Monday, June 29, 2009

A quick catch-up on the last 4 days...

Ok, this maybe the quickest post ever. I haven't stopped sweating for the last 4 hours, and I believe that my perspiration is scaring people in the internet cafe.
Last we spoke (disregarding our plea for fiscal responsibility), we were in Hanoi. We woke up on our last day ready to shop for cheap souvenirs. Our first stop was the Chinese market- a place that we were told was better priced than the normal tourist market. Of course, it was better priced- but only because it was a bunch of junk, and partially looked like a wholesale market. We walked around a bit, and then hopped back in a cab and headed to the market near our hotel. Our trip for cheap souvenirs cost us $10 in cab fair. Oops.

At the better market, we spent some money. This was the market that we told you had clothing shops with ladies that literally held on to you and wouldn't let you go. We avoided this aisle until the end when I bought 3 shirts (and used my awesome negotiation skills. Carrie and I really make a great team- one of us inquires, and the other makes faces at the price they say until they lower it. We were able to go from $35 a shirt to 3 shirts for $30). As soon as we walked out of that shirt place, I hurried out of the aisle, but Carrie was held back by 5 women grabbing her. Every (wo)man for him/herself!

We bought other trinkets- purses, watches, placemats. Can't remember everything now, since we are currently carrying more souveniers than clothes. We stopped for lunch at a Pho place- it was my first experience and it was awesome! It was around the corner from our house and named Pho Bo. There are tables and chairs on the street and you can watch them prepare the Pho. It was delicious and we both discovered our new love for chili sauce. Then we headed back to the hotel to shower and buy a coconut pancake that Carrie had her eye on for the last 3 days. It was definitely worth it too! Then, we walked back to catch a cab to the airport. A few hours later we were on a plane to Danang Airport, 30 min from Hoi An. If you every travel to Saigon Airport, bring ear plugs so you don't have to listent to the constant announcements over the PA. Literally the entire 2 hours we were in the airport. Plane ride was pretty uneventful. We were really tired, so we were looking forward to sleeping on the plane. Of course, Carrie ended up in a middle seat next to a woman and her little boy. He quickly became attached to Carrie and did not stop trying to hold her hand/arm the entire flight. Needless to say, there was little sleeping for Carrie, but of course, Dave did well.

The landing was beautiful. Hoi An is surrounded by mountains and the landscape was just green rolling mountains. Gorgeous!

When we arrived at Danang, we caught a cab to Hoi An. The Lonely Planet said we would spend $10. Ours cost $20. And he was slow. We got passed by ever scooter. And the drivers honk here whenever they pass anyone. Our driver just honked randomly. After more than an hour, we arrived at the hotel we hoped to stay in- Pho Hoi Riverside. We were recommended it by someone that we ran into, and asked at the frontdesk if they had vacancy. They did, and Carrie even deftly negotiated us an upgrade and a discount($40 from $60 with a riverview!). Solid!

The rest of Hoi An is a bit of a blur. There are tailor shops everywhere. Shoe shops everywhere. Silk shops everywhere. I don't know what they would do if tourists stopped coming here (tourists are everywhere).

Of course our first stop was to Yaly, a well-known tailor in the city. We came with a purpose, to buy Dave some nice work suits. We are leaving with so much more.

Anyway, it's a really interesting process. You walk in and they ask you what you're interested in and then they put piles and piles and piles of catalogs in front of you. Once you pick what you want, you start going through piles and piles and piles of fabrics. The store is huge and it looks like they have many more options then the others we've seen. Anyways, after you pick out material, you then get measured. They honestly take over 20 measurements which is why it comes out so nice I guess. They then ask you how long, where should pockets be, do you even want pockets... Total took us over 2 hours. Crazy. Since our first meeting, we had been back for 5 different fittings. But the clothes are amazing! We now have 2 huge plastic bags full of clothes with us (whereas everyone else was walking out with 1 shirt, a dress...) Add to that my custom made jeans (from Nam Ngai) we were able to negotiate down from $40 a pair to 2 for $20. However, after this visit, it made it very evident why it was worth paying more at Yaly. The service was 100% better and our consultants Marina and Alice were great! We also got a beautiful hand-painted piece of artwork from a nice woman we kept passing (Xang Thanh at 42 Mgiuem Thai Hoc Street).

