Tuesday 11 July 2017

Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls

I was fortunate to go on an Air New Zealand Brokers / Adventure World famil to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls (26 may - 2 June).  To be fair we were on a whirlwind trip - 5 days - 3 nights in Buenos Aires and 2 in Iguazu.
Buenos Aires is a newish destination for Air New Zealand and as a destination or stopover for South American or Europe fares is a great option.

They say that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America and where we stayed in Recoleta this was definitely the case.  Think Park Lane/ Mayfair /5th Avenue and their Paris equivalent.

We stayed at the Intersur Hotel which is in a great location in Recoleta.  Recoleta is a wealthy area and so there was good security and we happily wandered around at night to the restaurants nearby.  There is a big supermarket 5 mins away and a fantastic wine shop minutes away.
That first night we all headed off (2 Blocks or so away from our hotel) to dinner at El Sanjuanino (there site doesn't appear to be in English so I have included the Time Out Version) .  I had great Empanadas (I chose a selection) and every one enjoyed their meal - various meals ordered.  We also discovered what was to be our favourite night cap place - La Biela. 

On occasions we were the only women there (at night) but the staff were amazing, the service was great and the pizzas we had on the first day were covered in the world's best olives and mushrooms! 

Day 1 after arriving on the Dreamliner the night before, which is a great aircraft, we did a half day tour (good four hours) with our amazing guide Andrea of the local area.  This included the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried (Cementerio de la Recoletta, Plaza San Martin, Alvear Avenue and generally the local area.  A great tour led by an amazing guide.

There is a market on a Saturday just in front of La Biela and the other restaurants with out door seating in the area which sold art, handbags, crafts etc and we happily wandered around the stalls.  It is also within walking distance to the stunning Floralis Generica. Libby had dragged me and Linda over the bridge to nowhere in search of  the elusive flower which is actually massive!  It definitely warrants a more close up view!

That evening we went to La Ventana Dinner and Tango Show .  The dinner was amazing as was the show but I have to confess that I was so shattered, I struggled to keep my eyes open (no reflection of the show but a more my ability to cope with back to back trips with multiple time zones!)

The next day we flew out to Iguazu.  (NB. and this is a biggie the baggage allowance whilst 1 piece is only 15kgs so most of us were over- travel agents never travel light!!)
We stayed at the Mercure Iru hotel which is a lovely, newish hotel surrounded by the jungle (think mosquito spray!!).  That afternoon we headed into the local town which had lots of touristy shops (it was sunday so a lot of places were closed ) and instead of stopping at the first bar where most of the group did  a few of us checked out the town and discovered the local area. A maze of local shops, restaurants and local drinking spots where we discovered the best olives ever, salami and cheeses and stumbled across what was to be our next nights restaurant.

We had a nice crack of dawn start (I'm never good at that time of day ) to do our full day tour of the Argentinian side of Iguzau falls with our guide Alex where we caught the train to Estacion Cataratas to Estacion Gargantawhere we walked along the 1200m trail to the most spectacular fall, Devils Throat (Garganta del Diablo).  After lunch we did an 8 km truck ride through the rainforest  and then onto our boatride to reach the bottom of San Martin, Bosetty, Tres Mosqueteros and Canon de Garganta del Diablo falls down the river and up to Puerto Macuco.  (what seemed like right under the waterfall - amazing experience but expect to get wet). I recommend doing the trip in this order as getting as close to the falls whilst we were warned about getting wet and the need for ponchos, rain coats etc - nothing prepares you for this.  I can see now why several of the people (young girls who could carry it off) on the boat came in bikinis despite the weather!!
Amazing experience and well worth getting wet for.  As we ended up at the Sheraton Iguazu falls we did a site inspection there.
Several of the others did a helicopter ride over the falls from the Brazilian side and said it was amazing -Helisul.  Alex generously offered to drive them.

My best photos videos are on Instagram -kiwitravelguru

Dinner for the group was at Lo De Ramona . Carlos who we had met the night before and his business partner (two great guys) were fantastic hosts.  Normally they are closed on Monday but were open for us and we had the best pizza from their outdoor pizza oven, beautiful beef on individual mini barbeque spits and the most fantastic hospitality.  We BYO'd wine that he organised with one of the other shops/stalls and it was a great night.

