Sunday, May 30, 2010

Crazy kids

Everything is crazy right now. I’m teaching in three different schools, working from home on what is supposed to be a full time schedule and helping Dan out with preparing his 4 daily lessons. It’s full on, especially considering I have yoga in the mornings and dentist appointments every week. Pff. Haven’t had time to “make moments in Hanoi” in the last few days, that’s for sure
This said I’m pretty good, keeping busy keeps me happy!
I’ve just finished marking my Starters 1 tests: starters 1 are little kids who never heard any English before the beginning of their course and speak to me in long vietnamese sentences, not having a clue as per why I don’t seem to understand them... They are too young to even grasp the concept of languages. One of them pooped his pants a couple of months ago, in class, so you see they are not very old. He’s five, so you know. That happens. In my class only though apparently, what does that mean??
Anyway, they are very little, between 6 and 8 years old, extremely cute and very funny too. Here are some quotes from the tests:

Little boy Huy:
Write in letters:
12: wtalerve
14: forethin
16: xicthin
17: tenenthin
19: Niger (???)

Little girl Mai:
(5 apples on the picture) There are phai apples
(15 balloons on the picture) There are thaiteen balloons
(12 candles) There are theoteen candles

little boy Manh:
How old are you?
I’m seven are old

Lol, it makes me laugh just looking at it again.
Sometimes I’ll quote some of my teens or adults essays too. Some stuff is so funny I swear, all the teachers make each other read stuff and we all p*ss ourselves laughing. The one I have in mind right now was from a serious enough young teen, about 13 I think (not my student) who wrote at the end of his essay “thank you for reading! Goodbye! Goodbye! Fuck!”
We assumed he didn’t really know what that meant, but boy did we laugh.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lunch in Hanoi

A few times a week, not to far from my house, I stop and have lunch at this street restaurant. It is a bit like a buffet setup where you get a plate of rice and pick what you want. There is always a decent selection to choose from including chicken, pork, fish, prawns, various vegetables, potatoes, fried spring rolls and even some nuts.

Today I opted for some chicken and pork with a fried egg and some beans. They gave me a soup but I didn't like it that much. I had a Pepsi as well. The tables are simple and you sit on plastic chairs. The tables generally have chopsticks and spoons, fish sauce, some napkins and a bowl of chillies and lemon. I really like the place. It feels very local, always quite full of Vietnamese enjoying their lunch. Their eyes wander towards me a bit because not too many foreigners eat there. I don't mind the attention. I keep telling myself it's because I am so damn good looking.
Not only is the experience enjoyable it is very cheap. My lunch and the Pepsi costs 25,000 Vietnamese Dong or about $1.50 US. Seriously, who can complain with that!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Trang et Thuy

J'ai écrit ce post il y a 2 semaines et oublié de le poster:

Trang et Thuy, mes deux petites élèves de 16 ans, sont les ados les plus relous du monde. Mais je les aime, elles me font rire. Elles sont meilleures copines, inséparables, chiantes comme pas possibles mais mignonnes quand même. Elles parlent toutes les deux couramment francais parce que leurs parents les ont mises dans une école francaise dès le primaire. Comme elles sont à l’age rebelle, elles ont décidé qu’elles détestaient le francais et qu’elles adoraient l’Anglais et c’est ainsi qu’elles ont debarque dans ma classe adulte elementary 1 il y à quelques mois, elles n’avaient que 15 ans à ce moment la... elles auraient du etres placées dans une classe d’ados, mais leur emploi du temps les en empêchait. Elles ont donc passe trois mois à me saouler avec leurs portables, leur histoires de coeur, leur chahut, leurs chamailleries, leurs ricanements permanents et surtout leur habitude facheuse de crier trente fois par cours « I hate you Celine ». Le tout dans une bonne ambiance, je vous rassure, sinon elles ne figureraient pas en place d’honneur dans mon blog avec un post entier consacre à leurs frimousses. Notre classe s’est terminée la semaine dernière, elles m’ont achete deux jolis mugs (« one for you, one for your husband, by the way I hate you!”) et on est allées boire une citronnade (je vais pas leur payer une bière, quand même) avant de se dire au revoir. Donc si vous voyez sur ma page facebook, des commentaires de type « Je te déteste » ou « tu es trop moche », c’est Trang. Ou Thuy. Mais surement Trang, c’est elle la pire !

