Tuesday, October 23, 2018

So Seoul too

The next day it was off to the Gyeongbokgnung Palace.  I had not see this one last time I was in Seoul and was interested to see how it differed from Changdeokgung, which we were planning to visit tomorrow.  Heavily restored but interesting to wander about and watch the people dressed in National Costume.  There is a huge business in renting out national dress to tourists (and I presume a few locals) 




If you wear this costume you get free entrance to a number of historic sites.  You also get free entrance if you are over 64 and show them your NZ drivers licence!  Andrew is cheap to run on sightseeing, not so cheap with his fine food and wine needs!



The palace buildings were interesting and there was a touch of autumn colour starting to make its presence known. There were 2 museums in the place grounds that were well worth spending time in.  The best being the Museum of Folk Culture which was well laid out and had an interesting set of exhibits, including a very good temporary exhibits on International Salt research.  But we both took a photo of an acupressure doll exhibit, slightly random synchronicity
acupressure
We went to a very popular restaurant nearby for a local specialty – Ginseng Chicken at Tosokchon Samgyetang.  A whole chicken (small chicken) is stuffed with glutinous rice, red dates, garlic, a chestnut and ginseng, in a milky coloured ginseng broth.  It is supposed to be very good for your health, probably much better than fried chicken anyway.  The flesh did just fall off the bone and we shared the experience with 400 of our closest friends in a very busy, slick operation.  There was a queue of 40 people behind us as we went in and just many still waiting when we came out.




After lunch we walked to the Seoul History Museum.  It wasn't very busy and free entry so when we spotted a lift we headed to the third floor following our normal routine of doing the floors and walking down the stairs.  On the 3rd floor we almost felt like we shouldn't be there as there were lights being replaced and lots of maintenance work happening.  But no one stopped us so we kept wandering.  When we got to the stairway we found it blocked off – it we had walked up the stairs we wouldn't have got to the 3rd floor – never mind we saw some interesting stuff.  The area on recent Korean history and in particular the redevelopment of Seoul post 1950 was particularly good.  It was noticeable that the negative aspects of redevelopment (sanitation, food shortages etc)were only presented in Korean not translated to English.

In the evening we headed to the Design Dongdaemun Plaza to look at the Zaha Hadid building which is particularly lovely illuminated at night
hadid
Our final day was staying in our neighbourhood and going to the nearby Changdeokgung, particulalry for the Garden which can only be access by going on a tour.  To make sure we got on the 10:30am tour we arrived before 9:00am to get one of 50 tickets available.  Andrew’s senior discount was extended to me, so our entry tickets were a bargain!  We walked around the nearby traditional area.  One nice characteristic was the photos displayed in front of the stores of the people who the stores belonged to, creating a feeling of reality, in a highly touristed area.
pers

We struck it lucky with the tour, because they said we could self-guide if we didn't want to trail the guide.  Andrew and I headed off and it was delightful not to be walking with a big group.  The autumnal colours were even more evident here.
garden
gardens
Then off for a final dumpling experience before on the train and back to the airport. 

And to finish a couple from the Andrew-Files. Left – is this woman mimicking Andrew? Right this Andrew glaring at dithering women at Breakfast.  Note the agitated hands and frustration simply pouring off him Smile
andrew

Friday, October 12, 2018

So Seoul October 2018

Surprisingly there are direct flights from Vientiane to Seoul.  In fact there are three Korean airlines offering daily flights.  They do leave VTE at 10pm or close to midnight and arrive into Seoul between 5am and 7am [5 hours flying time] but that suited us to head up after work on Friday and be back early evening Tuesday.

In Vientiane we walked downtown for an early dinner, before using Loca, the local equivalent of Uber for the 1st time to get us out to the airport.  I managed to drop my APEC card somewhere before immigration, and only realised after I had been stamped out of the country.  But the officers let me wander back through the immigration hall and security screening where I found it lying in the middle of the walkway.  APEC card retrieved I went through screening and the guards smiled and waved me through to the waiting room.

At Incheon airport we picked up our wifi device, and checked our metro journey to the city.  Early morning on the train we had no problems getting a seat.  We checked into the hotel and proceeded to breakfast and then have a lie down for an hour or so.


“Refreshed” it was off into the lovely autumn temperatures of early 20s.

