Travels with Stuart

A Nice Visit to Ho Chi Minh City, aka, Saigon

As we departed from our two-day stay in Laem Chabang, we sailed south in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand until we reached the open waters of the South China Sea. After another relaxing sea day we pulled into the industrial port of Phu My in the southern part of Vietnam. Our bus trip into Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, took only ninety minutes thanks to the newly constructed highway (previous trips had been over two hours).


Our first stop was at the Reunification Hall, the former Presidential Palace of South Vietnam.

Our guide took us quickly through the Hall where we did see the former present’s helicopter on the roof as well as some of the important rooms, both above ground and in the below-ground bunker.

I’ve been to the Hall on two previous trips, and I was hoping that we would also have time to visit the tanks out front and read about the defector who dropped a bomb on the Palace in April of 1975. The outside grounds were well maintained with ornamental plants and shrubbery.

We re-boarded our bus inside the gates and as we left, we exited via the famous area where on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese stormed the Place by driving a tank through the gate, bringing an end to the conflict


I’ve always wanted to visit the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens, but previous trips would stop at the History Museum at the edge of the gardens, but never inside them. Established in 1864 along the Saigon River, the zoo is also a popular place for locals.


This was a treat for me and the other guests as we walked around and saw animals, both large and small – rhinoceros, elephant, bears, birds, monkeys, tigers, etc.




There are many types of trees and flowers around the gardens, including an orchid house. The orchids were not very colorful, so we opted for an outside location for the photo.


A delightful buffet lunch was served at the Lion Brewery & Restaurant. I wasn’t expecting that we would eat at a German Brewhouse, but the food was decidedly Vietnamese, and it was very good. They did have German beer available, but it was a cold bottle of the local Saigon Green beer that was served to us.



We had some time for souvenir shopping after lunch, and several of us bought a selection of beautiful greeting cards that have pop-up cuts when the card is opened. Some of the street vendors were also selling baseball-style caps at a very cheap price of three hats for five U.S. Dollars. I saw a few people buying them, but I don’t need any more hats.


The Ho Chi Minh City Museum has many items telling the history of the city.

I thought that the items outside the building were more interesting.


Our final stop was at a temple where incense was burning and Buddhist monks were chanting in several of the rooms.


We saw this dog in the last room, and he looked very content.


If you’ve ever wanted to be a millionaire, just come to Vietnam where it’s very easy to hold a million in your hand. This display that I have is worth about forty-five U.S. Dollars, and it was just some of the local currency (Vietnam Dong) that I had — I was “a millionaire for a day”!


It was an enjoyable day in Ho Chi Minh City, and we returned in time for dinner and to watch as our ship pulled out of the port of Phu My in the evening for another sea day before our final two ports in Vietnam. We’ve been enjoying learning about the culture of the country and tasting the food – very good! While there was some discussion of the Vietnam Conflict during our tours, there was nothing negative; it was given just as background facts.

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




hit counter


Singapore to Thailand

After a couple days in Singapore to rest up after our 17.5 hour flight from San Francisco, we checked out of our hotel near Chinatown and took a taxi to the Mari Bay Cruise Centre. Along the way we passed the iconic Marina Bay Sands Resort, the tall tri-tower hotel with the “ship” on top connecting the three towers. In the background we could see the Singapore Flyer with its 28 cabins that make one complete revolution every 28 minutes. As we went through thte Gardens by the Bay we could see some of the metal sculpture Supergrove Trees that are quite the lighted sight at night. Arriving at the terminal, our check-in process was super-efficient and we were on board the Celebrity MILLENNIUM sipping a glass of champagne by 12:40.

Our sailaway began about 6 PM under a sky of gray clouds that eventually opened up to wet the decks. Spirits weren’t dampened, however, as the guests were excited to begin our journey through Southeast Asia. The special cocktail, Singapore Sling, helped to brighten the mood along with the party band playing some high-energy songs.