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mobile Florists

Ladies sit and wait for business, selling flowers from the back of their bicycles. As with the "fish man", they take their products to the street and you will see them, usually in groups, dotted throughout the city. It's a long days work with little return so if you want some cheap flowers for your house the ladies will only be too happy to show you what they have.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whinging Foreigners

You know what really grinds my gears, apart from Lindsay Lohan, its whinging foreigners. Before I have my vent let me be completely honest; I have my frustrations about living in Hanoi and sometimes I express these frustrations to my friends. I get annoyed, for instance I muttered under my breath to the lady who blatantly pushed in front of me in the petrol line today. I have also, at times, shouted not the kindest of words to cars and buses who scare me half to death with their piercing horns. Some things annoy me and at times I don't react in the best way. As with every country around the world there are always things that get under your skin and Vietnam is no exception.

What I really don't like are the whingers. I was at a cafe the other day where these two middle aged westerners were spending their whole time complaining about Vietnam. It started when one of them rolled their eyes and said to the friendly and smiling waitress,"No, I don't like that", in this, I think I am so damn special tone. I didn't see what it was that she didn't like but after the waitress apologised and walked away, the whinger said "Uh, I can't stand it when they do that. I don't even know why they bring them to me". Her tone continued and she was rude whenever the waitress returned.

At that point what I really wanted to do was go and bitch slap her, but unfortunately where I am from that is not socially acceptable and to be honest she was quite big so I was a little scared.

They both went on to complain about a driver on a recent tour they were on, the bad food at a restaurant and some other painstakingly boring garbage that I tried to tune out from. Not at one point did the conversation verge onto another topic. They seemed professional whingers, and I am sure there are a few of them around. These are probably people that don't embrace the culture of Vietnam at all and spend their time hidden inside modern, westernised cafes, just like the one we were in. In short, I can't stand them and suggest that if they don't like the place they go back home and spend their energy complaining about their own country.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cheapest Kebab in the world!

If the fish on the bike is one of the coolest things in Hanoi then the doner kebab has to be one of my favourites. Before you say anything I am aware that a kebab is not the most authentic eating experience in Hanoi, but oh is it good. I am going to put this out there and say that it is probably the cheapest kebab in the world. The kebab stands are scattered throughout the city and you generally don't have to look too far to find one. They sell from between 12,000-15,000 VND which is under $1 US.
The kebabs are not cheap and nasty as you would find in most other countries. Here they are cheap and damn tasty. There are two kebab stands not too far from my house and I make regular stops, especially on my way home from work. At the moment my consumption of kebabs and pho (local Vietnamese noodle dish) are running neck and neck and would have to be into three figures now.
The kebabs are obviously not Vietnamese, however many locals think they are Korean, but these cheap tasty food stands which are all over the city are a small but well known part of the eating culture here. I heard that the New York Times did an article on the kebabs in Hanoi once. It makes sense, they are great.
If you are in Hanoi, make sure you dig your teeth into one.

Fish on a bike

Personally, I think this is one of the coolest things I have seen in Hanoi. Hanging from a bike, which is parked on the side of a busy highway, are a decent collection of multi-coloured goldfish. There are usually a few fish in each plastic bag, depending on size, which is tied onto a little stand connected to the back of the bike. The seller waits patiently on the side of the road waiting for business.

So, if going to a pet shop is not your thing then you have the option of picking one up on your way home. I have seen the "fish guy" out and about before but I never had my camera handy. After my new camera purchase, thanks Dele!, it rarely leaves my side and I was lucky enough to see him today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our new bed

We recently bought an air-conditioner for our house and as a result we now have a new bed. As you know (from my previous post whinging), the weather is getting hot. We were forced to take action so we went to appliances street and bought an air-con. The air-con cost 5,000,000 VND which works out to be around $350. This included installation so was pretty cheap considering. We were able to buy a name brand, Samsung, and they installed it that day. We decided to install it in our second lounge room, opposite our bedroom, because that is where we planned to spend most of our time.

The workman created a massive mess with dust and bits of wall all over the floor. It went all over our stuff, reminiscent of the idiot workers we once had in Sydney, and the boys had no intention of cleaning it up. I have asked some locals and here in Hanoi the workers are not expected to clean up the mess, only to install the unit. The mess is our problem so we spent a few hours cleaning it up.

