Sunday, December 19, 2010

The overnight bus and boat ride to Phu Quoc

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, at around six pm last Monday.  My initial plan was to spend three nights on this little island in Southern Vietnam called Phu Quoc and then possibly fly up to Hanoi and go on a two night boat cruise through Halong Bay, which is in Northern Vietnam and a destination that the country of Vietnam is petitioning to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Phu Quoc is a pretty rural island but you can actually take a 50 minute flight there for about $40 or $50 US dollars.  However, since I have been having panic attacks since my flight from SFO to HGK, I decided to veto that idea and take the longer more interesting adventure: the overnight bus/ferry.  My game plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station.  I figured that if the bus station looked too sketchy, I would just get a hotel in Saigon and make the trip in the morning.  But, it looked fine because there wasn't a single non-Vietnamese person there, which leads me to believe that the people looking to rob the tourists wouldn't be there either.  So I bought a six hour but ticket for about $6 US dollars and waited in a waiting room with a bunch of locals, who were going home to their families (see covert picture above taken with my iPhone).  This room was about 1000 degrees, filled with people.  In the corner, they were playing a Kung Fu movie on a flat panel  for everyone's entertainment (see below, left)--including my own actually.

I thought that American movies dubbed in Chinese were funny, but Chinese Kung Fu Novelas dubbed in Vietnamese are much funnier.  These people look like they have tourette syndrome or something when they speak.  It was awesome.  The officers manning the station only spoke Vietnamese, but after the first bus announcement, they read my ticket and said, "10:15" which was my departure time and once I actually had to board, they made sure that I was on the correct bus.
The bus itself, was pretty comfortable.  They had those seat pillows and a large screen TV in the front, which from what I read int the tour books are used for the bus riders to sing karaoke while the bus moves.  I was actually really hoping for some karaoke that night so that I could have someone take a picture of me singing karaoke with a bunch of Vietnamese locals on an overnight bus.  But, soon after the bus left, the lights were turned down and everyone tried to sleep.  I however, had my head lamp turned on and started reading.  We stopped to take bathroom breaks about every two hours and sometime at around 2 or 3 am we stopped the boat and took the boat onto a ferry over the Mekong Delta (see right) which was cool and then I arrived in Rach Gia at around 4:30am.

As soon as I got off the bus, four guys on little motocycles approached me about ferry tickets and a little motorcycle ride over to the ferry terminal.  Obviously, I was I apprehensive.  One, because you're not sure what to do when four guys on bikes approach you and two, I had no desire to get onto a scooter.  But, I did. Again, I figured, these aren't the guys looking to rob you after the bars because it's 4:30 in the morning and half the town is up and awake.  I also figured that since there weren't a lot of people on the road, driving on the back of a little motorcycle would be ok (DON'T WORRY MOM, I WORE A HELMET).  So after I told all four guys that I was scared to death to ride on the back of a scooter or whatever, the oldest one who spoke the most English told the others that it was best if he took me to the ferry terminal, which was about seven kilometers away from the bus terminal.  And, the ride itself was pretty exciting.  I felt like I had to give the guy my number afterwards because I was gripping his waist like a vice but the ride was successful (see above left) and I spent the next two hours at a lite little outdoor/makeshift restaurant in front of the ferry terminal (see above right).

The ferry was a nice little ferry with leather seats and more big screen TVs.  But, once I got to beach, I made the executive decision to spend the reminder of my trip here in Phu Quoc.  I rented a bungalow about twenty feet from the beach with two hammocks and wireless internet and called it a day.  I figure Halong Bay isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but these makeshift huts are going to be replaced with high rise hotels someday soon, so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things you cannot do in a beach bungalow in Vietnam

So I am in Phu Quoc, which is a little island in Southern Vietnam staying in a bungalow on the beach.  Inside of my bungalow are rules:
  1. You do not put drugs (cocaine, heroin), stimulants in the room.
  2. You do not bring fire, not be cooking in the room.
  3. You not be taken prostitutes into room.
  4. You must keep your value belongings (money, jewelry.....).  The hotel has no responsibility to compensate any loss of property and money.
  5. You can consign money at reception but the money must be less 2 million vnd
Many thanks.

