Three Perfect Days: Ho Chi Minh City
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Ho Chi Minh City

By The Hub team , September 18, 2015

Story by Cain Nunns | Photography by Christian Berg | Hemispheres, September 2015

Saigon (as the city is still known by locals) has had a tough life. Its buildings reflect the various cultures that have intruded over the centuries—Chinese, Cambodian, French, Japanese, American. Its history can read like a laundry list of wars. The city's troubled past, however, does not diminish the optimism of its people. This is especially true now, as the Vietnamese economy surges and Ho Chi Minh City finds itself in the midst of a massively ambitious urban renewal project. Yet, as Graham Greene understood, the quality that makes the place truly special is timeless—an almost mystical intensity that permeates “the colors, the taste, even the rain."

Day 1 Graphic

In which Cain experiences an architectural Reverie and wanders Saigon's markets and back alleys

Saigon (as the city is still known by locals) has had a tough life. Its buildings reflect the various cultures that have intruded over the centuries—Chinese, Cambodian, French, Japanese, American. Its history can read like a laundry list of wars. The city's troubled past, however, does not diminish the optimism of its people. This is especially true now, as the Vietnamese economy surges and Ho Chi Minh City finds itself in the midst of a massively ambitious urban renewal project. Yet, as Graham Greene understood, the quality that makes the place truly special is timeless—an almost mystical intensity that permeates “the colors, the taste, even the rain."

If anything sums up the transformation of Ho Chi Minh City, it's the Reverie Saigon. The hotel, which opened this year, occupies the upper 13 floors of a 39-story glassy block in District 1, an area where the French Colonial architecture is rapidly being overshadowed by a huddle of high-concept skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Trinh Dinh Le Minh, FilmmakerTrinh Dinh Le Minh, Filmmaker

The Reverie's interior, contrived by a consortium of Italian designers, is an emphatic expression of these changes, an almost surreal clamor of colors, textures and styles. In the florid reception area stands a large gold and emerald clock that the concierge informs me is worth about half a million dollars.

After a bowl of rich Vietnamese beef stew at a poolside table, I head out to find Nguyen Hue, a broad promenade flanked by French Colonial buildings, bars, boutiques and galleries. North of here is Lam Son Square, once the beating heart of French Indochina and now a shopping and selfie destination. It's noon, the time of day when the city begins to wilt, when the park benches are filled with snoozers and the locals pack the cafés in search of relief.

One of the more notable of these refuges is inside the Hotel Continental, a wicker-and-linen spot that has always drawn a motley crowd, from opium dealers to American journalists to British spies. Graham Greene was a regular there and used it as a backdrop for his novel The Quiet American. But I've opted instead for a tipple at Broma, a rooftop bar swarming with good-looking locals. Getting up there involves climbing a narrow, twisting staircase, and I'm sweating by the time I reach the top. Considerably more composed is Trinh Dinh Le Minh, a young filmmaker who recently returned from living in Austin, Texas. We sip Old Fashioneds and discuss My Apartment Block, Minh's documentary set in the building in which his parents live alongside a cast of colorful neighbors. The film found success at U.S. film festivals, but Minh insists that there's only one place he could have made it. “In America, I couldn't get 30 families to open up their lives for six months," he says. “But here, everybody said yes."

“I like the diversity and openness of this city. This is like New York, where we all gather—some to start a business or make money, all to follow their dreams." —Trinh Dinh Le Minh

I say goodbye to Minh and head off to take a look at the nearby home of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, a government building dating from the early 20th century, with elaborate detailing and a multiturreted design that exemplifies the so-called Tropical Baroque style. From here, I make my way deeper into the city, past crumbling villas and sparkling offices, high-end watch shops and a guy selling knockoffs from a bamboo basket, past the pho woman, the xe om (motorcycle taxi) drivers dozing under banyan trees, the chattering money changers, the flower vendors and silk sellers.

I grab a café sua da, an intensely strong iced coffee with condensed milk, and sit on a bench outside Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, beside a statue of the Virgin Mary. Local lore has it that she once shed tears, luring the faithful from around the world to come experience the miracle. I touch the Holy Mother's cheek. Not a drop.

Constructed by the French in the 19th century using rose-colored bricks shipped from Marseille, the neo-Romanesque cathedral is the heart of the city's Catholic community. Today, its twin 200-foot bell towers provide a counterpoint to the city's bristling office towers and also offers shade to the shoeshine boy and the woman selling Hello Kitty balloons.

Solitude and splendor at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in SaigonSolitude and splendor at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Saigon

I cross the street to the Saigon Central Post Office, entering a wrought-iron barrel-like interior that is unmistakably the work of Gustave Eiffel, whose influence is evident throughout Vietnam. At a long counter, I find Duong Van Ngo, an octogenarian former postal worker who volunteers as a translator, handwriting travelers' messages in a variety of languages. I hand him a postcard and ask if he'd write “The eagle has landed" in Vietnamese.

“That's it?" he says, sounding disappointed.

“Um, could you also write it in Russian? And French?"

“There you are, sir," he says a few seconds later, handing the postcard back to me with a smile.

Next, I head south to Ben Thành Market, a crush of handicraft vendors, souvenir sellers and snack hawkers. Droves of tourists move from stall to stall, haggling badly. The scents of jasmine and lemongrass fill the air. An elderly woman in a conical hat eyes me before I reach her stand. “Fruit?" she chirps, pronouncing it friiiiit?

Saigonese are obsessed with freshness. Two markets occur here daily, one for the lunch crowd, the other for dinner. I try a few perfectly juicy dragon eyes (the lychee-like longan). “Too old!" I say to the woman, clutching my stomach in a parody of pain. “Oi gioi oi! Dien!" (“Oh my God! Crazy!") she replies, swatting me with a long stick usually used to chase flies away.