The first two days were spent at sea as we sailed east and then north into the Gulf of Thailand where we docked in Laem Chabang, Thailand. We did a long tour on our first day in port, going into Bangkok – a 2+-hour drive each way. I thought our first stop – Suan Pakkad Palace Museum, aka, “Cabbage Field Museum” – was going to be very interesting. The garden area was nice, but the decaying wooden walkways and the rushing from “house” to “house” made the visit less than memorable.

Because King Rama IX died recently, streets around the Grand Palace were barricaded and so we had to walk about a mile in the heat to get to the entrance. The place was crowded with tourists and school children. Once inside our main sights were the Emerald Buddha – Thailand’s most revered image of Buddha – and a few other ornate buildings and structures.

Leaving the Grand Palace we once again set out on foot, this time walking to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is difficult to take it all in as he 46.5 meter statue is in a building that was built to house it, not to display it.

We all boarded three-wheeled tuk-tuks for a ride around the city. These little “taxis” can dart in and out of traffic, making them a desired choice for the locals. We went up and down so many streets and traffic circles in our 25-minute venture around the super-crowded city, ending up at our lunch hotel where we re-boarded our bus to head back to the ship.

It was a long day, and it was nice to get to the cool environment of the ship

Our second day was much shorter. Our bus ride into the beach town of Pattaya was less than an hour to our first stop, the Sanctuary of Truth. The massive wooden structure is very difficult to describe, yet the workmanship that is constantly being done to add to, to repair, etc., is truly unbelievable.

We went for a drive along Pattaya’s super-busy beach before arriving at the man-made Floating Market. Basically a tourist trap, it didn’t hold much appeal to us. What was good, however, was the large bottle of Singha Beer for under three dollars – that was nice.

Then it was time to re-board the bus back to the ship so we could head back out to sea and make our way to our first port of call in Vietnam.

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




hit counter


Day 1 in Singapore


We managed to make it through the 17.5 hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore, losing Wednesday in the process. We did get some sleep on the way so we were able to get back out once we checked into our hotel (at we had reserved for the previous night so we could get in no matter when we arrived today). Here are a few more shots of the display screen from our 787.
Our hotel is in the Clarke Quay area just on the outskirts of Chinatown.
We weren’t here for the January 28 festivities of the Chinese New Year as they ushered in the Year of the Rooster, but some of the items, such as the giant rooster, are still on display. We walked around, winding our way into some of the back streets until we found a place that looked busy and good. Darlene had a bowl of noodles as her first meal here in Singapore, and I had a bowl of Sour and Spicy Soup — yes, it was!

We continued our walk through more of Chinatown, found a shop with postcards AND stamps, bought some, and then headed back to the hotel to give our feet some rest.

We’re rested up, and so it’s time to get back out and do some more walking. We’re going to meet a former co-worker of mine who’s here in Singapore on business, then go have some dinner and maybe even a cool beverage! It’s been a great first day here in Singapore; so much has already gone on and we landed not even 10 hours ago!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




hit counter


Going Cruising in SE Asia

We just got back from two glorious weeks in Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico. The weather was beautiful(remember that we left sub-freezing temperatures and lots of snow on the ground in Idaho); the food was delicious (as always!); we had a great time with my brother, his wife, and a friend (including our annual lobster dinner at Maro’s), and then we returned to Boise where most of the snow had melted freeing up the streets and the lawns. Relaxation time, right? Well, not exactly. We have to get our taxes done, do some shopping, and then lots of packing before we head over to SE Asia for two months.

Speaking of Cabo, I’m leading a third annual Los Cabos Highlights Tour next year — June 17-23, 2018 — that I guarantee you WILL enjoy. If you’re not interested, tell your friends because I’ve been going there every year since 2003; I know the people; I know the best places to go — and we’re going there! CLICK HERE to learn about the tour and see how to register.

Get your EARLY Booking Discount when you register by April 1, 2017!



Did I say, “Cruising for two months?”


