Siem Reap and her fabulous temples – Part 3

IMG_0564 On our last day in Siem Reap, we took it easy and visited a modern Buddhist temple for a change, close to the Royal Palace. The locals believe this temple to be very powerful, as many who have prayed there attest to their wishes and prayers being answered. We donated some riels and the guys sitting by the foot of the steps will also ask for a small donation for “guarding” your shoes. You are to take off your shoes before entering the shrine hall. Not far from this temple, there was a cacophony of loud shrilling chirps. The sound came from thousands of large fruit bats hanging precariously on the trees. They are really huge! IMG_0577 It is quite a spectacle to come in the evening to see these giant bats fly off.

The Raffles Hotel is just across the road and if you continue towards it and further down the road you will come to the Angkor National Museum, where some of the actual artefacts from the ruins are being brought in for preservation and protection from theft. Below is a diamond shaped relief from Banteay Srei. IMG_0588 We turned back towards the city centre walking along the Tonle Sap River, passing FCC, the Cambodia Post Office and the Cambodia People’s Party office building. IMG_0614There are many cafes in Siem Reap, and one particular charming street is Hap Guan Street – we stopped for lunch at Common Grounds. Food is so -so, but it had free wireless and great service! There is a the famed “Little Red Fox” for coffee on this street too and many small quaint shops for browsing. IMG_0617 There are few things we missed which we would love to come back and explore more of. One of them is a trip and hike up to the waterfall at Kulen Mountain, walk by Kbal Spean. Another would be a visit to the Tonle Sap floating village and do the war memorial museum. While at it, why not do a tour to Beng Melea & Koh Ker plus a stopover at the Roulous group of temple ruins and last but not least explore further locations in middle Cambodia for e.g. Battambang and the Laos/Cambodia border to catch the Irrawady Dolphins, hmm maybe – the list just grew.

As for eating places – I would have loved to try what other Asian bloggers have recommended “Chanrea Dom Makara” close to the KFC. Well Siem Reap is pretty bustling with places to fit everyone’s taste buds and wallets and it is very tourist friendly! The country itself has a lot to offer – so discover it for yourself.

We could certainly return to Siem Reap – I have to admit I didn’t expect it to be so well organised. It is very easy to travel around the area here. No sweat!

 

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Siem Reap and her fabulous temples – Part 2

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(The walls in Angkor Wat, wall carvings depicting tales of the Mahabarata )

Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples have been blogged about and photographed by so many travellers,  my contribution here is just to encourage those that have not visited the place should do so one day!

Day 2 Small Circuit – Monday 18 May 2015

Small circuit temples consist of :

1) Angkor Thom (Bayon, Phimineakas & Royal Palace, Baphuon, Elephant Terraces and Terrace of the Leper King)
2) Angkor Wat
3) Chor Say Tevada
4) Thommamon
5) Banteay Kdei
6) Ta Keo
7) Ta Prohm
8) Prasat Kravan
9) Sunset @ Bakheng mountain

We started the day with Angkor Wat coming through from the East gate – quieter entrance. The main gate is the West gate where the buses of tourists will use. Our driver told us Angkor Wat can take about 2 hours to explore.

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Above is a Buddha statue inside Angkor Wat where the locals and tourists alike come to pay respects.

Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II , it started as a Hindu temple and then became a Buddhist temple. Angkor means city, so Angkor Wat means City Temple!

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TOILETS @ ANGKOR WAT : A tip , with the Angkor Wat pass, go to the South entrance, there is a clean toilet free for usage. Do not end up at the West entrance where the drinks stalls and signs showing toilets. Those are run independently and you have to pay.

IMG_0356Above a photo of tourists waiting to climb the Bakan Tower.

This temple is huge and I do recommend to have a tour guide with you for this one. I am hoping to come back a second time to do the sunrise and also to tour the other wings and go up the Bakan Tower. We chose not to go up this time due to the amount of people and the heat.

We proceeded to Prasat Kravan after Angkor Wat. Another red sandstone Hindu temple with wall carvings completed in the 10th century during the reign of Harshavarman I.   It is also known as the Cardamon Sanctuary. The reliefs in this temple best viewed in the morning.

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Inside, on the walls of the temple , you can admire the art work.