The next day (another crack of dawn start) we crossed the International bridge Trancredo Neves that joins the cities of Puerto Iguazu (Argentina) and Foz do Iguazu (brasil) for the half day tour of the Brazilian side of the falls with out guide Alex again.
We saw Rio Iguazu Canyon, Salta Rivadavia and Tres Mosqueteros before eventually getting to Devils Throat Lower View point 200m away .  The tour ends at Salto Floriano where an elevator took us to the bus parking area to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires. 
Again you are going to get wet with the spray so a poncho is a great option!

That evening we were collected from the hotel for our Argentinian Experience Evening which entailed making our own empanada's , enjoying the very best steak in Argentina, having the amazing dulce de leche for desert ,all matched with amazing Argentinian wine and got taught the history and etiquette of mate, Argentina's favourite pastime.   A great night out and clearly some creative chefs amongst us when it came to preparing your own shaped empanada.  The Kiwi shaped one won the competition!!

On our final day we travelled to Tigre Town through the various northern neighbourhoods, onto a catamaran ( sturla) to navigate the rivers and streams of the Parana River Delta, where we saw many amazing houses, weekend houses, clubs and amazing buildings before heading to the old fruit market , Puerto de Frutos, now full of what seems trendy furniture shops.  If only we had more baggage allowance!

Many of the others went to do a graffiti/La Boca tour that afternoon and the photos were amazing but I had work to do and to be honest just needed some time out before flying out that evening.  On Andrea's recommendation I did go around the corner (a couple of blocks) to buy a wrap from (Estilo Uru - she said it wasn't cheap but was the best!)  They do leather as well as shawls etc...definitely not the cheapest but I was pretty happy with my only purchase.

Ideally we would have gone to Floreria Atlantico for dinner on the last night which is a florist by day but by going through the fridge door is a restaurant/ bar by night.  The others didn't get back until 6pm and we had to leave to fly back at 9.30/10pm so too tight but it was came strongly recommended.

It was an amazing trip with a fantastic bunch of ladies...(colleagues) and I am grateful to Rebecca from Adventure World and for their fantastic land arrangements, our amazing guides, my great roomie, Libby who will be investing in some earplugs for the next rooming session,  and of course Tracey from our support team who did a great job of managing a group of fun but strong minded (and not always crack of dawn start) women!!

Buenos Aires/ Argentina is a destination and not just a stopover so I hope you take the time to really enjoy it.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Last week in Hoi An and and my last two nights away chilling at the beach in Danang...

My last week in Hoi An (Ancient town part) was a far more social/fun one and I had a great time.

I did a site inspection/checked out the Anantara Resort which is a stunning hotel just down the road from my house which also overlooks the river .  It is truly a beautiful property and the nicest, close to the Ancient/old town hotel I have seen.  To be fair its 5 star and should be.
Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me so best to checkout the photos on instagram - kiwitravelguru

Also close to my house and the central market was The Ha An Hotel.  A nice hotel with a pool and all rooms had an outdoor area or balcony.  Again a great option for an easy walk into town for all the shops, restaurants.

I finally found Hito Café  (344/2 Nguyen Duy Hieu St ) which I knew was just around the corner from my place and had gone looking for it since I moved to the house in March after meeting one of the owners at the March expats get-together.  Run by two great guys, that serve great coffee and food.  It is off the main road down (which is why I kept missing it and they were just going to put the signs back up which had come off. ) .  It is truly a hidden gem - a lovely space and comes complete with two of the cutest kittens.  Make the effort to find it ...it is well worth it.

Another coffee place which was also around the corner from me was Mia Coffee which I could always grab a good takeaway coffee and Panini on a busy workwise day.

I spent the 26-30 April at The Historic Hotel Hoi An as my lease was up.  I could have stayed the extra 4 days at my place, but it was getting hotter I was hanging out for a pool again and to justify it I believe it is always better to stay at a hotel to really recommend it!  They also generously offered me an agents rate at a busy time.
The historic Hotel has big rooms, a great pool area and while in a different location to the Anantara or Ha An it is minutes away from the old town.  They provide a free shuttle to Cua Dai where they use the private beach of the Hoi An Beach hotel (I think ...as I didn't see any other ones out that way and to be fair I didn't use it as I hung out at the pool).

