Have you got it covered?

December 12, 2017

If you are going to come and visit this amazing country, or decide to take the plunge, change your life and  teach English, then you are going to need travel insurance.

Yes, I know. It's expensive and feels very insignificant while sat in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by family and loved ones, when you are safe and well.

But when alone, on the other side of the world, having just had a road accident, broken your leg, caught dengue fever or are needing antibiotics, you will be glad that you have it. It will be priceless.

More to the point, when you are critically ill in hospital, needing to be flown home for whatever reason or need to undergo serious treatment, you will definitely want the insurance. I have seen dodgy Vietnamese hospitals... you do not want to be in one of those...

If you don't do it for you, do it for the peace and mind of friends and family back home, who will all be worried about your welfare no doubt!

Vietnam is not the same as your home country. The standards and levels of hygiene are not the same... don't end up where you don't want to be with no way out!

Now for recommendations for travel insurance there's no contender for me. STA Travel specialises in travel insurance for 18-30 year olds, and the young at heart!

I have used their insurance for the past five years and it has been fantastic. I would not go with anyone else. (I nearly did, once, because it was significantly cheaper, only to find that the benefits just didn't compare!)

In this blog I am going to tell you EXACTLY why I choose STA travel every time.

1) You can renew the policy from abroad.

I cannot stress the importance of this. The majority of travel insurance policies cannot be renewed from abroad. This means that if you book insurance for six months and then end up staying a year or longer- which has happened to me and many other people who I know- then you are stuck without insurance on the other side of the world, with no way of renewing. THIS SUCKS.

2) You can pay a medical waiver fee

The cost of walking through the door to see a doctor in Vietnam (and many other countries) is $100 or more. This means that if you need to see a doctor urgently you must first choose whether you want to fork out the $100... However, with STA travel's medical waiver you can claim every penny back on your medical insurance without the standard $100 excess. Perfect! Go to a doctor twice in one year and you just saved $200...And trust me, $200 goes a LONG WAY in Vietnam!

3) Another thing that as a long term traveller has always infuriated me is that the minute you land back in your home country your insurance is void. This means that if you pay for a year's worth of travel insurance but then your best mate decides to get married, your sister has a baby or you find a cheap flight back home, doing so will void your travel insurance and waste your money. It means you always have to carefully plan how long you will away for, or book insurance for shorter periods of time, which costs more money. This again wastes your money. However, STA are constantly working on improving products for their customers. They have just introduced a new system where if you are away for more than six months you can come back at any time and not void the insurance. Thanks for being on it guys.

4) Another WOW factor with the STA travel insurance policy is that they have just partnered with Push Doctor, which enables you to talk to a doctor from anywhere in the world for the duration of your insurance policy.You can access this on your tablet, smart phone or PC from anywhere, for up to 15 hours a day. (Opening times are GMT 7am-10pm). Here you get unlimited appointments (for a set amount of time) for free, plus £20 per ten minutes after that and only £10 for referral letters/sick notes and £4 for subscriptions.

5) Many insurance companies don't cover you for "activities" which could be anything from roller skating to skate boarding, or from walking to abseiling. If you're the adventurous type, you might find yourself having an accident on a rock climbing trip near Hanoi, doing Muy Thai in Ho Chi Minh, canyoning in Dalat or trekking in Sapa, only to find that you are not in fact covered because you were doing more than just walking down the street. At STA they have over 100 activities which come included as part of the package, as well as all the add ons.

On top of this it has the usual travel insurance benefits such as a 24/7 medical helpline, cover for mobile phones, laptops and your expensive items, up to £15 million in medical expense cover (the type that will get you flown out of a dodgy hospital and back to your own country when you really need it), up to £10,000 cancellation cover and up to £3000 personal possession cover.

*Subject to change. Check your policy details carefully and speak directly to STA for more information.

If you want to take a look at their price plans then you can do so here.

They also do great deals on Cash Cards, Flights and much more. Check out their products here.