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From Prasat Kravan we moved on to  Banteay Kdei. I like this temple a lot too. It is also known as the Citedels of Monks, and its architecture incorporates Angkor Wat and Bayon. It is Mahayana Buddhist monastic complex built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman II.

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There is a courtyard that is known as the hall of the dancing girls. Here you have a carving of an Apsara dancing girl.

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Upon completing Banteay Kdei, you can rest under the tress and enjoy freshly plucked coconut for usd 1 per piece.

We then continued to Ta Keo, a relatively quiet and smallish temple with pretty nasty steps to climb.

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We spent 20 minutes at Ta Keo and then hit Thommamon next. Thomammon is a twin temple to Chau Say Thevoda. they lie opposite from each other.

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And then you have as small boy playing in the temple grounds, oblivious to his surroundings. He belongs to the lady selling the refreshments at the side of the temple.

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Across the road lay Chau Say Thevoda, which is slightly bigger than Thommamon.

IMG_0448Both Thommanon and Char Say Thevoda were built by King Suryavarman II in 12th century.

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Finally, we moved on to Angkor Thom. To enter Angkor Thom, you go through the Victory Gate and it is impressive as you enter its grounds. Imagine the wonder the travellers felt in 11 th or 12 th century visiting this kingdom. We started with Bayon, my must see – it is famous with the many Buddha faces.

IMG_0458I suspect this temple is best seen in the early hours or late evening. This is to get the best photos of the Buddha faces using natural light and the shadows. Above photo was taken in the afternoon – 2pm.

 

IMG_0376This temple was built by (including Angkor Thom – Great City)  by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century who was a Buddhist. It is a very impressive structure. Across Bayon was Baphuon, a very large pyramid temple ( I believe the largest in the area). Be prepared to climb a lot and the steps are fairly steeped! Below is a photo of the tip of the temple right at the top!

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And the view from the top towards the entrance to Baphuon.

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While walking towards the next temple,  we spotted a horse carriage – just like out of a western movie!

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The neighbouring temple further on was Phimineakas and the Royal Palace.

IMG_0542We continued further to the Elephant Terraces and Terrace of the Leper King.

IMG_0547Our Day 2 ended with a thunder storm – which made us decide to skip the sunset at Bakheng mountain. That storm resulted in a black out in Pub Streeet which we found out later that evening. This reminds me of the advice I read online about choosing  hotels with their own generators, because it is not unusual to get black outs!  Lotus Blanc was spared from the black out.

Siem Reap and her fabulous temples – Part 1

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(Angkor Wat from the East Gate)

To travel to Siem Reap and see her temples has been on my bucket list for the longest time. C’mon .. ALL my friends  (almost) have been there which kind of made me feel – left out. What was I waiting for?  In all honesty…err the right time!! And yes I chose the best time – in May 2015 and when it was really hot – 38 degrees Celsius. Hey they say the hottest months (April – September) and rainy season is THE LOW SEASON. During the low season, you do get fairly decent deals with the hotels and tours. Now won’t you agree with me that is the best time to go? Yes yes yes – IF  you can withstand the heat! And boy were we in for a hot time!

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This is the best part – there are many tours and private drivers (cars with AC or Ramok) that can bring you around to the temples. Don’t break a  sweat on how the hell  you are going to get to all the temples? Tours with a private guide are aplenty too – I wrote to both Happy Angkor Tours and Pin Vannak a week before our flight and they both reply promptly to my emails and queries. You can read the reviews on Trip Advisor and decide for yourself. Pricing wise they are almost similar.

We decided towards the end, to go without a tour guide in order to move at our own pace and not felt compelled to be “overly guided”. The disadvantage of going on your own will be:
i) you better read up on what you are going to see, otherwise the temples will just be a blur and no recognition of what you are looking at.
ii) there is a lot to read up if you want to have that depth of knowledge to appreciate the temples fully and to ensure  you do not miss out any significant points.
Well I did only 25% of i) and felt overwhelmed (and asleep) trying to achieve ii) . I will admit it, I am not a temple or history buff nor do I have this crazy desire to know each god and the kings that built these temples and whether Vishnu looks better than Shiva and the great importance of the Mahabarata ( I actually have a book on it). I just decided what I knew was enough (what a slacker!) and off we went on our trip.

