Category Archives: Places to go

Red – #worldcolours project

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Ahh, I am SO behind with my #worldcolours project. Red was supposed to be in February so this is more than a little late – eep! Anyway, here are my reds.

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Ponsettias at Gardens by the Bay

Poinsettia at Gardens by the Bay

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Lion and his beater - Vietnam

Lion and his beater – Vietnam

Street shrine in Geylang

Street shrine in Geylang

Chillis at the market

Chillis at the market

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

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A Singapore must-do: Singapore Slings at Raffles

Hopefully I’ll get around to doing the ‘green’ post in the correct month…

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A Royal Visit at the Kranji War Memorial

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This week, the Lion City has played host to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka William and Catherine. They are touring South East Asia to make the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. After visiting Singapore, they will go onto Malaysia, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. It was a bit of a whistle-stop tour of Singapore, which saw the Royal couple visit the Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, the Rolls Royce plant in Seletar, and a HDB block in Queenstown.

Yesterday morning, they completed their tour by paying a visit to the Kranji War Memorial, which is in the north of the island. The memorial is dedicated to the service men and women who died defending Singapore and Malaysia against invasion from the Japanese forces in World War II. Kranji is the final resting place for 4,458 service personnel. You can read more about the memorial here.

The Duke and Duchess arrived to the sound of the Gurkha contingent pipers, before laying a wreath on the memorial, which contains over 24,000 names of Commonwealth casualties.

Gurkha contingent pipers

The wreath laid by the Royal couple

They then spent some time speaking with some of the war veterans and members of the armed services who are based in Singapore. It was almost impossible to even see them at this point, due to the sudden crush of the crowds, all brandishing smart phones and telescopic lenses! I know that in the UK there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Royals, who have been riding high on a wave of national pride and patriotism ever since William and Catherine got married. I was surprised by the level of support and affection by all of those who were there yesterday. Many of the Singaporean’s I got chatting to knew more about the Royal family than I could possibly! Many of them also knew exactly who designed all of Kate’s outfits and what shoes she was wearing!

After a minute’s silence, whilst The Last Post was played, the couple then walked through the graves, paying special attention to those of Z Special Unit, who Prince William had asked specifically to see.

The Duke and Duchess walk through the graves

What was lovely to see was how comfortable they are in each other’s company. They just chatted naturally as they walked quietly around the memorial.

After walking through the graves, it was time for the couple of depart the Memorial, and head off to make preparations for the next leg of their trip, in Malaysia. I spent a little bit of time walking around the memorial myself. It’s a really beautiful and peaceful spot, on a sun-soaked hill, overlooking the city.

Kranji War Memorial

The view from the memorial

After William and Catherine left, the crowds then mobbed anyone who was in uniform. There were two young men who were attached to the Rifles, who had tons of young ladies queuing up to have their photos taken with them. They seemed a little bit bemused by the attention!

The two Rifles who got mobbed!

I really enjoyed my visit to Kranji War Memorial. It was obviously great to do a little bit of celebrity spotting, and see William and Catherine in the flesh, but it was also a beautiful spot in Singapore, which was great for some quiet reflection. I’d definitely recommend a trip up there if you are looking for some quiet and space to think.

The nicest set of photos I’ve found are on the Asia One website here

Exploring Geylang

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Inspired by my friend Claire’s photo post on Little India, we hatched a plan to go exploring other parts of Singapore together, and take photos to document all the interesting things we found along the way.

One of the places that neither of us had been to before was Geylang. For those of you not familiar with Singapore geography, Geylang sits just east of the Singapore river, along the East Coast. When people say Geylang, they are usually referring to the area that sits between Kallang and Paya Lebar MRT stations. It is the old Malay district, and there are still strong Malay flavours in the area, with loads of Malay cuisine for sale. This part of town has a bit of a colourful history and is still well-known as Singapore’s red light district.  I’m not sure how the area changes at night, but during the day it seemed like a vibrant part of town, with lots of beautiful traditional shop houses (which I later learnt are protected to keep the area’s character), and plenty of hustle and bustle.

