A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: nhilde

Southern Vietnam = Food Heaven!

Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

sunny 95 °F

Wow, we are REALLLY behind in our blogging....I am actually posting this from our new apartment in St. Louis. Apologies to all those die-hard followers who must be on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about the second half of our trip. I attribute our tardiness to the fact that the trip flew by and that we had an amazing time. That, plus the heat and copious amounts of inexpensive massage made us incredibly lazy!! :)

After Hue, Jake and I made our way down the coast to Hoi An, a town about 30 minutes drive away from Danang. Hoi An was one of the highlights of our trip; although it is very touristy (much like Luang Prabang), it manages to retain a lot of charm, especially at night when most of the shops close and the streets empty out. From our three days there, it seems like Hoi An has two main attractions: (1) delicious food and (2) affordable tailoring. We took part in both.

A shot of Hoi An's scenic Old Town area.

One of Hoi An's many assembly halls, built by Chinese traders working in Hoi An. Different halls were built for each of the major ethnic groups.

Our tailor of choice was Sun Cloth Shop, which was recommended by our hotel. We got lots of great stuff made for us, for a really good price. The turnaround time is incredible - they made my dresses in about 24 hours, and Jake's shirts took only a few hours! I've never had tailor-made clothing made for me before, so the experience itself was highly worthwhile.

As far as food goes, it was hands down our best food in Vietnam. We liked the place we ate dinner the first night (Miss Ly's) so much that we went back again the second night, only to discover an even BETTER place (Morning Glory) on our last night.

Cao Lau at Ms. Ly's. Cao Lau is one of Hoi An's special dishes --- YUM!

I also had the best tuna sandwich ever at a really cute little cafe called the Dingo Deli (halfway between Hoi An and the beach) -- the perfect lunch after hanging out at the beach.

The beautiful beach in between Hoi An and Danang. Sadly, it's being madly developed by every major hotel company imaginable!

After Hoi An, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for our final days in Vietnam. It's amazing how different Saigon seems from the rest of Vietnam (in particular, from Hanoi). The central part of city feels very European - wide, tree-lined streets, manicured parks and gardens, lots of sidewalk cafes and boutiques.

Saigon's Post Office

Notre Dame Basilica in Saigon. Apparently it gets packed at mass-time! Who knew there were so many Catholics in Vietnam?

Given our short time there, we didn't have too much time to sightsee, but we managed to fit in visits to the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace, both of which were really worth seeing. The Palace especially was cool: it has basically been left untouched since the end of the war in 1975, and you get to visit the map rooms and other offices where the military was overseeing the war.

Reunification Palace, still kept as it was at the end of the war in 1975. A definite must-see.

Gastronomically speaking, the highlights of the city were a Vietnamese BBQ place called 3T Quan Nuong, conveniently located next to our favorite ice cream place (Fanny, of course). We ordered prawns that were given to us skewered but still alive, which we sadisticly enjoyed cooking and eating with this really good salt-pepper-lime mix.

Prawns at 3T Quan Nuong. Delicious.

Fanny!!! We miss you already!!!

We also encountered a very nice Budweiser sales girl who gamely agreed to take a picture with Jake. By "sales girl", I mean these women that are in alot of the bars and restaurants throughout the city. They wear a uniform promoting the beer, and visit your table and try to convince you to buy that brand. The San Miguel girls seemed to be the most pushy -- at one place, the girl wouldn't leave our table until we agreed to buy two San Miguels!! I'm glad she did though, because it was delicious and might now be one of my favorites.

Jake and the Bud girl at 3T Quan Nuong.

Sadly, our time in Vietnam had to end at some point. We had a really great time (despite the heat) and hope we can come back again at some point. Given all the compliments we've gotten on our Hoi An tailored clothes already, we'll definitely have to go back just to get more clothes made!

Stay tuned for Jake's posts on Kuala Lumpur and SE Asian beers!

Posted by nhilde 11:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food restaurants vietnam saigon hanoi hcmc fanny tailoring Comments (0)

Better City, Better Life!*

Shanghai, China

semi-overcast 70 °F
View Round the World on nhilde's travel map.

We're a few days late in getting this posted -- primarily because we've succumbed to total relaxation here in Bali. We just got back from hour-long massages (US$15 each) and are lounging in our beautifully-decorated hotel room overlooking a rice paddy field, listening to crickets and the running water of the canals. But more on that in the next post...