There is a beach that we haven't made it too- hoping to tomorrow(We didn't) . A couple visits to our pool cooled us off, but it is so hot right now!

A quick rundown of our meals (really quick since I just finished typing this up and then it all got erased). The first night we stopped at a little place on the corner and Dave had fried shrimp with lemongrass and garlic. I had grilled shrimp you dip in a mixture of lime/pepper and salt and then coconut milk. Delicious. Got an invite from our waitress to go to dinner at her house, but never ended up going through.

Day 2 - breakfast was eggs and bread and fruit as well as fried rice, fried noodles, pho and spaghetti with sauce? Lunch was at a street eatery consisiting of picnic tables with woman at the end cooking in littlepots. We had fried spring rolls (they're amazing here) Dave had Pho and I had Cau Lau (Hoi An specialty of noodles, chicken, veggies and wontons). That plus 2 bottles of water for less than $5. Go us. Dinner was at Restaurant 96 right on the water. Dave had fried noodles with chicken (fried here for noodles is the equivalent of sauteed for us) and I had chicken with cashew nuts. Delicous!

Day 3 - Lunch was a random stop where it turned out the restuarant had just opened that day and we were the 2nd customers. It is similar to Friends in Cambodia in that they help street kids in Vietnam, get them schooling,housing and training to work in the restuarant. Our lunch was great. Dave had chicken with noodles and I branched out and tried the papaya salad with sun-dried beef and chilis. it was so good, but towards the end, the chili strips definitely starting getting the better of me and Dave had to finish mine off. The place was called Duong Pho ( and was delicious, clean and well-serviced.

Dinner was break time again. We went to Good Morning Vietnam which is an Italian owned/chefed restaurant. We had spaghetti carbonara and a hawaiian pizza and were extremely satisfied. Delicious!

That brought us to the internet last night. We had been out all day since 9:30 that morning and were hot, tired, developing heat rashes on our necks and could not stop sweating. We started feeling extremely sick, so we had to head home around 10 and take a dip in the pool. Therefore, this blog was completed and edited this morning when we were clean and sweat-free (as much as possible for Vietnam because it is HOT here!)

Back to the pool for a bit and then we head off to Hanoi. Last stop in Vietnam!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Emperors' New Clothes

No long post yet, but we just spent some serious coin on some hand-made tailored clothes. 2 suits, 3 jackets, 2 sportcoats, 3 shirts for me. 2 suits, 2 jackets, 2 dresses, 2 pants, and 2 shirts for Carrie. Serious cash, but way cheap compared to home. And too much fun. And too much time left in Hoi An to spend money on custom shoes, jeans, etc.

Now accepting donations.


Friday, June 26, 2009

War Day

Today was our first Vietnam War day. It started with eggs and bread. I am already sick of eggs and bread.

Then we got on a large van with some Swiss, French, Brits, Maylasians, and our Vietnamese driver and tour guide. Off to the Cu Chi tunnels we go.

But this tour included a stop we were unaware of. We stopped at a factory that employed the disabled to make various arts and crafts. Many of the workers were disabled as a result of the war- either Agent Orange's lingering affects, or unexploded landmines/ordinance, etc. While that is sad, the products they made were spectacular. They were designed using either mother of pearl, egg shell, or paint. We were able to watch them break pieces of the egg shell off and lay each one individually to create a design. Really top notch stuff. In fact, you can see 2 items from there if you ever come to Boston to visit us.

The Cu Chi tunnels were the tunnels used by the North Vietnamese when they operated right outside of Saigon. There were over 250 km of tunnels. They started building them when they were fighting the French right after WWII, and expanded during the Vietnam War. One of the most interesting notes from the day was that they actually call it The Vietnam War. Strange right? You'd think most of the wars they've ever
had would be the Vietnam War.

