Today was a FUN day!!

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, February 25, 2013

Now, today was a great day! For the first 10 hours or so -- then it went downhill, but that was just part of the adventure. We started early, having the traditional hotel breakfast, which in Vietnam is soooo much better than the conventional continental breakfasts we are served in the USA.  Afterward, we walked to Old Town for a cooking class that Tom signed us up for.  What fun! There was a group of about 20 people who met at the Morning Glory Restaurant and were divided into smaller groups for a tour of the market and shown how certain foods are prepared.  Tam (Tom) was very cute, spoke good English, and was very informative.

Beginning with the indigenous fruits of Vietnam, we were shown unusual fruits that many of us had never seen nor heard of before.  Even common fruits, such as a mango, look and taste a little different.  Always a sales pitch to the tourists, we were shown tools for slicing, dicing, and coring certain fruits and vegetables.  I don't think anyone in our group bought anything, although there was this really cool tool for making very, very thin slices of -- shallots, celery, or whatever you might want thinly sliced.  Their version of a carrot peeler/grater/slicer was also cool, but it would just be one more kitchen tool I would never use.  

We then went inside the market to learn about different seasonings -- garlic, shallots, cardamom, lemon grass, water cress that they nickname "fish lips" because it smells like fish.  For sale:  a package of "Five Spice" to put into soup stock -- cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and star anise.  We resisted buying the package because I still have part of a box of "Seven Spice" from the Middle East!  But, it sure did smell yummy.

We thought this cooking class would entail purchasing the food from the market that we would be cooking.  But, alas, we weren't even shown the meat, which was directly behind us at one point. Tom thought probably because our Western brains would be grossed out from seeing raw whatever -- especially the vegetarian in the group.  So, off we walked down the street, to cross the bridge to the island where we actually had the cooking class -- not the Morning Glory Restaurant.  As we walked along the street, we happened upon a very cute old woman sitting on a "pier" floating a colorful toy boat towards her husband who was in his fishing boat.  She had the face of a woman who has lived -- probably seeing more war than any of us can imagine.  She smiled beautifully for the camera! 

After a quick tour of the lower level of this restaurant/cooking school -- we didn't catch the name -- we went upstairs to learn how to cook Vietnamese food.  What fun!  Two people to a stove -- we each had our own burner -- we began by making soup.  The stock was begun for us, but we added ingredients to make it more flavorful.  Next up was a spring roll wrapped in rice paper.  The day before, while walking around this island, we watched a woman hanging her rice paper to dry.  She probably sells it to restaurants or in the  market.  The main course was a marinated chicken that we placed on skewers.  The chicken needed to marinate for about 1/2 hour and then it needed grilling -- something we didn't do, as we moved on to making our mango salad.  Each bowl of raw chicken had a vegetable or fruit -- mine was a green been, Tom's was a piece of okra -- that we placed on the end of our skewer.  That is how we distinguished which skewer was ours. Next, we made our mango salad -- using a really cool mango peeler and slicer!  Before heading downstairs to eat our lunch that we had prepared, the teacher told us about our "gift" for taking the class.  We each received a package with the recipes and a mango peeler.  Yea!  She also tried to sell us a "Taste Vietnam" cookbook for $40.  Great idea, but no thanks.  It was heavy and we'd have to lug it for the next three weeks.   

After the cooking class, we walked back to the street where the Morning Glory Restaurant is located.  BTW, morning glory is a national food, much like spinach.  Very good.  Across the street from the restaurant is a workshop/store where all the items are made by "Artisans with Different Abilities."  We were welcome to go inside and meet the artisans.  Because we have seen so few disabled people on the streets, this was refreshing to know someone -- probably not the government -- is trying to help teach the disabled skills.  We didn't buy anything because we are still hesitant to carry more stuff.  Tom says that when we are in the north, there will be many areas where we can make purchases by indigenous ethnic groups that sell their wares to help the disadvantaged -- much like the Bedouin village we visited in Israel that helps young women to get out of their poverty and male-dominated culture by becoming educated and learning a trade.  

