Saturday, January 29, 2011
Check it out
Update: Keep in mind some of this info is like from the 90s because they are referencing things that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien did or has done!!!
Anyway I wanted to highlight these first set of pictures because it specifically focuses on people and more importantly (in this case) the traffic. Now the pics may not show much in terms of the volume of traffic and if that's the case I didn't do a good job of picture-taking because here in Ha Noi when it comes to traffic and the daunting task of facing it, it's kill or be killed. No joke. Drivers WILL kill you without hesitation. You have to walk across very, very, incredibly busy streets with confidence or as I repeat they will run you over and that's it for you. Game over. Pedestrians are not kings here. Cars will not stop for you. Buses and trucks will hit you, no problem. People on scooters and motorbikes will drive on the sidewalk to avoid traffic jams AND even honk their horns at you to get out of the way. Not for the faint of heart but with a little practice you gain the confidence to handle it. Well, it's either that or enjoy your visit to Ha Noi standing at the side of the road all day waiting for a kind hearted soul to let you cross the street. Yeah, good luck with that!
The city is also preparing for Vietnam Tet or New Year so it's all gussied up. There are kumquat tree everywhere. Everywhere!! On the street, in homes, in my hotel lobby on motorbikes to take home! I think they bring luck? Definitely used for decoration. You don't dare come close or God forbid touch the trees for fear someone will lose it thinking you're bringing them or someone else bad luck. I've learned here that sometimes it's just best to look, maybe even take a picture or two and mind your own business, know what I mean?
And the rest of the pics!
Ya know, sometimes you forget that Viet Nam is a Communist country so when you see the flag you're a bit taken aback! Just a bit though because honestly you really don't notice much of a difference. I suppose if you get into trouble or do something stupid then you may see the differences. Let's not hope for that. Anyway I'm off to Ha Long Bay for the next three days with zero Internet capacity. I'm back for half a day in Hanoi on Wednesday then off again to the Sapa Mountains returning to Ha Noi on Sunday. I'm hoping at least in Sapa they'll have WiFi so I can update the blog, if not I won't be until the following week that I'll be able to post anything.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Before I do, I have to say that I had a great day today. Went on a tour of the city with the best driver I've ever had – he was so happy it was infectious even when the following happened. Got in a car accident (minor fender bender) when another car hit the car I was in. Met an amazing couple from New Yawk during a pint at Finnegans (Paul and Atina – thanks for the beers and conversation!!). And something else. The whole reason I'm in Viet Nam and today I did it. Bourdain would be proud - well maybe he wouldn't care but I'm damn proud! I went and got myself some street food that this country and in particular this city is famous for. Nothing major mind, just a Banh Mi sandwich but holy crap was that ever tasty and it's exactly the way I hoped – pate, sliced chicken, cucumber, cilantro, chilis all stuffed into a toasted baguette. Better than the one I had at The Nam Hai and way less fuss (isn't that always the case – simple is just sometimes better?). Oh I was a happy man. Two and a half weeks ago there was no way on God's green earth I'd be devouring street food after my little stomach incident, but now? Give it to me, that sweet tasty stuff (apologies for lyrical change Brotha James – one of my favourite songs by the way; listen to that bass). My former guide was right: getting sick did make me stronger so now I'm hungry for more!
Here it is – now I know to the naked eye it doesn't look like much and you may be thinking ah, it's just a baguette Steve, calm down - but those who know about these sandwiches know what I'm talking about, don't ya!!
Pictures of Ha Noi to come in the next post!
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Any Smiths fans? You'll recognize the title if you are.
On my blog I have a tab called Miscellaneous Musings – a little spot I created for the times when I may meander off the topic of travel and just write what's going on in my head. Like now for example. I was thinking today thank God I have this blog to get all my adventures, thoughts, whatever's, out in the open because if I didn't I swear I'd be an ocean wave, no, change that - a tsunami of blab to the first person who says hello and expresses interest in my life and travels!!
Before leukemia took over our lives, Robbie and I would talk ALL the time (or have a few arguments - life together as a couple wasn't always perfect). We never shut up. We talked about everything; current events, politics, told stupid jokes, every day life stuff – it never got boring and I loved every minute of it. Of course we had our quiet moments – when we were asleep! But honestly, from the minute we'd wake up to the time we went to bed – lots of talking!! Even when we were at work there would be periodical emails just to say Hi or to check on each other's day; how's it going? Good day or blah day? What we were having for dinner, grocery lists, whose turn was it to pick up the Vodka. If he had to go away on business there'd be phone calls and more emails, just never-ending communications. I become so used to it I honestly would catch myself when I was alone sporadically wondering what I'd do without it and I hated it when those thoughts would come into my head and would just as quickly forget about it. The fear became a reality six years later. Suddenly you go from everything to nothing but a very loud quiet and it's a serious adjustment. Still is almost three years later.
