Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels ~ My trip to Vietnam

So I walked into work one Monday and Andreas asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam that weekend.  Huh?  Who does that?  Slightly intrigued, I asked for more details.  Turns out he and another guy, Aaron, decided the night before that they were going to Ho Chi Minh City that weekend.  Random, right?  Well, I didn't have any plans and they both came down to my desk with the print outs of the details and about 10 minutes later, I had a flight, hotel, and my visa was being processed.

My brother (i.e. yeah, I have one) had been to Vietnam a few years ago, so I already knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to hit the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and see whatever was there to see.  The guys wanted to take a scooter tour of the city and seeing that I'd never ridden a scooter, I had my reservations but I wasn't about to become the whiner in the group.

On the plane I met a guy from France who was talking about going to the Taj Mahal.  I want to go to the Taj Mahal!!!  Anyway, we'll see if that pans out.

When we all arrived in HCMC, we took a cab to the hotel and then went out for drinks.  The next morning the scooter tour people picked us up and we were off to see the Opera House, the Rex Hotel, the Reunification Palace, a Pagoda, and some markets for shopping.  Couldn't help but notice that Justin Bieber's song, "Baby" was playing loudly from a store.

After the tour we went to the War Remnants Museum.  I'd post pictures but it's a little too heavy.

After the museum, we decided to explore some more and ended up doing some eating and shopping.  Pure comedy ensued in the market when the guys were pursued by some aggressive saleswomen who wanted to sell them pants and shirts.  I picked up a souvenir Buddha and a jewelry box.

Plenty of drinks, a massage, a street massage, and more drinks was the plan for the night...  It was a fun time.

The next day we hopped on the bus and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels.  There I buried myself in a hole in the ground, learned about the traps that were set up, shot an AK-47, and did about 30m of the 100m tunnel tour.  Very interesting stuff.

Vietnam was cool and I'm glad I made the trip.  I screwed up though and only did a single-entry visa so now I need to wait before I go back.  I want to see Halong Bay...

The exchange rate is approximately 20,000 Vietnamese Dong for 1 USD.  Yes, I was rich in Vietnam...


Monday, August 15, 2011

Hong Kong Disneyland, Victoria's Peak, Temple Street Night Market, and Macau

I'm going to catch this up and I'm going to do it now...

Hong Kong and Macau...

I've always wanted to go to the "Land of Hello Kitty" and see what the hype is all about with regard to Macau.  So, I went.  When I landed in Hong Kong I decided that I'd head to Hong Kong Disneyland first.  I took a cab there from the airport.  DON'T DO THAT.  Take the train to Sunny"something" and then hop another train to the Park.  That's the best advice I can give you and no one will tell you to do that at the airport.  There's also a bus, but if you're like me or you know me at all - I don't really like public transportation to begin with so the word "bus" really isn't in my vocabulary.

I couldn't wait to check out HK Disneyland, since I'm a huge Disney fan.  I was told to plan to spend all day there.  Ummm, no.  I love Disney and all but it was just Me, Myself, and I and I do not need an entire day to enjoy the park.  I need 4-5 hours.  I got there and veered to the right towards Tomorrowland and rode Space Mountain twice in the span of 15 minutes.  If you're not familiar with the "single rider line" then you've probably never been to an amusement park in your life.  Seriously.  While all the families are waiting over an hour to ride together I whipped through the queue, like I owned the place.  Lucky for me, disapproving glances don't phase me at all.

I went around the park taking the compulsory pictures with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy.  I skipped some strange looking bear and Winnie the Pooh.

I watched the Philharmagic show and sure enough there's no concept of "moving all the way down" the row so people can get into the theatre.  I rode "It's a Small World" and was surprised to see that there was an "underwater area" and some other regions that aren't really continent-specific.

I checked out the food, but I wasn't about to eat Korean squid, fishballs, or an egg puff.  I'm more of a "funnel cake, churro" girl.

After a fun time at the park, I hopped on the train and went to Victoria's Peak.  I took the Peak Tram up.  Luckily for me, I received a phone call while in line so that helped me as I waited.  The line for the tram is long and the climb up to the peak is STEEP.  Even when you board the tram, there's a lot of pushing and shoving for a seat, so you better not be shy.  If you want to sit, you better "box out" and be ready to move the minute the doors open up.

