Tag Archives: Ho Chi Min

It’s an Asia Thing

My first foray into Asia was to India. I marvelled at the temples of Tamil Nadu, spent Christmas in KodaiKanal and saw the sunset at Cape Cormorin. There was a visit to a strange circus in Kerala, a boat trip in Cochin and lots of ice cream in Goa. We went to markets, met Mormons, climbed Cape Rama Fort and left through the gateway to India in Bombay.

Next was a school trip to Indonesia where we were educated in all the traditional arts and crafts from batik to silver making. We travelled through Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The highlights were the vast Borobudur temple and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

On the way home we went through Sentosa Island in Singapore. There have been many trips to the land of the Merlion since then to explore the food in Chinatown, the shops on Orchard Rd and visit friends, now expats of the city.

Close by is my favourite Asian destination of Malaysia. The fabulous food halls in Malacca, the life of Penang and the beautiful islands of course. So far I have visited Pulau Kapas, Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Tioman twice. Each island is special and interesting in its own way for the monkey in a hammock, the snorkelling or the sunsets.

The first time I went to Bangkok in Thailand I thought it was a big dirty Asian city. I thought Phuket was incredibly spoilt by tourism and I was sure I would never return. How wrong I was, as the island of Koh Lanta was to become the special place where I became engaged and later married. The little town of Ban Saladan and the beach at Kaw Kwang will forever have a piece of my heart.

Vietnam was a pleasant surprise, largely untouched by the greed of making a buck when I went there. I loved Hanoi, the city built around Haan Kim Lake and was fascinated by the other side of history as the story of Ho Chi Min unfolded before me. Halong Bay was undoubtedly beautiful and the little French colonial hill village of Tam Dao was a rare treasure.

When you think of places to go in Asia, South Korea is probably not at top of mind. However, I found I very much enjoyed discovering the two sides of Seoul. One deep in the traditions of markets, gates and palaces; and the other slightly crazy side of shopping centres, theme parks and off beat fashion.

I wish I had visited Hong Kong before the English handed it back to the locals, just to see how much it had changed. The modern world could clearly be seen here, but there were still the remnants of old. Like the Star Ferry and the fact that the city still had many large green spaces that had not yet been bulldozed by development. The smog of Victoria Peak reminded me that it was still Asia, but back on the ground there was always a drink in Soho to cool you down.

Yes, Asia can be hot, dirty and tiring; but it is also exciting, enticing and an assault to the senses. Riding in tuk tuks, bargaining with the friendly locals and appreciating the simple things in life. Asia has a lot to teach us and I sincerely hope that modernisation doesn’t engulf it to the point where it can no longer be recognised for the glorious cultural explosion it is.

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Destination Thailand, 2010, Thailand, 2009, South Korea, 2008, Malaysia, 2006, Vietnam, 2003, Thailand, 2002, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988, India, 1987- 1998, Part 2: The Journey North, India 1987- 1988, Part 1: The Road South

Vietnam, 2003

When my parents decided to go to Vietnam and invited me to go with them- I said yes!

We stayed in a skinny yellow hotel in downtown Hanoi which had bread roll sellers on every corner.

My favourite part of the city was Haan Kiem Lake. Crossing the red Huc Bridge to get to the Ngoc San Temple in the middle of the island, we gazed at the Tortoise Pagoda. We also walked around the West Lake and saw the Swan boats on Truc Bach Lake.

Visiting Ho Chi Min Mausoleum at Bah Dinh Square was an odd experience. The locals treat it like a religious pilgrimage and the line past his mummified body shuffled by very slowly. Apparently, his body is sent back to Russia annually for a re-embalming.

I liked the yellow Presidential Palace with Ho Chi Min’s house and his personal fishing pool. The One Pillar Pagoda was a striking and interesting structure. We also went to the Ho Chi Min Museum and the Lenin statue- both great monuments to Communism.

We walked past many embassy buildings, the plane and tank out front of the Army Museum and found a street that sold only flowers. People were riding bicycles everywhere and in one part of town there was a train track running through the middle of the street with no safety barriers to protect passers-by.

My dad was not dealing well with the heat, so he took to eating club sandwiches and stayed inside the air conditioned room while mum and I went shopping. Reverting back to my teenage self we bickered without my dad there to be the peace maker.

On our last night in Hanoi, we went to the famous water puppet show which told the story of the tortoise legend. It was amazing and well worth the wait.

From Hanoi we travelled through a landscape of rice paddy fields to take a traditional dragon boat ride in Halong Bay. We heard the legend that the rock formations in the bay are the tail of a dragon and visited a fishing village on the water selling fish and turtles.

I loved taking a dive off the boat into the deep green water for a swim. I would have liked to stay overnight on the boat, but we had to stay on Cat Ba Island instead. We visited Thien Cung Caves and I had my first massage which was so hard that I hated it.

Our last stop was Tam Dao Hill Station- a tiny French colonial town in the hills. I liked the old derelict park which had been built by French settlers and the fact that the church had been converted into a karaoke bar.

A local guide took us to the silver cascade waterfall which was very tall and a pagoda on top of a hill. There was a great open air food court in town and we ate frogs legs back at the hotel.

Related posts: I first started travelling, Travel rememberings