An Unusual Birthday Surprise When Traveling to Vietnam

We often travel around the times of our birthdays, mostly just because of the time of year that they occur. At this point in our lives, we don’t tend to make a fuss over our birthdays and certainly don’t tell people when we’re traveling if it happens to be one of our birthdays. This made what happened during our trip to Hanoi even more surprising. We had a very full itinerary while we were in Vietnam with every day full of long tours and it was always a joy to return to our hotel in the old town area of Hanoi.

Bringing Us a Whole Birthday Cake
Specialty Drinks with Dinner
Amazing Views of the Ninh Binh Province

On this particular day, we had gotten up early and gone to the Ninh Binh province where we saw many amazing sights. It was relatively late when we returned to the hotel and we were looking forward to going out and getting a bite to eat. As we entered the hotel, the staff at the desk asked us to take a seat in the lobby as they had some information for us. This did not surprise us as they were extremely helpful, friendly, and had provided us lots of useful information about places to go in the neighborhood.

Birthday Cake
Fruit Platter and Fresh Juice
Bed Decorated for the Birthday

What was surprising was when the staff returned with an entire birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to us. Since we had never mentioned the birthday to the hotel, we made the assumption that they must have gotten it from our passports. The staff told us that they were honored that we chose to share such a special occasion with them. In addition to the cake, they also gave us a tray of fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice. Then we went up to our room to change for dinner and discovered a hearts made from towels and flower petals on the bed. To say that the staff of the Antique Legend Hotel were wonderful would be an extreme understatement.

Filet for the Birthday Dinner
Hoan Kiem Lake

How to Select a Hotel, B&B, or Vacation Rental Property

One of the keys to the success of any trip can often be based on the place that you stay at during your visit. While people, including ourselves, often say it is just a place to sleep and not as important as the destination itself, it can effect your overall impression of a location and even your mood while you are there. We didn’t list hostels as a place to stay only because we have never stayed in a hostel, although we would assume that the same principals would apply. Some people can just show up and find a place to stay once they get there, but we’re not comfortable with taking our chances that way and always make reservations ahead of time. When selecting a place to stay, there are several factors that we consider as we go through the process of deciding on a where to make our reservations.

View from Hotel in Athens, Greece

Quaint Room in Brasov, Romania

  1. Location – This is clearly one of the most important things to consider when choosing a place to stay. How far is it away from the major sites that you want to see, how convenient is the transportation from the place, is it located in a safe area of the city, and how much noise is in the area? Especially if you don’t have your own vehicle, being within walking distance or at least short rides to the various places that you want to see is very important. We love to walk as much as possible in the cities that we visit, so the more central the location, the better that we find it. Although it isn’t a high priority, staying at a place that has views of the city is often a nice bonus that can make your stay even more enjoyable.

    View from the Hotel in Amsterdam

    Hotel Room in Copacabana at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia
  2. Amenities – Obviously, this is dependent upon your needs and travel style. For some people, having a restaurant on site or free breakfast can be important. Is there a private bathroom, does the property provide a hair dryer and bath products, etc. Is there a concierge on site, do they allow pets, do they have Wifi, is there a safe in the room, and whether the property provides housekeeping are things that might be important to some people. For others, having a kitchen or in-room refrigerator and coffeemaker are must have items in order to save time and money. We like to know if there is a bar on-site and whether room service is offered because we often want to unwind after a long day of touring the city and surrounding area. We also prefer a location that has housekeeping since we don’t want to do any cleaning during our stay, so we tend not to stay at Airbnb or VRBO type property.

    Boutique Hotel in Rome

    Hotel Room in Reykjavik, Iceland
  3. Comfort – The size of the room and bathroom may or may not be important, but whether the sheets and carpets are clean should definitely be a consideration. Even if you only spend a few hours in the room sleeping, you want those hours to be as comfortable as possible. We prefer at least a king or queen size bed as opposed to having to push two twins together. We definitely want to have a shower and a bathtub is a plus. Unless we’re in an ecolodge in the jungle, we’d definitely expect to have hot, running water. If there are multiple floors, some people might need an elevator, although that isn’t a concern for us, at least for now.

    Cochabamba Hotel Room in Bolivia

    Nile River from Our Hotel Room in Cairo, Egypt
  4. Staff – Other than through reviews, there isn’t really a way to determine whether the staff will be friendly and helpful until you arrive, but it can definitely determine how much you enjoy your stay. Rude staff that isn’t willing to help, especially if there are any issues during your stay, can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for the entire place that you are visiting. We rely heavily on getting tips for local restaurants that aren’t touristy as well as places that might not be on your tourist guide to visit during our stay. We have even remained friends with some of those people long after our time in that location.