We wandered around Insadong, before spotting one of the recommended Manda dumpling chains.  We counted ourselves lucky to get a seat and by the time we left there was a line waiting for a place.  Dumplings and more dumplings, Buchon Handmade Dumplings were definitely handmade and definitely delicious.  So good we returned there for our final lunch.
Dumplings
Next door was the Ssamzigli Mall, an excellent collection of small boutique artisan shops.  At the top were some sculptures that delighted Andrew and a Poop cafe.  In Korea poop is considered lucky and this cafe has poop shaped cushions, cups of coffee in ceramic toilet cups and lots & lots of notes from previous customers written on poop shaped paper.  The coffee was suprisingly good.
Ssamsigli_poop2
Dinner was a Korean classic cuisine, Chicken and Beer.  Chimaek ("chi" for chicken and "maek" for maekju, Korean for beer) has become part of the food culture of the country – and for us it was an easy meal.  Andrew thought the bowls on each table for the discarded bones were a great idea, but this is unlikely to be implemented in our own daily lives.  

And I think they might have been a little distraught by both of us picking up our chicken pieces with our fingers, as well as with our forks and chopsticks.  We were the only people in the restaurant given a plastic glove to wear!  But we demolished a large plate of crispy tasty chicken.
chimaek
Day 2 was much easier going after a good nights sleep.  We headed off to the very good National Museum of Korea. The top floor was very quiet we had it to ourselves. It was busier on the ground floor with children being given lessons about various subjects. A stunning place and recommended.  One of the fascinating exhibits was devoted to the Sinan Shipwreck of 1323, but only rediscovered in 1975 when local fishermen started catching pottery in their nets.  24,000 pieces of pottery, sandalwood, coins left China, probably destined for Japan, but ended up on the Korean sea-bed and later in the museum. 
 National museum
Andrew was particularly fascinated by the baby bath (bottom left of this picture) and the bell (right) which was made in 1010.
National museum2
Back into Itaewon, which has a strong foreigner history driven by the American Military base located there.  We walked alongside it on our way to a craft brewery for a beer and some Eggs Benedict for lunch.  After lunch we walked through the Namsan gardens and back to our hotel back in Insadong

After a rest on the bed we headed off to a traditional Korean BBQ.  The ladies looked after us turning our meat, telling us what to eat and being generally lovely. 
bbqbbq2


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saigon, very nice to return

We headed down to Saigon for the weekend, go down Saturday, come back Monday.  A short break, but we managed to pack quite a bit in without running ourselves ragged.

We took the airport bus into the city centre.  At 20,000 VND each (under USD1) we were on an uncrowded air-conditioned bus, a shutter bus according to the signage. 
vn_bus

It dropped us off around the corner from our hotel Little Saigon Boutique.  It was an excellent location for us.

We headed off to drinks on the rooftop of Anan restaurant.  We enjoyed happy hour watching the street activity.  There was no obvious sunset as the rain clouds grew thicker and darker.  And inevitably the heavens opened and we retreated downstairs for an early dinner. 
vn_drinks
We had a 7 course tasting menu, modern Vietnamese fusion style food.  The meal was fantastic with 5 savoury courses and 2 sweet.Every dish was full of flavour and portions generous.  We didn’t finish our bottle of wine, so they put the cork back in and Andrew carried it back to the hotel
vn_anan
The next morning we wandered around the area, meandering our way to the War Remnants museum for a return visit.  It was interesting skimming the extensive displays, but equally interesting was watching the other tourists reaction to some quite confronting images and information about the consequences of modern warfare.

It was hot and humid so we stopped for a cold drink at a bright little coffee shop – Thuc Coffee.  Refreshed and having been to the toilet we stepped back outside only for it to start raining.  By the time we found a spot to shelter it was full monsoon, and we waited for a good 10 minutes under the eaves under our umbrellas.
vn_day

For lunch we went to L’Usine, a concept store with a highly rated café.  It was a slick machine with good service and very good food.
vn_day2
After a bit of a quiet afternoon we left the hotel at 5:20pm to meet our motorcycle drivers for the evening.  We were off on the XO Foodie motorcycle tour.  All the drivers were females (wearing traditional costume) and they proceeded to race us around the suburbs at speed from venue  to venue. 


It started with very good Bun Bo Hué (noodle soup with a aromatic lemongrass) Here all the participants were brought in from our respective hotels.  We introduced ourselves to the people sitting opposite us, who turned out to be New Zealanders also: being an ex-All Black and an ex-60 minutes presenter.
vn_xo
Andrew took a little bit to warm up to being on the back of a bike and putting his trust in a tiny Vietnamese girl.  At the beginning he looked petrified, but by the end much more relaxed, but that may have been because he had consumed a few beers over the 3.5 hours. 

And while Andrew likes to think he could drive a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, the picture below is posed.  We did not drive!
vn_xo3

We visited a Vietnamese BBQ where we ate beef and goat,   a seafood specialty restaurant where we ate scallops and crab. And Andrew was ‘that’ person, the only one who was brave enough to eat the local delicacy of Balut (Baby Bird embryo).

vn_xo2

The next morning we checked out a couple of shops and then headed for the highly recommended chocolate café Marou.  Here with our coffee we had a brownie each.  Andrew describes it as the best brownie he has ever had. Ever.  It was fantastic.  

