VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

VIETNAM: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Lobby of Kim Do Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Sept 1, 2012 after 18 hours of travel (What a LONG flight, but travelling Cathay Pacific First class cabin makes it SO much easier)! More about that in another post…

Some housekeeping notes: 
1) VISA ON ARRIVAL in Vietnam (Cdn Passport holders): was a painless process. 

Needed: 
– $25 USD cash 
– Visa application completed (if you don’t have one, they will give you a form to complete) 
– 4×6 passport style picture 
– Visa on arrival letter from tour company you will be touring with (If you do not have this letter, VOA might be much more difficult & we suggest you contact a Vietnamese tour operator to make arrangements)

They take your application and picture, process the Visa on the spot (takes about 10 minutes) call you back up to wicket, you pay your $25USD (make sure you have exact cash required in hand). Make your way to immigration/customs, and pass through customs cheak, pick up luggage and make your way to exit, as per normal (if you have a driver waiting for you, they should be just outside exit doors with your name on sign) 

After check-in to hotel (Kimdo Royal Hotel) was located in the new tourist section of hotels and upscale shops. This is where one of my problems with travelling always happens. I truly LOVVEEE being in the guts & glory of ‘real life’ in a new city, where you get to see and enjoy the real vibe of the local scene, and get to see local people interact and run their daily lives. However, (especially in countries with less standard amenities than I’m used to) I LOVVVE being in comfortable properties (Western style to an extent with amenities I am used to at home, so I can have some comforts of home, while travelling). 

So here’s the problem: usually these nicer properties are located in areas surrounded by boutique shops and upscale restaurants that cater largely to tourists. Unfortunately in these types of areas, I find all sense of “local life and livelihood” is virtually extinct in the immediate surroundings and replaced by the whitewashed Chanel and Bulgari boutiques. Don’t get me wrong, love these shops and boutiques and LOVE fine dining (100%), but for me, there is a time and place for those, and I will go to seek those shops out, if/when I need. 

So this is my travel conundrum. Sometimes I meet my needs half way, by staying in properties in less desirable/comfortable and less touristy areas (so I can get my fix for the destination’s real life ‘feel’ & culture) or instead, in more desirable and touristy locations, (but I lose the ability to walk out of the hotel in walk into the real life culture of my destination). Anyway blah blah blah.

After getting situated at the hotel, we walk out to see what life is all about in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh. The streets don’t let me down: as soon as we turn a few corners, there is shop after shop of people offering “spa services” (massage, starting at $10 dollars!!) I declined (unfortunately) – I can’t get into letting some poor woman or man endure the distress of giving me a rubdown when I am sweaty after walking around in the oppressive heat that is Southeast Asia during rainy season. Call me anal, but I need to feel clean BEFORE I go to a “spa service” as well as after, and in the sticky, sultry heat of Ho Chi Minh city, just 5 minutes of walking gives you the standard warm-weather, sultry, skin sheen. No Massage – Thanks. 

Also it’s handy to note that EVERYONE drives a motorbike in Vietnam, well almost, but they have a very orderly chaos that takes place when the lights turn and people are coming from left & right and rarely, does anyone crash!

Dinner after arrival was a funny and somewhat cheesy dinner cruise with many tourists onboard to eat a fixed meal and watch a staged song & dance show. It was enjoyable, mostly for its comedic value as it was so over the top cheesy and campy – imagine your worst cruise line show EVER in terms of ‘typical’ and this was it. Guys dressed in marine/navy style outfits, Asian singers singing “C’mon let’s twist again.” It was quite bad, but so funny. Being extremely tired & jetlagged helps one enjoy this show to a much greater extent I think. 

Would I recommend this or pay for it? – if I had a choice, probably not as I would much rather walk around and see the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh’s streets but as a first night event, it was ok. Funniest part was the flame thrower “Britney” dancer with her go-go boots and the “Con-on less tist agin, like vee did lass summah” singer. Sorry, maybe the fatigue made me not enjoy it as I should have. Oh well, there’s something for everyone. This show under the influence of severe jetlag that evening, was not for me.

Five Ways to Avoid Theft on Vacation

Five Ways to Avoid Theft on Vacation – SmarterTravel.com

Luckily we’ve never encountered any crime or pick-pocketing in ANY of our travels.

