Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My unusual quiet morning in the greatest city - Venice (Part 1)

While making a travel plan, I decided to stay 3 nights in Verona, as I will take a train from Verona to Venice, it takes only one hour and half in route, I'll go back to Verona at night. And if I like Venice, I still can go back there the following day. In fact I didn't return to Venice the next day! Why? Venice is not that beautiful? Venice is not like a greatest destination as people often say?

Don't get me wrong! It was good for me to be there, even very good...but to me, somehow I feel Venice seemly didn't have something that I used to imagine. Anyway, Venice is very unique, very photogenic... People gave different names to this old town on water: City of masks, City of bridges, City of canals, The Floating City, the Love's Holy Land...and I would call Venice as "always-overcrowded-old-town-on water"  

                              I want to see Venice in its true daily routine life, free of the crowds of tourists.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Juliet's house in Verona - my first stop in Italy

I left Nice Ville behind with mixed feelings : love, sadness, joy...I regretted that I didn't plan more time for this city, hot like a tropical town, but a popular, joyful tourist spot. The hostel I stayed was quite nice, the lady at the reception was so friendly, the location was the best, I couldn't wish for more. Anyway, my time in France has come to an end, my next destination was Verona - Italy, one of the most popular spots in Northern Italy

If you follow my journey from the beginning, you know that I got a France Rail Pass (to travel only within France) but this pass also allowed me to get inside Italy till Ventimiglia - a small Italian town near the border, then from there I need to get a new train ticket. My travel time in Italy was short, so I just bought the online ticket for each route, probably better than getting an Italy rail pass.

                     Juliet's house with the famous balcony... 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Last days in South of France - St Paul-de-Vence (Part 2)

I couldn't recall, from my memory, where we went first - Monaco or St Paul de Vence, anyway no matter at all, as all places I visited on that day were close to each others. Saint Paul de Vence was truly a special destination, I found it on the internet while preparing my trip, so I kept it in mind, I was quite excited to learn from the Office of Tourism in Nice that this village included in their 9-hour tour program.

It's a small town on a hill, the history starting from the Middle-age period, back to 10th -12th century, but now became one of the most visited villages due to the modern, contemporary art galleries, museums, art items displayed in the village, art studios, schools...and especially a home to a number of the famous artists, like Marc Chagall or movies celebs. Someone said "This is a paradise for the artists"!  

                Not far from the entrance - a symbolic sculpture on the village's ramparts.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Last days in South of France: Cannes - Antibes - Monaco (Part 1)

Staying 2 nights in Nice and I had only 1 day to discover the city, it was definitely not enough but I also had other priorities - other towns nearby Nice ville. My original idea was St-Tropez, I would take either a bus or train to this famous site which considered as a paradise for the rich, but to me - just to satisfy my curiosity about the town that I heard of many times in the high school.

Unfortunately, I couldn't make it there as the day for a tour to St Tropez, I had to leave Nice for Verona (Italy).  So I decided to go with a whole-day-long tour to Antibes - Cannes - St Paul de Vence - Monaco - Eze. 

         The Mediterranean view from Antibes - a resort town in South of France, between Nice and Cannes 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nice - glorious coastal town in Côte d'Azure

My first time in Nice was either in 2003 or 2004, I can't remember exactly. That was only one night stay in a small hostel up on the hill. What left in my memory from that trip was a next morning walk somewhere around my place, a nice and quiet neighbourhood.
I came back to Nice this time with 2-night stay, my boutique hotel was right in the heart of Nice, one street behind the most famous, probably the most prestigious hotel in Nice - Le Negresco. From my hotel to Nice's main boulevard "La Promenade des Anglais" - only 2 minutes walk.

                      Le Negresco - the jewel of Nice Ville in his centennial celebrations 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The village of Pomelo - Làng bưởi

The expression "Làng Bưởi" sounds quite nice in Vietnamese but where I have been last week - not a village or pomelo farm, it was more like a huge countryside-style or garden style restaurant, only 45' away from Saigon by car.

                      "Souvernir shop" in the village of Pomelo 

Friday, November 07, 2014

Sur le pond d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse...

