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Recent Hoi An Trip

My friend Nai and I had a short holiday in Hoi An, Vietnam last month, and we had a decent stay. The UNESCO old town was interesting, even though we didn’t see much of it, and, being beach bums, we thought An Bang Beach was quite nice.

The biggest factor preventing full enjoyment of the trip was that my debit and credit cards weren’t working all the time. In hindsight, I should have taken more cash with me. The ATM machines weren’t much help in telling me why my debit card wasn’t working. The language they used was very confusing; mostly, it was something like “This machine cannot complete that process.” Why? Is the machine out of cash, is my card blocked? No idea. After we arrived at the hotel on Sunday evening, I walked quite a way to find some ATMs, but the card worked in none of them. I called my bank the next day, and, yes, they had blocked the card, even though I had told them I would be using it in Vietnam.

So, unblocked, it worked fine the next day and I was able to get some cash. Unfortunately, two days later, it again didn’t work. Called the bank again–something about a 48 hour exclusion. Couldn’t get it to work until the final day of the trip. Too late. Fortunately, a restaurant on the beach, La Plage, accepted credit cards and mine worked fine there each day. (That’s where we hung out; it’s a nice place to relax, if you’re ever out that way.)

Then, we checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, and there were a few extra expenses to take care of. I had little cash left, but the credit card’s working, right? Wrong. It didn’t work at the hotel, for some reason. I think their connection was screwed up. I had called the bank again earlier that morning about my debit card, and they told me the card should be working again, but it was too far to get to an ATM before our ride to Da Nang airport, so I used up my remaining cash to pay the hotel. Got to the Da Nang airport, and the debit card worked fine; got back to Vientiane and the credit card worked fine. Go figure. Next time I go, if I go to Vietnam again (which I might), I’ll take plenty of cash.

Anyway, the trip was OK, despite the cards and despite the huge amount of tourists in the Old Town, which is why we didn’t explore it more (along with the cash problem). Here are some pics, along with comments.

An Bang Beach
Monday, our first full day in Hoi An, was overcast and quite windy, with a smattering of rain. We decided to go to the beach anyway. There were very few people there, and the beach was littered with debris and trash, brought in by the ocean during recent storms. Few restaurants were open, but we found The Deckhouse, where we got a seat at a table protected from the wind and occasional rain.
An Bang Beach
A few people at The Deckhouse braved the wind and rain for a brisk experience.
An Bang Beach
As you can see, the beach on Monday was practically deserted. Things changed, however, when we went back later in the week on some very nice, sunny, warm days.
An Bang Beach
OK, this is more like it. Sunny and warm, and better people watching. We lay under a cabana and watched the waves crashing off shore, or snoozed, or read a book, or walked along the beach. (Drank a few beers, too.) That’s Da Nang on the horizon, about 12 miles away. You can follow the beach all the way up there, if you’re so inclined. Also, of note, all the trash and debris had been cleaned off the beach. Very nice.
An Bang Beach
Here’s the view looking south along the beach. I ran this one through a Topaz Labs filter to try to give it a more painterly look.
An Bang Beach
A couple of Korean ladies, modestly attired, enjoy the sea breeze and sun. There was a very large Korean contingent at La Plage this day.
swimming pool
I suppose we could have stayed at our hotel, the Jade Hotel, and gone swimming in the pool. It looked clean, but the water was too cold. By the way, the Jade is a great bargain if you ever stay in Hoi An. It’s a bit far from the city center and it’s a ways from the beach, but the taxi fares (metered) are very cheap–a few dollars to the beach each way and about the same into the town. It has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and it’s a well-earned rating (except for the credit card hassle on the last day)-very clean and an exceptionally friendly staff. Oh, and did I mention it’s only about $20 a night!
swimming pool
This is a view of the pool from inside the small restaurant. The room rate includes breakfast, which includes coffee, tea, juice, fruit, bread, croissants, cereal and anything off the menu. I usually had fruit, toast, fried eggs and pancakes, and coffee every morning.
Tin Tin Restaurant
We sometimes took our lunch and evening meals at the Tin Tin Restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. Great food and very cheap as well.
Nai at lunch
Nai is having a fish hotpot, I think, for lunch this day.
Hotpot
And I’m having a shrimp hotpot. I gotta say, Vietnamese cuisine is remarkably delicious. We never had a bad meal, though I did get overcharged at one place, due to a misprinted menu. It wasn’t that much, but it kind of soured me on the place. The Tin Tin, however, is a great place to eat.
Hoi An Old Town
Finally, we went to Hoi An Old Town, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of it due to tiredness from lounging at the beach (HA!), hordes of tourists (like us) and my dwindling supply of cash. Here’s a view of some of the buildings from the other side of the Thu Bon River that runs through town. It seems that most of the buildings are this burnt-orange color, painted this way on purpose, I presume.
restaurant
One of the small restaurants in Old Town. There are many places to dine or have a coffee around here. I noticed that most of them were quite full.
bridge
A small, quaint bridge takes people to the other side of town across the river.
boat
You can hire a boat to take you on a river cruise.
boat
You can get a smaller boat that carries two passengers if you don’t want to use one of the large ones.
Thu Bon river
Looking along the river. I might have liked to take a float, but, again, low cash supply.