The air-con is our saviour so we have moved rooms, now sleeping on the floor on top of our duvet/quilt. It seems we have really adapted to the Vietnamese way in terms of sleeping on hard surfaces. We love the new bed (floor) and may never invest in a mattress again! It turns out they are overrated. We always have a good nights sleep. I really think the Vietnamese are on to something in how they sleep at night.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of the Week # 1

We recently bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot SX210 IS, thanks to the motivation provided by our recently departed couch surfers. They had the SX200 model and we just loved it. With the incentive of actually taking some decent photos and the arrival of some needed funds by an awesome Grandmother (love ya Dele) the purchase was sealed. We opted for the latest model and excitedly walked away with our new toy.
Since the purchase, only a few days ago, we spent an afternoon at our local pool. The pool overlooks Hanoi's West Lake and as the sun was going down I chatted to a local fisherman and soon after took this shot of him doing what he does every day.
This is not an amazing photo I profess but they are a work in progress - I have not yet downloaded an English guide for the camera, instead having to rely on the three words of Japanese I know to read the one that was provided.
I hope to add a Photo of the Week, each week going forward; the best photo for whatever reason that we took while living in Hanoi. I expect most of the best shots will come from Celine who has a creative flair for photography, so I will enjoy my week in the spotlight, where my photo has the prestigious position of Photo of the Week.

Small update

I don't feel like writing much at the moment, mainly because it's 75 degrees Celsius everyday or at least that's what it feels like, but also because I already write on the laptop all day for work and that makes posting seem like more work. Shame, I still love the idea of it. I just love the execution a lot less than I used to right now.

It sucks, really, because I have plenty to talk about. The heat wave, for one, and the new air con unit we got insstalled in our small living room upstairs, and how we worship it and never leave it even for the night, we now sleep on the floor under the air con unit, on a duvet :)

I go to yoga every other morning and I love it, I am learning a lot and find myself much bendier than just a few weeks back.

I have had two sessions of acupuncture in the last three weeks, and I am really convinced of the benefit they have on me... however both times (the second time being right now) I have experienced an extreme fatigue right after the session which makes it impossible for me to have acupuncture as regularly as I would want to... Like today, I slept 11 hours, I have bloodshot eyes and can only think of one thing: go back to bed.

I'm reading a great book called "Path to the Soul" by Dr A. Bedi, and I am starting meditation. I've always been interested in holistic approaches to medicine and well being, so I'm now looking into it properly for the first time.

Here's my update - desolee c'est en Anglais, dans quelques jours je posterai les traductions de tous mes derniers posts pour la famille et les copains qui ne comprennent pas bien l'Anglais, promis :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Vietnamese workers

How awesome is the womens floral hat on one of the workers is the background

About a month ago, at the top of the alleyway to our house, a big pile of dirt and around 10 workers arrived. They have been carting the dirt down the alleyway, past our house, to a work site that sits not to far from the river. They work everyday of the week, doing the same simple job.

They are all very friendly and say hello with a big smile every time we pass. Celine and I practice our Vietnamese with them (Celine much more successfully than me) and sometimes after work I bring a few beers for them. I ask them the basics; where are you from?, how old are you? and they ask me some basics in return; where is your baby?, why don't you have a baby?.

They are from a city a few hours south of Hanoi called Thai Binh. Most of them are 19 years old and they all sleep at the work site. I still have no idea what they are doing. Every day a big truck comes and dumps another massive pile of dirt in which the boys systematically cart it down the alleyway time after time. We once tried to go and see what they were doing but in their friendly way shook their head and told us not to go in their. I am intrigued now; they are either working on some secret mission or building the worlds biggest sand (dirt) castle.

I don't know when they will leave but it has been enjoyable having them around; whether it be for a chat, a beer or dodging them every time they come flying around the corners of the alley.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Do and Don't in Kuala Lumpur

Do eat the Nasi Lemak; the famous and delicious national dish of Malaysia must be tried. It is addictive though as we went back again and again. Traditionally, the nasi lemak is wrapped in banana leaf and comes with some cucumber, anchovies, roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and a hot but not to hot) spicy sauce. There are additions you can get to make a more hearty meal, such as chicken which was what we opted for. If there is one thing I can recommend you should do in KL; eat, eat, eat.

