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Published: January 7th 2017
Happy New Year to you all! This is my first blog in 2017 from my yearly trip that I usually make in November-December every year. I try to explore one new country each year. In 2016 it was Indonesia. The country has been in my bucket list for a while. When I traveled to Vietnam last year, I wanted to make a side trip to Kalimantan from Ho Chi Minh City. But I realized, given the activities I am interested in, I simply didn’t have enough time. I shelved the idea just for a while, and I was waiting for the right opportunity. When I saw the amazing flight deal that All Nippon Airlines (ANA) was offering from Calgary to Ho Chi Minh City, and back from Manila to Calgary at US$330 all inclusive, I jumped to the opportunity. It’s hard to beat that kind of price. True I have an overnight stopover in Tokyo on my way to HCMC, so be it….it gave me an opportunity to check out the city, even just for a day. And so I did. Tokyo:
My cousin lives in Tokyo with her family, expat from the US. They loved to have me,
even just for one night. My ANA flight from Vancouver arrived Haneda in the evening. The cab cost me US$70 from Haneda to Izumi Gardens, not too far from the Tokyo tower. It’s a bit expensive I thought, but then it’s Tokyo…what do you expect? The view of the Tokyo skyline in the evening from the 30th
floor of my cousin’s apartment was spectacular. But I was scared when I saw the light bulbs in the living room was swaying back and forth…”what the hell is that?” I asked.
“Not to worry, a bit of an earthquake.” My cousin answered.
OMG, I thought, as I was looking towards the door.
“Don’t worry…we just had one 6.2 scale this morning. This probably is an aftershock.”
“I don't get it. Don’t you have to run down the stairs,” my butt half lifted.
“Relax, we are used to it. You feel it because we live high up.” I thought it’s more of a reason to run down the stairs.
"Buildings are designed that way, so relax,” she told me. Anyway, I couldn’t relax.
“We are going to Nobu for the dinner,” she told me. I was
relieved when we reached to the ground level. Since my childhood I was taught when there is an earthquake, just leave everything behind, and run for your life, everyone! No one taught me otherwise. But this is a different experience for which I was not mentally prepared. Things you learn in life!
Nobu is a great place for dinner. It’s an exclusive restaurant. I believe the restaurant has a branch in the New York City as well. The food was excellent. I heard of Nobu before, but I tried it first time, thanks to my cousin. I am not fond of Sushi, they are. I had a chicken dish and some side plates of Nobu specials that went really well. When I am on road with my back pack, I’m not very adventurous with food…but this is different.
I am an early riser. Ok, correction, I sleep less. 4-5 hours sleep is good enough for me. That’s why I pack too many activities when I travel…I just want to make good use of my time. I had the apartment keys. I went out for a walk. Given the earthquake frequency, I thought perhaps it’s not a bad idea
to stay at the ground level.
The place is close to the diplomatic enclave…the Swedish embassy was just next to the building, the U.S. Embassy within a walking distance. No, it’s not a good idea to walk around the U.S. Embassy snapping photos here and there under the watchful eyes of armed security guards. I started walking in the opposite direction. It was bit nippy, slight chill in the air, but the air was fresh. Ah, the streets are beautifully lined up with the trees. The tree branches from both sides of the street formed a lovely canopy. Fall is in the air and the red and golden colour leaves were falling down silently in the early morning breeze. I walked down the street and I felt the leaves falling on my head and face like 'the rain drops are falling on my head'….I was just enjoying the silent kiss of the Nature.
My connecting ANA flight to HCMC from Narita was at 4 pm and we had plenty of time in the morning for a short tour. We walked down to the park close by to see the fall colors. Just stunning! I do come from Canada
where the red and golden maple leaves glow in the fall. But Tokyo fall colours were amazing! I just loved them.
The Imperial Palace is a beauty! No, visitors are not allowed to enter the palace, nor anyone from the Royal family showed up for the visitors. I was not expecting any. But the palace landscape itself is gorgeous and hundreds of locals and tourists like me were flocking on the huge compound just outside the palace, enjoying and appreciating the beautiful morning near the palace.
We took a metro train and went to a popular shopping district. Being Sunday, many outlets were closed. I wish I could spend some more time in this beautiful city. A manicured, disciplined, well planned city where everything runs on time. We bought some quick wraps for the lunch, quite tasty and then it was time to say good bye. The bus started right on time and headed to the Narita airport. Ho Chi Minh City
I landed in HCMC around 9:30 pm on 23rd
November. The visa process is always time consuming in Vietnam. Once the visa was stamped in my passport, I collected my luggage and the car
was waiting to take me to the Silverland Hotel. I stayed in the same hotel last year when I traveled to Vietnam. Slightly more expensive than a budget hotel, it is right in the heart of the busy District One and next to the Ben Thanh market. The hotel provides a decent café for breakfast and a popular rooftop patio for evening drinks. Last year, I have visited all the tourist destinations in and around HCMC – Cu Chi tunnel, Mekong river trip, War Museum, Reunification Palace, General Post Office, all of them. The blogs are already posted. So, I don’t have any desire to visit the tourist attractions this time. The only reason I am here because my ANA flight ends here. I have a connecting Tiger Air flight to Singapore and then to Bali. I feel safe to keep one day buffer in between the flights if they are two separate tickets…just in case.
Since I’m here, I might as well take care of some unfinished business from the last year. I have two clear agendas. First, I wanted to check out the CIA building where the evacuation of the Americans took place on the last day
of the Vietnam War. Photos around the world circulated that showed the chopper landed on the rooftop and the American diplomats and their families climbed up the ladder to board the chopper. That was the end of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. I watched the building from a distance last year when I was in HCMC. Since I have the whole morning to myself, I wanted to walk down the street and check out the building closely. As far as I recall, it’s not far from the hotel. I realized it was not easy to locate the place. I went on asking people about the building, but hardly anyone knew about it. People simply didn’t care what happened 40-50 years ago. The Nation has moved on, especially the younger generation. A history was left behind and it now remains buried under the Western lifestyle that demands more attention to the other matters. Finally, I located the building across from the Vincom Center, a big shopping mall on Dong Khoi Street. It is nestled within some rundown small office buildings. I looked up, I could see the shrubs and the bushes on the rooftop where once the mighty chopper
landed and made the history. There is an insurance company on the ground floor and I asked the front desk if I could use the stairs to go to the top. The security guy flatly asked bribe from me to do me the favour. I sighed and left. I closed the chapter in my mind and took forty minutes walk down to my hotel in the blazing sun. I was not upset, but just a bit disappointed.
The second item in my to-do list was to do some night photography of the city from the rooftop patio. I tried it last time, but I didn’t like the photos. This time I brought the same camera, but also I brought a mini tripod. I set the tripod at the same spot on the parapet where I sat down last year to take the shots. I gave a longer exposure while the camera rested steady on the tripod. I wouldn’t compare the result with a high class DSLR, but the images were better this time. On my way to Bali
My Tiger Air flight took off around 9:00 am on 25 November to Singapore. I have a flight change
at the Changi airport around noon time to my next destination Bali. Bali was the start. I have activities booked for ten days in Indonesia crisscrossing the country and I was looking forward to that. Apart from the fun stuff like paragliding and water sports, I plan to visit the Komodo Dragons in the remote islands off the Java Sea. I was excited to trek down the jungles in Borneo in search for Orangutans. I also wanted to explore a bit of the Balinese culture. They are all in my agenda waiting to happen. So, let’s fly to Bali…and stay tuned for my next blog.
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