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my travel experience in Vietnam!

Vietnam - 25 May 13

Southeast Asia is the best region in the world to travel on a budget. There’s no other place where you can sleep comfortably, eat ridiculously well, and see a variety of incredible sites without blowing the bank. Vietnam is definitely one of those countries where your money can go very far. For example, my boyfriend and I travelled through the country at the end of 2012 for 20 days and averaged about $56 USD a day…for the two of us. We used the well-connected bus system to travel down the length of the country, stayed in private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, and experienced a variety of activities and sites.
Transportation
Getting around Vietnam is very easy and straightforward. There’s both a rail and bus network that links the entire country, north to south. Both options are comfortable and nonsense free.
If you’re planning to travel the length of the country and want to make a number of stops along the way, consider picking up an “Open Bus” or “Open Tour” ticket. For around $50-60 USD (note, prices vary by bus company), you can get a ticket that will allow you to stop into six of Vietnam’s main destinations, including Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Lat, and Ho Chi Minh City. You can stay in each destination as long as you want, but you must notify the bus company 24hrs in advance to reserve a seat on the next bus. For travel between Hanoi and Hue, and Hoi An and Nha Trang, opt for the overnight bus and save on a nights accommodation. Check out Sinh Café for a complete list of bus routes and ticket combinations.
Once you’re at your destination, your transportation options open up. Most of Vietnam’s cities are small enough that you can walk the majority of them or even rent a bicycle and explore them on your own. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the traffic is so dense and chaotic, you’ll want an experienced driver to get you around. Cyclos are popular for a leisurely tour in Hanoi as is flagging down a motorbike, hopping on the back, and holding on for dear life. Make sure to negotiate the rate beforehand to avoid any disagreements once you reach your destination.

Accommodation
There’s a lot of nice accommodations to be found throughout Vietnam within the $12-$16 USD price range. For this price, you’ll get two twin beds or one double bed, an ensuite bathroom, a fan (sometimes even air conditioning), and usually breakfast and free wifi. It’s difficult to book cheap accommodation in advance as many hotels and guesthouses don’t have websites. When you get to your destination, find out where the backpacker area is and check out a few places. Always ask to see the room first and don’t be afraid to visit a few places before choosing on one. Ask about whether or not breakfast and wifi is included. It could be worth paying an extra dollar or two if both of those are included.
Activities and Attractions
There are so many things to do in Vietnam from cruising Halong Bay, to visiting the museums and palaces, to some thrill seeking activities for the adventurous traveller. Some activities are best experienced on a tour or with a guide, including Halong Bay, Sapa, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and any sporting activities in Da Lat. A number of other attractions can be done on your own and only cost a few dollars to enter, including a water puppet show, the Army and Prison Museums in Hanoi, the Citadel and Imperial Palace in Hue, and the Reunification Palace and War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

Food
Travelling through Vietnam on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll be sacrificing quality when it comes to your food choices. In fact, you’ll be so amazed at what you’ll be able to get for just a few dollars. How is this possible? Two words: street food.
One of the best and cheapest dishes you can get is pho. Made with either chicken or beef, this noodle soup is a street-food staple and will only set you back about $1.50 a bowl. Little sandwich carts also set up on most corners making banh mi, a sandwich made with meat and vegetables, stuffed in a large baguette, perfect for breakfast or packed for a long bus ride. For fresh fruit, make a stop into anyone of the many markets throughout the country.
For the coffee lovers out there, you’ll definitely want to try Vietnamese iced coffee. Made with crushed ice, dark roasted coffee, and a fair amount of sweetened condensed milk, this drink will have your taste buds dancing, for under $1.
If you like to drink, you’ll want to keep on eye on your alcohol spending, because at around $1 for a bottle of beer, you could blow your budget in no time.
Miscellaneous
Most guesthouses offer laundry service priced by the kilogram, with the going rate around $1USD per 1kg. I personally don’t like hand washing my clothes in a sink, so to pay $5 to have all my clothes cleaned is a bargain for me. Postal service in Vietnam is the cheapest in the region (compared to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand). We paid around $30USD for a 6.5kg box, which arrived about a couple months later. Internet is widely available throughout Vietnam and many guesthouses and hotels offer them as part of the room rate.

hope that my above experience will be useful to people who are going to travel in Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries. Furthermore, the website of http:www.littlevietnamtours.com is also a place you can find huge information about history, culture, culinary, geography, weather, etc of three Indochina countries including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Are you ready to leave?

The Top 5 Hotels in Singapore

Singapore

People chose hotels for different reasons.  Whether it’s fine dining, or the spa, this list compiles 5 of the best in Singapore.

