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Nov '11

Dinner With Dan And Sean.

Thank god for mid-day flights.

12:55pm departure and I’m at the airport a couple of hours before that having cocktails and eating free food. It may be $300 a year for the airline club, but I think I’m getting my monies worth.

Flight was running 40 minutes late, but I don’t’ have bags so Dan beats me to baggage claim since I’m at the end of A concourse and walk over the sky bridge.

Stuck in rush hour traffic, our dinner guest arrives before us and lets himself in to start cooking. A Yemeni recipe featuring chicken, sausage, turmeric, paprika, garlic and a thickener to make a gravy for a stunning stew like dish, with cashew green beans with lemon zest on the side with a bunch of roasted root vegetables. Damn that was good for just arriving from the airport.

Boys night in.

It’s a hard way to earn the lst of my Alaska miles to hit MVP Gold.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part One

Sean was a saint and met me at the airport and whisked me back to his place – staying there the first two nights…comfy!

And morning brings coffee after Sean has left for work…

The plan for the day is to jut explore the neighborhood, find a cash machine, keep myself fed and amused until Sean comes home around 6.

Until I get to the cash machine, Sean let me raid his stash of Dong (the official currency of Vietnam):

I grabbed about 150,000 Dong – which is equal to $6.46.

Here is the view from his 5th floor apartment:

And a bird’s eye view of the traffic chaos and we aren’t even in the middle of the city!

Here is what the building looks like from street level:

I have company coming this evening! My former Couchsurfing now ex-boyfriend of my friend’s stepdaughter (there’s a mouthful) from Bristol, England, who is now in Saigon teaching English.

Hard to believe it’s been eight years – and he’s only 28 now! And just so you know what Sean looks like….

I’ve known Sean like 25 years at this point – my how time flies.

Here are some random neighborhood shots…

I’m not sure was a Dinky Hong is, but it sounds dirty.

More exploring the following day, followed by a quiet dinner in. Sadly (for me as he’s a great cook), has stopped cooking because the cost of having custom food cooked and delivered is so inexpensive that it gives him more time to grade papers (yes, he is a teach as well, though Science, not English).

Thursday found me downloading the Grab App for my phone – like Uber for Asia. Michael arrives in the late morning and I’m meeting him at the hotel I have reserved, the Dong Du Hotel. Yes, I chose it because it has Dong in the name.

There are definitely some “no-no”s on this list – like Bloody Steaks.

And apparently, the keep “Ken” in the refrigerator. Love the illustrations on the fire poster:

Michael and I snacked around for the early afternoon on some things I bought while at Sean’s:

Things like dried squid, cuttlefish covered peas…

And steak-flavored potato chips…

When we headed out for dinner, we stumbled across what is basically an Auto Mat – an alleyway lined with vending machines!

We settled on Café Runam, which turns out to be a chain, but the food was good:

I like that they serve their drinks with stainless steel straws!

And we both ended up getting the pork dish because they were out of the two other things we wanted. This will turn into a “theme” as we eat our way through Vietnam.

Morning finds us on the top floor the hotel where breakfast is served. They have interesting choices for breakfast:

And beverage choices…

Today’s adventures are to check out the Saigon Central Post Office. It was designed by Alfred Foulhoux, but is often erroneously credited as being the work of Gustave Eiffel  (as in that guy who did the tower):

Illiterate and need someone to write a letter for you? There is a service for that:

With the usual revolutionary monuments in the courtyard out front:

Notre Dame Cathedral (closed for renovation):

And stumbling across Book Street where we ended up chatting with kids who wanted to practice their English:

Stopped at a Circle K (I kid you not) to stock up the hotel room:

Even with the booze, that is like $7 worth of goods.

This was an unusual sighting on the street!

Apparently, they are popular for giving tours to tourists, especially ex-US Military.

It was appropriate that we saw this on the way to the War Remnants Museum, which according to Wikipedia, was originally called Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes before it was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.

And then the inside…

Oddly enough, I found the exhibit on the loss of life by reporters in the war both fascinating and heart wrenching:

Which was paid for by the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

And yes, there is a huge print of the infamous war photo of the six-year-old girl running naked down the street, her clothes burned off by a Napalm attack.

This was one of the closing pieces in that wing – from the French newspaper Le Figaro in 1965:

There was one section of the museum that I couldn’t go into. I had been there two and a half years ago. The section deals with the use of Agent Orange. I choked up at the museum, I’m choking up as I type this, the senselessness of it all.

There might be some pictures of it from my blog post back then: CLICK HERE. Apologies for scrambled special characters – a result of a WordPress update years ago.

Michael posted some pictures from some of the exhibits on his FaceBook feed. Several were almost immediately taken down as being too graphic. Sobering is how I would describe the museum, and I believe that every President, Vice-President, and Congresspeople should tour this museum before they ever send our young men and woman into harm’s way.

I’ll get off my soapbox now and onto lunch! But we have to find someplace first:

After much walking, we ended up here:

And I even had a beer! Just an FYI, Vietnam is all about coffee and beer, sadly, not so much about cocktails.

We tried to order seafood, but they were either out of it, or “take long time”. We ended up with these dishes, which were wonderful:

After lunch, got stuck in traffic on the way back to the hotel…but at least it wasn’t raining…until we headed to Sean’s when the skies opened up.

Fortunately, the rain let up by the time we went out for dinner.

As usual, a couple of dishes weren’t available, but what we ended up with were great:

It was a great dinner, but sooner than later, we were off to the train station to catch our night train to Da Nang.

The adventure will continue in the next post.

[? ? ?]

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Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Fourth Leg: Saïgon to Cần Thơ

One of my biggest worries of this trip was that a delay in arriving into Saïgon would screw the trip to Cần Thơ the following morning as there was only twelve hours between landing and getting picked up for the tour. Alas, no worries, even with the delay at the Visa Desk.

In the morning Sean and I head out for an early breakfast – leaving Pigletté at home since it’s Pork and Rice for breakfast (and iced tea):

Here is the guy cooking our pork on the side of the street at 7:30am in the morning…

And the end product. I think I could get used to this. 34,000 Dồng (Vietnamese Monetary Unit) a person ($1.52 USD):

Our driver was right on time at 8am – and even came down the narrow street to pick us up in front of Sean’s apartment:

He had to back down the alley as there was no room to turn around. But off we go for the 4-hour drive to Cần ThÆ¡. After we got out of the city, there was a bit of tollway that quickly turned into two lanes in each direction separated by a “Jersey Barrier“, with scooters/motorcycles going both ways on the shoulder – all accompanied by various small businesses lining the road, with the occasional break for rice paddies, banana farms and other agricultural stuff.

Part way in we stopped at what I call a “tourist rest stop” that all the tour buses stop at (though we were in a chaffered car) – a “shopping opportunity” as The Colonels would say – and a chance for a freebie for the driver. Sean mentioned that he prefers to stop in “hammock cafes” where you have your tea (or whatever) while lounging in a hammock in the shade.

All said, Pigletté enjoys his Vietnamese Coffee (Robusta-bean brewed coffee with sweetened condensed milk):

And the surroundings are pretty – but it took us a bit to find our driver again…

Before you knew it – and Sean snoozing after his tea — we are approaching the new (as of 2010) bridge over the Mekong River to get to Cần ThÆ¡. The old method was a ferry that added HOURS to the journey. This and another bridge at the Cambodian border makes it possible to drive from Saigon to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in six hours.