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We chose to spend 3 nights and 4 days in Siem Reap, and we flew directly in from Singapore. It is a 2 hour flight. We came in on a Saturday,late afternoon – did no temples that day. Instead after checking into our hotel “Lotus Blanc” on National Highway 6 ( this road will lead you to Phnom Penh by the way) – we headed straight into the Old Market area or “Pub Street” on a Ramok (tuk tuk). The ride costs usd2 each way. It takes about 15 minutes to get to this part of town. This is one area where all tourists will stop by at least twice during their stay in Siem Reap – okay some of you out there might beg to differ! This area is convenient because that is where restaurants and bars and shops are concentrated and packed within a 1km radius. Restaurants here are casual and very much tourist friendly. Meals and street food can be paid in USD (which is so common) or Cambodian KHR Riels.

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ADVICE #1: Please make sure your USD notes are clean and have no marks on them, because some businesses will reject dollar notes that look crummy or worn out.

For our first evening, we ate at the Khmer Kitchen Restaurant, easy casual Khmer food.. Portions are big and most dishes range between USD4.00 – 6.00 each. We had fresh spring rolls, chicken banana blossom salad (photo), vegetarian khmer curry and 2 plates of rice . We had 1 Angkor beer and a small bottle of water and all that added up to USD14.  Generally Cambodian food uses lots of coconut milk, tumeric, lemon grass, galangal, some fermented fish paste, etc but very little chillies. I love their jasmine rice ..mmm..

Once at the Old Market Area, you can follow the signs to the Night Market across the river if you wish to shop around a bit more for souvenirs but we wandered around Pub Streeet to get ourselves acquainted with the area instead. Soon we headed back to the hotel to ensure we had a good night’s sleep for our Day 1 of the temples, the next day.

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Day 1 Grand Circuit – Sunday 17 May 2015
We opted for a driver, in a Camry with a/c through our hotel. The advantage of that is I can bill that to my room and pay through my credit card and I can go after the hotel if anything goes wrong during the tour. They were flexible to mix the Grand Circuit temples with the Small Circuit temples for the 2 days I have booked with them. It all depends on your stamina. It cost usd80 for the 2 days. It is an extra usd10 for the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

We did the Grand Circuit first because the Bakan Tower of Angkor Wat was closed for visits ( it was a holy Buddhist day) on that day. The Grand Circuit consists of the temples of Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som. Neak Prean, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei. But we added on Day 1 , Ta Phrom (which is part of the Small Circuit) too.  Do allow yourself 7-8 hours to do these temples in a stretch. Our driver drove us first to the Angkor Wat temple pass office to purchase a 3 day ticket. It costs usd 40 per person. You need to have these passes with you for all the temple and will be checked before you enter the temples.

Angkor Wat pass is run by a company called Sokha (mother company is Sokhimex owned by a Vietnamese Cambodian businessman). When the deal was reached in 1999 with the Cambodian government, only 5 cents for each dollar went to the upkeeping of the temples. There had been issues prior with fake tickets being issued, now with Sokha there is better control. Nevertheless, this deal with the government on a national treasure that cuts out a bad deal for the temples and the locals, is always questionable.

ADVICE #2 : For temple visits please dress modestly. Please wear tops with sleeves and pants or skirts that are down to your knees. If you are wearing shorts, you can bring a sarung / scarf with you and tie it around your waist as a skirt. Do wear comfortable shoes too. You will be climbing and walking a lot.

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Our first temple for the day was Pre-Rup, close to the big lake Sras Srang. The temple itself was already quite amazing (remember these temples were built 900-1000 yrs ago) and I have not yet seen Angkor Thom or Angkor Wat. There is some climbing you can expect to do in this temple. You have varied styles of temples, from a sprawling Hindu temple with lots of walking to a temple pyramid with lots of climbing. Pre-Rup is your a typical temple pyramid with red coloured bricks,, laterite and sandstone. Pre Rup is a Hindu temple (dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva) built by King Rajendravarman in 961AD. Another temple East Mebon is somewhat similar too. We drove by East Mebon and headed for Ta Som next.