We purchased a block of chocolate, locally grown cocoa and locally sourced ingredients.  Dark Cocoa and ginger: It was good stuff, but the memory of that brownie will take a lot of beating. 

vn_marou
A bit more walking and then we found our lunch spot.   We were dining and imbibing at the Pasteur Street Brewing Company https://pasteurstreet.com/ where we had some nice beers and lunch.  Andrew spotted the brewery before me and proceeded to do a bit of posing.
vn_brew
Then it was down the stairs, back to Andrew’s bus stop to pick up the bus for the return to the airport.  2 flights under an hour each, with 30 minutes stopover on the runway at Phnom Penh and we were back in Vientiane. 



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Winter trip to NZ


We went to NZ to see family, friends, ski and look at the Bannockburn section. Paula only had 9 days before returning to work and Andrew managed 15 days.

Flying into Queenstown from Sydney we had 30 minutes circling (holding pattern) the Mount Aspiring National Park, perfect reflections from the lakes on a clear blue-sky day before landing at Queenstown.
nz_qtown
It is always a question as to whether one has the right winter clothes when departing from Asia and heading to the NZ winter. We did OK.

In the South Island we did enjoy our family visits and hospitality. Mackersy’s in Arrowtown, Rae’s in Invercargill, and Jackson’s in Dunedin. Peter and I did go and visit our parents bridesmaid Marjory who told us we had made her day. The driving on the quiet roads in Central Otago, Southland – Catlins and seeing the rural flax bushes, small towns and coast was a treat.

We had 4 nights with the Shepherds based at Pisa Mooring 10 minutes out from Cromwell. This enabled evening meals with Phillipa, Yannick and the boys, some skiing at Cardrona, sightseeing at the Snow Farm, revisit to the Cardrona Hotel (Andrew and Peter first visited it 50 years ago) and around Hawea Flat and Tarras. Paula passed on the skiing and visited some family and friends in Cromwell and Alexandra.
NZ_ski
nz_shep
We went to the Bannockburn section and pegged out the concept plan. We concluded that swapping the front left and right part of the plan would be better to enable better use of the section. Given the building work going on nearby we determined that a fence would be sensible to deter the section being used as a parking lot. With “Farmer Pete” being about to direct operations (purchasing waratahs, rope and a big hammer) and executing the fencing a job was well done.
nz_bannockburn
We flew to Wellington collected the old Camry from Chloe and headed up to coast for a chat with the Macaskill’s. Impressed with the home brew tasting. We had a fun evening with Harkness team at Waikanae and enjoyed the sea view to Kapiti and the memorable flowering native, which looked very much like a very big stalk of aspargus.
NZ_waikanae
Saturday am it was back to Wellington, no change at Rankin St (being nosey), visit to the Wales and a catchup with Chloe, Aidan, Georgia and Bella. They were a busy and happy team. A night at the airport hotel as Paula hit the airport track at 4.30am for Laos and I did the 8 am flight to Christchurch.

Great to see Chazzy, Simon, Izzie and Livy at the airport and then we went to the Botanical Garden for coffee and a walk. A lovely sunny winter day and we walked into the centre of town to see what progress had been made with the re build. There are still many bare pieces of land and it doesn’t have the critical mass to make the centre hum as it use to do.

The Witheford’s garden is spacious and sunny so plenty of room to play and invite the neighbouring kids. Monday morning was the walk to school with Simon and the girls as Chazz was teaching pilates. A visit to City Art gallery and some more city centre walking was interesting. An enjoyable trip to Christchurch.
nz_chc_wgtn
Back to Wellington on Tuesday to stay with the KS team. They do have a lovely warm sunny home and there is some good walking around the hills in Miramar and lovely views. Had a great lunch with the Burns at the old favourite “Olive Café” in Cuba St. Had coffee with Miranda and picked up some of the local gossip. I could tell her about brother Stewart in Vientiane.

Wellington is blessed with Moore Wilson’s and the bag was topped up with wine, food, chocolate and Paula’s specified items. It was a packing challenge, but all went well with the Friday 4.30am departure and safe travel back to Laos.


















Thursday, August 9, 2018

Luang Prabang, in rainy season

We were pleased to have an excuse to return to Luang Prabang, as we hadn't been back for about 5 years.  The excuse was a friend from New Zealand venturing up to the wilds of Laos.

This year July had heavy rains and the Mekong was high and dirty.  We were lucky with the weather, our 1st day rained from start to finish, but after that it wasn't an issue.  It did mean two boys walking around town dressed in over-sized plastic bags.



They took a boat ride on the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves.  Plenty of scenery on and off the water.  From hand-crafted boats through to Lao Lao (whiskey) and over happy locals








 The town itself still had the same charm, but there plenty of tourists.  We didn't get any classic sunsets, but a couple of nights dining on the river was great to see local life passing by.