(Please note that I intelligently forgot my camera – seriously ‘doh’ moment – so all my photos are taken with the iPhone)

Pretty shophouse front – I love all the intricate detail

Sleepy street life

HDB hallway

Post box

Beautiful old tiles

By exploring the random little Lorongs (side streets) we came across some unusual little sights.

Not sure if this is a shrine? But it was fascinating

Shrine

We also stumbled across this gorgeous little shop selling  Pau – small steamed buns filled with a variety of different fillings. We stopped and watched them being made through the open kitchen, marvelling at the sheer volume the chef was turning out.

Little mouthfulls of gorgeousness

More bun-shaped deliciousness

After a slightly confusing discussion with the owner (slight language barrier!) we bought a bun each. We snuck off down another side street before greedily tucking in – Oh.My.God. Those buns were a beautiful, delicious explosion of taste. The pork was full of flavour, and then nestled inside again was an egg! We stood on the side of the road with sticky fingers, gleefully devouring every bit. I’d definitely recommend! They are called Tanjong Rhu Pau, and joy of joys, I found out that they have a shop on Thompson Road, just around the corner from me!

I also indulged in looking at all the delicious fresh produce for sale – fruit and vegetables of all kinds, including durian!

Mangosteens

Baby aubergines

Is this the smelliest truck in Singapore?!

If you’ve not yet been to Geylang, I’d definitely recommend a little wander around, just soaking up the sights, sounds and smells. Explore the little Lorongs that lead off the main streets; you never know what little treats you might uncover.

There are more photos on my Flickr Geylang set or you can also check out Claire’s gorgeous post over on her blog

Haw Par Villa

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I recently paid a visit to the deliciously creepy Haw Par Villa. I visited in the week with my friend Laura and we were the only people there, apart from a couple of older ladies who were also visiting, and a man sweeping up leaves. The weird silence coupled with the odd tableaux that greeted us left a slightly eerie feeling, and I think we were both a bit glad that we hadn’t visited on our own!

Welcome to Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa has been described as a theme park in the past – apparently there did used to be a roller coaster here, but it has long been removed. It is probably best known as somewhere where Singaporean parents would take their children to frighten them into behaving themselves, and also to instil some moral understanding into their little ones.

Originally called the ‘Tiger Balm Gardens’, Haw Par Villa was built by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par in 1937 as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values such as respect, filial piety, hard work and self-restraint. The brothers were also responsible for Tiger Balm – a bit of a lifesaver in these tropical climes, as it can be used for anything from stopping the itching of mosquito bites, to providing relief from headaches. I know I am a bit lost without my little pot of the stuff! Haw Par Villa was built by the brothers as they believed that they should contribute something back to the greater good of society – a bit like our modern-day corporate social responsibility agenda I suppose!

Entrance with the famous Tiger Balm tiger

Decapitated head anyone?!

The most famous part of Haw Par Villa is probably the depictions in the 10 Courts of Hell. This section is inside and illustrates the Chinese folk belief in ‘diyu’. Each court of hell depicts a judge and poor unfortunates who have committed a crime, and therefore are sentenced to a gruesome punishment, such as being dismembered, boiled in oil, crushed with rocks or decapitated. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, as you can be reborn once you have been punished. Depending on your crime, you could be reborn as a human, animal or vegetable etc! A bit like karma.

Ladies, this is what could happen if you are tempted to sell your bodies…

Been ungrateful? Your heart will get cut out

Disrespected your parents? Crushed by a huge rock

Gruesome though it was, this was probably my favourite part of the park. The rest of the dioramas are interesting to look at, but the signs are either non-existent or very worn making it impossible to really tell what is being depicted. However, some of the scenes are slightly comical because of the expressions on the faces, or show figures stealing chickens or some such thing. Other things are just plain weird, and leave you wondering what on earth is going on.

Mafia mice?!

Tiger!