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ADVICE #3 : You can expect, for some can be an annoyance, by the temples and Old Market area, touters and beggars around. You will have men, boys, ladies , children all trying to sell you their wares or drinks. They are generally harmless, but some can be overly persistent. Do remember Cambodia is a poor country with corrupted government officials around. The boom Siem Reap experienced with tourism, are not being distributed fairly to all her people. The general poor have adopted this as part of their “business” yes even to beg is a business.  At some places you may find people asking for “donations” for simple things like taking care of your shoes for you in a temple to kids begging for money to buy milk powder. It is tough to decide when and who do you give to and if your donation will encourage this vicious cycle to continue, for e.g. kids dropping out of school because it is more lucrative to sell wares to tourists or beg. On a positive note though, some of the kids I spoke to selling their wares at the temples, are interested in improving their English by conversing with you and they DO go to school. There are also burgeoning businesses (run by locals and foreigners) providing vocational training , supporting local edu-scholarships and encouraging responsible farming making eco and social responsible tourism very “trendy” in Siem Reap. This is a form of increasing the awareness of the local people to get themselves educated and own a legit business to support the tourism in Siem Reap.

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Ta Som is a temple with Sprung / Ficus tree roots growing over it. It was built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. It is much quieter temple than Ta Phrom.

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These temple towers have faces of Avalokiteshvara depicted.  I have added the photo inside the temple grounds (below).

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After Ta Som, Neak Pean – is in a middle of a pond and there is a long walkway on planks to reach the tiny temple. You can only see it from afar. This temple you can do in like 15 mins. This temple was the least impressive in my opinion.

Then we moved on to Preah Khan – one of our favourites. As you approach the temple, you walk up a stretch of asuras and devas carrying the 5 headed Naga across the moat .   IMG_3803

This was also built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century . There is a giant silk cotton tree growing atop one of the temple walls. We noticed an increasing number of decapitated statues of Buddha or Apsaras.

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Some of the decapitated figurines were the result of the war (Khmer Rouge) regime that had sold these artefacts in the black market to raise funds for their campaign.

The inside of the temple walls, and the crumbling structures and stones.

IMG_3812After Preah Khan, we left for Banteay Srei (the Pink Lady temple) which is famous for its intricate wall carvings and ornate lintels. It is made of hard red sandstone.  It is a  25 minutes drive from Preah Khan. It was built in the 10th century and not by a monarch. but by a courtier named Yajnavaraha  who served as a counsellor to king Rajendravarman II . It was a Hindu temple dedicated to the God Shiva.

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The famous monkey guardians in the temple grounds. By this time it was nearly 2pm, we got quite hungry . The eating places around this temple are quite expensive – a dish can cost usd7 compare to a similar dish in downtown Siem Reap costing usd4.50. It is a tourist rest stop for the hordes of us getting our refuelling. Just  be prepared . With the heat though we were happy enough with some buns or energy bars. We kept ourselves hydrated with water, coke and coconut water and lots of mangoes along the way.

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It takes about 30 minutes to explore this relatively small temple.

On your way back to Siem Reap do stop by and buy palm sugar (Gula Melaka). It is about usd1.00 for 4 pieces. I regretted not getting them as I was convinced I could easily find them in town. At the end I didn’t have the time to run by the market on the last day. So grab them when you can! You may just run out of time.

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The last temple we did for the day was Ta Prohm made famous by the movie “Tomb Raider”. It was a Buddhist monastery and a university. You can easily take 1 hour to explore this vast temple grounds and ruin.

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It was built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII , in the 13th century. You will get to see giant silk cotton trees growing on the roofs of the temples too. Pretty amazing! Please take your time with this temple. It is pretty vast and like a maze.

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We ended our day around 4pm , tired back to the hotel to rest and refresh. I was hungry by the time we reached the hotel and I had the nice assistance from the bell boy Adam (with a cheeky spark in his eyes) to negotiate the purchase of a comb of sweet little bananas from the fruit seller lady across the road. There is a small minimart across the hotel too where you can stock up on your water.

We left for dinner at 5.45pm for Chanrey Tree based on a recommendation from our hotel concierge Christina – a really sweet and well spoken girl. It was a lovely dinner, well prepared and delicious in a nice modern setting. We had the Beef lao lak (sweet creamy peppery stir fried beef – almost like an Asian stroganoff), fish amok curry  (yellow turmeric coconut creaminess with river fish and amok leaves), pomelo salad, fresh summer spring rolls and rice. We did a dessert – a yam filled glutinous rice ball deep fried , served with coconut ice cream. It came up to usd45 including a beer and a mango smoothie. I can certainly recommend this place.