First stop when we arrive in Cần Thơ is our lunch stop of the day with a set Vietnamese lunch:

And it was tasty:

Luckily this was all part of the “package” I got from Luxury Travel Co., Ltd. So far, the tour isn’t disappointing. With the lunch we had some Vietnamese Red Wine (Vang Dalat, served chilled and considering it was 90 degrees outside, a good thing) by the glass (50,000 Dồng each — $4.49 USD for both glasses, NOT included in tour price). There is a review of the Van Dalat STONG wine (16% being fortified with Mulberry Wine here), but I don’t think it’s right to compare a fortified wine to a regular table wine from the same producer, but it is an interesting interview.

After lunch (and an ATM stop for Sean – he’s my “bank” this trip so far, not having changed any money at the airport on the way in), we are off to check into the Victoria Cần ThÆ¡ – a Colonial-era hotel (think French occupation of Vietnam). You have to love a check-in process where they say, “take a seat”, turn over your passports, and while they do all the paperwork, you get a shoulder massage:

Again, part of the “package” apparently – and there is a spa on premises if we want a “couples massage”. We have the afternoon free, so we settle into the room to craft a plan…

Even the bathroom is nice…they even put a condom in a little envelope on the top of the toilet…

They even sent up a fruit basket!

We had to call down for ice for the flash of whiskey I brought (flask was included with the liter of Jameson that I bought at Dubai Duty Free):

Internet and nap time rule for the afternoon – at least until happy hour in the bar downstairs…

And a little reading time (unless you want to play billiards):

We could have played Backgammon as well….

Happy hour wasn’t THAT good a deal – 2-for-1 Gin & Tonics at 4-star hotel prices, but we did need the nuts and a little snack before taking the water taxi to Cần ThÆ¡‘s city center…

Our objective was to find some supplies – whiskey and diet for me at retail rather than hotel prices…and explore some of the city center. The water taxi is run by the hotel and they just need 10-15 minutes’ notice on the hotel end, as the boat is moored in the city. Turns out we stumbled into one of the few shops early in our stroll that sold both – but hoping for a better deal, we explored further. Note the Microsoft Storefront in the background…

And a picture from Sean’s collection. GREAT picture of me.

Fresh shrimp anyone?

Or may some Tết (Vietnamese New Year) stuff – we bought some!

But soon it was time to head back to the hotel with our Scotch (Johnny Walker Red – not my first choice, but the best of the lot) and some Coke Light (Diet Coke for those in the US). We have a 6:30pm dinner reservation (also included in the tour price), so time is of the essence…

I thought I’d show you some shots of where we were staying – stunning grounds and facilities. Headed to the resort from the dock…

The river side of the place…

The view from the lobby to the pool…

The lobby (open-air – rooms have AC).

Time for dinner! Listed in the brochure as “candlelight dinner” it was true to description – complete with a custom printed menu for us:

Guess that makes Sean “and party”… love the attention to detail:

And the food was a stunning as the napkin. The “starter” – Eggplant Tartin with Mozzarella and fresh garden salad (please notice the “balled” butter):

Green pea soup (soup de legumes verts)….

Chicken leg stuffed with mushrooms, and mushroom sauce, Duchess Potatoes, and a faggot (bundle of sticks) of green beans….fagot de haricots verts as they say in France.

And dessert…. chocolate cake served with coconut ice cream…

All washed down with a little rosé from Provence (that’s in France you know – and Vietnam was a French Colony for a couple of year). It’s a Saint Roch Les Vignes which is sustainably-farmed 50% Cinsault, 50% Grenache from 225 acres from select domains in the villages of Cuers, Puget-Ville and Pierrefeu with the average age of vines at about 30-years-old.

Love a good rosé in a hot environment! Even if it did cost almost a million Dồng. Fun fact – the Dồng has the second lowest redemption value right behind the Iranian Dinar.

That said, the USD total was $44.45 – like I said – 4-star resort prices. At least I know what the mark-up at the restaurant is – that bottle would be $15 on the shelf at my shop. Considering how little we have been paying for other things on this trip, it was nice to have a nice rosé in hot weather.

The restaurant also has an enclosed, sit-in wine cellar/bar:

We got back to the room to find more attention to detail – a bedtime story scroll, and a couple of star fruit jelly roll snacks….but no new bucket of ice…that will make the third call today, or is it fourth:

Also, please note that the bottled water has a cloth “cozies” around it. Condoms in the bathroom, cloth sleeves on the water bottles – they are serious about “protection”, or is that “glove before you love”.

Off to bed – driver comes at 11:30am for us, and breakfast is served until 10am.

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Fourth Leg: Saïgon to Cần Thơ

Nov '16

Trip Report: South Carolina

So, last time I saw Sean we were both in Washington, DC by the airport. He was on a layover; I was on a mileage run to see a museum while I was at it.

More memorable was Vietnam in January. He was teaching English in the small town of Saigon (OK, that’s a joke – Saigon, a.k.a. is a huge city) to students ranging from 6 to 60. These days in South Carolina he is teaching high school juniors and seniors – a tad bit of a change, and all the more reason to pay him a visit.

But first I have to get there – and the United Gods smiled on me by granting me an upgrade on a mileage award ticket on my red-eye from Seattle, to DC.

Sadly, I didn’t get to use the new Delta Sky Club:

I hear from friends it is truly spectacular. Alas, I just had the Alaska Board Room before boarding the red-eye with my freebie (used miles AND got upgraded) seat:

And there was a snack on the flight….

Because there is free booze in First Class – on a five plus hour flight I might have gotten an hour of sleep.

Before sleep, I did learn the reason that there are still ashtrays in airplane bathroom doors – even on the newest planes. Mandated by the FAA as a place to put out a forbidden cigarette. New planes now have just “stub out” devices:

My layover in DC was an hour or so…and look – they even still have these analog devices!

Sadly, the next plane was of the “cramped” variety:

At least I’m in the single of 1-2 seating.

By the time I landed in Columbia, South Carolina, picked up my car and got to Orangeburg, I was an exhausted mess. I needed a nap – and felt bad because Sean had taken the day off — had I known I would have drank less and slept more.

But we did get in lunch …I went for the pulled pork sliders, cole slaw rather than fries:

Sean went for seriously flied, as is the South Carolina tradition:

And a visit to the visitor’s center at Fort Sumter:

We were too late for the last ferry to the island, but we poked around the visitor’s centers, and the neighborhood.

Time to move onto old downtown Charleston…

Had to make a stop on the way back to Orangeburg for cheap booze:

Didn’t realize how cheap it was until I check the prices here (in Orangeburg):

Total was $17.99+tax for the 1.75 liter of Evan Williams Black – 4-Way was $27.99. WOW!