As I took the escalators up to the observation deck, I saw a cool souvenir shop making wax "figures" of people's hands.  I'd never seen anything like that before.  Pretty cool.

At the top of Victoria's Peak, I caught the sunset.  If you're smart and slightly lazy like me, I suggest grabbing a seat on the bench.  As the sunsets, more people will arrive, so if you want a picture above their heads, just stand on the bench whenever you feel like it.  Bench space is prime real estate.

After the sunset I took the train to the Temple Street Night Market.  After taking in the different vendors and overhearing some other tourist ask his friend, "Who buys this stuff?" I decided I wanted to test my negotiation skills and buy something.  I found a jewelry box frog and immediately cut the vendors price in half.  As she worked her way towards my price, I decided that I didn't even like the quality of what I was looking at so she went and pulled another one from a different person.  Satisfied with my choice of souvenir, I stayed true to my price and got it at the number I quoted.  Needless to say, I don't really negotiate...  I've always been a take it or leave it type person, so for me to negotiate, there really has to be a feeling that I'll be losing out if I don't compromise.  With all the items for sale and the hefty inventory - I knew I wouldn't lose.

After the Night Street Market trip it was close to midnight and I decided I was ready to head to Macau.  I went to the Ferry Terminal and bought a ticket on the Cotai Jet to Macau.  The ferry is actually kinda nice and the ride is about 45 minutes to Macau.  After you clear immigration there's a nice shuttle bus that takes you to the Venetian.  Within about 10 minutes I walked into the Venetian ready to play, but first things first...  I needed a hotel room.

I forget the exchange rate to the HK Dollar, but was quoted a price that calculated to something reasonable.  I decided to walk away and think about it when they told me the room was accessible.  I don't like rooms like that.  I tend to get water everywhere in the shower and all when it's an accessible room so I avoid them.

I played a while and lost about 1500 HK Dollars.  It didn't take long with minimum blackjack bets of $300 and craps of $100.  I went back to the front desk and decided I'd take the room after all and sleep.  My luck started to change, since I ended up with a regular suite.

The rooms at the Venetian in Macau are the same as the room in the Las Vegas.  Sunken living room and large bathrooms.  Just what I needed to wash the grime of a days worth of touring HK off of me and rest up.

The following morning I woke up and went to gamble some more.  I won $4000 and paid my bill in cash.  I hopped the ferry by about 3PM and was back at the airport in the United Airlines lounge by about 6PM after hopping on the Airport Express in HK.  The Airport Express reminds me very much of the Heathrow Express in London.  Take it.

HK and Macau, I'll be back!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

TheWirk.com was named one of the 15 Funniest Sports Blogs by ClickitTicket

Earlier this week, I received an email.  According to the following URL from ClickitTicket, http://www.clickitticket.com/articles/15funniestsportsblogs.asp, My blog was named as one of the 15 Funniest Sports Blogs... Not too shabby!

According to the write up:

"The Wirk is the funny brain child of writer and photographer Sarah Wirk. She tackles a wide variety of topics from Deron Williams acting like a turkey, to a very unusual sport called netball, to the annual ridiculousness that is the NBA Draft. "Is the movie 'The Air Up There' shown on planes or listed as a favorite movie in media guide for any NBA scouts?!?! Just curious?" Much thanks to The Wirk for her funny work."

Well, thanks!  As they say at award ceremonies, "It's an honor just to be nominated." 

Seriously though, I really enjoy putting this blog together and sharing my world with you.  The fact that some of you truly enjoy reading it, is just the icing on the cake!


Blackjack is more than just 21... Pay attention to what the dealer is showing...

I've got something on my mind that I need to get off of my chest.  Blackjack is often referred to as 21.  Most people understand that the goal is to get to 21, without going over.  Only a minority of people seem to understand that there is more to the game then hitting to point where you think you won't go over.