Battle scene

Some of the scenes depict Chinese stories that have a moral at the end, a bit like a fable. The one below tells a story of a man who saved a whale, and in return, when the ship he was travelling on sunk, the whale saved him from a watery grave.

Be nice to whales

The ground are set around a pretty pagoda and  a little pond which had lots of terrapins swimming around in it. Although it is all a little bit unloved at the moment, you can tell that the grounds must have been quite impressive at one point, set up a hill with lots of colourful pillars and fencing.

Pagoda

I really enjoyed my visit to Haw Par Villa. It was a glimpse back into old Singapore, when moral lessons were much more visible, and perhaps old traditional stories and values were held in greater respect than perhaps they are now. It is a weird and wonderful place to visit, and I feel a little sad that it is a bit neglected at the moment. I left wondering how much longer it would last, and when a real estate company will snap up the land. You can easily reach Haw Par Villa as there is an MRT station right outside the entrance, and there is no fee to get in. If you’d like a look into historic Singapore then it’s definitely worth a visit.

You can find more photos of my trip to Haw Par Villa over on Flickr

Bicycles and Bats

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Will’s sister came to visit us last month – we have now officially had all his immediate family to visit us! Must up the pressure on my lot to come and visit us now! It was wonderful to see her, as she was en route to visit Australia, so had a few days stopover with us. T is much more active than both Will & I so we had a rather action packed few days! It was actually lovely to get out and do things, and then be able to come back after a full day, sleepy but happy.

We went back to Pulau Ubin, as promised, and rented bicycles this time. You must be careful when renting bicycles there as they are all of varying quality. Make sure you test out the gears and the brakes in case they don’t work properly. Don’t be afraid to challenge some of the bicycles guys if they try to give you one that is no good. We cycled over to the Chek Jawa wetlands which are on the other side of the island. It was a pretty long ride for us unathletic types, especially in the heat and humidity. But you do get to see some amazing wildlife – we spotted a big monitor lizard on the way there, wild pigs, toucans and a HUGE spider in a web on the way back.  There is a viewing tower when you get to Chek Jawa where you can look out over the whole area. We also walked along the board walk where you can see lots of different natural habitats, including the mangroves. There are helpful signs to tell you what wildlife to look out for. I also enjoyed watching the planes landing at Changi, as they approach the airport from over the sea. You can find out more about Chek Jawa here.

We also finally made it up to MacRitchie. Despite it being only a short distance from us we hadn’t made it up there yet. I have thought about going during the day, but was frightened of seeing monkeys if I was on my own (I really, really hate monkeys!). So the three of us went, with our friend Fiona, for a walk along the HSBC Treetop walk, and a little wander around the area. MacRitchie is a big place! Make sure you wear proper shoes if you are planning on walking there – we did it in flip-flops which wasn’t so great, as the paths can be a little uneven and muddy if it has rained recently. The treetop walk is great fun – it is a huge suspension bridge which allows you fantastic views of the MacRitchie area.

Hanging out on the Treetop Walk

What a view!

After crossing over the bridge, we followed one of the trails for a little bit, allowing us to soak up the sounds and smells of the rainforest. There was a lovely little section where there was a bridge over a small stream. I am little bit obsessed with water features of any type, so I couldn’t resist taking a snap.

Little stream

We also took a trip to the Night Safari once again (how could we not?!). It was great as always, but this time Will & T made me brave the bat enclosure! I was not a fan! To make matters worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint) the keeper was in their feeding the fruit bats which meant they were all going bonkers and flying around. I know T took an illicit snap (by accident I should add) so if I get the photo from her I’ll pop it up for you to see. I’ve been in there, seen them, and I still don’t like bats flying around my face!

We had a wonderful time with T, and I hope she has even more fabulous adventures in Australia. Maybe I should get her to do a guest post…

Fantastic friends

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Yikes, I am very behind on my blogging! My lovely friend Liz and her boyfriend Andy came to visit nearly a month ago, and I’m only just getting around to blogging about it!

