Vietnam Motorbike Tour: Day One

I was pretty well packed and ready to go, all I had to do was put on my runners, drink my tea and finish chatting to my daughter who had decided she will meet me in Hoi An as there was not enough time for her to fly to Saigon and catch up with me. I received a message saying my ride had arrived – 45 minutes early. I decided right then we would get along. I hate being late for anything. 

I need to stop here to say most of the day remains a bit hazy. I must have been more overwhelmed by the experience than I realized as I simply cannot recall one clear memory. It was more of a sensory overload. I needed to become acquainted with the bike and driver, and he with me. Trust is a major factor when sitting astride a motorbike. First I had to hop aboard – easier than it sounds. Then getting out of Saigon seemed to take forever and the traffic remained crazy although not quite as insane as in the centre.Fortunately it was a nice day – heck, it was HOT! I applied sunscreen 3-4 times and still had a sunburn on my back where it is never easy to reach.The weaving in and out of traffic, light touch of the horn as we passed by others; the city giving way to lush green, with too much garbage on the roads to mar picture perfect moments. The smell of oil, fish, garbage all mingling into a barely bearable bouquet that we finally left behind before our first stop for coffee.

Cute little drip cups makes a small, bold coffee to give the day a kickstart. Add condensed milk and go, go, go! Most people drink their coffee with ice. Also a cup of green tea. I am hooked except for the Conde seed milk – only because I want my blood sugar to stay down.

It took quite some to get out of the city, Saigon and the surrounding countryside is huge! I thought we would never leave the traffic behind. Finally crossed what I thought was a toll booth but was the entry to catch a small ferry boat across to an island -.this seems to cut down on time and is far more pleasant to sit for about ten minutes without all the exhaust. To help with the fumes, dirt and wind Toan bought a cowl like cover up for my face. We drove off the ferry towards a monastery of sorts. I would find myself getting rather confused as to just what I was visiting at times. The way I understood it this was a retreat of sorts for monks but with a distinct Chinese influence. 
In Vietnam always assume shoes have to come off if entering a temple of any kind!

Of course I do not read Vietnamese so the first notices telling visitors to remove their shoes went unheeded – oops. Thank goodness there was not anyone around. I remembered before entering the largest hall, it helped that I saw shoes but no people right away. I put away my worries about the, being stolen. I was quite sure nobody would want my runners – not a common type of footwear.
Pho for lunch and of course more coffee.

We did a lot of driving and had to stop in one place when the motorbike started to make strange noises. Eventually it was suggested I be dropped off at a cafe while my driver went in search of a mechanic after the one he wanted was closed – it was Sunday. I suggested Highland – I had seen it a couple of blocks back – because I was quite sure they would have AC and a western toilet. Ah, the conveniences we prefer. I was also able to charge my phone and iPad. As I said, trust was important. After all, I had paid him and he had all my stuff except my purse and daypack. About 40 minutes he came back, had to jury rig what he needed because the piece could not be found anywhere.
Our trusty steed.
Seems a black plastic ring was not put back on when the bike was serviced before I was picked up.

Of course we wasted a lot of time so made it to our hotel just before dark. I was exhausted, and Toan was most likely worried I would be unhappy with the turn of events. However, we had stopped for coffee a couple of times and lunch as well as short stops for him to point out places and explain them to me. Money has yet to be discussed other than the cost of the tour it self which includes my guide, the bike, fuel etc., accommodation and entry fees to sites. For the day we took turns until dinner. When we discussed thwt took up his offer to being me chicken and rice to the room which he insisted on paying for. I was ready to fall asleep.

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Pins and Needles

Did I really say I would blog twice a week? While still at home, revving up my engine to leave, I have time. Once in China I might have the time – just not easily accessible sites. I do have a VPN, it worked last year. I do hope I will post about the trip at least once a week plus the mother of the bride insights on Wedding Wednesday. Not that any of this has to do with puns, nor needles.

Pins, I had a notice from Stillpoint Community Acupuncture offering a free session the week of my birthday that I thought would be foolish to pass up! Considering one session is $40.00 – although the sliding scale starts at $25.00 – it was a great way to prepare my poor aching knees for lots of walking and climbing. I will still wear the interchangeable stabilizing brace, just not right now as it seems to have scratched and rubbed my leg below the knee (unless it was Mozzy my cat, although possible it is a strange mark for it to be a cat scratch).

Needles, I know it is a good idea to take along a small sewing kit, I just cannot seem to find mine! If I do not I will most likely just throw a standard needle (with a wide enough eye I will not need a magnifying glass) and spool of thread into my tiny first aid kit. Perhaps a bobbin will fit better. The whole plan being prepared without overdoing it. 