I got my legs waxed (again) at the Hoi An Day Spa which was nice and handy (as I was now around the corner at the Historic Hotel although I had gone there previously on a recommendation) and the ladies there were fantastic.  Not a single hair was missed thanks to a fluorescent lamp /strobe light .  A very unique but thorough wax job.

I caught up with Cath, an Australian expat also working remotely for some great wine and the best money bags (huge...and packed with shrimp etc) I've ever had at White Marble .They have Vietnamese and Hoi An Cuisine along with light snacks (and meals) but wine and platters worked for us. They have premium international wine list with 13 wines by the glass - heaven!!  Actually last time I was here I went there and had a glass of wine but had no idea it was the best in town.
To be honest as it was so close to the hotel I went back the next night for the money bags and a glass of wine.

On the Friday before I left town I caught up with Sharon (Hoi An Now) and her friends for dinner at MIX (Greek restaurant - up from the Japanese bridge) which I had heard so many good things about.  Great food, lovely owners and we timed it well as there were people waiting outside to get in.  It deserves the amazing reviews it gets.  Another great night out.
While you are probably questioning the logic of going to a Greek restaurant in Vietnam, the reality is after 8 weeks of mainly Vietnamese food which I love, it was really good to have a change and the idea of going was to check out as many great options as possible.....all about research.

I  then spend my last two nights at the Pullman Danang Beach Resort who on a busy long weekend/ Vietnamese holiday gave me an agents rate.  It was more than I wanted to spend but so worth it.  It was the perfect ending to an amazing 2 months.  I just loved it...so chilled - I loved my room, the beach and the pool.  I spend my first night just chilling in a cabana (sort of) lounger on the beach listening to music on my headphones until about 10pm.  It took me that long to get through the very strong 2 for 1 cocktails from 6pm.  The staff just delivered the second after I had finally finished the first one (well after the happy hour had finished) and ended up having dinner there (on my lounger).
It's an amazing stretch of beach along from the public Khe My Beach  (china Beach)....same beach just further down.  Pools are great and the one at the Pullman was amazing ( I even had it all to myself first thing in the morning for some laps before breakfast) but in my opinion you can't beat swimming in the sea. The sea floor dropped steeply a couple of times and there were big waves but that's the beauty of the beach/sea!

I had a 90 minute hot stone massage on my last day (before I flew out) at the Ocean Spa (17 An Thuong 5 St, Ngu Hahn Son -email - spaocean7@gmail.com) which was just heavenly and I think I paid USD$15/17 + Tip for it. I swear I was so relaxed that I slept for probably an hour of it.

I went into Danang for dinner on my last night and had the most amazing pita bread and dips and crab cakes  at the Waterfront Restaurant and Bar.  After wandering the streets near the hotel in search of a recommended restaurant that I couldn't find , (I jumped in a cab in the end and went to the Waterfront). I got there too late to want a full meal but it what I had was great and it looks out onto the waterfront which is a bit of a promenade. 
Danang city is pretty amazing at night all lit up and again I think is an underrated city and I wish I had taken more time to check it out but I didn't.

How time flies...8 weeks away seems like a long time and the first 3 weeks in Hoi An were a bit lonely, I will admit. Much better after I met a few expats (and travellers) and had people to dine with.  I should have posted on the Hoi An Expats face book page seeking people to catch up for dinner with earlier!

In reality I worked as if I was home (march is always normally a busy Europe/Asia/USA early bird big sale month...April with school holidays and Easter is generally quieter so gave me a chance to check out some more hotels etc and chill a wee bit) so my vision of getting up at 6 am and working until 1 pm and having all afternoon off everyday didn't really eventuate!
Still I'm not complaining ...I had a ball.  I met some amazing people, ate and drank at some very cool places, did some great tours, and stayed at or viewed some amazing hotels. 