So we saw lots of
interesting things- a tunnel entrance the original size, one expanded a bit for 'larger Western people.' See the picture of Carrie in the small tunnel entrance? If you can believe it, this is the expanded entrance. Imagine how smallt he actual ones were! We saw how they made weapons (from unexploded US ordinance), and tasted the tapioca that they survived on. We also both went thru the tunnels. Now, these tunnels were expanded for us larger folks, but I have no idea how they survived down there. Hot and dark. And bugs and bats (thank goodness we didn't find out there was a scorpion in the first tunnel until we were finished!). The first tunnel I led, and got a bit claustrophobic. The second time I was last, and when Carrie was in certain positions I couldn't see anything- pitch black. 17 years in the tunnels. No, Thank You.

Perhaps the most fun part was the AK-47 that I got to shoot. Real live bullets ($15 for 10). I split with the Malaysian guy and we each fired 5. I haven't shot a gun since the .22 rifle at Camp Airy long ago. I didn't hit anything (I was actually ok back in the day), but Carrie said "But Dave, you got close." She'll certainly be a good mother someday with encouragement like that. Of course, I was too scared to really aim, since I didn't feel like getting an AK-47 black eye to carry around for the next two weeks.

We also saw a US tank that was exploded on a landmine (sad since you realize that our US soliders most likely died in that tank), and several booby trap type devices. It was weird to hear the video say that "The bombs were dropped by the devils in Washington DC."

Back on the bus for 1 hour, and we were dropped off outside the War Remnants Museum. But first, you know our priorities- lunchtime! With no idea where we were, and no restaurants close by, we took out the Lonely Planet and aimed for a place that was no longer there. So we settled on the closest thing, didn't look at the menu, and had what would be considered an expensive lunch in Vietnam- $15 + tip. Carrie had water, and I had Diet Coke- but first the waitress somehow thought I said Tiger beer (even though I pointed on the menu) and then when I corrected her, she brought a Corona. Shrimp Spring rolls (gourmet style), Crab Vermicelli for Carrie, and Yellow Noodles with Seafood for me. Carrie's flavor was not what she was expecting there wasn't much crab), and mine had octopus (have tried but don't like) and other unidentified sea creatures in it. But at least mine tasted great! A little splitting definitely occurred!
The War Remnants museum was a great museum. As we've mentioned, it is so interesting to see how the other side views the war. The first part of the exhibit is outside- captured US war machines. Tanks, planes, Hueys and more. Then inside, it was mostly photographs of the war. The first thing we saw a sign that had part of the US Declaration of Independence on it. Then we saw lots of moving photographs. There were lots of sad ones of the affects of Agent Orange- it is terrible how that chemical affected not just those in the war, but their offspring as well. We saw two photos that I posted here- one of US soldiers waterboarding a prisoner, and another of a US soldier holding up part of a Vietnamese corpse. Not fun for this blog- but stuff people should see. I will note that this was obviously a Vietnamese museum. I believe that we do a good job remembering out own atrocities. Here, it was very clear. USA = bad. NV = good. We were shown a video at the Cu Chi tunnels that celebrated a young girl as a soldier, and at the museum we were blamed for the killing of women and children. Obviously awful things happened, but that example illustrates the attitude of the museum. What is really amazing is how many Vietnamese have told us that that is history now. No problem- friends. They are just interested in making money and having a good life.
After the WRM, we grabbed a taxi (van, not bike) and headed here to get an earlier flight to Hoi An. It cost $35, but we hear there are beaches. Should be nice to get tailored clothes and sit for a few days. Hopefully there won't be much to blog about, but I'm sure Carrie will find something for us to do do...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walkin' Around

This morning was a late start for once. Alarm set for 8:30 with no strict plans (of course tomorrow we will be on a bus by 8:30- groan!). Breakfast was (suspensful drum roll)... ... ... bread and fried eggs. Who woulda thunk it? Plus pineapple juice and coffee. And one banana. Take that, Cheerios!