Plaice with Parsley Sauce

Continuing on my previous post of my summer vacation in Denmark, I promised to write a bit more of this classic danish dish – “Roedspaette med Persillesovs” = “Plaice with Parsley Sauce”. It is a very plain and simple dish – but absolutely lovely.

It is a dish I identify a lot with the summers in Denmark. Fresh plaice like any seafood, is the key.

This is how my mother in law makes it. ( I always ask her to make it every year – she does it the best!)

  • 4 pieces of plaice (skinned and prepared by the fishmonger)
  • 200g of ryeflour (coarse) on a plate
  • 1-2 eggs , beaten in a open wide bowl
  • salt and pepper
  • unsalted butter for pan frying (150g)
  • 2 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 kg of new potatoes

Parsley sauce

  • 1  cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 tbp butter
  • 6 tbp flour
  • 2-3 dl chicken stock from a cube – warmed up
  • 1 dl milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel the potatoes, boil them. Drain and leave a side covered.

Pat dry the fish. Season the coarse ryeflour with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs.  Take out 1 dl milk and put aside.

Take about 50g butter first and 1 tbp of oil onto a frying pan on high heat for the first 1 min, and lower it to medium heat.

Coat the fish first on both sides with the egg, than roll over the fish piece in the flour. Place the fish onto the now hot oil/butter mixture. Fry the fish about 6-7 mins on each side.

Put the fish aside . Finish frying the remaining 3 pieces.

Dissolve the chicken stock (if a cube) in a pot with water (check the instructions on the stock wrapping). Add the now hot stock to the milk. Like bechamel sauce, make the roux with the butter and flour.  Melt the butter over low heat, do not brown it. Stir in the flour , blend continuously until it is a glossy paste. Slowly add the chicken stock mix into the roux mixture..use half first – place a bay leaf into the mixture. Now the sauce should look like melted ice cream. If already too thick you can thin it with the remaining stock mixture. About 5 mins down the road as you cook it, it will get thicker , so you need to check its consistency now and again what you like best. Switch off the heat once it is about the consistency you like, remember it does get a little thicker after, due to the heat. Season with salt and pepper, remember the bouillon is salty – be stingy with the seasoning. Take out the bay leaf and add in the chopped parsley a little a time.

Place the fish on a plate, with the potatoes and pour the parsley sauce over it, or you can serve the sauce on the side.

Summer Vacation 2012 – Copenhagen

This year for our summer vacation we decided to be in DK (Denmark) – primarily to spend max time with the family. And again this year we wanted to make a reservation at Noma but they were closed – for their summer vacation . (NOMA is closed by the way between end July to mid Aug). Dang…! I may need to write a private note to Rene Redzepi now as it is getting too frustrating. This is the 3rd year in a row we have tried.

For the first week we rented a summer house in Naestved by a coastal town called Kaerrebaeksminde (what a mouthful – the name!) on a little island called Enoe – off a fjord.  Here is a site on the town. www.visitnaestved.com/international/en-gb/…/karrebaeksminde.htm

There are several popular seaside villages dotted along the coast line of Sjaelland (the island where Copenhagen – the capital is located). Enoe holds a special place for my husband because he has had many fond memories of this quiet town from his childhood. The area has certainly developed since, and can be quite busy during the peak summer months. Down there too, you have the outlet by the local danish design brand Kahler who is famous for ceramic works. For the shophardy fans , there is something to do after all.

Thank god the weather held, and what a relief! Beautiful danish summer weatheris one needs when you are planning a vacation by the danish seaside.  Having lived in Denmark,  I truly understand what’s all the excitement about. It is the unpredictability of the danish weather system that can throw any ideal assumptions of a nice seaside vacation down the drain and when you have to face 6 months or so with rain/grey weather – yeah a good sunny day is very precious.

Each morning started typically Danish, with pastries and fresh breads from the bakery. One of our favourites are romsnegle and tebirkes (photo above) . Tebirkes – is a mix between pastry and bread, topped with poppyseeds and a buttery and slightly sweet coating in the middle. It is so light and delicate (if made right) – something I have yet to see outside Denmark.