I could make a bet that everyone who is reading this review, already knew or at least once in their childhood heard of this song's melody "Sur le pond d'Avignon". This could be the only song in the entire world magically turned this small town widely famous. Millions of tourists continue coming to Avignon just to see the bridge, to walk on I did last month.

                     Legendary bridge of Avignon over the famous river - Rhône 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Carcassonne - 2500-year-old medieval fortified town in South of France

I can't remember exactly why Carcassonne was in my itinerary... Partly because of the fortress, the castle? Partly because I simply wanted to stop somewhere before Avignon as I had to skip Aix-de-Provence in this journey? Anyway, I arrived to Carcassonne at noon, it was a bit hard for me to find my hotel by a "paper Google map", I was almost close to it, but then I took another way and I got lost.

                     One of two main gates to the fortified city, the other one by the river Aude.      

Friday, October 24, 2014

La Roque-Gageac - one of the most beautiful villages in France

Wherever you go in France, despite small or big town, you always find the tourist office. There you will be able to get many useful informations about the tours, hotels, restaurants, museums, transportation, tickets to some events...After one day of exploring my favourite historic Sarlat on my own, I needed to get out to La Roque-Gageac - one of the most beautiful villages in France.

It turned out very simple, the lady in the tourist office nicely booked for me a taxi-van for a round trip to the village, I shared the van with a couple from UK, so the fare was only 20 Euros per person and I had almost 4 hours at La Roque-Gageac : from noon to 4:00 PM. Perfect!

                I found this old stone house, deep inside a huge bamboo garden in Roque-Gageac. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day out at the bird's nest farm in Bình Dương

Last week I spent a day in the bird's nest farm in Bình Dương with some of my old friends. The farm belongs to a friend of mine. I knew him since I still worked for a Finnish company, but we didn''t see each other for a while until last year we met up again.
It was quite interesting day-out to his farm, to witness how they do the nesting houses for thousands of swiftlets, to harvest the bird's nests - one of the most expensive foods that we consume these days.

               The nesting houses in my friend's farm in Dầu Tiếng (Bình Dương province) 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sarlat-La-Canéda - a mind-blowing town in South West of France

I left Blois early in the morning after having a breakfast in hotel. Talking about the breakfast in France, to save time, I often grabbed some of my favourite sandwich-baguette with either an Evian or a mini-bottle of fruit juice at the train station, it cost me around 5 or 6 Euro. Later I realised if I pay 2 or 3 Euro extra I could have a whole breakfast buffet in the hotel with a lot of choices (in France most hotels didn't include the breakfast in their rate).

                   Place du Peyrou - Centre of Sarlat at night.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The famous veal from Củ Chi - Bò tơ

Củ Chi is one of the suburban districts of Saigon. Not far away and a popular spot for tourists thanks to the well-known tunnels from the war times. For people living in Saigon, Củ Chi is still famous for some of their local specialities: the super fresh cow milk, the tapioca that you might try during the tunnels visit and the famous veal or as we say here "young beef" (bò tơ).

I've been to Củ Chi for this kind of veal dish before with my nieces, it was somewhere in some small roads, it was not easy to navigate if you are not familiar with the place, and the eatery was simply down to earth, spacious like in the garden, with few of low wooden tables and chairs, they only cook after getting the order. But last night our place was a kind of luxury, typically spacious in the suburb, with fancy furniture, nice dining room with air con and very good veal dishes.

                 A plate of veal meat, we dipped the meat into a soup of fermented sticky rice (hèm) 

Friday, October 10, 2014

My weekend in Blois & the memorable light show at Château de Blois

After these famous châteaux, I was back to my hotel around 5:00 pm, I thought to invite my companion for dinner but then I changed my mind. I felt exhausted after a whole day exposed on the sun, carried a heavy camera bag with tripod...I didn't feel like to eat anything. No appetite at all.

              Hotel's breakfast room, cozy, ideal place for train traveller, just across the street from station

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Château de Chenonceau and a weekend in Blois - Part One

I left Château de Chambord around 1:00 pm, 40' later I reached the other one, also very famous in this "Vallée  de la Loire" - Château de Chenonceau. When I first saw this architecture on the internet, it didn't blow my mind right away like the Chambord, but when I arrived and saw it my eyes...what I could say was just "Wow"!