DON'T waste your time with the KL Tower; Yes it boasts as being 421 metres high and one of the tallest buildings in the world but the setting is painful. It has terrible tourist attractions which make me feel lame just for being in their vicinity. Ponies walks (at slower than walking pace); tourists traps, there is some F1 simulator and a few corny animal parks. The food was rubbish (the only time I can say that about Malaysia) and access to the observation deck costs more than 8 Nasi Lemaks. You do the math. At the bottom are a bunch of photos hanging of tourists who have just had the joy of going to the the observation deck. No one looks too happy in the photo's which is enough for us to run to the exit and get out of there.

Do ride the Hop on Hop off Bus; I generally despise anything so blatantly touristy as a tourist bus but if you are only in the city for a few days this is a very good way to see the city. You can, as the name says, hop on and off the bus whenever you want. The ticket is for 24 hours, or you can pay for a longer one, and takes you round to all the major parts of town

Don't pay $3 a night for a hostel if you want to avoid the brothel experience; We did pay $3 a night and got what we paid for. We were greeted by a nice transvestite who showed us to our room. The room fitted two dodgy single beds on metal bed frames and not much else. We had one small table with a fan to match and that was our room. The beds had one sheet each and nothing else. We asked for towels but they didn't have any. We now know what its like to go and order one of those rooms by the hour, which by the way was an available service.

Do check out the cities National museum and mosques;

The museum is very informative and nicely set and the mosques peaceful and interesting. The museum is set out very well into 4 sections outlining the history of Malaysia. As for the national mosque, it was the first time I had been to a mosque and the Muslim guys and girls we met there were just great. They explained anything we asked and were happy to share a smile and a laugh. Someone stole my flip flops/thongs at the front of the mosque and before I could think of a solution a nice guy offered me a pair of sketcher shoes. I doubted his intentions at first and wondered what was going on and where he was off to but sure enough, a few minutes later, he came back from his car with a nice pair of sandals. They fit me perfectly and are far better than my other ones. I offered to pay for them but he said "its ok, I have two pairs". He smiled and wandered off with his last pair of shoes. I nodded my appreciation and hoped no one ever takes his shoes.

Don't book the early flight home unless you prepare for the consequences: We booked out flight for 6am which meant getting up at 3.30am in the morning (the airport is at least an hour from the city). Buses aren't running at this time and the taxi is expensive so we opted to head to the airport the night before. We arrived a little after 12 and had dinner by 1am. All the seats were taken so we found a spot on the floor and rested out heads on our bags. The lights in the airport were blinding so we covered out heads with pages from a newspaper. We both drifted off and I woke at around 4.30am with people walking by us. The newspaper was spread everywhere and Celine still had one page covering her face. We sat up, rubbed our eyes, and watched people walk around us heading for their flight. We were officially bums.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Back from KL

And yes, once again “we come back from” …. I actually am happy to think I’m going to stay put for the next few months!
This time, we come back from 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, a metropole which really surprised us on many levels. What I was most taken aback about was the modernity of the place. After 9 months between Hanoi, the country side of Vietnam and a few visits to Bangkok, I was not ready to expect such contemporary structures: massive shopping centers and skyscrapers everywhere, clean streets with brand new buildings, sky train, massive advert screens like in Japan or NY etc… and brands such as Mac, Zara and even Debenhams to be found in every shopping center. Debenhams! I mean, I hadn’t ever seen Debenhams outside of England, and those brands aren’t even in Australia. The other thing about KL, is that it really reminded me of Sydney, in its architecture, the salmony colour of some of the skyscrapers, the cuteness of some ornated buildings next to the financial towers. So many times from the sky train I thought I could be in Town Hall or Central train station really. Don't these little house remind you of Newtown?