Pins and needles. Perhaps needless to say but I am now approaching that waiting on pins and needles stage. All the last minute changes, items to still pack, currencies to buy, and visas are pretty well dealt with. I have my visa for China and ordered the Vietnam visa letter that is supposed to fast track things once I arrive. Unfortunately, although most likely easily fixed, I ended up ordering three visas! All because my debit visa would not work. A call to the bank showed no problems. Thank goodness http://www.cheapvietnamvisa.net has several ways for payment to be made. I chose this company solely because my daughter used them last year – time will determine if I am satisfied. I am also pleased it was only 7.55CAD (6.00USD). The actual stamp will be paid upon arrival – 25.00USD.  

We were using his chair for guests so he found a bag to curl up on after.

No more needles? I hope to cut the Cartrophen for Mozzy, it is not making his leg better and he hates going for the 30 minute drive – one way – then being poked and prodded. We have a weigh-in appointment, discussion with the vet to decide if Mozzy might survive the next two months, then some serious decision making. I may need a needle, or a shot of something.

Eternal posy for my 60th birthday the other day – my daughters said this way I will always have flowers from them.

Wedding Wednesdays 

The Secret Is Out

As though I do not already have enough to think about with my upcoming 60 day trip I am now helping, from the other side of the country, to plan my eldest daughter’s wedding! Writing a blog from the mother of the bride’s point of view has most likely been done ad infinitum; which means I must attempt to write with a fresh view. Perhaps the fact the engaged couple has been together for 25 years and have a nearly 15 y/o child will provide a part of the twist to interest. 

On Canada Day, after watching a very country parade, from the comfort of the porch, some of us headed to town for the vast array of 150th birthday activities. As we wended our way to the annual Arts Festival the discussion turned to the upcoming move of another of my daughters for her graduate studies. ((Bravo!) Without thinking, the matron of honour (except I did not know this) said, “Now you will have two places to go dress shopping!” I asked why she, the one moving, would have to go shopping four years before finishing her thesis. The looks on all three faces – bride, sister of the bride, and matron, was priceless, as was the expressed realization of a faux pas. As her foot was already in her mouth the matron mumbled something along the lines of your mother doesn’t know? To which my daughter said, “She does now!”It seems the three of them had been keeping the secret, other than from my grandson, and the groom of course, for at least two months!

My daughter had planned a special way to tell me. Instead we set about discussing logistics, telling her friend no more secrets for her, and eventually went on the cruise where the wedding will take place. So, after lunch and wandering around, although I now knew, my daughter asked, what did I think of the Island Queen as a wedding venue? My westcoast island girl is marrying an east coast boy aboard a paddle wheeler on Lake Ontario. No longer a boy and a girl, two mature people who will be celebrating 25 years as a couple with a big party that includes a wedding. 

I like planning big events, I am good at it despite not having many opportunities these days. Details my daughter and I have already taken care of, invitations chosen and sent out. Hotels contacted for block rooms information and codes. Deposit for venue. Some top secret plans not being told to anyone!

The wedding will be on my father’s birthday, and his parents wedding anniversary – such a nice way to include him. My eldest was very special to him. My sister reminded me we still have the dove our grandparents, parents, she, and my already married daughter, had on their wedding cake. I guess I should ask if it can be included for this wedding!

No photo of the wedding cake from 1925 to my knowledge. My parents cake photo is packed away. This is from their 50th anniversary nearly 11 years ago.

Money saving tips: A magnetic save-the-date with an RSVP/info on the back is a great invitation. Include your email, phone number, and use a free wedding planners site. My daughter chose http://www.theknot.com

The Final Countdown

I have noticed I often take snippets of song titles or snippets from lyrics when I am working on a Blog title. They just seem to pop into my mind with the result of having a catchy start and an ear bug for much of the day. I think this is one reason I do not listen to music when I travel. Also the fact I have no idea how to download music and my earbuds (which I hate using) and earphones plug do not seem to fit into my iPhone. I guess that is what one should expect when trying to save money by purchasing a ‘slightly’ used product. Which is why I am at a countdown of sorts.

My previous Blog discussed packing; I have not yet attempted to make everything fit although I remain confident it will. I am counting down the days – fewer than 30. I am counting on Mozzy – my cat – to be well. I am counting on not going crazy when my youngest daughter arrives from Honduras – recently a hurricane went by there and she is much like that force. To my knowledge she is still planning to join me on my Vietnam leg which will certainly help cut costs other than the actual motorcycle tour – we will have our own guides and probably not share rooms until we reach Hoi An. 