So, that was my first journey to Vietnam, and overall, it was OK. If I were going to give it a grade (and I’m not LOL), I’d give it a B- due to various reasons, like wrong time of year (we got lucky with the sunny days), too many tourists, and money problems. I’d like to go back again and stay in Hanoi and see Ha Long Bay (very famous, Google it), but it would have to be at the right season, probably spring or summer, before the rains set in. See you next time.


Phuket Photos

At last, a few photos of my trip to Phuket, Thailand back in December. We stayed at Patong Beach at a couple of different hotels, the Thara Patong Beach Resort (our usual favorite) and at the Ramada Phuket Deevana Hotel. They’re both nice places to stay and have swimming pools (though the Deevana’s is rather small and fills up early), good service and decent food. If you by chance decide to visit Patong and stay at one or both of them, I recommend reserving a room at the Ramada with the free breakfast buffet option. The buffet is awesome, with a few dozen or more choices of food and plenty of hot and cold drinks. The buffet at the Thara Patong is OK, but can’t compare with the one at the Ramada. Either hotel is a good choice, though.

The weather during the first several days of our stay was a bit unsettled at times with cool temperatures and occasional rain, but near the end of our holiday, the sun and warmer weather dominated. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a bit of shopping and bought a Lenovo Tab Essential, mainly to use as an ebook reader. It was a great buy at $75, and I use it every day. I’m getting in a lot of reading in my spare time, having recently read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” native-Montanan Ivan Doig’s “This House of Sky,” and George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo,” among others. Next up is “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing, followed by Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and the first book in a trilogy by Ivan Doig titled “English Creek.” I better get reading.

Here are a few of the photos that I took. More later.

Thara Patong swimming pool

One of the swimming pools at Thara Patong Resort. This is the smaller one, just a little splash pool compared to the much larger one at the main building a little ways behind it. This one has a bar right beside it, featuring a “Happy Hour” (limited selection) every day, so be careful if you swim and imbibe here.

Swimming Pool, Patong Beach.

This is the view from our eighth floor room at the Ramada. The swimming pool is on the property of a hotel next to ours. It looks inviting, but there appeared to be little shade available.

Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

This was high season, so there were many vacationers at the beach and in the town. The hotels were booked full and some of the choice spots at the beach were taken. Nai and I always stayed at one particular spot, where we made friends with the ladies who gave massages and sold beer and food under a shaded pavilion, of sorts. This is the scene near that pavilion.

Nai drinks a Heineken beer.

Nai really likes Heineken Beer, even more than Beer Lao, I suspect. Here he enjoys a cold one under the umbrellas at “our” spot on the beach.

Nai gets a massage at Patong Beach

Nai gets a massage from the “boss lady” of this little place on the beach, where, along with the massage, you can get food and drink. This gal, whose name is Ma, I think, was a dear. She addressed everyone as “Dahling”, a la Zsa Zsa Gabor. A very friendly spot.