We have also noticed how well everyone speaks English in Kuala Lumpur, which I am sure has a lot to do with the fact that Malaysia is a very much mixed raced country. There is a huge Indian and Chinese population, and even middle Eastern. People are mainly muslim, middle eastern muslim or Indian muslim, we visited a couple of beautiful mosques. The food was amazing, with very clear Indian characteritics: I can now say that I enjoy hot and spicy, it took me years of training but I can handle pretty much any curry now!
We looked for old districts that could make us feel like we were in Malaysia and not just another capital city but honestly we didn’t find that many. Everywhere we went the infrastructures were massive, sleek and modern. There was chinatown which was very typical if you don’t count the thousands of tourists and the fact that it’s typical, yes, but of China, really, not Malaysia.
We stayed in cheap hostels as we couldn’t find available couch surfers hosts on short notice, and if our first hostel was rubbish the second one was awesome, with a really good vibe, in a nice neighbourhood full of little street restaurants and guest houses.
The last day, we jumped on a two hours bus to Melaka, it used to be the main port of Malaysia during the golden years in the middle ages, and we had a wonderful time there, the city very cute, still bearing witness through architecture of the Portuguese and Dutch invasions. After Melaka we went straight to the airport where we spent a very unconfortable night on the floor, sleeping on our bags under newspaper sheets. Yes, we’re bums. Our flight was at like 5am so we tought we might do that.
I’m going to write a few posts on KL I think, starting from day 1, but this was just a little summary.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I recently caught a few planes to and from Malaysia. When the plane lands, as with every other plane I have caught, everyone is eager to grab their things and get off the plane. I can understand this. What I can't understand is why people will hurriedly jump up, pull down their bags and then wait standing in the isle for 5 plus minutes. It doesn't matter where I am flying in the world; the passengers do exactly the same thing.

Anyone who has travelled on a plane will know it takes at least a few minutes to get everything ready but still everyone jumps up in a rush somehow expecting to save themselves some time. Rarely do you make much ground.

I don't understand the logic. Is it impatience or am I missing something.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making moments in Hanoi...

It's been really hot this past week. It started Monday I think and progressively got worse until it reached a point of insanity: the hot weather is really humid and my hair either sticks to my face or just gives up and flies around my head like feathery craziness. The dust of the city glues itself to the sweat on my skin all day long and no matter how many showers I take I just get sticky and filthy again after 5 minutes in the street. Our house gets really hot, and hotter as you go up the stairs. Our room is on the top floor and I swear it is the hottest room in the house. We don't have AC in there (yet, but we've found a good deal on one and we're getting it installed next week) and at the moment its hard to breathe throughout the night, even with the fan placed at the foot of the bed, staring right at us on maximum power.

The good thing about this heat wave though - the only good thing - is that the sun is out. After 4 grey morose months, we now feel excited from first thing in the morning to see the rays of suns shining through the windows all over the house... you know the feeling, it just makes you want to be out all the time, sunbathing or sipping ice tea near water points.

But here's the thing: all this brightness and resulting longing to be outside is happening right when Dan and I both have to do a lot of work from home. He's studying for his Uni degree by correspondence, and I am working on a project from work which involves up to 30 hours a week of work face to face to my laptop. How frustrating, spending such bright days closed in with the windows shut to try and block some of the oven-like hot air from coming in. We work hard and don't play, at least it's what it's felt like this week.

So yesterday, we decided to organise our time better to make the most out of the fact that we are indeed working from home, which is supposed to be a great thing. So after 3 hours of teaching in the morning followed by a visit to the bank, a lunch break searching for AC in the busy city and an intense two hours Vietnamese lesson at home, it was 4pm, we were exhausted and it seemed that the day could pretty much be over for us. But we mustered what was left of our energy and went to an outside swimming pool overlooking the lake, had a nice swim, a quiet moment of reading and a couple of drinks while the sun was setting down. So relaxing. (Thang Loi swimming pool overlooking West lake, 5 mns from home)

We decided to try and do something like this everyday. It was still nice and warm in the evening so from the swimming pool we drove to a local restaurant where tables are set in an outside garden with a little river, and had fresh tuna nicoise salads and lemon juice. We played games and laughed with the staff, it was only us two in the garden. We didn't want to go home but today we both started lessons at 8am so going home to bed was not optional. It was amazing though, how little things like this can improve your overall impression of the day. From now on, moments like that will be a must, work or no work, there's always room to make time.
We applied this new principle as soon as tonight after classes, where instead of driving straight home to pack and organise our trip (we're setting off to Kuala Lumpur first thing tomorrow morning) we stopped at an improvised bamboo style cafe on the shore of West lake and shared a beer and a lemon juice, our feet up on the railing surrounding the lake, watching people bathe in the sunset and the beautiful lightnings in the sky, like fireworks. It was only an hour but now I feel relaxed instead of stressed and I don't even care that I'm not packed yet!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kayaking in Halong bay

Quelques photos de notre apres midi kayak dans les eaux de la Baie d’Halong. Vous pouvez voir derrière moi sur le Kayak les ordures que l’on ramassait. C’est ca « Eco Friendly »... on nettoie ! :)

A few pictures of our kayaking afternoon in the Halong Bay waters... you can see behind me on the kayak some of the rubbish we fished out from the water. That’s what “Eco Friendly” means… you gotta clean up! :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hanoi's heat homecoming

Well its official, the Hanoi hot weather is back. The past two days have given me a stark reminder of what I experienced when I first arrived in Vietnam. It is humid and sticky and draining on the body.