I’ve said before that one of the greatest joys when you are an expat, is having friends and family coming to visit you. Liz is one of those rare and lovely friends who was so excited and supportive about our moving here, that she’d booked her flights out here to visit before we even had ours booked! At the time, I remember sitting at the office during my last few days at work thinking about how far away March was, and how it felt like an eternity was stretching out in front of me before I would see her. But, time does funny things to you when you move abroad and all your usual routines and markers are up in the air. Suddenly, March was here and Liz & Andy were waving at me from the baggage collection belt in Changi Airport!

We did lots of stuff while they were here, including visiting the Zoo, Botanic Gardens, Arab Street, and Chinatown. It was great to show them both some my favourite places in Singapore, and to eat lots of delicious food!

Beautiful white tiger

The lovely Liz & I

Beautiful orchid

Drinks in the Raffles courtyard (with Fi too)

The view from the 70th floor at New Asia Bar

But best of all, was spending time with one of my best friends, catching up on all the news from home and sharing all those silly jokes that come so naturally when you have known someone for years. I love all the friends I have made since I arrived, but I also appreciate how wonderful it is to have people in your life who have shared even more with you. Friends are awesome and I count myself very fortunate to have so many that I truly treasure.

Pulau Ubin

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At the start of March we had our second set of house guests – Will’s Mum and Dad. We did a fair few of the more touristy things with them (Raffles, the Night Zoo, Marina Bay Sands) but we also wanted to do a couple of things that were more off the beaten track, and highlighted another side of Singapore. Their visit also happily coincided with some of the hottest weather we’ve had since we arrived in Singapore – seemingly endless days of bright blue sky and soaring temperatures.

We decided to make the most of the weather and do something outdoors. A couple of friends of ours had visited Pulau Ubin a couple of weekends previously, and raved about, so we were eager to explore for ourselves. You catch the bumboat over from Changi Point Ferry Terminal for the princely sum of S$2.50 (for UK readers, that’s about £1.25!). There aren’t any fixed departure times – the boats just go when they’re full. We seemed to time it just right, and there was one getting ready to depart as we arrived. I love being out on the water, slight spray on the face, wind in my hair – I felt oddly elated as we travelled over.

Enjoying the boat ride over

The bumboat

Welcome to Pulau Ubin!

Going to Pulau Ubin is like stepping back in time. It is described as one of the last ‘kampongs’ (villages) left in Singapore, and is supposed to be like what the rest of Singapore was like in the 1960s. Needless to say, I loved it! Such a brilliant, chilled out kind of vibe, and so wonderful to be around so much nature – even if I did acquire several mozzie bites within the first 15 minutes of arriving – the air feels fresher somehow, and its great to escape all the modern materialism of modern Singapore. I’d definitely recommend it as an escape on those days that you are feeling a bit disillusioned and fed up with Singapore.

There are loads of bikes for hire, for pretty cheap prices. We chose a more sedate option and just walked around a bit. Both Will and I are keen to go back and bike soon though, as we definitely didn’t get to explore as much of the island as we would’ve liked to. But it was fun walking around the little village bit, admiring some of the original art work, and hand painted signs for fresh seafood.

Bicycles for hire

Painted buildings

Seafood anyone?

I love this quote - it seems to embody the Pulau Ubin spirit

I loved strolling along the shady paths, spotting all kinds of local flora and fauna – which reminds me, I really need to get some kind of guide to that, as there are tons of things I don’t know the names of! There are some small buildings, near to the ferry point, which tell you all about the history of the island – it used to be famous for its granite quarries – as well as more about the wildlife you can find there. I’d like to go back and explore the mangrove areas next time.

Bananas growing by the side of the path

A sky to die for!

Starfruit (my current local food obsession)

There are plenty of places to sell you a cold drink, and we took Will’s parents to the only accommodation on the island, the Celestial Resort. There is a pretty decent restaurant there, where we enjoyed fried squid and noodles for lunch, whilst enjoying seeing all the brightly coloured fish (and a ray!) swimming around the restaurant – its set out in a little lake type bit. It was pretty relaxing to be honest, and nice to get out of the hot midday sun that was over us.