A couple of weeks before my visit, South Carolina had a hurricane blow through, and some of the damage was still evident…

Which just added to the rather depressed economy of this city:

Lots of shuttered shops in downtown Orangeburg, along with a huge number of auto parts stores and car title loan establishments. Surprised they weren’t in the same business. And there was the Democrat headquarters:

Orangeburg is actually home to two colleges, one is a historically black college called Claflin. I (as was Sean) was expecting a more vibrant “college town” atmosphere in Orangeburg, but apparently the student body is very campus-based. No Starbucks (except 5 miles away at the freeway), no coffee shops, places to hang out – I did find a bar that has music Friday/Saturday (sadly, I leave Friday):

One of the items I arrived with was a housewarming present of a small BBQ:

Yes, I checked a BBQ as luggage!

And picked up accessories:

I really need to go back and buy the rest of the pink pig corn on the cob holders for gifts!

But it does make for a nice little set-up —

All by the back door, and with chairs to tend the fire…which we didn’t use when we BBQ’d pork chops and vegetable (VERY Vietnamese):

My final full day in Orangeburg was a day of change for Sean’s place…when I arrived this was the place:

The spare bedroom is the workout room (a.k.a the second bedroom):

With the addition of a couch, arm chair, dining table and chairs – it’s much less dorm room flophouse, and more home:

Still needs artwork – LARGE artwork. And it has had its result….

Our final meal together of the visit was at Antley’s BBQ:

Including a takeout window:

Which is South Carolina seems to mean buffet:

I was amused by this sign on the Men’s room door…

But apparently, they are slacking…

So much for my checking out the Carolina BBQ scene. I’d hoped to check out Maurice’s BBQ (no link – I don’t reward bad behavior) which has good reviews for the food, until I found out the owner is responsible for this Orangeburg “monument”:

Turns out the people who rent the restaurant don’t rent the corner triangle with the Confederate flag post and tombstone.

And oddly, I thought Halloween wasn’t a thing in the south, but apparently, I’m wrong. Thought it was a whole Satanist thing.

I must say that my favorite memory was spending after dinner time two nights helping Sean grade mid-term US History exams. For the students – they should count themselves LUCKY to be graded on “a curve”.

Time to warp up this visit – off to the airport for the reverse flight home.

Got to the airport so early (to avoid extra hours on the rental car) that check-in at United wasn’t even open. Killed an hour in a decent airport amenity wise. The shop had a t-shirt I’d love for TackyT-ShirtPrincess, but they didn’t have it in her size:

As it turns out, once I was through security, I found one (sadly, not on sale) without South Carolina, and a bigger logo, and more sparkle. SCORE!

I ended up spending five hours in this airport – seems ALL flights out of Columbia, South Carolina were oversold for Friday afternoon. Yes, I can be bought for $500 in future travel and a guarantee of bulkhead aisle seats on the rebooked flights through Houston.

I used some of the money for food/drink:

I just wanted the dog – but apparently, EVERYTHING in South Carolina comes with something fried on the side – I thought onion rings were a better choice than fries:

My layover in Houston had just enough time to use my last United Club access coupon (I get free access on itineraries that include international):

Three cocktails, three bowls of soup, one salad, all in an hour.

Back on another plane headed home….

AND had the whole row to myself, so I moved to the middle:

Another trip down – I’ll be back in South Carolina in January for another “pep visit”.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Return To Saigon

Our return to Saigon day was a mellow one. Sean and Michael went to the beach (China Beach) and I slept in. Not that I didn’t go to the beach, just that I took four pictures and left:

Then I set off to find a convenience store to stock up for the train trip…

We all met back at the hotel to check out and head to the train station – one that looks more like a train station than the one in Saigon:

Complete with old steam engine!

But we still needed lunch, which we found across the street from the station – Choi’s Kitchen:

Taste was good but with the bones, I think they just took a cleaver to the poor bird. Of course, our original choice wasn’t available. But the Peach Tea was great.

After lunch, we were back to the station…

Noticed several “private” rail cars on the Hanoi Da Nang train. Nicer cabins, better bathrooms, double the money:

Sadly, we were back in the EXACT same compartment that we arrived on. Michael’s USB port and my coat hook still came off in my hand.

This trip I decided to walk the length of the train…all the way back to the “café” car:

Then to the soft seats (I didn’t see a hard seat car):

Then to the 6-person sleeper – where I found a party. They offered me a beer and we toasted!

Look at the cooler full of Heineken – and the box of empties!

Dinner on the way back south was a little different than the way north – they took orders (and our money) and showed up an hour later with a most interesting tray:

Just like our ride north, we had a fourth person in our compartment – this one didn’t speak English or Vietnamese. Too bad none of us knew Chinese.

Train was schedule to arrive in Saigon at 5:45 – hopefully enough time for Sean to get to school at seven. We were running a little late when we stopped at a station Sean recognized as 10 minutes from his house (rather than 30 minutes to the main train station). We had the conductor hold it for us as we rushed off….

Basically, in the middle of nowhere – with surprised locals pointing us the way to the main street.

We all went back to Sean’s, with Sean quickly changing and heading to school, Michael and I chilling it was time to head into the city.

But more on that in the next post.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part Three

Michael’s flight back isn’t until noon, so we have time for breakfast at the hotel:

And the rooftop views are WONDERFUL!

After Michael leaves, I stay on until closer to checkout – got to get my money out of the room (and Sean is teaching until 5pm). Looks like we had a party in the room!

And I realized I never put an exterior shot of the hotel on the blog:

Wondering the neighborhood, I actually found TWO wine shops, not including the fancy grocery store which also carried wine. OF course, it was from everywhere EXCEPT Vietnam:

And let me tell you, there must be some heavy import duties on wine with the prices I saw.

Grabbed a Grab back to Sean’s for the next two nights. Took a long walk around his neighborhood, and found something amazing to me – this guy is splicing fiber optic cable:

On close inspection, most of what is on the pole was fiber.

My walk got cut short with the usual afternoon rainstorm – meaning I didn’t find a place to eat, so back to the Family Mart downstairs from Sean’s it was…for this healthy meal:

We had better food once Sean got off work – and I even picked up a split of the local Vietnamese wine…

And Sean shared some Vietnamese dessert wine (which was better than the red – which was just sort of “flat”).

One of the features that we didn’t take advantage of during my visit is the 2nd floor deck/pool area.

Guess I’ll have to come back for another visit!

Final day in the city was more wandering and taking random photos…

All that was left was a final Thai dinner at Thai Blah Blah, a couple of blocks away through the park, where at night people learn to roller skate, salsa, you name it:

It was a lovely final meal!

Tomorrow I head back to the states. Stay tuned.

[? ? ?]

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Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Sixth Leg: Mekong Delta, Cái Bè, Saïgon

Who would have thought I’d be up at 6am…guessing that it has to do with “early to bed”. Or maybe it was the fact we pulled anchor and are under way again.

Breakfast is at 7, we need to be off the boat at 8 for transfer to smaller boats to explore the Mekong Delta a little more. At least there is coffee ready for us:

And a beautiful sunrise:

Good Morning VIETNAM! R.I.P. Robin Williams. I loved that movie – and Apocalypse Now. Maybe I should re-watch those on my return to the states. We still have more time on the boat – but I’m already thinking I didn’t book enough boat time.

Pigletté is already at breakfast by the time we get there! No coffee for him, just juice.