I am a sweater and a real good one at that. I managed to somehow work up a sweat in London which kind of gives you an idea of my predicament. Here in Hanoi, the past few days, I have been sweating profusely. It is now a little after 9am in the morning and I am sitting in my lounge room sweating. It is not fair I tell you. I even have my own sweat towel which I use regularly; kind of like the ones you have at the gym. The only thing is that I am not at the gym. I am sitting at home trying to do some uni work. I am trying to eat breakfast. I am trying to prepare some lessons for school and all I can do is sweat.

The heat does its best to sap all the energy out of you. By mid afternoon you don't feel like doing anything apart from staring into the fan in a brain dead stupor. This is about the time I have to get ready to go to work. I have to wear a suit (well at least pants and a shirt) to work and the thought of riding your bike through peak hour in a goddamn suit is soul crushing. I make a compromise with myself. I ditch the shoes and wear thongs/flip flops, throw on the pair of suit pants and a singlet on top. I fold my shirt and put it in my backpack. It is definitely not the most stylish look but I am lucky that the fashion police don't come out much in Hanoi.

Once at work I down a few glasses of water and sit at the table trying to relax. Over the next ten minutes up to one hundred kids pass by saying their hellos as I try to mentally prepare for the next 3 hours of teaching. Most of the classrooms have AC, thank god, which allows my rubbish body cooling system to slowly adapt and I am just about normal when I have to leave and go to the next class. One room does not have AC, instead just a fan, which is not enough for my pained body. The sweat builds almost instantly. I can feel the droplets build on my brow. I have a book in one hand and a marker in the other, trying to explain a very important point, when the droplet slowly runs down the top of nose. I can feel it of course and mid sentence I turn around towards the board, lift my arm and rub my nose and face with my shirt in a quick but I imagine comical motion, only to complete the loop back towards the class. I then continue my sentence as if nothing had happened.

By the time I get home I feel and am very dirty. I have a shower which gets rid of the filth but I can't evade the sweating; even after a long cold shower. Summer has not even arrived yet so it is going to be a long few months for me. It seems whether I like it or not sweat and me are going to inseparable for quite a while now. We will have to become good friends I guess and try to get along. The only problem is, I hate the guy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jumping in the water, Halong Bay

with no one in sight...........

It pays to pay in Halong Bay

Halong Bay is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Vietnam. That means many hungry tourism companies looking for your dollar and here in Hanoi the competition is strong. In the Old Quarter every second shop will sell you a tour to Halong Bay, some shockingly cheap. Many shops act purely as ticket sellers, passing on the unsuspecting tourist to another company. They are all about sales and don’t care about your trip, there is no after sales customer service... Once in the hands of the actual company running the tour you are at their mercy. I have heard many negative stories from people going there and feeling like sheep, constantly herded from one place to the next, even sometimes being told at the last minute there is not enough room on the boat to sleep so sorry but we'll drop you off at a cheap hotel on the mainland. The cheap tours more often than not have bad service so be aware of what you might be getting yourself into.

We recently booked a tour through 'Eco-friendly Vietnam' and it was great. We skipped the main touristic area inside Halong Bay and spent our few days on and around the nearby Cat Ba Island. The landscape and the scenery are just the same, the difference being the lack of other boats. Most of the other boats don’t want to spend the fuel moving away from the Bay or can’t keep the cheap rates with the cost of the speed boat getting to Cat Ba Island. The other main point was that it was a private tour, so we had the boat just for us four. We paid $105 per person for two days and one night, everything (except beers) included.