              Château de Chenonceau - the famous eastern facade of the castle over the river Cher.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Blois and Château de Chambord - one of the largest châteaux in Loire Valley

The difficult thing in my preparation for my journey around France was how to select a good place that I really want to see, but also with good train connection with my previous stay or with the next one, I don't want to spend too much time in the train. So from Pontorson (Mont St Michel) to Blois was around 6 hours, it was the maximum travelling time with two-time change of the trains. Everything was perfectly on-time. I highly appreciated the French railway system!

              Château de Blois with the statue of Louis XII, this palace was his favourite royal residence. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Baguette sandwich in Vietnam by Tùng Xích Lô - my guest posting

I'm not a big fan of Facebook, but I do use it to share info, to chat with friends within my small circle. From time to time just by chance I found someone interesting, we are probably sharing same interest, same thoughts - I follow. Tung Xich Lo is one of few personalities that I found in Facebook and I quite like his posts about "bánh mỳ in Việt Nam" (i.e. baguette sandwich in Vietnam).

With Tùng Xich Lô's permission, I share with you some of his Facebook posts about "bánh mỳ" that he tried during his trip around Vietnam over the past few years. There is no geographical or chronological order. All photos were taken by him with his witty comments, some with funny story and all in Vietnamese. Sorry for those who can't read Vietnamese, I did add some headlines, photo captions, hope you can get the basic idea, and wish you to have a chance to try the varieties of baguette sandwich in your journey in Vietnam.

                  One of Tùng Xich Lô's favourite baguettes sandwiches in Đà Nẵng. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mont Saint Michel - 3rd destination in my train journey around France

I never heard about this place before, I only found it while preparing my journey. Seeing this site on the internet, I was so surprised and wondering why I never ever knew about its existence!
I was hesitating a bit as I couldn't decide from where I better depart for Mont St Michel. Right from Paris? Or from Rouen? Rouen was also my top choice due to my wish to see Claude Monet's garden, but unluckily one day before my departure for Rouen, I had to cancel my short trip to Givenchy-Vernon to visit the famous impressionist-painter's house.

From Rouen to Mont St Michel was a 4-hour long ride in the train plus another 15' in the shuttle bus from Pontorson to this site.Anyway I was so excited to see the sight of MSM (i.e. Mont St Michel) from far in the train and then from the bus when it was approaching. It looked so stunning on the blue sky background!

                         I couldn't believe in my eyes - Mont St Michel was right in front of me 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rouen - the 2nd destination in my train journey around France - Part 2

After three days in Paris, I boarded my first train to Rouen. To be honest I don't know why I chose this town, I probably think that would be a better place to go to my next destination - Mont St Michel - the second famous site in France after Tour Eiffel, and on the way to Rouen I may visit Claude Monet's garden at Giverny Vernon. But I was wrong - from Rouen to Mont St Michel - a long ride, but I was not wrong about Rouen - a beautiful old town with amazing Gothic cathedral. Unluckily I skipped my visit to Claude Monet's house due to my "ambitious" plan!

                  Vieux Rouen - the old town with many half-timber houses dated back in 16th century.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Paris - the return and my train journey around France - Part 1

I'm so sorry that I didn't have any review for over a month! Because I'm traveling in Europe, to make one of my dream trips come true - traveling around France by train, visiting some of the most beautiful villages in France!
France and Paris, these two words I already learnt by heart when I was a little kid. Both of my parents  used to speak a perfect French, when they were not in peace, my mom argued with my dad in French, not to let us understand.
And then my turn - I also studied in French school my destiny turned into anther way so all of my university's years and later the long years of my career - nothing related to this country, to this language! My French was deeply sleeping in my mind, but I never forgot those images of Paris from my old school books, those names of provinces or cities, or small towns or rivers that our teachers forced us to remember by heart!

