Category Archives: Round the World

New Website – Bridge the Travel Gap

Hi Everyone,

It’s taken a bit, but I’m pleased to say, that our new website is up and running.

John, my husband and I, have started up a new travel website.

If you want to keep getting our brilliant travel posts, just head on over and do our easy sign up and get our FREE travel jump start kit at the same time.

Click here to join!

Debbie

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Lanterns

Vietnam – A Land of Many Faces (Top Tips)

Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam – pineapple seller

Vietnam is a land of many faces and places.  I say this because it was a huge surprise to me how big it was and how much it changed over our month of travel there.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi – Hue – Da Nang – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Now you can do this route, like us, from North to South or from South to North.

The first thing that hit me in Hanoi was the incredible movement of this city – we stayed in the old quarter and just dealing with the ‘how to cross the street’ was a steep learning curve. The traffic and, especially, all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I liked to time my crossing of the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping.

Currency

You pay everything in Vietnamese Dong, but, often, you will find things priced in US dollars and they will take them as well.  I suggest you use the local currency when you can and for those Aussies and Kiwi with ANZ bank accounts, there are lots of bank machines in Hanoi and Saigon where you can withdraw money out with no ATM fees except of course the bank haircut with the  exchange rate!  (warning: check this before you go, as things can change with banks at any time!)

Safety

I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and, of course, you take the usual precautions: do not leave phones anywhere or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as I did, as it was a small back pack style bag.

Back Pack purse

How I carried my small back pack purse.

Transport

In Saigon, we found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on at a higher rate than was legal or being taken to any back streets or shady destinations and the drivers were all polite. Between Hue and Hoi An, I hired a private car and Cong, our driver was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An. We stopped at several sites along the way, which included the new Dragon Bridge in Da Nang which breathes real fire and water.

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang – it breathes fire and water

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via the hotels we stayed. You pay a small commission but, we got a soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue.

You can take some snacks and water with you on the train or there are food trolleys.  I ate the food and didn’t get ill.  My husband had a coffee and he liked it.

There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train costs to Saigon were less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.

Be polite

We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When people did approach us, a polite no thank you, keep walking on and a smile always worked. We, also, learned a few Vietnamese phrases such as ‘Hello’ and ‘thank you’ which, always, went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.  This is a general rule of thumb throughout all of South East Asia, being loud and having arguments in public is not the done thing and considered very rude.  Please do not confuse South East Asia with mannerisms that maybe more typical of other parts of Asia.

King and Queen Banquet

King and Queen Banquet meal

Food and drink

The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls through to restaurants. In the restaurants, they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We, also, carried a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash our hands.

Beer is cheap in Vietnam and they have excellent fruit juices. Also, a tip, drink fresh coconut water from the coconuts themselves – this is the best way to rehydrate and replenish lots of fluids, even better than drinking water.   Motto: a coconut a day will help keep the dehydration away!

Depending on where we ate, the meals can range from a few US dollars up to $30. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off the street.

Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Saigon. My favourite was Noir, in Saigon, where you eat in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause brilliant.

Cau go Vietnamese Restaurant – Hanoi restaurant we loved
Cherish Hotel Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Samari Kitchen Hoi An restaurant
Coffee CongVien Hon Chong Nha Trang cafe – we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

Tours we loved doing.

There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the XO Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.  In the height of the travel season book all these tours in advance, otherwise you may miss out!

  • Halong Bay Cruise

    There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel.  I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.  Plus, it makes the four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back worth the narrow seats and rather uncomfortable ride.

Hanoi kids is a charity where young university students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guided tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a resident guide, as they take you to some of their favourite places which may not be on any tourist tour and it is free, yes free!  At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis, lunch and entrances for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi.

My husband was a bit wary of this tour which I had booked, he quickly changed his mind. It was a great morning, whizzing around Saigon, seeing the sights and I never felt unsafe.  It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and included a few snacks and drinks along the way.

Good luck on your trip to Vietnam!
Any questions, please submit through the comment form below and I will do my best to get back to you within 72 hours of posting!

Murder, Mayhem & Mrs Christie on the English Riviera – Torquay, England, U.K.

Bust of Agatha Christie

Bust of Agatha Christie

Not many of you may know, but I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie.  She got me hooked on the genre and a few years back, I went to a festival which is devoted to her, her writing and her home in Torquay.  Just pulling into the station feels like you are in another world.