They advertised a “continental breakfast”. I’m not sure what continent, but the options were English-style (beans, scrambled eggs, broiled tomato), American-style (omelet, bacon), European-style (breads, meats, cheeses), or Vietnamese-style (pho). When in Rome!


When it’s time to off-load, it’s funny to watch the French people who each have one HUGE bag, and one roll-aboard – PER PERSON trying to get all that stuff into the boats. Here we are, headed away from our home of the last day…

One headed up one of the many tiny waterways of the Mekong Delta:

A word to the wise – a little mobility is required for this portion of the journey…think narrow ramps.

The poor lady from Singapore (on the English presented tour with us) was having some difficulties on this portion of the tour.

First stop was an open-air barn that they were roasting something…coal fires underneath, and pig pits above that guys with plastic shoveling moving product around – it didn’t look like a fun job:

Even the back channels of the Mekong Delta are crowded with boats as I discover on the way to our next stop:

Next up – Vietnam’s most pampered animals – Fighting Cocks!

They are kept in wire cages to keep them from fighting with each other before there is actually money on the ground.

Here is a chicken getting a bath and a massage…

As in the rest of Vietnam – scooters EVERYWHERE…

Even on the narrow village paths…

It surprised me that this one was concrete – the one yesterday was asphalt – but I guess in a country that has a monsoon season, paved is better than mud. My guess is that this village is doing OK judging by some of the houses:

Next up is a sugar cane processing “plant”:

Remember I mentioned that rice husks are used as fuel? Above, there is a sloping pile of husks that is used to feed the fire below. And the pile outside that feeds it.

Lots of sloshing around…

Before it gets poured in to plastic pots to cool and then be stacked and wrapped for shipment:

Apparently, it’s a family affair judging from the water bottle above, and this scene below:

Before you know it, we are headed to Cái Bè and their floating markets – you can tell what they are selling by what is on a bamboo pole sticking from their boat:

There is a lovely cathedral in Cái Bè – alas, it isn’t on our itinerary.

What is on our itinerary is a one-stop “folkloric” shopping opportunity – MUCH lower key than most. It features snakes soaked in rice liquor (I’m sure customs would LOVE that in Houston), and displays of candy making (using ingredients like we saw earlier), paper making, and rice popping (think rice krispies).

From there, we are off to meet up with our driver for the ride back to Saïgon – and here is a picture of our driver. Not much in the way of English skills, but Sean has some rudimentary Vietnamese.

Confession – the picture was taken in Cần ThÆ¡, but it just didn’t fit the narrative.

Got back to Sean’s apartment a little after noon – dropped bags and off to lunch – with this amusing photo-op on the way.

Everyone is gearing up for Tết (the New Year).

And lunch!

Did you need some hot peppers? Those were sitting on the table next to us.

I just let Sean order – it’s simpler, and I eat most anything. And I get to try all the local favorites.

One of my favorite things about third-world cities is the “amusing” wiring hanging off poles.

I’d hate to trace a wire in that jungle.

After lunch it’s nap time – something about travelling Vietnam highways/streets is exhausting, even if you aren’t the one driving. Then off to the store with a fistful of Dồng!

That 2000 note is worth 9 cents USD. The print bills up to a million Dồng– which is equal to $45 USD. The smallest note is 200 with a value of less than a penny USD. And look – you can buy casks of wine at the grocery store for about $30 USD.

Sean is cooking tonight, which turns out to be a rarity with the inexpensive nature of going out to eat.

And it’s tasty as well!

Time for a little work before bed…

Didn’t last that long before it was “hit the hay” time. Another big day planned for tomorrow.

Jan '17

Trip Report: Charleston Bound

When I booked this trip – it was to provide comfort for my buddy Sean who had moved to South Carolina shortly after I visited him in Saigon. I was out here last October (if you click on Sean, it should come up) and even before I’d gotten out here then, I found another good fare – and the chance to use a couple of Alaska Gold Guest Upgrades, though, now they are just called Guest Upgrades. To get them you have to pay a few dollars more for your ticket, but you are guaranteed First Class, which is what I did.

Which means for my “butt early” flight, not only do I have a bagel and a hardboiled egg in the Alaska Lounge, once on board, there was breakfast:

The flight is close to five hours, so I get the DigiPlayer and watch AbFab (Absolutely Fabulous) The Movie. Took a while to get into it, but in the end was laughing.

Next up TV reruns….

Yes, it’s a Windows Tablet. Brought my noise cancelling headphones (the Bose for longer flights, the in-ear for shorter flights)

We were supposed to be (according to the Flight Attendants) catered snack trays for later in the flight, but instead, we got a hot lunch as well! Not complaining:

And I even ate the jalapeño slices (which they should have sliced THINNER) – it was some sort of chicken baguette thingee, complete with fresh cilantro.

Alas – Sean who I was planning on visiting was the same Sean who I shipped back to Saigon a couple of weeks ago, which also solved the other dilemma – that of picking up a rental car after being five hours in first class, which generally means drinking them dry of all the bourbon on the plane. If I don’t need to drive to Orangeburg after flying – cancel the rental car and take a $20 Uber to the hotel, which is in Old Charleston.

In spite of the early departure, I DO love the SEA-CHS-SEA schedule – you arrive around 4pm so you have time to get settled…

Before heading down the street for dinner at Sticky Fingers, which was recommended by one of the wine shop patrons.

With cheap drinks — $8 for drinks with Bulleit Bourbon!

And the food is really good as well – this is the “Lunch Sampler” at dinner, with sides of collards and slaw to go with the ribs, wings, and pulled pork.

With your choice of several good sauces….

Bed calls after a little teletime (as in time in front of the television).

Tomorrow is a new day that requires sleeping in.


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Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam –

Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, First Day

Just a reminder to those readers arriving here from FaceBook. Links from FaceBook
are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

Sean took Monday and Tuesday off so those are out museum days…and with him working Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be making my wondering tours of his neighborhood. Who know where food will end of in this.

First up Is a little breakfast – turns about its cracked rice and chicken – should be a nice base for a day of sightseeing.

Maybe I should have had something other than tea — morning cocktails were $1.50 – were is Magnatroia when you need him!

Next up is a little shopping at one of the oldest Colonial-style
markets left in Saïgon. That would be Bến Thành Market

Getting there through Saïgon traffic is what we need to do first. More on that in the next post, but here is a preview (next post will have scary traffic videos). I’m in the bitch seat on Sean’s scooter wearing a Hello Kitty helmet. It goes with my Hello Kitty watch.

I’ve been to markets like this around the world – lots of touts hawking their wears – I did see an interesting domino set for Salamander – but no real time to look/bargain/haggle – just not into the markets as I once was. Just show me a price, that’s all I want.

I did see some humorous shirts I’ve have gotten if I didn’t know that they would last one washing.

Next up was to swing by the post office – Sean
had wanted stamps, but the lines made it hard – no stamps, but another cool old colonial-style

Across the street is one of the Cathedrals in town:

Alas it being noon, the church wasn’t open to the public, so we settled on one of the oldest Indian-based Hindu Shrine around the corner. Apparently the original member-base were all Indian bank workers.

As mot much is open for lunch, so off to a coffee shop for tea, blood orange bubbly, free Wi-Fi, and clean bathrooms.

