Instagram Fun in Hanoi

Posted by Krista on March 14, 2014

Here are my Instagram snaps of Hanoi…it’s a lovely city with small, easy to navigate touristy bits. There’s also a photograph on every corner. Wait til I upload some of my other snaps. So what I’m saying is…you should go to Hanoi! And bring your camera.

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Traveling: Day of “Logistics & Operations”

Posted by Krista on March 14, 2014

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When I travel, I believe in logistics and operations days. These are days where I really don’t do much but travel and check e-mail. Some people might say — like they said to me so often  in Vietnam — “Oh, you so lazy.” But seriously, I am not lazy. I AM BEAT. Traveling is hard. You need downtime. You need to get organized. You need to do laundry. I try to explain this to some people and they just roll their eyes and tell me that surely, I can do better than whatever it is that I am doing. But these people maybe haven’t lived out of a carry-on for two weeks and they probably weren’t up at 5:45 am this morning, either!

When I’m busy, I’m very very busy. When I’m not, I’m NOT.

So let me tell you about my today so far and then you tell me…

5:45 am: Alarm clock rings at Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi. Hop in shower.

6 am: Get dressed, dry hair, etc etc.

6:20 am: Order room service service breakfast, which was included in my room rate. Technically, I should have done this when I hopped into the shower, but my brain wasn’t really functioning at 5:45 am. Sue me.

6:40 am: Room service arrives. Stir-fried noodles with seafood. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE VIETNAM. Seriously…this place is awesome.

6:50 am: Finish breakfast and leave room to check out of hotel, get money from bank machine next to hotel, and pick up a bottle of water from the Club Lounge. (I like to splurge on club floors. A vice of mine. But it saves on breakfast and snacks and etc. so for me, it’s worth it. Especially when traveling alone.) By the time I get back to my room, it’s 7:15 am.

7:20 am: Grab taxi to airport. I have a feeling I will get ripped off. Note to everyone: don’t ever rely on people who never travel to tell you how long it will take to get to the airport. It takes exactly an hour, but they made it seem like it would take 30 minutes. This stresses me out. Also, taxi driver communicates via giggles. Keep reading.

8:20 am: Arrive at airport. Get ripped off by taxi driver, who claims he can’t make change and has seemingly no understanding of my suggestion he get change, and my attempt to get him change. (I swear, all the drivers are in on this “we have no change” thing together.) I make him promise me that he will use the extra money to educate his daughter. More giggles. I get into HUGE CHECK-IN QUEUE. The hugest of hugest check-in queues. Check in around 9:15 am. By the time I’ve gone through immigration and security, it’s 9:35 am.

10:20 am: Flight boards. I’ve been doing laps around the airport for ages. On the plane, I watch an old No Reservations episode about Shanghai and then I start “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. It’s funny…sometimes.

2:15 pm: Plane lands in Shanghai.

2:15 pm to 2:55 pm: Wander around Shanghai airport, trying to change Vietnamese Dong into Chinese Yuan. NO LUCK. No one wants my Vietnamese money!!! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I am worried this is going to be like all the Tunisian Dinars I’ve had at the bottom of my drawer since like 2008. If you’re ever going to Tunisia, let me know. And do go, their white wine is lovely.

2:55 pm: Get into taxi at Pudong Airport and head into downtown. I feel confident that I will not be ripped off.  Taxi driver speaks English! BONUS.

4 pm: Arrive at hotel. Taxi driver does not rip me off. Check in and go upstairs. Room key doesn’t work. Go back downstairs. Rather than getting new room keys, they give me a new room. (???) Go to new room. Unpack the important stuff, put the other important stuff in the safe, and get laundry bag ready. (Seriously, $6.50 USD to wash my drawers. I should have done more laundry in Vietnam, where they were only $2.50 a pair.) Set up all my devices for charging.

4:45 pm: Check out hotel public areas. There’s a nice food and wine shop, which is a surprise. I also pick up the spa menu and talk to the concierge. He walks me through the map and I pick up tons of brochures. He also tells me where to get a FOOT MASSAGE. I want to live in China just so I can get foot massages forever.

