Vietnam – Day 12 – Hanoi & Travelling to Cambodia

Today was a day of relaxation before I had to board an evening flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia. I woke up at 6:00am and went downstairs for an amazing buffet breakfast. It doesn’t matter what you wanted, this place had it! I spent the first half of morning relaxing in my nice and cool air conditioned room, before heading upstairs to the pool area. I had the pool all to myself and ended up relaxing there until checkout time, which was 1:00pm.

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At checkout I left my bags with the reception desk and went in search of food. While I was walking I saw a restaurant that was called Bami King, who’s sign looked like a knockoff of Burger King, so of course I had to eat there. The sandwich was super saucy but didn’t really have too much flavour; probably the least favourite Banh Mi that I’ve had so far.

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I got back to the hotel around 2:00pm and relaxed in the lobby for about an hour editing photos. While I was there one of the hotel workers began playing the harp, and it sounded amazing.

3:00pm arrived quickly and it was time for me to head to the airport. I ordered a GRAB for 120000 Dong ($7.50) which was less than half of the price that I had paid when I had originally arrived in Hanoi. The reason for this was because the surge pricing wasn’t in effect due to it being mid afternoon. When I had originally arrived in the evening there was surge pricing in effect.

When I was at the airport I had to find a way to print my Cambodian E-Visa, which I sloppily had forgotten to print off before I had left for the trip. After talking to numerous Vietnam Airlines desks I found someone who was willing to help me. I had to email it to her Gmail account and she had to print it to some really older printer that was off to the side. Remember most airline tickets are still printed on dot matrix printers in the fair majority of the world, so finding a modern laser printer is difficult sometimes.

After clearing customs and security I sat and waiting for two hours before the 6:00pm flight. A storm had rolled in at this point in time and there was a ton of lightening. I tried to get photograph or the lightening, which has been a bucket shot for me for quite some time, but no luck. I eventually ended up getting a photo from a video screen capture, despite it being low quality.

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The flight was on a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321. The flight arrived at 7:50pm. I was even served a meal on the 1h50m flight. Siem Reap International Airport was a complete mess. After landing we de-planed in the middle of nowhere and there was no bus or guidance of where to go. People haphazardly walked to a few buildings before finding the terminal, which was not actually very obvious to find. Customs was easily to clear as I had already applied online for a Cambodian E-Visa. After clearing customs I went to the taxi commission desk to book a taxi to my hotel, since GRAB didn’t operate out of Siem Reap. After paying my $10 USD ($13.20 CDN) I was given this young man who spoke perfect English. The first half of the drive went by seamlessly, but during the second half he was trying to get me to hire him as a tour guide. I told him that I had already scheduled a guide for the next 3 days. He started to cry and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that they have to get a number and are only allowed to pick up people every 3 days or so as the Airport Authority only lets the one taxi company show up and there is a huge wait list. I felt pretty bad so I gave him a $10 USD tip; regardless of if the story is true or not. The guy needs the money more than I do.

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He dropped me off at my hotel; Golden Citadel Hotel, a hotel you can typically acquire for about $21 CDN/night. The room has a king size bed, free bottled water, mini bar, and two rainfall showers. This is pretty food value and the hotel is rated 4.3/5 on Google. After checking in I realized that my British passport was missing so I phoned the Siem Reap airport lost and found, and they confirmed that they had my passport. Turns out it fell out of my bag on the flight, which is super sloppy of me. I told them I would pick it up tomorrow in the afternoon. The key for the room had a very amusing statement on the back of the keycard; I feel somewhere the thought was lost in translation…

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It was time to head to bed as I was completely exhausted, and my tour guide was to pick me up at 7:30am tomorrow morning.

I will be taking a slight pause in the Vietnam series. Check back tomorrow for a recent hike I took with my dad and our friend Filipe to Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. The Vietnam Series will continue on Saturday June 29th.

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Vietnam – Day 6 – Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour

Today I unfortunately woke up early again at 5:00am. I did some photo editing in the room until it was time to have breakfast. For breakfast I had Cao Lau Noodles at the villa restaurant.

