Tip for seeing the best of what Hanoi has to offer

One of the most memorable days we had while travelling in Vietnam was to do a Hanoi Kids tour. Being the sceptical, cynical bloke that I am when my wife said there is a tour where university students take you around Hanoi for free. My response was whats the catch. There was none. We met a lovely woman who tailored the day we wanted and took us around explaining the history of different spots we visited. She also took us to a lovely spot for lunch. We did pay for her lunch, the taxi rides and gave a donation at the end of the tour to the organisation that runs Hanoi Kids, but you are under no obligation to do this.

If you’re in Hanoi then contact Hanoi Kids. There is a reason that they consistently get five-star reviews on trip advisor. Check out my review of Hanoi Kids and others of our time in Vietnam at kiwiinbrighton or specifically for Hanoi Kids at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293924-d1752779-r269631182-HanoiKids_Tour-Hanoi.html

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Musings on travelling around the world for a year

I appreciate the opportunities I had this year in being able to travel around the world with my lovely wife Debbie. We had some fantastic experiences, saw some wonderful sights and met lovely people along the way. It was nice to catch up with her side of the family in Canada and meet some new ones. It also was good to see my brother and his wife in New Zealand along with my niece Courtney and nephew Sean. Reconnecting with old friends from the past and recent ones was also very enjoyable.

What we did travel wise?

One month in Canada
four months in the USA
One month in NZ
One month in Australia
Three days in Singapore
One month in Malaysia
One month in Vietnam
one month in Thailand
Three weeks in Cambodia
One month in India
Three days in Dubai

It seems a lot looking back at it, a year of our life. Lots of highlights such as Columbian icefield, Blizzard in August in Calgary, Yellowstone Park, swimming with a manatee in Florida, Yorktown, Arizona, Tombstone and that is just North America having hardly scratched the surface. New Zealand we caught snapper and walked the Tongariro crossing as well as stayed a night on Tiri Tiri Matangi and saw kiwi in their natural habitat.

Did it change me?

I read lots of blogs about how travel makes you a better person, broadens your horizons and inspires new adventures. I must be the exception. I am happy about how I was before I travelled and it has not changed me. It has inspired me with ideas of new adventures, but I do not think it has broadened my horizon. It does make me appreciate my nationalities and privileged upbringing compared to many of the countries we visited. I always found something to appreciate or marvel at every country we visited. The USA with its great horizons, New Zealand and the unique bird life, Australia and its weird marsupial beasties, SE Asia for the food, Angkor Wat and the ease of travelling around from place to place. India with the Taj Mahal and my now favourite Indian city Udaipur.

We chose to do this adventure because we had an opportunity and we are not getting any longer. I backpacked before in my youth, this time we did not and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more. We did not get sick once on our travels, the people we met were fantastic and the places we stayed great. I would say that trip advisor for me was my most valuable asset in making our plans on what to see, where to eat and stay. In the past it was always random for me which was part of the fun. However, as you get older it is nice to know you are not going to wake up with bed bug bites, get food poisoning or be overcharged for a tour you could have done yourself for free. I hope some of my reviews under the plume de nom kiwiinbrighton has made a few other people’s visit to places easier.po

My main take home from a years travelling is that wherever you go in the world there are wonderful sights to experience and people to meet.

I am interested in other people’s experiences about travelling for long amounts of time and would love to hear your thoughts?

Is tripadvisor useful the good, the bad and the ugly?

Last week trip advisor sent me an email telling me that I was the top contributor for Brighton which surprised me. I thought there would be others who had made a lot more contributions or reviews. It seems a long time ago when I started to write reviews in 2008. I decided under the name of KiwiinBrighton to start writing reviews about the hotels I stayed, restaurants and some of the attractions we visited. Due to a particularly bad hotel stay in Paris where the bed was as soft as melted butter and the size of the room even by European standards is designed for Hobbits.

Seven years later I am glad that I did begin to write reviews. The honest reason I did it was all hotels seem to blend into one and whether they were bad or good. This happened with the one in Paris and I did not want to stay at it again. I travelled a lot and after a period of time I would forget about where I had stayed or eaten at in a city or whether it had been good. I thought tripadvisor could be a good tool to keep track of the good, the bad and the ugly.  194 contributions later it is great to look back and have a record of my trips that I can return to and decide where I might stay if I go back to a particular city. It also awakens happy memories of both leisure and business travel. Below is the link to my reviews if your interested.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/members-reviews/KiwiinBrighton

The Good

Lovely bed in South Africa

Lovely bed in South Africa

2008 March Photos from 2007 038

The biggest value is that I am finding it so useful when writing content for my blog JohnandDebbieRTWadventure and link back to reviews of hotels where I have stayed at during my travels. Travel forums are also useful and I have had some wonderful people give good advice on particular subjects. The latest subject I am interested in is recreational vehicles or RVs in North America and routes to take plus life on the road. In August we begin a six month adventure travelling in Canada and the USA in a recreational vehicle. It is also quite nice to get a like for a review and people show some appreciation.

The Bad

There are a lot of fake reviews on tripadvisor. However, there are three rules that I follow which  I find help exclude the fakers.

Rule 1

If the reviewer has not written more than 25 reviews then ignore them.

Rule 2

Fake reviewers use similar or identical wording and it stands out.

Soft mattress I hate them

Soft mattress I hate them

 

Rule 3

One bad review that contrasts with all the other reviewers is either a fake or that person is just a complainer or was unlucky.

Follow these rules and you should find the reviews useful first hand information sources about restaurants, hotels and attractions.

The Ugly

The cost is where I find the ugly parts of tripadvisor. The claims of discounts, special deals with the booking provider or last minute should all be taken with a pinch of salt. Yes you will get a good deal but at what price. I have found that getting a discount normally means you get the boom boom room above the disco, the room facing the brick wall of the building nearby, the room beside the breakfast room or my particular favourite the one beside the noisy elevator.

In terms of the links to different booking websites I used them when booking business travel and get a slightly better room. However, with  leisure travel, i.e I am paying it myself I contact the hotel directly. Normally if your polite, friendly and it is a family run hotel or smaller one you will get a better price which surprisingly does work. You also can tell the hotel directly what you prefer such as a room not near the elevator or one with a firm mattress. This does not work with chain hotels you have to be a member of one of the many clubs. However for independent hotels it does work and you will get a better room.

You can get a better room with a chain but it will have to be when you get there and after lots of complaining based on genuine problems. This happened once in Bangkok where we were shown two rooms with each have something wrong. The first one the safe did not work and I needed it for business documents, they tried to fix it but failed. The second there was literally a disco above us and we had just arrived after a 12 hour flight from the UK. In the end they upgraded us to the top floor in a corner suite where we also access to the lounge for 11 nights which was lovely and unexpected. Thank you Amari Watergate Hotel.

Hence, my little hotel routine which drives my wife nuts sometimes when we get to a hotel as I will first go and check the room while she waits in the lobby. Several times this has resulted in upgrades or just a better room. I check several things including the mattress it has to be firm, water pressure there is nothing worse than shower with no pressure, the view if we arrive during the day and the general state of the room.

Our coming trip of a year round the world will be different as we will be staying at Airbnb, hostels and also hotels. I will be using tripadvisor as a useful tool to find the good and avoid the bad and ugly. Again if you want to see some of my reviews they can be seen at:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/members-reviews/KiwiinBrighton