The terrible two did a cooking course at the Tamarind cooking school, just outside town.  They had a good mix of people in the class, and enjoyed it hugely.
We visited a few good restaurants and two stood out.  The Blue Lagoon and Manda de Laos.  Both of these places had outstanding service.

We stayed near the night market, just off the street for the morning market.  Here the locals did their produce shop for the day.  Our guesthouse, Le Bougainvillier was lovely.  Spotlessly clean, quiet, and with a lovely breakfast each morning



Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Shanghai–with Andrew this time!

It was definitely a relief as the immigration officer briefly perused Andrew’s passport and documentation and stamped him into China.  No questions about being turned away previously – we were free to enjoy the best part 4 days in Shanghai.  It was 01:30am, and we zoomed into the city in an airport taxi. It was great to check-in and go to sleep.

July was much, much warmer than May but we planned around the weather and tried to be reasonable in each days itinerary.

1st stop was the Shanghai Museum, but when we saw the lines we decided to park that for another day.  Instead we went across the road to the Shanghai Urban planning museum.  Here we spent a good couple of hours exploring the exhibits, which were informative and impressive.  Particularly interesting was the information on the Lilong or lane housing and the huge model of the city.  The city was trying to modernise living conditions, but it is a difficult process of balancing heritage and urban demands.

Shanghai urban
On our 1st evening we joined a food walking tour with Shanghai Foodie.  There were only 5 of us, so a good small group.  Jim our tour guide was very good at telling us snippets about the areas we were in.  One of the most noticeable comments was about urban development and lack of documentation making many of shop owners open very long hours, effectively to get as much money saved before inevitable closures would happen. 

We started a beer in a bar in the Xintiandi area (drink here, don’t eat here said Jim) before heading to a tiny noodle shop.  Great noodles with a variety of toppings.  While it looks empty in the picture, when we went in we crowded around 1 table and there were no spare seats in the 4 table cafe.
noodles
From here we have an eating rest while we had tea.  With Coffee culture expanding at an exponential rate, traditional tea-shops were disappearing.  This was followed by Xiao Long Bao, specially cooked by the owner as XLB are usually a morning/early afternoon thing. From there we had some soy snacks, spring rolls, and were very well fed!
more food
We finished with more craft beer.  Locally made and Epic, from New Zealand.  One of the beers they put a shot of gin in.  The gin was … from NZ.  Shanghai foodie evening tour, is wonderfully low key and relaxed, and recommended for a taste of local foods (pun-intended)
epic

Having seen the museum lines mid-morning yesterday, we had a plan to be in the line for when the museum opened.  About 400 other people had the same idea and we stood in the morning heat for about 50 minutes.  There were fans cooling things down and we were under a sun-tent - unlike the people who arrived after us.  The old-lady vendors were doing well selling chilled water bottles.  Most of the locals were paying with their phones, scanning QR codes, not cash payments.  Inside the wait was worthwhile to see some of collections.  Particularly interesting, were the bronzes and ethnic displays.
museum

We visited the Bund on a couple of occasions.  In the evening, we were joined by 10,000 other people.  Incoming foot traffic had to be directed down one side of the street and others leaving on the other side. Andrew commented he had never seen such committed crowds.  The number of people standing at the metro station encouraged us to walk an extra half hour home, rather than try buy a ticket and join the masses.

bund2
We walked many kilometres in the french concession areas.  There is a a variety of things to see from small boutique shopping areas to residential and expat cafes.

french
We managed to fit in two particularly good restaurants.  One, Xibo, had distinctive Uygur cuisine from NW china, Xinjiang.  This meant slow cooked, delicious lamb.  Andrew is now willing to travel to that region for the food.  We also went to the perennially popular Lost Heaven on the Bund – we had to make 2 trips to get in, as it was fully booked the first night we tried. These were in addition to the pancakes and dumplings we ate at various times.  We ate well in Shanghai!
more food2
 Locals use bike delivery services constantly.  Everywhere you go they are rushing from job to job.  There are almost no petrol motorbikes in the central city areas we were in, they are all the deadly silent electric bike.  They pop up out of nowhere and pretty much think they own the footpaths and roads.  People still found foreigners a novelty and we were asked to join a few photos.

On our final morning we went to the Yu gardens, classical Chinese gardens.  They were delightful and being a Monday morning there were a few less tourists than crowd in at the weekend.
chinese gardens
gardens 2
The journey back to the airport was partly on the Maglev.  The 30km journey was only at 300km per hour. Some parts of the day it runs at 431 km/hr.  The train is magnetically levitated, so it doesn’t have surface drag slowing it down. 
maglev
Through to Kuala Lumpur before the 6:30am flight back into Vientiane