5:15 pm: Install myself at hotel bar with laptop for official “logistics and operations” time. I confirm my tour for tomorrow morning, (Thank you again, Viator!) I book another tour for Tuesday, and I write down all the details of where I need to be when for tomorrow and Sunday. I also make dinner plans with a friend from business school who lives here and then I try to gchat with a London friend but the connection in the bar is wonky, which is drastically cutting into logisitcs and operations time.

6:15 pm: Give up on wifi in bar. Attempt to take a walk around the block to get some air. Walk outside in my summer dress, bare legs and sandals. HOLY SHIT IT’S COLD. Go back to my room. There’s a message waiting for me from my tour guide about tomorrow. Also, I need a corkscrew to drink the 2008 Chinese Chardonnay I’ve picked up from the gift shop on my way back to the room.

6:25 pm: I’ve ended up purchasing an in-room broadband connection because the wifi is so wonky. I finally get back online, Also, corkscrew arrives. The Chinese Chardonnay is OPEN.

So see…it’s 6:30 pm until I’m really settled in a place and I’ve been up for 12+ hours already. I know there’s a lot to see and do in Shanghai, but I’m beat. Room service and Internet it is. Sorry darlings.

7:15 pm: Publish blog post. ;)

 

Hanoi from the Back of an Electric Car

Posted by Krista on March 12, 2014

I have so much to share about Saigon but I am low on time and I want to keep up with my commitment to myself. See, when I began this journey, I promised myself that I would try to get back into the rhythm of blogging and blog every day about what I had done and what I had seen. I’m already falling behind. I need some more “logistics and operations” days to get me sorted. (“Logistics and operations” days are the days where I travel and don’t press myself to do anything more than fly on a plane, get money from an ATM, check myself into a hotel, get connected to the Internet, confirm my travel plans, book a spa appointment, and hang out at the hotel bar. See, when I write that all out…that’s a lot, isn’t it?

With thanks today to Viator, I booked a private tour of Hanoi this morning It included stops at all the major tourist attractions (Ho Chi Minh entombed!), a ride in an electric golf cart through the old town, and a pho noodle lunch. A decent value at $90, including hotel pick-up and drop off. So thank you Viator, for making travel easy. I appreciate it.

Here’s some of what I saw from the back of that electric golf cart in Hanoi. Enjoy.

Cruising the Mekong Delta

Posted by Krista on March 10, 2014

I took a speedboat ride down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam the other day. It was crazy to watch the city give way to lush green forests and to see tugboats and barges give way to old ladies on skips full of pineapples. I traveled down the Mekong with the tour company Les Rives, a company I had heard great things about. And while it was a nice day out, I think we got the short end of the stick with our guide who told us practically nothing about Vietnam or the Mekong during the trip and actually FELL ASLEEP for most of the ride back. Thanks for that. (Take away quote from the tour “They are not poor,” which the guide would say whenever she pointed at a house or a boat.)

There was a another boat from Les Rives that left at the same time we did. We would bump into them at different stops and I would sneak over to listen to the other guide talk about this beautiful part of Vietnam. (He had had a roommate from Louisiana at one point so his accent was hysterical…in a good way.) There are other ways to get to the Mekong, including by bus, but who wants to be stuck on a bus for hours? So I’d recommend the boat. Just make sure you get an informative guide.

Instagram fun in Singapore

Posted by Krista on March 10, 2014

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Some of my snaps from Singapore. Find me on Instagram at @kristainchicago.

Review of the Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore

Posted by Krista on March 8, 2014

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I stayed five nights (four-and-a-half, really, if you consider I arrived at 2 a.m.) at The Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore and I really enjoyed my stay. It’s a huge conference hotel so it’s a bit soulless at times, but the never-ending wifi connectivity, the awesome pool and gym and the lovely lounge on the top floor with 360 views of Singapore made it a great place to stay for a few days. Here are my pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Attached to multiple shopping malls. At one point, I needed some passport photos. I was a little worried about where I was going to do this, but no worries, one of the malls had a photo booth.
  • Multiple dining options: One afternoon, I had lunch at the Indian restaurant in the Pan Pacific — Rang Mahal — and loved it, even though it was a buffet. (As a rule, I hate buffets. They make me feel both a. gluttonous and b. like I haven’t had enough to eat.) I also ate at the bar one early evening. Really, I only scratched the surface of what they have on offer.
  • Excellent gym, open 24 hours. Only three of the four treadmills were working while I was there though, which was a bit of a bummer during peak hours.
  • The wifi was always connected. None of this signing in every 30 minutes or anything. No username, no password = AWESOME.
  • For each day I stayed, I was allowed to get two pieces of laundry cleaned! If you know what hotel laundry pricing is like, this was a huge deal. This was included in my executive club rate, so it may not be included in other rates.
  • I liked that the hotel doorman remembered me each day.

