CategoriesAccommodations

Best Hotel in Hanoi?

best hotel in Hanoi
The reception area at the Rendezvous Hotel in Hanoi

I can’t tell you that the Rendezvous Hotel is the best hotel in Hanoi. It’s the only one I stayed at. So I truly don’t have the authority and experience to call anything the best hotel in Hanoi.

That said, if I ever return to Hanoi, I will stay at the Rendezvous Hotel again for sure. Here’s why:

Location

It’s right in the Old Quarter. If you are pretty energetic, you can get just about anywhere interesting: The Hanoi Opera House, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Vietnam Military History Museum just to name a few. You’ll also be a few steps away from the crazy night markets that happen a few times a week. At any given time, you’ll be just about overwhelmed by all the stuff you can eat, drink or look at.

best hotel in Hanoi
This might be the very room I stayed in …

The fancy Ciputra area is a fairly short cab ride away.

Services

Free breakfast isn’t uncommon in hotels. And in Vietnam, just about every hotel can arrange tours. We booked overnight trips to Sapa and Halong Bay at the Rendezvous Hotel; they all went flawlessly, and the hotel staff even gave us a lift to the train station.

best hotel in Hanoi
Wait … this has to be Photoshopped. WHERE ARE THE MOTOR BIKES?!

One of the most-impressive and useful details, though, was a well-written binder of good places to shop, eat and visit. The staff even recommended specific dishes – this is where I learned about cha ca la vong, which is my now my favorite Vietnamese dish. The guide also hooked us with a great place to get a great massage that restored some spring to our weary legs.

There’s also wifi n every room, plus a handful of computers for guests to use down in the lobby.

Value

Our price for a large room with wifi, TV and two beds was about $30 a night. Factor in the breakfast, and it gets even more reasonable.

You can find fancier hotels around, for sure. You can pay a lot more. But will that guarantee you a room at the best hotel in Hanoi? Eh. Take my advice – book a room at the Rendezvous Hotel.

 

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CategoriesGear

A Look at the Outdoor Products Tech Backpack

Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech packpack
The Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack, ready for some action.

I have a new piece of travel gear I’m pretty excited about: the Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0. It’s a technology-oriented backpack designed to get your portable electronics – and possibly liquids and gels – through a TSA checkpoint without a fuss. It seems the "tech backpack" has become a new category of its own.

I ran across the Power Pack Glide 2.0 after a buckle on my old Patagonia backpack broke. There was no fixing this problem. And I never loved the Patagonia pack (which was not really a tech backpack). I headed to REI, where the Power Pack Glide 2.0 sells for $64.50; apparently, this is the only place you can get one of these cool tech backpacks. I’d never heard of the Outdoor Products brand -- and holy cow, is that name generic! I was mistrustful and suspicious, scrutinizing it in the same way a housecat examines just about anything new that appears in its house.

  • After all the sniffing, here are some of the interesting features I found in the Power Pack Glide 2.0 (check the video for a demonstration):
  • A cool retractable panel that secures your boarding pass – it’s far better than stashing it in a pocket.
  • A semi-hidden zippered pocket that perfect for stashing a passport or checkbook (remember those?).
  • Small internal pockets for USB drives and memory card.
  • A fleece-lined pocket for my Switch Vision sunglasses (yes, I’m very protective of them).
  • A laptop sleeve that slides out and clips to the backpack for TSA inspection; this seems like a nice concept, but it also strikes me as a feature that will confound TSA personnel. I have yet to test it. But I can see it causing consternation and confusion among the blue shirts.
  • Mesh water bottle sleeves on both sides. They could stand to be deeper. I like big bottles, and these can’t quite accommodate them.
  • A special pocket for tablet-sized items.


It has the usual inner pockets and places to stow pens and whatnot, too. Outdoor Products put more creativity into making a modern technology backpack than they did in choosing a company name. This is some good thinking.

I’ve only had the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks, and I haven’t boarded a plane with it yet. The build quality seems better than my less-versatile Patagonia pack -- which admittedly wasn’t a full on tech backpack.

The Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack will be an automatic choice for my domestic flights; it probably won’t get much work on my international flights since I don’t take much technology with me. The computer stays home, and I usually just roll with a Kindle. That, and I have my big Kelty backpack with me, and just have a small daypack for short jaunts around cities or quick hikes.

If you need a tech backpack, give the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a look at an REI near you. Its features and price will be enough to make it a good choice for many travelers.

UPDATE APRIL 12, 2014

Since my first blog post, I traveled with the Power Pack Glide 2.0. It caused no fuss with TSA, even with a tablet computer, MP3 player, Kindle PaperWhite and a wealth of chargers and cables.

Also, my wife picked up a Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks ago. She told me three times this morning how awesome it is. So … there you have it.

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CategoriesBlogging/WritingTravel

So You’re Traveling to Vietnam? Some Straight Truth

going to Vietnam
Motorbikes, carcasses, pollution – they might give you second thoughts about traveling to Vietnam.

So you’re traveling to Vietnam. You have your guidebooks. You’ve read the posts on the big travel blogs. Let me give you a reality check about Vietnam before you drown in travel brochure superlatives.

Here are a few things you really need to know about traveling to Vietnam. I’m basing this on my own experience – just more than two weeks in late 2013.

I spent the first few days wondering if traveling to Vietnam was a mistake.

The Ho Chi Minh City traffic gobsmacked me. When I blew my nose, the snot would be sooty, like when I worked at my dad’s machine shop (yay, particulates!). Walking around on the sidewalks required navigating through a warren of parked motor scooters, sidewalk cafes and people trying to rent or sell you just about everything.

going to Vietnam
Vietnam’s scenery might not pop … but it’s people do – Red Dzao (left) and Black Hmong (right) alike!

Here’s the good news: If you are at all adaptable, Vietnam will start to grow on you. The constant human contact will become more appealing, even as the pollution grows more appalling. Even months after I returned home, my home city still feels empty and distant to me. I still miss eating in places that have four-item menus and serve their meals on tiny tables.

Vietnam has some pretty parts, but --

You’ve seen the photos of Halong Bay Vietnam, and probably some from the enormous limestone caves. All nice. But -- for the most part, there’s a washed-out grayness to Vietnam. It might’ve been the time of year and the humidity and the pollution. It all combined to take the sheen off the colors. Yeah, you can recover some of it in a photo-editing program.

Bottom line: If you’re traveling to Vietnam, don’t expect it to dazzle your eyeballs like Norway or New Zealand. There, the colors explode. In Vietnam, they make a mute little pop.

Traveling to Vietnam is, so far, my most interesting cultural experience.

From Dia de los Muertos to the Haka, different cultures beat me over the head with a cacophony of "I’m important, and you need to learn about meeeee!" It makes me tune so much of it out. If you’re traveling to Vietnam, you’ll find a more subtle enticement to hooking your interest.

traveling to Vietnam
Vietnam at its absolute prettiest.

I found locals and guides less likely to hose me down with facts, and more likely to offer choice tidbits. Those tidbits were enough to get me to ask questions. Whether I was at the Cu Chi Tunnels wriggling through tunnels or poking my nose into a Red Dzao wedding, I heard and saw things to spur my curiosity.

I heard you can be drunk and lazy if you want.

Okay, so you want a typical beach vacation. But you want it someplace exotic that will make you sound more adventurous than someone going to Puerto Rico. Gotcha. I hear that Nha Trang is the place for that. Russians love it, and they flock there for alcohol and sun; there’s even a direct flight from Moscow.

traveling to Vietnam
Nha Trang (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You probably underrate traveling to Vietnam.

I was talking with a couple of co-workers; one of them mentioned how he knew a couple that was trying to decide between going to Vietnam or France for their honeymoon.

"That’s a no-brainer," piped the second co-worker.

That pearl of wisdom came from someone who’s never so much as cracked open a travel guide about traveling to Vietnam -- and probably buys into the inflated romanticized notions of western Europe. Vietnam would be a fine place to spend a honeymoon, especially if you get away from the big cities. Your money will go far and let you level up on luxury. It can be very quiet and tranquil. And yes, the beaches can be spectacular. So don’t speak from a place of ignorance – learn about going to Vietnam before you rush to ill-informed judgments.