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Although it was far from relaxing, Jake and I had a great time in Shanghai. The city is very modern and international - it reminded us of Hong Kong and Singapore more so than Beijing - and with the massive construction projects underway in preparation for the 2010 World Expo (which is to be held in Shanghai), even more amazing architecture and innovative city planning schemes are yet to come.

We got a great overview of the city and its continued development at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a museum we visited on our first day in the city. The museum had several impressive scale models of Shanghai, but the one shown below really blew us away.

The photo is looking down on the model from the floor above. The model's square footage was larger than than our apartment in San Francisco!

The museum also had some great photos of notable buildings and developments around the city. My favorite was Thames Town, a residential complex modeled after an English manor, complete with a huge grounds decorated with numerous life-size statues of notable Englishmen (Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Harry Potter...).

We didn't get a chance to visit Thames Town, but we did make it over to Yu Gardens, a picturesque Ming dynasty garden in the Old Town area of Shanghai:


The area surrounding the gardens was also fun to wander around, although it was almost as crowded as the Summer Palace (see our Beijing post)!


Apart from cultural attractions, we spent a considerable amount of time (window) shopping, including at the world's FIRST Barbie flagship store! Jake was kind enough to listen to me reminisce about my own Barbie collection, and even said we could consider allowing our future daughter have a Barbie birthday party like this one:


Although he said no to the idea of building a staircase like this one in our future home:

A stairwell of Barbies...what a sight!

We also made a quick stop at Taikang Road, a complex of little alleyways with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.


And we made several trips to XinTianDi, an upscale shopping complex that looks like it's straight out of Southern California. It even had a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. (Sorry, we didn't take any photos.)

The most impressive part of Shanghai is the skyline of Pudong, the business district of the city. We had a great view of it from our hotel room, and on our last day we ventured across the river for a closer look. Unfortunately, it started raining as soon as we arrived, but we managed to get a little bit of a tour in the taxi ride back.

View of two of the tallest buildings in Pudong, taken from our taxi.

View of Pudong at night, from our hotel room.

We ended our time in Shanghai with a quick visit with some of Jake's former co-workers (from Gap San Francisco) who are now living in Shanghai. Mike and Sandy have been ex-pats in Shanghai for a few years now, and it was great to hear their stories about living and working in China, especially since it's something we'd like to do someday. We also got a chance to visit the clothing store they just opened. It was amazing to hear that they had gone from concept to completion in about six weeks!

That's about it for Shanghai...stay tuned for Jake's post on our sublime time in Bali!

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  • The title of this post was inspired by the motto for the 2010 World Expo, "Better city, better life". The World Expo is a big deal for Shanghai. There are posters everywhere, and even a few statues of the Expo's mascot:


This Gumby-like little guy is in the shape of the Chinese character for "people" (pronounced "ren" in Chinese).

Posted by nhilde 07:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Lovely Lijiang

And other musings on China

rain 65 °F
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Jake and I have been in China for about a week now, and we are still loving it - although we're getting a little tired of Chinese food! We've spent the past few days in Lijiang, a town located in the Yunnan province in the South West, near Tibet. The old town of Lijiang is incredibly charming, replete with canals, narrow cobbled lanes, traditional Chinese architecture and...costumed local people (the Naxi) singing and dancing all day long. Okay, so it's basically a cultural theme park, catering entirely to tourists (mostly Chinese, although we've spotted a few Westerners here and there), but it works. We've had a great time here and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in catching a glimpse of life in China away from the major cities (and impervious to kitschy souvenir shops and massive crowds of Chinese tourists).

The main attraction in Lijiang is the old city itself. When its not jam-packed with tour groups, it is a beautiful and peaceful town, and we had a great time wandering around and taking it all in. The nearby Black Dragon Pool park was also a delight, with scenic views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and some beautiful stone bridges arching over the lake.
Lijiang during the day

Me and Jake at Black Dragon Pool

Today, we ventured outside of the city and visited the mountain itself, taking the cable car up to Spruce Meadow. Our guide book had said that the meadow provides stunning views of the Jade Dragon glacier, but we couldn't see anything (either due to the clouds our mis-information in Lonely Planet, we're not sure!). The hike around the meadow was still very pretty, if a little bit overpriced.

After Spruce Meadow, we made a brief stop at the Jade Peak Monastery - which boasts the amazing camellia tree pictured below. The best part of the monastery was that it was completely empty, a first for us given that most sights are overflowing with Chinese tourists!