Rested, cooled off, relieved we next check into the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace.
It was a time building that my friend Russ really needs to see – I’m surprised the North didn’t just level it after the war, instead, they turned it into a time-capsule.

It feels like a monument to late 60’s design – love some of the rooms:

And my favorite – the game room with bar…

I think Jill would like this room as well…or maybe the theatre with its chairs:

They even preserved the projection booth:

And if you needed to get out in a hurry, grab a Huey from the roof:

Under fire and can’t get out on the chopper – head to the bunker:

And when the attack is over, have company over and have the catering kitchen whip up a meal – yes, I had kitchen envy:

On the grounds there are examples of the rogue South Vietnam plane that bombed the Independence Palace (a pilot switched sides), that has a black “X” over the country logo:

And one of the tanks that stormed the palace:

Totally museum’d out for day, it’s off for a city tour…Graham Greene wrote “The Quiet American” in this bar of the Hotel Continental, across from the Opera House:

Said Opera House:

Last tourist stop of the day is the top of the tallest building in Vietnam to have a drink. They devote the lowest floor of parking just to scooters!

It was a little convoluted to get to the bar – query the front counter (it’s a mall and food court for the first couple of floors), take an escalator to the reservations desk, be escorted to the elevator to the reception desk on 50, put on another elevator to the 51st) – all to get to a fairly tacky bar with a killer view:

With expensive drinks – by Vietnam standards:

I had a Manhattan – decent ingredient selection, but 220,000 Dong –$9.89 USD, and it was Bulleit Bourbon (I’d have preferred their rye). Plus, add 5% service charge and 10% VAT and you are really at $10.04 a drink. Much more than the $1.50 per cocktail advertised at the restaurant we had breakfast in.

Sean had a beer – also overpriced:

But there is the view:

And the Heliport…

Done with cocktails it’s time to head back to the apartment – I’m meeting up with Ming who I met online. The plan is drinks and appetizers at the apartment which means a run to the “supermarket” around the corner for supplies. Meet Ming – medical equipment salesman:

Never did get a proper meal, but I did check out the Yacht Club Scotch!

It’s “old”, though I doubt as “olde” as me.


Oct '19

Trip Report: Train To Da Nang

Sean, Michael, and I are taking the night train from Saigon to Da Nang. This was my idea – I love a good overnight train ride.

Left pretty much on time at 9:55pm from District 3 in Saigon. The round-trip in an “air-conditioned 4 person soft sleeper” was about $100 USD each.

Each of the berths has a reading light and a USB charging port. There are also three outlets for laptops, etc.

Periodically, venders would come through offering soups, beverages, etc.

I took an Ambien and crashed out until the morning, when I caught this wonderful sunrise video:

During this time, they brought us some breakfast…

And just random pictures out the window…

Around 11, they brought by some lunch for us…

And for some reason, people with cabins started sitting in the corridor…

Got into Da Nang about 2pm –

And it was off to the Haka Boutique Hotel after a cab driver intentionally took us the long way (not realizing Sean speaks Vietnamese). Should have just gotten a Grab.

The lady at reception recommended a restaurant for dinner that she goes to (meaning local, not touristy on the beach). Quán Phước Thái 

And for some reason there was a costumed bear circulating, then, by the street, where we were, a karaoke singer shows up with a blaring speaker strapped to his motorbike, singing and trying to sell packages of chips – and then there was the sad balloon clown. Wish I’d gotten a picture of that – he was not a happy clown.

But the food was amazing, especially the scallops in their shells – Sean ordered a kilo of them (2.2 pounds), but still think we only spent a million two (about $52 USD – and half that was the scallops).

There were a couple more dishes that got eaten before I could get photos…not bad for walking distance from the hotel.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day, so I’ll close this here.

[? ? ?]

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Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, Second Day

Just a reminder to those readers arriving here from FaceBook. Links from FaceBook
are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

When I travel – I’m not one of those people who does stuff in the morning, then has lunch at some Michelin-rated restaurant, afternoons seeing some other museum before dinner at another Michelin-rated restaurant prior to the opera – that kind of pace exhausts me just thinking about it. I’m more the one museum/one temple-church-graveyard a day kinda a guy.

A little dim sum for brunch….

And we start today with a Buddhist temple:

Temple. Check.

Next up, our museum for the day. This one will be the opposite of yesterday’s time capsule – The War Remnants Museum (formerly the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression)

The grounds are littered with old military equipment…and Sean got this picture of me with my Hello Kitty motorcycle helmet still on my head…

And more equipment…

These two shots should give you an idea about the “theme” of the exhibits:

And my favorite – the listing of “puppet” a.k.a. South Vietnamese forces:

Not just the US that is represented – there is an entire exhibit devoted to the French occupation and their Prisoner of War camps. Hence, the guillotine:

The rest of the exhibit was quite graphic including cells with posed emaciated dummies, so no pictures of those. Also – no pictures from the room detailing the atrocities from the use of Agent Orange. To be honest, I grazed over the exhibits rather than wading through the propaganda – I did find the section of War Photographers most interesting.

There was a little more military equipment inside:

Three floors and outside exhibits – a bit on the depressing side, but defiantly on everyone’s agenda. I heard, French, Russian, Spanish, and of-course, English and Vietnamese.

Museum. Check.

Must be time for our coffee shop stop – back to yesterday’s chain since Sean’s favorite shop seems to have closed (turns out it just moved). And Pigletté gets to try on some traditional hats be bought at the museum:

That would be hats for Pigletté, BóBó, and Mr. Lobster. Today’s Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf branch is a two-story affair, so we get a bit of a city view:

Home for a nap and cocktails – the former didn’t happen, the latter did.

Tonight – Indian Food delivered to the door – these days of sightseeing are leaving us exhausted and unwilling to leave the comfort of the apartment:

Damn tasty.

Tomorrow Sean returns to work, and I’ll explore the city on my own.


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Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, Second Day

Mar '16

Trip Report: DC For A Quickie

Nothing will get me out of town quicker than a $137 each way trip across the country – and a $125 off coupon code.

Didn’t get upgraded to First on the way out, but confirmed for the way back – more of that delicious new First Class food!

Funny thing about this trip is that it started out to just be a simple overnight stay in DC. I’d have just turned around and come back, but:

  1. That’s exhausting even for me
  2. I’d never seen the Air and Space Museum, and it’s a stop on the hotel shuttle

But, a couple of days before I’d emailed my buddy Sean who I stayed with in Vietnam to inquire when he was returning stateside. Turns out he arrives in DC the same evening as I do – AND has a layover and no hotel. SCORE! When I check in I change the room from one bed to two.

His flight is delayed so I’m off to the Longhorn Steakhouse for, wait for it, steak!

And yes, that is the first of three Manhattans. I’m not driving and that will leave some of the room booze for Sean. Speaking of rooms – here’s ours:

OK – that is really a “morning after” shot, but you get the idea.

Now just add Sean – confession: this is actually a picture of him from my Vietnam trip – I was so happy to see him I forgot to snap a pic of him relaxing while scratching his Malaysian Holiday sunburn.

I was great to catch up, have a couple of in-room cocktails, and crash hard – we’d both had long flight days, his, about times mine.