The seafood shops were abundant with their catch from the nearby seas daily. I don’t even know how to translate what they have there to English. One of my favourites are “roedspaette” (plaice) ,the “forel” (trout), kulmulle and the smoked fish like herring,salmon and mackerel. And ‘fiskefrikadeller’ on ryebread (photo below) – fresh from the fish shop is ultimate. One of the classic danish dishes is ‘roedspaette med persillesovs’ – plaice with parsley sauce – tastes absolutely sublime by the seaside, when especially home made! A post on that to follow – courtesy of my mother in law! 🙂

Denmark is famous for their beers too for those of you thinking, why is she going on about food only? Yes but since I dont’ drink I won’t pretend I know more than the little I know of beers and don’t forget ‘snaps’ – quintessential akvavit paired with your smoerreboerd (danish open sandwiches)!

Coincidentally during this trip the Olympics were on throughout. So it was really a hectic time racing to the beach  plus long afternoon walks and timing it to come back in time to catch some sports. While watching tv, we were stuffing our faces with danish jordbaertaerte and droemmekage. Life is good – yeah!

All in all had a wonderful vacation – at Enoe. Thank you to everyone in the family for making it great..muah!

Ho Chi Minh

An evening view of HCMC  from Sheraton’s rooftop bar

A trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam was born when a girlfriend and I discussed about taking a short trip together. We have not seen each other for 2 years, it was about time we met up. And so we did, with my mom and her sister coming along too, joining in the fun in this all girl trip!

My impression of Ho Chi Minh City was at first intimidating due to the traffic especially the number of mopeds on the roads. Crossing the road yes can be rather daunting, although after a day or two , you do get the hang of it.  Due to the influx of tourists, some of the main tourists areas and Ben Tanh market are filled with touts and shops trying to rip you off everywhere you turn. That was sadly, my first day impression of the city and her people, chaos and cheats !

As we all know amidst all chaos, there lies the true nature and spirit of the place and its people – like an unpolished gem. I found in general people are truly kind and friendly, helpful. Food is great and their local arts/crafts absolutely beautiful. A note on that though, too many local artists despite their huge talents  had to resort to copy works of famous artists for a living instead of following their true expressions, simply because life as an artist is yet a struggle bordering on poverty for most, except the lucky few.

A local neighbourhood stall selling helmets for the mopeds

We stayed at a hotel located in District 1, called Hotel Ellyse Nga Khanh on Ly Tu Trong. Perfectly located, all the sites/shopping/eating are roughly 1-2 km in each direction. The hotel is simple, 2 star, clean and the staff was friendly. A night cost us usd30 for a room with 2 single beds and attached bathroom/wc, included breakfast. Staying in District 1 is recommended due to the close proximity to most sights and interesting streets. There are many similar standard hotels in the area.

A lady at Ben Tanh market selling lotus stems

From the hotel, it was just a stone’s throw away from Ben Tanh market. Be warned, many stalls in the market are very aggressive towards tourists and the bargaining process can be very intimidating with either party shouting at one another at the end. Rather unpleasant, sad as it is, you just need a handful of bad apples to spoil it for the rest of the decent folks trying to make a living. But that is life anywhere you go.

So for those who insist to shop at Ben Tanh market, we found a ‘store’ at the far end of the Ben Tanh market that sells  at a fixed price, and it was the best place to purchase kitchy lacquer wares, souvenirs, fake tshirts, handbags, etc.

Other places to shop would be along Dong Khoi (Mai’s and L’usine have great clothes), Le Thanh Ton, Pasteur Street, Mac Thi Buoi ,  TT Hiep and Le Loi. You can easily spend a whole day just doing that!

Opera House at night

So what other sights did we see in HCMC? We visited the Independence Palace (it is a reminder that we were still in a communist country despite the openess in general around us and the western influence from  US/France) . The palace stands without a doubt, a symbol of the glorious victory of communist North finally taking control of the south in 1975.

To escape from the bustling traffic, we had an evening drink up at the Sheraton Rooftoop bar, a treat just to relax and wind down and enjoy the view over the city. Make some time for it, if you can! I highly recommend it.

