Thursday, September 4, 2014

Vietnam - Travelling with Smart Phone

Early this year was one of our first backpacking trips, post the information explosion era of smart phones.  We took off on our two month long trip to South East Asia with our usual trusted companion LP guides, albeit in the electronic form.

Day 1 we realised that the hotel descriptions and prices were way out of date. However the good news was that as soon as we landed in Cambodia we got a SIM card with 1 Gb data and some ridiculously high amounts of text and talk for the princely sum of $5.00, which would se us through our planned 1 week there.  So now we can not only what's up and FB, but more importantly on the fly chcek reviews of fellow travellers on the hotels, travel trips etc.
"Need to have a re-think our strategy on travels.  Guide books for planning, on the road have access to the internet :) "
Here are some unique uses the smart phone came in handy -

Vegetarian food in Cần Thơ - Cần Thơ is one of a must see little villages in Mekong Delta and is famous for its floating markets. This was our first stop in Vietnam. Got here by boat, and hence did not have a local SIM we arrived. This is where the local farmers/fishermen bring their wares on long boats and wholesalers and retailer buy while in the river. 
After an early morning visit to the market realised that this place was nothing more than a very small town at best and that there is nothing much else to do. However had to spend 24hrs to go on to Ho Chi Minh.. So we did what we love, went for a walk off to the town proper. No tourists here, that can almost read as "no English understood"
Anyway, managed again to get ourselves local SIM for $10 that would take care of data for a month and had about $4 worth of calls. Armed with this wandered through the streets looking for lunch and found this little restaurant that looked very clean and the young chef/owner was very attentive and asked us in.  The menu was all Vietnamese, fortunately Vietnamese use the PInYing scrip (that is english alphabets) So tried using google translate and realised that it had nothing vegetarian. 
Next half hour went something like this me showing the google translate, the guy typing in the Vietnamese words and agin I look at google translate. 
Here is a gist of what went on
Me into Gtranslate -  No meat no fish only vegetables 
Gtranslate - Không có thịt không có cá chỉ rau
He into Gtransalate - Tôi co the lam cho ca bot khuay voi bap cai
Gtranslate -  I can make stir fry cabbage
Me - Want some tofu and noodles and other vegetables
Gtranslate - Muốn có một số đậu hũ và mì và các loại rau khác
He did not quite get that,  so typed in .. Xao voi bap cai, rau bina, dau hu va mi
Gtranslate - I can make stir fry with corn cairau spinach, tofu and noodles
or some such thing...
Anyway, decided to go for it, and wow was I happy... It was the yummiest stir fry I had in Vietnam.
"Google Translate may not be the best translator to use as phrase book and try saying things in other languages, BUT with current popularity of mobile phones with youth in most countries the showing the message on phone and getting them to type in works"
The next best use of the phone was selecting and being on the Halong Bay cruise. Selecting a cruise is really hard as every one of them on paper sounds same. BUT when walking around in hanoi and talking to few of the tour operators, we surreptitiously checked for reviews in Trip advisor etc, and the result got this really good one. 

 Also, having a local phone helped us contact the tour lead when things went wrong ( the second day was disaster due to bad weather) and  get a real fix/pay back. Yep scored a free night in Sapa :) 

AND google maps have most of the streets even in the little towns, thta definetely surprised us.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cruising the Vietnam highlands on Mobikes

The incredible easy rider trip started of as a day trip. The day was amazing where we started of visiting the pagoda and elephant falls, before heading back to Hang Nga Crazy house. The day trip gave us an amazing insight on seeing Vietnam riding on a motorbike, and we visited a pagoda, the Elephant falls, a few other things before heading to the crazy house.
This place was really a place that felt like Guadi on steroids for anyone who has been to Barcelona.  The best part was the ability to walk on most of the areas including the bits that were still being built and on some really high and narrow parts. Many parts would have seriously questioned the Health and Safety officers :).

The outcome of this trip was that we were sold on the three day trip from Dalat to Nha Trang, and managed to cancel our already booked bus tickets to Danang so we can do this three day trip.

The trip was for three days and two nights. Started of on 6/2/14 with two mobikes, and the two of us and our bags.

All set for the three day trip
It started with first stop at Tuyen Lam Lake , the other side of the Truc Lam Pagoda and the cable car ride. After that it was time to drive through some amazing sceneries and vegie farms, including a visit to the Turnip farm, mushroom farms, rice paddies and what not. The best part of this trip was meeting the locals. Here are some of those amazing experiences.
  • Meeting this amazing woman in "chicken village" who had her little baby girl strapped to her back and could even say "good day mate" with the perfect aussie twang. 
  • Meeting this really old tribal matriarch who could not speak a word of english or vietnamese but wanted some smoko money. She was so alive...