I’ve got to say, breakfast in the Wingate Suites Dulles isn’t bad – it’s a real buffet line with lots of hot items. I went for the “gut-buster” biscuits and gravy:

I’d scheduled the 11am shuttle to the museum, but because there was a load of flight crew on the shuttle, I was the second stop rather the usual first – not complaining, just sayin’.

The cool thing about the Air and Space Museum is that they are totally prepped for visitors with luggage – even though security has to poke around in it first. They have two different sized lockers that you deposit a quarter in (which they will loan you!) – and if it’s larger than a standard carryon, you are welcome to drag it around with you (as I saw some Japanese tourists doing).

But onto the pictures:

Lots of planes in this place!

The NASA quarantine module for astronauts coming back from the moon:

And some odd things… an R2D2 mailbox and space capsule phone booth:

Science satellites:

Many historical aircraft, from the Enola Gay (remember Hiroshima)?

To the first Fed Ex plane:

They also have their own “control tower” viewing platform:

Sadly, the restaurant in the museum was a McCafe from McDonalds.

Called the hotel shuttle and was to the airport in decent time. I didn’t think the Quarter Pounder would hold me all the way until dinner on the plane so nothing like a cocktail, some work, some corn chicken chowder:

What is on the screen is the post on First Class food from last week. Working on one post while living another. All in a day’s work.

Comfortable flight home – and you’ve already seen the food!

[? ? ?]

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Apr '11

SEA-DIA-First Bank Center.

I love early afternoon flights. You get up at leisure, you have your coffee, you take your poop, you have a little breakfast, and THEN you head to the airport. Or in my case, to the apartment to leave the car, then take light rail to the airport.

I was all checked in and in the lounge at 11:05 for my 1:05pm flight. Oddly enough, they collected my coupon for the upgrade — last I’d looked there were still seats available. Hopefully I on’t have to use the other one next Saturday. It would be nice to have a round-trip set to save for a long flight — like Cabo San Lucas in November.

Flight was good, which means on time. It was the same sandwich for lunch that was on the Cabo return, apparently the menu changes tomorrow. For those who have forgotten, it’s a turkey, provolone, roasted pepper sandwich on a ciabatta rolls served warm, with a cold salad on the side. Next time I think I’ll just stuff the salad in the sandwich.

My bags were on the carousel by the time I made the trek in for the end of the “A” concourse. And Dan and Lisa were waiting curbside at door 411 — talk about easy.

First stop of the night — Tokyo Joe’s, a fast casual Japanese food restaurant whose claim is “No MSG, No Fried Food”. Good, fast cheap — light dinner for three $20. It seems that they have dozens of locations, but only in the metro Denver area. Too bad.

Next stop — First Bank Center to see the Denver Roller Dolls take on the Philly Belles ins a roller derby match. What a pleasantly odd way to spend a Saturday night. Dan, Lisa, Sean, and Sean’s woman friend whose name I forgot, but pleasant none the less.

It took three trips to the bar and three trips to the souvenir stand before I was sated — lots of stickers, one t-shirt, and three doubles. I’d like to go back sometime and get a sky box for the match as the stadium is small enough that you’re still not that far from the action.

Last stop is Dan and Lisa’s new place in the northern suburbs of Denver, and the bed calls.


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Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Third Leg: DBX-SGN

Trying to keep on top of this trip – and slipping further behind. Cause: too much fun. Damn fun!

5am wake-up call…I don’t really like those, but I don’t set the schedule, I just pick the cheapest redemption values.

It’s a little hard to get pictures of Dubai when you arrive after dark and you leave before it’s light, but here’s a bizarre shot from the cab in the morning…

And of the departure lanes at DBX:

Luckily, the upside of getting to the airport early is time in the Emirates Business Class Lounge. And it’s a lovely facility (though not as nice at the C-terminal one, but B-terminal has a post-security hotel as well. Maybe I should have stayed there. Here is a sampling of shots, starting with the route to customs…it’s a long walk (and from there it breaks off into three different terminals, luckily I’m at B, which is just beyond security):

A little duty-free shopping (Tullamore Dew with a free flask) and then it was off to the lounge, which stretches the entire length of the terminal (but doesn’t have elevators like Terminal C):

It’s one level above departure level and is quite nice:

This would be the buffet from the front:

Which for lunch included a specialty oven just for baked potatoes:

And the back:

Cooked up by this kitchen:

Here is what we started with….

Moet Champagne this time, with chicken sausage (it is a Muslin country after all), scrambled eggs, hash browns, lox, cream cheese, capers. Tried to be moderate after filling up yesterday in the lounge and then not being able to eat all the food on the plane.

Unlike the lounge I was in last year (post here) on the way to Japan, no elevators directly to the gates in this lounge…and not only that – I have first-world problems…no jet-way – but really nice leather seated busses to the tarmac. No wonder they need to build a new airport in Dubai:

Nicest transfer bus I’ve ever been on…and then there were the stairs….

Business Class did have its own dedicated stairs… but still – stairs, with luggage. My first-world arms and legs were complaining…until the champagne came (again Moet), though it hadn’t arrived by the time of this photo:

The 777-300 series Business Class seats aren’t nearly as nice as the A380 seats…10-year-older technology, but the business class section isn’t bad. I know, more first-world bitching:

And this is what the entry way looks like – and honest – the rest of the flight she was smiling:

And we had just two of us for 6 seats in the mini-section at the back of business…

Off we go after settling in…

Today’s flight is only clocking in at about 7 hours – so not the level of service as the overnight runs. But first, some shots of the Dubai skyline for Mr. Whippet (who requested Dubai shots, and with late in, early out, this was the best I could do – and that would be the single Mr. Whippet, not the married Mr. and Mrs. Whippet):

That would be Dubai in the background, and below, an example of pollution problems in Dubai – notice the spire from the tallest building poking through the smog:

But we are settled in, watching movies….

And eating food – this would be the appetizer:

And then the main (Chicken Biryani):

And snacks if we get hungry:

And a light meal before we landed – chicken meat wrapped around lemongrass root – I might have to try that at home:

And then it was all over – the fun that is. Time to fix the visa problem. Line, get form, fill out form, cut in line to turn in form, wait 30 minutes, pay $25 USD (really felt like a government foreign currency making scam since EVERYONE paid in dollars, including the French). Bottom line it was an hour from getting off the plane to meeting up with Sean who was picking me up and giving me a place to sleep. Go Sean!

A cab ride home, crack the duty-free, have a snack, and a reasonable to-bed time.

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Third Leg: DBX-SGN

Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Fifth Leg: Cần Thơ to Mekong River

Slept well last night – those beds are wonderful! But breakfast calls – and it’s a huge buffet (included in the room):

And this isn’t even the bread/juice/cereal/pastry stand – I didn’t get much there, so why bother – well. I did get a slice of paté.

Pigletté had some peach juice (he doesn’t eat much, really)…

And Sean and I filled our plates!

After breakfast we had time to stroll the grounds. They have a nice booklet describing what all is planted where, including their bull named Bronco.

And speaking of Bronco –he gets walked three times a day along with three showers – and I’m guessing he’d still prefer to be rolling around in some mud…

They even have displays of all the rice cultivation tools – above, those would be two small “on hotel grounds” rice paddies.