Cons:

  • Very slow lifts. You would hit the button and sit down because you knew it was going to take forever.
  • I lost my Canon plastic fantastic lens here. (I knew I was going to lose something!) I know I had it in my room and I know it never left the room. I realized it wasn’t in my bag when I got to Vietnam and contacted the hotel immediately. This was roughly eight hours after I left the hotel. They were very sweet and responsive, but no lens. I’m still hopeful it’s somewhere in my suitcase, but it’s not looking good.
  • I thought the Executive Club food in the evenings was only so-so. Not enough variety for me. But I suppose it’s meant for snacks and not for dinner, so there’s that.
  • The bath tub seemed a bit beat up.
  • The window blinds were on remote control. Sometimes I think we over-engineer things. It was hard to get the blinds to come down sometimes. Slightly annoying.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a boutique design hotel, the Pan Pacific ain’t it. But if you’re looking for a hotel that you can easily live in for days on end without ever leaving, this is an excellent choice. When I was comparison shopping, the rate I got at the Pan Pacific got me much more than the rate at surrounding properties, so I was happy with my selection and I would gladly stay here again.

Some Singapore Highlights

Posted by Krista on March 8, 2014

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Here are some different things I did while in Singapore that you might enjoy too.

Drinks
PS Cafe in Ann Saing Hill: My friend Josh took me up to the rooftop of this quaint colonial bar where they played classical music in the ladies’ loo and the office buildings of Singapore twinkled above us. I liked the vibe at this place. It felt intimate and romantic and old school and the rooftop deck was ace.

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1 Altitude, Raffles Place, Boat Quay: I think Josh has a thing for heights because he also took me here — the highest rooftop bar in Singapore — where we had very expensive drinks on the 63rd floor rooftop deck. (I took the photo that opens this post from the the bar.) This place also had one of the best signs I saw during my time in Singapore. (Above.) Better not **accidentally** do anything, people!!! 1 Altitude is worth it for the view but the vibe is not my scene really. (A little too clubby for me.) And the wind! Yikes.

Beauty
Manicurious, Beach Road: Total first world problem but I arrived in Singapore with the mankiest nails. Jordi recommended Manicurious to me and I was glad she did. I liked the vibe (cafe in front, nail salon in back) and the free wifi, although it did feel maybe a bit cluttered and surprisingly for Singapore, their English wasn’t the best. They did a great job on my hands and toes though.

Bath Culture Foot Therapy, Chinatown: While walking through Chinatown, I decided I needed a foot massage. A few Googles later and I realized I was standing 20 feet from a great one. A 20 minute rose footbath followed by a 40 minute foot massage, plus free wifi and a hot tea. I felt great afterwards. 50 Singapore Dollars for my 60 minutes. This place is maybe smaller than I expected, given the copious number of online reviews.

Tourist Stuff
Chinese Heritage Center, Chinatown: This is a small museum that tells the story of Chinese immigrants in Singapore, particularly during the 1800s. Opium, sexually transmitted disease, love, loss and gambling. Sad but riveting. Worth dropping in because it is a super quick visit and you can get a foot massage after!

Gardens by The Bay: I’m not a huge nature person — you seen one tree, you’ve seen em all — but I couldn’t help but gasp when the doors to the Cloud Dome opened. A man-made waterfall! Beautiful. I skipped most of the Flower Dome but if you’re into flowers and nature and stuff, you should make a visit. People told me I’d need three hours here. I did it in like 15 minutes.

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Singapore Walks: I under-estimated my jetlag and bought a three-tour package and then only went on one of them, a tour of Little India. This was a really enjoyable way to learn more about a little slice of Singapore. (I’ll post some pics soon, but those are some flower gardens being sold on the street above.) I wish I had done more of the Singapore Walks but I was more in “slow travel” mode.

So…those are some of my Singapore suggestions for now. I may update this post as I think of more things so stay tuned.