Torquay

Our train driver to Torquay

Now, I said that things are changing on the blog and this is the start to part of that change.  I thought I would share more of my travel stories and this is one that came up recently, when I was having one of my ever endearing teas

Agatha Christie

My Christie themed tea with a friend – John loves Poirot – wants to get a cane like his!

with a friend who had just been there, so we got to talking… and, to be honest, I just love Agatha – she’s great.  I’ve read her autobiography and the book ‘Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran – this book is about trying to translate her notes on what she was writing or planning to write.  We, even got to meet the author of this momentous task and he signed our book.  She wrote her ideas in her own shorthand which only she could read, not even her family was able to read these famous notebooks.  Plus, I’ve now go a big photo of her on my wall to inspire me – you see, Agatha was not properly schooled like we are today, so her achievements as a writer are even more remarkable to me!

Agatha Christie

list of some of the Agatha Christie books

Back to Torquay and the English Riviera.  This is a beautiful seaside English Town and I can really see why it’s called the English Riviera because when the weather is nice, it’s truly the English seaside at its best.  Even in dull and rain, it’s still beautiful, but it really shines when the sun comes out.  As I said we went for the festival, but that doesn’t mean there is not lots to do without it, it was just our main push.  The highlight for me was going on a special, behind the scenes tour of her house – Greenway.

Greenway

Greenway coaster

When we went, the National Trust (the National Trust is a protection society for old properties of significant British heritage) had just finished getting the house ready for the public, as it’s not been accessible for long – she has a grandson who owns the inheritance on her estate.  So he finally has set the house up as a museum and what a museum, it’s like you are going to see her come around a corner at any moment.  It feels so lived in and alive.  They even have all her cloths that she wore on display – what a magical tour.  It is said that when she was a young girl growing up in Torquay, she went by this house, on the waterway in front of the house, and had said how much she had always wanted to live there, but she never knew much about the house.  Then she left Torquay as an adult with no intentions to return, but when she started making money with her writing, she found out the house was for sale and bought it and it’s estate.  One of my secret desires in to play Miss Marple when I get older – just putting it out there!  Ya never know!  At least for now, I’ve done a few murder mystery gigs, which I just love.

Museum

Torquay Museum

We went to various events at the local museum, all with the Agatha Christie themes running through them.

Greenway

Green Bus Tour to Greenway

A highlight was going on a tour on an old green bus with a tour guide that had never read her books, but seemed to know a lot about her life and times in the area – very odd combination, but still very informative – he said he loved history, not murder mysteries!

Torquay

Walk in Torquay

There was a gorgeous walk along the coast, past a very famous hotel – The Imperial Hotel – we had some tea here overlooking the water – beautiful – where we got sun and soaked in the same 10 minutes – ah, the English weather – a favourite topic here.  It’s all about layers!  Still, this was a great way to see parts of the town and see how much there is to see and do.

There’s some great shopping at the local market, we got our lovely bed spread at the market. It’s a great place to go, if you get one of those crazy English rainy days.  Also in the area are some great artisan shops where we found all sorts of lovely little items and beautiful gold rings – wear them everyday!

Torquay

Artisan shops in old stables – get all sorts from goldsmiths, metal work, clothing to hand-made chocolates.

Michelin Star

The Elephant Restaurant – Michelin Star

Food is stellar, there was a Michelin star restaurant – The Elephant which we had a fabulous lunch.

We loved Torquay and I would definitely go again, even if the festival isn’t on – I, sooooo want to go back and get to the famous hotel – Burgh Island, where some of her books have been set….but for this one, you must have it set up well in advance and have your pennies in a row – it’s quite expensive, but so want to give myself that treat or, they, can always have me stay and I’ll write-up a blog on my experience of this incredible island hotel with a murdering past!  Anyone got any contacts for me?!  Do they need a singer to perform – I’m available!

Just to note, we stayed at the Elmdene BnB – apparently, it’s won awards since we’ve stayed!

Do you have a favourite place in England you’ve been to?  Love to hear about it!  Any ideas for future topics you’d like to hear about, let me know and I’ll see if I can do a future blog on it, just comment below!

Debx

Heading Home

Last Month Videoblog – July 2015 – India and Dubai

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from July 2015 – this is the last in this series, but there will be more, so do stay tuned….

Travel around the world

Bonus Week 55 – The final days… Delhi and Dubai

‘I choose to be free’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Last page

The last page of our travels.

This has been the last week of our year of travel adventures.  It is odd to be back and in our house, but I’ll write more about that in the future.  It’s just hard to imagine what we’ve managed to see and do in one year!

This week has definitely ended us on a high.  We headed back to Delhi and we got to see a few sites we had missed on our first time through.  Our first stop was the Bahai ‘Lotus’ Temple.  Bahai is a religion which embraces all religions.  It was a beautiful, peaceful and quiet place.