I booked myself a cooking class tour with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class Tour company on a recommendation from Viktor and Sandrine. I was picked up at 8:15am and was taken for a tour of the Hoi An food market before venturing on a boat ride on a traditional basket boat. I went fishing and caught 3 purple crabs! After riding on the basket boat it was time to start my cooking class.

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During the cooking class I learned how to make pho, eggplant aubergine, Vietnamese pancakes, fish sauce, aubergine sauce, and shrimp salad rolls. The cost of the cooking class was 750000 Dong ($46.85 CDN). The class ended at 1:30pm and I was dropped back off at the villa.

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It was time to check out sadly… it was an absolutely amazing villa! I stayed here for four nights and actually had the whole place to myself. This family run villa has the most amazing friendly staff that are eager to make your experience in Hoi An as perfect as possible. The rooms are spacious, clean and bright. The rooms have a super cold minibar fridge with cold drinks that are very fairly priced. The pool is incredible, especially on a hot day. My favourite staff member was Lap; she works in the afternoons. She’s so sweet and makes sure you have everything you need; including if the weather is bad she wants to make sure you don’t get wet and gives out rain ponchos. You can rent motorcycles for fairly cheap (110,000 Dong ($6.85 CSN) for a newer Honda automatic with lots of power). The complementary breakfast is amazing with an option of 13 different choices with Vietnamese and traditional western foods as options. They also have amazing fresh fruit juices and authentic Vietnamese coffee. I would absolutely stay here again and would recommend it to anyone.

After checking out I had a private driver drive me to Da Nang Airport for roughly 130000 Dong ($8.15 CDN). I arrived at the airport at around 3:00pm.

My Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi was at 5:00pm on an Airbus A321 CEO (Current Engine Option). After arriving at Hanoi I took a fairy expensive GRAB ride to my hotel; O’Gallery Majestic Hotel & Spa, for 272000 Dong ($17 CDN). I received two nights for free at this $200 CDN/night hotel on Hotels.ca for free. If you don’t use hotels.com or hotels.ca you should; every 10th night is free with a blended average rate from your previous 9 stays. This hotel has everything you can possible imagine; a private pool, a massive room with a luxurious king size bed, free food, mini bar, a 3:1 staff to tenant ratio. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who wishes to visit Hanoi.

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After checking in I walked to the famous Hanoi rail tracks where the train passes by every day in the evening at 7:30pm. After taking pictures of the train I went for some chicken broth pho at Bahn Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. After eating dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the massive city of Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 2 – Cu Chi Tunnels

Today I woke up at about 3:00am. I’m struggling a bit more than usual with my jet lag. I was starving and was in need of coffee so I walked to McDonald’s, since it was the only restaurant open around me. I had some Vietnamese coffee, Matcha Tea, and a deluxe Egg McMuffin, which was much better than the ones at home. After breakfast I walked back to the hotel and hung out until the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast. I had rice soup for my second breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious.

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After breakfast I waited around for my Cu Chi Tunnel tour bus to pick me up from the hotel. The bus arrived at 8:15am and the drive to the tunnels took about 2 hours, which included a half hour stop at a restroom facility. At the restroom facility there was a touristy-like shop that sold hand made paintings and art work made by disabled people who were injured during the Vietnam war directly, or indirectly from all the chemicals used during the war. You could see the people making the art work right then and there. They used sea shells, bone, paint, etc. to create a variety of art work, which was absolutely beautiful. The amount of time and effort that went into the art work was staggering.

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After arriving at the Cu Chi Tunnels we all donned big spray as we were very close to the river, and the mosquitos were quite prevalent. I didn’t want to get dengue or malaria. Our tour guide showed us around the tunnel complex and described what it would be like to have lived and survive in the tunnels, as well as showcase some of the traps that the Vietnamese used against the Americans and the Viet Cong. Towards the end of the tour we all had the opportunity to crawl through the tunnels, which were very narrow despite being enlarged roughly 40 percent for tourists. It was quite claustrophobic in some areas.

