Tag Archives: travel

Waking Up in Hanoi

On my first full day in Hanoi, I got up fairly early and grabbed breakfast before I headed out for a massage. This is something I had been looking forward to for a long time. In the last decade I’ve probably had two massages, as I’ve not had the cash for real ones and my husband doesn’t like to give them (should be a divorceable offense, good thing he’s awesome in other ways).

Breakfast was at the hotel on the main floor. It includes eggs, toast, coffee (or tea) and fresh fruit. It isn’t a spectacular breakfast, but it is free and fills the spot. I’ve been pleased with it each morning. Belly full, it was time to head out into the heat (oh the heat!) to a massage place I had read about online. Unfortunately, I had awoken too early and the place wasn’t open yet. Not sure what to do with myself, I headed on to grab some “egg coffee“, a specialty in Vietnam.

I went to Cafe Giảng to give this a try. It is supposed to be one of the older cafes and still run by the same family. I was ushered upstairs to a small table and ordered my coffee. It came quickly and looked much better than it sounded.

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I gave it a stir and gave it a sip. I know it sounds strange, but it was honestly delicious. To me, someone who usually drinks their coffee black, this isn’t something to drink every morning. But I would definitely get another cup of it. And at just 25,000d (about $1.10usd), it was a reasonably priced treat.

From Cafe Giảng I headed back towards Van Xuan on Ly Quoc Su in the Old Quarter. I did some research and I wanted cheap but awesome. Which is what I got. My hour long full-body massage was only $9. It was definitely not fancy; there is no spa music and I was in a room with other beds and other people getting their massages, too. But the girl doing the massaging did a great job and I was happy with it. I think next time I would go for just a foot massage instead, as it looks like it would be just a thorough with more focus on the feet, which is always so heavenly.

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After the massage I went back to the hotel for a shower. To say the least, I have showered a tonne this week because I am the sweatiest person on the planet. I certainly hope I acclimatise to the heat and humidity here before it really kicks off next month.

I was met at the hotel by Zach, a friend of a friend from Korea. An American teacher having lived in Hanoi for nearly a decade, my Korean friend thought he would be a good person to be in touch with. She was right; Zach was awesome.

We went for lunch at Xôi Yến, which is apparently well-known for its sticky rice. It was a very tasty dish.

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Xôi Yến was extremely busy, so once we finished eating we went across the street to Cộng Càphê for coffee, which I have since found out is a chain in Hanoi. It is very cool inside, but I only nabbed one quick picture before we sat down with our coffees and started chatting about everything I could think to ask questions for, from sorting garbage to which district to look for housing in.

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Zach put up with me for over two hours and was an amazing source of information. I was very reassured after speaking with him about getting on in Hanoi. I was feeling guilty for taking up all of his day, however, so I said my good-byes. He offered to give me a ride back to the hotel, but I was happy enough to walk as I am still trying to get a map of Hanoi etched in my head.

I walked about the Old Quarter for a bit, looking for a pharmacy. I had woken up with a severe headache (no doubt brought on by travel, dehydration, and lack of sleep) and wanted some tablets. Pharmacies here are everywhere though, once you know what to look for. There’s not standard symbol so it took me awhile to recognise them. I bought my tablets (which happily I haven’t even needed since) and walked on.

I decided that I would get a manicure and pedicure. My nails were a mess as I hadn’t dealt with them all the time I had been travelling. I was hopeful for upcoming interviews, and I didn’t want to be a mess for them (what a great excuse!) so I did some quick looking online to find a decent place to get them done.

In one of my numurous Hanoi Facebook groups, someone had recommended Van Nguyen Hair Salon, so I headed there. When I saw the prices, I decided to get a hair cut (also desperately need) as well.

For a pedicure, manicure, sweet-ass head massaging shampoo of awesomeness, and a haircut I spent less than $18. With a tip. I’m enjoying this city!

Back to the hotel and grabbed another shower. Then out again to meet my friend Juu and her family, who just happened to be travelling through Vietnam and had arrived the day after I did. They invited me out to dinner, and had chosen Avalon BBQ Garden. It was delicious and the night views of the lake were amazing.


