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Hey Arura! (about travel in Viet Nam)

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  #1  
Old 06-14-2002, 01:28 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Hey Arura! (about travel in Viet Nam)

Hi Arura,

I thought I'd move the discussion of VN travel over here so that we don't clutter up the Critiques thread with off-topic discussion. Anything goes over here in Salon though!

Wow - 5 weeks to see VN! That sounds about right. I brought my mother with me in October 2000 for a three week trip and we didn't have time for the south at all. (I've been there myself, but for the time we had, I preferred staying in the north and central areas.) From the outline on your website, looks like you'll be seeing some great areas.

As far as traveling with a laptop, it is not an issue at all. I do it all the time and I've never had a problem. Internet access is also easy to find (new in the past year). Just look for a store that has the "Internet Card" sign hanging out front. You can find them all over HCMC and Hanoi - probaby other places as well. For more information, check out the FPT website and it will tell you everything you need to know, including the price per minute of connect time. As far as the speed of the connection, well, that's another story. Expect SLOW!! Sometimes it is so slow I just give up and try another time. Late afternoons and evenings tend to be the worst time to connect. Early morning (5:00am-7:00am) is the best time. I usually wake up really early over there just so I can use the internet at a somewhat reasonable speed.

You've given yourself quite a challenge to learn Photoshop before your trip! I remember opening Photoshop a dozen times, trying to make sense of all the tools and how I might actually use them to affect my photo - and quickly closing the program because the user interface was so different than anything I'd used before. (I'm the kind of person who likes to try a program before actually reading any documentation - didn't work with PS! ) But, it didn't take long once I read a couple chapters in a book to figure out the basics - and you probably won't need more than the basics for your digital pics!

Of course, feel free to ask any questions - either about Photoshop or traveling in Viet Nam!

Jeanie
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  #2  
Old 06-18-2002, 09:15 AM
arura arura is offline
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Cool

Hello Jeanie,

Great idea to move the discussion about Vietnam over to this board.

As you can see from the initial itiniary, we planned to be in the south most of the 5 weeks. We'll reconsider to stay longer than 2 weeks in the north (with that I mean north of Nha Trang), since your 3 weeks was just enough for the north. I've heard of people staying much longer in small towns like Hoi An and Sapa than they intended to. Luckily our plans aren't fixed, I think we can or should be flexible when travelling in Vietnam.

I do have some questions about your Vietnam trips. I am curious about the destinations/places you visitted in Vietnam, and wonder what kind of transportation you used. I plan to travel with Vietnam Airlines for the the longer distances, but I have also heard that it is nice to take the train and bus, since you don't see much of the country from airplane.

After much thinking I have decided not to bring the laptop, since I believe it will have too much of my attention. I am afraid that if I bring too much technological equipment I will focus more on the technology than on the country.

(Instead I have installed gallery software for my website, so I can upload the photos without too much programming, since the gallery software have Auto-Thumbnailer and Auto-Image-Resize. I have uploaded it to http://gallery.arura.com/ for testing, I haven't uploaded pictures there yet, and not linked to it from my website).
I'll just post them in my forums Arurahttp://forums.arura.com/ instead. Too much databases and scripting to keep an eye on.

What I worry about is that I have to install the driver and the software that came with the Canon A40 digital camera to the computer to be able to upload pictures. I don't know if that is allowed to by the internet cafes. Most public internet services are very restricted when it comes to installing software.

Thank you for the very updated info about internet in Vietnam. I am sure I'll spend some time to upload photos and comments from my trip.

Thank you

Last edited by arura; 06-25-2002 at 03:39 AM.
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  #3  
Old 06-19-2002, 11:58 AM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Hi Arura, I'll do my best to answer your questions:

I've heard of people staying much longer in small towns like Hoi An and Sapa than they intended to. Luckily our plans aren't fixed, I think we can or should be flexible when travelling in Vietnam.

It's great that your plans aren't fixed - that's the best way to travel in VN. My first trip to VN was supposed to be two weeks (humanitarian work, not really tourist) and I ended up staying four!

I love both Hoi An and Sapa! (Although, I only had a day and a half in Hoi And and it rained BUCKETS for a full day. That's OK - I just put on shorts and sandals, put on a rain poncho, and walked through knee-deep "puddles" to go visit all of the art galleries.) If you go to Hoi An, be sure to make time to see My Son (about 45 minute drive away) - the Cham ruins. I could be biased because our tour guide took us there at the end of the day and all of the busloads of tourists had left and we got to see an amazing sunset. (It was just my mom and I - we had the whole place to ourselves - magical!) It will be HOT in the sun, so be prepared for that.