The Post Office inside

The Post Office across the Notre Dame Cathedral is definitely worth a visit, the building itself and inside where you still get to do your transactions as they were done 50 years ago!  At noon,each day, the siren would go off.  We walked pass the Opera and the People Committee Hall, all very lovely buildings. The general architecture of HCMC is a mix match and sometimes mismatch of horrible concrete structures to colonial grandness to old rundown buildings which are still homes for many people.  But that is the charm of the city – no pretence, a reminder of the war and how life has been hard on many despite life improving right now, there is always this constant reminder of their difficult past.

As for food, well if one loves vietnamese food – you are in for a treat. There are lot of street food vendors, so it is up to you if you dare to, or if your stomach can withstand the onslaught of bacteria, parasites god knows what else that could be in the food. We saw waffle sellers, to dumpling sellers to pho and even rice/dishes at street corners, customers eating right by the road side or on the pavements.

A few noted places we tried that was really nice was the Huong Lai restaurant serving really good Vietnamese food (staffs are  from orphanages, the streets, impoverished families providing them a learning experience for better opportunities in the F&B industry when they ‘graduate’, some go on to work in hotel/renowned restaurants).

For casual low key dining, at the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Nguyen Trung Truc during dinners , locals swarm the place for stir fried dishes of snails/clams , chicken , frogs etc to accompany the usual rice meal.

Lunch at Huong Lai

We had our pho at Pho 24 which was a good decent meal – nope, skipped Pho 2000 the pho place President Clinton apparently visited. We had a lovely lunch at Wrap and Roll, great lunch buffets at 120,000 vnd per person and dinner at I love Bun. I did venture out for some street snacks like the toasted banana flakes  until my runny tummy kicked in. Well I will have more street food the next time I visit Vietnam, there are so many other places to see still – on my list so far are Dalat, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay.

For some cultural exposure, we decided last minute to head down to watch the water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Theatre at Nguyen Thi Minh Kai. It was a very nice experience , the play displayed the lifes of the peasants in the villages and excerpts from their local famous folklores. The entire show was accompanied by their folk music and instruments.  Their cultural traditions are steeped with chinese influence as can be seen in the play here.

Water puppet show

HCMC is really a lively city,  full of third world charm and energy. As a matter of fact, one can move around quite comfortably despite the traffic chaos. So don’t be discouraged. Someone asked me about the sounds and smells of the city, how was it like? Truth  be told, in any big city with traffic, one cannot escape the exhaust fumes that linger, just stubbornly hang around you. You hear the constant honking of all vehicles, some as a friendly warning while others were more like ‘get the hell out of my way, you twat’! The latter tend to get a glare or two from me, although it is quite hard to stare down a bus bigger than myself! Darn!!

A neighbourhood house in the city downtown

Shopping and eating is good, people are friendly and streets are relatively safe to walk around in even at night. And one must not leave the city without trying their local coffee,  filtered coffee dripped, with condensed milk. Just right.

Cables (Vietnam telecoms) abound, at your street corner.

Paris Again..

(Lazy walk along the Seine River)

Our usual summer pilgrimage to Copenhagen to see the family, requires a short break somewhere in Europe. OK I made that rule up. So Paris it was this time. Guess who has to plan the trip then?

That was my job in fact – to book hotels, apparently I am very good at it, according to my husband whom I am convinced, is just too not bothered to do the legwork on this matter, conveniently delegating the role to me, as well as the itinerary, which I am glad to do, so I can add my shopping expedition side stops in it. Truth be told, in fact my husband did once play an active role in our holiday planning, when we were in Paris last year to watch Tour de France. 8 hours standing on Champs Elysees waiting for the cyclists and seeing them, was not the same as shopping for 8 hours. The latter I could easily endure. (wink)

(Cat sleeping on a scooter)

What does one do in Paris? Eat, shop and soak in the life, energy pulse of the city, the more quiet and European almost regal vibe you get here, compare to say a city like New York – another fantastic vibrant concrete jungle one should immerse in.

For our requirements, these were the hotels shortlisted (we were looking for a budget of €350 in total for 3 nights stay incl breakfast and close to the city, with good public transporation network closeby). It was a toss up  between Clarion or Hotel Therese, due to its proximity to places of interests, although Mama Shelter was another interesting alternative but we ended up at Du Parc, Montparnasse – perfect location, close to the Metro and the train station Gare Montparnasse (where the Air France shuttle bus runs to/ from CDG airport). There are a lot of restaurants and cafes around the area too, including supermarkets and a pleasant enough neighbourhood with lots of life at night.