Fine Dining

Shangri-la hotel

An all day restaurant buffet?  Well when the buffet consists of 16 different live cooking stations featuring a wide range of international cusine, then this can hardly be considered a standard buffet.  With stylish décor and premium wine to accompany the fine food, and the fact that this is only one of seven incredible dining options at Shangri-la, makes this hotel a delectable choice.

Service and Style

The Fullerton Bay Hotel

Named ‘Best New Business Hotel Worldwide’ by Business Traveller 2012 and ‘Singapore’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel’ in the World Travel Awards 2012 and ranking third on Trip Advisor, only narrowly being edged out by Raffles (below), and the newer newer, less reviewed Forest by Wangz, it appears there is a lot of love for the Fullerton Hotel.  Situated minutes from many of Singapores top attractions, with gymnasium, swimming pool, a plethora of restaurants with service at unbeatable standards, this hotel offers character and quality in abundance.

Best Spa

Winner “Best Luxury Hotel Spa 2011″  by World Luxury Hotel and Spa Awards, St. Gregory at Pan Pacific Singapore is a top choice for those looking to indulge in the ultimate in relaxation on their stay in Singapore.   With a fitness centre, tennis courts and luxury swimming pool also available in this 5 star business hotel, it is another top choice in Singapore.

Best Pool

Marina Bay Sands

It’s not often you get a pool with a view, but this pool provides a simply stunning view of the city from a pool that appears to just drop off the side of the building, hence the name ‘The Infinity Pool.’  Located at the top of three 55 story towers which are joined by a one hectare sky park, this is one of the most incredible views you will ever have from the comfort of the hotel pool.   With a super casino below, with a variety of restaurants and theatres, this hotel offers an incredible overall experience.

Historic

The Raffles Hotel

If money is no object, or at least not a huge concern, then why look any further than staying in one of the most iconic places in Singapore?  Synonymous with the country with over 100 years of history, it began life on the coast, but due to land reclamation from the sea it now stands over 500 metres from the sea.

Declared a national monument in 1989, the Raffles hotel has had symbolic significance for Singaporeans.  During the war it was the scene of the last stand against the Japanese invasion by the British colonials.  It was subsequently renamed  Syonan Ryokan by the Japanese upon its capture.  After the war and the Japanese occupation, it was used as a transit camp for prisoners of war.

The world renowned Singapore Sling cocktail, which is mostly comprised of gin and pineapple juice, among several other ingredients, was created in the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.  The hotel’s rich history can all be found in the museum which the hotel houses.  Along with more modern features developed from its $160 million renovation in 1989 such as the theatre, shopping suites and swimming, the Raffles Hotel is a reason in itself to visit Singapore.

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Whether you’re visiting Singapore for business or fancy a trip to one of the most developed places in the far east, make sure you have enough insurance coverage to cover any issues that may arise while abroad. There are a number of travel insurance companies to choose from, so choose wisely.

Going Down! – Why is the city of Venice Sinking into The Lagoon

November 2012 has seen the city of Venice flooded once again. The Aqua Alta or high tides of the autumn have always been a problem for the city but floods are becoming more common and recent surveys have revealed that the city is sinking at a faster rate than previously thought. Why was the city built in such a vulnerable position and can it be saved from disappearing into the lagoon?

Foundation

The Venice area was first inhabited in the 5th century when refugees fled from invaders to the safety of the small islands in the lagoon. A Greek immigrant called Antinipo who was amongst the settlers invented a new construction method which enabled housing to be erected on the boggy land. He created a base layer of stone, reed and willow then sank wooden piles into the ground covering these with more stone. The foundations proved secure and the area was gradually colonised and expanded with the arrival of more refugees from new invasions. The economy of the lagoon flourished over the centuries based on shipping, fishing and salt and Venice became a powerful city state and imperial power whose location was easy to defend due to be surrounded by water.

The Threat of the Water

Venice has always been threatened by the very water that helped defend it. The city often suffered from flooding due to storms and seasonal high tides but by the 16th century a different problem had emerged. Rivers flowing down from the mountains were depositing large amounts of silt and sediment into the lagoon to the extent that officials feared the lagoon would fill up leaving it vulnerable to attack and ruining the shipping trade. A huge project was initiated to divert the course of the rivers flowing into the lagoon and after several failed attempts the plan succeeded.  The locals then found themselves having to concentrate their efforts on defending Venice from the ravages of the sea. Water levels had risen since the foundation of the city and the residents could not have known that their settlement had been built on land which was slowly sinking due to tectonic plate movement slowly forcing the area towards and under the Apennine mountain range. For centuries the Venetians erected flood defences made of shrubs, breakwaters and piles and in the 18th century constructed a wall fashioned from stone and Puzzolano clay using new technology developed in Tuscany and Rome.  The project solved the problem temporarily but the earth was still moving towards the mountains and by the 20th century a new threat was emerging.

