Through my eyes: Colours of Hoi An

Because my lovely husband took me to House of Hoi An for a delicious birthday dinner this week, and the bright colours in the restaurant took me right back…

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The Vietnam Military History Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Vietnam Military History Museum
28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

I’m a bit of a military history nerd, so when husband suggested visiting the Vietnam Military History Museum,  I was stoked.

Vietnam’s identity and history have been so strongly defined by war, and that’s still very obvious. Listening to tour guides speaking to their wards as we made our way around the country, the constant theme was always strong military pride, and the museum exemplifies this national feeling perfectly.

The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic. 

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Through my eyes: Faces of Saigon

Time to go back to Vietnam for the morning…

Early in the morning, this lady was already out and cooking in a narrow alley behind a larger street. With the piles of plates lined up on a small plastic table to the side, I assumed she was preparing for the morning breakfast rush…
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These ladies had a lot to say. I may not speak or understand Vietnamese, but I know two women having a good gossip session when I see it! They were so animated and excited, so I’m guessing that who or whatever the topic of conversation was was pretty juicy.
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The market stalls selling fresh meat, fruit, veggies and herbs seemed to be mostly the domain of the women. They’re the bosses. They basically run the country. This lady was no exception – again, it was early in the morning and she was getting set up to sell.  Also, the ladies of Vietnam somehow manage to make matching two piece summer suits actually look good. Even with gumboots.
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This guy had not a care in the world. I’m not sure he was totally aware of his surroundings either. He sat in this empty doorway as the cars and motorbikes flew by, at the start of a busy working day, and he rolled and smoked his cigarette with a look of complete peace and oblivion on his face. Had a massive car accident occurred right in front of him, I’m still not sure it would have been enough to rouse him from his trance…
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And this lady. I have mixed feelings about her. On one hand, she grilled up some damn delicious pork skewers for us in the middle of the busy marketplace, and served them up hot off the grill with some very tasty sauce. On the other hand, she decided to play the “screw-the-foreigners” game, and charged us VND 40,000 for each individual pork skewer, rather than the VND 40,000 for the whole plate on the menu card. Sneaky. But, that’s the way it rolls over there! Lesson learnt.
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Tea time: Tao Dan Park Bird Cafe, Saigon, Vietnam

Tao Dan Park
110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

This café stop on our last morning in Saigon was probably the highlight of our time in Saigon. Another suggestion from our wonderful Cu Chi Tunnels guide, she told us about the “bird café” in Tao Dan Park; each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Sounds odd, right? It is, but in a really beautiful way.

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Keeping pet birds is quite popular in Vietnam – you notice cages everywhere, beautiful, old, vintage-looking bird cages, with gorgeous little feathered creatures sitting inside. The café at Tao Dan Park is a real social event, where the men of the city roll up on their motorbikes with their covered birdcages perched on the back. They park their bikes and carefully lift the cages, bringing them to rest on the floor in the middle of the outdoor “café.” The covers are removed from the cages, and they’re delicately hung from the hooks on what looks like a collection of big metal trees with braches especially crafted for the cages.

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While the women are off presumably raising the kids, cleaning the house, running the shops and doing whatever else needs to be done, the men sit around for a few hours enjoying their coffee and listening to their birds sing. We pulled up a little plastic table and joined the growing crowd, husband with his Vietnamese condensed milk iced coffee, and me with my lemon tea and journal. While the tea is nothing to write home about (just a Lipton tea bag, boiling water and a squeeze of lemon), husband said the coffee was amazing, and that’s what everyone else seemed to be drinking, too. I got a lot of strange looks, being the only woman around, but probably no stranger than the perplexed look on my face when I first arrived trying to work out what the hell was going on. Travel is like that – we might all be a little weird to each other, but you learn to adapt to anything 🙂

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Hoan Kiem Lake & Tortoise Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

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As far as city centres go, this is up there as one of the most beautiful. The enormous Hoan Kiem Lake sits in the centre of the city (both physically and spiritually), and is a hub of activity, day and night. Each time we found ourselves getting a little overwhelmed in Hanoi (which was more often than I’d like, due mostly to the heat and frustration in finding anything in a city where certain things are only sold on certain streets), we found ourselves pulled back to the lake.

