The last month or so has provided a lot of travel opportunities for me. Most have been on business, but I did get to squeeze a weekend in there for myself. Traveling in SE Asia has its good points and bad points. Let’s start with the good…In less than an hour I can be in either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, Laos. In two hours, I’m in Bangkok. In just fours hours I can make it as far as Hong Kong or even Japan. Living in this part of the world where a bunch of countries are mushed together has its benefits. It’s one of the reasons I traveled through SE Asia last year. It’s super easy to get from one place to the next. And while there are some general similarities between Asian countries, an hour flight takes you to an entirely different culture. And I love that.
The bad part about this area of the world is that it is still behind more developed areas. Let’s take Vietnam for example…The Hanoi airport would be better off if they leveled the damn thing and put up tents. The building is old, the airline employees are not all that nice and the waiting areas are tired-looking and uncomfortable. Before you even get your boarding pass, you deal with people blatantly cutting in line, people who are standing so close behind you you can feel their breath on your neck (or smell their breath when they cough, as was the case on one travel occasion) and agents who appear that can’t be bothered to do their job. Never mind the ridiculous number of delays the airline experiences and the lack of communication with passengers.
I’ve likened Vietnam Airlines to being one chicken short of a local bus. It is probably the worst airline I’ve traveled with – ever. Not only for the lack of professionalism of the attendants – falling asleep in the jumper seat as the plane is preparing for take-off should not be acceptable in my book – but also for the condition of the planes. On one of my last fights to Saigon, I noticed that the hardware, like plastic coverings on some of the seat fixtures, were missing on several rows. I’m still shocked by how many people on board have probably never flown before. They have no idea that their ticket holds a seat number. Many people sit where they want and get bumped a few times until an attendant explains where their seat is located. Others walk aimlessly through the cabin and don’t know how to find their seat number, never mind figuring out if their seat is an aisle or window. I quite nearly punched a guy who kept pushing me when the row of people in front of me making their way through the plane stopped and he yelled, “Move!”
Vietnam Airlines also has a very strange way of seating people. If a flight is not full, they will clump people together in groups and leave several rows completely empty. As of lately, I’ve been involuntarily seated in the exit rows on most of my flights. I actually don’t like the exit rows. You are not allowed to put your items underneath the seat, and call me crazy, but I’m not willing to put all my belongings out of sight. The seat doesn’t go back, either. I’m not 6’5″ and I don’t think I look particularly helpful or someone who stays calm in an emergency. I have a feeling that in some training course, the reservation staff were told, “The foreigners like the exit rows.” And so now I am getting in the habit of asking to NOT be seated in emergency rows.
It’s kind of funny that everyday I’m learning something new about this country and about working in SE Asia. Everyday poses some challenge. I just never expected that I would learn so much while sitting in a plane so high in the sky!
On the Bright Side,
Rainy seasons in South East Asia can be kind of cool sometimes. I returned from Kamu Lodge, 3 hours up river from Luang Prabang, eager to have lunch at JOMA, a great coffee shop and bakery – quite possibly my favorite in Asia. Just before ducking in the shop, the thunder started clapping and the dark gray clouds rolled in.
The rainy season storms are quite spectacular with lots of loud thunder, flashes of lightening and buckets and buckets of water dropping from the sky. In about 45 minutes, the storms pass and everyone goes back to their tasks for the day as if the storm had never been there. Me, on the other hand…well, I take pictures. This sunny San Diego chick is still impressed!
One of the things I love about the Kamu Lodge (one of the properties in the portfolio of the hospitality group I work for) is the gorgeous nature surrounding the accommodations. It takes three hours by boat to arrive at the Lodge; it’s located on the banks of the Mekong River int he Lao forest. The Kamu Village, an authentic and ethnic village, share the grounds with the lodge, and I always look forward to a visit to the village, as well.