“Once I was in the Middle East, and walking in a city with a colleague,” says Craig Bidois, principal consultant, Fear Free, a New Zealand-based security and safety management firm. “A car stopped beside us and a lady got out of the car and asked me if I could change a larger note for a smaller one. Being a helpful person, I went to get my wallet out. My friend—also a security expert—realized what was about to happen and replied that we could not help. Her car was ready to go with a driver; I suspect she would have taken my wallet and [driven] off.”It’s not unusual for anyone, even security experts, to be caught off guard while traveling. Whether it’s a vacation or a business trip, it’s important to stay alert and know your surroundings to avoid petty theft. Read on for ways to safeguard your valuables while traveling.
What Not to Pack

Before you pack even one item, do a bit of research about the local area to see if any safety red flags come up. “Crime occurs in all countries, cities, and towns,” says Bidois. “Maybe you’re going on a local vacation or to a remote area in another part of the world—the risk remains the same. Do some research about the location you are going to to find out what the safety issues are there.”Armed with this knowledge, you can pack accordingly. Depending on where you’re going, you may want to choose a body wallet over a purse, a backpack over a suitcase, or other similar tweaks to your usual attire.The old adage of “when in doubt, leave it out” rings true for all types of trips, from domestic road trips to far-flung international vacations. Leave expensive jewelry, extra clothing, and other non-essentials at home, and forego anything flashy, brand-labeled, or attention-drawing. Not only will you know your valuables are safe at home, you’ll also enjoy the freedom of traveling light and in a manner that will hopefully allow you to blend in with the locals.“A person should pack light so that they aren’t bogged down with having to carry a bunch of items with them,” says Beth Whitman, founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick, a guidebook series and website for women travelers. “If they can act confidently and aren’t fumbling around or looking lost, it’s less likely that a thief will target them.”

What to Bring
You may also want to invest in a few extra precautions for your bags. Whitman recommends a cable lock to tether your bag to something stationary, small zipper locks to prevent entry into your bag, and a bag with mesh or slash-proof panels to keep thieves from tearing it open and making off with what’s inside. Just remember that TSA security requirements mandate that your bags are unlocked in flight, so be sure to bring the locks along and attach them to your bags once on the ground.

Additionally, make copies of all your important documents (passport, itinerary, reservation confirmations, credit cards) and give them to trusted family and friends before you leave. You’ll also want to share copies of customer service phone numbers and emergency contacts. This way, in case your wallet and/or bags get stolen, you’ll have backup to continue with your trip, honor your reservations, and have a means to get home.

Consider purchasing travel insurance to give you additional peace of mind while on vacation. Be sure to read your policy’s coverage before you buy to verify that loss/theft protection is included.

Out Exploring
“You are responsible for the security of your possessions, no one else,” says Bidois. “Most of us save up our hard-earned money to take ourselves and our families away on a vacation. We deserve to have a stress-free and enjoyable time away, [but] sometimes we let our guard down.”

While you may feel the urge to relax and cut loose on vacation, staying alert and aware of your surroundings is your first and best line of defense. “Would you leave your house unlocked? Car unlocked? Money lying around your bedroom?” says Bidois. “You need to maintain basic everyday security measures.”

Start by deciding what to have on you while you’re out, and map out your route in advance. Your money, credit cards, and forms of ID should be in a secure place, such as a money belt that’s worn close to your body or an interior jacket pocket. Avoid crowds or other touristy areas known for petty theft, pickpockets, and the like. And by having a general sense of the area and your route, you won’t have to fumble with guidebooks and maps, which makes you stand out as a (potentially vulnerable) tourist.

“Be careful about people who approach you,” says Bidois. “Many are con artists or worse … Use your gut feeling. If you think something is not right, trust your instinct.”

It’s always a good idea to carry a dummy wallet on you, filled with loose change and a few small bills. A former colleague had a brilliant strategy of saving the fake cards that come with credit card solicitations and bringing those along in her decoy wallet. If you are held up and asked for your wallet, you can get rid of the dummy one, the thief will be none the wiser, and you’ll still have your valuables.

Finally, stay sober. If you’re intoxicated, you’re much more likely to end up in an unsafe situation. Keeping your wits about you is the key to safety.

In Your Hotel
At check-in, request a room that’s not near a stairway or elevator (to reduce foot traffic or strangers prowling around the easiest-to-access rooms), as well as one that’s not on the ground floor. If the clerk announces your room number for all to hear, ask to be reassigned to a different room. Ideally, the check-in attendant should write the room number on your key envelope and pass it to you across the counter. Discretion can prevent theft.

Once in your hotel room, take advantage of all the locks you have. “A rubber door stop will prevent someone from entering your room,” says Whitman. “Many hotel room doors in developing countries don’t have additional locks, such as chains, so this little item can come in handy.”

Sometimes, paying a little more per night can give you extra peace of mind for security’s sake. “If you are a backpacker or staying in a low-grade hotel, you get the security level you paid for,” says Bidois. “Generally, higher grade hotels have more protection measures in place … but you still need to remain alert. I never leave the ‘please make up my room’ sign out—this signals you are away. I do leave the TV/radio on as a gentle background so it appears I am still in the room.”

You may also want to use the hotel safe for your valuables, travel documents, and other pieces you’d like to safeguard. Check in with the front desk beforehand, though, to find out just how secure the safe is. How many people have keys to the safe? Who has access to the room? A few general inquiries can determine whether the safe is a viable option for you.