I love the fact that heroin is a popular enough drug to make it on the short list.  

After I read this, it reminded me of the same rules posted on the inside of the bathroom stalls at XS, the club inside of the Wynn Casino/Resort.  Their's were more the Cliff Notes version; No drugs use or sex in the stalls.

My Inadvertent Stay at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong

I really had no intention of staying more than a day in Hong Kong, but when I got to the airport, they wouldn’t let me get onto the plane to Vietnam because I did not have a Visa.  Unlike most countries where you get your Visa upon arrival, Vietnam requires a visa prior to departure.  For some reason I missed the memo when I read my Lonely Planet.  I read the part about the Yellow Fever shot required if coming in from a Yellow Fever Country, i.e. Laos or Cambodia, but missed the Visa part.  So I booked one more night in Hong Kong at the Intercontinental and took a shuttle back into the city.  FYI, I didn't stay at the famous Intercontinental, I stayed at the other one.  It was nice, but the Hotel Nikko experience was better.  However, the good part about staying at a nice hotel in a foreign country is that the concierge will call the American Embassy for you, find out what time they open, and help you plan the best strategy to get there a half an hour early.

So I hung out in Hong Kong for one more night, which wasn't so bad, and the next morning I headed to the US Embassy.

Ironically, no one working at the door of the US Embassy speaks English.  But, it all worked out.  One of the officers working in the front let me use his personal cell phone to call the US Embassy Hotline so I could find out how to get a Vietnamese Visa.  That person told me that I had to go to the Vietnamese Embassy.  Once I was at the correct Embassy, the sweet people of Vietnam issued me a visa in 15 minutes and I was allowed to fly out and spend the next 30 days there.

Communists H8 Facebook

I know, I know, “Where the hell is Rosie?”  I think I am in a Communist Country called Vietnam—or rather, I know I am in Vietnam but I thought they were Socialists, since that is what it says on the stupid Visa they made me get prior to entering into their country.  But, apparently they are a single party system, Communism being that single party (or again, I think this, but I was too lazy to really read into the wiki).  Therefore, all internet sites that might influence independent thoughts and opinions are blocked—including but not excluding FACEBOOK.COM and me being able to purchase books for my Nook--God knows Young Adult Vampire novels will lead to the next Commy Revolution.  Although holding me back from reading the last two books in my six book vampire series will lead the following conversation with my roommate Wil:

2:54PM my time; 11:54PM Wil's time:

2:54 PM me: hey
  can you do me a favor?
2:55 PM Wilfred: i'll try...what's up
 me: can you login to B&
2:56 PM username:
  password: XXXXXXX
 Wilfred: ok, i'm in
 Wilfred: lol
  can you search for "Last sacrafice"
  it is book 6 in my vampire academy book series
 Wilfred: BWAHAHAH
2:58 PM me: bitch
  I know you are laughing
 Wilfred: ui just drooled on the keyboard
 me: know that this might hinder your ability to score some awesome fish sauce
 Wilfred: lol u want book 6?
 me: ok, once you are there, can you buy the nook book?
  not the hardback version but the nook one
2:59 PM I think it detects that I am making purchases from vietnam
 Wilfred: ok, just bought it
3:00 PM me: yes
  I got it
  you are awsome
 Wilfred: your welcome
3:01 PM enjoy your vampire diary lol

Fast Forward an hour later:

me: wil
  are you still up
 Wilfred: yup yup
 me: can you buy me one more book?
3:49 PM Spirit Bound
 Wilfred: ok, logged in
 me: vampire academy part 5
  I wanted six too
  I just didn't realize I just read 4
 Wilfred: lol
 me: so I started reading 5 and got really confused :)
3:50 PM shut up
 Wilfred: just hit buy
3:51 PM me: I am so glad it is 1 in the morning and you are still not asleep
 Wilfred: haha, i am your tween fiction savior
 me: you are
3:52 PM I might bite you when I get back
 Wilfred: lol

So of course since I am both a Capitalist and a Computer Engineer, I felt that it was my duty to find a work-around to this issue.  Once others in my little hippy commune saw that I could access Facebook, I started helping others change their DNS IP addresses (which is easy enough to do unless your friend is from Sweden and she is using Windows 7 in Swedish, like Windows 7 couldn't get any more hellacious to navigate) and now I am the computer Guru of Vietnam.  This is almost as bad as me turning small children onto Angry Birds.

