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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not so in-Tune Hotel

On our arrival in Kuala Lumpur from our holiday in Ho Chi Minh City, we stayed at Tune Hotel LCCT. It is very conveniently located nearby the airport. However, if I have a choice, I would not stay there again.

Firstly, we were most dissatisfied with the service. When we booked our rooms (in advance), we also rented towels which supposedly come with free essential toiletries. But we did not get our toiletries. They only told us they were 'out-of-stock' when we asked for it. I find this absolutely unacceptable since we made advance bookings. Shouldn't the hotel set aside the required items for guests who have already made bookings?! Worse still, the staff's excuse was that the toiletries were 'free' so they were not obliged to supply them and we're suppose to 'understand'! CRAP and RUBBISH!! If you went into a restaurant that said 'free' drink with meal, is it acceptable if they don't serve you the drink? I should think not.

Secondly, the size of the room is really not suitable for travellers (especially with a child!). It was really cramped. With a queen size bed inside, you are left with about one to two feet 'walking space' on three sides of the bed. Thankfully we travelled with only a medium size suitcase and one hand luggage so we managed to squeeze our things in with us. Can't imagine how travellers with bigger/more suitcases would get all their things inside the room! Being located so near the airport, you'd think the designers of the hotel would have enough sense to know that most of their guests would be travellers with luggage and hence a little more space would be needed!

Tune bed
[View of the bed: the mirror gives the illusion that the room is larger than it actually is... note the space on either sides of the bed]

Foot of bed
[View of the foot of the bed: this leads to the bathroom... the square-thingie on the left of the photo is a fold-down table]

[View of the door: note how much space (or the lack of it) between the door and the bed?]

To be fair, the bed was very comfortable, and the room and bathroom were very clean (they just opened in April). Still, I wouldn't rate it a 5-star sleeping experience at 1-star price as claimed. We paid about RM85. I felt like I was sleeping in a box! Honestly, the maximum I would have been willing to pay for that stay was RM50. Frankly, we are not 5-star hotel travellers. We've stayed in a budget hotel before for about RM45. We had more space, a bar of soap and even some biscuits!

Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City: Review

We enjoyed our trip to Vietnam. We booked our flight and accommodation with Air Asia Go Holiday, and booked our 2-day tour separately.

The traffic in Vietnam was congested with motorbikes - exactly what you see in pictures and on TV, but we felt quite safe crossing the road. There seems to be an unspoken understanding among road users. It felt more unnerving crossing the roads in KL!

Not many people on the streets speak English but people in the tourist areas can understand basic English. The hotel staff were particularly helpful. They would help us to get a taxi and tell the taxi driver our destination. When we returned, they would make sure we were charged the amount on the meter and not cheated. The hotel staff also helped to negotiate our taxi fare to the airport. We paid the fare before leaving the hotel and were issued a receipt so we didn't have to worry about being cheated at the airport. Our experiences with the taxis were quite pleasant. Tip: We always took taxis run by companies deemed reputable, e.g. Vinasun, Mailinh, and Saigon Air.

Here are more pictures of some of the foodstuff we bought:

Candied stuff
[Candied ginger and lotus seeds from My Tho]

Coconut candy
[Coconut candy from Ben Tre: with peanuts and durian]

Smoked bananas
[Smoked bananas from the streets of Ho Chi Minh City: the stubby-type we can find in Malaysia, but this is the first time we tried the rolled flat-type]

Vietnamese coffee
[Vietnamese coffee maker: consists of a bottom seive, small cup, an inner seive, and a lid]

Lotus tea
[Vietnamese lotus tea: smells like the lotus pod]

Shrimp chilli salt
[Vietnamese shrimp chilli salt: famous in Tay Ninh but we bought this from the city... good as a dip for fruits like pineapple, starfruit and guava]

Overall it was a pleasant holiday. Would we recommend HCMC as a holiday destination? YES :o).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City: Day 5

Day 5: 11 May 2009
Our last day in HCMC. In the morning we went to Cho Binh Tay ("bin tai"), the market in Chinatown. Not too different from our markets but on a larger scale. Lots of preserved food. From there we took a taxi to the War Remnants Museum. Mum and Dad went to the museum while we took Julian to the park, stopping on the way at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre (but it wasn't showtime). After that we headed back to the hotel to check out.

Binh Tay market
[At the front of Binh Tay market]

War Remnants museum
[War Remnants museum]

Water puppet theatre
[Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre]

At the cultural park
[Cultural Park]

Lunch was at an Australian owned restaurant that served Vietnamese set lunch, near the hotel. Mum and Dad ate at a different restaurant. After a short rest in the hotel lobby, we took a taxi to the airport for our flight home.

The flight was delayed by about half hour. We arrived in LCCT at about 10.30pm Malaysian time. We spent the night at Tune Hotel LCCT before flying back to Penang the next morning (12 May).