Sexism and Air Travel

Posted by Krista on March 7, 2014

I want to say this all carefully, because this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that I think about it and thus want to mention it.

I am a woman. I fly on planes, and I probably fly more than many people (but less than some people). So the thing that annoys me is sometimes (and we’re talking 15 to 20% of the time) is that when I go to get in the priority boarding line, airline (or airport) employees will assume I am traveling with the man in front of me or the man behind me, particularly on international flights. I never see them ask men “Are you traveling together?” in regards to the woman in front of or behind them. And trust me, I watch and listen for this. Rather, they get to me and ask me if I’m with the guy that just passed through the boarding gate or the guy behind me. What does this mean? (And if I answered “Yes” what would happen?”)

My interpretation after many instances with this (the latest the other day when boarding my flight to Singapore in Hong Kong) is that the industry don’t see women business travelers that often. (Which also annoys me to no end, but that’s a subject for another post.) Two years ago, when boarding a flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, I was in the priority boarding line and when I got up to the gate, the gate agent actually tried to send me to the back of the queue. “This line is for priority passengers only,” she said, before even looking at my boarding pass. I said nothing and stared at her while I passed her my boarding card. “Oh, you’re a gold member. Please, this way…” (I’ve ruled out dress as an issue. I’m dressed no differently than my fellow passengers, and I will generally even dress better if I’m flying at the front of the plane. That being said, I do look like I’m younger than I am which you think would be great but!!!)

What’s supremely awkward is what happens when you get on the plane. Particularly if I’m sitting in business class, more than once, a flight attendant has asked me if I’m “together” with the man seated next to me. (Calculate the ratio of women to men in business on your next flight and you’ll get it.) Sometimes, these men are old enough to be my father!!! What does that say about the world? And again, if I say “Yes,” what happens?? Is there some special dinner option for two? Special chair functions I don’t know about? Permission to use the bathroom together? WHAT??

Not complaining, really. Just observing. And I’m sure at the end of the day, airline staff are just trying to be nice. But be conscious of it next time and share your stories with me because I am trying to determine if it’s all in my head or if I’m being singled out for some reason.

Things I’ve Noticed about Singapore

Posted by Krista on March 5, 2014

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1. They really like crab. A lot. I mean a lot, a lot. I never realized how much I didn’t like crab until I was invited to eat it everyday for four days straight.

2. I expected everything to be spotlessly clean. It’s not. Maybe there’s not a lot of garbage around but things are dirty.

3. There are no homeless people. Or if there are, they are hidden very, very well.

4. It’s super-diverse. It reminds me of Dubai in that way. All colors, all languages, all religions. Taxi drivers routinely speak English, Chinese — all of Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien — and Malay.

5. The little kids speak English like Americans/Canadians. (I’ve seen a ton of school groups out and about, all in super-cute uniforms, chattering away.)

6. It’s EXPENSIVE. Taxis are cheap, and the tap water is drinkable. Hawker markets are cheap. But booze and everything else you need is PRICEY.

7. It’s HOT. Yesterday, the thermometer at the pool read 36 celsius. That’s really hot. Really. Although it’s also been cloudy, so there’s some mercy. (But there’s also been a huge drought, which is bad news.)

8. There are A LOT of container ships around in the water. Singapore has to import practically everything it needs, so this makes sense, I suppose.

9. The kids are carrying around really huge cell phones, many with book- cover like cases. Also, on the train, I see more people with iPads out than I do in Chicago.

10. Did I mention they like crab?

(Added after original posting…)

11. There are many hookers.

12. It is nigh impossible to get a taxi between 4 pm and 6 pm because many taxi drivers change shifts. You will see people standing on street corners everywhere, valiantly struggling to hail a cab. This seems like a gap in the market just waiting to be filled!

13. Every taxi driver (and I had many) knew that The Economist had just crowned Singapore the most expensive city in the world.

Jetlag Hurts

Posted by Krista on March 4, 2014

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I am suffering from heavy jetlag. I hate it. I slept from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am last night and, thanks to a little boost from my friend Advil PM, I made it from 10:30 pm to 3:45 am this past night. (I can’t call this last night because it is indeed still THIS night. It’s 5 am as I write this. I’ve given up on sleep and have turned on my laptop.)

If you have a jetlag cure or tip, I am all ears!