The Lady Hau, a restored rice barge, sails the Saigon RiverThe Lady Hau, a restored rice barge, sails the Saigon River

I wave goodbye to the chuckling fruit seller and say hello to Duc, a xe om driver, who takes me to Quan An Ngon, a street food–themed restaurant located in a lemon-colored colonial building. I feast on excellent egg, shrimp, pork and bean-sprout pancakes; pounded shrimp hash on sugar cane; and water chestnut for dessert.

Just down the road I find the neoclassical Ho Chi Minh City Museum, a former governor's residence with grand ballrooms that now contain exhibits detailing Saigon's history. I wander among the old maps, typewriters used to punch out historical documents and dusty ceramics for a while, then head out to explore a bunch of decommissioned military equipment interspersed with six-foot Frosty the Tiger rubbish bins.

A short stroll west takes me to Independence Palace, a sprawling Brutalist edifice once described by The New York Times (improbably) as the sexiest building in Southeast Asia. The 19th-century residence became the home of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem after the French left in the mid-'50s. In 1962, Diem's own air force bombed it, and before the palace was rebuilt, the president had been done in by other members of his armed forces.

b\u00e1nh x\u00e8o at Quan An Ngonbánh xèo at Quan An Ngon

I tiptoe along the building's eerily quiet hallways, peering into barren conference halls and reception rooms decked out with shag carpets and horseshoe bars of the kind Sinatra used to lean against. Outside, beyond a rolling lawn, are the gates that were smashed by a North Vietnamese tank during the fall of Saigon, one of the most iconic images of what people here call “The American War."

At Minh's suggestion, I'm dining tonight at Pho Ha, in the shadow of the Bitexco Financial Tower. Built to represent a budding lotus—a signifier of purity, faithfulness and awakening, and the national flower of Vietnam—the building symbolizes Saigon's role as an engine of prosperity. We tuck into large amounts of chicken pho and sticky broken rice, serenaded by a group of young performers. Their leader, sporting a Mad Max hairdo, strums an acoustic guitar. “We are laid-back because Saigon's sun and rain allows everything to grow," Minh says, reclining in his chair. “It's always been an easier life in the south."

Day 2 Graphic

In which Cain goes café hopping and gets a taste of both Vietnam's tumultuous past and its soothing present

I make my way out of the Reverie and into a deluge—marble-sized raindrops fill the air with the musky scent of ozone. Out on Dong Khoi, the Golden Mile, a woman appears selling cheap umbrellas. I hem and haw over the selection. Snoopy? The “Channel" knockoff? I decide on a vivid yellow Pikachu number with a pink handle.

With as much dignity as I can muster, I take the short walk to the Au Parc café, where the Apple-user set flutters about, munching on sheep cheese. I sit at a table outside and order a goat cheese and arugula salad—a nod to the French influence here—and a banana shake. In the park across the street, barbers have hung mirrors on trees, and they're being put to use by a small crowd of girls clad in ao dai, Vietnam's silky national dress. “We love beauty pageants," my waitress says, watching as the girls line up to have their picture taken.

Dustin Nguyen, ActorDustin Nguyen, Actor

My next stop is the Catina Café, a coffee shop set above art galleries and silk shops on Dong Khoi. Dustin Nguyen, Johnny Depp's co-star on the '80s TV show “21 Jump Street," meets me on the balcony. “This is Saigon. Look out here," he says, gesturing at the street below. “The orange sellers and the rich—a mix of everything. There's no separation." To truly appreciate the city, he adds, you need to be in the thick of it. “It's a town that needs to be walked. You won't get anything in the back of a car."

Nguyen, whose family fled to America at the end of the war, in 1975, first returned about eight years ago, following a Hollywood career that included roles in Little Fish, with Cate Blanchett, and Oliver Stone's Heaven & Earth. “There is no glass ceiling in Vietnam," he says. “Here I write, produce, direct and act." Coming home also offered Nguyen the opportunity to rekindle an old flame. “You either love or hate Saigon, and I love it," he says. “There is an energy here that's hard to replicate."

We chat over coconut juice from the nut until Nguyen has to leave for a location scout on the coast. I grab a cab and head west to District 3, where leafy boulevards accommodate excellent eateries, restored colonials, hip new boutiques and an increasing number of tech startups looking for rents that are less crushing than in neighboring District 1.

“Saigon is like a child getting on its feet for the first time: Finding its steps but eager to show the world what it can do. There is a sense of focus on living now—A chaotic atmosphere that works through a resilience that has stood the test of time and hardship." —Dustin Nguyen

My first destination is the War Remnants Museum, a blocky, gunmetal gray building surrounded by jet fighters, Chinook helicopters and U.S. tanks. The exhibits inside include war photographs, weapons and a fine selection of reconstructed torture chambers. This, by the way, is the most visited museum in Vietnam.

From here, I walk a block northeast to Ly Club, a cream colonial mansion transformed into a fusion eatery that marries French techniques with local produce. On the redbrick patio there are water features, large linen parasols and diners in expensive aviators. Inside, sweeping arches, contemporary Vietnamese art and oversize armchairs create an air of opulence.

I'm here to meet an old friend, Ed Hollands, a software executive and on-and-off resident of the city. “I've never met people who live for the day more," he says of the Saigonese. “There is a toughness to these people, but there's also a celebration of life. This city is an open canvas. You can paint your own painting."

Street food vendors at Ben Th\u00e0nh MarketStreet food vendors at Ben Thành Market

We dine on a Vietnamese tasting menu: sea bass salad with onion and basil; grilled spring chicken with honey sauce and deep-fried sticky rice; fried chive flowers and steamed banana cake; all washed down with a couple of perfectly chilled Argentine chardonnays.

Bloated and buzzed, we head northeast, down Dien Bien Phu, a considerably more sedate setting than its namesake battle, which drove the French out of Vietnam once and for all. Many of the city's streets are named after battles, or the people who fought them.