It was a great first full day in Vietnam. So much good food and good company.

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Good-bye Korea; Hello Hanoi

It was a long trip from Korea to Vietnam. The flight itself was only 5 hours, but because I couldn’t get a bus early enough to get to the airport, my trip took much longer.

On the evening before my flight, I took the bus from Cheongju (where I had lived) to Incheon airport. It was a good thing I went early, as the traffic was super congested and it took ages.

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Once we arrived, I took the opportunity to weigh my suitcase even before I headed to the hotel. I had thought ahead enough to buy extra weight allowance – up to 30kg – on it, but I was still worried, so I hit those scales ASAP so I could redistribute if necessary once in the hotel. At 27.6kg, I had reason to be a little worried! There was definitely room for nothing else in there. After weighing my bag, I bought it some pajamas. It is a plain black bag, and I wanted to make it more recognizable on the luggage-go-round. The jammies definitely did that.

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Suitcase Space Jams

It was finally time to take me and my beast of a bag to the hotel. I stayed in the Darakhyu capsule hotel by Walkerhill in the airport. As in – legits IN the airport. It was only $60 a night because it was tiny. Tiny but nicely done and definitely comfortable. And 100% worth it.


What was amazing about staying at this hotel is that I was able to wake up at 7:30am for a 8:10am check-in. I’ve never appreciated having a hotel so much in my life! If you have an early check in (Note: 8am isn’t *that* early, but it is when you live more than 2 hours from the airport, like I was) I would really recommend staying at this place. It made my travel day a LOT less exhausting.

Check in and security were super fast and easy at Incheon. But before I headed to my gate (132 – the very last gate), I decided to see how much of my “funny money” I could exchange.

I have always hung onto my extra currency when I traveled, as a kind of souvenir. But as I’ve been reducing my belongings over the last year, I decided it was high time to switch that money to a currency I could use. When all was said and done, that three-inch stack of multiple currencies gave me about $75usd, which I was grateful to get for this part of my adventure.

Money in hand, I headed all the way to the other end of the airport to find my gate, which turned out to be the last possible gate. It’s in the basement. As I awaited my seriously “no frills” flight with VietJet Air, I kept trying to get a hold of my sleeping husband to say goodbye and to download a couple of films on Netflix before I boarded. Neither of those things worked out for me.


Seeing the back of that chair with no screen made me wish I had known that Netflix takes 20 million hours to download something. I would have started the night before. I had been spoiled on my flights to and from Canada, but for how wonderfully cheap the flight was, I should have known I couldn’t be expecting much.

The flight was absolutely uneventful. Not even food happened for me, because I refused to buy anything as soon as I realised they weren’t even going to toss some peanuts and water my way. The flight was five hours. I could wait.

The flight was good – we got to Noi Bai (the airport nearest Hanoi) earlier than expected and it was a smooth flight. I got off the plane and did the immigration thing.

::SIDE NOTE::

Some of the posts are going to be like this – nonsense ramblings about what each day was like so I can look back and remember how life overall was when I first got here. However, there will be other posts that I’m hoping may be helpful for others looking for information on coming to Vietnam, such as details about what to expect at immigration.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Once I had my visa (which took about 40 minutes) and bounced through immigration, I was able to pick up my pajama’d suitcase no problem and breezed through the nothing-to-declare line at border control. So far, so good. There was some sort of excitement going on when I came into the arrival hall, apparently some celebrity was walking out at the same time I was.

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Who could it be?

Once the crowd cleared, I looked around for some rando holding a sign with my name on it. Yikes. I knew this couldn’t all be this easy. Even though I had booked a ride with my hotel (I have read multiple times that if you are going to get ripped off in a taxi, from the airport is where it was going to happen), there was definitely no one there at A2 arrivals waiting for me. So I walked down to the other end of the thankfully tiny airport to see if my man was at A1. No such luck. Dang it!

With my spotty wifi connection, I was finally able to ring the hotel via Skype. They gave the driver a call and I had to call them back. When I did, I was asked to wait 10 minutes, as my driver had had a fight with the police and was running late. Of course.