Monday, December 13, 2010

There are three ways to get to the Big Buddha; None of which are awesome

Right after I got off the plane into Hong Kong, I went to go see the biggest Buddha in all of Asia so I could thank him for giving me a safe journey.  Buddhists have a habit of making life difficult and getting to the “Big Buddha” was no exception.  The Buddha lies on a very high mountain on an island call Lantau and you can get to the top one of three ways or a combination of two:
  • A gondola with a glass floor that swings because the wind is pretty bad on the top of the mountain.  
  • An hour long bus ride going 60 miles an hour and driving on the left side of a curvy road surrounded by shear cliffs
  • Or, you can walk up 4200 feet worth of manmade stairs for four hours to the top and then walk up another 270 steps to see the Buddha up close. 

Now obviously I would have opted for the 4/5 hours worth of stairs but it was already 4pm and they make everyone leave the mountain at 6:30pm because of wind and bad weather conditions.  So I took the glass floor gondola up and the bus down.  In the first picture to the right, you can see how long and steep that gondola was.  There were four/five sections of about the same distance before we got to Buddha base camp.The gondola didn't cure my fear of flying but it get me up the mountain and the Buddha was well worth it..  

Cheese and Expats

One thing that's hard about traveling through Asia is the lack of cheese—not in Hong Kong since it was a British Territory up until 1997, but everywhere else.  It reminds me of a book I read called “Foreign Babes in Beijing.”  It was given to me during a book swap and I too cringed at the title, however, the book is actually pretty entertaining because it follows a young women’s life as an expat in China after China opened it’s borders to foreign trade.  In the book the girl talks about Chinese knockoffs and one of the examples she mentions is in regards to the book, Who Moved My Cheese, but rather it was called Who Moved My Soy; Chinese People Don't Eat Cheese.

On my last night in Taipei, Yu-Ju decided that we needed to go out since I probably won’t be hanging out at a bar by myself in Vietnam.  So she calls her sister and gets a recommendation to go to a bar called Brass Monkey  run by Aussie Expats who entertain themselves by playing drinking games doing the limbo.  Long story short, Yu-Ju and I drink Stella until about 4 in the morning talking about everything from how Brass Monkey is actually orange flavored Kool-Aid and malt liquor mixed together to how the Beastie Boys sang a song about it—all while eating Mozzarella Sticks so that we can get out cheese fix on.  For the first time, I thought, this is how Dave must have felt when he had to go to those underground meat markets in India to get his beef fix.

“This is where all the magic happens”

Once upon a time, my friend Steve Russell gave me a tour of his house and introduced me to his bedroom with, “This is where all the magic happens,” which leads you to assume: not just anybody gets to see the magic and it only happens when you are with a certain someone or someone(s) who can show you a good time.  I usually use this phrase to introduce my home office, because that is where I magically make money.

Ok, this analogy actually does lead to something…my magic room was at a Chinese restaurant near Taroko National Park.  Yu-Ju’s aunt and uncle live in the large city outside of the park so we had a traditional 10 Course Chinese Dinner in one of the private dining rooms with them and their friends.  And, of course they thought I ate hamburgers everyday so they were concerned that I might not like the food.  I assured them that I don't eat hamburgers unless the bun is replaced with two slices of lettuce.