Mr. Lonely Planet was nice enough to give us a one day walking tour of Saigon. We started by getting lost. We walked down a couple of busy streets, and had to tell every single motorbike driver that we did not need a ride. They responded with "Where are you from" and then got us stuck in a converstation that ended with "Why don't you ride for just 1 hour. I'll take you every where. War Remnants Museum..." By the third guy, we just put up our hand and responded with a "No" to everything they said. Survival Skills.

Our first stop was the Ben Thanh Market. This was initial the most vial shopping experience ever. We walked down a clothing aisle. Should be harmless right? Every stall owner, as we approached would jump up and shout "What do you want. You buy? You buy!" It literally looked like they were doing the wave as we walked. A few grabbed our arms and we had to pull just to get away. I walked out immediately, and Carrie followed, but asked "Thats it? We're leaving?" I said that I didn't want to be pulled apart, and definitely wasn't going to buy anything because I didn't want to carry it all day. She talked me back in- to another section which was less invasive than the clothing guys. Shortly after, back on the tour...

After that we had to cross a traffic circle. Crazy. You know what we are talking about if you've been reading this blog, but this is what we've seen on steriods and HGH. Hardcore. We made it across to look at a statue in the center, and then finished the other part of the circle. No problem for us, but we crossed the second time with a Japanese woman who was terrified, and looked like she might freeze in the middle. I gave her some encouragement, and she made it. Lots of giggles on the other side.

We walked down a few side streets, and walked thru a street market (feels like every other one), and saw the Municipal Theater which was closed. Then we saw a couple of famous hotels and stopped for lunch at Quan An Ngon. It was actually a really nice resturant (we haven't eaten in a nice nice place since Singapore). Carrie had some sort of Noodle Soup with pork and shrimp and rice cake, and I had Beef with Chili Salt and Seasoned Toast. My papaya shake was much better than Carrie's Aquafina. All for less than $10.

After lunch we were way overcharged for 2 bottle of water on the street, and walked to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. Bo-ring. They had one room dedicated to economic growth graphs. Some cool exhibits were the tanks and jets on the front lawn, and a creepy bomb shelter underneath. Certainly worth the $1 admission, but only a quick walk-thru was necessary.

On to the Reunification Palace. It was the home of the South Vietnamese Gov't until the N. Vietnamese rolled thru the gates with tanks. This wasn't that exciting, but the 10 minutes of a video and the history of the palace exhibit were cool. You can definitely tell that the history was being written by the Vietnamese when they refer to battles and atrocities committed during the Vietnam War (and they certainly don't call it the Vietnam War).

Across the street was the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon (not like the one in France, but ok), and the Post Office, known for its architecture. That brought us to our last stop- the Jade Emporer Pagoda. Carrie was very excited for this, since we missed the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh. But this was not quite impressive. It defiitely needs maintance but the wood carvings inside were very intricate. The live fish eating the dead fish in the pond out front was also fun to watch.

But, the Pagoda was a long way away for home, so we cabbed it home. No motorbikes (safety precaution). But it is hard to flag a car and not get motorbikes chasing you, so we almost got killed anyway chasing the mini-van down.

Then we grabbed our books from our room, and got a coffee at the cafe nearby. Then we got massages (foot for 1 hour). We tipped 25%, were asked for more, paid more, and ended up paying $8 a massage rather than $7.50. Its hard to figure how much to tip when 15% equals $0.50. Carrie already wants to go back.

Grabbed our laundry ($4 to get it done), chased down our missing pants and returned the bra of unknown origin, and went off to Indian food (forgot to take pictures). Butter chicken and chicken biryani with garlic naan and roti. Quite good.

Thats it. Rubins out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Liz!

We just wanted to wish Liz, our favorite sister and Sister-in-Law a wonderful and Happy Birthday (over here at least!). We hope you have a great day! We love you!


Carrie and Dave and Cody (woof!!!!)