So now I catch myself becoming more aware of big mouth potentially striking again when I talk to others. During and after conversations with whomever, in my head I'm thinking "Holy shit Steve shut up, you're talking too much!" I've done that a lot with family and friends and even strangers! It makes me laugh sometimes because I'm so aware of it that I'm talking too much. Actually, I think I'm aware of it almost as much as the people around me. Makes me sad too. So why is the babble so rampant in me? Loneliness could be one reason. Missing what I what I had and trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate what doesn't exist anymore could be the other. Either way it's still a tough lesson to learn that you can't go back no matter what you do and that knowledge can be/is a punch to the gut. It's also extremely important to know and accept as well. Hard though – very, very hard.
The point, and I'm getting to it, is that in my mind and out loud I'm thankful for the blog. Yeah granted it's a one sided conversation but as long as I enjoy writing it and have the extra bonus of it being enjoyed by others then that's very satisfying. Just please let me know if I babble too much k?? Ok musings over!!J
Rob, in a low voice: "We should have gotten in that other cab".
Me, already suffering the strains of rumbling sick tummy and was quietly rubbing it, hoping to keep back what was sure to come up – sorry - says back to him: "What other cab? Really, why?"
Rob: "Do you not read Lonely Planet? You should always use so and so cab company and not no-name cabs when you're in Saigon. We're using a no-name cab".
Me: "Oh, I didn't know that, and no I do not read Lonely Planet. It's not because I don't want to or anything I just didn't think what they said applied to me ya know because, well, I'm not a student nor backpacking right? So yeah, lonely planet, not so much (cue rumbling stomach)."
Rob: "umm yeah (add to that statement with a look of whatever Steve haha), well anyway we're going to get screwed here".
Me: "It'll be ok – what can happen?"
Sidebar: why do people say that when it inevitably leads to something not so great happening?
So when we get to our destination which was a total of five minutes, no joke, and the guy did quote before we got in the car that the trip would be about a dollar American (vendors always quote US dollars here - remember that if you come). Oh and another sidebar: NEVER EVER show that you have large sums of money on your person; I mean that's common sense anywhere you go but here? If you have to count it, do so discretely so no one can see. You'd be surprised at how fast the fare/costs/prices whatever can change. Anyway Robert starts counting the money (not quite as discretely as it could have been) he has in Vietnamese dong and the driver , who turns around to watch us totally starts freaking out. Gesturing and pointing at Rob and me saying he didn't want that money that Rob had (has was counting out a ton of small change) but I had one 100 000 dong in my hand. He actually yanked it out of my hand and then got out of the car and kicked us out and took off. So he basically got about 5 bucks Canadian – a four dollar profit – maybe less in US dollars. Not a big deal , to me anyway. I mean it's not a wonderful feeling either but I wasn't going to have a breakdown on the street because he took it. These things happen. It was one of the most bizarre situation I ve been in since I started traveling and added to my already less than happy state of mind for Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. Robert turns to me smiling and goes as the taxi drove away "we've been scammed". I'm like: "Really? Sad. Ok now let's find somewhere where I can use the washroom" (rumbling tummy, remember??).
In the grand scheme of things, events like that will happen. And I wasn't alone when it did which makes me laugh even more! I think things like that happen to me when I'm with someone. I let my guard down. So I'm more vigilant when I'm alone right? HA!! Ha Noi quickly put that notion to bed.
As I walked on the streets of Ha Noi, shopping, minding my own business, apparently my shoes looked like hell and holy God these shoe cleaner guys were soooooo persistent and I can usually shake that stuff off (I was actually called mean earlier because I wouldn't buy postcards – and THEY were really persistent too) but I just was in such a great mood so I stopped and had them cleaned because, let's be honest here, they really did need to be cleaned. Ya know, despite it being known as a scam (actually I didn't know that - maybe I should read Lonely planet eh??), they did a fantastic job. They fixed the heel, really cleaned the shoes (they were suede) so they look like new. I was very impressed so I'm thinking ok where is the scam in this? Oh, yeah - the price. The guys, there were two, wanted 200 000 dong EACH (or about 40 dollars total). Oh and as incentive they also offered first to get me girls, then boys, and then they offered themselves for extra - holy shit eh? I laughed I mean c'mon right? I gave them 50 000 dong. It was all I had. They weren't happy – at all. Oh well, my shoes looked great!