  • Even our own guide could not understand what vegetarian food was... He would order for us and could not understand that we would be happy with extra serve of the soup and side vegies rather than the morning glory :)
  • The little kids and the high houses with the awesome steps

  • The greatest way to recycle an old TV, what about an high tech alter guys?
  • Meeting the local entrepreneurs from brewers to noodle maker and having tea  and a chat (well sort off) with a few of them in their home that they happily throw open with a huge welcome
  • Trying extremely strong rice wine and managing to refuse the snake wine (wine with snake marinating), that's considered to make men very strong.
  • Sore bums and thighs, result of the many times you had to put your legs over and above the bags to take your seat 
Great trip to meet truly local people and appreciate how the simple things in life makes these hill tribes so happy. Will highly recommend to any fellow traveller. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Annapurna trek part 2

Here is the looong overdue second part of the Annapurna trek

After the two days of acclimatisation in Manang took off with our new porter Ram and trusted Tej towards the highlight of this trip and the Tarungla pass. The hike to Yak Karkha was steep and short. At this altitude you definitely feel it, but not too difficult. The accommodation was getting even more basic and after an initial 'no' and intervention by Ram got a 4 bedder for the three of us.  After an hours rest and the usual omelet for lunch, took off to Letdar for another acclimatisation. Tea break there and back to yak karkha for rest and sleep at 4100 mts. This was the first place with no power. So it is camping with stone walls. Took off early to ensure the room availability is not an issue on the higher camps.  The walk to Letdar with the bags and the freezing cold in the morning took a bit longer than last day, but manged within half an hour.  Reached Thorungpedi in about three hours and took a break. Met a couple of Americans who had their own oxipulse meter, checked ours and found it was pretty good and >85%. So after an hours rest decided to do part of the climb and reach the high camp at 4900 mts and thus have a slightly easier climd next day.
 Took another hour and ten mins to get to the high camp. The accommodation here was really rough ( rustic as Paddy wanted to call it) and very very cold.  Think the temperature never went above -5c. Went for a lovely walk to the near by hillock and fantastic views of the Annapurna ranges.

This was our first experience of camping in high altitude (close to 5000mts) and it was no fun. We could hardly sleep and even with all our layers on it was freezing. You invariably woke up panicking as you were breathless. Good news is that waking up at 4 am is no hassle. Took off at 4:45 am when it was still a bit dark but enough moon light to follow the path. The going was very slow as it was freezing and very very steep. With the high altitude you got breathless and wanted to stop, but every time you stopped the toes and fingers would go number and you had to move to warm them up.  The result was tat the water we were carrying was frozen within the first hour of the climb  :( . Around an hour or so into the climb there was a icy stretch with a steep incline where you had to be careful.
Tej was leading followed by Gina and then Ram, followed by me and Paddy. Paddy  slipped a wee bit and managed to stop, and came to a complete halt. Ram came back and asked "problem"? Our answer was Yay... how do we go ahead?  And Pat cam the reply " Think problem, walk no problem" Must admit we followed the advice and went through the icy patch with no issues. It was a case of trust your boots, hold your core and keep one step in front of the other at a steady pace.  Finally reached the Thorungla Pass after almost a couple of hours around 7am.  The views were magnificent, but where everyone headed to was the  tea shop there. No idea what the cost of it was BUT that hot lemon tea was worth every penny.
There was a crazy Israeli up there who took his shirts off and on his bare body got someone to write "Happy Birthday ...." to wish his friend. Gina took the photo and the bloke was checking it was OK all in topless condition at -15C and we were shivering through our multiple layers.

The tea shop obviously did roaring business, and guess the couple running it have earned it. The tea there is about 4 times what it costs in all other tea houses, but I don't believe anyone complained.

The climb down was a bit of an anticlimax and quite long. After a couple of hours hike, a lunch break and another hour or so, made it to Mukthinath and Ranipur, walked onto Jarkhot and stayed there.

Mukthinath temple is worth a visit even if you are not religious just to see the frozen water spouts :) Its still quite high at 3800 mts. Next stop was Kaghbeni where we stayed at the "New Annapurna Hotel" but for free as we had the guides room. The owner had to remove the blankets there ( and that took away the gym smells) and change the sheets.
Marpha accommodation
Next stop was Marpha via Jomsom a 5hour trek including stopping in Jomsom for some money changing, and bus enquiry etc.  Jomsom is where you can finish this trek if you want to and take a flight back to Pkhara. However, even if you wanted to do this, I would go to Marpha for  a day and then head back to Jomsom. Marpha has some really nice accommodation, we had one such with lovely gardens. This village is almost European with flagstoned streets and at the same time very tibetan with a lovely monastry. Then it was time to pig out with one of the best apple crumble and carrot cake in this part of the world.
From Marpha the plan was to bus it to Tatopani. This worked out to be two two journeys first a jeep to ghasa and a bus (ride from hell) to Tatopani from there. The speciality here is the hot springs which we really enjoyed and then relaxed in the gardens of our guest house "Daulagiri".