A rocky ride from Cham Island!

December 12, 2017

Hoi An

Day 1:

 

I got a very early morning transfer to Hoi An from Da Nang to do a tour to Cham Island, but we managed to miss the coach. I have still not worked out whether they forgot to pick us up (our friends who were picked up at a different hotel said the company appeared to have no knowledge of us!) or whether we missed the announcement. Either way, we didn’t board the ferry until 10.30am when the tour was meant to leave at 7.30am. Welcome to Vietnam.

 

The speed boat over was insane, it did not “ride” the waves but literally bounced on and off them, getting us literally soaked and throwing us up into the air each time before we crashed about a metre back down again. It was like a fair ground ride gone wrong, but quite fun!

 

Snorkelling was really good, once I moved away from the screaming Vietnamese people who were thrashing about in their life vests because none of them can swim. We saw huge, bright blue starfish, lots of electric blue little fish, some colourful fish and I managed to see a very large one. There were also lots of tiny jelly fish and I kept being stung, which was annoying. Again, there was no warning about this.

 

We returned for lunch and sunbathing on the beach, although all the boats moored on the beach too so after a while there was a smell of petrol and gas across the beach and lots of tourists. (The pictures I took for family back home carefully leave out the tourists!)

 

I had broken my flip flops on the beach the day before so was walking around the beach in trainers, looking like an idiot. We all piled into the speed boat again, standing on a little plastic chair placed in the sand so we could reach the boat, but three minutes later we were all back on the beach- there was a storm coming!

 

We were then stranded for the next 3 hours on the island, half of which was on the beach and so OK, the other half of the time we were moved to the harbour which was not very pleasant and very boring. As usual, no-one told us what was going on, we had to guess and just sit and wait. My Vietnamese friend overhead some people talking from Essex and asked “Are they speaking English?! I don’t understand.” Hahaha.

 

On the walk from the beach to the harbour there was talk of us having to stay the night. I am up for experiencing new things and different cultures, and am usually very relaxed about things like this, but knowing that my $60 hotel room, with its double bed and en-suite was waiting for me, I was not in the mood to be stranded on an island without western toilets or electricity. Luckily, the storm past just in time but the ride back was “rocky” to say the least! When we arrived I witnessed a poor woman being sick countless times over the edge of the boat…

 

When we got back my Vietnamese friend from Hanoi and her friends needed to go and pick up their custom made shoes, but we got very lost, she had no idea where she was going, and I found myself becoming very irritable traipsing around after people when I didn’t need to get shoes and would have been happier doing something else! After the stress of flying solo and having doubts about independent travel, the amazing time I had in Da Nang made me realise the highs of independent travel definitely out way the lows, and travelling alone doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, was the way forward! I told my friend that I would not meet her or her friends until lunch the next day,as I needed some me time again!

SEO new post suggestion: Hanoi clubs and nightlife

December 10, 2017

Ready to Party? Our Guide to Hanoi at Night, your complete guide to Hanoi nightlife in Vietnam!

 

Are you looking for the best night clubs in Hanoi?! Here is our Hanoi Night Life Guide just for you!

Hanoi during daylight hours is a place of wonder and adventure, Hanoi at night is a wonderful place in its own right. There are various Hanoi night clubs that allow late night partying opportunities with packed dance floors and hard-hitting EDM music, but the real charm lies in the hours before 2am. Hanoi night clubs might not stay open late, but they are still amazing places to party!

Any good night-out in Hanoi will start at a bia hoi joint. For the uninitiated, bia hoi is a Vietnamese speciality. It is fresh beer, with no preservatives, and a unique taste. Its short shelf-life means that prices are incredibly low. Low prices tend to result in a lot of it being drank. These bia hoi joints litter the cities of Vietnam and are nearly always lively places filled with feasting and laughter. Vietnam’s most famous bia hoi, is ‘Bia Hoi Corner’ in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Here, expats, locals, and tourists all gather on tiny plastic stalls and take in the glorious cacophony that is Hanoi’s city-centre.