              Hotel de Ville - early in the morning and the famous Notre Dame de Paris not far from here!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The stories about my three sticky rice's street vendors

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite morning meal was the sticky rice, I can even list down now where I used to buy this popular breakfast. Let's me start with the newest story.

The today's story 
I have no idea how long this nice couple, selling sticky rice here, in Ton That Tung street, near to the junction of Bui Thi Xuan street. It could be 20 years or even more, but my first time to buy from them was around 10-12 years ago!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Riding a bicycle across Phong Nha...

Who follow my blog, still probably remember last April I came back from my lifetime adventure in Son Doong cave...That was simply amazing, I have no words to describe, and no any photos or video could tell you what I really saw or felt in there. I'd love to recommend anyone who could go, just go. It's worth much more than whatever you can imagine!

Today I just share some photos I took before heading to Son Doong. It was in Phong Nha Ke Bang, 40 km away from Đồng Hới. I was there in mid April, the weather was perfect but a week later, after the caving expedition, I felt very hot, probably because I still obsessed with the cool air in the cave!

              This photo was taken right after I arrived to Phong Nha, standing in Oxalis office. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Big noodles with snakehead fish (bánh canh cá lóc)

It was the first time, after almost a decade, I was traveling with my old colleagues-friends. It was a big fun and we all realised - we were the same as in the old days but without the stressful work. I wonder why it took us so long to make time and to travel together?
This time was the birthday party at our friend's place - a farmhouse in Dong Nai. We had a long day, from early morning to late at night, to share all kinds of stories, to laugh and to remember the golden moments in our life.

Our friend's house located by the lake but unluckily we couldn't use his boat due to the falling of the water in the lake and the boat motor the maintenance! Anyway we found another things to enjoy there - having coffee at a quite big and nice place, eating out while waiting for the big party in the evening.

We tried the "big noodles" with snakehead fish - opposite the market Vinh An in Trị An, in Saigon we have a plenty of popular places where they serve big noodles (I used to call it "udon") either with a knuckle of pork, or with crab...but with fish, snakehead fish... it was my first time!

                   Big noodles with snakehead fish - bánh canh cá lóc in Trị An 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The traditional bánh xèo at vegetarian restaurant - Liên Hương

I just wrote my first preview on my probably first vegetarian meal at my old colleague's restaurant last week, and yesterday with him I decided to discover another place, famous for their vegetarian noodles and vegetarian "bánh xèo". Whenever I think about vegetarian cuisine, ingredients...I always limit myself within certain dishes that I really love like the deep fried tofu covered in chopped lemongrass or my all-time favourire pumpkin soup with banana, sweet potato, peanut cooked in very tasty coconut milk. I know there is a long list of vegetarian dishes but I didn't expect what we  tried yesterday at Liên Hương - their signature dish - "vegetarian bánh xèo".   

           Vegetarian bánh xèo - looks exactly the same, the dipping pineapple sauce was amazing

Friday, July 11, 2014

Vegetarian lunch at 380 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa

When I was kid, every time I heard about "ăn chay", i.e "vegetarian eating", I always associated with some rituals in Buddhism, it's also very common in Vietnam some people have vegetarian meal twice a month, by the lunar calendar, the first and the middle day (I guess!). Or it could be a case when someone has a certain strong wish, they commit themselves to "one moth vegetarian eating" or even a year long if the wish came true (or maybe not!) It's like a thanking act to the Superior.

Nowadays due to the high demand for the healthy food, for being healthier physically and mentally, people simply think about vegetarian as the best alternative...or they just go there without any reason. I don't know how rich is the selection of vegetarian eating spots in Saigon - I've been to a place managed only by monks, quite nice even they do the wedding ceremonies there. I also saw some expensive place, nice decoration, creatively attractive menu, but today my place was simple - just a place of my old colleague, who tried to run a business with his best friend - a very good chef in vegetarian cuisine.

The place, the atmosphere are nicely simple, I like the beautiful photos of Lotus on the wall, like a small collection of the Lotus's beauty - the Buddhism's flower.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Traditional sticky rice cakes wrapped in leaves

One of my first posts on this blog was about popular Vietnamese sticky rice cakes wrapped in different kinds of leaves, we have typical cakes for Lunar New Year, or other festival occasions. I never check in details how many kinds of cake we have, how we name them according to the different areas, provinces, traditions...but I'm sure the list could be long enough to remember.