Family here are planning a celebration for my birthday – I am not looking forward to counting candles! Last time we had a cake with many, many candles (50, for my sister) the smoke alarm went off. Perhaps I will request six sparklers. There is not really anything I want – or rather, what I want will not happen. I do not need anything – besides money or free accommodation of course. I am also counting virtual money –  CNY, USD & VND – to work out the various exchange rates into CAD that go along with accommodation and transportation I know I will be using. (My whole budget is based on CAD – readers can now feel sorry for me)

Despite promising myself I would try to not rush about from place to place I have so far booked thirteen hostels and hotels, and that does not include the nine I will stay at during my Vietnam tour! I also have to figure out where I will go for the last six day of my trip. I will also take 8 – 10 trains, one motorcycle, a few subways, some short distance buses and who knows what else. However, even after factoring in three transit days and adding in Hoi An and Hanoi (I love saying those together) plus the six days I need to figure out, I believe my final countdown will still remain at 100CAD (80USD for anyone who does not think in Canadian dollars) per day. I could make it less if I were not springing for three nights close to two sections of the Great Wall at a boutique hotel. My birthday present to myself – they even offered to bake a cake.

Roadblock

I have been streaming Amazing Race Canada for this season after watching the first three with my daughter in Kingston and now it seems some of their challenges are seeping into my psyche – which is why I titled this roadblock. Sometimes you never know what might stall your advancement until you nearly smash into it. Stopping shy of a roadblock can actually provide a moment to assess direction or reflect on choices.  I see my roadblock as a little of both. 

I leapt into a temporary job less than a week ago, a very simple retail position that I would mainly be working on cash plus some floor shifts. What I was not ready for was the severe pain in my knees after each shift. In addition, considering I strongly beleive honesty is important when writing my blog, I really did not like the job. Even less so when I realized that minimum wage is even lower than the dreadful amount I thought I was earning. However, I was willing to persevere as the earnings were to help support any veterinary costs that might need covering for my cat while I was away. I had calculated I would take home about $1700.00 before I leave on Sep 17. That is not an amount to sneeze at, and – as I am always saying to my daughters – anything is better than zero. Which meant I was ready to just plow through each shift, bite my tongue when necessary, and tick off each completed night. Most of my shifts were slated for midnight. Which brings me to my knees. 

The pillow self inflates – an early birthday present from my daughter. Might have come in handy for midnight shifts.

I had an unrelated appointment with my doctor, booked before I even applied for the job, and asked if there was time to discuss how my knees have been after he made a cursory mention of a June letter from my physiatrist. The uptake was that if I keep punishing my knees from standing for eight hour shifts with no chance to sit – even breaks were iffy, as well as there being a preference staff take only the paid 15 minutes – the likelihood of causing injury was quite high. Therefore, my GP wrote a letter for me stating that starting immediately I would no longer be able to work. This was only a minor financial roadblock. (I would go on about some of the lack of basic employer/employee standards if I had not left; although if I had stayed I guess I could have been perpetuating things)


So, less money for Mozzy. Which is fine because that roadblock seems to be being cleared away. As previously mentioned, I have been wringing my paws regarding his health. A second dose of the chemo was administered at the vet’s – it generally takes 2-3 technicians to do anything with him – and this time he kept it down! It was also suggested I give him the equivalent of kitty McDonald’s if he will eat it. Anything to entice him to ingest his other medicine I mix in his food. As of the following evening he is EATING!!! His weight was down to 2.80 kg, perhaps when he goes back for his third chemo dose it will have gone up. Paws crossed. I am happy I can spend more time to coax him back towards health before I leave. Even if it is temporary at least I am here instead of working to pay for him. Mozzy will always be my priority and I can adjust my budget accordingly. The four shifts I worked will go far enough to see Mozzy through his remaining doses. Sometimes roadblocks seem ridiculously placed, others do not. Discovering I should not be working reset my priorities on a straight path.

Ten day triangle

That path lead me to start looking at my itinerary again. I had been stuck in a rut for a couple of weeks. I will still do my first ten days loop of Shanghai, Suzhou. Nanning and Huangshan. I am glad I am only doing those as Huangshan can be gruelling if attempting to walk up the mountain all at once. Having my knees give me a severe jolt is a reminder I have always intended on going to fewer places so as to further enjoy where I do stop. I will still do the motorcycle tour; I asked my doctor about that, we both agreed that if I am paying then I have some control – if I need a break we will take a break. I also plan to add another week for Vietnam rather than rush to Hanoi to hop on a train. I will see and experience more. The tour is from Ho Chih Min to Hoi An – about midway. There will still be so much more to see.
First half of my tour – riding pillion on a motorcycle!

I am looking forward to mapping out the rest of my trip in Vietnam and the second section of China I am planning. All I needed was to get around that roadblock.