It was much busier than it was 4 years ago when I was last there, (more motorbikes/cars where before it was more push bikes) and it's definitely growing -a 'Second Hoi An'  development is in progress currently 
Hoi An has been voted in the top 10 places in the world to visit (The Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards 2016, voted Vietnam’s Hoi An as their readers/voters favourite city in the world to visit) so you have to expect that it will get busier.
Years ago as an agent I would have given a money back guarantee on Hoi An as everyone I sent there loved it.  To be honest as an agent I would never give a money back guarantee as there are always people who would be upset by a day of rain, or a mosquito bite, or the sight of a cockroach that supposedly ruined their whole holiday  - fortunately they are not my clients.
The Ancient/old town is a pretty town -stunning with all its lanterns lit up at night and well worth the visit.
And whilst it is getting busier, it's still a fantastic place to visit or live.....and I would go back in a heartbeat.

A big thanks to the amazing people I met and for the great contacts as a result,  to my gorgeous landlords (who spoke no English) who lived next door and their daughter who did (speak English) for making my working remotely experiment so fantastic.


Saturday 3 June 2017

Only two weeks left working remotely from Hoi An...

Only two weeks left ...where did the time go...

My 2nd to last week...

Easter weekend so pretty quiet work wise for me so I caught up with Tracey from Wide Eyed Tours at Felina Cantina (An Bang beach) where they serve the best tacos and if I could bottle his special sauce and sell it here I would be worth millions!!
Tracey showed me around the new hotel that Travis from Wide Eyed Tours is building in An Bang as well as several of their villas.  The  villas are in their brochures and on Expedia etc and a great option for families/ groups of friends and quite unique to Hoi An and An Bang would definitely be my preferred spot - a  mere VND80000-100000 (USD$4-5) from the ancient town but it is so chilled if I had my time again and I hadn't come in the high season would have opted to live out there.
On the way back into town I checked out Essence Hoi An.  Loveliest staff and all the rooms were lovely - modern but with a touch of Vietnamese influence.  The new wing has some higher level accommodation with its own full own deck option which I loved and their own pool/bar etc and soon to have butler service.  The room in their original wing look out onto the paddy field which is an amazing outlook.  Slightly out of the ancient town but bikes to use and transfers into town and the beach. Two pools on the property for both the old (not that old ) and new wing.
The other hotel I checked out is the semi newly opened Lasenta Hotel.  Beautiful hotel, modern rooms and an infinity pool over looking the paddy fields. Important to note however that the infinity pool isn't huge and as I was there in high Season (not NZ's but everyone else's apparently)  that it appeared cramped and staff as lovely as they were hard to converse with.  Still a great location half way between the ancient town and An Bang.
No photos to share sadly as I didn't have my camera with me but they are on my Instagram page under kiwitravelguru

That Friday (Good Friday in fact but as Easter is not celebrated it felt like just another day- no Easter esggs or hot cross buns in Hoi An - not a bad thing if you look at it in a diet way! ) I did the Vespa Adventures Street and eat tour which was great.  Fantastic guide and safe drivers and I got to see parts of Hoi An I hadn't got to in the last 7 weeks.  Amazing food , a trip down the river to set off lit candles and make a wish that I never did during a full moon because of the insane crowds, and plied with alcohol along the way. I ended up on a tour with some English expats working in Hong Kong making the most of the long weekend (1.5 hr flight for them).  Great group, and I can't recommend it highly enough.  I wouldn't recommend it for my folks in their 70's as I wouldn't trust them to be on the back of a bike but the guide and the drivers were great and as I said before the food was amazing.  One of the English Hong Kong expats had done it before and talked his friends into doing it again...and if that's not a recommendation I don't know what is!

