The Reality of World Travel

I’ll warn you up front that most of you will not like how this ends.

This is supposed to be a “How To Points and Miles” Blog.  Lately it has become a Travel in Vietnam Blog and I have loved every minute of it.  When I write, my  heart goes into every word and it bothers me, actually pisses me off, when I’m dismissed as just another Travel-Type Blog.  I write about what Matters to Me.  I hope to “Move” you.

World Travel can be an incredibly deep personal experience or it can be as shallow as you want it to be.  I write about what moves me.  Sometimes it humorous and other times, it’s not.  Maybe I need to lighten up but that is just not going to happen.  I want to know the “why” and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

Today we took a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels.  These are the tunnels that the Viet Cong used during the war.  At the end of the tour, we were asked to watch a 20 minute video.  I lasted 2 minutes and walked out.  That story is for another day.

Exploring other cultures means leaving your American Judgements at home, to a certain point, I mean wrong is wrong.  But judging another culture based on my opinion of how they should act, cheapens the experience and closes minds to new ideas and personal growth.

On the shuttle bus ride back, that ideal got shoved down my throat sideways.  Our Vietnamese tour guide confirmed that here, this is normal and accepted and that the driver is a “delivery man”.  A picture was taken.

Not all stories are humorous and I agonized over even sharing it.  But if I’m going to write seriously and open my mind to other cultures then it is not my place to sensor anything.  It’s up to you to decide for yourself.

It’s one picture.  It makes me uncomfortable, but that reflects my culture.  The link is below.

I Remember Now

Today was day 3 of our trip to Ho Chi Minh City and we went to the Reunification Palace.  It was here, after Saigon fell to the North, that Vietnam was Reunified into a single country, one Vietnam.

We casually walked it’s halls and then took a smiley-face picture outside.  It was right about then that the wheels came off…It was the picture.  As a student of History, I am keenly aware of this building’s past, it’s history.  I was just a child during the Vietnam war.  I remember bits and pieces from the news but I can’t remember anyone close that was involved.

It has been easy, if that is the right word, to come here as a tourist and enjoy this beautiful city and it’s people.  As I roam it’s streets, I have seen nothing that brings the Vietnam war to mind.  The Vietnamese view history in their own way, which to me seems private and quietly proud.  Not once, have I noticed anyone give me even a sideward glance.  I feel as comfortable here as I have felt in any European Country, that we haven’t been to war with.

I have no idea how a Vietnamese Soldier, of that era, even feels about that point in their history.  I can imagine, however, how an American Vietnam war veteran feels.   One only needs to go to Washington D.C. and view the Vietnam War Memorials.  For some, their lives have been defined by this war and it still remains a part of their daily existence.

I stopped at one point and wondered if they could ever come back to this Country again, perhaps to find closure, if that is even possible.  I was feeling guilt, as if my visit here was some form of betrayal to those who fought and died…here.

It seems that this trip will not be as simple as I once thought,  it carries with it a “form” of responsibility, a duty to humanity if you will,  to simply remember.

When we left the Palace, neither of us were smiling.  We ached deeply for the Veteran’s of both sides, so many lives lost, so much pain.  And as we continue our stay,  our vacation here,  I will continue to respectfully remember…

Let’s Pause For a Commercial and a Few of My Thought’s on Smiling…

Two things I don’t read on Facebook. 1. Long winded posts and 2. Posts that ask you for something.  Entertain me quickly, so that I can get back to ignoring the people sitting across the table, on their phones, who are ignoring me.  Today, I’m “That Guy”.

Please follow me on Twitter @Travelinggump or “share” any of my posts on Facebook.  Twitter is easiest for me to track and follow and Facebook really gets the word out.  I write my blog on WordPress and my Web address is  I would like to grow, so do what you can (ugh, ok…Please).