Sapa is probably my favorite place in VN. That could be because I'm more of a mountain person than water person. Best time to go is during the middle of the week. Don't take any of the tours to see the Saturday night "love market". The local tribes people have pretty much taken their courting rituals elsewhere because of too many tourists. But, most tourists still go on the weekend and that's when hundreds of locals make their way to Sapa central to try to get you to buy stuff. It can literally be stifling to have 20-30 of them gathered around you, pushing their weaving and embroidery in your face. Therefore, I really like the week-days better when the locals are back in their villages. If you decide you want to go on a trek, I have a former student who is with a tour company in Sa Pa - I'll get his contact info for you if you want.

I am curious about the destinations/places you visitted in Vietnam, and wonder what kind of transportation you used. I plan to travel with Vietnam Airlines for the the longer distances, but I have also heard that it is nice to take the train and bus, since you don't see much of the country from airplane.

I have visited:
Hanoi, HCMC & Da Nang - all by plane

Day trips from Hanoi:

Ha Long Bay, both by car & driver and tour bus. If you go by tour bus, best to get there early so you don't have to sit in the back - because if the air conditioner is broken, there is NO air flow to the back of the bus. (I'm speaking from experience here. )

Perfume Pagoda, both times I've been it's been in a van with other people - usually a group of 10 or so. The tour has been arranged by the hotel I stayed at.

Craft villages around Hanoi, car & driver - plus private tour guide (this was also with my mom).

Mai Chau - 4-hour drive from Hanoi (car & drive plus tour guide). Also with my mom. We saw plenty of tourists who just drove down for the day, had lunch, did a little shopping of ethnic items, then returned to Hanoi. We chose to stay overnight in one of the "stilt houses" - sleeping on a cotton mat with mosquito netting (provided). If you go, I recommend staying overnight - it's too long of a drive for one day!

Longer excursion from Hanoi:

Sapa - TAKE THE TRAIN!! I think it's 9-10 hours from Hanoi. You can take the night train (hard sleepers, or if you're lucky the soft sleepers - but I think they only have the soft sleepers on the weekends), but then you don't get to see much of the country. I have taken both the day train and the night train. For me, the hard seats are actually more comfortable than the soft seats (day train) because of the way they are constructed - the backs of the soft seats are too straight.

It is really fun taking the train, but beware that it can be really hot - and really humid if it's raining. The metal grates over the windows are there for a reason - kids like to throw rocks at the train as it passes. I heard from a VN friend that his neighbor's tooth was knocked out by a rock thrown at the train. So, keep those grates down whenever possible. You can lift them to take pictures, but you'll see the Vietnamese lower the grate when you're done with the pictures. (FWIW, I've never experienced a rock being thrown at the train.

Oh - and don't worry about food for the train ride. At each stop, food vendors get on with all sorts of VN food! You can get fresh French bread, hard boiled eggs, sticky rice, whatever fruit is in season, water or soft drinks (and I think beer), tea and a puff of tobacco through a water pipe (I recommend you watch, but not partake in that ) I thnk the lychees will be in season - be sure you try those at some point in your trip!!


Day trips from HCMC:

Cu Chi tunnels & Cao Dai Great Temple - car & driver, though I'm pretty sure there are tourist busses that go out there as well.

My Tho (Mekong Delta) - car & driver, though again, there are tour busses.

Further from HCMC: Nha Trang - can with driver (I was with a humanitarian group for this trip)

From Da Nang, I've hired a car & driver to drive to Hue (over Hai Van pass - beautiful if the weather cooperates) and Hoi An. I did this trip with my mother in Oct 2000 and we hired a personal tour guide as well. The guide charged $20/day - which worked out to $10 each - and was VERY worth it because we learned so much more about what we were seeing than we would have otherwise. (English signs in VN are few and far between).

In general, for transportation, train is great if you have the time - it takes 36 hours to get from Hanoi to HCMC (if I remember correctly). I know lots of people who take public busses. I've done it once and don't care for it. I couldn't overcome the claustrophobia of being packed in so tightly with so many people - and the busses drive like maniacs on the road. It's certainly an experience, but I won't do it again. (Add to that the fact that 70% of all fatal accidents in VN involve public busses, and I'll choose other modes of transportation.)

Motor scooters are great for getting around the cities - you can even rent one and drive it around yourself. If you choose to do that and you haven't ever ridden one before, you might want to learn in a less-populated city like Hue, rather than Hanoi or HCMC. I think you'll understand that statement once you get there and see the traffic! If you choose not to rent one yourself, there are motorbike drivers on just about every corner ready to take you wherever you choose to go. Be careful about drivers who have just had "a beer" with their friend though. I usually only go around on motorbikes with people I trust and know. (I've been enough times that I know a few people.