There are plenty of cool (and more regular) bars in the area. Officially, bars in the Old Quarter are meant to close before midnight. While of course, we could never encourage you to do anything illegal, we will still draw your attention to the fact that there may or may not be lock-ins, every night, in nearly every bar, in the Old Quarter. The police are well aware of these, and there is a nightly game of ‘cat and mouse’ as revellers are kicked out of one bar just to knock on the shutters of the next. Contrary to what your guidebook might tell you, Vietnamese nightlife does not end at midnight.

Further afield, there are plenty of exciting options. BarBetta, a trendy café by day, and a lively roof terrace bar by night, is an expat favourite. This could be because of the obscure decorations, the gigantic burgers, or the fairy-light lit entrance draped in vines, but we suspect it’s at least in part because of the FREE BEER offered every Wednesday (at time of writing).

As the Hanoi Club Barbetta closes for the night, partygoers head north to perhaps Hanoi’s most famous night out. Open-mic night at HRC (Hanoi Rock City). This hyper-trendy venue holds some of the best parties of the year, but its regular open mic night hosts a variety of excellent talent, and has established itself as one of the best places to meet people. The community vibe is great, and you’re bound to make friends sat outside on the giant half-pipe, which is used by skaters during the day.

HRC is a Hanoi club located in Tay Ho, commonly thought of as the ‘expat district’. Here you will find lots of Western style bars and Hanoi clubs, often with glorious roof terraces overlooking Hanoi’s mighty West Lake. Budget travellers beware, you should be prepared to pay Western style prices. Luckily, they haven’t managed to monopolise the music scene. New music venues and bars pop-up regularly in Vietnam, and just as quickly go out of fashion. One venue that has always managed to stay popular is The Doors. A café/bar in central Hanoi that hosts some of the best bands on offer, from local singer-song-writers to the Vietnamese Beatles. You’ll be sure to find something you’ll enjoy.

As the year goes on, there are also special events that should grab your attention. From Heineken’s amazing NYE party, to the local TET celebrations for the lunar new year. If none of these options grab your attention, we suggest you check out some of these alternatives for clubs in Hanoi, Vietnam. These really are the best night clubs in Hanoi.

  • Infinity Club Hanoi – Faux classy nightclub and quite expensive, but if you’re sick of sitting on plastic stalls, this is the place for you. One of the best Hanoi night clubs.
  • Binh Minh Jazz Club – Real classy, great music, perfect spot for some evening relaxation. A real treat for anyone looking for a more sophisticated Hanoi night club.
  • Juju Bar – Great cocktails, casual and cozy. A great Hanoi Night club for a funky night out.
  • Kareoke Tom – One of the better options for karaoke, which is a must when in ‘Nam and a great way to experience Hanoi at night.
  • Hero Bar – Hanoi’s best night club. Great late-night venue, especially if you’re looking for a dance and an epic Hanoi nightlife.

Before you go, we have one final thing to mention, while Hanoi is a safe city with low levels of violent crime, like any major city, it holds its dangers. Dangers that are magnified at night. Please be careful, and don’t go wandering around alone at night. Even if you have heard about a really great party.

My Trip To DaNang Continued…

December 10, 2017

Day two

 

I took a taxi to the beach but ended up at Marble mountains, which is fine because that’s where I was going to go in the afternoon. It was beautiful, full of caves with marble sculptures everywhere and amazing views. I loved being on my own and did the whole thing at a leisurely pace, taking about 5 hours, as I kept stopping to read my book in secluded spots on the top of the hills. Wondeful!

 

I was asked to have my photo taken by various Vietnamese people, (something I am now accustomed to) including one couple where the woman’s friend was shocking at taking pictures, so it was quite amusing.