Our driver is waiting for us as we check out – and this being Vietnam, if we wait for 20 minutes, the credit card machine will be working again. Once again Banker Sean bails us out for our Million Dồng bottle of wine the drinks and snacks we had.

What is kind of funny is that the driver took us back to the exact spot that they launch dropped us off last night! We made a pit stop for more Scotch and Diet Coke – and onto the boat we go! Said boat:

Actually, it’s the outer one, so we have to take a boat to our boat…

Here is a shot of the “sister” ship to ours…

I’ve got to say that so far I’m liking the accommodations…

Bed for us, a bath for Pigletté…

I love these kinds of shots… footies I guess that would be…

And Pigletté enjoys the view…

But it’s time for lunch. We get three meals on our cruise – lunch, dinner, and breakfast tomorrow morning.

And it was all really good!

The rest of the passengers are mostly English speakers, with a handful of French speakers, and a lowly German coupe. That would mean three tour guides on board as well.

It’s a hard life at sea…

Here is a photo of the map our tour guide used to show us our route for the next 24 hours….

I finally unpacked my “real” camera – the one with the 16x zoom so that I could get a bunch of close-ups of life on the river.

We are not the only tourist boat on the river. I’ve seen boats that were loaded with bicycles for multi-day trips that had a cycling component.

Small ferries are located about every mile up and down the river – moving goods and people from side-to-side.

Everything gets transported by river. Here is a load of Pigletté’s cousins…

And a load of coconuts headed to market…

And bridge components headed up river…

I’m thinking that these are bags of rice husks which are then used for fuel.

And wood…FYI, if there are “eyes” on the front of the boat – the boat’s captain is Buddhist.

Anyone need some hay?

Or rice?

And guess where those boats get built? We saw LOTS of boat yards lining the river:

And lots of boat traffic.

Lots of ways to make money off the river – like fishing…

And tending their nets…

For many of the boat captains, their boat is their house as well as their job…

Mom driving the boat while Dad takes a bath…

Or resting out of the afternoon sun…

Random pictures of boat people…

Random pictures of shore life:

And random building shots…

Not as much bird life along the river as I’d expected, but some:

In the late afternoon we had an excursion up one of the many channels and tributaries that feed the Mekong. A was a little surprised that they gave us life-jackets – but a bit relieved as well.

Up river we go:

Really thankful for the lifejackets:

At the start of our “walk-about” our guide gives us our intro to the fruits of Vietnam:

And flowers …

And spices like peppercorn:

As we wandered further inland it turned to protein:

OK – the dog isn’t for eating – it’s to chase off predators. As you can see – they can pretty much grow or harvest most of what they need to live on – save for some cooking oil.

Next up on the agenda was a little snack…of the fruits we saw, and some hot tea:

Followed by a tour of their house…

And on the way back to the boat – rice fields. Please note the burial crypts on the right hand side:

And speaking of burial crypts, here are some more:

Tour over – back to the boat we go, with enough time for a cocktail or two before dinner – good thing we stocked up in town!

Off to dinner we go…

Looks yummy doesn’t it.

And we even sprang for a little white Bordeaux:

Nothing like a full moon to complete the evening:

It was an early to bed night for all three of us after a very long day.

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Fifth Leg: Cần Thơ to Mekong River

Oct '19

Trip Report: Return From Vietnam

Well, it’s been a fun trip, but now it’s time to head back to the US. Fortunately, Sean lives 10 minutes from the airport – it was a ridiculously cheap Grab fare, and quick. 51,000 Dong – or $2.20 USD – which included the 10,000 Dong airport drop off fee (0.43 USD).

No one in line in front of me – I got there minutes after they opened, and I’m in Business Class. Even customs/immigration was only 10 minutes – much less than Sean warned me about. Next up, the lounge!

And my plane is here!

It’s a 787 so it should be comfy.

Sadly, the Asian airlines don’t believe in Champagne on the ground before takeoff. Fortunately, I had a couple of scotch and sodas in the lounge. And the menu was at hand.

I went for the Japanese Menu for my lunch. And it was pretty!

I even managed to get a little sleep, along with watching Hangover 3 (that’s a movie), along a couple of TV shows.

The next photo I put in for Kathy – she loves a good bidet photo, and our plane had them (at least in Business Class).

Nothing like seeing a sign like this as you are transferring flights!

Good thing I’m getting out of the day I am – lots of flights being cancelled for tomorrow.

Unlike on the way to Vietnam, I actually had a little time in the lounge in Tokyo…with my souvenir from the Saigon airport:

Actually, there are TWO JAL Lounges at Narita – and I’d forgotten the main difference. The small one has hard alcohol, the big one doesn’t. Sadly, I didn’t remember that until I’d walked all the way (and it is closer to the gate.

The next jet is a 767-300, fortunately with an updated Business Class.

I really like the side table. And the privacy. And the food. This time I went for the Western Menu:

And they actually managed to get the steak done to medium rare!

This flight’s movie is Stand By Me, which my buddy Fluffernutter was an extra (in the pie eating barf scene).

Probably got three hours or so of sleep.

Since it’s a 10-hour flight, that means a second meal before landing…back to the Asian Menu:

I must be running out of steam because I don’t have any pictures of the lounge in Vancouver. The picture I do have is of the “haul” from Duty Free. There is a weird quirk in the system when you clear US Immigration/Customs in a foreign country (Canada has a bunch of ports of entry, as does Ireland, even Dubai). You still get to purchase Duty Free – BUT, you are already on US Soil. When I asked how much I could bring in (experiencing this in Calgary as well), the clerk asked, “How much can you carry?” Apparently, six liters is my limit!

That would be two bottles of Maker’s Mark, and four bottles of Canadian Club Rye, with two complimentary mini bottles of Maple Syrup. Thank got Shua is meeting me at the airport – at the gate! He works at Sea-Tac, and gets off a little before my flight gets in.

Here’s to friends. It was a good trip all around. Friends on both ends to meet me.

If you need refreshing on the trip – here is an infographic:

Another trip under the belt. Using Alaska Frequent Flier Miles this trip in Business Class was 125,000 miles + $67.43 in fees. According to the booking rules, I could have stopped off for a week in both Seoul and Tokyo for the same fare (though they are tightening up those rules). I’m using those rules next March to do an around the world for 160,000 miles and (because of British Air excessive fees) $850 in Business and First. People ask how I can stand to fly so much – this is the reward, one set of flights that would cost me as much as I spend on a year of flying (last time I looked I’d spent $7,500 this year on paid flights).

[? ? ?]

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Jan '07

Half day on Kauai, half day at sea.

A lazy day on the boat, not even bothering to get off. Breakfast, reading, work, reading, sunning on the deck — you know, the hard life.

This is the shot from the 14th deck… where I was sunny around noon.

The top decks of the Pride of America

We’ve been turned down for the EasyFly program — even though we are already upgraded to First Class on the return trip — but they are sending up something called VIP tags — hope they don’t charge us the $20 per person for those!

Off to lunch at the trough (I mean the buffet).

We head out at 1:30pm, heading up the coast (the opposite direction we need to get to Honolulu) so we can see the Na Pali coastline at sunset — if it is as beautiful as the lava flows at night, I’ll be really happy.