20th Century

In the early 20th century the region saw a marked increase in industrialisation and cruise ship traffic. The lagoon was heavily dredged to deepen the shipping lanes to facilitate increased traffic and larger ships. Unfortunately there was an unforeseen side effect to this work. The huge current created by the shipping began to wash large amounts of sand and pebbles out into the sea weakening the protection of the city’s foundations. In addition water was being extracted from below ground to support the industrial development and this was also accelerating the subsidence of the city. The practice was halted at the end of the century and it was believed that the sinking of Venice had been arrested but now it appears that the city is still moving in the wrong direction.

Sinking

Precise measurements of the sea level have only been made since 1872 but references can be taken from the highly accurate images in the paintings of 18th century artist Canaletto. These reveal that the city has sunk more than 60cms since that time. 2012 surveys have now shown that Venice is sinking at the rate of 2mm per year and at the same time global ice melting is causing the sea level to rise at 2mm per annum. Little wonder that floods are becoming more prevalent and worryingly more severe. The November 2012 floods were the 6th worst recorded in 150 years with 70% of the city centre being under water. Tourists were seen swimming in Piazza San Marco and everywhere people were donning their wellington boots to move around. Residents are being severely affected by the influx of water. In addition to the impact on tourism many have had to abandon using the ground floors of their properties and buildings are being sliced open at the waterline in order to raise them onto higher foundations.

The Future

A huge construction project called Moses to erect new flood defences is not due to be completed until 2014. 78 steel boxes are being anchored on the floor at the mouth of the lagoon. When high waters threaten the city air will be pumped into the chambers which will rise to the surface and form a barrier allowing less flood water to pass. The project is costing up to €7 billion but many have doubts over whether it will work. Others believe the system will hold back the water but, with the seas levels rising, will have to be deployed so often that it will have a catastrophic effect on the environment. Venice has a poor sewage and drainage system. Large volumes of industrial waste, rubbish and sewage are washed into the lagoon every day. The waste normally migrates out to sea but the new flood defences would prevent this natural movement with possibly dire consequences. Meanwhile there are still many who refuse to believe that the city is sinking so rapidly. Who can really know what the future will bring but it is certainly not looking good at the moment. If you are thinking of paying a visit to this most beautiful of cities before it disappears make sure you take your wellies!

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Sally writes on a variety of interesting subjects for Westmount Living

Japan – Aichi Prefecture

japan castle

After the country suffered greatly at the end of World War II, in a few short years, Japan transformed itself into one of the world’s biggest economies, with their electronics and cars topping the sales tables globally. Despite the economic downturn and the devastating earthquake which struck the north of the country, many of the biggest companies are still based in Japan. One of the regions, or prefectures, in Japan with the highest concentration of industry is Aichi, in the south of the main island.

Toyota

Everyone’s heard of Toyota as a brand of Japanese vehicles, but it’s more surprising to learn that there is a city of the same name in Aichi too. The company was formed just before the outbreak of WW2, and started off producing passenger vehicles and engines. They soon diversified into light trucks and pick-ups and pioneered Japanese production techniques such as quality management and just in time inventory control, which lowered the cost of the end vehicle and drastically improved quality. Toyota has also moved into other markets such as getting involved in F1 racing, hybrid vehicles with the top selling Prius and robotics.

Lexus

Part of Toyota’s diversification was a move into the luxury car market, and the brand of Lexus was born in 1989. Lexus has been successful in taking on the European luxury car manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes with its range of vehicles which are competitively priced and full of all the latest gadgets and gizmos. As well as standard saloon cars, Lexus produces a range of larger SUV type vehicles and also more environmentally friendly hybrid models.

Noro

If you’re a knitter, you’ll definitely have heard of Noro yarn, and this also comes from the same small area of Japan. The company was founded by Eisaku Noro and produces a range of high-quality space dyed yarn which produces a distinctive stripey pattern when it is made into sweaters, scarves or socks. Noro yarn is unusual in that the company often combine several different fibres together to form the end product and this makes it popular with knitters and crochet fans across the world.

Brother Industries

It may not sound particularly Japanese, but Brother Industries is one of the biggest electronics companies based in Aichi. It was founded in the early part of the 20th century as Yasui Sewing, and for the early years concentrated on supplying sewing machines to the domestic market. The main focus of the business remained sewing machines until the 1970s, when people started to move away from making their own clothes at home. Now Brother produces a vast range of electronics products including printers, fax machines and industrial machine tools.

NGK

If you’ve even serviced your own car, you’ll be familiar with the brand of NGK sparkplugs. It originates in Aichi but now manufactures all over the world, including factories in Germany and California. NGK has won several industry awards for the quality of its products, and is one of the most recognised automotive brands in the world.

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Japanese yarn ‘Noro Yarn‘ can be bought online here in the UK from specialist yarn and knitting retailers such as Pack Lane Wool.