By chance I found this street vendor at the Hoa Binh market in district 5, not far from my place, she's selling several kinds of cakes: from the famous "bánh tét" filled with banana (my all time favourite!), with sweet green mung bean, or green mung bean with meat without fat or with fat, "bánh ít", "bánh bá trạng", bánh cúng nước cốt dừa"...I tried them all, and I have to say they are very good, very tasty and rich of coconut flavour, because this vendor from Bến Tre - the land of coconut trees, famous with their coconut candies.

          Dì Tư Hà - from Bến Tre with her cakes wrapped in leaves in Hòa Bình market, early in the morning. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Mexican food in Saigon at Khói Thơm

I'm sorry that I don't have much posts about eating out, good food in Saigon these days. Over the past few months Saigon is burning, it's too hot, so going out, eating out is no longer a pleasure. Is it a good excuse? Or maybe I'm just lazy, especially before and after my adventure to Son Doong, the beauty of the world's largest cave still "obsessed" me probably more than any food out there in the street!

                  "Khói Thơm" - a Mexican restaurant in Saigon, it was empty during Saturday lunch time.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The amazing journey to the world's largest cave : Hang Son Doong - The final

The first night at the campsite in Son Doong, before dinner we had a plenty of time, the scenery here in this cave was very extraordinary, fascinating to watch. I hardly believed in what I saw here - the extreme enormous space in mist, the ruins of gigantic rocks, surely from the fallen roof of the cave, occurred millions years ago, the huge golden alien stalactite on the other side, the unusual air in the cave, the sound from the underground river deep down in the dark abyss along the campsite, the mysterious atmosphere...then the smell of human sweat after a day-long hiking, no bath, the smoke from the kitchen, the human voice - everything around giving me a special feeling that would be hard to experience again anywhere else in my life.

                   One of my favourite sceneries in Son Doong - look like we just landed on Mars!      

Friday, May 09, 2014

The amazing journey to the world's largest cave: Hang Sơn Đoòng - Part 3

After Hang Én (Swallow Cave) we continue our hiking to the most fascinating place on earth - Hang Sơn Đoòng (or Mountain River Cave), considered as the largest cave in the world and according to Sweeney - one of our British caving experts, who accompanied our team in this adventure, it's surely the most beautiful, the most mysterious cave system that he has ever explored. The experts still continue their exploration of the new caves in this area. Few days ago I read in the newspapers that another 30 caves has been discovered by the research team.

                               On the way to the first campsite, located next to the entrance covered with mist.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The amazing journey to Hang Sơn Đoòng - part 2: First challenge & night camp at Hang Én (Swallow Cave)

I really don't know how to start my story about the journey to Son Doong. First heard about the cave in 2010, but as it was not open to the public so I totally forgot until early this year when I was sitting behind a dining table with relatives, we were talking about different spots around the world.
All of sudden someone mentioned Son Doong, and few weeks later I managed to book the tour. I did ask myself what motivated me that much to make a quick decision? Is it my wish to escape for a moment from the state of being stuck at home over the past two years? Or the great curiosity to discover something unusual, right in Vietnam, or just my pride to show how much I'm capable to do such a thing? Maybe all!

         Before heading to Son Doong we had a group photo with Ho Khanh who discovered the cave in 1990.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The amazing journey to the world's largest cave - Hang Sơn Đoòng - Part I - The preparation.

Just one day left before my departure to one of the most famous spots in Vietnam - hang Sơn Đoòng.  I really really feel excited and can't wait to take part in this life-time expedition. I first heard about this cave, its discovery in 2010, I still remember some online competition to create the best name for a cave in this mysterious prehistoric caving network of over 150 caves. I don't know which name was chosen finally!

I made a quick decision when I called a guy at Oxalis - the only tour agent in Phong Nha, authorised by the local authorities to organise different trekking tours in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. For certain reasons the  number of visitors to Sơn Đoòng cave is limited within 224 persons per year, and there is no tour during the flooding season from September to January, so that's why the demand is huge and always mostly fully booked.