Maybe dinner with the boys tonight, who knows. I do have some pictures for them. I brought along a little 4×6 Photo Printer (the HP PhotoSmart 335 that I picked up for $29.95 plus shipping).

Right now it’s time for free champagne at the art auction — we’ll see what that brings. Last time Jeff found a cell that he really liked and made a late night deal for it after the auction.

Sean — soon to be adopted.

So, our evening contains drinking. The photo above is NOT our server, he is just the server we want to take home. That would be Sean. Sean is OCD. Seriously. The test was when our waitress, Noelita, touched him on one shoulder, and he instantly had to “balance” himself and he touched his other shoulder. We want to adopt him.

Way too much booze and food, in fact, there is a crab cake in the fridge. Let’s not go into the bar where the Aussies were doing nude acts last night, and the Russians were fucking in the corner. I would have stayed — but the cigarette smoke was bothering me.

And then there is the hell of packing. Oh, did I mention a truly great meal at the steakhouse. Didn’t want to go there because Jeff isn’t a big steak fan… but, shit, the food was great. Even he said so.

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part Two

Back in Saigon after our couple of day in Da Nang, it’s off to the hotel after leaving Sean’s place to drop the bags and find an early lunch.

Gold Fish was the answer (the restaurant, not the children’s snack:

Yummy food at 10am when most lunch places were still closed.

After lunch, we were off the The Independence Palace, also know of the Reunification Palace, which is what I should have put into the Grab app as we ended up in a definitely not touristy neighborhood. There was a temple there, though this is the worst possible shot of it – drunk tourist shot, and it’s too early to be drunk:

So, we Grabbed again to where we should have been, only to find that they have “odd” hours. Then close for an hour at lunch. So, we killed time until 1pm with iced Vietnamese coffee at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (oddly, a US chain, so the bathrooms were clean and the wi-fi quick).

It was across a nice park from the palace…

I’d been here two and a half years ago with Sean. It was the residence and official offices for the South Vietnamese government. You can tell by the number of formal rooms:


A closeup of the exterior reveals a design esthetic that reminds me of the Hawaii State Capital:

And the rooftop heliport…

But then there is the behind the scenes parts of the palace, like the kitchen, which filled me with envy. Four burners, a griddle, and ovens on BOTH sides.

Too bad I don’t have room for this!

And my brother Jon would love those GIANT woks!

Sadly, the “bunker” was closed when we were there – but it was where they “sheltered in place”.

And there are massive grounds to explore….

And then random vehicles…

And my favorite, the shooting range!

After the tour, Michael and I headed back to the hotel to formally check in. Formally is an odd thing in Vietnam – they take a photocopy or a cell phone picture of your passports, and hand you a key. No credit card for damages/mini-bar stuff. Just hand you the key. I should mention that I booked both our Saigon hotels on Expedia with cancellable rates.

Our hotel is the Luxury Hotel! And we are in a VIP Suite (that smells slightly of smoke). I think we have the stereo and speakers covered!

And in case we forget:

Two beds and a sitting area:

And the bathroom:

Michael went out for supplies to tide us over to dinner – which Mike is joining us:

They had a couple of beers; I had a couple of cocktails before heading out to see what was available – and we ended up in the night market (which was on Michael’s wish list).

That is going to be our restaurant on the right!

And it’s sort of like eating in a circus!

Four or five dishes – 600,000 dong, with beer for the boys, which is basically $9.00 USD each. I could get used to this!

What a great send off for Michael!

And with that, I end the post. Stay tuned for the return home.

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Feb '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon City Impressions

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are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

My last two days in Vietnam I’m on my own to explore the neighborhood (5th Ward or whatever it is). Sean is at work, I sleep in.

Welcome to sights and scenes from Saïgon. Let’s start with traffic – on the back of a scooter:

There are other clips on YouTube at the same location of other experimental traffic shots. Breath deep, assume it will all come out right.

When I’m staying with folks in a different city, I just tend to pick a street and walk 5 or 10 blocks in each direction to see what I find…and with the maze of Saigon streets running at angles, I’m going for straight lines.

Hello Kitty! I found this store on the first walk:

They were having a 50% off sale and MAN was I out of place. Lots of pretty pink dresses, nothing in the laptop sleeve that I was looking for – luggage – they had that.

I should have spent more time looking for bargains – but I got the feeling they were a little freaked out by a 50+ year old white guy in their store.

You can get everything on the streets – plane tickets:

CDs/DVDs from guys that have their own battery mounted sound system:

Random food:

Then there are the random cathedrals:

Mixed in with upscale buildings wedged between crumbling ones…

And forget walking on the sidewalk, it is filled with scooters:

Walk, and you are in the street. Speaking of the street – I have a collection of “party” billboards – Vietnam still is a nominally communist country:

I’m sorry, but in the one below, Ho Chi Min is looking a little too much like Colonel Sanders, which is in Vietnam at this point.

To me this reminds me of the YMCA song so popular at weddings in the US:

And then there is TinTin – apparently he crosses all borders:

Other amusing street scenes include auto dealerships where there is a 200% import tax on cars that are not manufactured in Vietnam – FYI – Vietnam doesn’t manufacture any cars:

Public parks have exercise equipment for everyone to use. Hello USA!:

Random shot of a street restaurant:

It is the year of the monkey after all. Apparently I’m a FIRE MONKEY:

And the “party” is still alive – this Jeep waiting to go on Communist Patrol:

As my last night in town, Ming shows up for dinner, and to pick up a painting he is taking to his father as a house-warming gift – this isn’t the painting (which I should have taken a picture of), but a large 3-6 foot mural in the showroom – which happens to be on the corner of where I’m staying. “Painting” is a bit of a stretch – unless you call painting with ground up gem stones painting.

And then we were off to dinner – s hot pot place:

A nice final meal for Vietnam for late tonight I’m at the airport headed home.


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Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon City Impressions

Mar '09

Wednesday In The City.

Where did the day go… it wasn’t work. That only took an hour and a half.

Errands? Not that many.

Working on the house. A little, but mostly it was what Raf was doing — me, I just nailed up some useless phone and cable lines that were taken down when the eaves went on last year (and had been dangling ever since).

Must be the damn computer that sucked it up.

I did figure out how I’m getting to Santa Fe this May for Emily’s (niece) High School graduation. I’m flying to Denver and driving down (5 hours). Why? I get the miles on Alaska and the fare was $150 round-trip. Amazing. How can you make any money that way.

The amusing thing is that the car (for the week) will cost me more than the airfare. 

Another reason for Denver is to see Dan and Lisa while they visit. I also get to see Dan’s father (who I like), and Sean, wife and kids (that I’ve never met).

I could have flown, but it would have been $260 for a triangle flight Seattle-Denver-Albuquerque-Seattle which was oddly cheaper than the $280 for Seattle-Albuquerque-Seattle. Now all I have to do if find a rental car for a week. Looks like $200 — wonder if I can borrow Dan’s father’s Corvette for a couple of days.

Had Raf over to dinner. Even did a load of laundry for the poor boy. Man, I remember living hand-to-mouth… and not really liking it.

The pork was good, the company was good.


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