I left Denver, Colorado on time at 12:20pm, February 11th and fast forward thru the time continuum, I finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 1:30am, February 13th. Yawn . . . A bit wiped out to say the least, as Customs and Immigration took over an hour, coupled with a half hour taxi to my hotel, I think I finally fell asleep at 3:00am (maybe 3:30am). Dunno exactly . . . Ha.

All of the aforementioned was accomplished without one airline time delay. Thank God for small miracles, hmm? On the first leg – Denver to Tokyo (Narita Airport) – I watched 4 movies, Gravity, All Is Lost, Elysium, and Star Trek.

These are my quickie reviews:

Gravity – Great movie, but a bit underwhelming watching it on a 7″ tablet size screen via the seat back in front of me. Kudos to the outstanding special effects.

All Is Lost – Robert Redford was very good in this movie and yet, he has only a few lines and one primeval yell. In short, his body language and facial expressions suffice for this interesting survival story.

Elysium – I don’t think I have ever seen Jodi Foster as a bad guy (girl), but she does a very convincing job in this otherwise mediocre science fiction movie. Matt Damon is adequate, but it seems like he knows this is a turkey of a movie.

Star Trek – I watched this movie last and I must have been: 1. Extremely tired from flying 10 hours already and thought my critical thinking skills were impaired; or 2. Despite being half-way delusional, exhausted and overfed (more on that later), this movie was in fact – one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

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Ngon Restaurant. My friend, Thao took me here for dinner. Easily one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.

Not too much to do while strapped down for14 hours in a plane. Multiple walking trips to the restroom and/or around the aircraft for exercise is reminiscent of inhumane treatment of dogs in kennels. However, until they figure out a different way to transport us, this is what we have. No doubt it is much better than a galleon vessel from the 1600s.

I mentioned food . . . I counted 3 meals just on this flight alone. Perhaps, it is just my poor culinary tastes, but I thought all of it was quite good. The first meal was a type of chicken jambalaya with rice and a large salad. A few hours later, they served us a small ham and cheese sandwich, with Gelato ice cream. Thinking this was our last meal, I asked the flight attendant if I could have another one of those yummy ham and cheese sandwiches. She brought another one for me . . . Unbeknownst to me, another huge meal was going to be served a couple of hours later. Well, you can never be too safe is my motto. Essentially, they tell you the same thing in the military – eat when you can, because you don’t know when you’ll be able to again. Grin.

When we arrived in Narita Airport, I had little to no idea where the gate location of my Hong Kong connecting flight was at, albeit, I did have a Japan Airlines flight number. Consequently, I was able to follow the “green” line to connecting International flights and find my gate. The green line was my “yellow brick road” and made it easy to discern where I had to be for the next leg of my flight. After I checked in at the Gate and was given my boarding pass, I decided a major rest room break was in order. After draining the vein, I wanted to freshen up by washing my face, but they only had heat blowers for your hands. Screw it. I removed my glasses and shirt and practically took a shower, sans the actual shower. Mission accomplished, although it took me a while to dry off without paper towels. I left the restroom and grabbed a chair. WIFI was free, so I caught up on my emails, messages, etc. I had over 2 hours to wait, so it was nice to just relax without hardly anyone around me. The Japanese are perhaps, the most polite people I have ever come across. I think I must have bowed and said “thank you” about a dozen times in response to their bows and polite greetings. I was quite impressed and would become even more impressed with this country a few minutes before boarding my plane . . .

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I love my hotel, but the view from my window is . . . umm, not much. The best views are toward the park. However, I really like this hotel. The buffet breakfast that comes free with the room, is fantastic! Everything is fresh and for the most part, delicious. Couple that with large, modern rooms, this hotel would easily go for $150-200 in Denver. Here? Only $38 a night.

In my opinion, Oakley sunglasses are the best in the world. I have a pair of Nike sunglasses, along with a pair of classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, but my Oakley sunglasses are my favorites. I bought them approximately 9-10 years ago, after a friend (Loretta) told me about them. They are unisex and I forgot the name of the model, but they don’t sell them anymore. At the time, they cost over a $125, but Loretta was able to get them online for significantly less and told me about the website she purchased them from. I have a small head and these fit my face perfectly. In fact, these glasses have been to at least 20 countries with yours truly . . . In short, I love them.

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Badminton game being played in the park near my hotel. I walk this park every morning after breakfast. Most Vietnamese people exercise early in the morning or in the early evening, due to the extreme heat and humidity during the afternoon. Hard to explain, but the mornings and evenings are actually cool. You don’t sweat at all. I love it!