Paragliding at Patong Beach

Late afternoon paragliders enjoying a flight over the beach. It’s a pretty expensive proposition, costing about $30 for a 3-minute experience (I timed it). Still, a lot of people shell out the dough for it.

Patong cruise ship

Quite a few large cruise ships pulled into the bay off Patong Beach. They didn’t stay long, mainly for a day or overnight. Lots of smaller boats anchored in the deeper water away from the beach.

Patong beach at night

Patong Beach at night. As the evening progresses the beach goers head back to wherever they’re staying. This is a pleasant time to take a casual stroll on the sand.

Bicycle Ride to Jang-deung Beach, Yeosu Peninsula

Spring seems to be fully here, with the cherry blossoms beginning to bloom, and azaleas, camellias and other flowers brightening the landscape. As a matter of fact, there’s an annual azalea festival at Yeongchuisan (san = mountain) this coming weekend that I’m going to visit.

So, despite 3 inches of rain last Friday, I decided to take a bicycle trip Saturday down to Jang-deung beach here on the Yeosu Peninsula. My riding companions were a couple of the new teachers, Rob, a Scotsman, and Trevor, from Canada. Now, both of these guys are much younger than I (who isn’t?) and in much better shape (insert another rhetorical question here). Trevor, especially, is quite the athlete; he’s a dedicated football (soccer) player, rides his bicycle all over the place, jogs, plays tennis and who knows what else. Rob’s no slouch either. When they suggested the ride, I was all gung-ho. Even though it looked like a fairly long trek and that it would be my first time out on my bike in almost 6 months, I thought I’d be ok. Wrong! It turned out to be a 36-mile (60 km) round trip. I haven’t ridden that far in about 20 years. Plus, it was mostly up and down hills, hills which I mostly pushed my bike up (or maybe it was pushing me). I probably spent more time pushing than riding. And, as I said, it was the first time on the bike in quite a while, so my muscles were sorely taxed by the end of the ride. I’m still recuperating.

However, it was fun for the most part and the scenery was pretty nice. We made it to the beach and stopped at a small restaurant on the way back and had some delicious fish stew. By that time, though, anything would have tasted wonderful. I just wanna thank the young studs for waiting for me at the top of all those hills. At least they didn’t have to carry me back! Here are some photos of the ride.

First, here’s a map of the peninsula. The university, from where we started, is circled in red at the upper right and the beach is at the left center. Click for a larger image.

Here we’re getting prepared to start the trip from our dormitory. That’s Trevor on the left and Rob, already on his bike. My trusty steed is in the foreground.

Preparing for the bicycle trip

Beginning the bike trip

There are many small fishing towns and harbors sprinkling the coast. We all thought that it would be great to live in one of them as long as we didn’t have far to commute to and from work.

Yeosu fishing village

Fishing Village

There are, of course, many beautiful spots along the coast. Here’s a small sample.

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

South Coast Shoreline of Yeosu Peninsula

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

South coast of Yeosu Peninsula

Yeosu Peninsula South Coast View

The above photo is actually the beginning of Jang-deung beach, which is out of sight at the bottom of the photo. Here’s a shot of the beach.

Jang-deung Beach

Jang-deung Beach

And, here’s a view from the end of the beach. As usual, it’s pretty hazy along the coast looking toward the sun.

Jang-deung Beach view

Another view from Jang-deung Beach

Rob and Trevor, showing no ill effects of the ride, mock my exhaustion. I took this shot just before I was put into the ambulance. 🙂

Rob and Trevor

Rob and Trevor

If you take a look at the map again, you can see that just to the east of Jang-deung there’s a small island called Baekyado (pronounced dough = island). Connecting the island to the mainland is this pretty little bridge. Quite a few of the islands are accessible by bridge, though many more require a ferry boat ride. Rob and Trevor are taking one of the ferries to another island this Saturday. I really wanted to go, but, like I stated earlier, I’m still recuperating and the rash I got on my, ummm, . . . well, you can guess where . . . is still bothering me, so no bike ride this weekend. The more sedate azalea festival beckons.

