A quick post about Hanoi and package trips

Ho Chi Minh statueI love Vietnam – been there six times. I love the Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel – stayed there on every single trip (and worked for them for 2 months on my last visit a few years ago). The guys that own / run it and all the staff are simply some of the most wonderful people you could ever meet – generous, hard-working, and above all honest.

So when they reach the point that they have to post the attached, I feel obliged to share it. Please – don’t get ripped off when you’re travelling as it sours a great experience. I’ve been on a load of HBH’s tours – all paid for out of my own pocket – and had nothing but the best memories to bring back. People who read my travel blog before it went into mothballs will know this.

Actually, I had one issue with my Fansipan trip (the scheduling of the ascent/descent wasn’t ideal) which I fed back upon my return. I was staggered when the hostel refunded about 50% of what I’d paid for it. I hadn’t asked for nor had I expected this.

So if you’re heading for Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, avoid the places and people mentioned in the attached post. They’re scammers who will take your money and ruin your trip. I’m sure there are other places selling great trips (I’ve met people who’ve been on them), but I only ever used HBH and booked direct from their premises. A little more expensive than most (from what I heard), but worth every Dong/Dollar for peace of mind.

Jetting off again

Flag of Tunisia

Flag of Tunisia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The change of pace continues with another package holiday, this time to Tunisia. Another country to tick off, but another resort to stay in with minimal interaction and travel around the country proper.

Hopefully, with time, the kids will grow older and want to explore as I did and these brief experiences will encourage them to do just that. We only have one excursion booked – a three cities tour towards the end of our time away – but I’m looking forward to it. If there’s decent diving and a trustworthy shop (something I’ve not been able to find online) then there may be the chance to enjoy a brief underwater session.

Other than that, it’s going to be a week of sunshine, ice cream and lazing. By “lazing” I of course mean being run ragged chasing after kids!

New posts

Pause icon for http://games.wtanaka.com/

Temporary pause (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a while since I popped up any actual travel-related posts and I hope to address this soon. We had a family holiday in Greece recently and I’d like to get a little something up about that, but it’s all down to time.

Also, my holidays have changed since I settled down and we now have three kids in tow so expect the content and pace of the posts to change! Of course, this does mean that the posts could be relevant to a slightly different audience. Gone are the backpacking days (except possibly the occasional long weekend with the wife if I can convince her, although we won’t be using shared dorms…), but the travel bug is still there.

Don’t get me wrong, my other half loves the idea of travel almost as much as I do, but family has to come first and the kids just aren’t ready for roughing it through South America (top of my travel bucket list) as yet!

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Dolphin Cove

Friendly warning (c) Iain Purdie

Billing itself as “Jamaica’s #1 Attraction”, Dolphin Cove offers more than just the chance to meet one of nature’s coolest mammals. As we visited two days after the hurricane, a few of the attractions were unavailable but it was still a very enjoyable day out.

Whenever there’s a tourist attraction involving animals, there are always some negative comments or concerns for the animals’ welfare – we heard none at all regarding this place and every single person on the resort who’d been came back gushing with praise. So I’ll start by giving you one downside (and really the only major one) – it’s not at all pushchair/pram friendly.

The entrance itself is at the top of a hill with about 40 steps to get down to the check-in. You continue down several more flights before getting to beach level, and even there the trail is rock-strewn with the occasional step. As long as you can lift your pram around a bit, it’s not the end of the world but it’s something worth being aware of.

2012 is the Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence, and many hotels and companies are offering deals as a way of celebrating this. For instance, our resort has wiped the charge for internet access and the Ocho Rios shopping shuttle (usually $7) amongst other things. Dolphin Cove were upgrading every entry ticket to the next highest. Usually there’s an entry fee, then another charge to do a Dolphin Touch. An upgrade takes you to a Swim and more money gived you an Encounter.

Each offers you more time and activities with the creatures, and their deal for this year is to offer the Touch with the entry fee, Swim for Touch price and Encounter for Swim price. Given the prices, this is a damn good saving. Most of our party went for the middle ground one, but as Little Mister was too young for anything else I volunteered to hold back and just do the Touch with him.

The resort itself is nicely haggard, with a light-hearted pirate theme. The decor is just right and very weather-worn, and there are even a few “pirates” wandering around scaring the clientelle with surprise “YARR”s. Little Mister wasn’t phased, just staring at them and blowing raspberries in rebuke.

We got to feed lovebirds, hold makaws and a huge iguana then watch the staff feed the sharks (I didn’t find out what kind of shark, but definitely not Great Whites!) before we had some very expensive drinks and ice cream. Just after midday, those on the Encounter were packed off for their briefing and we watched the start of their activities before heading to the other side of the resort for our own.

Fortunately, before we actually met the dolphins, Gillian made her way over to take charge of Little Miss – and also brought Little Miss with her. The winds had picked up and the choppy waters had made it difficult for her to complete everything, so the staff had said she could do the Touch as well.

As myself and the two kids made our way down to meet Mitch, the bottle-nose, a member of staff walked past asking if a very nice Palladium ring belonged to any of us. Erm, yes, actually. It was my wedding ring!

I’d put it into the baby bag to keep it safe as you’re not supposed to wear jewellery while interacting with the dolphins in case it scratches them. Thing is, Gillian had managed to drop it out of the bag while recovering her own rings! Full marks for honest staff!

AAAAARRRR (c) Iain Purdie

The Touch itself was wonderful. Despite the number of things I have done in my travels, being this close to dolphins wasn’t one of them and the 10 minutes or so we got was fantastic.

Cupping our hands had Mitch swim up and place his beak in our palms, pose for a photo them accept a kiss on the nose. Little Mister was faultless. I honestly thought he’d be too nervous, but with just a hand to steady him in case he fell he did everything perfectly with the biggest grin on his face.

We next got a quick guide to the dolphin’s body with demonstrations of many of the “pieces” (fins and echo-location, mainly), followed by a quick swim-past by Mitch to allow us another chance to stroke him.

I enjoyed it – the kids absolutely loved it. We’ve already decided we want to come back and do the top package where you get lifted up in the air by two dolphins pushing your feet.

Even the burgers and chips we paid a small fortune for were good, and the souvenirs are the right kind of cheesy. We haggled over a photo/DVD package as we had a split group over two activites and got all the photos from both plus a DVD of the main group for $120. Not cheap, but still less than the $160+tax it should have cost.

Yes, while the initial entry fee isn’t bad they really do hammer you for the paid activities. They are good, though. Gillian wanted to do the shark feed and there’s also a chance to snorkel with sting rays but they weren’t on due to the repair work. If you’re only going to get one chance in your life to do this kind of thing, then this must be as good a place as you can to do it.

Expensive, yes? But can you put a price on a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience?

A really good day out made all the better by it being the day we returned to the Club resort after our brief re-housing at the Fun.

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Русский: Флаг Ямайки Slovenščina: državna zast...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I know we’ve been home a month now and I’ve not got the posts up yet. Sorry! This will be redressed shortly!

The blog posts are (in the main) written, they’re just on my netbook and I’ve not had the time to get the things edited, pictures added and uploads done.

I’m aiming to get it all done this weekend, if not sooner.

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