Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it was once known is a modern city with more to offer than many other major cities in the world.  I was impressed by the clean streets and friendly people.  I felt very welcome by everyone I encountered.  My obvious Western appearance always led to the question of where I was from.  When I told them I was from the US, they were even more welcoming.  It seems as though the South Vietnamese people are still very grateful to see US visitors.  It may be because many Vietnamese evacuated to the US and return to visit their relatives.  Whatever the case, their hospitality is unmatched by any country in the world to me.  Being a former French colony, the culinary skills are top-notch. Every meal is crafted to have great flavors and presentation is equally important.  For the price, I do not think you will find better meals anywhere.  I stayed at Myhome Guesthouse for $15 per night.  Their location is central to everything and the family that runs it are super nice.  There are tons of guest houses in the area that I’m sure would be just as good but trip advisor ranks them as #25 of 568.  My trip wasn’t planned to include hotel reservations but I am very happy to have stumbled across Myhome.

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The bus ride from Saigon to Mui Ne and back was very nice.  Everything was very clean and professional.

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Ho Chi Minh City has a bustling night life.  Restaurants and bars line the sidewalk with chairs to give the feeling of a giant block party.  With as many people, I would have thought they were setting up for a parade or other special event but this was apparently just a normal weekend evening.

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Skilled craftsmen are everywhere.  Above is a tailor who transformed a skirt in one hour.  Pictured below is a man who noticed my flip flop was coming apart and offered to repair them on the spot.  Within a few minutes, they were glued and cleaned good as new.

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I have many fond memories of Ho Chi Minh City and hope to have the opportunity to return soon.

Mui Ne Vietnam

Mui Ne Vietnam is a friendly beach town close to Ho Chi Minh City on the China Sea.  Like all places I’ve been in Vietnam, everything was very clean, the people are super friendly and the prices are great.  I highly recommend a visit to Mui Ne to anyone who plans to visit the country.  The bus from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) stopped in front of the Sand Dune hotelDSC02516 DSC02513We checked a couple hotels nearby but ended up staying at the Sand dune for $12 per night.  They had nicer hotels in the area directly on the beach but I feel this was the best value for the dollar.  The room, pictured above, was better than most value accommodations I have stayed at anywhere in the world.  Plus, the night shift desk clerk brought his puppies to work…very cute!DSC02463 Pictured below is a map of the area. I used this to chart our adventures. DSC02394 The Sand Dunes hotel has a restaurant, travel agency and scooter rental office in their lobby.  I rented one of their newer scooters for $5 per day.  Pictured below is a local fueling us up for lots of area exploring.DSC02413

According to a very popular travel book, there is supposed to be a surf break on Mui Ne beach.  Looking for this beach was top priority since I hadn’t been on a board since Kata Beach Thailand.

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Unfortunately, the South China Sea was pretty flat but it did provide for beautiful backdrops for pictures.  The water was clean, clear and warm.

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Mui Ne is a beautiful place with many 5-star resorts but it was strange to not see a single guest at any of the ones visited.  Each resort had plenty of staff working but no visitors.  When I asked, they explained that it is off season and they only get locals on the weekend during this time of year.

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With no surf in site, a tour of the area led to the “Fairy Stream”.  It was a 2k hike on a small stream to a waterfall.

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Pictured above are our “guides”…not that a person could get lost walking up the shallow stream.  They were school age children who needed money for school supplies.  We were happy to donate.  They brought us about 1/4 of the way and turned back to guide more guests. lol  There were not too many people that day so I suppose they needed to make the most of their time.

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Erosion of the soft sand over time has created very cool features on the banks of the stream.

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And finally…the small waterfall.

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More exploring along the Ho Chi Minh Trail led to the only resort to rent surfboards.  I failed to get the name of the resort when there and could not locate it on the map.  It was about an hour scooter ride North of Mui Ne.

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This resort was very nice but also deserted.  It was strange to see a staff of about 30 people all dressed up in silk robes waiting on our every need.  Even though we were not staying at the resort but just visiting for the day they made us feel quite welcome.  The resort and all amenities were at our disposal.

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Pictured above is the resort…with no guests.  Below is the only wave caught in Vietnam.  Body surfing was the way to go on this day.  Although the surf rental person promised waves in the days to come…I never saw them 🙁

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Overall, Mui Ne Vietnam was a highlight of the trip.  The people were great and the area is beautiful.  I found the food to be quite good and inexpensive.  I ate at many restaurants during my stay but often chose the Strawberry because it was the best value for my money.  Through my journeys I look for places where one can stretch a budget.  I try to find the best balance between cost and quality.  Vietnam offers high quality at a very affordable price.  It is high on my list of countries worth a repeat visit.