I love to write about Travel as it’s clearly where my passion lies.   But, I also love to write about people who do hilarious or stupid things and then we all have a chuckle.  I’ve never had a problem laughing at myself  but, given the choice, I’d rather get a giggle at someone else’s expense over mine.  Well today, it’s my turn “in the barrel”

Smiling is overrated.  People who smile all the time are either weak, vulnerable or up to something.  Or, I’ll grudgingly concede, just too nice.  I smile when necessary.  Eleven years as a Police Officer, I didn’t have to smile.  Smiling gets people’s attention.  I’m the guy in the back  of the room, the faceless Man that no one remembers, a man  of Mystery.  (feeling my inner Austin Powers).

Yesterday, Lilly got on me about not smiling for pictures.  I am! No, you do it like this…Really!?  I tried…unused facial muscles strained and pulled until I made “the face”.  The “Yes Dear, of course dinner was delicious face”.

One hour later, we are at the Ben Thanh Market getting fleeced by a lady selling us dresses.  We go back and forth.  I’m a happy guy doing verbal judo with a 4’09 vendor and gaining traction.  She stops mid-sentence, touches my arm and says “you should smile more, you don’t smile”.  Game Over, I paid her full price and crawled away to lick my wounds.  Apparently, I have smiling issues…

Ben Thanh Market, A Quiet Little Place…

I am in trouble.  It didn’t take long, only about 10 minutes and there I was.  We were unpacking last night and Lilly pulls out her hair straightener.  I walked right into the fan blade, “why did you bring that? You can’t use that 120 volt thing here!”  I can too, you brought the converter, right?  No actually I didn’t…and there I was.  But being male, I had to give her the nails to my coffin too, “Do you REALLY need to have that thing here?!”  I probably should not have said that…It was suggested that I fix the problem.

Fine! Tomorrow I’ll trolley on over to Walmart and pick up a 220 volt one, I need a watch battery anyway…Silence…She finished unpacking, using my name in vain at least 5 more times.  Apparently this hair straightener thing matters to her.

When one is in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), one apparently goes to the Ben Thanh Market to find everything.  Sounds perfect, we’ll go there.  At the front desk, I ask for directions.  Ok, Go 4 blocks this way then turn right for like 6 blocks and you can’t miss it.  Anything else I need to know?  Um, yeah, when you’re crossing the street, be bold, don’t stop, show no fear and never back up.  I’m like seriously?, I see crosswalks, stop lights and, I mean, how really hard can it be?  He smiles, Good Luck! After crossing 3 streets, I have learned the following things:

Thing  1.  Motor Scooters rule the streets of Saigon.  It’s the family car and they are everywhere in massive numbers.  There appears to be no limit on the amount of passengers, I’ve seen 3 people and the family dog whipping through traffic on one scooter.

Thing 2.  Anything can be attached to a scooter, restricted only by the creativity and imagination of it’s owner.  Why sure we can haul that washing machine, just bring me the rope.  You need that 14 foot 2×4 taken to the house? Get the duct tape. I kid you not.

Thing 3.  Stop lights, crosswalks, traffic lanes and well basically, traffic laws, are more like “suggestions” than anything else.  Personally, I think they earn bonus points and a prize for plowing you over and boy are they in it to win.

Thing 4.  Rule number three also applies to buses, cars, bicycles or whatever contraption they’ve created to get from A to B.  I’m convinced the word “yield” does not exist in the Vietnamese language.

I am going to die in Saigon, this actually crossed my mind after about the third street crossing.  I am going to die for a hair straightener power converter (which upon reflection, I remembered the hotel will loan to you upon request) and a watch battery.

We finally arrive at the Market, which is actually an indoor-outdoor kind of Bazaar.  It’s complete and total Chaos.  Picture a covered swap-meet, with about 50 million people and every kind of product you can think of, confined in an area the size of a football field.  I love the look on Lilly’s face, that feeling like your trying to take a drink from a firehose.

You cannot come to Saigon without coming here.  EVERYTHING is here.  From seafood to fabric, it’s here.  You squeeze down tiny “alleys” between vendors to find even more items being sold.  While your eyes are trying adjust to the dizzying display, your ears are going tone deaf over the constant barrage of people trying to get you to stop at their spot.  I say “spot” because that may be all the space they have.  It may only be 5×5 but it goes floor to ceiling.