Island living

Tee hee - got to love this kind of thing!

In the end the heat defeated us a little bit (I am pretty acclimatised to the weather now, but I still flake out when it’s that hot…I’m a Brit, ok…sun is like a foreign thing to us), and we headed back to the jetty to go back to the mainland. I really enjoyed my short trip to Pulau Ubin, and I can’t  wait to go back and explore properly by bike another time. If you are looking for a little slice of peace and quiet in Singapore, I’d definitely recommend a day trip out there.

Exploring the Mekong River – Part Two

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After a super duper sleep on the boat (it was soooo relaxing just falling asleep to the sounds of nature), we woke up to another beautifully blue sky. We had another delicious meal (breakfast this time) before heading off in the little boat to explore some of the floating markets around Cai Be. It was all really quiet, because of the Tet holiday, so we didn’t get to experience the hustle and bustle that is usually there. On the other hand, there is something wonderful about seeing people at play, relaxing at home.

Enjoying time together

I find being by water really relaxing, and I loved the idea of living so close to the river (although there are bound to be cons…I can dream!). I loved the houses on stilts, and how the river is obviously such an integral part of daily life.

Relaxing at Tet

Houses by the river

I liked seeing the boats that usually make up some of the floating market, and tried to imagine the shouts of people selling and buying wares, and people stepping from boat to boat, to pick up the things that they need.

Floating market boat

After meandering down the waterways, we stopped at a small village to stretch out legs and explore. We went to a place that showed tourists all the different things that the local communities do with rice, from making rice wine, rice papers, and popped rice. We got to try a lot of things, including some delicious little sweets – they were yummy but so sticky they got stuck to your teeth!

Drying rice papers used for summer rolls

Making popped rice

As we left the rice place, I spotted all these Tintin books for sale! I loved Tintin when I was younger, so it was a real treat to see these. I can’t remember if I’ve read them or not, but I loved the illustrations, and how they were a complete time-capsule for what was going on when they were written.

Vietnamese Tintin

Soon after exploring the village, it was time to say goodbye to Loi, and the rest of our fellow guests on the boat. I felt sad to be leaving the Mekong. I found it very tranquil and calming, just being out on the water, with no internet or mobile phones to disturb your thoughts. I found the friendliness of all the people we met wonderful. They really made me feel welcome, and part of their community, even if just for a day.

Back in Saigon, we just had one final stop before flying back to Singapore. We went to the War Remnants Museum (previously know as the American War Crimes Museum). I didn’t take any photos inside as it felt a bit disrespectful, and also some of the exhibits on display were truly horrifying, and ones that I don’t wish to recall. Although it presents a very biased view of the conflict, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by many of the images and stories that were shown. I was pleased to see some photographs of American soldiers who suffered, as well as the Vietnamese – I think some of the museum has been changed in order to attempt a more balanced viewpoint. The worst section for me was the one of the effects of Agent Orange. There were a few things in there that made me feel ill, but I felt like I needed to see them; to understand more about this war that really I knew so little about. It was incredibly moving and thought-provoking, and the experience will stay with me for quite some time.

I really loved Vietnam. I loved the warmth of the people, their resilience, and their openness. I found the scars left by the war to be shocking but also inspiring. Vietnam seems to have come such a long way since then that it gave me hope for other countries who are currently trying to recover from conflict themselves. I really hope I get the chance to return, and see more of this fascinating place.

Exploring the Mekong River

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(Part two of our CNY visit to Vietnam.)

After a fun day exploring Saigon, and then meeting up with friends in the city for dinner, drinks and general marvelling at the Tet celebrations (yes, even going to Vietnam we managed to bump into people we know from Singapore – so awesome!), we set off bright and early for our trip exploring the Mekong delta.

We had arranged our trip through our hotel, and I think I would definitely recommend shopping around for trips as they can be of varying length, depth and quality. We went for a two-day, one night trip, where we got to sleep over on the boat. The hotel booked us on a Cochinchine cruise and I’d have to say I’d highly recommend them for the friendliness of the staff, delicious food, comfortable accommodation, and just general relaxing greatness!