Bus from Phnom Penh Cambodia to Ho chi minh City (Saigon) Vietnam

It is important to note that you MUST have a Vietnam visa prior to arrival in Vietnam.  Whether by land, sea or air; there is no way to obtain a visa from immigrations in Vietnam.  Unless you want to be in limbo waiting for deportation, make sure you get your visa first.

Once you have your Vietnam visa, travel from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is simple. Like many places throughout Asia, there are tons of travel agencies to help with all types of travel.  We used the Travel agency in our hotel to book onward travel to Saigon.  A tuk-tuk arrived to take us to the bus terminal at the scheduled time and the whole trip cost about $6 per person.

 

As you can see above, the buses from Cambodia were not the newest nor cleanest but they got us to Ho Chi Minh City.  The bus company drove to the Cambodian border where we unloaded, obtained our exit stamp and re loaded on the bus.  Then we followed the same process on the Vietnam side before reaching our final destination of Ho Chi Minh City.  The process was very smooth and there was hardly a wait on either side of the boarder. For those who may be apprehensive about the land routes, don’t worry; they are quite safe and reliable.

Phnom Penh

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Our Cambodian adventure continued in the capitol city of Phnom Penh.  Once there, our driver took us to the heart of the tourist district.  We ended up staying at the Longlin House II for $12 /per night.  There were $8 rooms available but for that price you had to share a common bathroom.  On street 172, we were right in the middle of the best bars, restaurants and shopping the city has to offer.  The night-life can get pretty crazy.  Sean and I stumbled home in the wee hours most evenings.

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Pictured above and below are trash piles in the street at Kandall Market after the booths close at night.  Don’t worry, trash collection occurs most nights and the market is cleaned again for a new day.  The shops are quite busy and accumulate piles of trash each day.

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Phnom Penh’s streets are pretty congested and they seem to have their own rules of the road.  Pictured below are 5 on a motorbike.

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For evening meals, we Often chose to eat at the Longlin House I restaurant.  Meals there were quite good and very reasonably priced.  Plus, the offered 50 cent beers during their happy hour.  Watching the evening rush-hour on their patio was comical.

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Pictured above is one of the many children selling stuff on the streets to make extra money.

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The road-side shave was very good.  Obviously, this older barber knew what he was doing.

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Some things in Phnom Penh were comical to us but are a way of life for the locals.  Pictured above is a lady selling gasoline in one-liter whisky bottles to service the many scooters along with cigarettes.  Gas and smokes….Brilliant combo!

 

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Pictured above is a lady who just showed up and started to give me a massage while I was eating.  She didn’t ask for money but obviously hoped that I would pay.  I was quite surprised but gave her a tip anyway.

I respect the work ethic of the Cambodian people.  They all worked hard to get whatever money they could through very creative means.  Although obviously poor they were not beggars nor did they steal from or rob people.  I felt quite safe walking the streets at any hour.  After visiting many places in neighboring Thailand, I wish that more help would be given to educate this country that has equally impressive tourist sites and resources.

Killing fields Phnom Penh Cambodia

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The killing fields are the companion to the S-21 museum in Phnom Penh where confessed criminals were taken to be executed. This is the last stop for many prisoners of the Khmer Rouge.  The pictures above are from the S-21 museum depicting shooting babies in the air and bashing them against trees while their mothers were forced to watch.  The picture below is a saw-tooth palm used to cut the throats of the prisoners to execute them.

 

 

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There were many mass graves found at the site.  Some of the grave sites have memorials built but many are just pits in the ground.  The picture below shows a field with a shed in the background.  This shed was used to store tools used to execute victims.

 

 

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Even prison guards were not spared.  The pit above was the site of the headless graves.  Guards or anyone who disobeyed were beheaded.  Their bodies thrown in the pit and their heads put on display to caution other guards from disobeying.

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Bone fragments and clothes still surface after rains at the site.  These are collected and below are just some recent examples.

 

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Pictured above is the tree where babies were bashed to death.  There was pieces of skin, hair and brain tissue lodged in the bark.  the picture below is the pit where babies remains were discovered next to the tree.

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The tree pictured above was used to mount loud speakers where national music was played to drown out the sounds of the executions.

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The last picture is of the skulls on display on the first level of the monument.

The Killing Fields Monument is a sad memorial to the victims but also serves to educate about government atrocities in hopes that genocide like this never happens again.