So now lets start with the play by play:
  • First, various people in our party brought two whole bottles of distilled Taiwanese liquor and one bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label.  Yu-Ju’s parents and I had just met that day (see right), so they asked me if I drank.  Yu-Ju giggled, but that was just because she was being nice.  I told them, “By time I am done drinking tonight I will be speaking Chinese.”  Yu-Ju translated and they started pouring. 
  • Yu-Ju’s dad poured the liquor, Yu-Ju’s mom regulated the amount poured into the glass and then added water to distill it. 
  • Now here’s the thing, when someone at the big round table greets you and asks you to drink with them, you do not pass go, you do not collect $200 Taiwanese dollars, you just drink.  If you make the mistake of clicking glasses, as I did once or twice during the three hour meal, they say, “Bottoms up,” and you know the drill. 
  • So now the food starts coming out, and I know they call it a 10 Course Chinese Meal but I swear there are more than 10 Courses.  I think they sneak in a couple of extra soups and a plate or two of dim sum.
  • Every time something new would come out, the waitress would put it on the lazy susan and the locals would make me try it first.  Then everyone would stare at me to see if I liked it--or maybe they wanted to see if it was poisoned...kidding.  I told them that I will eat anything EXCEPT chicken feet (see above) and beef tongue without the taste buds cut off.
  • The best part about the dinner was the SHARK FIN SOUP.  And, this is when I start to feel bad for like a second.  Years ago, Tyler Palmer introduced me to that stupid fish card that placed all of my personal favorites, including but not limited to, Chilean Sea Bass, Swordfish and of course Shark on the do not eat list.  So I am sure most Chinese banquets in the US use tilapia cut into little fin like shapes, but this was the real thing and it was AWESOME..

She eats more Chinese food than my daughter

Yu-Ju’s parents were so proud.  Not only could I pickup pretty much anything using chopsticks, but I ate:

  • Stinky tofu, not once, but twice (image above left)
  • The traditional Taiwanese oyster omelet with gelatin (image above left)
  • Fried chicken butt, kidneys, hearts and a rice blood cake; all of which come on a stick (Monica and I ate it one night at the Shita Night Market)
  • Fish ball soup and clam soup (which is known to help women’s health).  The interesting thing about these soups is that the broth is completely clear but SO flavorful

And, whole fish...well that’s not totally true.  I ordered lunch at the bathhouse and they asked me if I wanted the Chinese Lunch and I was like yeah.  So the lunch starts out with beef soup, which is pretty traditional for Taiwan (I think Yu-Ju said the Chinese eat their soup at the end of the meal), then I get a salad, and then I get my main course (see above left).  Doesn’t this look like an eel (see above left)?  The spa thought frying it that way would make it look fancy but it just kind of shocked me and not much shocks me when it comes to eating.  Do you see him staring at me (see left)?
You can also see that once me and the fish made friends, it was fine.

    Places you should NOT try and read your Nook: The Bathhouse

    Taipei is an island of extreme geological beauties like gorges, mountains, and hot springs.  So in between the Palace Museum and the Shanghai Shek Memorial, I hit up one of the hot springs. 

    Now this story is not nearly as exciting as my German bathhouse story when I sat in a 120 degree sauna that you can only hang out in for 5 minutes, and where all of the women sit naked in a miniature Greek theater.  And, how the one lone man in the bathhouse (called the Bath Master) comes in wearing a towel (i.e. not naked) and basically fans the extra hot air from the coals, using a towel, onto the audience of nude women and when he finishes we all applaud him.  Yeah, that didn't happen in Taiwan.

    This was more of a Japanese style bathhouse that has a women’s section and a men’s section, whereas my nako lady experience in Germany was a women’s only day, minus the non-naked Bath Master.  But, I tried to wear a swim suit and there wasn’t a proctor or anything but there were a lot of women my mom’s age getting there bathhouse on and they told me [smiling], “No suit.”  So this is where I segue into telling you that I brought my Nook into the bathhouse so that I could read.  I am sure no one is going to ask me for a demo of that device again, but I needed to keep myself entertained since I don’t speak Chinese.  However, the mommies stared at me and not because I looked ridiculous reading my nook naked, but because I brought an electronic device into the hot spring.  It was almost like I decided to read my Nook in an lunch room.  I think they thought it was going to hurt them, but I had my water proof cover on it and I get restless.  So just a traveling tip for those of you who thought you might want to use your electronic reader in a foreign bathhouse while naked, don’t do it.

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Eat, pray, love; Chinese Translation: Traveling Alone

    No, seriously, that is the direct Chinese Translation to the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.  
    [Today I flew from Taipei back into Hong Kong and I am spending my first night alone.  I have some great stories about Taiwan but checking into my hotel in HK was an interesting event.] 