We picked up the boat at Cai Be, just over an hour drive from Saigon. I enjoyed the drive down there – the roads are great, and it was lovely to see some of the countryside. I also enjoyed seeing all the rest stops  dotted along the route. The rest stops in Vietnam are really different to the ones in the UK; rather than Burger King, in Vietnam you get a shady hammock and a bowl of steaming hot pho! Unfortunately, our journey wasn’t long enough to warrant a rest stop, but it made me excited about going back to Vietnam one day and doing some longer journeys.

We were met at Cai Be, and taken onto our boat, where we would spend the next two days. The boat was beautiful and the crew, including our guide Loi, were welcoming and very friendly. I didn’t get a photo of our room, but the bed was super comfy, and there was air-conditioning, meaning that in the night we wouldn’t get bitten to death by mozzies!

Our boat

And then – we were off! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed just slowly floating down the river, with a warm breeze in my face, cold drink in my hand, and great company by my side. I loved seeing all the life by the side of the Mekong – people who use the river to live and work every day.

Fishing

Kilns for firing bricks

View off the back of the boat

After floating along the river, eating a delicious lunch of about 5 courses (I was so busy eating I didn’t take photos!) including some gorgeous summer rolls, we arrived at Sa Dec. Sa Dec is a pretty market town, with a night market. After the peace and quiet of the river, it was almost a shock being back in the hustle and bustle of  a town. It was much more busy because of the Tet public holiday that evening.

We walked through the town until we arrived at the house of Hunyh Thuy Le. This house became famous due to the French writer, Marguerite Duras, having an affair with Hunyh Thuy Le. This love affair, became the basis for her book The Lover. The house was really beautiful, with loads of gorgeous detailing. I loved the mixture of French and Vietnamese that was everywhere. I’d never heard of Marguerite Duras until going there, but now I really want to read the book, and understand what inspired her.

Bird detailing on the wooden wall panels

Out in the courtyard

Floor tiles

On the way back, we happened across a group of children, practising their lion dance. I didn’t know much about lion dancing, but I now know it supposed to scare away evil spirits and summon good fortune. I was amazed by how acrobatic the children were – the lion is made by two people, and the boy at the front was often being picked up by the boy at the back, to make the lion rear up. It was quite amazing, and the traditional drumming really added to the atmosphere. They were really happy to let us watch everything, and seemed pleased to have an audience.

Standing on the shoulders of lions

Lion dancing

Lion and his beater

After our impromptu stop watching the lion dance, we continued on to a temple to look around. It was incredibly brightly coloured, with really unusual decorations inside.

Temple detailing

Dragons

We then walked up some narrow and incredibly steep staircases to get up to the roof, where we had the most incredible views over the town, and over the river. It was such a sunny day, and the really vivid colours of the temple looked amazing against the bright blue sky.

Will & I on the temple roof

From the top of the temple

Back in the main town, we had a chance to explore the markets. I love markets! It was brilliant looking around everything, and all the weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables. There was a great atmosphere in the market – vibrant and buzzy, with loads of people milling around, buying up things for the Tet celebrations that evening.

Mouthwatering selection

Stinky durians

Fruit selection

Back on the boat, we were treated to a foot massage on the top deck, as the sun set over the river. We then had another gorgeous meal, leaving us completely stuffed. We stayed up on deck, chatting with some of the other guests, and enjoying a glass of wine. After a couple of hours, we were ready to head down to bed. On our way down, we had to walk past the kitchen, and there we found all of the staff enjoying a celebratory Tet meal. They invited us, and the Australian couple who were with us, to join them. It was a real privilege to share their meal, and drinks, with them. All the staff were so friendly, teaching us to say Happy New Year in Vietnamese – Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Chuc Mung Nam Moi - celebrating on the boat

Good morning Vietnam!

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Sorry for the cheesy movie reference title … I couldn’t help it!

