23 October 2008

Pets abroad - by air and sea

With more and more restrictions on travel, it is getting more difficult to take your pet cat or dog abroad.
My preferred method of pet transport from Canada to Europe is by ocean liner. Cunard Lines has a purpose-built kennel compound on the Queen Mary 2. The twelve kennels are overseen by a full-time kennel master who feeds, cares for, and walks the animals. Owners can visit and spend time in the kennel compound with their pets. This expensive service is only available trans-Atlantic, and must be booked well in advance. Also, in order to land a pet in the UK, it must be quarantined for six months. This tends to cut down on the desirability of such ports. However, a sailing to France or Germany would avoid such bizarre restrictions.
For those of us without the time and money to sail to Europe or anywhere else, there is the usual way: Air Canada. Air Canada only allows cats and dogs, and no longer allows them in the cabin with passengers unless they are trained and certified service animals (guide dogs for the blind) and are pre-registered with Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk.
All pets must travel in the baggage compartment as checked luggage. You have to pre-register your pet within 24 hours of booking your ticket (1-888-247-2262). Within Canada and the USA the additional cost for a pet is $105 plus taxes; and for any other destination $270 plus taxes. Kennels must weigh less than 32 kg. “International regulations state that the pet carrier must be big enough to allow the animal to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. If the pet carrier does not allow the animal to do this, Air Canada must refuse transport.” (Air Canada) Please note no airline accepts any responsibility for the death or injury of pets carried by the airline at any time.
As planes tend to be full during holiday periods, there are no pets carried on Air Canada during the Christmas and New Years’ period (18 December - 7 January); and during the summer (20 June - 10 September). During the winter period pets will not be carried on the CRJ and Embraer aircraft due to unheated cargo holds. Also, during the summer you cannot send you pet through the following airports: ATL, MCO, MIA, FLL, LAS, IAH, PHX.
NEVER ever tranquilize your pet before travel: this causes illness and the pet cannot take care of itself when drugged. As an aside, please refrain from dressing them in costumes at Halloween: it degrades you and the animal.

According to Air Canada, here are some current restrictions on pet transport in the most popular destinations.
AUSTRALIA Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
CANADA Contact the Animal Health Division of Agriculture Canada.
EUROPEAN UNION A Health certificate information form must be filed.
HONG KONG Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
JAMAICA Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
NEW ZEALAND Pets can only travel via cargo due to strict controls.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO Pets are not accepted due to quarantine laws.
UNITED KINGDOM Pets are not accepted into or through the UK in the baggage compartment due to quarantine laws. Air Canada was the first North American carrier allowed to participate in United Kingdom's Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) which permits pet dogs and cats to enter U.K as cargo without the usual 6 months quarantine as long as certain conditions are met. Customers wishing to travel with a service animal should contact the Medical Assistance Desk at Air Canada Reservations.
UNITED STATES of AMERICA Pets can only travel via cargo. Pets cannot be shipped to Hawaii at all due to extremely strict agricultural regulations.

13 October 2008

Sail the Mekong

Until now, quickly and comfortably sailing up or down the Mekong River between Saigon and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had been impossible. There was either speedboat service which was fast and uncomfortable, or slow boat service which was very comfortable but took a week.
That is all set to change with the introduction in July 2009 of the new riverboat now being built in Saigon by the international riverboat company Pandaw Cruises. Pandaw is about to launch the RV Indochina Pandaw, with only thirty cabins, and holding a maximum of 60 passengers. The Indochina Pandaw will make a two night journey (up to three a week) along the mighty and massive Mekong River, linking the two large cities of the southern Mekong.
I have personally sailed the Mekong with Pandaw, and can recommend nothing better in all of southeast Asia. You have a mahogany-paneled cabin with air conditioning. Your door opens to the side of the boat and the wrap-around terrace. Meals are a mix of Asian and European foods prepared for a single small sitting. All excursions are included in the ticket price.
This is a great way to see the real Vietnam and the real Cambodia. Watch as life unfolds along the river. Sit atop of the sun deck as the boat glides past villages largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The river really is the only true life-line here, and all life centres around it.
What makes this even better is that the road between the two cities is awful and a very undesirable way to travel. Also, flights are short, but you do not get to experience the river delta region. This is the most productive rice area in the world, and you have to see it from a boat.
There is no better way to combine a trip to Vietnam and a visit to Cambodia than by riverboat.
Lots more information about Pandaw’s new RV Indochina Pandaw can be found here.
Canadians do not need to have a visa for Cambodia before travel. You can buy your visa at the airport or border upon arrival for only US$20. Click here for visa details for Cambodia.
You must have a Vietnamese visa prior to arrival. Click here for visa details for Vietnam.