So last we left you in the Mekong Delta in the border town Chau Doc. After the rain, we returned to the hotel for a quick nap (it is extremely hot here and exhausting!). When we woke up, we had plans to go to Sam Mountain, a hill around 7 km away which is lined with pagodas the whole way up and has beautiful views of the country and Cambodia. Well, we didn't realize, but the only way to get there is by Motorbike. Yes, you heard me right, Motorbike. First they suggested we rent one for the 2 of us and go on our own. NOT HAPPENING! Next idea, get 2 bikes and each of us ride on the back of one. Now, I won't lie, the drive through the country was pretty, but by the time we got to the top of the windy hill, our knuckles were white and we were barely breathing!

Here is a riddle for you. How does one do the famous Dave Rubin Dashboard handbrake... when there is no dashboard and those hands are white-knuckle grabbing the backend of a motorbike. ANSWER: Avoid the instinct to flail your arms in panic (thus causing the horrific accident you are worried about). Instead, use a more personal touch- the previously undiscovered Dave Rubin Innerthigh Brake. This involves squeezing, with some amount of force, the buttocks of the unsuspecting 40-ish Vietnamese driver in an effort to make him slow down. Past experience has shown that this often makes him speed up, but it is better than flailing your arms.

Quick interjection: There are NO driving laws in Vietnam. Seriously, people pass each other everywhere, they'll drive on the shoulders, pass into oncoming traffic (and honk their horns at the people coming towards him). This fact made this experience even more terrifying!

Ok, back to story. The visit was definitely worth it. The view was amazing. We couldn't see the sunset becuase of the rain, but we were able to see miles and miles of rice paddies. Absolutely gorgeous. We both decided that we didn't want to do the ride down the mountain, so we asked the driver if we could meet him at the bottom. Of course, he said no. Giving up and hopeless, we sat down with a couple of New Zealanders and some beers to take off the edge. Well, it really worked. The ride down was GREAT!!! WE ahd a lot of fun and our guides made several stops to some of the local temples/shrines and walked us around (the pig was an offering). Plus, we were beginning to discover that we were famous there. Everywhere we went, kids would come up to us saying "Hello, Hello". We even had some run down the street to say hi. It was alot of fun. We rode back into town and when it was done, there was some feelings of let-down that it was over. No worries, we heard Ho Chi Minh will be filled with these rides (sorry Nancy).

We took a quick walk to the main riverside to go to a pharmacy and saw some kids doing Martial Arts on the street and some of the night vendors. It definitely was an active town, but much safer feeling than where we've been previously. We decided to go to our hotels brand new floating seafood restaurant for dinner (literally opened the night before). We had a great meal of spring rolls, fried rice and snapper hot pot. They were all good, but the latter was delicious! Our great waitress Yu had to help us serve it though. (author change) The only problem with the whole meal was the bugs! Bugs are crazy in Chau Doc (worse than the other two cities we have visited since), and we are pretty sure she was picking them out while she served us. We figure its just how it is and we can't really worry about it. We try to get the bugs out of what we are eating, but who knows what got in there before they cooked it?

At this point, we decided to head for bed, as we had to get up at 5:30 am to get started the next day. In order to explain this to you, we must start by recanting our 'decent' rating of the hotel. We certainly survived the night, but I don't believe we would ever stay there again, no matter the price. The first problem was the fact that the resturant was making a ton of noise, and it was difficult to sleep at the time we were going to bed. Then our fellow guests were heard very easily thru the walls, and one even scared the @#$@ out of us when he mistook our room for his. The AC stopped working around 12 am (no refund given for the $7 extra we paid for AC), and then when we came out- there was a worker sleeping on the floor of the 'lobby' covered in mosquito netting. Final rating: if you have to stay there, you will live, but don't stay there unless you have to.

So at 6am we were ferried across to Delta Adventures other hotel and resturant for breakfast. It consisted of bread, jam and butter, and fried egg (Dave only). And the awesome Vietnamese coffee. Then we got on our Delta Adventure Tour for the Chau Doc part, which consisted of a short visit to a fish farm (there is not much to see- there are 10,000 fish, and food for them), and then the Cham village. The Cham are an ethnic minority in Vietnam, and practice Islam. So we went to their mosque, and saw them weaving scarves, etc. They also have cute children that sell little waffle things. And apparently they watch your shoes at the mosque and expect a fee for it. I was feeling kind-hearted, so they got $1 for waffles, and $1 for shoes. Daddy Warbucks.