For the CNY bank holiday, the boy and I decided to take a little trip out of the Lion City, and explore a bit more of South East Asia. Will had already been to Vietnam once before, on his gap year. Needless to say, some things had no doubt changed, so with our flights to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon (will someone please tell me what I should call it?!) booked, off we went to explore.

We arrived in Vietnam after just a short flight (it’s just  2 hours from Singapore) and then hopped straight into a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Cinnamon Hotel which I’d really recommend. We had a beautiful room, delicious breakfasts, and the staff were super helpful and friendly, despite having to work over the Tet holiday (the Vietnamese equivalent of CNY). We also booked our trip down the Mekong through them, and were delighted with that too. The hotel is nice and central; just a short walk to most of the main sights in the city.

After a good snooze and breakfast, we headed to the Reunification Palace. The Reunification Palace was the workplace of the President of South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. It was also the site of the end of the Vietnam War, during the fall of Saigon, when a North Vietnamese tank was crashed through its gates. It is quite an imposing building, although I wouldn’t say it was beautiful. There are replica tanks in the grounds, along with the details of the Vietnamese soldiers who were involved in the attack on the palace.

The building is carefully preserved, and its easy to imagine what it would have been like during the war, with the rooms left just as they would have been during the war. We enjoyed walking around, admiring all the artifacts. It is a real time capsule in there. Bits of it reminded me of the Churchill War Rooms in London – especially the bits in the basement – lots of long, concrete corridors, with small offices and lots of maps, telephones, and other communication equipment.

It was fascinating to walk around and to explore the history of the building. I think it is great how it has been preserved so that you can really imagine it full of military and government personal walking around in the 1970’s. I also enjoyed standing on the balcony at the front of the building, trying to imagine what it must have felt like to watch the tanks breaking through the gates, and knowing your world was going to change forever.

After exploring the Reunification Palace, we headed out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese guerrillas, in their fight against the Americans during the Vietnam war, allowing them to outwit the American troops, as well as supplying the guerrilla fighters with hiding places, food, supplies and communications. The tunnels are believed to have been instrumental in the eventual victory over the Americans.

Let’s get one thing straight – the tunnels are tiny! Most of them have been widened so that ‘large’ Western tourists can explore them! See the below photos for a couple of people in our group getting into one of the tiny entrances to see what I mean!

The tour starts with a video, which is in shaky black and white footage, where you learn all about the brave Vietnamese and the despicable American soldiers – it is very much Vietnamese anti-American propaganda, and I think its important you recognise it as such. However, it is an interesting insight into the national psyche and attitudes towards the war. We then joined our guide who took us around the tunnel complex. Most of the things to see are above ground – you see the breathing holes that they cleverly disguised as big termite mounds round the bottom of trees – the had small holes hidden in them where the guerrillas could go to so they could get fresh air. There are countless entrances and exits, all very small, and disguised underneath the leaf mulch, rendering them completely invisible, unless you knew where to look. The Vietnamese not only used the tunnels – they also laid traps for the Americans, such as digging pits with sharpened, hardened bamboo spikes in them, which would ensure that their enemy slowly bled to death, after being impaled.

The experience was brilliant – you learnt so much about how the Vietnamese lived and worked in the tunnels, and how they used old unexploded shells and bomb casings to make their own weapons and traps. You have to admire the ingenuity! The actual part where you crawl through the tunnels was short. The tunnels are smooth (or at least the ones you can crawl through) and dry. I’m not exactly tall but I found it hard going – you are bent over the entire time and its tough on the thighs! As I was crouching along the tunnels, I felt real admiration for the Vietnamese who lived day in day out in these tunnels, whilst the threat from the Americans was all around them. I was astonished that more of them didn’t get lost in the tunnels, as they are completely pitch black once your guide turns a corner and leaves you without torchlight!

It was a brilliant day, learning all about the history of the area, and the people who lived there. Before we went, I must confess to not knowing masses about the Vietnam War – I knew bits and pieces but my understanding was shaky at best. It was an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

I’ll post more about the rest of the trip over the next few days!