Obviously in your last few weeks you finally think about tailoring (in a city that it renowned for it) .  My landlords daughter took me to her friend around the corner from where I lived (I believe you should shop locally) to Huy Bao (49 Phan Boi St) who made me two amazing pairs of boots and handbags to match along with a birthday present hang bag for my sister (made to her measurements!).  The shoes were made to measure and I picked out the leather , heel type and style and were rapt with them. 
I went into the Yaly(  358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St Shop) and picked up some great winter (ie NZ weather dresses) but the reality is that for one of the dresses (a premade dresses that I saw there and liked that they copied which I had to get them to modify ( shorter armpits etc..) I  went in for 5 fittings for it still to be not quite right. The average stay in Hoi an is 3-5 days so it would not have been long enough had I not had more time and it being just around the corner.  To be fair they have a huge number of stores and clearly an army of tailors and like every tailor I went to make it their mission to get it right. they are known to be the best and generally charged more for that reason .
Across the road was Blue Lantern Tailor (331 NguyenDuy Hieu St) who made some amazing copies of a De Nada dress and went out of their way (on the back of the motor bike to 4 fabric shops to find the perfect material ) to meet my expectations. My sisters friends who were passing through got a woollen coat, dress and other items made in 2 days that they were rapt with it.
Two days before I left I used a tailor Bao Diep (which was close to the Hoi An Historic Hotel) -28 Tran Hung Dao St.  I had a picture of a merino hooded top/jacket that I wanted copied.  Given that it was made out of cashmere/wool it turned out great.  It did have to be tweaked a few times and I'm grateful for their patience with the changes I wanted done in such a short amount of time!
The reality is with Tailoring that unless you are copying something or want a basic shirt/dress/suit made you have to allow time and days for refitting which most don't.

Friends of my sister's were passing through Hoi An so I took them to one of m favourite places Lantern Town Restaurant - 49 Nguyễn Thái Học - the email address if you want to book is lanterntownhoian@Gmail.com (where I had meet the owner previously and sold them on the amazing duck spring rolls). Sadly our pre drinks took longer and they had run out . But they went back the next day for dinner when I was out with other friends and agreed with my recommendation.  To be fair all there dishes were great but any duck dish there is to die for. 
We went across the river from the old town where the bars are open later and had a quick look at the night markets and had a few drinks at a bar along the river before being chucked around midnight (my latest night out in  the whole 8 weeks away!!).  Its not recommended to use a motorbike taxi at that time of night - use a proper taxi if its too far to walk back to your hotel from.
I also took them to my other favourites Felina Catina and Soul Kitchen at An Bang the following night and we had a great time.

That weekend I had booked myself to stay out at Victoria Beach Resort.  I first saw the resort in 2004 on a famil and sadly the beach out the front has been badly eroded away but the hotel does have its own really nice private beach next to hotel and I can see why so many of my clients have opted to return to the resort year after year. The hotel generously upgraded me to a deluxe ocean view room which was fantastic.  Its a lovely property. 

While staying at the Victoria Beach Resort (out at Cua Dai Beach) I took the opportunity to have a look at some of the other hotels in the area.
Hoi An Beach Hotel is across from the beach and backs onto the river.  They have their own private beach across the road.  Two pools, nice rooms and nice and handy to all the restaurants, mini mart etc.

Along the road from the Victoria Beach Resort is Golden Sand Resort and Spa which has a massive pool and all the rooms have balconies.

Along from there is Sunrise Premium Resort and Spa which is the newest of the 3 along this stretch of road (Thanh Nien Road).  It is the furthest way from where a lot of the restaurants were but there were places across the road.  The only room type I could see was the deluxe room which was lovely but has more of a Juliet balcony - ie you can open up the sliding doors but there is no where to go. Out of the Victoria, Hoi Beach Resort, Golden Sands this is the most modern. 

 The last Hotel I checked out in the area was the Palm Garden Resort which is on a different stretch of Cua Dai Beach and has a great beach front area as well as pool etc.  Its a big resort nicely spread out and again has been a favourite for some of my clients in the past.

The Cua Dai beach area is still only 4-5 USD in a cab to get to the old town with many of the hotels offering shuttles into the Ancient/old town area.

After a relaxing weekend at the beach I headed back to my house in town and on the sunday night (4-7pm - I think I finally left at 9!) I went to the Hoi An Expats monthly (April) social gathering at O'Malley's Bar and Grill (part of the Anantara Resort) which conveniently was minutes away from where my house is. The charity of choice this month was the Hoi An orphanage.  Perfect for me as I often grab the toothbrushes etc at hotels that I stay at to give to either Ronald McDonald house or women's refuge at home. Naturally they welcomed them and it was less excess baggage for me.
I met up with some people I had met at the March get-together and organised to catch up with a few of them for my last week in town.
Amongst other expats I had met previously, I caught up again with Sharon and Stewart from Hoi An Now  who are a lovely couple who run the website and are a wealth of information. It is a must check out site if heading over to Hoi An as it is an insiders' guide for tourists and expats about everything Hoi An. Activities, restaurants, shopping, essential information, family, tours.