We walk through Le Van Tam Park, where we “borrow" badminton rackets from some kids playing without a net. Ed misses four shots in a row before raising his arms in triumph: “YES!" The kids ditch the game and bombard us with questions, which becomes a kind of game—one that requires Ed and me to concoct ever more absurd answers. “I'm from the moon." “I'm here to build a water park." “I'm a professional badminton player."

Finally the kids peel off, and Ed and I walk in silence to one of Saigon's most stunning and important locations: the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a century-old temple built to honor the Heavenly Grandfather, a benevolent immortal who holds dominion over gods and man.

A fighter plane at the War Remnants MuseumA fighter plane at the War Remnants Museum

We enter by the coral-pink gate, beneath rampant dragons and blue-green tiles. Inside, coils of incense hang in the air, lit by streams of sunshine. Buddha statues stand over offerings of beer, soda, mandarins and guavas. Cinnamon-robed monks glide around. Ed lights three incense sticks, touches them to his forehead and bows three times before depositing them in an urn. “Got a big deal coming up," he explains.

Back outside, we hop on a xe om and head toward Bach Dang Pier, where senior citizens practice tai chi at dawn and families fly kites during the day. We board the Lady Hau, a restored three-deck timber junk that once carried rice on the waterways from Saigon to Cambodia. Sipping cocktails, we snake up the Saigon River, past thatch-roofed houses shaded by mango, jackfruit and grapefruit trees. We skirt District 2, a wealthy neighborhood that houses international schools and expats on hefty expense accounts. It's also the planned site for a flashy new financial and entertainment district.

While devouring plates of fried chili fish with passion fruit sauce, rice pancakes and skewers of barbecued pork and pineapple, we watch the sun set and the city ready itself for another hectic round of nightlife. “Yep," says Ed through a mouthful of lotus salad. “Tough life."

Day 3 Graphic

In which Cain visits an art museum, an ancient pagoda and a bustling nightclub

I start the day with eggs Benedict at the InterContinental Hotel, then head out to Hai Ba Trung, a bustling shopping street festooned with streams of power lines. Every couple of steps I have to jump over a mat bearing knockoff Ray-Bans or dodge a woman selling peanuts, flowers or fruit from a bamboo basket. A few doglegs later, I'm at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum.

Housed in what used to be a wealthy Chinese trader's mansion, the museum has an ornate yellow facade, its entryway flanked by blue-green columns. Inside, I meet Sophie Hughes, a British expat who has had a hand in Saigon's burgeoning art scene for a few years and now runs Sophie's Art Tour.

Nam Viet Hoang, ArtistNam Viet Hoang, Artist

As we file through the high-roofed halls, Hughes tells the stories behind early Vietnamese artists' use of oils and lacquer and how propaganda art was used by both sides during the war—but her job is complicated by my hangover. “There's a real edge to this city right now," Hughes says, amused by my condition. “It's like the Roaring '20s." We stand on a balcony for a while, gazing down on a courtyard containing two statues that are doubling as poles for a badminton net, before I mutter an apologetic goodbye and head outside for something to eat.

There are few cities in the world that can do street food like Saigon. For about $3, I get delicious bánh mì sandwiches and fresh pineapple juice, which I eat while sitting in a '70s-style lawn chair at a small plastic table. Soon, Nam Viet Hoang, a bespectacled artist with a flowing ponytail, pulls up on a Vespa. I jump on the bike and we zip down Hai Ba Trung and through District 3, slowing down to look at the electric pink Tan Dinh Cathedral, its huge jagged spires pranging the sky.

“Saigon is simplicity, a simple place, where I can live a simple life. I don't care about change and development. We hold on to some of the old values—that's why we still call it Saigon." —Nam Viet Hoang

We push on to Binh Tanh, a district peppered with auto repair shops, DVD stores and anonymous clothing boutiques. We cross a bridge over one of the area's refurbished canals, then pull into the nondescript alleyway 86, where we are served coffee by an old Chinese man, one of the city's few remaining streetside coffee pourers.

“Everybody is welcome here, " Viet says. “It's the country's most open place and always has been." To underscore his point, he gestures at the passing businessmen in fancy suits, schoolgirls reading manga comics, chatting women, 50-somethings in tennis outfits and the perpetually smiling Chinese coffee pourer.

Viet heads back to the city, and I grab a taxi to Tan Binh District, a gritty neighborhood that's home to the 271-year-old Giac Lam Pagoda. Visitors stroll around the temple's peaceful gardens or play Chinese chess in the courtyard, but the real highlight is the cemetery, each of its graves marked with a colorful, stylized mini-pagoda.

Dinner is back in District 1, at the Refinery, a trendy bar/restaurant located in a former opium factory (hence the poppy motif above its wooden doors). I have salmon carpaccio, followed by barbecued swordfish, parsley mash and roasted peppers. It's a simple meal, but they do simple so well here. I head out of the restaurant satisfied and happy.

Midday traffic behind Saigon Notre-Dame CathedralMidday traffic behind Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral

Outside, teenagers straddle motorbikes while off-duty office girls crisscross between cafés. I pause before the Saigon Opera House, a compact, elegant structure built in 1897, now restored to near-mint condition. I pop inside to see the ÀÔ Show, an energetic, acrobatic performance that uses dance and bamboo props to explore Vietnam's history.

The show finishes to riotous applause. “Brilliant, just brilliant. Wasn't it?" says a robustly earnest American with copper hair and searching eyes. Before I can answer, an old food seller in pajamas appears from nowhere, handing me a custard apple on the house.

I end the night a few blocks from here, at Lush, a small nightclub decorated with anime prints. I stand on the wraparound balcony and watch the people below. The mood is celebratory, indicative of Saigon's economic surge, but also of this city in general. This is one of the things I love about Saigon—the smashmouth optimism, the sense that the past bears weight only to the extent that it doesn't interfere with today, or our anticipation of the days that will follow.