We were scheduled to leave Hoi An this afternoon, flying from Da Nang to Saigon.  We learned yesterday that our flight was delayed -- by five hours.  We had to check out of our hotel before our cooking class, so we needed to make the best of the day with no room to crash in.  So, we booked it on over to the street with the spas!  With a few brochures in hand collected on our first day in Hoi An and a little Internet research, I knew which spas I wanted to look at.  Things are a little different here -- I am learning that Americans have a much different perspective on privacy and personal space than the rest of the world.  We are definitely not a communal society like many countries.  Anyway, I chose Spa Ni because Ni is as cute as can be.  Our first day, she said, "Remember Ni," much like we would say, "Remember me."  The spa was not the prettiest, but for $60 both Tom and I got 2 hour treatments -- a body scrub, a body wrap, and a one hour massage.  For $60 for both of us!!!  For those of you who have not indulged in massages (too bad for you!), in the USA you can figure it costs about $1 per minute, i.e., a 60 minute massage will cost $60, a 90 minute massage will cost about $90.  So, 240 minutes for $60 was a damn good deal!  

After our wonderfully relaxing two hours we walked out on the chaotic street.  So much for that. :-\

And, now the day begins to decline.  We walked around Old Town, had dinner at a delightful restaurant, and headed back to the hotel to hang out until our taxi arrived at 8:30 to drive us to Da Nang.  All I can say is, Thank God the Da Nang airport is modern and clean because we would spend the next several hours waiting for our already delayed flight to leave at 3:30 a.m. -- it was only 12 hours late!!!  When I asked the girl checking us in if the airline was ever on time, she was quite honest.  "No," she said.  Sleeping in an airport was a new experience!  Thankfully, unlike most American airports, there were no arms on the seats so we could stretch out.  Most everyone was making pillows out of their backpacks and carry-ons.  After a few hours, Tom found a few easy chairs near the coffee shop and we became a little more comfortable.  We finally boarded about 3 a.m., took off about 3:30 a.m., and arrived in Saigon an hour later.  Got a taxi to take us to our hotel -- they knew we would be late, but not this late -- arriving at 5:30 a.m.  We were tired.  

I am writing this on Wednesday -- I think -- and our last day in Hoi An was Monday.  Great big city of Saigon -- oops, Ho Chi Minh City is its official name -- and the internet is sporadic.  Slow.  Loses connection.  It is now 6:30 a.m. and time to get our day going.  Last night's adventure will have to wait -- it was the most fun we have had so far.  We've been here a week!!!!!

Tom's profound words -- For those of you following this blog on Trip Advisor, let me digress on Jet Star Pacific Airlines.  Take Vietnam Air.  Most notably, Jet Star has an excellent website designed to lure unknowing tourists to their questionable services.  Very few airlines are able to inform the tourists up to 24 hours in advance of their questionable ability to deliver their airplanes on time.  The first notice indicated we would be six hours late.  That is like an opening bet in a poker game or a street vendor's offer to sell you something.  Upon arrival at the airport we found out, in fact, that Jet Star was incorrect about their departure time.  We would now depart at 2:30 a.m. -- 9 hours late.  Upon check in, the lady at the desk attempted to assure us that this delay was not a one time issue.  But, in fact, to her knowledge, Jet Star Pacific Airlines NEVER runs on time.  Such confidence from their employees was reassuring to both of us.  However, they let us down.  The new revised 2:30 a.m. departure time actually turned into 3:20 a.m. versus the original departure time of 5:50 p.m.  They did, however, meet the primary goal of any airline.  Landings should always equal take offs.  We arrived in Saigon, no worse for the wear after being up 23 hours.

We arrived at the hotel at 5:30 a.m.  For those interested, the hotel is the Hai Long 5 which we chose because it is centrally located and a 3*** property.  Since we had made our reservation on, with no deposit required, I had already emailed them twice indicating our delayed arrival.  But still, they were under no obligation to save us a room.  When we checked in at 5:30 a.m., we were pleased to be ushered into a temporary room with a promise to upgrade us, at not charge, to a "suite."  This first room was minuscule, at best, with no window.  A true "standard" quality room.  It was impeccably clean and size doesn't matter after you close your eyes.  The next afternoon, we were upgraded to a lovely, roomy suite on the top floor with a view of the Saigon River.  We would recommend this hotel to anyone traveling to Saigon.


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dayna-tom-2013 on

Our cooking class was the first time we had met Americans! And, they were from Roseville, CA! For those of you who are unfamiliar with my "hometown" of Sacramento, Roseville is one of the suburbs. The couple were probably in their 20s or early 30s, expecting their first baby. Small world that it is, the man was from Folsom and had attended Folsom High School. Again, for those of you who are not familiar with the area, Folsom and Rancho Cordova form the Folsom-Cordova Unified School District. I went to Cordova High School. Many eons ago, there were only the two high schools in the district, now there are 3, I think. Small, small world -- our first Americans and they were from my "hometown!"

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