                                                                                                               Photography by Carsten Peter
              Mist sweeps past the hills of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, its 330 square miles 
             set  aside in 2001 to protect one of Asia's largest cave systems. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Twelve Midwives - a comedy on stage, a wish in life...

If going to see a play can be compared with going out to dine, we always prefer a good place with a fine dinning experience, we should also find a nice theatre with an interesting play. But I doubt Saigon could offer generously that to us.
It's hard to remember when was my first time in Saigon's theatre. Long, long ago. Over the past decade, the theatre life here changed a lot - more activities, more freedom. These days people seems prefer the comedy, easy laugh. Very popular stand-up comedy here, we call it "tấu hài". Maybe I'm from another generation, so it's not funny for me to see "tấu hài" these days, I still can laugh but this laugh is far from good.

Tonight I'm going with a big fan of play, my nephew, to see a famous "The Twelve Midwives" (12 Bà Mụ). According to him, it's not easy to get tickets to this show.

             Young fan posed in front of the official poster of "The 12 Midwives" 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sweets from my mother's hometown

As tradition, whenever we travel somewhere, we always get something back home for friends, for loved ones. Sometime we give something to someone with a message, if you have a friend who loves to exaggerate all kinds of stories, I may suggest you to give him or her "bánh nổ", i.e "explosion cake". "Nổ" (i.e explosion) in Vietnamese still jokingly means "exaggerate". I'm kidding.

By the way, bánh nổ is a speciality from my mother's hometown - Quảng Ngãi. I remember if someone coming from Quảng Ngãi, visiting my mom, after they left, I surely found few packs of bánh nổ in our living table.

                 Bánh nổ - "explosion cake" - a speciality from Quảng Ngãi.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Year later - living in the countryside - Part 2

Year ago I went to my friend's dacha ( I love this Russian word, i.e a holiday home in the countryside). His dacha located in a huge area, next to the sea-like lake...If last year I was very much surprised of what has been done here in my friend's place, it was just a magic to turn an abandoned "jungle"of cashew nut trees into a farm. Last year we spent two nights in a tiny old house, but we did enjoy fishing, exploring the forest, the mango farm in the neighbourhood. Today when I come back, it's not a surprise, it's something much stronger, like a speechless, indescribable impression because I'm visiting a paradise...

                   This time I stayed in a villa with a nice view of the lake...  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dragon fruit - a fruit from the fairy tale!

Snow White and 7 Dwarfs - my all-time favourite fairy tale, and from my mother's stories - she used to play "Blanche Neige" in her old-time school, I always wait with excitement for any movie version based on this story. Not long ago I saw "Mirror, Mirror" with Julia Roberts on HBO. I suddenly noticed one detail - the "dragon fruit" was one of the ingredients for the Queen's potion. I still saw this fruit in another Hollywood fairy-tale movie. So a sudden idea crossed my mind - why don't we talk about this "fairy tale" dragon fruit?

                 Red dragon fruit but to us the name "Thanh Long" means blue dragon! 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Hawaii - the helicopter tour and the hiking in the Volcanoes National Park - Part 2

We, a group of 5, stayed few days in Waikoloa, two among us went for the Mauna Kea observatory, up in the mountain, very cold and it's interesting to know that Hawaii is one of few best places in the world to observe the stars, the galaxy. Me and another colleague went for diving, it was not a real diving but we were able to see the underwater world by lying on the life vest, face down, the water was crystal clear, so everything in the water was terribly beautiful in our eyes, honestly I had a kind of fear, feeling that my feet touching those coral reefs, colourful sea creatures.

Next day we moved to Hilo, the "biggest small town" in another side of the island for the helicopter tour. Hilo located at the foot of the two volcanoes and overlooking the spectacular Hilo Bay. Days before we all decided to book a tour to get up close with the active lava flows. We were patiently waiting hours at the terminal until we got the confirmation that our helicopter could take off. It was very boring terminal, almost empty, no activities.