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Morning tai chi, midday lunch breaks, evening ice creams. Groups of school-aged teens giggling and older ladies gossiping, men sharing stories and dogs marking their territory. Shady spots under the trees lining the banks of the river and sunny spots on the grass. It’s pretty beautiful and so peaceful, which is odd in such a crazy city…

 

The name of the lake translates to “lake of the returned sword” or something similar, because of the legend surrounding it. It’s said that after Emperor Le Loi was given a sword by the golden turtle god, endowing him with great strength, to be used to win Vietnam’s freedom back from the Chinese in the early 1400s. Not long after the war, Le Loi was said to have been on the river again, in his boat, when the turtle god appeared again to take the sword back. The turtle swam to the depths of the lake with the glowing sword in its mouth, never to be seen again.

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Almost 500 years later (while Hanoi was under French rule), the tower you can see in the photos above and below was built by a musician to commemorate Le Loi and what he did for Vietnam. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, though, he was secretly working for the French, and the tower he built was to serve a double purpose of being the resting place for his fathers’ body. While it may have been built by a traitor for his own purpose (the body was removed once discovered) in a style that wasn’t typically Vietnamese, it still stands as symbol of patriotism and unity, traits that are still very strongly associated with the Vietnamese people.

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Stay here: Hoi An Holiday Villa, Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An Holiday Villa
414/9 Cua Dai street, Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam
http://hoianholidayvilla.com/

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved this place, or how wonderful our stay was here. Right from the very first contact via email when we booked, up until our final footsteps out of the lobby, the team at the Hoi An Holiday Villa couldn’t have been more kind, accommodating, friendly and welcoming 🙂

We found it quite by chance while looking for somewhere to stay in a particular area of Hoi An near Cua Dai Street, and this little place with only a handful of rooms available at very decent prices, looked perfect for us. We booked it in, and I had a lot of communication with Cherry who looks after the bookings in the lead up to our trip. She was an angel, helping us to organise everything from car transfers to collect us from the airport upon arrival and bring us back at the end of our trip, to tailor recommendations for the husband who was in the market for a new suit. She also kept an eye out for us of an evening, to make sure we got back to our room safely for the night 🙂

On arrival at Da Nang airport, we were promptly met by a driver who whisked us away to our new home for the next 6 nights; we were met again with a smiling face and two glasses of ice-cold passionfruit and orange juice and a seat at the lobby. Despite the fact that we arrived several hours before official check in time, we were assured our room was already prepared for us. Before we were taken over, we were given a map with a whole lot of information on where to find food, coffee shops, markets, etc.

Our room was gorgeous – clean and bright, with amazing air conditioning and heaps of room, it was the perfect headquarters for our Hoi An leg of the trip 🙂

In terms of the specifics, we had:
– king size bed
– free wifi
– mini bar fridge
– desk
– sitting area with complimentary tea & coffee
– toiletries (toothbrushes, shampoo, shower gel, etc)
– cable TV channels
– breakfast included

There was also a small but beautifully kept pool area, where you could order little bites to eat and drinks from the shade of your umbrella and lounge chair. After our early starts around 7am and several hours of walking around in the Hoi An heat, arriving back to lounge in and around the pool for an hour or two after lunch each day made alllll the difference!

Because it’s such a small place, breakfast wasn’t the usual buffet, but an order-from-the-menu scenario. But as I mentioned above, your accommodation rates include breakfast, so you can order until your heart’s content and your belly’s full! On our last day, we were due to fly out quite early in the morning which meant we’d miss breaky, but as our 6.30am car service was pulling up to take us to the airport, we were given special packed little breakfast boxes for our drive. Warm baguettes with butter and jam, fruit and yoghurt – not at all necessary, but another example of the wonderful service 🙂 And another – as we were climbing into the car with our breakfasts, another one of the lovely staff members came running out to us with a parting gift – a beautiful, traditional Hoi An lantern each!

It may not have been  a fancy la-di-da 5 star resort, but the team at Hoi An Holiday Villas made us feel like absolute royalty. We couldn’t have been more grateful for their kindness and hospitality, and wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else the next time we visit 🙂

Through my eyes: making tracks in Hanoi

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I’ve seen some odd things on my travels, and tend not to be too surprised anymore when I see people doing things that are really different to how we do things at home, but this one still took my breath away.

The rail tracks that run through Hanoi literally run through Hanoi. As in, they’re set in what just looks like a slender alley-way between rows of homes and shops, with very little room to move on either side. That was all well and good, until I skipped my way across the tracks to take some photos, and noticed a family finishing up their breakfast. In the middle of the tracks. I’m talking, little plastic stools and table set up with bowls and chopsticks actually on the tracks, and small children running back and forth across them, and no one batting an eyelid.

We crossed that railway several more times during our stay in Hanoi, and I got less and less worried about oncoming speeding trains each time I guess you can get used to anything…

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