The whole area felt as if it was ours for this couple of days, we only once briefly passed one or two other boats. The swimming was amazing, jumping into the emerald green water with not a soul in sight is a great feeling. We went kayaking too, and that was so peaceful (apart for Celine's muttering that I didn't know my right from my left). Our kayaking was uninterrupted except for some disappointing rubbish lurking in the water. We collected this, a part of the eco-friendly tour suggestions, and enjoyed the peaceful surrounds. We explored a cave, which used to be inhabited many thousands of years ago as the thousands of sea shells layering the cave's floor showed us that they were once someone's main dinner ingredient... the cave felt and probably was untouched from the tourist masses.
The sunset was beautiful and we enjoyed a bottle of dalat red wine as the sun slowly descended over the limestone karst horizon. The setting was photogenic.

The seafood meals, three in total, were delicious. They were perfectly cooked by our very own on board chef, and without a doubt were as fresh as you could get; we stopped 30 minutes before eating at the fisherman village to collect our dinner/lunch each time.

The morning after the night on the boat, my personal favourite, was perfectly tranquil. With no one around, except a distant lone worker on a small row boat and a few jumping fish, I could dive into the bay and float around staring at the mountains above. It was calm and peaceful and mine. That was the moment of my trip and that alone made it worthwhile.

I am always willing the pay more for an authentic experience. In this case I don’t think it is always the money, as some crowded disaster stories have cost similar amounts, that needs to be considered. Do your research on the tour company before hand and go with the good reviews. The area is amazing and shouldn’t be missed so if you have the chance to go their don’t ruin it by choosing a dodgy company.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What the f&*k is that?:Part 2

Well it has happened again. I have seen something for sale which I have no idea what it is. At a local market I found an array of interesting and unusual things for sale, including snakes, star fish, sea horses, lizards and a big bucket full of alien like slugs. The slugs or worms slowly moved around in an eerie way which makes me gasp to think they are actually eaten. Again, I am usually up for trying something new but I think this goes beyond my realms of acceptance.

The best information I could get out of the locals was that they are good for your health; a common reply to the weird and wonderful things often found on sale.

I am hoping that any readers, biologists or slug lovers out there can explain what this creature is. Many thanks to the blogger who answered my first installment of What the f&*k is that? To read that post and the answer click here

Baie d'Halong facon peace

Et oui, encore une fois, je commence un post par ces mots « nous revenons de... », et aujourd’hui, nous revenons de la Baie d’Halong, ou, après 9 mois au Vietnam, vous serez d’accord qu’il était bien temps qu’on aille faire un tour. Alors on n’y était pas encore allés pour deux raisons : 1) c’est une destination tellement incontournable dans cette partie de la planète, qu’on avait peur de devoir y aller à chaque fois que quelqu’un venait nous rendre visite, et on attendait nos premiers visiteurs pour nous y rendre, avec eux. 2) à chaque fois que quelqu’un de notre entourage va à la Baie d’Halong, il reviennent decus et un peu écoeurés par le nombre phénomenal de touristes et la sensation d’etre un mouton au milieu de plusieurs troupeaux, dans un endroit ou tout est organisé autour du tourisme et automatisé, donc qui finalement manque totalement d’authenticité.
Malgèe ces deux - à priori - bonnes raisons, nous avons décidé d’y aller ce week end parce que 1) nous avons déja recus nos premiers (et deuxiemes) visiteurs et ne sommes pas allés avec eux à la Baie d’Halong, comme quoi notre théorie était peu fondée. 2) un couple de copains profs à mon école sont revenus de la Baie le mois derniers, enchantés de leur tour, nous disant qu’ils n’avaient croisés aucun touristes et que la sérénité avait été le mot d’ordre de leur séjour... intriguée, je suis allée sur le site de leur tour operator, « eco friendly Vietnam » qui propose des tours « verts » à la Baie d’Halong, avec un itinéraire et des horaires différents du reste de la masse. Alors voila, parce qu’on avait trois jours de congé (féries, du fait de la célébration de la défaite de Saigon), on à motivés Miguel et Asta, nos couch surfeurs et on est partis tous les 4 avec Eco Friendly Vietnam voir la Baie d’Halong et l’ile de Cat Ba, dans un bateau privé à énergie propre, se ballader deux jours pour un week end mémorablement serein et propre à la relaxation totale. J’ai du voir trois autres touristes durant tout le temps du week end, c’est incroyable. On avait l’impression qu’il n’y avait que nous dans toute la baie, et que l’horizon s’étendait à perte de vue. Voici quelques photos qui traduiront mieux que mes mots l’incroyable sérénité de ces moments.