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On the tour I met this wonderful couple living in Malaysia. Their names were Viktor and Sandrine. Viktor was an avid photographer like me so we nerded our quite a bit on the bus ride back to our hotels. I decided to get off with Viktor and Sandrine at their hotel and go for some lunch and egg coffee at the famous tiny restaurant called Little Hanoi Egg Coffee (Góc Hà Nội). I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the kitchen area as to protect their secrete recipe. After climbing two flights of very narrow stairs we arrived at the top of the restaurant with a view of the street below. The room was decorated with plates, artwork, and photos on the wall. I had an avocado grilled cheese and egg sandwich with some deliciously rich egg coffee, which was almost too sweet and too creamy for my liking. Egg coffee is traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee.

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After having lunch with Viktor and Sandrine it was time to head back to my hotel and clean up before heading to the airport to head to the next city of Hoi An (the airport is in Da Nang).

The flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang was only about an hour and was on one of Vietnam Airlines brand new Airbus A321 NEO’s. The Airbus A321 NEO (New Engine Option) is a re-engined version of the Airbus A321 using CFM LEAP-1A or P&W PW1100G-JM engines and new Sharklet’s to increase fuel economy by 20%. The plane was only a few weeks old and the interior style was completely different than their old fleet with modern teal leather seats, instead of the older beige fabric seats with lotus flowers. The flight arrived at 8:20pm. I was greeted at the airport by a driver sent by my villa. The drive to Green Hill Villa took about 40 minutes or so. Since I had arrived at night I could see the beautiful lanterns of Hoi An lit up.

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I was greeted with a welcome drink in the reception area by the family who ran the villa; a young lady, her husband and their new born.

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I was quite tired and it was starting to get late so I ended up going to bed.

Check back tomorrow when I explore the beautiful city of Hoi An.

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Travelling Home From South America

Iguazu Falls was the conclusion of our trip to South America. I slept in due to being up so late the night before on the phone with Avianca and Air Canada. We packed our bags and got ready for breakfast. When it was time for breakfast the power in the kitchen was off due to a faulty circuit breaker. While they were repairing the circuit breaker we had some cold cuts, bread, fruit, and cereal. Eventually the power was turned back on and we got our morning coffee.

After breakfast we walked a nearby corner store to get some more bottled water and some more Kleenex as we were both still suffering from a cold. We then walked to Tres Fronteras, which is a monument where the Iguazu River joins with the Parana River. On the west is Paraguay, in the Northeast corner is Brazil, and in the Southeast corner is Argentina. It gave an extremely unique perspective into the different levels of wealth of each of the three countries as you could see the three varying levels of development.

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After visiting Tres Fronteras we walked back to the hotel and ordered a Taxi for 700 Argentinian Pesos ($21.50) to Brazil’s Cataratas International Airport (IGR). The taxi driver helped us fill out all of the paperwork required for the border and drove us to IGR, with a very quick and painless stop at the border to process our paperwork. I have dual citizenship so I do not require a Brazilian visa, but C required a visa (which she obtained beforehand).

Once at the airport it was confirmed that our flight was not going to work, so we took an earlier flight on a different route to get to Sao Paulo, which is where we needed to be to get home on a later Air Canada flight. We flew on a 3 week old Airbus A320neo, which was extremely comfortable. It’s too bad they’re going to have to give it back as they’re in huge financial difficulties and are in bankruptcy protection at the moment. The Airbus A320neo is extremely quiet on takeoff, even quieter than the new Boeing 737 MAX.

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Once arriving in Sao Paulo we had about 8 hours to kill before boarding our Sao Paulo to Toronto flight on Air Canada. We checked into our complimentary Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo to eat, drink, shower, and relax before boarding our Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER. I ended up upgrading us to Business Class for a small fee due to my annoyance the day before. I was situated in 7D and C was situated in 7G. I had a delicious dinner and a few beers before falling asleep for the majority of the flight. The flight was extremely smooth and despite leaving 1.5 hours behind schedule ended up only arriving 30 minutes late.

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Upon arrival in Toronto we cleared Canadian customs and went to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Canadian customs took a while to clear because they were not even open as we were the first flight to arrive. We had to wait for the staff to show up for their shift, and they also were late. We had some coffee and breakfast in the lounge before making our way to our return flight to Calgary. We were warned we would be experiencing an extremely turbulent takeoff and first hour of the flight as a huge storm was rolling in. We ended up being the last flight out of Toronto. That was the most turbulent flight that I have ever been on and did give me a bit of anxiety.