Overall, our time in Lijiang has been wonderful. For me, the highlights have been our beautiful hotel, the Zen Garden; walking around the city in the morning before the busloads of tour groups arrive; and our dinner the first night at the Sakura Cafe on Bar Street. We feasted on delicious Korean food amidst disco lights while listening to American rap music - think Eminem and Dr Dre - that got progressively louder as the night wore on (we think that Sakura Cafe and the restaurant across the canal were battling for who could be the loudest).
Chillin' out at the Sakura Cafe (this photo is for you, D!)

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A few other random thoughts on China:

We are celebrities here!

Well, not really, but a surprisingly large number of Chinese people have asked to take pictures with us. We also get a lot of "Hellos" from passersby, who seem to be fascinated by the fact of seeing Westerners in the flesh. It's a little weird - certainly these people have seen Westerners before, right? - but also sort of funny. I particularly like how they tend to link arms with us or put their arms around our shoulders in the photos, as if we are old friends. You have to wonder how they explain these photos to their friends back home...

We know a celebrity!

Again, not really, but almost. Jake's friend and former co-worker at Gap, Jason, did some stock photography photos awhile back (which can be used by advertisers for whatever purpose). We've seen his photo used in ads in San Francisco, and always got a kick out of it. When we arrived in China, Jake joked that we should look out for photos of Jason on ads here...and low and behold, we found one in Lijiang of all places! What a small world, huh?
Jason's daughter Lilly was the flower girl in our wedding!

Wo men hui shuo Zhongwen!
(We can speak Chinese!)

We cannot believe how far we've gotten with our Chinese during our time here. We can pick out words on billboards and store signs, we can order food in restaurants, and we can almost understand people when they try to speak to us (as long as they speak slowly and use the vocabulary of a five-year old). We've been pulling out our Chinese language book to review almost every day, and its all coming together quite well. A lot of Chinese people laugh at us when we speak, but at least they understand us, right? :)

Posted by nhilde 05:59 Archived in China Comments (1)

Museums, Manifestations, Malbec...and Meat!

Buenos Aires, Part 2

sunny 70 °F
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The title pretty much sums up our last three days in Buenos Aires. The weather has continued to be beautiful, so we've made the most of it by walking everywhere, taking in lots of museums located all over the city. On many of these walks, we've encountered public manifestations of one sort or another, which has added an element of excitement to our days. And throughout, we've taken time to indulge in every sort of culinary delight in our sights (mostly ice cream, pizza, steak, and wine). I'm starting to see why Argentines love to tango...it helps to burn off the calories from all the delicious food!

Here's my recap of Buenos Aires, part 2.


BA has a wide range of museums, and we managed to hit quite a few of them. Although we are not numismatics, we greatly enjoyed our foray into Argentina's tumultuous monetary history at the Central Bank's Museo Numismatico. Here's an interesting fact: since the 1970s until today, the Argentine currency has lost 13 zeros (i.e. 1 Argentine Peso today would be equivalent to 10,000,000,000,000 Argentine pesos back then)!

The Argentine Central Bank

We also visited the Museu de Armas, where we saw lots of guns, swords, and dioramas of various wars in Argentine history...

Museo de Armas

A gas mask...for a horse! (Also at the Museo de Armas)

...And the Fragata Sarmiento, a naval training ship that made 37 (long!) voyages all over the world.

Jake at the helm (carrying my purse)

The Fragata herself.

Art-wise, we really enjoyed the contemporary Argentine artists featured at the new Museo Fortabat in Puerto Madero and the world-famous MALBA in Palermo.


Malbec / Meat

Speaking of MALBA...we have made a concerted effort to get our fill of Argentina's delectable and affordable wines, particularly Malbec. To ensure maximum enjoyment of the wine, we have also injested large quantities of Argentine beef at an assortment of the city's parrillas (which can loosely be translated into "steakhouses", or maybe "grills"). I didn't believe it until I tasted it myself, but I can now say with absolute certainty that Argentine beef is the best in the world. It was so tender that you could almost cut it with a fork, and it was more flavorful than any steak I've ever tasted. YUM!

Our dinner at La Brigada, in San Telmo


Not much to say here, except that the Argentines seem to rival the French in sheer number of strikes/protests/general disruptions to daily life. During our short stay in the city, we saw major strike action by the hotel and restaurant workers' union and the bank workers' union, and several other gatherings by anarchists, anti-communists, and veterans. And I think this is just par for the course...