Today we are back from the beautiful Halong Bay area which after 9 months in Vietnam definitely deserved a visit. We had left it this long to visit probably the number one Vietnamese attraction for two reasons, 1. we envisaged going with visitors when they came to see us and didn’t want to always travel to the same spot and, 2. Most people who come back from Halong Bay are disappointed by how touristy the tours are and the sheep mentality of herding you from one place to the next.
Well, this week we had two good reasons to go and visit so we did. Our first lot of visitors went to Halong Bay on their own and came back with the usual conclusions. With our second lot of visitors here we decided to do some field research and check out all the area had to offer. Secondly, some friends from school mentioned this tour they went on the previous month, applauding its authenticity. The tour deliberately avoided the tourist path and explored the nearby Cat Ba island. They saw virtually no other boats on their trip and were wowed by the peacefulness of the tour. The company offered an eco-friendly tour which I guess was another incentive. The tour company, Eco-Friendly Vietnam, offers other trips around the country.

To get a private boat we motivated our couch surfers to join us for a party of four and headed off to Cat Ba for the long weekend. The boat was all about clean energy and for two days we enjoyed the serene surroundings in total relaxation devoid of any other tourists. It was perfect.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love in Vietnam

The wonders you find in a Vietnamese market

We recently spent a few amazing days (post to follow) on and around Cat Ba island, for the long weekend holiday here in Vietnam. Before boarding our junk (boat) to explore the beauty of the bay we stopped into a local market on the island. I love markets in Vietnam because you never know what you are going to find. They are very interesting and sometimes shocking.

While cruising the meat section a beautiful creature peered back at me. Such good looks deserves a kiss and for only 20,000 VND you could take him home for dinner.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reunification Day

The women marching are war widows

Yesterday, a public holiday in Hanoi, was 35 years since the Fall of Saigon. The holiday is known as Reunification Day and marks the end of the Vietnam War.

Yesterday was a time for all the locals to get out on the streets and mark the occasion. There were fireworks and a number of performances throughout the city and getting anywhere quickly was not an option.

I live above the West lake area and was heading for a few drinks with friends towards town. The best way to get there was the main road between West Lake and Truc Bac Lake. The road was gridlocked with cars and motorbikes crawling along. The main reason for the congestion was that many of the same cars and bikes decided to stop and wait for the upcoming fireworks. That meant that on either side of the road there was only really half a road (if that) to work with if you wanted to get past. What amazed me is that the people actually trying to get past never got annoyed or frustrated. At one point there were a number of bikes coming in the wrong direction trying to find a better place to sit and watch as hundreds or bikes and cars tried to get past. In what certainly warranted a good old piece of road rage didn't even raise an eyebrow from the oncoming Vietnamese. Amazing! There was absolutely no crowd control and people did pretty much whatever they wanted, which meant parking wherever they wanted.

I missed the fireworks but found the drive into town all the more interesting.

Un peu de lecture

Depuis que je vis au Vietnam, presque neuf mois, j’ai lu pas mal de livres… parfois je ne lis pas pendant un mois mais à d’autres moments je me prends de passion pour un livre que je lis frénétiquement jusqu’à en oublier de me nourrir quand j’atteins les derniers chapitres. C’est difficile de lire ici, il y a peu de boutiques anglophones, the book worm essentiellement... mais les livres y sont très chers. il y a aussi la bibliothèque francaise de l’école ou Dan apprends notre belle langue, mais ses horaires d’ouvertures ne m’arrangent pas la vie, j’y vais très peu.
Mais bon, on s’arrange en se faisant prêter des bouquins ou en les échangeant... on fait aussi le plein quand on va en Thailande, Bangkok est plein de bouquinistes d’occase.
Donc ces neuf derniers mois, j’ai lu tous ces livres, et puisque j'y suis, dans un prochain post je vous ferai une petite critique de chaque...
La tout de suite, je m'essaye à Giono, sur le conseil de Laurent Guenoun mais... je ne suis pas amoureuse pour le moment. J'aime la poésie provencale de sa prose rigolote, et j'admire son talent d'ecrivain, mais l'histoire ne m'intéresse pas... jusque là. Je vais continuer cependant, au moins jusqu'à la fin de ce livre-ci.