I picked up a sim card for my phone in anticipation of further bungling, but the driver was there in the requested 10 minutes and we were on our way. He was a good driver and, other than his constant nose picking and then (gag) nail biting OF THE SAME HAND, it was a perfectly pleasant journey.

Traffic in Hanoi was mental, as expected, but there was no incident on the way to the hotel. I was looking around trying to see if I would recognise anything, but either the city has massively changed or my memory has faded more than I realised in the past decade. Probably both.

My hotel is lovely. It isn’t fancy, but for under $20usd a night, I don’t expect fancy. The people who run the hotel are a family and they are very kind.

 

After I had checked in and showered, it was time to finally eat. The hotel recommended I go to Pho 10, and they weren’t wrong. It was a delicious (and, at $3, cheap) first meal in Vietnam.

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Belly full, it was time to walk back to the hotel. On the way, I saw St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was finally a familiar sight. My memory wasn’t completely shot and Hanoi wasn’t completely changed.

So there you go. My first day back in Vietnam, and the first day of Hanoi as home.

Next Stop: Vietnam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in an airport. I think the first time was also the last time, when I was collecting my thoughts in the Vancouver International Airport when I first flew to Korea in 2005.

My situation back then was a lot different than it is now, but a lot of the feelings where the same. Then, I had never flown outside of North America and had never lived anywhere except in BC. I was also just freshly on my own from a long-term relationship and had thoughts that I would be back when my one-year contract was finished with new insight into what I really wanted to be doing and such with my life.

This time, I’ve traveled to nearly 30 different countries, have lived in 3 different countries on 3 different continents, and I’m a married woman moving ahead without my husband and cats, who will follow as soon as they can. And I definitely have no delusions about figuring out what I am doing with my life. I doubt I will ever figure that one out.

But there is a lot the same. I suppose it doesn’t matter which cliff you are standing on the edge of, the tightness in your chest and the butterflies in your stomach are still the same. I had some safety in place then (a job and housing on arrival, pre-arranged) and I have some safety now (mostly in the form of experience and my husband’s support). I had fears then and I have fears now. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

Overall, I’m excited and terrified. I don’t think I have all that much to be truly worried (pretty sure I’m going to survive) but at the same time, this is another huge risk. I’m just very hopeful that because the last jump worked so well, this one has a lot of potential for greatness, too.

Clicking Memories

Before I got back, if you had asked me to describe Incheon International to you, I don’t think I could have. It has been such a long time since I was last there, but I’ve been to Incheon more often than any other airport in the world. You’d think I’d remember more of it.

My beloved Team Six, part of which I met for the first time in that airport and have seen off in that airport, asked me to take a picture of the Gloria Jean’s coffee shop if I had the chance.

So I had a good look around when I landed, even though I was hurrying through.

Some places had changed, and I couldn’t find Gloria Jeans (Gone? Or did I just not see it?) but other places were there and the geography of the building clicked into place.

Click. And it’s like I was never away.

And that keeps happening, even though I’m in a part of Korea I’d never been to before.

But there are chains – Emart, FaceShop, Paris Baguette – that are the same everywhere. And things that I had forgotten, like using tongs to put your bread selection on your tray in Paris Baguette just – click – come back. And it’s like the past seven years away never happened.

How to communicate without language. Click.

The way vehicles look and traffic flows. Click.

Sidewalk stands of street food you find everywhere with oodang, mandu… even those weird fish-shaped things full of… was it red bean paste? Click.

How Korea smells. Sometimes great, sometimes horrifying. But even its neutral smell is uniquely Korea. Click.

Not understanding advertising. Click.

How hard people try to be helpful even though you don’t speak each other’s language. Click.

And it’s like I’ve never been gone.

And it’s so very strange how so very at home I can feel in a country that is fundamentally so foreign to what home actually is for me.

Blurring Borders

I was just thinking about how last time I was in Korea no one was using Twitter yet and people I knew were just starting to use Facebook. Instagram wasn’t a thing. Tumblr was, but I didn’t know anyone using it.