Yeah, I know it's hard to tell. Dirk Bikkembergs shoes usually look like this - sort of worn out. I kinda wish I had a before and after shot but just trust me, they did a great job! I felt a bit bad about what I gave them but dammit it's a hard world people – sink or swim J So was I scammed. Maybe? I don't feel like I was. I'll have to ask the Vietnamese staff here at the hotel to double-check on that. No doubt they'll look at me and say oh hell ya you were! 'Tis ok – nothing was stolen or anything so I'm not gonna cry - I'm gonna strut in my clean shoes!!!
I will add this: if this does happen to you,don't be a me - stick to your guns and say no!! Even if you have to yell it. It's just another way to get at your tourist dollars. Be firm. Advice I will take myself (again).
Update: Ok so I've gone online about scamming in the area and it seems that Taxis are the biggest scams going in Ha Noi, but overall the stories aren't good about things that have happened to some tourists here. It's sad ya know? I mean all you want to do is just enjoy yourself, visiting a place you've never been trying to soak up the local culture and what do you end up doing? Spend (wasted) time determining whether or not you're going to get the best value for your money or always having to keep an eye on your damn wallet so you're not being taken in some form or fashion!! Draining. Ah well again the joys and pains of travel! Watch your back!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Ugh gross post headline but there is a point to it I promise. Looking back, I remember this girl I knew back in my University days. Mel was her name. She named her cat Mojo Rising because she was in love with The Doors. We made fun of her big time for that and that memory came to me because the headline provoked it so I blame that.
Yeah ya'll know I wasn't getting into the groove of Viet Nam (I'm making a conscious effort now to spell it the proper way and that includes cities, place etc.). My family and friends have been the recipients (I include my poor travel agent extraordinaire Meg in that group) hearing about my ambivalence about being here. I mean it's unhappy and happy mixed together but more unhappiness than anything, I'll be honest. Well guess what kids, the clouds have lifted!! I'm here to say the real Steve is back in the mix.
I missed him.
I really didn't like unhappy Steve, miserable in a hotel, whiny to anyone who'll listen blah, blah, blah. I'm actually am VERY happy now, can you believe it? So what changed things? Ha Noi. It's as simple as a place. I landed here from a rainy day in Hue and instantly, the minute I got here, I liked it. Of course the little things helped (they usually do right?). Like when the people in business class got off the plane (me included), we had our own little bus waiting for us and then when we got to the airport our luggage was the first to arrive – yeah I know, spoilt bitches haha. Loved that!! My Driver was waiting for me with a big ol' sign saying Stephen Wilson so another big woohoo!! Took me to my hotel which turned out to be another huge plus! Honestly things were just sailing along. Yeah it's not totally superficial reasons like the ones mentioned above that I'm in a great mood people. Honestly I just felt good when I got here. I haven't felt that way since Cambodia and I trust that feeling and I'm really glad it's back. I was VERY worried I was going to leave Vietnam thinking phew; it's over with – next country! Already having been here in Ha Noi I met fellow Canadians, a few Americans and an incredibly sweet Vietnamese girl who could not stop staring and smiling at me with her friends, not to mention a very nice German (straight couple) I met at dinner and who l'll be hanging out with when they get back from Ha Long Bay on Friday. Ok, ok it didn't hurt that they were both very easy on the eyes tooJ
All in all a very nice and much needed welcome to Ha Noi. Pictures to come!
Monday, January 24, 2011
- Remember in the previous post when I mentioned I had requested curry from the Chef at The Nam Hai resort? Well I got it, and it was awesome. So bloody good (I think you can guess that Id use a different word instead of bloody – go on, guess!) I think I ate my meal in five minutes – no joke. And sadly so far the BEST meal I've had since I've been here. Not sure what that means. Ok maybe I do - a little. I came to Vietnam specifically for their cuisine, and so far my favourite meal was Indian food made by an Indian Chef? Hmmmm.
- Weather-wise, it's not warm here - at all. There is nothing to be envious of my fellow Canadians (and a few northern Americans). I may be away from the snow, but it's cold, it's bleak and it's been raining for the past two days now. I asked my guide if this was normal for this time of year and for where I am (I'm currently in Hue which is sort of midway between north and south Vietnam). The answer was no. So this weird weather phenomenon that's occurring around the world (floods in Australia; snowstorms in London) isn't skipping Vietnam. Believe me.