    Simple Room in Athens, Greece

    Unique Room in Nuremberg, Germany
  5. Price – The place where you are staying can be one of the most expensive costs of a trip and therefore it is one of the main considerations. Obviously there is more to it than just the actual nightly room rate, it is a combination of all of these considerations to determine what value you are getting for the price. Even so, if after researching the various choices that can be found at a destination, there are several places that provide similar value, then obviously trying to spend the least amount as possible is desirable. Paying more doesn’t mean that it is better. We are definitely believers in getting the most value (location, comfort, amenities, and friendly staff) for the money that we do spend.

    Room with a View in Panama City, Panama

    Historic Hotel in Paris, France

Regardless of what your priorities are, researching a location is important. Reviews from people who have actually stayed there are often one of our primary deciding factors. We’ll visit the site’s website, assuming that they have one, look at the pictures, read what they have to say, but we don’t stop there. Pictures can be deceiving and marketing material is meant to entice you, even if they over promise. We also pay attention to whether the manager or owner of a property responds individually to reviews and if they demonstrate an honest commitment to making the stay’s of their guests successful. Brand loyalty is also a factor for us as we belong to a couple of loyalty programs and there is a sense of comfort knowing that you can trust what to expect. What are your priorities when looking for a place to stay when traveling?

Have You Experienced Anything Supernatural?

We have stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, several times with varied experiences. The hotel was built in 1909 by the inventor of the Stanley Steamer, Freelan Stanley, and has had many famous guests throughout its history. The hotel is located just five miles from the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park, making it a great location to stay when wanting to spend a few days hiking in park. With its bright white exterior and red roof, the hotel stands out against the mountains that sit behind it.

View from the Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel

One of the Stanley’s most famous guests was Stephen King who stayed there in 1974 and was inspired to write The Shining after his experiences there. Although he called the hotel the Overlook Hotel in his book and added several embellishments, there are many features that are the same as what he described. The Stanley Hotel was also the set of the 1997 miniseries of The Shining.

Hiking near Estes Park

The Stanley at Dusk

On our very first visit to the Stanley Hotel in 1998, we arrived early at about 10:00 am because we wanted to get out and get into the mountains. We didn’t expect to be able to get into our room, but we were told that the room was ready and we were also told that we were able to stay in the same suite that Stephen King stayed in during his stay. Apparently people often request that room and actually being able to stay in that room is a rarity. We went to our room to unpack and change to go hiking and shortly after entering the room, the radio alarm clock went off. Obviously the previous guest must have set the alarm and not turned it off, so we walked over the clock to turn it off, but the alarm was not set. It wouldn’t turn off, so we went to unplug it from the wall, but it was not plugged in. We looked for a place for batteries, but there wasn’t any. A few seconds later, the radio stopped playing. It was truly creepy.

Our Room in 2012, not Stephen King’s Suite

Staircase in the Hotel

We weren’t aware at the time that the hotel had quite the reputation for being haunted and we weren’t there for any other reason other than it was a nice hotel with a good location. A few years later, the show Ghost Hunters filmed an episode there and the fame its ghostly reputation soared. On our last visit to the hotel in 2012, we were somewhat disappointed because what was a quiet, quaint, hotel, had become a tourist spot where you could book rooms based upon which ones you were more likely to see a spirit. There are also tours of the hotel going every fifteen minutes during the day and people wander the grounds as they wait for their tour. At night, we saw people setting up cameras trying to capture their own ghostly image and people wander the halls hoping to get a glimpse of spirit.

Famous Elevator

Another View of the Hotel

We don’t doubt that the hotel is truly haunted, especially based upon our experience so many years ago, but didn’t care for the atmosphere of all of the ghost chasers. They even showed the 1980 movie of The Shining, which wasn’t filmed there, 24/7 in the hotel rooms. We did happen to go by the suite we stayed in during our original visit while there was a tour group outside of it because it is one of the most haunted rooms in the hotel. Apparently there was a fire in the room that killed a maid many years ago and she is reported to still haunt the room. Was she upset that we checked in early and didn’t think that the room was ready? We’ll never know. Have you ever had your own ghostly encounter?

Someone Wrote on a Door to the Roof

Elevator Control

View from the Trail