I called yesterday “logistics and operations day.” After having a big day in Singapore on Monday, Tuesday was the day to get organized, to exercise, to acclimate and to get things done. Ah, and to say hi to my work colleagues in Singapore and also attempt a food tour. (“Attempt” being the operative word.)

This means I didn’t leave the hotel until 5:30 pm. Don’t judge! Plus, I got my taxes done! Also, I’m on vacation and trying to relax, read books, exercise and not over-schedule myself. It helps that my hotel is one of those cities within itself. I really don’t have to leave unless I want to be a tourist.

After having a quick drink with my local colleagues at a Belgian beer bar — of all places — in Far East Square, I headed over for my food tour, where I proceeded to fall asleep more than once at the table. You can’t take me anywhere. Indeed, I’m about to fall asleep on you now…sorry, back to bed I go. Wish me luck.

Up above is a statue I saw outside a temple we passed during my food tour last night. It was very beautiful.

My First 24 Hours in Singapore

Posted by Krista on March 3, 2014

It takes me a while to relax. Especially when traveling. It really won’t be until Day 3 that I will enter the “oasis of calm” and be able to go with the flow and forget about all the work waiting for me back in Chicago and elsewhere. I do this to myself, really. I make this huge list of things I haven’t had a chance to do and I convince myself that surely I’ll be able to take care of these items during the first few days of my vacation. You know…I’ll make time to do my taxes and then I’ll make time to spend an hour on the phone with Comcast, my cable company, explaining to them for the umpteenth time that I RETURNED THEIR STUPID EQUIPMENT IN NOVEMBER SO PLEASE STOP STALKING ME.

20140304-073743.jpgRight. Time for some Char Kway Teow from room service. I was hoping my hotel would have it! And they did. Happy dance. I don’t know what’s in this stuff, but I love it. It was especially good at 4 am while I was wide awake with jet lag. I had arrived at the hotel around 2:30 am.

20140304-073928.jpgAfter finishing Book #1 and then doing some puttering around — I call this “picking things up and putting things down” — it was time to get out of the hotel. I like things on water, so I took a “bumboat” ride (har har) and nearly lost my char kway teow with a sudden onslaught of jet lag combined with motion sickness. Sometimes it can take me 48 hours to share the feeling of being on a plane. Ugh. Singapore is cute though, isn’t it?

20140304-074115.jpgCocktail time. Even though Anthony Bourdain kept saying in The Layaway Singapore to skip Singapore Slings at The Long Bar at The Raffles Hotel, I did it anyhow. And you know what? I loved it. Cool old colonial vibe, even if it is overrun with tourists.

Next, back to the hotel for nap time. Ah, and Book #2 time.

20140304-074351.jpgAnd then it was time to eat again. Chili crab at the “No Signboard Seafood” restaurant in Esplanade with my old friends, Sherry, Roman and Avi. I confirmed that I don’t really like crab. Also, I nearly fell asleep at the table. And despite an invite to see “Four Floors of Whores” for myself, (the band on the 2nd floor is supposed to be great) I went back to the hotel and straight into bed. “You should come out with us, Krista,” they said. “You know you’re going to be wide awake at 2:30 in the morning.”

They were exactly right.

The Problem with Flying First Class

Posted by Krista on March 2, 2014

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I know. You don’t feel sorry for me. But here is the problem with flying first class. YOU SLEEP TOO MUCH. During my 15 hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong, I slept about eight hours and then I was in a trancelike state for four hours and then I spent like three hours eating. 90 minutes on the dinner service at least (I was multi-tasking and watching the Saudi movie about the girl that wants the bicycle–I’d recommend it), and then 30 minutes on a noodle intermission mid-flight, and then an hour on breakfast (a surprisingly tasty congee with mushrooms) while I watched an episode of Law & Order SVU. (I must have missed something because Detective Stabler was MIA.)

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That’s my tempura prawn and dumpling starter. I liked the Asian twist on all the menu options.

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So now I’m in Hong Kong airport. I have no idea what day or time it is and I have a bad feeling that I’ve either already lost something or I’m about to. So I’m trying to stay in one place and not move around much. The lounge makes it easy because the serving station is full of dumplings and satay and tempura and it’s soothingly quiet and calm here. Sadly, I have to leave in 30 minutes.