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Baegya Island Bridge and Harbor

Our total trip time was about 7 hours, but that include dawdling on the way (the young guys waiting for the old guy to catch up) and stopping at the restaurant. I’m really looking forward to doing some other bike trips, especially later in the year when the bicycle muscles in my legs are in better shape. As always, then, more later.

Beach Dreams

I’ve been preparing a packing list today and looking around for items on that list to include in my bags for the upcoming vacation I mentioned in the previous post. While doing this, I’ve been listening to free internet radio site Live365, where you can find all kinds of music. I’ve had the Dominicana Digital station from the Dominican Republic grooving me all afternoon with merengue, salsa, bachata, reggaethon and other hot Latin music. With the cold, blustery weather in Yeosu right now, I sure have a yearning to be sitting in my former Weekend Office, but, alas, it’s too far away and too expensive to get there. No, unfortunately, that’s not where I’m going on winter vacation. Here’s a shot looking toward the Boca Chica lagoon from my old Weekend Office.

Boca_Beach_5

And, looking further down the beach . . .

Boca_Beach_1

Someday I hope to return for a visit to the Dominican Republic and Boca Chica, but it’ll be in the summer, when the Yankee baseball camp is in full swing. Until then, I’ll have to settle for the warmer climes of . . . Laos and Thailand, next weekend. I won’t be going to any Thai beach areas, but at least it’ll be nice and warm there and in Vientiane. Can’t wait. More later.

Out and About

Except for quite a bit of haze, it was a beautiful day in Yeosu, so I took the motorbike out for one of my infrequent rides, another one along the coast. I’m extremely careful about riding the ‘bike–I don’t want to emulate my friend Nai in Laos, A.K.A., Mr. Accident-Prone. The back roads along the sea are very wide and have very light traffic, so there’s not a big problem with other vehicles. Also, I’m quite wary of any other obstacles, like potholes, wet spots, and other potential disasters-in-waiting. Here are a few photos of my ride today and I’ll post some more soon.

The first one is of what I call Sindeok Beach East. I posted a couple photos of this area on Sept. 27th from one side of the small peninsula that juts out into the sea. This is a smaller, more beautiful beach (in my opinion) that is just a short scramble over the rocks. Along the left side of the photo, near the top, you can see one of the buildings on the other part of the beach.

East Sindeok Beach

East_Sindeok_Beach

A kilometer or so farther along the coast road is the very small fishing village of Soji, if my memory serves me correctly, and if I read the sign, in Korean, correctly. Very lovely, peaceful area only a few kilometers outside of the city.

Soji Fishing Village

Soji_1

I’ll try to get some more shots posted in the next few days, and I hope to get out to a few other areas, so stay tuned. More later.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my mom. Getting younger every day.

Rainy Day

It’s been raining off and on all day, at times somewhat heavily, and there’s a bit of a chill in the air–a good day to stay indoors and read or watch the baseball game. I had planned on going out early in the morning to catch the sun rising on one of Yeosu’s beaches, but I’ll have to wait until next weekend for that. I did get out last Sunday and took a few pictures of Sindeok (shin-duck) Beach, one of three beaches that are somewhat nearby. There are quite a few more on the islands and towards the western end of the city, an area I’ve yet to visit.

This was shot from the road that runs along the coast. As you can see, Sindeok is not all that big. I’ve been told that this is the one that attracts the most foreign teachers in Yeosu.

Sindeok_Beach_1

Here’s a photo from the beach itself, looking toward the mainland to the east.

Sindeok_Beach_2

Finally, this is from the road just before reaching the beach, which is to the right, off the photo.

Sindeok_Beach_4

I’ll try to get some shots of the other two beaches, Manseongni and Mosageum, next weekend. All three of them are fairly close together, almost within walking distance of each other. Now that beach season is over, they are fairly empty.