                   Hilo -"biggest small town" in Big Island with Kilauea volcano in the background.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Hawaii - Waikoloa and my walk down into the Waipio Valley - Part I

Every journey to a new destination is always special, it will leave in my heart with some feelings that I keep for long. I've never been to Hawaii before. In 2009, when I first joined a small group of individual investors, some member suggested to celebrate the new business marriage by a trip to this Paradise - Hawaii. Everyone excitingly agreed, rushed to prepare for the trip, but no one predict what could be the end of that union. It was a long sad story!
Today sharing with you about my trip to Hawaii, my pain, my sadness already healed, those people who accompanied me in this trip seemed disappeared forever, without any track.

                   The view from the street to the apartment where I stayed in Waikoloa...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

28 years later...the memory of student time!

In some of my first posts I did mention my first foreign language was not English. I studied French when I was a little kid, both of my parents speak French, esp. my mom, she's very good at speaking, my father - at translating, writing. But the destiny took me not to the "Les miserables"'s shelter but to the land of the fairy tale's Snow Princess - the Russia.

Russian language is really difficult to learn, the calligraphy, the pronunciation, the grammar could terrify you from the beginning, especially the "gender" of the words - not only male, female,  they still have "middle" words, but I feel quite comfortable with Russian as many words from French so it was easy to remember, for verbs - Russian is much easier than French, French conjugation of verb was one of my childhood nightmares...

         My old classmates with some "senior" friends who also spent their student time in St-Petersburg

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rice noodles with paddy crab paste - bún riêu

What could be the right translation for this favourite rice noodles in Saigon? It's hard to say.
Not glorious as "beef noodles", not classy as "beef noodles in Huế style" but "bún riêu" could be one of the most favourite, the most down-to-earth dish in Saigon. Much cheaper than "beef noodles", but "bún riêu" has a special place in our heart and I don't know why. When I was a little kid, after the midday nap, bún riêu was always my dream snack.

             A paddy crab cake, traditional ingredient for bún riêu...

Friday, February 14, 2014

Angkor Wat - the City of Temples

I totally forgot my promise…it was almost year and half ago, after my post about the bizarre street food in Cambodia. I promised to share my first visit to this sacred place, my impressions about the unbelievable site, the architecture, the passage of nearly 1000 year old temples.

To describe the Angkor I need to borrow the words from very first Western traveller to this place, back in 16th century - Antonio Da Madalena: " of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of…"

Living in Saigon, I, of course, heard about the Angkor Wat long time ago, but for certain reasons I turned down several chances to visit this place in the past, until I first came here, to witness the great site I completely shocked about the scale of this complex - surely the largest religious monument in the world.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Flower festival at Tao Dan park during Tết

When our Lunar New Year approaching, livimg in Saigon, I probably have few things to enjoy: firstly the unusual quiet atmosphere in the city, especially in the morning - a beautiful quietness, secondly - the floral festival at Tao Đan park as I'm quite interested in few things displayed here. Lastly, it could be my great ability to spend money for something that I never pay attention to in my everyday life.

Two days ago I just ordered online from Hanoi a dish called "Stewed fish from village Vũ Đại", 40 USD per clay pot of 2kg. It's expensive! I always love stewed fish but the most important here is my curiosity, my childhood memory for the character that I used to know in my school time. I still order  online another speciality named "Five colours ham", I will have another review in my blog about this unique ham later. It's quite unique recipe and delicious dish, esp. for special occasions.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The night before the opening of the flowering boulevard

Nguyen Hue boulevard - the flowering street right in the heart of Saigon - the most "invested" event for Lunar New Year  festivities, the most eagerly awaited event for people living in Saigon, for visitors. It could be also the oldest flowering street, back to 1970s or even before I was born, at that time it was just a simple flower market held for few days before Tết. The authorities continued the tradition and turned it into an annual activity to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Every year with different theme, but always loyal with the image of Vietnam in the countryside, the rice field, the monkey bridge across the pond with lotus, the evergreen bamboos…
           2014 - the year of the Horse. These 5 horses carrying a giant clock, will the Time fly faster?  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What we do before Tết ?