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Chile – Days 14 & 15 – Travel Days

The next two days were mainly travel days. We had to drive back to Punta Arenas, fly to Santiago, sleep overnight, fly to Buenos Aires, and then fly to Iguazu Falls. We were supposed to be able to sleep in but unfortunately our heater in the loft wasn’t working so we both woke up at 7:30am fairly cold. I used the oven to heat the place by turning it on and leaving the door open. We decided to have a lazy morning and hung around the loft until 11:00am when it was time to check out.

We drove back to Punta Arenas and experienced intermittent rain along the way. It looked as if anyone who was hiking in Torres Del Paine was going to have a very wet day because the clouds in that direction were very dark.

Once we arrived in Punta Arenas we decided that we wanted some ramen or Vietnamese food. We found a hole in the wall place that served Korean noodles, but they only accepted cash and we decided it was too much of a hole in the wall. Across the street was a restaurant called Gyros Pizza. We both shared a Hawaiian pizza, which was absolutely delicious. I also had an americano coffee as I was starting to fall asleep.

After lunch we went for a 12km walk along the beach front, which was very relaxing. After the walk it was time to head to the airport, drop off our truck and kill some time. When I returned the truck there was nobody to inspect it so I was told to just leave it and they would clear my receipt. Turns out three weeks later after the trip I am still in a dispute with my credit card company and Europcar because they double charged me for the truck. I had prepaid for the vehicle before the trip and they were supposed to just have a $800USD deposit that would be removed when I returned the truck. Turns out they actually charged my credit card for the cost of the vehicle even though I had already paid in full.

While waiting for the flight to Santiago we found out that the flight was delayed about 45 minutes. We managed to make up most of that delay once we were in the air. The view on takeoff was absolutely incredible. The flight landed at 11:30pm. We parked at a remote stand and had to take a fairly long bus ride to the terminal, which was perfect because I had to figure out how to order us an Uber, since it’s quite different at Santiago airport than other places because its still not technically legal in the country.

Ordering the Uber was the same; you just use the app, but that’s where things differ. Barbara, our Uber drive, texted me on the Uber app and told me she was behind me and to board the parking lot shuttle bus and then she would talk to me on the bus. She was super friendly and we took the parking lot shuttle bus to the parking lot where we walked to her car. She explained to me that they have to keep a low profile at Santiago Airport because authorities were cracking down on Uber drivers, who were not supposed to be there. When we got into her car she had quite the setup to communicate with foreigners. One phone was dedicated to Uber and the other was dedicated to Google Translate communications.

The drive to Hotel Diego de Almagro Aeropuerto was short and sweet and Barbara was extremely nice. After checking into the hotel we went to bed immediately as we had to get up at 4:45am the next day.

The next day we woke up at 4:45am, quickly got dressed, and had some buffet breakfast before boarding the shuttle to the airport for our flight to Iguazu Falls via Buenos Aires. Before boarding our flight we had to clear immigration to leave the country. The lineup at the immigration booth was about an hour long, but the process was simple. Before boarding the LATAM Airbus A320 flight to Buenos Aires I tried to get some Argentinian Pesos at the foreign exchange, but they were out of currency. I was starting to get a bit concerned about obtaining Argentinian Pesos as nowhere in Calgary had any, nor did Chile… more on that fun adventure later…

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We arrived in Buenos Aires after a moderately turbulent flight. We had a two hour layover and had some food and a drink before boarding our next LATAM Airbus A320 flight to Iguazu Falls, Argentina. An interesting thing to note about Buenos Aires AEP airport is that it sits right next to a beach so you can see people hanging out on the beach sunbathing. The next flight was less turbulent and arrived on time. After arriving at Iguazu Falls and the aircraft door was opened we were greeted with 37 Celsius weather and tons of humidity. It felt really nice as we had just spent a week in Patagonia where it was cold, dry and windy.

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After deplaning into the terminal I searched for a bank machine and found the only one in the terminal. Of course this was too good to be true because when I put my card in and requested any denomination of Argentinian Pesos I was greeted with the message of “ATM out of cash”. At this point in time I decided that we would have to find a way to get to our hotel with only credit or debit. Uber was ousted from the Iguazu area by the taxi commission a few years ago so that left us with having to take a taxi. There was only one taxi company that said they took credit or debit so I picked them. All taxi companies have a flat rate of 700 Argentinian Pesos to the main city.