Awesome birthday gift…GoPro Hero 3

My daughter and son got me the coolest birthday gift ever!  I am the proud new owner of a GoPro Hero 3.  This will be the perfect way to capture many of my travel and surfing adventures.  I am just in the early stages of trying to figure everything out but once I do there will be cool videos on the site in the future.  After researching mounts and accessories I have many ideas of the different activities I will be able to film.  I just hope the files don’t overwhelm my server. lol

2004 Vespa ET-4 runs out of gas with 3/4 fuel in tank

I finally figured it out!  This was a very strange problem that even internet research failed to diagnose.  SAMSUNG  The scooter would essentially run out of gas when the fuel gauge showed just over or under 1/2 tank remaining.  The first time it happened, I thought my fuel gauge failed and the bike was truly empty.  This was not the case as I could see plenty of fuel in the tank.  Nevertheless, once I filled up the tank again (by adding about 1/2 gal of fuel); the bike would start and run just fine.  This problem happened several times and I finally started carrying extra fuel just to top it off.  This was a decent solution to the problem of being stranded but was still annoying to worry about running out of gas at unexpected times.  In traffic, this is not a lot of fun.  After thinking through the problem, I recalled having a faulty fuel tap replaced prior to these issues.  The mechanic who installed it assured me that this part would not do that.  This mechanic worked at a Vespa Authorized repair shop in Daytona Beach so I initially took his word for it.  I finally contacted Vespa of Orlando to see if they had a OEM fuel tap.  They assured me that all of their parts come from the manufacturer and were all OEM.  I decided to schedule an appointment to have the fuel tap replaced.  Their mechanic has worked on Vespas exclusively for the last 7 years and has never hear of this problem but replaced the part anyway.  This is what we found:

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The fuel tap on the left in the picture above was the part removed and the fuel tap on the right is an OEM fuel tap for my Vespa.  Apparently, the mechanic in Daytona installed a Chinese generic fuel tap that on the surface seemed to function ok.  I do recall the mechanic having to make carb adjustments just after the installation because the bike “just wasn’t running right”.  Sure enough, similar adjustments had to be made after the correct fuel tap was installed also.  My only guess as to why this happened is because the vacuum required by the carburetor to operate the valve.  I understand that there is a diaphragm and spring that close the valve when the bike is not operating to prevent fuel from flowing. The two parts must require different vacuum pressures and thus attribute to the fuel problems I experienced.

For anyone who finds this article though a search in the future, don’t accept Chinese parts on your Italian scooter.  If you run out of gas like I did or have weird fuel problems after a fuel tap replacement then make sure the fuel tap was OEM before spending tons of money diagnosing fuel issues.

Veterans Day 2013

I had a great day finding the free offers to veterans.  Thank you to TGIFridays and Applebees for the free meals.  I had lunch at the TGIFridays on 520 in Merritt Island.  The food was great and the staff was very friendly.  They were busy and the food took a bit longer but the food was very good.  I also discovered their happy-hour specials where they offer 1/2 price appetizers and drinks from 3-7pm Monday through Friday.  I will have to stop in again during their happy hour to check it out.  Dinner was free at Applebees on Sykes Creek in Merritt Island and was also very good.  They were also extremely busy due to their promotion and there was also a bit of a wait but the food more than made up for it.  I chose the sirloin with mashed potatoes and vegetables and it was cooked perfectly.  I have not been to an Applebees in quite a while but will have to consider them next time I choose to eat out in the future.  All-in all it was a great day.  The weather was perfect for scooting around and it was fun finding the deals.

Tuol Sleng Genocide (S-21) Museum Phnom Penh Cambodia

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The Tuol Sleng Genocide (S-21) Museum in Phnom Penh Cambodia is a very sad but educational place.  From 1975-1979 the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed 25% (roughly 4 million) of the Cambodian population in over 300 facilities just like the S-21 prison.

 

 

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These leaders are still being tried for their crimes to this day.

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The playground of the former high school turned torture camp.

 

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Building “A” housed general prisoners and also torture rooms upstairs.

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This picture shows a dead inmate found when the prison was discovered and the next picture shows the torture room today.

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Guards used these torture rooms to force confessions for crimes against the country.

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The gallows were swing sets turned torture devices.  The guards would hang prisoners upside down with their heads submerged in sewage filled pots to gain confessions.

 

 

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The Khmer Rouge documented their victims throughout the process from captive to confession.  Inside the museum are many examples like the ones shown below.

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Clothes and personal items were stripped of their owners for processing. The picture below shows some that were found.  The picture below that shows what I stumbled upon in a section closed to the public.  As of my September 2013 visit, there was a stairwell full of clothes, shoes and other personal items.

 

 

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Building “B” was more secure than building “A” with barbed wire and small cells.

 

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Pictured below are two of the water torture devices.  The first is a big tub where prisoners were locked face down in water.  The second is a bucket where prisoners were hung upside down under water until the passed out

 

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The last picture are some of the skulls found and the placards describe the causes of death based on the injuries.

Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

Catching the bus was pretty simple.  There are travel agencies on just about every block and in many hotels.  We chose the one in our hotel.  This allowed us to have a much more comfortable wait in the restaurant than at some bus terminal.  It was about a dollar more though our hotel but much worth the extra expense.  DSC02264 DSC02266

It was about a six hour ride for about $6.