08 October 2008

Bra-ziiiill !

Good news. Brazil, although requiring Canadians to get a visa before travel to Brazil, is giving very generous visas to Canadains in return for the inconvenience.
Yes, Brazil is giving multiple entry and long-term visas in response to requests for simple tourist visas. It is common to see multi-entry visas valid for two years being placed in Canadian tourist passports. So for the price of one visa application, you could set yourself up for a few winters of sun and fun on the beach and at Carnivale, or jungle adventures up the Amazon. This applies equally to people flying or taking a cruise.
Click here for Brazilian visa details.

06 October 2008

Visit Viet Nam

I am secretly Vietnamese, but you cannot tell by looking as I have a large caucasian birthmark which covers my entire body. I love Vietnamese cuisine. This is perhaps the most perfect of all Asian cooking styles. There is little deep frying, and the freshness and crispness of the vegetables comes through with every bite.
Viet Nam is a very long slender country, and the best way to see it is by train or by riverboat. The train will take you along the full length of the country. A riverboat will take you through the Mekong Delta: the world epicentre of rice production.
To my mind the best way to travel in and see much of Viet Nam is by train. To find out how easy this is, I recommend you visit Seat 61 dot com and puruse the page on trains in this crowded and active country. The Vietnamese state rail company also has an English language website, and will take advance booking.
In Hanoi the greatest cultural attraction is the Thang Long national water puppet theatre at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang (near the N.E. corner of Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the city. This is a national treasure, and an amazing sight. The puppets come up out of the pool of water used as the stage. Performances are daily.
My choice for the place to stay is within the confines of the old city. The Old quarter, with streets named after the craft practiced there (such as tin, or silk, or tombstone street) hosts hundreds of inns and hotels and great eateries. This is one fo the world's great travel bargains. And if you want the ultimate rooming experience, then the Metropole is just east-south-east of the central lake.
In the centre of the country, not too far from the thin waist of the nation, is the old royal capital city of Hue. This place is best known to the west as the site of the battle of Hue during the Tet offensive in February 1968. Now it is a pleasant resort town with world heritage site ruins of the royal citadel. Daily trains from Hanoi run to Hue. A first class ticket on the SE1 overnight train costs about $30.
Four hours south by train is the stop in Da Nang, and up-and-coming industrial and port city. The ride between Hue and Danang is the most beautiful train journey (trains SH1 and SE3 cost about $6) on earth. The verdant hills and waterfalls, with the South China Sea spread out to the east, is simply stunning. Once in Danang, quickly leave for a short 20km motorcycle hop to the exquisite town of Hoi An. The town is a gem of old architecture and good food. Watch for ancient Hoi An pottery sunk in 1490, and recovered lately. Small jars can be had for $20.
The southern capital of Saigon (formally titled Ho Chi Minh City) is big and noisy and full of so much traffic you will be unable to cross the street. In Saigon it is usually worth getting massages and foot rubs on Dong Koi street. Also, if you want a professional oil portrait done, this is the place. Take along a good qaulity image you would like painted, then find a gallery in the area between the Rex Hotel and Dong Koi. They will paint it in one month, then send it by post to you in Canada. We had this done, and are still delighted with the result. A train (TN7) from Da Nang to Sai Gon (TP HCM), first class sleeper overnight, costs about $35.
So go soon. And fall in love with Viet Nam.