Taxis are also plentiful and cheap - at least for getting around the city. Probably the safest mode of transportation, but certainly not the most "Vietnamese".

OK, this is a little longer than I thought. I've got to run, but will try to add more later.

Jeanie
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  #4  
Old 06-19-2002, 10:07 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Let's see - where did I leave off...

After much thinking I have decided not to bring the laptop, since I believe it will have too much of my attention.

Yes, I think that can definitely happen. On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have something that is somewhat "familiar" in a place that is so completely UNfamiliar! But, in general, I do agree with you.

What I worry about is that I have to install the driver and the software that came with the Canon A40 digital camera to the computer to be able to upload pictures. I don't know if that is allowed to by the internet cafes. Most public internet services are very restricted when it comes to installing software.

This is a valid concern. The only place I have known that allows this is a small hotel in Hanoi where I've stayed many times. It caters to adoptive parents and there always seems to be some sort of software being loaded. Of course, half the time the computer doesn't work either! I know at least with the Olympus digital cameras, they have a USB cardreader so that you don't have to download any software. Is there such a thing available for your camera? Seems like that would be the easiest rather than having to worry about whether you can load software or not.

Most people that I know have found that scanning prints is actually easier than trying to upload digital pictures in VN - if you are relying on computers that are not your own. If you really want to do digital pictures, you might want to rethink bringing your laptop. Otherwise, you might be spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to upload your pictures - which would defeat the purpose of not bringing your laptop in the first place. It's a tough call. I understand wanting to travel "light" - and I also know the frustration of trying to get help getting computers to work when the people working at the internet cafes only half-understand what you're saying. (They will nod like they understand, but as soon as they actually do something to try to help, you'll realize they didn't understand a word of what you said. Not everywhere and not everyone, but enough to make things more difficult than you'd like them to be.)

BTW, make sure to stay aware of the whereabouts of your cameras and other expensive items at all times when traveling on the train!

Speaking of being aware of your belongings... Be very careful of pick-pockets and motorcycle thiefs in HCMC. The pick-pockets disguise themselves as a group of children who will engage you in conversation, crowd in close - and suddenly your pockets are picked clean without you knowing it. Certainly not all groups of children are like this and some are really delightful to get to know. But, keep your wits about you - and where a money belt or other such carrier that you can where INSIDE your clothing. It will be hot, but much better than losing your valuables.

As far as the motorcycle thiefs, because of the way pedestrians cross streets by walking through a sea of motorbikes (it's the only way to do it, you will have to learn - just follow the lead of the locals - it's a blast once you figure it out!), motorbikes pass very close to you. If you carry your camera around your neck or any other bag on your shoulder, hold on to them VERY tightly when crossing the street. I was once crossing the street and a motorbike with two men drove very close - the one on the back reached out and grabbed the bag I as carrying. Luckly, the strap did not break and the guy let go before he would have pulled me down (I had the bag hung diagonally across my body), but not before the strap gave me a good rope burn on my arm. I have had friends who live in HCMC and had gold chains ripped from their necks by passing motorbikes. (I have been told time and time again to NOT wear any flashy jewelry while in HCMC - you're just asking for it to be stolen.)

In general, HCMC is not a "dangerous" city per se, but you need to have your street smarts turned way up. Hanoi on the other hand is completely different. While I've had plenty of warnings to be careful about my belongings from concerned hotel owners, etc., no one that I have ever traveled with has been pick-pocketed in Hanoi. And the motorbike thieves don't seem to have made their way north either.

Oh, and one clarification about transportation from my previous post. Public busses and tourist busses are very different. Public busses are the ones I prefer not to travel on. The tourist busses are fine IMO.

Well, I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Jeanie
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  #5  
Old 06-22-2002, 03:34 PM
arura arura is offline
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Hi Jearnie,

I really love your trip journal. You did so many interesting things in Vietnam. And your descriptions are very detailed, your story helps me to better plan my trip.

I appreciate if you recommend guides or tour operators that you had good experience with on your trips. I also appreciate if you can recommend hotels. I am not sure wether to book hotels in advance of wait until I am there. I have heard that the competition in Vietnam makes it possible to bargain when you gets there. Did you do that when you travelled with your mother, since I am also traveling with my parents, I am not sure if they can handle a situation where we have to go from hotel to hotel searching for a nice price.