This weekend will probably be a good time to visit them since it’s Chuseok, Korea’s thanksgiving. It’s a 3-day affair, Friday through Sunday, so, it’s a short teaching week, and my nighttime classes on Thursday will probably have a small (or no) turnout, as most people will want to get started on the holiday early. Many people, especially my out-of-town students, will be leaving for their hometowns, and I expect the roads to be crammed on Thursday evening and Friday morning with people coming into and going out of the city. The dorm where my apartment is located should be relatively quiet during the three days. Nice.

I’ll try leaving the comments turned on for this entry, just to see how much spam I’m deluged with.

Weekend Musings

With most of the players gone, the camp was unusually quiet this past weekend–no players, office staff or coaches and only a small group of housekeepers and ground crew. Unfortunately, with few people to feed, meals were sparse until Sunday dinner, by which time the players who went home were supposed to return. I looked in on breakfast Saturday morning and, as I suspected, the Blue Plate Special was Mystery-Meat-and-Cheese Sandwiches. I passed on it and didn’t hang around for lunch. Instead, I went to my weekend office and worked on upcoming lessons.

My Weekend Office:

Boca_Beach_6

Yes, I did go into Santo Domingo on Friday, but, no, I wasn’t able to change phone companies. I knew of one place in a supermarket close to where my apartment was, but they don’t sell the actual SIM cards, only the recharge cards. I’ll have to go back to the Capital in a few weeks and try to find a larger shop that has the SIM card I need.

I laid off jogging on Friday because the fields were too wet from a late Thursday afternoon rain shower. So, having rested a day, I was able to break my all-time jogging record on Saturday morning–1 hour, 17 minutes. What a Marathon Man I’m becoming. 😉 Too bad none of the remaining players in camp were up to cheer me on, but with the day off, they were all sleeping. Deadbeats. More later.

5 Straight, Boca Chica Photos

Again, we had some heavy showers over night and again, for the 5th straight game, the team won’t be playing here today. It looks like the bus is fired up, so perhaps the away game might be played. Now, though, the skies are clear and sunny, so let’s hope good weather is here to stay.

As promised, I finally took some photos of Boca Chica, most of which I’ll post to the Photo Gallery. But, here are some for your perusal.

Here’s a scene along the main road in the town, Avenida Duarte. There’s lots of these places where you can buy a large variety of paintings. I don’t know how much of them are mass produced. I saw a guy painting one once and the canvas had all the outlines of the various elements already drawn in, much like a Paint-by-Number kit. Still, they’re pretty. The canvas rolls up easily for traveling, so if I have enough room in my baggage, I might bring a few back.

Boca_Chica_Paintings

Here’s a shot along the beach. It’s unusual in that there are very few people here, even though it’s a Saturday.

Boca_Beach_1

Maybe everyone was at the Harley-Davidson festival that day. Here’s one of the bikes–lots of nice looking ones.

Boca_Harley_1

Here’s a view from my usual hangout, under the palm trees. This is the best part of the beach, in my opinion. Everything here, food and drink, is a bit expensive, but you’re really paying for the ambience.

Boca_Beach_5

Finally, we haven’t had too many good sunrises or sunsets lately, but this one was kind of nice. The white dot in the upper middle of the photo is Venus.

Sunset-6-7-1

Also, I forgot to mention (and I hope I don’t jinx them) that the Big Club has now won 8 in a row and cut the Red Sox lead to 8 1/2 games.

Breaking News!

Ok, it’s not that breathtaking, but since I started writing this, the Diamondbacks bus came to the camp. At first I thought that they were going to try to play a game here, but, looking out my bathroom window, I see that the Yankee team is boarding the bus. Obviously, the Arizona club, which was supposed to play here today, sent their bus to pick up the Yanks and take them to the Diamondback field, which must have missed all the rain. Our bus, in the meantime, is transporting the Bombers to the regularly scheduled away field (haven’t looked to see who they are playing). Obviously, our camp lay right under the path of the bands of rain clouds that have been passing through the area, but some of the other camps were spared.

