stripe
Two (mini) skirts: denim and pink and white stripe
Three 3/4 shirts, self explanatory
Three 3/4 shirts, self explanatory
Three tops: pink t-shirt, white linen button up, blue and white kaftan top
Three tops: pink t-shirt, white linen button up, blue and white kaftan top
Swimsuits/bathers/cossie
Swimsuits/bathers/cossie

 

Casual dresses - I love to wear this around the house, but these two are also out for outside wear
Casual dresses – I love to wear this around the house, but these two are also out for outside wear
Here's a snippet of what I'm packing, a lot in hand luggage, some in other luggaeg
Here’s a snippet of what I’m packing, a lot in hand luggage, some in other luggaeg
Here's my reading pile, compliments on my parents extensive collection.  They will find homes in Vietnam
Here’s my reading pile, compliments on my parents extensive collection. They will find homes in Vietnam

You can do without an underwear shot!  Of my shoes, I’m packing my leather thongs and my black ballet flats, and my runners.  To see my shoes, check out this post.

The contents of the pink/clear purse are in my post about my handbag’s contents

I also think I need something warmer and comfortable layers for the plane. Usually I wear a hoodie, which is great for cold temps, but I know it’d be bulky and get no wear in Vietnam. So some more planning and thinking needs to happen there. <- I decided on a singlet top, a thin long sleeve tee, my trench coat and a scarf to go with the jeans.  Sorry, no photo.

At time of posting there was four hours til take off! Exciting!  Anything you think I’m missing?

 

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?