I am trying to make plan so that we'll travel with all kinds of transportation. A solution might be:
Hiring a car with driver from Saigon to Mekong and Vung Tau. Taking plane from Saigon to Da Nang.
Taking bus from Da Nang to Hue
Taking train from Hue to Ha Noi.
Taking plane from Ha Noi to Da Nang.
Taking bus from Da Nang to Nha Trang.
Taking train from Nha Trang to Saigon.

This way we can see the landscape with different means of transport. And it is more varied. Comments are greatly appreciated.

I have made up my mind about not bringing my laptop, that brings my to another issue. Do you know if is it possible to make prints / develop digital photos in Vietnam?

I also want to ask you if I can have your permission to copy yoru posts from this thread to my forums and website, arura.com, since I write a journal about my trip there, and your information is very helpful. I'll credit you and link back to RetouchPro.

Thank you
Arura

Last edited by arura; 06-22-2002 at 06:45 PM.
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Old 06-25-2002, 01:14 AM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Hi Arura,

I'm glad my descriptions are helpful for you!

I appreciate if you recommend guides or tour operators that you had good experience with on your trips.

Unfortunately, I don't have a tour guide recommendation for HCMC since I've never had one there, but for Hanoi, I used Cao Thien Anh. He is independent and you can reach him via e-mail at: anh_cao_thien@hn.vnn.vn
Just mention my name and I'm sure he'll be happy to help you. I had a friend recommend him to me and I was very happy with his help. We exchanged e-mail lots of times before I actually got there, so he had everything set up for us (car & driver rentals, hotels, itinerary, etc.)

I didn't have a personal recommendation for a guide in the central area (Da Nang & Hue), but Thien Anh recommended Vidotours and I was very happy with their services as well. They also took care of everything. I corresponded with Vidotours via e-mail as well: vidotour.hue@bdvn.vnd.net
In this case, mentioning my name probably won't do any good, since it's a fairly large tour company with lots of guides and the person answering the e-mail is most likely not even a guide but one of the tour "organizers." I got prompt answers to all of my questions though and was very happy. They even arranged to meet us at the airport when we flew in - and the same guide was with us from Danang to Hue and Hoi An.

If you would like a contact for a good guide in HCMC, I would ask Thien Anh - he can give you a good recommendation.

I also appreciate if you can recommend hotels. I am not sure wether to book hotels in advance of wait until I am there. I have heard that the competition in Vietnam makes it possible to bargain when you gets there. Did you do that when you travelled with your mother, since I am also traveling with my parents, I am not sure if they can handle a situation where we have to go from hotel to hotel searching for a nice price.

Hmmm, I'm not sure what kind of hotels you're looking for - cheap, middle-of-the-road or upscale? When I traveled with my mother, we stayed at the middle-of-the-road places, usually $20-$30/night. I've never waited to get to VN and then looked for a place, so I can't help you with that. In general, I think the bargaining for prices happens at the upscale hotels (like the Rex Hotel in HCMC.) I've never even thought of trying to bargain down the prices of rooms at hotels where I've stayed because they've always seemed quite reasonable.

In HCMC, I like the Evergreen Hotel
261 Hai Ba Trung, Quarter 6, Dist. 3
Tel: 848-829-8875
Fax: 848-829-1835
I have an e-mail of bichlien@hcm.vnn.vn, but I'm not sure if that's current or not. The hotel is not quite "downtown" though (about a $1 taxi ride), so if you want to be right in the middle of shopping and sightseeing, you'll probably want to stay somewhere else. On the other hand, it's away from where most of the tourists are and it's across the street from a park and you get to watch (or join) the early morning exercises every morning. If I remember correctly, it's about $35/night.

I've also stayed at the King Star Hotel in HCMC, 8A/4D2 Thai Van Lung, Ben Nghe ward, Dist. 1, Tel: 848-822-9776, Fax: 848-822-6424. I can't remember the cost per night here (I think less than Evergreen, but I'm not sure), but it is much closer to downtown.

If you're looking for upscale, I've heard from others that the Rex is great, but I don't have any experience there. If the rooms are anything like the lobby, it is VERY fancy!