Saigon, 26th Jan 2014, only one week left to the Lunar New Year, the biggest festive for most Asian countries. Over a month the weather in Saigon is unusually cold, the temperature is always around 16-17oC in the morning. And that's good because living in a tropical city we like the cold weather, so we don't need the air con, even the electric fan, for last month my electricity bill was less than 30%! Savings for Tết!

                  Tết is around the corner, Saigon begins to heat up…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Legendary fish stew from village Vũ Đại - North Vietnam

For every single Vietnamese, either good or bad high school student, none of us will forget this character - Chí Phèo from the same-name story written by an eminent master of short stories - Nam Cao, back to 1940s. Chí Phèo would be a fictional character who lived a real village named Vũ Đại in North of Vietnam and by somehow the unique fish stew in clay pot was mentioned in that story as a signature speciality from that northern village, and now became a special flavour from North during Tết to people living in Saigon or at least to me, who is curious to taste all fish foods.

           Without knowing how good is the fish stew, but I order due to my memory for our Chí Phèo…

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Truyền Ký - a small Hakka eatery in a tiny alley

I heard about this place long time ago but never had a chance to visit this famous small Chinese eatery in a typical tiny alley in Saigon. Truyền Ký, it's the name of this Chinese House. It seems we have several Truyền Ký in Saigon, but which one is the original, tough to say.
Judging by the number of guests having lunch today, the variety of dishes in the menu, I would say it could be one of the best. After the first visit, three weeks later I was back here with my other friends for dinner. Talking to the staff, I learnt that the business started back to 1950s, now managed by the third generation. The dish they serve is from the Hakka cuisine.

             We may never expect to find such a good eatery located in a tiny quiet residential alley...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Some stories by the year end...

From today to the Lunar New Year - 15 days left. Hmm, again?
When I was kid, every time while sitting in the classroom, I heard the drum beat, the sound of cymbals from the street, sign of a coming Tết, it made my heart beating to their rhythm too, the excitement, the impatient eager for Tết. But now...that feeling has gone, or partially (!), maybe a little bit of it - still left somewhere, and not only me but for many people, many companies -Tết is a big burden of many things: bonus to the staff, gifts to the business partners, some inexplicable duties to the authorities (!?) and obliged duties to the big families : from left to right (i means relatives in any sides), from head to toes ( I mean the lucky money that we should give to the old - to wish their longevity, and to the kids - to wish them to grow fast!). Tết is still good?
Anyway I got some small stories to share before the arrival of the Horse.

              The final retouch on the body of the symbol of 2014 - The horse. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The temple of the Lady of the Sea (Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu)

I'm not a buddhist, although we have a Buddha statue at home…and I rarely go to the pagoda, temple or shrine to pray, unless I have to accompany my friends. Why I'm writing about this temple ?
There  are some reasons: my very first time was...quite long in the past when I just started my corporate career and during our New Year some of my old colleagues asked me to join them to visit this Temple. My first impression at that time : so crowded, so smoky, it was very hard to breath, tears in my eyes...I did pray anyway but can't recall what I prayed. The second time to this Temple when I accompanied two friends visiting Saigon, one from Taiwan, another from Malaysia. They told me…even in Taiwan they hardly find the temple like this - all new, so this place is unique. But another reason could be most important to me is I'm really fascinated by the porcelain diorama on the roof of this temple. I wish to have a better look at them.

            Look at the figurine's clothes, finely detailed ornament and their gesture…just amazing!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The New Year Eve & my first night out for the fireworks

The last day of 2013. Over the past ten days, the weather in Saigon was unusually cold , the temperature was down to 19oC and it was very very rare for the tropical city like Saigon. And we liked it - the cold. It suddenly reminds me of the whole night out in the winter in Osaka few years ago when I was there for the New Year Eve at the Universal Studio, it was so cold, we were almost freezing while queuing for the games.
Today it's getting a lot warmer, probably because of the festivities atmosphere!
Tonight for the very first time I celebrate the NYE with friends by hunting the best shots of fireworks - the symphony of light, to mark the end and the beginning.

            The countdown is starting with the laser show, brightening up the city...

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