Freelance writer Cain Nunns attempted to follow in Graham Greene's footsteps, and he's still nursing a nice hangover.


This article was written by Cain Nunns from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Weekend inspiration: Savannah

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague

The key to visiting Savannah in the summer? Planning outdoor and indoor activities, so you can enjoy all of the treasures this charming Southern city has to offer. If you only have a few days to spend here, it is even more important to plan your time and itinerary carefully. Luckily, we've gathered the best of the best to visit in historic Savannah with carefully planned air-conditioned stops along the way. Put on your walking shoes, grab some sunscreen and get ready to explore.

Day 1

Before your trip, make sure to make reservations for dinner at The Olde Pink House restaurant in advance. Adjacent to the Planters Inn, this popular spot has been serving Southern food at it's finest at one of Savannah's oldest mansions. While there, make sure you order the fried chicken — voted one of the best in Savannah and it does not disappoint. The braised pork shank is also a must-try. From there walk over to Leopold's Ice Cream. Choose a fancy pre-made ice cream or create your own treat. A Savannah tradition, this shop has been serving the best ice cream in Savannah since 1919.

Abe's on Lincoln | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague

If you're looking for a dive bar instead of ice cream, drop in to Abe's on Lincoln. Create your own artistic rendition of Abraham Lincoln on your napkin, and your creation might end up on the ceiling where other patrons' artwork is displayed.

Day 2

The next morning get started before the crowds and visit the Waving Girl Statue. This statue commemorates Florence Martus who (from 1887-1931) became the unofficial 'greeter' of Savannah and waved at every ship that came into port. From there head down River Street to Huey's on the river for beignets and their potato casserole. Don't worry about the calories, you will walk them off.

Hueys on the river

Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague

River Street

Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague

After Huey's, stop by the Savannah Bee Company and sign up for a mead tasting. For just a few dollars you will get to taste all sorts of variations and flavors from all over the country. Interestingly mead, created from fermenting honey, is one of the oldest alcohols in human history. Evidence of mead in clay pots dates back to 7000 BC. After you've had a few sips of mead and tasted the honeycomb, head out for a bit of shopping. We recommend Broughton Street, especially 24e and the Paris Market.

Artillery - Savannah The Artillery restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague

Stop by Juliet Gordon Lowe's birthplace (Girl Scout's founder) to see when the next tour is and make a reservation. Go to Husk for lunch while you wait. Husk, founded by James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock, uses local ingredients in his ever-changing, scrumptious menu. After your tour of Ms. Lowe's home, put on your finest and head over to Artillery for a fancy cocktail and then on to The Collins Quarter Restaurant.

The Collins Quarter - Savannah Collins Quarter restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague

The Collins Quarter restaurant is an Australian take on Southern food and is exquisite. Get the hot chicken — it's delicious. Wander over to Chippewa Square after dinner where the movie Forrest Gump was filmed. The exact bench he sat on for the movie is no longer there, but everything else in the park is the same. Nearby on Bull street is another boutique, Red Clover, you should stop at if you're in the market for a gorgeous new frock. End the evening with dessert at Chocolate by Adam Turoni. Adam's shop feels like you stepped into wonderland, complete with a grass floor and bookshelves full of delicious treats.

All that's left is to head home full of southern food and southern hospitality.

P.S. If you have a few extra hours rent a car and go see the Wormsloe Plantation. The entrance will take your breath away. Also check out the Bonaventure Cemetery where poets, revolutionaries and the founders of Savannah have ornate gravestones in a picturesque, photo-worthy setting.

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How to prepare for your child's first flight

By Benét J. Wilson

Traveling can be stressful at times, even when you're flying solo. But imagine what a child must feel, especially as they prepare to take their first flight. The key to any successful first flight is to take a cue from the Girl Scouts motto: be prepared. I'm a mother who started traveling the world with her child since she was 10 days old. So if you're planning your child's first flight soon, read on for my helpful tips to make your child's first flight a success.

Before the flight

Make sure to choose your seats as soon as you book your flight. Since restrooms are usually located at the back of the plane — and also near the front of the cabin, depending on the aircraft — you may want to choose seats near those areas so you won't have to go far if you and your child need the restroom or you need to change your baby's diaper. Additionally, children oftentimes enjoy looking out the window during a flight, so you may want to opt for a window seat so they can see other planes, a busy tarmac or clouds once you're up in the air.

Most airlines, including United, allow a child under the age of two to sit on a parent's lap. But if it fits within your budget, you could consider buying them their own seat and, depending on the child's age, bringing a government-approved child seat for them to use in the purchased seat. This allows you and your child to travel more safely and comfortably, and can help create a better sense of security for your child if they're used to the child seat you bring along.

Make sure to prepare your kids prior to the flight. Although airplanes can be exciting, they can also be scary for kids at first. Take time to explain what to expect during your journey, from the time they arrive at the airport until the plane lands at your destination. You can tell them about the kinds of people they will meet, such as gate agents, flight attendants and pilots, and the different events that occur, like boarding, the flight attendants' safety message and the sound of the aircraft engine during takeoff. This way they can enjoy identifying the people and events that make up their first flight.

two kids playing on a tablet at the airport

At the airport

To avoid any unnecessary stress, print your boarding passes or download them to your mobile device before arriving at the airport. Also plan to check your baggage as soon as you get to the airport so you don't have to worry about carrying along extra gear.

You can check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you're unsure about what's allowed past security checkpoints, but baby formula, breast milk, food and medications aren't subject to the 3.4 ounce liquid restriction, so you're able to bring larger amounts of those items with you. Just make sure to let TSA officers know right away that you're carrying those items so you're not slowed down during the screening process.