No one had a smartphone. Or a tablet. Wifi wasn’t everywhere because there was no need for it to be everywhere. We weren’t nearly as connected in 2007 as we are now.

My blog, emails and Skype calls of the shittiest quality (so bad that video was pretty much useless then) were the only ways I could share my experiences. It usually meant taking photos and notes and waiting for a block of time when I felt like uploading photos from my camera and sitting down to write out blog posts lengthy enough to actually be blog posts.

Now, I can share on the fly. In real time. And with pictures or videos, no less! Quickly, easily, and from just about anywhere as Korea is rocking the WIFI IN ALL THE PLACES thing.

It’s both wonderful and strange.

There is a bit of a downside to all this sharing shizzle though, I think. Even when I was here in Asia seven years ago, I was thinking then about how much of the mystery – the romance, if you will – of travel has dissipated. With how much easier it is to get a flight these days than it was 50 years ago, it’s much less strange to know someone who’s travelled most of the way around the world.

And now with the changes to how we communicate, I feel as though we’ve lost even more of that mystery. Gone are the hand-written journals. The long letters sent home that would take months to arrive. You might still get a postcard these days, if you are lucky, but you’re more likely to get a Snapchat of someone pulling a duck face on a beach somewhere.

Borders are blurring as more people share their experiences more often, with more immediacy, with a much broader audience.

Banktastic

After ensuring I’m not a dirty foreigner and getting myself officially registered (part one and part two), the next big administrative thing to do was getting myself a Korean bank account.

It was important to get my account as quickly as I could, as my school won’t pay you until you have a Korean account and I’ve been broker than broke.

As soon as I had my Alien Registration Card (you cannot get an account without it) in hand, I took that, my passport, and a letter from the school to Woori Bank to open my account. Why Woori? Well, that’s what was recommended to me by my school. I don’t know much about the different banks in Korea anyway, so it seemed as good a choice as any.

I got in right for the bank open at 9am so I could get the account opened before school started. I was customer 001 so got started right away.

The woman who helped me didn’t speak much English, but she seemed to understand what I needed and got to work. She needed my ARC and my passport, and did have to call the school (thank goodness I had that letter, eh?) for some reason.

After typing a bunch of stuff into the computer, she printed out some forms and asked me for my “name and sign” in a few places. Again, nothing like signing a document where you don’t understand a single word on the page. You have to trust a lot when you are in Korea, to just trust that you are being steered in the right direction. And happily, you usually are in my experience.

The best part was that they have a card printer right in the bank. I think all banks should get on board with this. She popped my “foreigner debit card” (it literally says that on it) into the printer and it popped out with my name and stuff on it. She shoved it into another machine, I entered my “secret number” and it was active. How awesome is that?

So that was all there was to that. I took my passbook and my new debit card, and I was done. Took less than an hour to open my account and get a debit card. Well done, Korea!

A few interesting things about banking in Korea:

The Passbook

Remember when you had that paper book where you could update with all your transactions? Those are still really common here. You can pop it into the ATM to access your account and update your book. It’s actually pretty cool. I usually don’t look at my statements very often, but I find with the book I check out my transactions more regularly.

The Debit Card

The debit card I have cannot be used online, which is both good and bad for me. It means that if I want to buy anything off the Internetz (like games through Steam or apps for my iPhone or iPad… or shoes) I have to transfer money to the UK and then buy it. What a pain in the arse! Bad news bears if I want to buy something in terms of convenience, but probably for the best as that will really curb my impulse buying!

The Secret Number

One thing that is weird about the debit card system here in Korea is that you don’t always need your pin. In fact, you seem to only use it for the ATM to get out cash. In some shops, you have to “sign” (most people just seem to scribble… not very secure) for your debit card purchase. In some places you don’t have to do anything at all. They just take the cash for you. There doesn’t seem to be a rule for this, I paid for 44,000 won of postage yesterday and didn’t have to sign for it. Remind me to keep an eye on my card!