Bank workers' strike

Posted by nhilde 14:16 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Getting away from it all

Easter Island, Chile

sunny 80 °F
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We just got back from spending four days on the most isolated inhabited island in the world, Easter Island (or Rapa Nui, the name used by the indigenous people who first settled there in the 5th or 6th Century). Although the island was beautiful and the history is fascinating, Jake and I both left with mixed feelings about the place.

First, though, a little history about the island. (Note that this is a grossly oversimplified version of what has happened over the past 1500 years.) The original settlers of Easter Island came from Polynesia, most likely the Marquesas Islands. The journey apparently took 120 days, with no stops on land! Once they arrived, they decided to stay (I wouldn't have wanted to turn around and go back home either). Over time, the people started to construct the moai - or "giant head statues" in layman's terms - for which the island is best known. The statues were meant to represent important ancestors and were thought to protect the community from evil. All of the moai pointed inland, towards the villages.

One of the moai at Tahai (and the only one on the island currently with eyes!)

Me with a moai head at Rano Raraku, the quarry where all the statues were carved.

The society reached its peak somewhere around 1500 or 1600. Unfortunately, some of the Rapa Nui's practices - such as chopping down trees to transport the moai, and slash-and-burn agricultural techniques - were unsustainable, and eventually led to food shortages and limited natural resources. Faced with starvation and no way to leave the island (all of the trees were gone), villages began to fight amongst themselves. And the best way to bring down a neighboring village was... to knock down their moai! By the mid-1700s, when Captain James Cook first reached Easter Island, all but one of the moai had been knocked down. (The ones that are currently standing have all been restored by various archaeologists from around the world. Good thing too, because the "destroyed moai" - the ones that are still knocked down - are pretty boring to look at.)

The largest restored set of moai, at Tongariki. The Japanese paid for the restoration of these statues. PS: check out the cruise ship!

...And some "destroyed moai". Not so interesting...

The statue-building cult slowly died out and was replaced by the Birdman cult, which is worth a quick mention. Each spring, the Rapa Nui people would gather at the ceremonial village of Orongo to determine who would be the leader for the next year. Men who were in the running for the role would compete in a race down the cliffs of the island and through one mile of shark-infested waters, to a small islet off the coast. They would wait there for the sooty tern (a type of bird) to lay their eggs. The first man to return to Orongo village with an unbroken egg would be the winner and the leader for the next year. Now that's meritocracy!

Petroglyphs in Orongo village

Okay, I know I'm droning on but I really loved learning all this stuff. One last thing - in the 1800s, ships from Peru came to the island and took about 1,000 people - a quarter of the population - as slaves. Several years later, the Peruvians succumbed to global pressure to return the people, but only 15 survived the ship ride back. Those 15 brought smallpox with them, and nearly wiped out the Rapa Nui population (which fell to about 120 people in the late 1800s). The oral tradition and knowledge about the island largely died with these people, which is why there is still so much mystery surrounding Easter Island.

Today, the island's population is slightly less than 5,000 (with about as many horses and stray dogs). The people seem to identify themselves more as Polynesians than Chileans, although that is slowly changing over time, particularly as more and more Chileans move there.

Now, for the lowdown on our impressions of the island. Overall, we had a good time there, but the isolation got to us a little bit. We kept thinking that we were in the Twilight Zone or on the island in "Lost", and we both had completely irrational thoughts about never being able to leave! That wouldn't have been entirely bad, as the island's natural beauty is just as breathtaking as the moai statues scattered throughout the terrain. Some definite highlights were the amazing volcanic crater near Orongo village:


...the beautiful beach at Anakena, where the royals lived in ancient times:


...and the dramatic coastline of the island:


Our hotel was also very nice, if a little too "rustic" for our tastes (read: no hot water, ants everywhere, and very low ceilings). Luckily, our room had a little kitchenette, so Jake was able to cook some of our meals.


The low point of the trip was our last day, when it rained for most of the day. We had booked in for a full day tour of the island, but returned to our hotel drenched and defeated by mid-afternoon. Luckily, we were able to drown our sorrows in some of the island's finest Cristal, available at $1500 a pop!

$1500 Chilean pesos, that is. Or, around US$3.

Posted by nhilde 19:27 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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