After you've made it through security and are waiting at the gate, make sure your children have entertainment to keep them occupied while you wait. While most flights offer entertainment, there may be times when the inflight entertainment is not available, so bring toys, games, a tablet, coloring books or whatever it takes to keep them occupied and happy during a flight. If you're traveling with babies or toddlers, be sure to double check your diaper bag and make sure it has clothing, baby wipes, lotion, toys and extra bottles. Also, pack a favorite blanket and pillow for inflight naps.

You'll also want to carry various snacks, such as sandwiches, fruit, nuts, crackers or popcorn, and account for possible delays because food options may be limited. It's also a good idea to pack empty sippy cups or water bottles to fill up with inflight beverages.

On board the flight

When it's time to board your flight, you can take advantage of United's policy that allows families with children two and younger to pre-board. This will give you that much-needed time to stow your items and get you and your children in your seats so you're comfortable and ready for your flight.

By request, strollers can be checked at the gate at no additional cost. Before boarding starts, simply ask the gate agent to put a baggage tag on the stroller and you can leave it at the bottom of the jet bridge as you board the plane. When you get to your destination, your stroller will be waiting for you on the jet bridge after you exit the plane.

Once you're on board and settled, it helps to have a bottle on hand during takeoff and landing because it can help alleviate ear pressure for babies and toddlers. For older children, tell them what's about to happen and encourage them to look out the window to see what's going on before take-off. While in the air, create easy access to all the things you need to keep your children entertained and happy, and before you know it, you'll be on the ground again in no time. With just a little preparation, flying for the first time can be an exciting experience for both you and your child.

United heroes: Saving the life of a newborn

By Gladys Roman , August 13, 2018

Pediatrician Elizabeth Triche was so touched by how our employees went above and beyond to transport her critical ill newborn patient from Saipan to Guam then Honolulu to San Francisco and from there to their final destination of San Diego, that on July 27, she wrote the heartfelt note below to CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby.

"Mr. Munoz and Mr. Kirby,

I am writing to give you my greatest gratitude for running a company that just did everything possible, every step of the way, to allow us to get our critically ill newborn with a fatal heart defect to life-saving emergency specialty care in San Diego.

Geoff Larson [Customer Service De-escalation Senior Manager] had given me his cellphone number one month ago and said to call if we ever needed any help getting patients to critical care. When I did call 3 days ago, he burst into action. We exchanged at least 10 emails and phone calls over the next 36 hours as he opened seats on fully booked flights, got us cleared to use oxygen (a process that usually delays our exit by 48-72 hours), and called on colleagues to make sure that all of our "special handling needs" in the airports were met. He emailed me as our first (of 4) flights arrived, letting me know that he was available to help with any glitches.

In Honolulu they held everyone on the plane so that we could get TSA and customs clearance first, gate side, avoiding our having to carry a sick baby in a car seat through an entire airport to customs. Helpers met us at each destination as gate agents from our departing cities warned the gate agents at our next arrival destination that we would need a wheelchair and help with bags.

Finally, as we were 30 minutes from our final destination, the pilot of United Flight 284 on 7/26/2018 from SFO to SAN called me up to the front of the plane to chat, as [there was] fog in San Diego. He wanted to know if the baby would be adversely affected if he [diverted] the flight to LA to refuel. We truly appreciated his taking our patient into account.

Ultimately, we arrived in San Diego without any major mishaps, and our newborn is currently undergoing definitive treatment for his condition.

Mr. Larson and his colleagues at United helped to save a life yesterday, as this baby may not have survived to make the flights had we had to wait for an open seat. Now that he has gotten to care, he will likely have a great chance at a normal life.

I just wanted everyone know that there are truly compassionate, dedicated people working for your organization."

Thank you to all of the employees for being a living proof of our United spirit and exemplifying our core4 standards.

We fly Australian firefighters to wildfires

By Gladys Roman , August 10, 2018

As parts of Oregon and California continue to battle blazing wildfires that have already consumed thousands of acres of land, we stepped up to help and flew a group of Australian firefighters to Boise, Idaho, over the weekend.

We created an extra section to fly a group of firefighters from all over Australia to Los Angeles International Airport, where they departed on a flight to Boise, Idaho on August 4.

Australia/New Zealand Contingent Field Liaison Officer Barry James explained that firefighters were selected to come help based on their qualifications, and they're all proud to support their fellow firefighters in the United States.

"We're flying to Boise for a couple of days of training and then we'll be splitting up. Some of us are going to Northern California and the rest are going to Oregon for a six-week deployment," explained Officer James, who flew United for the first time, but said it won't be his last. "It was an awesome, awesome experience; it was really hospitable," he added.

Our Los Angeles based employees and crews made sure the firefighters felt their appreciation by giving them a special welcoming message in the gate area, where they thanked them for their hard work.

"It was such an incredible honor for us at LAX to meet and fly these men and women, who are sacrificing their time and putting their lives on the line to help us battle the wildfire devastation in this part of the country," said LAX Station Operations Control Manager Maggie Ronan. "The crew in general was just outstanding. They were all so honored to fly this group and felt it was amazing that United built the extra section for their journey. There was a very special energy felt on the flight as we closed up to send them off to BOI."

We're teaming up with leading disaster relief organizations to provide aid to those impacted by the California wildfires. We will match up to $50,000 in total donations made to our charitable partners, Airlink, American Red Cross, Americares, North Coast Opportunities and Shasta Regional Community Foundation. For more information and to make a donation California Wildfire relief efforts, visit our CrowdRise fundraising campaign.

Lots of sweat, lots of on-time departures: Summer on the ramp

By Ryan Hood , August 10, 2018

It's 10:30 in the morning and the temperature gauge already reads 89 degrees. The Texan summer sun beams down from above. Heat waves emanate from the ground. Sweat glistens atop Ron Davis's shiny, bald head.

This isn't bad at all, Davis says. "I played high school football. Two-a-day practices? Those were hot. Some of the really hot days out here? Those feel more like three-a-day practices. We got it easy today."