 

When leaving, a Vietnamese woman attached herself to me, found me a place to get lunch for extremely cheap, offered me a lift to the beach and then pushed me into her shop, where I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of money on some gifts for friends that I could have got much, much cheaper. I came out thinking what the hell just happened?! Where’s my money?! She then gave me a free lift to the beach, I have a suspicion this may be because she felt bad! I was well and truly caught in the tourist trapped and felt very annoyed…

 

I met a Vietnamese family on the beach, a couple with a daughter, and so spent the day with them and they invited me for dinner. This is why I love travelling alone, it opens up so many opportunities to you (ok yes, some not so good, but mostly awesome!) that you just wouldn’t get it you weren’t alone.

 

On my way to their hotel the taxi driver tried to charge me 260,000 vnd when it should have been 30,000, because I apparently told him the wrong way. Ass hole. I ended up paying 160,000 vnd after about 6 Vietnamese people stood around shouting at him on my behalf!

 

On arrival at the restaurant the dad asked me, “Do you like seafood?” Oooh dear.. I told him it makes me sick and did some gestures, to which he smiled and ordered the seafood anyway! (Again, this is very typical of Vietnam, just ignore the problem!) It wasn’t too bad, I ate some clams by just swallowing them whole, the snails were in lemon grass and so tasted nice but I couldn’t get them out the shell, so the wife had to do it for me! There were some more fishy clams but I managed to avoid these (after spitting my first ones out into my napkin) and some very nice rice and shrimp soup. Desert was, according to the dad, “very expensive” and they had brought it with them especially, looking very pleased with themselves. It was disgusting, bright yellow, and slimy, and it smelt foul, and tasted a bit like chicken…. I just kept saying I was full…. And mashed it up into my bowl when they insisted I still ate! I found out later that it was the infamous Dorian fruit. Go on, try it, I dare you!

They then took me to see the Chinese Dragon bridge, where apparently they spend $1000 every Saturday making the dragon breathe fire! To be honest the water that it poured out after was more impressive than the fire breathing but it was a great day, and the dad text me after saying he hoped we could be “best friends for life” !

 

Bless him.

 

 

Day three

 

I paid $35 to do a tour to Ba Na hills, which in Vietnamese terms is very expensive, but I had heard good things about it. The 15 minute cable cart was nice, but the top was awful. It was my mum’s idea of Hell, some sort of Disneyland gone wrong! It was all under construction, building a massive castle complex on the top of the mountain. What a way to spoil the view! There were only two attractions open, a Pagoda, and a “rides” section. The rides were basic at best, and I took pictures as two American/Vietnamese women who I’d befriended went on all the spinning things. I enjoyed the dodgem cars, it occurred to me that most Vietnamese people do not drive cars, so for once I was the best driver on the road, haha!

 

The tour guide was useless and kept losing everyone, but it didn’t help that the place was packed full of Vietnamese holiday makers. We were meant to get free entrance to a 100 year old wine cellar, but the tour guide had disappeared with our tickets…

 

Lunch was also disappointing, considering we’d paid $35, I was not expecting to go to a street food café! However, the Vietnamese ladies who I met were lovely and we had a good day  together, exchanging numbers at the end.

 

Back at the hotel I went to sunbathe by the pool but a large cloud came over almost as soon as I lay down, followed by a large group of screaming Vietnamese children!! (The Vietnamese swim in the shade of the afternoon, not the midday sun).

 

Back in the hotel I was devastated to find that what I thought was a free massage was actually just a discounted one, but I decided to get one anyway. Again, not used to how these things are meant to work I found myself standing in my bikni, not sure whether to lay on the bed or wait standing up, should I shower first, or use the steam room? Should I call someone to say I was ready?! Eventually the lady came, and it was a very good massage, except she did a horrible thing where she unexpectedly flipped my neck round and cracked it without warning…

 

I headed to the town centre for dinner to find that all the restaurants were serving seafood and only had menus in Vietnamese, so I bought some chips from a café and walked along the beach front by night, which was very nice, before returning to my hotel for dinner!