When we were only a few blocks away from the hotel the taxi driver pulled into a gas station and told me I would be buying her gasoline as she doesn’t have a credit / debit machine. I thought it was really weird at first but then told the taxi driver that I will not be paying for more than 700 pesos. She gave me a very dirty look and started to talk in Spanish to the service station agent. After fueling the taxi we were dropped off at our hotel; Boutique Hotel de la Fonte. The hotel beautiful, but fairly dated. You could tell that it was once an extremely prosperous place.

From my research and talking with others it appears that Argentina is going through economic decline, where as Chile is actually doing really well. Their roles over the last decade have reversed as Chile used to be a fairly impoverished country. Argentina’s economy is being eroded due to political instability and corruption and the locals are suffering. It’s extremely difficult to obtain cash because the citizens of Argentina have lost trust in the local banks due to devaluing currency. They panic and take out all their money, leaving the machines empty.

After settling into the hotel for a bit we decided to go explore the town and get some dinner. We came across a quaint Italian restaurant called Il Fratello. I had vegetable lasagna and Catherine had herbed chicken with pumpkin infused mashed potatoes. Both meals were exquisite.

After dinner we found a bank machine that actually had some money in it. I took out 4000 Pesos ($130 CDN) and was charged 385 pesos ($13 CDN) to take it out, which is extremely expensive. Most countries charge $1-5 but this was the most that I had ever seen. Either way I was happy to have cash as I would need it for tomorrow and to also buy some bottled water. We stopped at a convenience store and tried to purchase a few bottles of water for tomorrow, but the store owner didn’t have enough change for my 1000 peso bills. I ended up having to buy four bottles of water, some bottles of beer, and some ice cream just to purchase enough items to receive change. He even had to go into his own wallet, and the next days float to have enough change to give me.

After arriving back at the hotel we swam in the pool and were greeted with a welcome drink of champagne. Catherine started to not feel well, but I was feeling better at this point in time. We had a lazy evening before heading to bed. Tomorrow we explore Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side.

This concludes my Chile series, but I have two posts left for Argentina/Brazil that will be debuting sometime this week.

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2018-03-14 – Toulouse

Today I woke up at 8:00am. Toulouse has an amazing bike rental company called Toulouse Velo, which stands for Toulouse Bike. I rented a bike from right outside my hotel and rode towards the town Center where I grabbed some McDonald’s for breakfast before taking the tram up to The Aeroscopia Museum near the airport. The museum featured predominantly Airbus products, but had a few other products such as the Caravelle and not one, but two Concorde’s! The price was fairly reasonable at €12.50.
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The Caravelle, designed and built by Sud Aviation right here in Toulouse between 1955 and 1972, is such a unique aircraft because it had triangular windows, a unique T-tail arrangement, and was one of the first jet turbine powered aircraft to be built that was highly successful. The last aircraft was retired in 2005, a whole 50 years after it first flew. The only comparable jet turbine powered airliner that shares this same success would be the McDonnell Douglas DC9 or the Boeing 737 series, the later having just had its 10,000th unit produced and was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. I also got to go inside the Concorde’s, an old Airbus A300, and a Super Guppy!
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After exploring Aeroscopia I went to the restaurant next door called La Ferme du Pinot, where I had a local Toulousian dish called Cassolette. Cassolette is beans, pork and duck confit; think meat and beans casserole. I really liked the aviation inspired chairs that were at the restaurant as well. Once I move into a nicer apartment or house I’d like to purchase one.
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After lunch I took the tram back into the city exploring lots of old architecture dating back to around the 1100’s and onwards including the old City Hall, Saint Sernin, and Church of the Jacobins.
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I went back to my hotel to relax for a bit before going out for dinner at the same place I had the donair last night because it was so good. After dinner I went to a local brewery/beer shop called La Matabiere, where I picked up four different beers; three IPA’s and one Amber. I head back to my hotel room and did some photo editing and drank the beers before heading out to do some night photography of the churches and old City Hall. I ended up going to bed around 10:00pm.
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