A few gates down, employees revel in the "relief" that this weather feels like compared to the prior week.

"This is nothing," quips Tom Saavedra.

"A few clouds up there and a bit of a breeze – it's our lucky day," Leroy Taylor chimes in, a wide smile on his face.

Air temperature nearing 90 degrees. Tarmac temperature eclipsing 100 degrees most everywhere you step. 10:30 in the morning. And this is "easy". Welcome to life as a United ramp service employee at Houston's George Bush International Airport (IAH) in the summer.

United isoperating more than 500 flights out of Houston each day this summer, and thanks in part to the hard work of our ramp service employees, more flights have left Houston on time this summer than any prior summer.

How? Hydration and nutrition have played huge roles.

United ramp employee hydrating on the job

Posters with hydration reminders adorn the walls of ramp break rooms and hallways. It's the first topic of every meeting. Regular reminders are sent out over the group's radio system.

Employees have a flight schedule to keep, but as leaders, we have to provide them with the tools to do their job, says Gary Snead, a United supervisor based at IAH. "That includes keeping them fit to work in the summer heat."

And provide they do. Here are the resources deployed in an average summer month on the ramp in Houston:

  1. Over 10,000 bags of ice, totaling more than 100,000 pounds of ice.
  2. 313, 5-gallon water coolers refilled at least four times per day.
  3. An athletic trainer on site.
  4. One day a month, the IAH ramp holds a fruit & hydration day, where supervisors distribute over 1,000 pieces of fruit to our sun-soaked employees.
  5. 1,000+ cooling towels distributed.
  6. 10 misting tents

The increased focus on hydration has helped increase productivity, and it's also resulted in a record-low number of heat-related illnesses among employees.

You take care of the employees, Snead says, "and the employees will take care of your operation."

That's proved true around the world, as we have flown more customers this summer than ever before, all while topping our competition in on-time departures in recent months. Our 13,000+ ramp service employees have played a huge role in that.

Summer heat? It's been beat.

Top 7 things to experience when visiting Las Vegas

By Matt Chernov

When picturing Las Vegas, you probably see shimmering lights, felt-covered poker tables and the ecstatic sound of slot machines. But the truth is that the city offers visitors far more to experience than just gambling and excess. Located on the edge of the vast Mojave Desert, this uniquely American destination is constantly reinventing itself with every passing day, which makes it an ideal vacation spot for virtually every type of traveler. To help you get the most from your next trip to Vegas, here are seven attractions in and around the city that you won't want to miss.

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The Neon Museum

Since 1996, this magical outdoor art gallery has collected hundreds of old and discarded neon signs from the Las Vegas strip and displayed them for visitors on a 2-acre plot of land. With so much colorful history available to see, it's no wonder that the Neon Museum is one of the city's top Instagram spots. Though new signs are constantly being acquired and refurbished, many date back to the glory days of the 1950s, when Vegas icons like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were the entertainment headlines at the casinos.

Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

Red Rock Canyon

This stunning nature preserve is just a 15-mile drive west of Las Vegas, and is the perfect place to experience all the scenic beauty that Nevada has to offer. Red Rock Canyon features 26 clearly marked hiking trails, indoor and outdoor conservation exhibits and a plethora of majestic wildlife and desert flora to view. There's even a picturesque waterfall, so bring your camera along with your sunscreen and bottled water. A variety of educational programs are held each month, including a popular “Bats in Our Belfry" presentation in which rangers take visitors on a bat sightseeing tour of the canyon.

The Mob Museum

Because the birth of Las Vegas is intricately connected with organized crime, this fascinating museum is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand how a dry Nevada desert became a worldwide symbol of glitz and glamour. Filled with amazing artifacts, vintage photos and life-size recreations of some of the city's most infamous residents, the Mob Museum focuses on both the gangsters who built Las Vegas and the law enforcement heroes who pursued them. A rotating collection of exhibits brings the town's colorful history to life in a way that no movie or book could ever hope to duplicate.

The Hoover Dam in Nevada

The Hoover Dam

A monument to man's industrial spirit and a marvel of American engineering, the spectacular Hoover Dam is located less than an hour's drive from Las Vegas — and it's truly an unforgettable sight to behold. Tours of the 726-foot-tall dam are highly encouraged and will fascinate young and old alike. While you're in the area, why not spend some time cruising the beautiful waters of nearby Lake Mead, which was created by the dam itself. Boat tours are available all week long from several locations around the lake, so advanced reservations are not needed.

Dig This Last Vegas

Are you visiting Las Vegas with children? If so, then this one-of-a-kind experience should definitely be on your travel itinerary. Dig This Last Vegas lets you and your kids drive and safely operate heavy duty construction equipment like bulldozers and excavators on a massive outdoor playground in the heart of the city. Anyone who grew up with toy tractors and plastic earth-moving machines can now climb behind the wheel and try them for real. With the help of trained instructors, kids as young as 8 years old can make their dreams of operating a genuine Caterpillar D5 bulldozer come true at this hands-on attraction site.

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Spring Mountain Ranch

This Nevada state park is a relatively short drive from downtown Las Vegas and will instantly transport you back to the region's historic past. The perfectly preserved old west-style ranch is an excellent place for an afternoon picnic when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the casinos. Thanks to the lush green surroundings and man-made lake, the temperature at Spring Mountain is noticeably cooler than you might expect of the hot Nevada climate. Explore further as gentle hiking trails allow you to stretch your legs in comfort while you navigate some of the loveliest scenery in the entire state.