I went to Laos to oversee the photo shoot of all three of our Laos properties. I really wanted to spend more than one night at the Lodge, but didn’t due to our boat schedule and other activities happening at our sales office in Luang Prabang. It’s such a shame, as I loved taking pictures of all the green rice fields, the butterflies, lotus flowers, other bugs and plants….all the lovely nature which is so lush and lovely during rainy season….so green!
Here’s a vacation request you don’t get everyday…one I received from one of my employees in Laos:
This is Lao culture every son must become a monk for a short period to thanks parents whom gave our life. And I will be leaving from 23 Mar – 08 Apr 2010 for 15 days.
I love how this is not really a request but a statement. Need I say that the leave was approved.
Have you ever received a strange request for time off?
I returned home tonight after a two week absence, a business trip in Laos. Hanoi is still hot an humid. I thought it would be much cooler by now. I’ve been hearing that October and November are great months here.
After two weeks of hearing a horn just twice, my ears were immediately assaulted with the incessant honking of trucks, cars and motorbikes, of “Hey, I’m on your right” type beeps and “Move over asshole!” sounding full horns.
While my apartment was super stuffy, I could see that Hien had stopped by earlier in the day to spruce up my apartment for me. I’ve got 3 vases full of roses, nicely placed about my apartment. All my laundry has been done and my bedding looks fit for a hotel advertisement. Hien is one of the angels in my life. She takes good care of me (even if she does ruin my laundry from time to time!)
Laos is an incredibly peaceful place. Even though I couldn’t work as efficiently as I would have liked (the internet connection th…ere…is…s…o…..sl….ow!!!) I did accomplish what I needed and managed to have some fun in the meantime. I ate too much, got plenty of good, sound sleep, and squeezed in just a few moments of shopping.
You can find some photos of Laos HERE !!!
I’ve already said it. I’m a lucky girl. This is a photo I took at Kamu Lodge, Apple Tree’s eco-lodge in the heart of the Laos forrest, just a couple hours from the UNESCO heritage city, Luang Prabang.
I love the lodge for the chance to get a way from modern civilization. There are no phones, no internet connections, no cell signals. It’s a complete chance to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate your soul.
I went to sleep in my tent to the sounds of crickets, birds, frogs and all sorts of other creatures who sung me to sleep and woke me up, all at the same time.
I was here to evaluate our property, to see how we can improve, how to best market this wonderful place, but damn, I’m lucky to “have” to do this job! What a refreshing environment from which to work!
On the Bright Side,
At the tail end of a busy week, jam packed with meetings, we attended The Guide Awards and picked up one each for the Emeraude and the Press Club.
The week was a busy one with 6-8 appointments throughout the day and in various parts of the city. One thing I will say about Saigon – it made me appreciate living in Hanoi. The traffic in Saigon is horrendous. A sea of motor bikes and cars squishing together on tiny roads, as there is lots of construction in the streets, and all over the place (I think they are fixing the sewer system). I can definitely appreciate Saigon for a better selection of restaurants and shopping venues, but the noise and pollution from all that traffic makes Hanoi look like a green zone. World of difference!
The week ended with a dinner and award program for Vietnam’s The Economic Times Guide. It’s pretty much a thank you to all who advertised during the year. While I was happy to do my duty and attend the event, I was not so happy that it made me miss Friday Night on The Terrace. This is the biggest social event of the month in Hanoi and I love our party for the meet-new-people factor and for the possibility of a step forward with Project Shanna 2009. Having to sit this one out really irked me.
For those of you who have not heard about Project Shanna 2009, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the goal is for this year. I should probably name it Project Shanna +1 so that we are all clear. Or Project Shanna +The Dude, so that we are even more in sync. It’s six months into the year, and by missing a big event like Friday Night on the Terrace, I almost feel like I’ve missed a whole month of efforts! Yikes!
Anywhoo, June will be busy with a move into my new apartment hopefully on the 10th and then a trip to Laos, two visits to Saigon and who knows what else which may be thrown in my direction. My job keeps getting busier and busier! I love it, but there are just not enough hours in the day!
The important thing is that I’m ready and I’m game. And I’m not talking about work!!!
On the Bright Side,