    “So I got a deal in Hong Kong.”  Ok, that’s a lie.  Anyone who knows anything about Hong Kong knows that deals and Hong Kong DNE (Mom, that means Does Not Exist; it’s a math term), which is why I am only staying here for one day.  I was looking for free wi-fi and found a room at the Hotel Nikko, which is located next to the Intercontinental (the most famous hotel in all of Hong Kong).  The free wi-fi also came with a welcome basket of fruit or something…either way, it was expensive but half as expensive as sleeping on a couch or passing out at the bar at the Intercontinental and all of the budget hotels seemed to be way off the beaten path—not safe for little girls traveling alone and constantly looking at their maps.
    Now, let me paint the picture of me checking in:
    • One, I have no luggage (I left it at the airport with the left luggage folks) and I am holding a knock-off LeSPORT bag I bought at a night market in Taipei the night before so that I didn’t look like a target while site seeing with a 10 Kilo backpack on
    • Two, I am wearing a GreenMountain sweatshirt (Men’s Medium), exercise pants, and tennis shoes
    • Three, I have already walked about four miles and look and smell like a schlep
    So when I went to check in, the women asks me for my passport and says, “You need to go to the 14th floor.  Someone will meet you there.  They are waiting for you and have your room prepared.”  Now, I know what you are thinking...this sounds like a Nigerian Prince asking for money via email.  So I go up to the 14th Floor, reeking like a camel, and end up with Executive Lounge privileges(which is basically a kick ass place on the 14th floor where they feed you and give you all the drinks you want for free until 9pm).  I also find out that my room is on the 14th floor and has views of the entire harbor (awesome picture below will soon be posted; I left the USB cord in my backpack at the airport).  

    Note to Chris:  The room comes with free wi-fi and breakfast so it made a lot of economic, all you wanted from this trip was my safety..yes?

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Taipei 101

    Monica and I went to Taipei 101, which was the tallest building in the world until Dubai decided to use their credit (now the credit liability of the United Arab Emirates) and build something slightly more ostentatious.  

    Now I know what your thinking, “Rosie, what about your vertigo?”  Even though I just met Monica, I told her about the vertigo, I also sheepishly admitted to my fear of sharks.  But, since I was overly exposed to my fear of flying just eight hours prior, I figured the worst things that could happen entailed either stroking out or going into an epileptic fit--both of which are better than a plane landing in an ocean full of sharks.

    Luckily none of that happened:
    • I made it up the world's second fastest elevator (89 Floors in 30 seconds)
    • I was able to look outside of the windows without passing out
    • And, I was able to walk up two more stories to the outside observation deck and look outside of the observation deck.  However, Monica held my hand up and down the two flights of stairs because it was one of those fire escape, revolving stair cases where you can see down into the stairwell and those give me vertigo.  Now here is the disclaimer: I know I said high open spaces give me vertigo, which wouldn't include enclosed stairwells, so let's just say that by the end of this trip, pretty much any walking, hiking or movement will give me vertigo--this reference is really for Lindsay Dunbar who likes to fact check my posts.

      The coolest thing about Taipei 101 is the engineering marvel that is the tuned mass damper as shown above (behind both me and the anime version of the damper).  They basically have this 660 ton steel pendulum suspended between the 88th and the 92nd floor so that it can absorb the building's movements--i.e. earthquakes and typhoons--which in my opinion "one-ups" the building in Dubai.    

      First thing to see in Taipei?

      Why your local iPhone/iPad dealer of course!  Not only does the fine country of Taiwan produce the majority of the world's electronics, but they can also protect you from the international calling wrath of AT&T.  For a mere 15 US dollars, you too can have your iPhone unlocked so that you can use a local SIM card.  Look how happy Monica is now that she can avoid international calling at $2.99/minute, $29.99 for data.  This message is supported by I Hate AT&T.