If You Do Get Robbed…
Unfortunately, even the most aware and alert traveler can experience a bit of bad luck. If you do get robbed, there are a few steps to take to make the best of a bad situation.

If you lose your passport or other identification documents, get in touch with the nearest embassy. Ideally, you will already have copies made that you can take along with you—this will expedite the replacement process.

“If it’s valuables, definitely report it to the police so that they have a record of it,” says Whitman. “If the police will issue a report, you might be able to get your insurance policy to reimburse you.” Be sure to get a copy of the police report for your insurance claim.

Finally, while the threat of theft may seem frightening, it shouldn’t be an all-consuming focus on your vacation. “Don’t let fear put you off traveling around the globe to visit some amazing sites and meeting interesting people,” says Bidois. “Just use common sense, appropriate humor, follow the local cultural customs, and be a little more alert than if you were at home.”

Link to Article: http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/five-ways-to-avoid-theft-on-vacation.html?id=5040085

Basilica Cistern … Sultanahmet, Istanbul Turkey

This has quickly become one of my favorite places in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey.

I happened upon this fantastic place when I was strolling out of the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) one day on my way to the Grand Bazaar. It amazed & enchanted me, and I continue to visit this lovely, mysterious place every single time I visit Istanbul.

The first time I entered Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnic) it was very quiet, before many people had arrived for the day. I was immediately entranced. The low, lilting sounds of the soft music, people’s muted voices, along with the dimly lit walkways simply enhance the visitor experience

The Basilica Cistern, built in 532 A.D., is Istanbul’s largest covered reservoir, and once supplied water to nearby palaces such as the Topkapi Palace and the Great Palace of Constantinople.

The Basilica Cistern is also known as the “Sunken Palace,” and was supplied with water flowing from forests in Belgrade, Serbia, to an excess of 100,000 tons. Inside the Cistern there are a total of 336 columns, in 12 rows of 28 columns.

Several columns exist inside the Cistern that are worth noting:

1) The Peacock Column is supposedly a surviving column from the Arch of Theodosius

2) Medusa Columns: There are also the two columns located at the very end of the Basilica Cistern, whose bases are formed in the shape of the Medusa Head (a female monster from Greek mythology with hair made of snakes. Tales imply to look at her would turn you into stone.)

The Medusa upside down head is found on the base of one column and next to it is another Medusa head laid on its side. Stories abound as to why her head was placed upside down, but many believe that it was done to ward off evil spirits.

I highly recommend a stop by the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnic) if you are looking for interesting things to do in Istanbul.

Contact Us at World Travel Warehouse, if you need assistance with your Istanbul & Turkey travel plans. We are Turkey specialists. 

Museum Cave Hotel – Cappadocia, Turkey (Hotel Review)

Hotel Review: Museum Cave Hotel – Cappadocia, Turkey

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I had the pleasure to visit and spend some time at the lovely Museum Cave hotel in 2010, and also meet the owner, Mr. Omer Tosun at a party in Istanbul. The level of quality experienced at every turn in the Museum Hotel stems from it’s owners attention to detail and perfection.

The location and views over Cappadocia from Museum Cave Hotel are hard to beat, as you can see.
Hotel Review: Museum Cave Hotel - Cappadocia, Turkey

Museum Hotel, located on an approximately 5000m² wide and “unique” area; is composed from the restorations of old ruins and wrecks as saved originally. Museum Hotel, with its each special and different 30 rooms, is also important for being the first luxury boutique hotel in Cappadocia region.

With its unique location, you can enjoy the panoramic view of the majors of the region such as Avanos, Goreme, Love Valley, Pigeon Valley, Red Valley and Mt. Erciyes from all its rooms, Restaurant, Terrace and Bars. Being aimed at to serve the best service to our eminent guests from the very first day, Museum Hotel is the primary choice of the big part of elite guests that are visiting the region.

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Museum Hotel is a unique boutique complex in all sense. With its totally personalized reservation system, unique location, each different and special luxurious suites, excellent service quality, the most upscale a la carte restaurant Lil’a where you can taste the local foods that tend to be forgotten, private wellness services in room, unique concept of “Museum” and detailed and magical atmosphere that will bring you to thousands of years ago, Museum Hotel is, with just one word; ‘unique’.

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L’ila Restaurant

 

As you can see, each accommodation is furnished to highlight the unique features of each of the cave and non-cave rooms, as per each client’s preferences.

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Another lovely aspect of the rooms were the modern and upscale ensuite fixtures, including a double jacuzzi bath for those considering a honeymoon stay.

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For potential meeting planners looking for a superb venue in the Cappadocia region, the Museum hotel can accommodate your group’s meeting and break-out room needs easily.

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Please feel free to contact us for your booking needs in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. We are Turkey trip professionals, with many trips to Turkey under our belts!