Flying home
[We will return: I'm leaving on a jet plane...]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City: Day 4

Day 4: 10 May 2009
It's free and easy city tour. Being a Sunday, our first destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral, where we attended mass. The 9.30am mass was in English, with a sermon and some songs sung in Vietnamese. After that we walked across the street to the post office, famous for its colonial architecture. Here we bought some stamps, souvenirs and took photos. Julian enjoyed running around, looking at butterflies and watching the seeds from the trees spin as they fell to the ground when the wind blew.

Inside Notre Dame
[Notre Dame Cathedral from the inside]

Outside Notre Dame
[Notre Dame Cathedral from the outside]

Post office
[Post Office]

Next we took a taxi to Ben Thanh market. We had lunch at Pho 24, finally tasting the famous Vietnamese pho ("faah", important to have the low and rising tone). Then we went into the market for shopping. It's like our bazaar. After a hot afternoon, we tried more Vietnamese ice-cream. This time we went to Bach Dang, a short walk away from Ben Thanh market (towards the Opera House).

[Pho Bo: Rice noodles in beef soup]

Ca phe sua da
[Vietnamese Ca Phe: When poured into the glass it becomes ca phe sua da (iced coffee)]

Ben Thanh market
[Ben Thanh Market]

Bach Dang ice-cream
[Bach Dang Ice-cream]

[A wire-man's nightmare]

After that we went back to the hotel and took Julian for a swim in the pool. For those whose children like swimming, this is not the place for it. The pool depth starts at 1.6m and reaches 1.8m at the deepest. But since we had told him he was going swimming and he had already seen the pool, we had to keep our word. Fortunately Daddy could tip toe and take him for his swim :-)

At the pool
[Fun in the pool]

At night, we went sighseeing at the Opera House, and walked to the Saigon Riverfront. Dinner was at another Pho 24 outlet.

Opera House
[Opera House]

Then we went to the Thuong Xa Tax supermarket (near the Opera House) for some shopping. Actually, for certain items like clothing and foodstuff, this was a better place to shop compared to the Ben Thanh market. It turned out to be cheaper without the hassle of bargaining. But alas, we already "paid the price" of shopping at Ben Thanh! However, souvenirs like keychains, fridge magnets, etc. are cheaper at Ben Thanh (with some bargaining of course).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City: Day 3

Day 3: 9 May 2009
Went on our second tour which was to see the Mekong Delta. This was a more physically relaxing tour.

On arrival at the jetty at My Tho ("mee tho") (about 1 1/2 hours from the city) we were taken by boat to Unicorn Island. Here we had honey tasting and sampling of candied food (lotus seed, banana, ginger and peanut). we also tasted royal jelly and banana wine. Walking on, we stopped by an area to eat some tropical fruit (dragon fruit, jackfruit, pineapple, banana, watermelon and mango), and were entertained with some folk songs. Then we went on another boat ride - this time in a small sampan - along a small part of the river fringed with nipah palms.

Candied food
[Candied food]

Local fruits
[Having a go at some local fruits]

[Our entertainers]

Boat ride
[Row, row, row your boat... complete with Vietnamese hats]

Then we were back on our bigger boat to another part of the delta called Ben Tre ("ben che") to see how coconut candy is made. It's a bit like dodol, but not as sticky once it's cooled. After that we were taken on a horse-cart ride to the restaurant for lunch. Julian patted the horse.

Coconut candy mixer
[Coconut candy mixer]

On the horse-cart
[All aboard the horse-cart]

Vietnamese springroll
[Vietnamese spring-roll with rice paper skin]

Fried fish
[Deep fried "standing" fish]

After lunch we headed back to the city. On the way we were caught in the rain, and in a traffic jam. By the time we got to the hotel, it was about 4.30pm.

Hammock cafes
[Hammock cafes: We spotted many road-side coffee shops with hammocks or deckchairs for patrons to have a snooze]

After a rest, we went out for dinner. We headed for a restaurant called Nam Giao recommended by our tour guide, Mr. Phung, but we couldn't find the place. The locals didn't seem to know it either (we later found out he gave us the wrong address!). So we ended up at a road side stall just outside one of the side entrances of the Ben Thanh market called Sao Dong. Here we tasted our first sapodilla (similar to our local ciku but the shape is like a large kiwifruit) ice-blended shake. Really refreshing! After dinner we headed back for the hotel and tried some banana ice-cream purchased from a nearby convenience store. Yummy!

Banana ice-cream
[Vietnamese banana ice-cream: Frozen real bananas on the inside and coconut milk-based ice-cream on the outside.]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City: Day 1 & 2

For our holiday this year we decided to go to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, inspired by the Khong family. We were there from 7-11 May 2009. Mum and Dad came with us.

Day 1: 7 May 2009
Flight from Penang to KL then KL to HCMC on Air Asia. It was an evening flight which was delayed. By the time we arrived, it was 8.15pm local time (9.15pm Malaysian time). We were met on arrival by our tour driver, Mr Tu. We stayed at Metropole Hotel.