You NEED to understand the cards and the dealer's actions.  In Singapore, the dealer must hit to 17.  HIT TO 17.  Did you catch that?  I'll repeat it.  HIT TO 17.

What does that mean?  That means that if the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6 ~ UNLESS you have a total equal to or less than 11, you should NOT hit.  You should NOT hit.  Did you catch that?  I'll repeat it.  You should NOT hit. 

To go one step further, I'd recommend that you double down when the dealer shows a 4, 5, or 6 (i.e. if you have 11 or less).  However, I realize that some of you need to forget that I just wrote that and stick with today's learning that, if the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6 ~ UNLESS you have a total equal to or less than 11, you should NOT hit.

You should know that when you hit in these situations (i.e. when the dealer is showing a bust card), that the people at the table who know how to play  the game begin to hate you.  We start giving you dirty looks, because you throw off the rhythm of the game and mess up the shoe.  Don't talk to me about the randomness of the shuffle and the true odds of the cards.  No gambler wants to hear that stuff.

If you mess up the cards enough or make the mistake more than once, while betting only the minimum, the other people at the table start seething with frustration and even the dealer starts to question your intelligence.  Listen to the dealer.  He or she will try to save you.  The rest of us will color up to stop the bleeding and curse about you as we walk away.

I've walked away from 4 trips to the casino a winner every time.  I have the discipline to wait for a novice player to lose all of his/her money before I sit down and to get up once my lucky streak is over (i.e. usually when I hit $1,000).  I've gambled in numerous difference casinos in different countries and have seen just about everything.  Some of you needed this lesson...


Phuket ~ The Shore at Katathani and Elephant trekking

I'm in Asia. 

Last weekend I went to Phuket to relax, and I also had the chance to go elephant trekking.  If you ever want to go to Phuket, I recommend The Shore at Katathani.  The place and the villas are amazing. 

I met my friend out there and we had our own infinity pool and the view overlooking the water (i.e. I'm not good with geography, but I think it was the Andaman Sea) was fantastic.  I'd say the majority of guests were couples, but if you're like us and not a couple, the resort is still fantastic. 

I must point out that there weren't many mosquitoes at all.  Oh, and there was an unattractive naked couple frolicking on the beach so proceed with caution!

Before I left Phuket for the weekend, my friend and I went elephant trekking at Siam Safari.  The elephants put on a show (e.g. painting and kicking soccer balls).  Did you read that? Soccer balls. There's your sports tie-in.

For 30 minutes we trekked around on the elephant and for 50 Baht, I got to feed the elephants.  The whole adventure took about 90 minutes (i.e. show, feeding, pictures, and trekking) and I'd recommend it for anyone who likes elephants.

My view from atop the elephant

Safety first.  Locked in securely.


Boris Becker tweeted me about the NBA Lockout and it made my night!

A few nights ago my phone chirped.  It's normally not that big of a deal, but since I've been traveling internationally, I've limited my phone usage.  Usually when my phone chirps, it means that I have a text message.  Prepared to see who just dinged me for 50 cents, I picked up my phone to see what was going on.

As it turns out, Boris Becker had tweeted me.  Now this is special for a few reasons. 
  • First, I LOVE BORIS BECKER.  I'm a huge fan.  When I was a teenager, I used to follow him around the ATP tennis tournament in Mason, OH.  I finally got his autograph, and when that happened I more or less left him alone.  I have countless pictures in photo albums of him and the other tennis stars in that day (e.g. Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Mats Wilander).  Those were the days! 
  • Second, I've often espoused the genius of Twitter and this was only further reinforcement.  Becker had tweeted about, "not believing the NBA will go on strike," and I merely tweeted that a strike was different than a lockout and that the players were already locked out.  He replied saying that I had a point. 
    • The thing is, I never expected to receive a response from one of my favorite tennis players of all time.  I just put my 3 cents out there.  ****  Why 3 cents?  Because I'm smarter than the average person so it's worth 3 cents, when I "talk".  The fact that Boom Boom Becker even responded made my night!
Look, I'm not saying that if you tweet your favorite people that you'll get a response.  I'm just saying that Twitter is a great tool to get your point across and you never know who might take a second out of their day to acknowledge you.