Posts Tagged With: buffet

1st June – Day 13 – Tunnels, Traps and Tapioca

After a brilliant nights sleep in the wonderful Continental hotel Saigon, I headed for an early breakfast at 7:15 and was amazed at the huge buffet selection on offer. One great thing the French brought to Vietnam is bread – there were authentic French baguettes and pastries which were a welcome change to the usual scrambled egg buffets in most of our hotels.

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A truly ‘Continental’ breakfast

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Beautiful location for breakfast

At around 8 we met again with our local guide, Tiger, to head to the Cu Chi Tunnels – around a 2 hour journey outside the city. The bus ride was fairly boring but we had a chance to look out the window and see more of rural Vietnam, although we already did 8 hours on busses in Hanoi so this was beginning to feel monotonous rather than exciting. Tiger gave us some summaries of the Cu Chi tunnels whilst we travelled, and also offered us the option to visit a lacquered wood store for disadvantaged families, although after our negative experience of the statue place in Hanoi, we declined this offer and this seemed to upset Tiger.

We arrived at the tunnels and joined a sizeable queue to get into the entrance before Tiger took us to one side to begin our private tour. I have to say that this tour was actually fairly bad – it felt like Tiger was rushing us around, each time we stopped he would reel off a few facts about whatever we were looking at and then immediately walk us to the next location. There was a lot to see, and I can understand that it’s somewhat upsetting to discuss some of the history of the wars, but if you’re a tour guide you should probably be okay with discussing it.

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Rushing around Cu Chi tunnels

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Tiger on the run again

If you don’t know, the Cu Chi tunnels are a 200km tunnel system constructed by Vietnamese Communiststs (Viet Cong) to give them a hiding place from the American soldiers. They were pretty impressive, with 3 levels of tunnels upto 9 meters deep, as well as a series of traps which they constructed to catch the Americans. The traps in particular were really uncomfortable to look at – some involved really horrible injuries or deaths for the soldiers who were unfortunate to step on the wrong part of the jungle.

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A demo of the tiny spaces the vietnamese left for them to enter the tunnel system

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The place was crawling with millipedes

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A small exposed section of the tunnels

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A US army tank which was destroyed by Viet Cong

The whole tour took place in fairly thick jungle and the soundscape was punctuated by regular gunshot sounds from a shooting range at the mid-point where they offer the opportunity to pay to shoot some of the guns used in the war. I actually quite strongly disagreed with this offer, since it feels weird that the Vietnamese would encourage foreigners to shoot guns in a place where their own people spent so much effort to avoid the gunfire just a few years ago. The shots were about 35,000 dong per bullet, with a minimum charge of 10 bullets – making the activity not only immoral but also expensive. I declined this opportunity although a few of the group did take them up on this, and I winced as the deafening sounds came from their guns towards the targets.

Also on the tour we saw some of the ways that the Viet Cong were able to survive for days or even weeks in the tunnels – they had small kitchens set up with ventilation systems to distribute the smoke so that the Americans weren’t able to detect them. We were even given a chance to try the standard food they cooked – Tapioca root with salt, sugar and peanuts as a dipping sauce, as well as some green tea. This was actually pretty tasty, although I’m not sure I’d want to eat it every day for 3 weeks!

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Cu Chi tunnels, under ground. I lasted 40 meters before giving up due to the heat.

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Tapioca and peanut dip

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Uncle Ho

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A site plan

At the end of the tour, which seemed to come really quickly thanks to Tigers rushed displays, we found a gift shop and members of the group bought some beautiful wind chimes and things like that – I don’t have enough space in my bag for these big things, but I bought a round of beers for everyone (it was definitely my turn). We jumped back onto the bus and a couple of hours later were back at the hotel – around 2 hours before Dek had told us we would be back, which gave us a real indication of just how quickly we had been rushed around the tour. I wonder if our declining the Lacquered wood shop had really upset Tiger, or if perhaps he just didn’t really like us or something. Either way, we gave him a small customary tip but discussed with Dek afterwards how we felt about this part of the tour.