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CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Sound Tourism: The Coolest Sounds to Hear While Traveling

sound travel
Looking out from a high point on Franz Josef Glacier.

I’d never encountered the phrase "sound tourism" (aka audio tourism) until today; I read them in the March 2014 issue of Discover: Science for the Curious. The phrase appears in an all-too-brief interview with author/acoustic engineer Trevor Cox. It’s so new that, as of right now, not even Wikipedia mentions it.

A Discover magazine writer does a Q & A session with Trevor Cox, and includes a link to some of his favorite sounds. He mentions "booming sand dunes" in the Mojave Desert, the call of a male bearded seal and the Australian whipbird.

Trevor Cox also mentions that many subtle sounds get buried in the din of modern life. He makes a good point. I can’t say I’ve ever traveled anywhere to hear something. But there’s something in travel for everyone – so why not sound tourism?

sound tourism
Volcanic fumaroles make cool noises … and some nasty odors.

If you were to make a sound tourism travel list, what would be on it?

I have a few -- mostly just some of the coolest things I’ve heard while traveling:

  • The sounds of glaciers would be a must for sound tourism. I’ve heard cracking and shifting on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland. And you won’t believe how loud it is when a piece of glacier calves and falls into a lagoon. It’s spectacular, and makes the glacier feel like a living organism. I promise that even the most nature-disinterested person would have a change of heart after a day on a glacier.
  • Also on my sound tourism list would be a visit to Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica. Even if clouds obscure the summit, you’ll love the sound of Volkswagen-sized cinders rumbling down the slopes. If you can see their red-hot glow at night, even better.
  • Last item on my short sound tourism list (which I might add to later) would be coyotes. Many people I meet inaccurately think they howl like wolves. But no -- they’re yips and barks are much more eerie, especially since they often travel in packs. Listen to a bunch of coyotes cavort outside your tent while camping, and you’ll understand. Perfect sound tourism!
  • The sound of volcanic fumaroles hissing as they spew gas into the air. They can roar like a jet engine, and be heard for miles. Or they can whisper. It’s the sound of the living earth, and not something I’ll ever forget.
sound tourism
Volcan Arenal spews volcanic bombs that make awesome sounds. (Matthew.landry at English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

These are not exactly the most subtle sounds. So if you have some sound tourism tips that cover the less obvious sounds, the ones you have to struggle to hear -- fill me in.

As for Trevor Cox, I’ll have to check out the sound tourism map on his website. I’ll look forward to what cool ideas I might encounter for future travel that can include some sound tourism. You can also read the Discover magazine story and hear some of Trevor’s favorite sounds.

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CategoriesTravel

What NOT to Do With an Expired Passport

expired passport Boeing 787 Dreamliner
My flight was waiting for me … all I had to do was bring the right passport.

 

Shortly before the government shutdown in October, I realized my passport would expire just days before we left for Vietnam. I filled out the paperwork and sent the money for an expedited renewed passport. Two weeks later, I had a shiny-but-blank passport. A few days after that, I got my old expired passport with a hole punched through it. I tossed them into my top drawer.

The morning we left (the day before Sarah’s birthday), I stuck a paw in my top drawer and grabbed my passport. Of course, it’s only after a cab dropped us off at the airport -- and after we’re nearly to the check-in agent -- that I realized something.

I grabbed the old expired passport!

I told Sarah what’s up andsaid to get on the plane, and that I’ll go home and get my passport. Naturally, the first cab up was a hoopty minivan ill-suited to high-speed hijinks. Still, it got me back home. I stormed into my room, grabbed the new passport, tossed the expired passport somewhere safe, petted the cat good-bye again, and bolted back into the cab.

Everything turned out alright. I got back to the airport in time. We got to the gate … where we had some delay because the gate crew didn’t want to let me board. For some reason, they thought I needed a Vietnamese visa to even board the flight (which was to San Jose, never mind that travelers get visas when they arrive in Vietnam).

But I caused more stress than I really needed to. So here’s your simple piece of knowledge to take from this: Store your old and much-stamped expired passport somewhere far away from your current passport.

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