Monday, May 5, 2008

Calling all tour operators

Tourism in Vietnam is really still in its infancy; that was the appeal. But while we nodded and were very grateful to our Vietnamese tour guides we generally found that some good info via Lonely Planet, and our own 'steam' was the most satisfying.

In general the guides we had, really had quite limited English and knowledge of the location beyond the basics. There were also some pretty serious duty of care issues we encountered; funny at the time but potentially dangerous.

On Halong Bay a couple of Thai tourists off our junk drifted (thankfully in life jackets) across the other side of the bay, and caught by the tide did not have the strength to swim back. The tour guide had no idea they were still in the water and no-one was watching out for them. They ended up being rescued by one of the 'water-women'.

video: sridgway

On Cat Ba island, we were poorly warned or prepared about the conditions of the trek path to the top of Ngu Lam. It was very steep and very slippery. The guide led the way and one woman soon fell way behind. Steph fell back to assist her, and at the peak I triggered concern when they didn't arrive after a time. They had taken the wrong path but thankfully eventually retraced their steps. What would have happened without Steph's goodwill or if she had decided to turn back, I fear to ponder.

image: trekking up Ngu Lam peak from sridgway

Another issue we encountered was the use of Vietnamese guides into Minority Group villages. The young girls selling goods in Sapa for example, spoke excellent English, and in hindsight we should have abandoned the tour and employed one of them to trek around their own area with us.

There's a great support opportunity there for some Australian volunteers!

In search of a REAL cappuccino

image: sridgway

Off the plane first thing on my list of must have/do's was a REAL cappuccino.

Vietnamese coffee has quite a unique flavour. Typically it's drunk black and very strong, often sweetened with condensed milk, sometimes drunk over ice. It's not bad, and has a kind of nutty, chocolatey taste.

A few places sell 'western style' coffee (at inflated prices) but order a cappuccino at your peril! We had one in Hue that was half filled with something cold and frothy that most definitely was NOT milk.

The answer? When in Rome......
... or drink beer - it's great and very cheap ;)

image: robynejay

Oh, and my other must have/do's?
- a glass of cold water out of a tap
- a toilet seat that wasn't wet
- olives and salami and cheese
- a tender lamb roast
- luxuriating in a comfortable bed with crisp cotton sheets

.... and that was all on the first day back!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

eee pc

Robyn on the eee pc
Robyn using the eee p on free wifi @ the DMZ cafe, Hue
image by sridgway

Itś our last day of our month in Vietnam. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the eee pc for those considering purchasing one for a OS sojourn.

I purchased the eee pc pretty much sight unseen for the trip just before we left. Add to that I am a newbie to linux so it was a an experiment all round.

After both Robyn and I have been using it for a month, blogging, editing images and uploading to flickr on largely free wifi networks I thought it would be a good to reflect on it' s strengths & weaknesses.

Overall it has been invaluable especially in Vietnam with such good wifi access and speed. Itś size and weight has meant I have been able to cart it around during the day and hook up to skype and check email for lunch or over a beer or 2.

As a traveler without a computer you mostly have to rely on the hotel computers which are often in high demand and poorly resourced. Most of the Hotels we stayed in were 2 star and the wifi signal was available in the room which meat we could do our work in the comfort of our room. The best was the Viet Anh in Hanoi which had a wifi router on every floor. For avid flickr users we wanted to edit & upload the days pictures at the end of the day. Most hotel computers had windows xp which does not have any image editing software installed. Robyn tried a few online ones to no avail. The eee pc has mtPaint 3.11 pre innstalled and proved more than adequate for the job of resizing, rotating and cropping for flickr.

The only 3 star hotel we stayed in had the worst internet access of all, and the wifi was wep and would not work. It had a swimming pool, which Robyn made the most of :> The higher the star rating the lower the network connectivity.

The downside, well when I got here it would not recognize any of our usb memory sticks, it was working fine before we left so a mystery as to why it fell off. Had to spend an hour looking @ geeky forums to fix it, but I got it working again in the end. Once you get away from the pre installed software things get geeky :<

I tried to install picas but would not work.

Other than this it has been a fantastic work horse, battery life about 2 hours with wifi on.

I would recommend it to anyone contemplating an OS trip.


It's our last day and we're doing our bit to support the local economy. Well, that's my excuse anyway ;)

Our bag (mmm bags...) are overflowing with china, marble, silk, lacquerware, woodwork etc. Each item is assessed for size and weight. Jetstar's baggage limits are pushed to the limit.

In 14 hours we'll be home; hard to believe. It's been a wonderful trip and a great, well-needed break.

From here on we'll post a few last reflections, summaries, and hints and tips.