The rest of the day was recharge time, but Dek had helped me, Karl and Petra to book an optional activity – a Water Puppet show which is a traditional Vietnamese activity. We grabbed a taxi to the theatre (even the taxis are crazy cheap here – just over $1 for a 15 minute ride) and took our seats for a really fun hour of puppetry in a small lake constructed on stage. The show had a really simple story to it, which was provided in the program in English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, French and a couple of other languages – yet we could easily enjoy the spectacle with the live band accompanying around 10 live puppeteers and their clever little puppets. It was impressive to see this, and also make links to the water fountain displays at the Wynn in Las Vegas which I’m sure used parts of this show as their influence.

After the water puppet show, I headed to the local backpacker street for a small dinner before going to the hotel. It was a really nice evening and Saigon is definitely a city I want to come back to and explore more – I can’t believe we move on to our next country tomorrow morning already!

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Some fried rice for dinner

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Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quest of the Gods – Day 2, Jungle

After dreaming excitedly of the jungle, I woke before my alarm at 5:45.  At 6:00, the planned wake up call came through and I prised myself out of bed to quickly shower and repack then head down for breakfast.  The breakfast was a buffet style and included in the price of the tour (as it will be throughout the tour) – I had some granola, a banana, some bread rolls and a glass of orange juice.

At 7:00 we met in the foyer of the hotel to head back to Lima airport in a transfer van.  The airport is about 70 minutes from the hotel, and during the van journey Harold gave us a brief guide to the history of Peru and spoke a lot about the troubles in the past, particularly when the van was driving through some rougher areas of Lima.  Harold distributed our boarding passes – we are travelling with Avianca who are a Star Alliance airline, so my United miles work for this trip too!  Harold had pre-selected seats for both flights, since we would fly first to Cusco and then stay on the same plane to Puerto Maldonado.  Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the amazon basin and very close to the Brazil border, which makes it a pretty busy city by Peruvian standards.  When we landed at the airport we were the only plane on the tarmac, so it clearly isn’t that busy!

Plane selfie - Lima to Cusco

Plane selfie – Lima to Cusco

Plane Selfie - Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Plane Selfie – Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The first flight was uneventful, but late.  Or rather, running on Peruvian timing.  Once we landed in Cusco there were no gates free so we had to wait a while, and then wait whilst everyone deplaned, before we shifted to our second seats.  For the second flight Harold had arranged window seats for us all, so that we could watch the views of the river from the window.  Although we were visiting the Amazon basin, the river itself was the Tambopata river which is a tributary to the Amazon.  From the plane, it is one of the typical views of the Amazon basin – oxbow lakes, meanders, and huge amounts of vegetation. The second flight was short – only 30 minutes – and landing in Puerto Maldonado we could feel the excitement building.

The jungle from the plane

The jungle from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

After collecting our bags, we headed out of the airport to meet our local guide, Ronald (Ronny) who would be looking after us in the jungle.  We jumped onto a minibus and were taken to a small Gadventures office where we swapped out our big bags/suitcases for small duffle bags which we would take into the jungle (since the humidity is high and we don’t need all our clothes for the 2 nights in the jungle).  The repacking took 20 minutes and we had a chance to go to a local shop to buy ponchos, snacks, etc – I bought an ice cream!

Bus selfie

Once the bags were repacked, we got back onto the minibus for a 45 minute trip to the river.  The road was basic to say the least, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone who gets motion sickness… bumpy, but amazing and we began wildlife spotting as we drove along.  At the port, we boarded the boat which would take us on a 2 1/2 hour journey into the amazon basin to the lodge.  It’s worth mentioning that the service level of the staff here is incredible – we didnt even carry our bags down to the boat –  the Gadventures staff did that for us!

Boat selfie

Boat selfie

Harold had warned us that we should have our eyes open as soon as we got onto the boat, and he wasn’t wrong – the wildlife spotting started almost immediately!  We saw vultures, monkeys and a giant guinea pig creature called a Capybara.  Every time the guides spotted something of interest they called the boat to a halt and we moved in close to take photos, and were given explanations of the habitat around the creatures too.  We also saw a basking turtle on a piece of wood, which was fascinating.