Up the river on a fast boat for 3 hours brings you to Can Tho. Can Tho is a 'real city' with 1.5 million people and the largest in the Delta. It was a pretty ride with factories and boats and other things you see on a river. The city was nice too, but the children were not as entertained by us- they must be more used to tourists. (As I write this I am drinking Aquafina. That is a damn fine brand of water compared to some of the creek-tasting water we have been drinking. Good work Pepsi.) We had lunch in Can Tho at a place famous for its snake, but alas, we are not that adventurous. It was spring rolls and fried noodles for us (forgot to take a picture before we ate it all). All for less than 6 bucks (water too- La Vie, bottled by Coca Cola). Then our guide took us to our hotel, the Xuan Mia Hotel II. Way nicer than the night before, but nothing you would want to live in. I would stay there again, but can't judge the cost since it was wrapped in with the tour cost. It was certainly full of backpackers (which we did not know until the next day).

Nap, internet, and walk around for 3 hours just seeing the town. This is my favorite way to tour- Carrie loves religious stuff (blech). We also bought some clothes and some cool 'handmade' art. Of course it is handmade, even if the woman in the stall across has the same ones. The Internet cafe was the reason we didn't blog for so long. The computers were the worst (it was called Queen), and Carrie's even announced that she had a virus that wouldn't delete. So, just some email checks there- sorry if you got any messages from us telling you how we ran into a Vietnamese prince that has a business venture, but just needs $100,000 to get started. But, if you did, and you believe it, you can send the checks to us and we will get them to him. Just make it out to CASH.

Night brought us to Nan Bo, and our first break from Asian food (not counting MickeyD's). Hmm. What to order. What's that Carrie. Sure, I could do that. Yes, please, one veggie, one Hawiian. And French Fries, but the fries never came :( We sat on the second floor overlooking the street- a very pretty view discounting the powerlines. Off to bed (and we baricaded our door so we had no incidents this time).

The next day we were greeted at 6:30 by the hotel lady knocking on every door in the places, yelling 'Good Morning.' Headed down for breakfast (same as the day before) and found that our tour for the day would have about 20 on it. A good group, minus 6 guys who didn't say or do much. Started at the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta, and got off our big boat to go around in a row boat. Also had some pineapple that was cut very unusually, but was really good. Carrie got heat exhaustion, and spent the next 2 hours feeling awful. We headed over to a local market, since the rice paper factory was closed (saw rat and snake for sale). We then headed to a rice mill, that was also closed, but we still walked thru and learned a great deal. And a guy was selling pancakes with coconut in them. I bought one, then another, then another. And still spent only $.50.

Back to Can Tho for lunch, specifically back to Nan Bo. Carrie enjoyed her first Pho experience, while I indulged in Spaghetti Carbonara (my favorite!). Headed to the hotel to meet the bus, but the bus wasn't there. So we walked back the boat, and took it to the other side of the river. The ferry traffic was so long that had we not taken our 20 min boat ride, the bus would have not gotten across for 2-3 hours. Fortunately for Can Tho, the Japanese are contributing funds to help build a huge suspension bridge.

That bus took us on a 5 hour journey North to Ho Chi Minh City, which goes by Saigon as well. The driving, as we mentioned, is both safer and scarier in a bus. Safer since we won't get hurt, scarier since we thought we were going to hit everyone we passed. HCMC is big and crowded, but we will learn more about that tomorrow. Bought a hamock on the side of the road that we bargained from $8 to $6 but then got con'ed on the exchange rate and paid $8 anyways. Oh well- it looks comfy. Our hotel is really nice (Hong Han) for only $22.

Dinner was Vietnamese across the street- spring rolls, fried noodles with beef, and a chicken and vegetables that you put on rice paper with peanut sauce and eat like tacos.

That's it for now. Nighty night from us, and have fun at work (hahahahahahahahahaha).