Lotus of Siam

Widely considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the United States, Lotus of Siam earned its prestigious James Beard Award the hard way; by serving incredibly delicious Northern Thai dishes every day for the past 19 years. Owner and head chef Saipin Chutima recently opened a second location in Las Vegas, which means you'll have no trouble making reservations while you're in town. Considering that top foodie magazines like Gourmet, Saveur and Bon Appétit have praised this restaurant's incredible dishes for almost two decades, you'd be wise to book a table in advance. Try their crispy rice salad with house-made pork sausage for a flavor that will make your taste buds sing.

Getting there

When you're ready to experience the fun and excitement of Las Vegas, book your flight at united.com or by using the convenient United app, and share your story on social media with the #UnitedJourney hashtag.

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The 8 most underrated American road trips

By The Hub team

You've gotten your kicks on Route 66. You've wound through Highway 1. So how do you take another quintessential American summer vacation without repeating yourself? Good thing this country is not lacking in incredible vistas and varied landscapes—trust us: there is so much more than purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain (although, those aren't so bad themselves). From badlands to waterfalls, here are eight American road trips to consider.

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RELATED: 10 Waterparks Worth Traveling for

View of the Rockies in Colorado RondaKimbrow/Getty Images

Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado

This western road trip through and around the Rocky Mountains has three separate routes that converge in Leadville, Colorado (the highest incorporated town in the country at 10,152 feet above sea level). There's no rule against traversing all three, especially since each is pretty short (82 miles total). First, take in the five enormous mountains surrounding Leadville, two of which are the tallest in the state. Head up through Tennessee Pass and cross the Continental Divide to reach the majestic town of Minturn for incredible fields of wildflowers. The route through Independence Pass toward Aspen has unbelievable views of the Rockies and Twin Lakes. Driving along the Arkansas River through Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain is ideal for spotting ranches, old mines and—fingers crossed—some Colorado wildlife.

Overseas Highway in FloridaFilippoBacci/Getty Images

Overseas Highway, Florida

You do not need a boat to enjoy the Florida Keys, and we can prove it. The Overseas Highway is one of the most unique roads in the country, as it basically island hops along Florida's hottest vacay spots like Islamorada (home of the Florida Brewing Company) and Marathon (home of Long Key State Park). The Seven-Mile Bridge is a highlight nestled into the 113-mile trip, so make sure to cross during the day for sprawling views of turquoise water and boaters galore. Other fun pit stops: Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, snorkel with sea critters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and pose for a selfie at Southernmost Point Buoy, the farthest south you can get on the continental U.S.

Columbia River Highway, OregonJason W Lacey/Getty Images

Columbia River Highway, Oregon

This stretch of highway was the first of its kind to be officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and it's easy to see why. Set out from Troutdale, Oregon, and immediately you'll see the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. Get ready for a roller-coaster decent as you roll into Crown Point—the 600-foot drop toward the Columbia River is designed specifically for road trippers as it curves and winds through lush green forests. There are at least six notable waterfalls you'll pass along the way; step out at Multnomah Falls for a pic of its stunning bridge. Once you hit the town of Mosier, consider trekking through a tunnel of lava rock on the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead. The road officially ends after roughly 70 miles at The Dalles, conveniently close to the Sunshine Mill Winery. Treat yourself to a glass of the wildly popular Nirvana, a white blend with touches of honey and melon.

Hana Coast Highway, HawaiiBobbushphoto /Getty Images

Hana Coast Highway, Hawaii

While Hawaii's island of Maui is a hot destination for tropical romance, the Hana Coast Highway is not for the faint of heart. The road is affectionately called the “Divorce Highway" in honor of its precarious turns and proximity to the edges of tall cliffs. That said, the frequent waterfalls, black sand beaches and eucalyptus trees along the country's lengthiest rainforest highway make the trip totally worth the adrenaline rush. Though it's only 52 miles, the 25-miles-per-hour speed limit (with blind spots and one-lane bridges galore; this is a very good thing) makes it a two- to three-hour trip. But we have a feeling you'll happily take your time—the views from Kahului to Hana are beyond breathtaking.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New MexicoScott_Walton/Getty Images

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico

If you're in the mood for dry heat and history up close, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is calling. West of Albuquerque is Chaco Canyon, an important ceremonial site for the Pueblo peoples between 850 and 1250 A.D. After taking in the incredible expanse of the canyon, drive south through the towns of Crownpoint and Grants toward the El Morro National Monument. Ogle the 2,000 or so signatures weary travelers have carved into the sandstone over centuries. Continue east through the Zuni Reservation to Zuni Pueblo, an arts community still practicing ancestral traditions and ways of life. Cap off this winding 360-mile desert tour in Farmington, where you can see Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, both of which date back to the 1050s.

The Black Hills and Badlands, South DakotaAndrewKrav/Getty Images

The Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota

Together, the Black Hills and Badlands National Park in South Dakota offer 5 million acres of grassland, forest and rock formations. Might we recommend not hitting it all in one day? Instead, start out on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway near the town of Interior. Check out the millions-year-old (literally) jagged geographic deposits before heading north to Spearfish Canyon, home of sky-high pink limestone and gorgeous waterfalls. Meander down through Black Hills National Forest to check out Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and (drumroll, please) Mount Rushmore. Set aside a few days for the entire 232-mile journey because you'll probably find yourself either driving slowly to take it all in or stopping the car every few miles to hike or swim.

View of one of Minnesota's many lakes from North Scenic DriveNickJKelly/Getty Images

North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

For a truly otherworldly experience, drive along the coast of the biggest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Superior. The northern Minnesota gem means ample opportunity to really get away from civilization. (Heading off the beaten path into the Boundary Waters just north of the coastline leaves you with no cell service, almost complete solitude and a chance to catch the northern lights!) Start your drive in Duluth and head north, scoping out the many lighthouses dotting the rocky coastline on your right and the distant Sawtooth Mountains on your left. Everywhere else is covered in pine and birch trees—and crawling with wildlife. Beaches pop up along the 142-mile ride, although Lake Superior is notoriously chilly, reaching 65 degrees Fahrenheit max during the hottest months of the year. But, in the height of summer, this might be exactly the cool-down you need.