Yes, We’ll be on four cruises (total of sixty days) on Celebrity MILLENNIUM that I’ll be speaking on as we visit many, many ports in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and mainland China. I’ve been to most of the places before, but these will all be new experiences for my wife. We’ll be going on many ship excursions, but we also have a couple private tours set up for us — the main one is a 3-day tour in Beijing where six of us will be treated to many of the main highlights of this 6,000-year old capital city.
CLICK HERE if you’d like to see the cruise schedule.

I’ve been on the MILLENNIUM several times previously, and the crew and staff are marvelous. The ship’s Master of the Vessel is really fun, and he attends many of the talks and evening shows — he truly cares about everyone who’s on the ship. And Steve, the Cruise Director, and Manuel, the Activity Manager, are awesome folks to work with; they make it so easy for me and all the other speakers and entertainers to put forth our best so the guests have a magnificent time. After all, isn’t that what cruising is all about? Of course it is!!!

I hope you follow along on our two-month set of cruises in SE Asia. I know we’ll enjoy the journey; I hope you do, also.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




hit counter


To Tip or Not or How Much or Why . . . ?

As I travel to various parts of this wonderful world — whether it’s speaking on cruise ships or just enjoying the beauty of the area — there are activities and customs that can be downright confusing to some. One of those customs has to do with leaving a tip for someone who’s provided a service to you. That service could be the person cleaning your hotel room, serving you a meal, driving you somewhere, making your special morning latte, toting your luggage at the train station. There are lots of services being done every day as people move about in their own city or in some place far away.


One quick story. It was my first business trip to Japan, and I was staying at the Hyatt Hotel near the Shinjuku Station. I’d been given directions on how to use the train from the airport to the train station, so I was all set for getting to the area. Once at the station, I got in a taxi and told him the Hyatt Hotel. We were off in a jiffy, and we made it to the hotel in about six minutes (I didn’t know how close by it was; I walked from then on). As we got to the hotel, a man ran out to the taxi, grabbed my luggage and ushered me into the hotel after I paid the taxi driver. Once inside, the bellman stood by my luggage as I checked in, showed them my passport, etc. With key in hand I head to the elevator as the bellman dutifully and politely followed me. We ride up together, neither of us saying anything, until we reach my floor. Off to the room where he waits for me to invite him in with MY luggage. He brings it in and turns around to leave. I said something and he turned around. I had some money in my hand to give to him and he shook his head “No.” He bowed politely and left.
After I put my clothes away I looked at the hotel check-in form and there it was in bold letters: NO TIPPING. That was certainly different from what I was used to the the USA!

Many customs can cause confusion as there doesn’t always seem be rhyme or reason why “Yes” here, “No” there, “Maybe” or “Sometimes” in other places. As these are customs and not laws, there is no definitive source for what is actually the right thing to do, but Wikipedia does have a nice reference article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuity. You might not want to print the article although you could jot down a few notes based on the countries you’re planning on visiting.

Many people say that you shouldn’t have to tip if the service people are paid “a decent wage.” That sounds good, but that’s not always the case. For some workers, particularly in restaurants, hotels and other customer-focused service industries, their base pay is pathetic, perhaps three dollars an hour with the expectation that they’ll make it up in tips. Our son worked six years in a restaurant where a very significant part of his pay was the tips he received. His experience helped us to be even more generous when we tip; it will be 20% at a minimum in a restaurant unless the service is sub-par.

One of my recent cruise ship speaking experiences was a six-week voyage from New York City through the Panama Canal to Sydney, NSW, Australia — what an awesome experience. It was the last segment of a 3+ month world cruise that sailed round trip from Sydney, so it was mostly Aussies and Kiwis on board. Because the ship was home ported in Australia, it was a requirement that there be no tipping on board. When you bought a drink, your room card was charged the menu price, and the bill was closed out. There wasn’t even an option to add a tip. That was strange for us (so we did personally tip some of the staff), but it was life as usual for the Australians. I came across an article on Cruise Critic about tipping, particularly on cruises, and I thought it was interesting — here it is.

Travel is a wonderful thing; whatever you do, wherever you go — remember there are people working to make a living so that you’re able to enjoy your travels. Even a few dollars from you — such a small amount for you — can make a big difference for the service staff.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




hit counter