In Hanoi, lately I've been staying at the Claudia Hotel, 60 Hang Dao. I can't find their card right now for phone/fax, but the e-mail is thuyclaudia@fpt.vn. The owner is Mrs. Thuy and if you mention my name, you will get wonderful service. Now, the thing about this hotel is that the rooms are tiny! They are only 7 feet across, but very long. It DOES work, trust me! But, the reason you stay at the Claudia is not for the rooms, but for the service you get from Mrs. Thuy. She is like a mother hen and if you need help with ANYTHING, she will always say, "No problem!" There are a lot of adoptive parents that stay at this hotel for this very reason - she even babysits all of the babies - I've seen six babies at once under her care. For this reason, if you reserve a room with her and she happens to have more adoptive parents than she anticipated, she will find another hotel for you. This is standard practice - and she is still very willing to help you with anything, including hiring a car/driver, changing airline tickets, sending one of her staff with you shopping to help you get good prices, etc. (Though if you are a ruthless bargainer, you can probably do better on your own. Be prepared to be quizzed on your purchases when you return though. ) If you send Mrs. Thuy e-mail, give her a few days to respond, since she doesn't know how to type and has to wait for her staff (or possibly one of her guests) to help her send a response. Oh - and the price for all of this service (plus the room) is $18/night.

Most other times I've been to Hanoi I've stayed with a friend, so I don't have any other hotels to recommend really. But, Thien Anh should be able to help you with that if you tell him what price range you're looking for.

I am trying to make plan so that we'll travel with all kinds of transportation. A solution might be:
Hiring a car with driver from Saigon to Mekong and Vung Tau. Taking plane from Saigon to Da Nang.
Taking bus from Da Nang to Hue
Taking train from Hue to Ha Noi.
Taking plane from Ha Noi to Da Nang.
Taking bus from Da Nang to Nha Trang.
Taking train from Nha Trang to Saigon.

This way we can see the landscape with different means of transport. And it is more varied. Comments are greatly appreciated.


This all looks good except the bus from Da Nang to Nha Trang. I personally would take the train. I know that doesn't give you a whole lot of variety, but the road bewteen Da Nang and Nha Trang is terrible (lots of pot holes, narrow, etc.) and it's at least at 12 hour drive, if not more. I really think you'd be a lot happier on the train. You'll see almost exactly the same scenery and you'll be a lot more comfortable. (And even then, you may question my liberal use of "comfortable" once you're on the train, but trust me, it's WAY better than the bus!!) Or, just take the plane from Hanoi straight to Nha Trang and spend the extra day(s) on the beaches in Nha Trang. That would be a LOT more enjoyable! I know you want to see the countryside, but sitting in a bus from Da Nang to Nha Trang is not the way to do it.

[I]I have made up my mind about not bringing my laptop, that brings my to another issue. Do you know if is it possible to make prints / develop digital photos in Vietnam? [I]

I have never heard of that capability reaching VN yet, but I'll try to find out for you.

I also want to ask you if I can have your permission to copy yoru posts from this thread to my forums and website, arura.com, since I write a journal about my trip there, and your information is very helpful. I'll credit you and link back to RetouchPro.

Yes, I think that would be fine. Please use my full name in the credit: Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero.

Hope this helps,
Jeanie
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Old 06-26-2002, 12:51 PM
arura arura is offline
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Hi Jearnie,
Thank you so much for everything!!!

I am leaving for Vietnam tomorrow morning. I have printed out this thread to bring with me your advice, tips and recommendations. I haven't had time to contact the places and people you've mentioned, but it will be easier to contact them when I am there. I don't worry so much about the practical sides of traveling, since I have researched and prepared well for the trip.

I think I'll just relax and enjoy it with my family and friends from now.

I'll post about the trip at forums.arura.com if you are interested, not frequently, but to say hello now and then, and if uploading digital photos goes well, also my photos. I greatly appreciate your help and tips.

Best regards
Arura
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Old 06-26-2002, 03:01 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Sounds like you're ready! Have a GREAT trip!! And I'll definitely check out forums.arura.com.

Jeanie
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Old 08-06-2002, 01:36 PM
arura arura is offline
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Back from Vietnam

Hi Jearnie,
Just want to say hi and tell you that I am back from my Vietnam trip. It was a wonderful trip.
I look forward to work with the pictures and the rest of my web site. Btw I took almost 500 digital pictures. I bought a 512 mb memory card in Vietnam so I could take high resolution pictures. Btw there are lots of places to develop digital pictures in Vietnam.


Best regards
Arura
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Old 08-06-2002, 02:20 PM
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jeaniesa jeaniesa is offline
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Hey - welcome back! Sounds like (from your forum posts) you were really busy over there. That's not unusual. I have such good intentions of sending e-mails home every day when I travel, but am usually SO exhausted and the e-mail connections are SO slow, it just doesn't happen.

I can't wait to see your pictures! Can you fill me in on how you got your digital pictures developed? Did you go to the regular film developing places, or were there special shops for the digital stuff? Did you bring them your memory card or how did you give them your images? There are many adoptive parents who would be very interested in this info!

Jeanie
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