I was able to get the battery in my watch replaced for the bargain price of 200,000 dong ($8.80).  No hair straightener power converter though, opted to give the hotel a chance and they later came through.

After about an hour we found our way out (we should have used GPS) and decided to come back and do this again tomorrow.  You just can’t do it justice in one visit.

I’ve also attached a picture of myself so that when the bus, followed by the 6-8 scooters and a bicycle, plow me over, the doctor will have something to work from to know what goes where.  With that, Happy Travels

An Impressive Sight and the Ugly American

Let’s back up and talk Points and Miles.   To start this trip, we had to get in place, Plane tickets, Hotel rooms, Visa’s and other miscellaneous transportation details.  This was crunch time. A true A-Z, four Alarm Travel Fun Fest (this is the big build up).

First off, fair disclosure.  My Firm provides the opportunity to take two trips around the world each year.  This includes a Travel Agency.  We pick the location from a long list, the Travel Agency fills in the blanks…Unless you go early, stay later or add other countries.  Then they default to “we’ll give you x dollars for the flights and provide a Hotel for x nights at the original location choice”.  The rest is on you.   We’ll that’s us.  We go early, stay later and generally #$@! up their plan in an epic way.

So they provided ~$4400.oo for Airfare, 4 nights in Vietnam at an IHG Intercontinental, a puddle jumper flight from Vietnam to Cambodia and 3 nights in a Sofitel near Angkor Wat.

This is a big financial start to the trip budget.  I get that not everyone has that kind of a jump-start.   Continue reading anyway, it’s worth it.   We then sat down and decided we needed at least two weeks to do this trip.  Remember it’s Vietnam, Cambodia and Beijing, China now.

For giggles, I called the travel agency and they advised we could do the trip for around $8000.00 additional dollars out of my very  cheap Scottish pockets.  How ’bout NO!  I want business class, by the way, up it went to $13,000.00 and I want to fly out of Springfield, Missouri (laughter) and up the price went.  Buh-Bye.

So here’s what I did…(finally)

1. Went to Google Flights and entered every scenario I could think of,  different routes, cities etc…Still too much.  I then made a mistake and entered the start date wrong and Forest Gumped my way to a solution.  I knew that Kansas City was the cheapest starting point but I found that if we flew to say San Francisco, LAX or Seattle, THEN to Vietnam, the price dropped significantly.  Keep in mind I’m ONLY using business class entries.  I started at about $8000.00 out of pocket and when I was done, $3000.00 total out of pocket.  KC to Seattle on a Tuesday with Alaska Air, Wednesday fly out to Vietnam  with a short layover (2 hours) in Tokyo  on ANA Japan.  Four days later, firm provided puddle jumper to Cambodia, then off to Beijing on China Southern Air.  Then after 4 days in Beijing we fly to Chicago (short stop in Tokyo) on ANA again, then from Chicago to Springfield Missouri.  So basically total flight cost in Business Class, including Firm contribution, $7400 for two.

Google flights provided the Airline options, I just juggled the dates and times.

I am writing this from an amazing Business Class Pod, being absolutely spoiled rotten by ANA’s fantastic service on a 787 Dreamliner.  Remember, when I first started, the travel agent quoted me about $7500 PER PERSON.  I paid $1500 each AND as a bonus since most of the flights are United-Star Alliance, we are racking up 23ooo+ united miles EACH.

The Hotels were even easier, added two nights to the Ho Chi Minh Intercontinental (40k total IHG points) and was upgraded (IHG card=Platinum Status) to a suite for the total 6 days + a boatload of points for the nights that the firm covers).  Basically used $280 in IHG points for a 2 night $480 stay.

In Beijing, the JW Marriott at 15k per night for four nights (60k total),  basically $540.00 in points for a $1013.00 stay.   In addition, being up-graded to a suite because of Gold Status with Marriott.  Remember, Amex Platinum=Starwood (SPG) Gold=Marriott and Ritz Carlton Gold.