- I will say that Hue is a nice place to be, almost a nice as Hoi An. I went on a tour today of the Imperial Citadel of Hue, Emperor Tu Doc's tomb and grounds as well as a traditional Garden Home. Just a mention about the visit to the Garden Home. These homes are such a unique part of Hue. They are all privately owned, and are set in really beautiful gardens. The owners of these homes usually live abroad, so the homes are tended to by local caretakers. But the best part of the day was going to the citadel and hearing about royalty. Gotta say that I loved the stories; betrayal, drama, lust, death - all your typical family stuff haha. My guide goes to me, all serious like: "do you know why the Emperor had Concubines?" I answered "because he was a big ho?" Apparently that was the wrong answer. Turns out it was because he couldn't have children so he filled that spot with women. Concubines – a lovely choice for beautiful, educated women in those days. Although I am being VERY sarcastic there, sadly there was some truth to that, according to my guide. See what I mean about the stories? Too much. The clothes, the palaces, the furniture? All over the top. All this proved to me, is that royalty can be tacky too (something I already deduced having watched the Royal Family of England over the years - yeah, good luck with that Kate Middleton), except they can get away with it because they're famous! Sheesh. All in all a pretty pleasant afternoon.
A few pics from the visit to the Imperial Citadel of Hue, Emperor Tu Docs tomb and the Garden Home to go along with the post!
Imperial Citadel of Hue
A Hue Garden Home
Emperor Tu Doc's Tomb
Saturday, January 22, 2011
I recently left the hotel above called the Life Heritage Resort in Hoi An. A really beautiful place. But I was on my way to someplace special. Ya see there are hotels out in this great big world that are completey outside the realm of ordinary travel accommodations. I've never stayed at a five star resort before. That changed as of yesterday. This is the Nam Hai Hotel.
My room faced the sea with a small lawn that eventually turned into a sandy stretch that reached the sea. Honestly I think the room was about the size of my old condo!
Oh but that's not the topper having a hotel room as big as your former place. As you're aware this blog is called A Hungry Man Travels so when I got here I was hungry and ordered lunch to my room. A simple Vietnamese sandwich called a Banh Mi (pronounced Me), with marinated chicken, cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro , mayo (surprisingly no pate in it like the ones you can eat in Toronto - oh well)in a fresh baguette and a coke. A very tasty lunch order that shouldn't require too much fuss right? Wrong. What came was a reminder that I am a guest at The Nam Hai Resort, so you'd better believe it's going to be impressive. TWO people came to deliver it. Not only did they arrange the table, but I had to sit down so I could receive, in my room, the full restaurant treatment. You know what I'm talking about; napkin placed on lap, cutlery and stemware arranged just so, my simple coke poured into the glass with a small separate ice bucket in case I wanted more ice. What can you do but smile 'cause lord knows you won't be getting that treatment at home unless it's your anniversary or you live in Buckingham Palace. I think this tops the Charlotte Hotel in London with the specially wrapped laundry – remember that?
So tonight for dinner I asked the Chef to prepare chicken curry, just for me. Big deal right? Well it's not on the menu and yeah I did feel sort of bad about asking him to make it but there is a specialty Indian menu here at the hotel so it's not like I asked for the moon plus this is the type of place where just about any request is accommodated – sidebar: I've never been called Mr. Wilson so many times in my life: how are you Mr. Wilson? Having a great day Mr. Wilson? Have a good swim Mr. Wilson? Another martini Mr. Wilson? On the phone, by the pool, walking to the villa – it's scary how quickly you get used to it. Anyway as I was saying, the Chef IS from India and I know he knows how to make it and when I spoke with him he said he'll make sure that the chicken would be marinating all day *wipes brow after writing all this out*. I mean c'mon right?? When am I going to get a chance like this again? To simply ask and though shall receive, guaranteed? I mean I've been to places where they told me I can't have breakfast in my room because it's easier for me – and the staff - to just come downstairs (that was in India and I still have to laugh at that). 'Tis all good – it's very, very good.
I can only afford to stay a few nights here or it would blow my budget completely out of the water. Is it worth it? To me, hell ya!! To others, maybe not so much but they have no idea what they are missing. When you're spoiled like this? For just once in your life?? Oh it is so worth it. Still don't think so? That's ok, I'll live it up for you and believe you me I'll have memories of this place pretty much forever.