Capybaras

Capybaras

Turtle on some wood

Turtle on some wood

A family of monkeys

A family of monkeys

During the journey we were served a packed lunch – mine was mushrooms, vegetables and rice, together with two of the worlds smallest bananas!  Those bananas were so cute, and are available all the time in the lodge.

Smallest bananas ever!

Smallest bananas ever!

Vegetables and rice

Vegetables and rice

 

Shortly before arriving at the Tambopata Eco Lodge we saw a spectacular sunset, which felt very special with the river spread out infront of us.  Once we arrived, we headed up the river bank to the lodge and straight into the bar where we were served welcome cocktails of fruit juice and then were given 45 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before a slide show presentation.  The electricity is only on in the lodge from 5pm – 10pm, so this was also the chance to recharge our cameras for the nighttime activities.

Sunset on the Tambopata

Sunset on the Tambopata

The rooms are amazing in the lodge – I had half of the building to myself, and as you can see, it was a really special experience.  There’s no electricity at all in the buildings, so we had to use headtorches and candles for everything – even setting up the mosquito nets, which seemed quite dangerous to me!

My home for the 2 nights

My home for the 2 nights

After a quick freshen up, we met in the bar and ordered a round of Passion Sours before heading into the slide show presentation. The barmaid wasn’t the fastest, so Harold had to bring the cocktails in for us after the slideshow started, but again – the service level was impeccable.  Nothing was too much trouble, and there was no bitterness to us being late or an inconvenience by ordering drinks before an activity.  The slideshow was educational and gave us an idea of what we could expect to see over the next few days, including Caiman which are probably the most impressive creature which lives around the lodge.

After the slide show, we headed to the dinner hall for dinner which was served buffet style.  The lodge had been prepared for my vegetarian needs and Ronny saught me out to hand me a plate of vegetables as soon as I arrived.  The food was amazing, and Ronny told us that almost all of it was grown within 10 minutes of the lodge.  For dessert they served crepes, and on the table was purple corn juice (Chica Morada) which is a Peruvian speciality.

As soon as dinner was finished we prepared and headed out for the legendary “night walk”.  This is a walk in the dark using head torches and cameras to spot some of the night residents in the rainforest.  We only walked about 300 meters from the lodge, but we saw so many amazing creatures.  Check out the photos for just a few examples – some were way too fast or far away to take decent photos of!

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Giant ant on a tree trunk

Giant ant on a tree trunk

A cricket

A cricket

Not even sure what this one is!

Not even sure what this one is!

A stick insect - not hiding well in the camera flash!

A stick insect – not hiding well in the camera flash!

Some sort of huge beetle

Some sort of huge beetle

A scary looking caterpillar

A scary looking caterpillar

Grasshopper, maybe?

Grasshopper, maybe?

Poisonous frog.  We know it was poisonous because it didn't run away when it saw us.

Poisonous frog. We know it was poisonous because it didn’t run away when it saw us.

A millipede

A millipede

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

 

After the night walk, to steady our neves we settled down for another Passion Sour (it would be rude not to, after all… it’s helping the local economy!) and reminisced about our first day of adventuring.

Once the cocktails dried up (the electricity got shut off), we headed to our cabins for bed time – preparing for bed by candllight was special, and getting into bed listening to the sounds of the jungle was an experience I will never forget.

The breakfast meeting was set at 6am the next day since we had a packed day of activities planned, so I drifted off to sounds of the jungle in fear of my 5am alarm! (No wake up calls provided in the cabins – there were no phones!)

Categories: Peru, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish Airlines Lounge – Istanbul Airport

Some of the architecture in the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul airport

Some of the architecture in the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul airport

Okay, this post is slightly off topic, but I felt compelled to write about it because my experience yesterday was so impressive.  For those of you who want to read about hiking and running… move along, this post isn’t for you!

Yesterday whilst travelling for business, I transited through Istanbul Airport whilst flying with Turkish Airlines.  I’ve flown with Turkish a few times, and indeed transited  through Istanbul 2 or 3 times this year, but have always had short connections and never had time to investigate the business lounge there. Continue reading

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