The Long Haul, International Holidays

We’re into the long haul, now. No breaks, as far as I know, up until my contract finishes on July 11th. There are about 80 players in camp, tuning up for the start of the intense Dominican Summer League, which begins, I think, near the end of May or the beginning of June. The two Yankee teams will play against the other teams in the area, similar to what they did in October-November last year, only this time the games are much more meaningful, with a trophy awarded to the team winning the championship game. The Yanks have taken the top prize the last two years.

Juan Dolio was quite crowded during Semana Santa, as I expected, especially at the hotel. I spent a couple of days walking farther down the beach, where it was a bit quieter (but not by much). Here’s a pretty cool shot I got of some of the players on the beach. There was a camouflaged (army?) helicopter flying very low along the beach, taking videos. It could have been a TV crew. We were lucky enough to be in a good position to capture the shot below.

Top row from left, Julio Rojas and Pedro Marcano, bottom row from left, Andres Varilla and Ronny Calderon. All of them are from Venezuela.

Helicopter_2

Here’s a shot of the rambunctious bus ride on the way to Juan Dolio. If you don’t think that all the young ladies walking along the highway got an earful, think again.

On_the_bus

I’m going into the capital today to buy some textbooks and supplies for my classes. I’m once again teaching 3 hours a day to various levels, in addition to teaching 3 hours a week to the staff. Add in the lesson planning and I have a fairly full schedule. One big delight is that Abel brought back a projector from Tampa, so now I can include Powerpoint presentations, Internet sites, web language games, etc., in my teacher’s toolbox. Should be fun.

Still, I’m counting down the days until I can return to Thailand and Laos, sometime in late July, hopefully. Right now they are celebrating the Songkran Festival, the traditional Thai (and Laos) New Year. Check this website for a sedate, cultural view of the holiday, but check this one for a more realistic (in my opinion) look at the event. It can be great fun, but sometimes the water dousing gets a bit out of hand, especially when administered by rowdy, drunken foreigners (farang). (Not to single out one group, so I suppose there are also more than a few rowdy, drunken Thais who may go overboard.) At any rate, I’d love to be there this time of year to help Nai and his family celebrate. More later.

Lazy, Lazy, Lazy

Well, at least it seems that way as far as the length of time between posts lately, but I have been fairly busy writing lesson plans and teaching the classes. I finally have a few classes where all the students will be staying here throughout the summer, rather than shuttling between here and Tampa. Thus, I can plan a systematic progression of lessons for them. Come the first part of April, whoever is remaining and whoever returns from Tampa of the earlier group will also be staying here for the summer, so I can plan for them also. It’s keeping me busy. But, for the next couple of weeks, most of my classes will contain players who are going to Tampa the first part of April.

Then comes the good part. The first week in April is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week before Easter. The Yanks are putting us up again at Juan Dolio, this time for 10 days, so the rumors say. More beach time! As promised, below are some photos from the previous visit to Juan Dolio at the Decameron Resort Hotel.

Here I am piloting our catamaran back from Saona Island, steering my way easily through the calm waters. Nothing to fear, fellow passengers–the captain knew what he was doing when he entrusted your well-being to Cap’n Ron. Hey, where did those rocks come fr. . . .

Capn_Ron

A shot of the beautiful Saona, which, unfortunately, is no longer as pristine as it once might have been, what with the dozens of tourists (myself included) who visit there every day. A power boat took us out to the island, where we played volleyball or lounged in the sun. Included in the price of the trip ($50) were a barbecue and beverages, but the most fun was partying on the slow catamaran back. A group of American doctors and nurses, most of whom are from the Flint, Michigan area, was doing volunteer work in nearby San Pedro de Macoris. They were staying at the Decameron, so they made the tour also, and were quite prone to whooping it up in their offtime–a lot of fun to be around.

Saona_Island_1

Surprisingly, except for Saturday and Sunday, the beach at hotel was not that crowded. Here’s the view from one of the thatched-roof cabanas.

Cabana

The lack of crowds also made for good walking down the beach. Here are a couple of “washed up” boats, lonely in their demise, about a mile-long stroll from the Decameron.

Boats

Hope you enjoy these; I certainly enjoyed taking them. 😛 I’ll put them in the Photo Gallery, along with a few others I took. More later.