Category Archives: Vietnam

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…

New feature: White – #worldcolours project

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In a project inspired by fellow blogger Naomi, I’ve joined the #worldcolours project. (See here for more details)

To quote from Naomi’s blog:

It’s a joint effort between bloggers all over  to collate our photos that all have ONE thing in common.  COLOR! During the end of each month, we’ll be sharing our version of imagery based on a color calendar … starting with WHITE. ”

So, here’s my first world colours post – welcome to my world of white!

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot - my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot – my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

Old tiles, Vietnam

Old tiles, Vietnam

Selling nuts in Mumbai

Selling nuts in Mumbai

The stunning Taj Mahal - I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

The stunning Taj Mahal – I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Figure in Thailand

Figure in Thailand

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

Making dumplings in Taipei

Making dumplings in Taipei

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

I really enjoyed putting this post together – it was great to look back over some of my photos and revisit all the memories I have associated with them. Looking forward to next months colour!

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!

A little January update

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Sorry for the radio silence folks – we have been super busy since we got back from our Bali holiday.

First of all, we celebrated seeing in 2012 with some of our lovely new friends in Singapore. Pia threw a super fun ‘wigs & hats’ party over at her condo (which is walking distance from ours). So complete with dragon hat (Will) and crown (me), we saw 2012 in with much food, drink, laughter and silly dancing.

Does pink hair suit me?! 

We then had a lovely bank holiday spent with the same friends we were partying with. What started as a brunch at Epicurious at Robertson Quay, turned into a bit of a bar crawl and saw us sipping cocktails and eating cake at the PS Cafe on Ann Siang Hill, before moving on to the rooftop bar at Ying Yang. When we arrived they were playing atrocious club music at a stupidly early hour, so we got them to put on some reggae, and relaxed with some cold drinks and a cooling breeze. Great way to spend a bank holiday – thanks guys!

I also went with Laura back to the Asian Civilisations Museum, which continues to fascinate me. It’s such a great place to explore – I love reading all about the different areas and looking at the exhibits. In particular, we marvelled at some of the relics of language and how modern people had deciphered what was written, when no-one alive could speak the language. We had a great morning pottering around all the exhibits, before a yummy Italian lunch on Boat Quay, and a very long natter catching up on everything that we’d been up to and putting the world to rights!

Will & I finally went to Little India and had a delicious curry courtesy of Jaggis – brilliant Punjabi food in a no frills setting, exactly what we needed after the last few days of excess! I also met a fellow Claire, who is behind the gorgeous blog and company Fellow Fellow (beautiful handmade paper gorgeousness). We had a lovely evening with a cold glass of wine and surprisingly delicious calamari and truffle fries, at a bar on One Fullerton. This was followed up by eating ice cream by the Merlion and watching the laser show from Marina Bay Sands (still don’t understand the laser show, but its pretty!). Great evening, and great to meet another lovely person who calls this tiny island home.

On Friday, we went to the cinema to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I loved the books  (see my review here) but hadn’t seen any of the Swedish film adaptations. This was actually quite a good version, despite a bit of artistic licence with the plot somewhat! I would say that the rape scene and subsequent revenge scene is rather disturbing and not for the faint hearted! However, Rooney Mara was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander, and I did find it amusing how Daniel Craig has obviously made it enough to not have to put on a faux-Swedish accent!

Then on Saturday we hosted a birthday party for Nav at our condo – our first time BBQing in Singapore. Except although they are called ‘BBQ pits’, they are actually more of a hot plate – bit of a shock when we opened it up, but we managed to cook up a storm. Great fun, and great to find our ‘host & hostess’ mojo here in Singapore, as we were both missing having parties and BBQs like we used to in London. So we made some new friends, swam in the swimming pool after too much food, used every glass in our apartment when we had to move upstairs, and danced to Bollywood videos on You Tube. Awesome.

This is a bit of a sign of things to come as we have a busy January ahead:

  • a good friend of ours is coming over on his ‘look-see’ so we will be showing him the sights and sounds
  • we are going to Vietnam for Chinese New Year – flying to Ho Chi Minh, exploring the city, and then travelling down to the Mekong Delta. Can’t wait, as its my first time visiting Vietnam
  • hosting Will’s brother and a few of his friends as they stay for a few days, en route to a wedding in Australia

I am relishing the idea of being tour guide, as it’ll be nice to feel like a Singapore expert, rather than the ‘green’ newbie! Plus it will be great to see everyone and catch-up properly with all the news from home. I also think showing people around will make me appreciate Singapore a little bit more, as it’s always good to see your city through the eyes of someone else.

I am also on the job hunt, so if anyone knows of anyone who might like to give a great project manager/researcher/writer/events organiser/PA a job, then please get in touch! 🙂