A few final points, Rented a car from Alamo for the one-way drive to KC for around $58.00, Alamo does one-way the cheapest.  In Seattle, used Chase Sapphire to gain free access to ANA premium Lounge.  Amex Platinum for free entry into the Centurion Lounge.  Using gogo and Boingo (provided as a benefit from Amex Platinum) for Airport and Airline WiFi.

I’m sure that I’ve left out benefits that we are using that just escape me right now.  I’ll add them later (luggage reimbursement benefits come to mind).  I hope this get the wheels turning and helps in some way.  Go big or Go home….

Oh, the ugly American part.  We are standing in front of the All Nippon Airways (ANA) gate waiting to board.  The staff are all dressed very professional, each at the front of a check in line (5 total), a few standing at the desk.  I’m in the business class line in sweats, unshaven, a Despicable Me T-shirt with Minions on the front (hell, my fly was probably open too).  I looked like crap holding a knap sack.  A well dressed gentleman comes out, says something in Japanese and the whole staff bows at the same time…I’m looking at them, they’re bowing towards me…and there I am, in all my splendor with my big mouth wide open…the ugly American.

To Vietnam We Go, Finally!

Actually to Seattle first to change planes…Then we go…

In the last post, we were at the Kansas City International Airport getting ready to leave. Moving along,  we then boarded an Alaska Airline 737 and took our seats.  Somehow in all our travels, we have never flown with Alaska.  I would best describe them as “laidback”.   I’m expecting to get grief over bringing my backpack and my carry-on suitcase on the plane. The problem is my “personal carry-on item”, the backpack, is huge compared to my suitcase.  They see me stumbling down the aisle and don’t even bat an eye.   I probably could have brought my favorite recliner on board and they would have just smiled and made room.  I learned three things during this flight. 1.  The old story of the screaming child on an airplane is real.  2. Sailors really do cuss like Sailors, and 3.  Alaska has a credit card which they are quite proud of and will gladly tell you all about it.  To expand…

1. So in wanders a Mother and her 15 month (ish) daughter, who clearly wanted absolutely nothing to do with this plane.  They land in the row in front of us and to the right.  She howled from take-off until 20 minutes before the plane landed and this was a four hour flight.  Her mother did her best but to no avail  and the little lady finally went to sleep…after 3 1/2 hours.  The kid has stamina, I’ll give her that.

2.  A young sailor was sitting just behind me and to my right.  He was quite frustrated with the crying situation and was speaking loudly to his friends expressing, in a most colorful way, his thoughts on the matter.   Over the 14 hour flight (felt like), he covered so many topics and at 22 years old, he apparently, had single-handedly solved most of the worlds problems and was anxious to tell the back of the plane how he did it.  I received an internal update to my brain’s hard-drive on the modern vernacular of the 20 something male.   I learned that I was Way out of date on today’s current “salty” language and I learned how to seamlessly mesh them into a conversation that I am certain would not end well.  I am now updated.  iMichael version 7.1.

3. About 30 minutes before landing, an announcement from the cockpit…a landing report perhaps, weather update?  No, a commercial for the Alaska Air Credit card.  I hoped it wasn’t the pilot and was relieved when I saw that it was one of our flight attendants who actually did an excellent job.  It lasted about 5-7 minutes and most of the people seemed completely annoyed at the commercial interruption.  I thought it was hysterical.  Lilly just hung her head and commented that she just can’t seem to escape the Points and Miles thing.  Then, to complete her hell,  the attendants began  walking down the aisle handing out credit card applications and making sure you didn’t miss any of the details.  Talk about a captive audience.   Alaska definitely has a “set of balls”, the sailor mumbled as he declined the offer.

My intentions are to really talk about the trip and how it relates to the use of Points and Miles…But, the PEOPLE you meet along the way.   Wow!  Remember, it’s not about the destination, its about the journey.