Metropole room
[Our room at Metropole Hotel]

Day 2: 8 May 2009
Went on a tour to see the Cu Chi (pronounced "koo chee") tunnels, and the Cao Dai ("kao dai") temple in Tay Ninh ("tay nenh").

The Cu Chi tunnels are located about 1 1/2 hours away from HCMC. They were very interesting. We went through an enlarged version made for tourists. The original tunnels were manually dug by the people as a hideout from foreign forces during the war. They run for about 200km. There are rooms to nurse the sick and injured, meeting and dining rooms and even a kitchen. The smoke from the cooking is filtered through several layers so that when it is finally emitted it is not very noticeable. Ingenius!

Tunnel hidden entrance
[Now you see me, later you won't...]

Cu Chi tunnels
[Enlarged version of the tunnel: In the original, you'd have to "commando" crawl through]

Julian on a tank
[Julian on a defunct tank: The tank was damaged by a land mine during the war]

Cao Dai is a religion in Vietnam that combines Buddhism, Catholicism, and Taoism. Cao Dai temples are very colourful and the one in Tay Ninh is one of the main temples. We were there to observe the noon prayers.

Cao Dai temple
[Cao Dai temple at Tay Ninh]

Prayers in progress
[Prayers in progress]

Lunch was local Vietnamese fare at the Thu Thao restaurant in Tay Ninh. They served noodles, tempura prawns, banh mi (french bread) with beef slices, and some fried rice. Lovely.

Banh mi with beef slices
[Banh mi with beef slices]

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a handicraft factory where victims of Agent Orange worked. We were on our own for dinner. We ate at Quan An Ngon restaurant, recommended by our tour guide, Mr. Dui.

Rice dish at Quan An Ngon
[Quan An Ngon fare: Rice with meat and minced shrimp]

Monday, May 04, 2009

Our 5th Anniversary

We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary on 1 May 2009 (Labour Day holiday).

We abandoned our initial dim sum breakfast plan because of the crowd and settled for a hawker style breakfast at a quiet coffee shop on Anson Road. Then we took Julian to the Youth Park for the first time. He had a wonderful time there at the playground. There's even a little public water park which we never knew existed! No, we didn't let Julian in.

[Julian getting the "hang" of it]

Lunch was one simple plate of chicken rice shared among the three of us :-) Meant for Julian (we were both still quite full from breakfast) but he refused it. Then it was back home for Julian's siesta.

In the evening we took Julian for a swim at the apartment pool. Of course he enjoyed himself immensely.

Dinner was at Shenanigans Irish Pub and Restaurant in Tg Tokong. It was really lovely. We had the BBQ Pork Ribs (RM30) and the Deluxe Burger (RM18). Both were absolutely yummy! For drinks we had their Tropical Sunset (RM10) and Banana Belafonte (RM11). Also very yummy :-) We also liked the ambience at the restaurant.

[Dinner at Shenanigans]

BBQ Pork Ribs
[BBQ Pork Ribs]

Deluxe Burger
[Deluxe Burger]

Later that night we continued our tradition of lighting our Unity Candle and saying our Anniversary Prayer. Julian didn't join us this year - his battery was flat ;-) He'd had a busy day...

Unity Candle 2009
[Lighting of our Unity Candle 2009]

Baby2 Updates: 27 Weeks

We visited our gynaecologist on 30 April 2009. Baby is doing fine at 27 weeks and weighs about 900gm. During the checkup, baby was in the cephalic position (head down).

Baby2 Ultrasound 27 Weeks
[Smile!: Baby2's face appears in this ultrasound :o)]

Julian at 23 Months

Julian turned 23 months last 28 April 2009.

He seems to love counting. He's now able to count 2 to 10. Maybe it's because we always say 1 for him. He doesn't always get the sequence right and occasionally mixes up 6 and 9. But we think he's doing pretty well, given that he's not even turned two! He is also learning to recognise letters of the alphabet (he knows "O" the best).

Other observations:
  • He's able to sit with us through dinner most of the time now when eating out.
  • He also stays in church throughout mass without much fuss. Of course, we bring some books and quiet toys to keep him occupied.
  • He hasn't outgrown his picky eating habits. In fact, he's more difficult now because he's refusing to eat rice and porridge at home. Noodles haven't worked either.
  • He often wants to eat from the plate with his mouth - like a dog...hmmm...
  • He likes to play 'masak-masak' (cooking) complete with cutting fruits and adding seasoning with sound effects. He even says "stir" and "pour" appropriately.
  • He's hooked on Pocoyo, an animated children's series.

[Up to all sorts: Julian working out, the hard way...]

[Wok with Julian: Now add some ginger, garlic...]

[Eating like a dog: Our baby sitter happens to dog-sit sometimes. So, we think he's imitating the dog *slaps forehead*]