Delhi

Lotus Temple, Delhi

We, then, headed off to see the India Gate which is a huge memorial to those who gave their lives in WW II.  John had tried to see this memorial two other times, so third time lucky!

India Gate

India Gate

We did a last stop shop of arts and crafts at the Dilli Haat.  A lovely market like area where I had a gentleman even paint some art on my thumb nail!

Dilli Haat

Art on my thumb!

One thing I did that I could carry with me for a few days was to get my hands henna-ed.  He put two peacocksand – without my knowing it – theTaj Mahal – how cool is that?!

Henna

Henna on hands

Just before we arrived home we had a few days in Dubai and, like Singapore, this city grows on me every time I go there.  I had arranged a desert safari which included a falcon show, jeep ride in the dunes, a beautiful sunset, dinner in the desert, a camel ride and a belly dancer. (see photos at bottom of blog from this tour!)

To top the end of my trip off, I met with an old highschool friend living in the UAE.

Norm

Norm and I

We went around Dubai to see some ‘culture’ which started with an awesome visit to a local mosque.

We had an incredible talk from our guide – highly recommend going there and learning more about the muslim faith.

Dubai

Jumeirah Mosque

We saw the famous Burj Khalifa tower,

Burj

Like my new hat?

the fish tank in the mall,

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

the diving sculptures,

Divers

Divers fountain

ice rink

Ice Rink

Ice Rink – Dubai

and, of course, tea!

Laduree

Laduree Cafe, Dubai Mall

What a great way to end a year of travel, now what to next…?!  Well, watch this space, there are plans a foot…I may not know them all, but I know that there is change in the air!

Happy travels,

Debx

Photos from our safari in the desert:

Taj Mahal

12th Month – June video Blogs

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from June – there are two this month.

This first centres around Cambodia and Thailand:

The second is our first two weeks in India:

Seat

Bonus Week 54 – Spying around in Udaipur, India

‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ – Margaret Atwood

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

I have chosen a literature quote this week to highlight another blog and challenge I set for myself on this trip.  The blog is called ‘the Books I Carry‘ and the challenge was to take a bunch of books I had sitting on my shelves that I ‘never found time to read.’  There were over 20 of them – pretty much the weight of one suitcase!  Well, this week, I finished the last of these books and that ‘extra weight’ is gone.  I’m so glad I took the time to read them and then let them go.  Not only have I learned a lot with my travels, I had time to learn a lot from these books – some were easier to read than others, but all were worth the effort.  So, my question this week is – what sorts of creative goals do you set when you travel, if any?  Why or why not?

Udaipur

Udaipur – old town

Now, my week in Udaipur!

room

Plunge pool in bedroom!

It seems we saved the best for last.  We were very lucky to get upgraded to a beautiful suite (where I did my last travel singing video.)

singing video

Photo from the filming we did in the room of the video.

As a result, we just didn’t want to leave the room!  We had the best views of the city, the restaurants in the area were excellent

Lake Palace

Restarant with view of Lake Palace.

and we had two jacuzzi pools – one in the bedroom!

Wedding

A home in the old part of Udaipur where there was a wedding recently.

We did drag ourselves away from our luxury and went on a walking tour of the old city, largest temple

Udaipur

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

and city palace.  Yogi was our best tour guide yet and very helpful with local places to eat and such.

Udaipur

City Palace, Udaipur

This city was the location in India for Octopussy – if you haven’t seen it, it’s a Roger Moore Bond film.  We watched it here at a roof top restaurant and the city film locations were our backdrop – awesome experience.

Boat

James Bond’s Octopussy Boat

Water Palace

Water Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur is where most of the weddings happen in India and after our lake cruise, I really could see why.  There are two lake palaces to hold guests and weddings (guests here can go up to 3000 people!).  Plus, this is the location for the number one hotel in the world!

Dharohar

Dancer at the Dharohar

I, almost, forgot, we went out to an old Haveli – a nobles home which was, also, used as an ancient hostelry, where they did a brilliant cultural show with a 67-year-old woman who stole the night away with her water pots dance.  Just goes to show ya – you are never too old!

Female dancer

67 year-old female dancer – she did carry more – 11! As well as, crawling all over the floor with them!

Also, like to mention that we bought some beautiful hand-made leather shoes for $35 American – they are just gorgeous and very comfy!

leather shoes

These are the hand-made leather shoes

Now, we are back in Delhi for our last week of India and soon off to Dubai and back our home.

Love Debx