Getting to Korea

I started blogging in the summer of 2005, the first time I was heading to Korea. Around then, blogging seemed like a relatively new concept (as in, I didn’t know anyone else doing it) that would be better for sharing my experiences of teaching in Korea than sending bulk emails every once in awhile. And  even though we now have a billion more ways to share things than we did in 2005 (before smart phones!), I’m thinking the odd blog post will still be a great way of sharing some of my experiences in Korea.

As a first post written in Korea, I thought I would go into a bit of detail of what getting here was like. Not loads, because for most people it isn’t very interesting, but for anyone thinking about coming to the ROK to teach, they might find it fascinating.

Step One: Find a Recruiter that Doesn’t Suck

I sort of failed on this one. I found my recruiter through the forums on Dave’s ESL Cafe (and if you ARE thinking about going to Korea to teach, you should check out that site). The recruitment company came recommended, and maybe some of them are good. Unfortunately, the guy that I worked with was, at best, meh. It felt like he did the absolute minimum he could and getting information out of him was like pulling teeth. He would send me copypasta emails with erroneous and, at times, incorrect information. Scares me that if this had been my first time to Korea, I wouldn’t have been able to call him out on it. He basically went incommunicado the minute my visa was obtained and the flights were booked. I think my chances of having his support if something goes wrong here are slim to none (and slim just went home). But c’est la vie. I’m here now so it worked out despite his weinerness.

Step Two: Rock a Skype Interview

The interview process for Korea is very simple. Speak clearly and try to not look like you hurt small children.  Add a winning smile and enthusiasm for teaching (even if you’re faking it) and your job offer is 98% in the bag.

Step Three: Obtain your E2 Visa

This isn’t hard, but it does take some time. Not as much time as it takes to NOT GET YOUR BRITISH VISA (haha) but still count on it taking about a month. It works like this:

a. Get a job
b. Send all your paperwork to Korea
c. Get a “visa reference number”
d. Put the aforementioned number on another application and send it to your local consulate
e. Win.

It’s a bit more complicated that than (if you want details, let me know in comments and I’ll help out if I can), but that’s the essence of it. Part C and D take at least 10 days a piece, which is where the delays come in.

::SIDE NOTE::

I ended up with further delays because by the time my visa came back, it was pretty close to the Christmas vacation. The school asked me to delay coming until January, and although it wasn’t ideal for me, I agreed.

What y’all should know about this is that it meant I was home for nearly three months. THREE MONTHS. And you know who put up with me hermiting in her house,  whinging about governmental paperwork and eating all her food? My blessed saint of a mother, that’s who. I’m still trying to figure out just how many flipping Anytime candies from Korea I’m going to have to send her to thank her fully.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Step Four: Get Your Booty on a Plane

My flights weren’t too bad this time around. They flew me (the school pays for the flights) the same as they did last time – Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to Seoul. Which basically sucks balls because it is an extra 6 hours of travelling than a direct flight is. But whatevs. Free flight, amirite?

Last time I took this trip I ended up with a delayed Van > Seattle flight which meant SPRINTING across Seatac to catch the next flight. And then I had the centre seat in the centre set of five seats in a packed flight. I got up twice the entire flight and didn’t sleep a wink. It probably didn’t help that my back was a mess of agony (it turned out that I had herniated all the discs in my lower back, something I wouldn’t learn until I saw a doctor in Korea).

This time around I had a pleasurable stroll through Seatac and then an aisle seat with no one beside me for the long (12 hours!) portion of the flight. Heck. I even slept.

Once in country, a dude with a sign put me on a bus. This is pretty fucked up. I’m still not happy that I had to take a BUS after 20+ hours of travelling, but hey ho! I survived. The school director met me at the bus stop and took me to my flat. Which then lead to us going to the shop to buy cleaning supplies.

Which is a post for another day. I’m going to leave this here and start catching up with myself over the course of this week. I’ll post about the state of the flat I was given (here’s a spoiler: It was freaking filthy) and my first night in Korea. And tomorrow is the first day teaching, so I’ll have a thing or two to say about that.

That is, if I survive the first day. Cross your fingers for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.