Holcy/Getty Images

Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine

For the ultimate, rugged New England road trip, you must drive the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. On the western side of the state, near New Hampshire, the lake is flanked by Rangeley Lake State Park and rolling hills of trees, flowers and wildlife. Start at Smalls Falls, and let the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline be your guide on this 36-mile tour. The route is straightforward but provides sights of everything from lakes and rivers to valleys and farmland. Swift River and Mooselookmeguntic Lake (who named this lake?) are outstanding photo ops. Summer is always a good time to visit when it comes to temps, but come autumn, the bright colors pop along this route, and might just be worth a second trip.

RELATED: The Most Serene Spot in Every Single State


This article was from PureWow and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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10 U.S. islands that feel exotic

By The Hub team

Want to escape to somewhere truly memorable? Here are the best island getaways without leaving the country.

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As much as we all wish to see every corner of the globe, it can be a challenge to do it all with limited funds and vacation time. Luckily, the United States is diverse enough to offer an array of exotic locales — from golden beaches to volcanic islands — all on our own home turf. Here are our picks for the ten most exotic destinations that don't require a passport.

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Turquoise water, tons of green sea turtles and white-sand beaches with visibility seeming to stretch to forever. Sounds like the Caribbean, right? Wrong. The Dry Tortugas, 67 miles off Key West into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, pack epic snorkeling alongside Southern stingrays, parrotfish and schools of Creole wrasse — all just a ferry or seaplane ride from the Conch Republic.

San Juan Islands, Washington

San Juan Islands, WashingtonSan Juan Islands, Washington/Shutterstock

With conifer forests thick along its coasts and a marine climate with cool summers and mild winters, the San Juan Islands of Washington state feel a lot like Norway. Both destinations are renowned for sea kayaking as well as whale-watching tours, and yet the San Juans are a three-hour drive — and a ferry hop — north of Seattle. Plus, with alpaca ranches and lavender farms covering the hillsides, the experience also includes a touch of Peru-meets-Provence.

Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island, MarylandAssateague Island, Maryland /Shutterstock

Like Portugal's Soajo Mountain, Maryland's Assateague Island is home to wild horses — more than 150 in total. These feral ponies have free range of the beaches, marshes and forests. For the best viewing, try the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge's Wildlife Loop Road, a three-hour walk. For a more unique spectacle, time your visit with the annual pony swim, held every July, wherein a group who call themselves the saltwater cowboys wrangle up the horses, leading them on a swim across the Assateague Channel.

Sapelo Island, Georgia

The Spanish moss hanging from live oak branches gives Sapelo Island, Georgia, an only-in-the-Southeast feel, but its golden-sand beaches feel a bit like the islands off Queensland, Australia. Reach it only via boat: either the DNR ferry or private vessel. Once ashore, walk the hiking trails through dunes and maritime forests to encounter hundreds of bird species, including the Chachalaca bird — which otherwise requires birders to travel to either Mexico or Central America to cross off lists. Stay the night and you might even spot a bobcat.

Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebra, Puerto RicoCulebra, Puerto Rico /Shutterstock

Culebra, a satellite island of Puerto Rico, is often referred to as one of the Spanish Virgin Islands, and for good reason. Its sugar sand beaches are mostly undeveloped, lending it the feel of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Like the BVI, Culebra lacks any of the large, major hotel chains. Instead, it has a sleepy charm, appealing to those content to kayak, snorkel and beachcomb.

Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai, HawaiiKauai, Hawaii /Shutterstock

One of the wettest places on the planet, Kauai packs its mountains with unending greenery, punctuated by a dozen epic waterfalls. This makes it every bit as lush and exotic as Tahiti, but at a fraction of the flight time. Worth the splurge, a helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast — where Jurassic Park was filmed — shows visitors more highlights than they could see in a week of hiking.

Elizabeth Islands, Massachusetts

Just south of Cape Cod lie the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts, including Penikese and Cuttyhunk, two of the only inhabited islands in the bunch not owned by the Forbes family. Cuttyhunk in particular still exudes British flavor, carried over from 1602, when it was the first British settlement on the new coast. Experience it at Avalon Inn, one of the few choices when overnighting. To see more of the neighboring isles, book a day cruise to explore beaches and see wild harbor, harp and gray seals.

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Daufuskie Island, South CarolinaDaufuskie Island, South Carolina /Shutterstock

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is perhaps best known as the home of the Gullah people, a community of African Americans in the lowcountry who speak their own creole language called Geechee. To get a feel for the people and their culture, stop by the Historical Foundation to hear local stories and legends, as well as chat up the local guide, who's been on island for decades.

Cedar Key, Florida

Cedar Key, FloridaCedar Key, Florida /Shutterstock

Over-water bars, weathered and leaning on stilts, give the fishing village of Cedar Key off Florida's Gulf Coast a back-in-time vibe, like that of Bocas del Toro, Panama. But, unlike Bocas, Cedar Key averages in the low and mid 80s, making for more pleasant conditions for sea kayaking, for which the area is renowned. The Suwannee River empties into the Gulf roughly 10 miles north of Cedar Key, and the sound separating the two is lined with uninhabited islands, perfect for any boaters to enjoy day picnics and exploring.

Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Aleutian Islands, AlaskaAleutian Islands, Alaska /Shutterstock

Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a chain of 14 volcanic outposts that string out west of the state, remain one of the most remote places on the planet. Sea kayakers treasure the destination, willing to brave the inclement weather for chances to see grey, minke, orca, sperm and humpback whales, as well as walrus, seals and sea lions. From these islands, it's possible to view the Northern Lights year-round. For those who aren't into roughing it, know that there is lodging at places like the Grand Aleutian Hotel on Unalaska Island.


This article was written by Brooke Morton from Islands and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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