Tatopani to Chitre was all on steps and relentless climb, but we were away from the roads :) Next morning to Deorali pass after a break fast stop at Gorepani before ending the day at Tadopani. This was the first afternoon where it rained. This village is just a few lodges and hence a bit more expensive with toast costing Rs140 :) The walk to Ghandrukh from Tadopani was not very long and where there by lunch time. Lovely little town and stayed in Milin on recommendation from Tej, and turned out to be a lovely little place.  This is a reasonable sized town and has a museum :) The track from here on is quite busy and popular for shorter trips from Pokhara.
Ghandruk to Pothana was a down, up , down again and up and down through some million steps :) The route is down to Landrukh, some up and down walking to Tolka, followed by a steep down to Bhan Karkha. From here it was again a steep and stiff climb to Deurali no 2 Pass, and another short down hill to Pothana our last tea house stop before heading to Pokhara.  Beers with the porters before we say good bye to them tomorrow. Thanks for looking after us guys.
The final day of trekking was another steep down hill to Phedi. More steps and more kids way laying us and demanding money ( they have a queer way of begging here :))  Got to Phedi by 9.30 am and got a very talkative and friendly taxi driver who dropped all 5 of us at the hotel.

Great to be in a decent hotel (Trekkers Hotel) with hot showers that worked well. AND had some dinner that as not dhal bath, and even got a Pizza.
Phokara was very well decorated and a lot of Tihar dancing by kids in front of businesses to get Bakshish. A lovely two days including an early morning ride to the Sarangkot View Point. The half hour walk up the steep steps there seemed so easy after the two days rest and all that we had done, that we kept over taking most people there. The views there was really worth the early wake up.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This has to be NYC

Hey the nomads are finally in the capital of commercial world... and looks like we will be here for a couple of moths at least :)

After many false alarms on a month to few months work gig in new york, as is always the case in our life, two weeks back things happened and here we are in Jersey City. Well, technically not in NYC, but just across the Hudson.  Here is my pictorial representation of NYC so far...

The city with the classic metropolis views :)

The view from Jersey City end - what we see most evenings.

My favourite wedge building... somewhere on fifth ave

From the ferry to Manhattan from Paulus Hook(Jersey City)

Another of those weird shaped buildings...

The Intrepid Museum of Space and Air, with the back drop of Manhattan 
The many parks with things happening all the time - one of my favourite is Bryant park, with lots of things like juggling, TT on offer for free :)
Free Zumba in front of Macy's 
The huge portions of food that can easily feed two :)
Our wrap and Chips in local Mexican that was more than enough for both

The down to earth signage :)

The abundant ferry cruises in non touristy places as well.  We walked to Hoboken last Friday, and ended up taking this cruise with just four of us. An almost private cruise of 1 hour was great. 
Manhattan from our private cruise

Lady Liberty in all her glory at night.

Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan from east river side...
The public transport that makes going from A to B like a treasure hunt :). This is a classic. Here are some incidents that makes you think the best and funny side of it.
  • All transport runs 24 x 7  - mind you off peak ( weekends and late hours) has lesser and not all ferries or buses) 
  • Each type of transit has its own ticketing system, so if you are combining a few, be prepared to buy multiple types of tickets. 
  • The suspense of "are you on the right platform"  not being known until the train arrives - yep you may have paid your fare and come in, and then find you are in the track with no indication of which way it goes. Also, there is no way to go to the other side without forking out another fare. This happened to us on the 23rd street PATH ( the train connecting jersey city to NYC)
  • Stations that have same name to ensure you stay fit. The 33rd street station on PATH is about 1KM from the same namesake on the subway, as we found out 
  • The transit web sites ensures the system is a success - one way they do that is, in the trip planner they come up with the most expensive version as first choice, not the quickest... In one trip NJ transit suggested I take, PATH, train and bus to get form A to B costing me 8 dollars and one hour while Google suggested taking Path and a bus for about 5 dollars and in half an hour.  

Having said all this, still amazing that you can just about go anywhere you want to using public transport in the US is great :) 

Looking forward to the cheap Broadway shows, some retail therapy and much more... 

That's it for now :)