 

Six Breath Taking places to visit in the middle of Vietnam

December 10, 2017

Hue

The ancient capital of Vietnam is a pleasant river city, it has the ruins of a huge walled citadel as its centerpiece. Here at Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam, we consider the monasteries and tombs outside of the city to be the real attraction. These peaceful sanctuaries line either side of the river as you leave the town. Each complex is unique, as they were built to reflect the lives and personalities of the emperors that reigned during their construction. If you know how to ride a motorbike, leave the taxis and tour buses behind and find the monasteries yourself. It will be highly rewarding! If the adventurer inside of you is itching to get out, then know that there are rumours of the lost, buried treasures of dead emperors who took their secrets to the grave. If you find it, be sure to remember your old Teacher’s Friend.

 

Hoi An

Despite only being a small fishing town, Wanderlust Magazine voted Hoi An ‘The Best City on Earth 2013’. And not without good reason. This atmospheric seaside town is simply magical; tiny ancient fishing huts are lit with fairy lights and colourful lanterns. The old streets are lined with fresh fish restaurants and some of the best tailors in South East Asia. They are often described as the best value tailors on the planet and their skill is remarkable. Get yourself a custom made suit or dress. Have an item you like, but you’d like it in a different colour or material? No problem, the master tailors of Hoi An have you covered. Shopping aside, if you want a great day out, rent a bicycle and take a short ride to the gorgeous (and gigantic) nearby beach. Here you can feast on fresh sea food while you watch the fisherman ride their strange donut shaped boats on the waves. If you ask nicely, they might even let you have a go. Be careful though, the currents on the beach here are deceptively strong!

 

Phong Nha

One of the most beautiful, untouched locations in Vietnam. Phong Nha national park is full of emerald green rice paddies, blue rivers and a series of gigantic caves ready for exploring. These caves include the recently discovered, jaw-dropping Son Doong, the biggest cave in the world. Don’t expect to visit it though, only a handful of people have entered due to the hefty $2000 entrance fee and one-year waiting list. Fear not, the area holds many other mind-blowing caves, such as Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and Dark Cave (where you can swim in the pitch black and have epic mud fights). All of which are definitely worth a visit! The road to access Phong Nha was only built a few years ago, so the area is transforming rapidly from an unknown impoverished area to a popular spot for Vietnamese and foreigners alike. This is great because it gives the area a gentle, authentic feel. However, for the same reason it is a very sensitive area, please be responsible when you visit; be friendly and respectful, and please do not give money to begging children.

 

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is Vietnam’s answer to a party beach resort. If you’re looking for an authentic Vietnamese countryside experience, then this is not the place for you. But if you’re looking for western comforts and some wild parties then Nha Trang is well worth a visit. It is set on a long beach, but for the truly beautiful beaches head outside of town where untouched stretches of golden sand and fun-sized waterfalls make for excellent relaxation spots. Its harbors also host an island, accessible by cable cart, dedicated solely to a waterpark. We can’t vouch for the health and safety regulations there, but it is definitely a lot of fun! If you are in Vietnam for NYE, then Nha Trang is famed for its beach side parties.

The Demilitarized Zone (The DMZ)

The historically rich DMZ offers a startling reminder of the troubles of the Vietnam war. The DMZ divided the north and the south, and the area has a real sense of history about it. If you’re interested in Vietnam’s past, and you should be, then we definitely recommend a visit. Spread across the countryside, there are remains of military vehicles, museums, and huge tunnel systems to visit - if you’re brave enough.

Da Lat

Da Lat is best accessed from Saigon. It is 1500m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau. Its twisting roads and marigold trees make this mountain town a very welcoming retreat. Its unique flora have led to its nickname as ‘City of a Thousand Pine Trees’. The most remarkable feature of the city is its multi-layered waterfalls which make the ideal spot to take the selfie that will make all your Facebook friends jealous. Make sure you hire an authorized guide though, as the falls can be dangerous.

Written by Alex Sinclair Lack for Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam. All rights reserved.