Now only one week in town to go...

Thursday 13 April 2017

Hue and the heat...

Hue, the Imperial City is so underrated and I feel guilty for generally only recommending stays of 1 or 2 nights at most to my clients in the past.  It is such a pretty city and so relaxing by comparison to some of the other cities.  I'm so glad that I finally went...
The only negative was that it was hot...so hot.

I booked myself a private transfer from Hoi An to Hue with Hoi An Private cars as I needed to work in the morning and had a booked a food tour for the evening in Hue so the buses and train (both considerably cheaper but longer and less flexible options) times didn't work.  On the way you drive pass the beautiful My Khe beach in Danang - A stunning stretch of beach formally referred to, during the war, as China Beach.  We stopped at the summit of Hai Van pass for me to take some photos before driving pass the lovely Lang Co beach and onto Hue.  It's a good 2.5 to 3 hours drive and the roads are pretty good and with the exception of the odd dodgy overtake on corners it was a great drive.


I had booked myself into the Hotel Saigon Morin which is in a great location in the heart of Hue, with fantastic views of view of  the Truong Tien Bridge (which is lit up at night with changing colours) and Perfume River. The Morin is a lovely colonial style hotel originally built in 1901 and refurbished in 1997.  Huge rooms and in my case a balcony looking out to the river.

I had booked myself on Urban Adventures 'Royal City Street Eats' which is an evening food tour by cyclo where I sampled some of Hue's best local dishes and ended up at the Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion for coffee (inside the Citidel) which was just stunning. 
The following morning I met up with Van (who also took my tour last night), and did a Hue city tour (again with Urban Adventures)which included a walking tour of the Citadel, a visit to the Dong Ba Market, a vegan lunch at a local monastery (Pagoda), a visit to the  seven-tiered Thien Mu Pagoda, and a relaxing cruise back to the hotel along the Perfume River.  I also tried making incense sticks -its safe to say I won't be giving up my day job!.
Van, spoke very good English, was knowledgeable about the history and culture and made both tours interesting and enjoyable.

On the second night I had a nice meal at Stop and Go Café which was just around the corner from the hotel and on the last night I ate along the riverfront at Ancient Town Restaurant.  A lovely spot away from the stalls and shops along the walking street.

While I was in Hue I went and looked at a few other hotels - Eldora, Scarlett Boutique Hotel, Alba Spa Hotel, La Residence and Indochine Palace.  All lovely hotels with their own unique selling points.

I booked a transfer back with Stop and Go Tours (same place as the restaurant) and my driver Hung would have to have been the best driver I have had in Vietnam to date.

Back to Hoi An in time for the full moon but I opted to avoid the Ancient Town after last month and ate around the corner, complete with a lion/dragon dance put on.

That day and night were incredibly hot and the next day it was already 33 degrees at 8am.  We had a power cut for 30 minutes and I thought I was going to die (from the heat).  Normally there is a great breeze off the balcony during the day but it was so still.  (pic of my house - 3rd from the end/bridge)

I was comforted by the fact that everyone was feeling it including the locals but I was desperately in need of a pool and some 24/7 air conditioning so I booked myself into Hoi An Trails Resort for a few days.  I had wanted to check it out so it gave me the perfect excuse.  My room included breakfast (obviously as most Vietnamese hotels do) and a daily 15 min food massage and a cooking class which I naturally made the most of.

While I was this end of town I checked out Dingo Deli for lunch, which is a favourite hangout spot for expats.   I had dinner at Son Restaurant (232 Cua Dai), where I had eaten 4 + years ago on a recommendation from the then chef at the Nam Hai.  The food is still great.
And I had a night out with the one of the owners and sales manager for Wide Eyed Tours (who have a great product) at Soul Kitchen on An Bang Beach - a great spot and a great night out.

Hard to believe I have just over two weeks left...