So, imagine my shock when I discover they are not propped on my bald head, nor in any of my pockets. The gate has just announced the boarding of our flight and I am in a panic to find my glasses. Then it hits me! I removed them when I washed my face in the restroom. Frankly, my first reaction is “. . . they are history.” Someone got a five finger discount on a pair of Oakley’s and I’ll never get them back. However, my 2nd thought is “I am in Japan” where honor, integrity and honesty are their primary character traits. I donned my back pack and ran to the rest room I had visited almost 2 hours ago. Unbelievable! To my utter surprise (and joy) they were still there on the washroom metal counter. Wow! People who gazed upon me as I walked back to the gate must have thought I had won the lottery, my sh*t eating grin was that obvious.

I boarded my flight to Hong Kong and discovered my seat was in the very end of the cabin. An advantage insofar as proximity to the restroom, but a disadvantage as far as your seat is concerned. Why? Well, the seat back wont go back as you’re already against the wall of the bathroom. This flight was no hop, skip or jump either. Approximately 5 more hours of tortuous upright sitting to look forward to. Ugh. However, I was so exhausted from the previous 14 hour flight, I fell asleep after they served us our meal and must have been out for a good 3 hours at least. Hurray for small miracles!

Next leg, Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh . . . However, I almost had another major screw up. As I was getting off the airplane, I ignored what appeared to be about a half dozen taxi service greeters, with those small signs indicating the person they were supposed to pick up. I walked passed them, but Ken (a Japanese businessman I met and befriended on my flight) said, “Steven, I think one of those people are here to direct you to your Hong Kong gate and flight.” I looked back and I saw my name on the sign, along with 4-5 other names. I quickly thanked Ken and walked over to this person in a bright blue sports jacket, with a United emblem on it and he said, “Are you Mr. Melikean?” I told him I was and he said, “OK, you are the last person from this Japan flight. I thought it was you, but you looked at me and just walked off. I am glad you came back. We need to take underground subway, then bus to terminal where your Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh gate is.” He added that most people get lost if they are not picked up at their connecting flight. Again, I was so grateful for Ken noticing this person and situation, because my exhaustion was interfering with my ability to discern small details and make decisions. Damn. I easily could have been spending the day in the Hong Kong airport waiting for another flight to Ho Chi Minh city.

This flight was on time, but despite having my Visa Approval Letter, Customs was still an interminable wait. Tick tock, tick tock . . . At around 2:30am, Customs completed my Visa, I paid the $95 multi-entry fee and was on my way to my hotel. Upon arriving, I noticed that a large park was across the street from my hotel. I would soon find out that this is as quiet as it gets in Ho Chi Minh City, especially District 1 (otherwise known as the “back packer” area. Somewhat of a misnomer, since you find all “levels” of tourists here).

The night manager welcomed me and also told me that there would be an early check-in fee. Hilarious. I was too damn tired to argue and as soon as we completed the necessary reception paperwork, I went to my room. At 3:30am, head hit pillow and I zonked out. The photos that follow document my first few days in the city. Enjoy . . .

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Phuong and I having coffee before going out to dinner at another restaurant.

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Thao took me to lunch at this restaurant called The Secret Garden. It is located near the Ho Chi Minh museum. The food was delicious. I had catfish and a mango seafood salad, but also shared some of her shrimp and cucumber soup. Yummy!

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Mango and seafood salad at The Secret Garden. By the by, I was so famished that I forgot to take photos before eating. However, Thao rearranged what was left for the photo shoot. Ha. Problem solved.

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Phuong.

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Hsieh and I. He has introduced me to quite a few people in the short time I have been here. He enjoys doing Tai Chai in the morning at the park near my hotel.

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This is called Banh Khot and it is delicious. Essentially, it is a seafood “lettuce wrap” which you dip in a mild sauce (not the spring roll beside it). Ngon restaurant is definitely in my top 10 restaurants of all time. I haven’t had a meal this good in ages.

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Clams in a fragrant delicious broth. Again, this was served at Ngon’s.

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My friend, Tueyen. We went to the Ben Thanh market place at night. A very happening place. She was wearing heels and her feet were quite sore . . . Consequently, the market place came in handy. I ended up buying her some sandals.

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Thao scaring me. Grin. By the by, most of the females wear dust masks. The pollution is bad, although not nearly as bad as Bangkok and Kathmandu were. Here in Ho Chi Minh, you can see the sun and blue skies most days.