(Les Halles)

Hotel Du Parc Montparnasse is a basic 2 star hotel, recently refurbished, had air condition in the bedroom. The bathroom was large enough and was clean. The room though was tiny, but as one can expect in many hotels around Paris. It fit our purpose and at the price, it was a good deal we thought

Paris Hotels – which one? 

1)      Clarion Collection Opera Pavillion
http://www.clarionhotel.com/hotel-paris-france-FR402?sid=L1DS.Hv23tgVQb.2 3 nights incl breakfast was €339

2)      Hotel De La Porte Doree
http://www.hoteldelaportedoree.com/ 3 nights on  avg €57 per night ,

3)      Mama Shelter
http://www.mamashelter.com/ 3 nights – I LOVE PARIS incl breakfast was €297 – Mama Luxe Double

4)      Hotel Therese
http://www.tablethotels.com/ 3 nights incl breakfast €396 – Classic Room

5)      The 5 Hotel
http://www.thefivehotel.com/ 3 nights incl breakfast was €420 – Superior Glimmering for 2

6)  Hotel Du Parc Montparnasse
http://www.hotelduparcparis.com/  4 nights for €325 excl bfast.

(Window display at Le Grenier a Pain)

Where to eat?

There are simply just too many good places, from low key, cheap affordable ones to fancy pants michelin starred restaurants. If you do ample research on the internet, you can take a pick what you like.  At this moment, we are looking for down to earth, rustic. bistro French food, detailed preparation in an unpretentious surroundings.

So we stumbled upon some gems like Sarl Tifinagh (Avenue Rachel), La Cerisaie (Boulevard Edgard Quintet Montparnasse) , Mariage Freres for tea, delightful creperies along Rue D’Odessa (Montparnasse) – one particular favourite Le Flibustier, offering organic buckwheat crepes) while the other days, we were simply enjoying take away baguettes with yummy freshly sliced hams sitting along the River Seine, or picnicking in Jardin du Luxembourg.

For the sweet tooth, there are several shops around, Angelina & La Maison du Chocolat  (both on Rue De Rivoli), La Duree, Le Grenier a Pain, Gerard Mulot, Pierre Herme and Poilane, the list could just go on.

It is no wonder Paris is as much a food capital of the world as fashion is. They ‘lurve’ their pastries and chocolates. Eating is sacred, preparation of food is important – you do not put terrible food in your  mouth, although yes fast foods are abound these days, also in Paris. Thank god though, all is not completely lost – food is still very much an art and they still take pride in their fresh produce.

(Le Cerisaie at Montparnasse)

Where to Shop?

Of course a good excuse to burn off  the calories from the sweet stops and good food. We like especially the area Le Marais and St Germain des Pres. You should consider :

1) Viaduc des Artes
2) Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville (BHV) – departmental store
3) along Rue de Rivoli
4) Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Rue Saint-Honoré, Rue de la Paix, Place Vendome)
5) Champs Elysees
6) Boulevard Haussmann

I was smitten by Laguiole steak knives there. It will be on my shopping list next time I am in Paris.

(Canal St Martin)

To see and do

Well one cannot miss, Montmartre – as touristic as it is, it is still a lovely place to visit. I got some vintage posters while there and was closed to buying a painting too – the only thing holding me back was I have no more space at home to put them up. Arrgh – would just have to move to a bigger home then. On top of Montmartre, you will find the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. You get a picturesque view of Paris city here. A little way down from Montmartre, you will pass Moulin Rouge and the famous Montmartre Cemetery where many well known historical figures are buried there like Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Degas, etc

(View from Sacre Coeur)

On a good evening, it is an idea to go atop the Montparnasse Tower to witness Paris at dusk and as nightfalls, lights appearing like a blanket of stars below your feet! Eiffel Tower usually has a night show of lights around 10pm to make the evening more eventful.

We took a stroll along the Seine River and along the canals of St Martin ( a little off the usual tourists areas) and ended up later in the day at Jardin du Luxembourg. We went there again the following day, a great place to people watch and have your sandwich.

(Vintage posters at Montmartre)

Yes we walked and walked til our feet were sore. That was the  best way to see Paris and we had been lucky with the weather.