      HKG to TPE

      Although Monica and I missed our connection to Taipei, the flight to Taipei is only about and hour and a half so they have regular flights almost every hour.  The flight from Hong Kong to Taipei was smooth and this cute little girl in the seat in front of me kept playing pee-a-boo so what did I do?  I whipped out my iPhone and loaded up Angry Birds and let her play with those stupid pigs :)  Why not continue to bring down the world's ability to be productive and support the addiction that is Angry Birds?

      Tuesday, December 7, 2010


      Chris was pretty shocked when I called him at 2:30 in the morning when I was suppose to be headed over Alaska. We landed safely back into SFO and they decided not to deboard us so we sat on the plane until about 4 in the morning and then we were up again.

      This time, it was turbulent.  Like SO TURBULENT.  It was like 10 hours of mega turbulence.  I really thought I was going to die like seven times on that flight because of turbulence.  I don't even know if turbulence can really even take a plane down but I am on a 747 and for that plane to really move, there has to be a lot of serious shit weather going on.  I basically found  a new love for God and I tried to think of the various ways of how I could avoid taking this flight back in order to get home.

      Some of those alternate routes included:
      • The bering strait, if it hadn't melted
      • The Trans-Siberian Railway.  I would have taken that into Russian and then made my way into Europe an taken only Lufthansa, British Airways or Virgin back to SFO. 
      • Unfortunately, boats were out of the question because of the shark factor but living in Thailand or Bali until the weather improved became a very realistic solution after about the sixth hour of turbulence.
      I didn't talk to the girl sitting next to me during the flight, mostly because she found the miracle of sleep, until about the last hour of the trip, when I finally turned to her and asked, "Did you think that was a bumpy flight?"  And, she said, "Yeah, I just tried to go back to sleep every time the turbulence woke me up, but yeah, it was really bumpy."  And, then I told her that I thought I was going to die like seven times last night and that I had never been more scared in all my life.  And, she told me that she was from Orange County and enrolled in Wharton's executive MBA program and flew up to San Francisco every week for class.  She told me that she and her MBA section were flying out to Taipei for a class project.  I told her that I was also headed to Taipei to meet up with a friend who had a business trip there.  Since we were both solo during our first night in Taipei, we shared a cab into the city and hung out.

      Hello, this is your Captain Speaking

      I am flying through Cathay Pacific, which is a good, solid, safe carrier.  And for those of you who know about Korean Airlines or China Airlines, you know that there is no why I would EVER fly either of those carriers.

      So we have a smooth take off, we are in the air, I am slightly inebriated, and the Twilight Movie is one of my many movie selections...I am in my happy place.

      Flash forward forty minutes into our flight.  Our Captain gets on the intercom and says, "Hi Folks.  You may have noticed that this flight has been a little loud.  We have been unable to retract our landing gear and we have attempted to bring it up twice.  We have sent the error messages down to ground control and they have advised us to return to SFO.  Unfortunately we are too heavy to land so we need to release our gas before we land.  We will be spending the next forty-five minutes releasing the gas out of our plane."

      What am I thinking?  I hope the plane doesn't explode while we release a 50,000 gallons of gas out into the ocean?  Yes, although from the pilot's perspective, I am not sure if that is really a concern--the gas might evaporate fairly quickly.  Mostly I'm thinking, "Thank you God it was the landing gear coming up that was the problem, and not the landing gear coming down."  Could you imagine.  14 and a half hours later and we can't get our landing gear to come down?  We definitely would have had to land in the ocean with sharks.  I am also thinking, if this happened on a cheap Podunk airline, they may have tried to save a few bucks and fly us with the landing gear down because 50,000 gallons of gas and a four hour flight delay is not cheap.

      Saturday, December 4, 2010

      14 Hours and 40 Minutes

      Anyone who knows me, knows that I am scared of three things:
      1. Flying in planes
      2. High open spaces, because I get vertigo 
      3. And, sharks  
      Therefore, given that a plane going over the Pacific could plummet from a high open space into the ocean, and while you wait for help you could very well be eaten by sharks, I have decided to spend the next forty-five minutes at the bar in SFO drinking not one, but two glasses of wine.  My goal is to lose consciousness during my flight and hopefully wake up in Hong Kong.  I am also hoping that two glasses of wine will help convince me that  going on a three week trip to Far East Asia, SOLO was a good idea.