Monday, July 29, 2019

Saigon, July 2019

 We took full advantage of the Lao Women’s Union public holiday to have a long weekend down in Saigon.  We arrived into Ho Chi Minh early evening, and the immigration halls were full to over-flowing. It is times like this that our APEC cards allow us to bypass the crowds and go down the special channels – and we feel very, very grateful.  As we had only carry-on, we were soon standing outside waiting for the airport bus to leave.  $1 and 25 minutes later we hopped off the bus and walked the 200 meters to our hotel.  We stayed in the same place as our last time (Little Saigon Boutique) as the rate and the location couldn’t be bettered. 

Day One was wandering around the District 1 area, taking in few familiar places and shops and checking out some new additions.  We visited the Fine Art Museum for the 1st time.  The locals seem to go there to use it as an Instagram background, but there was an interesting mix of art.  The impacts of the American War were prominent themes in much of the post 1975 works. 

We headed off to Secret Garden restaurant for a very nice Vietnamese lunch.  And then around the corner to Maison Marou, a superb chocolate shop.  Andrew previously rated their Brownie as one of the best he has ever had.  A re-sampling this year supported that statement, and he maintains it is his favourite in the world.  We did pick up a couple of pieces the following day to bring back to Vientiane. 

In the evening we went to the AO Show at 6 pm in the Saigon Opera House.  It allowed us to see inside the opera house and also to enjoy a very good show.  Sometimes it is described as the Bamboo Cirque du Soleil.  It was a one hour of acrobatics and energy telling the story of Vietnam through to modern day.  Their use of bamboo and props was stunning. 

After the show we headed off to the nearby Secret Garden restaurant – it isn’t a chain, but has 3 restaurants in the inner city and we frequented 2 of those locations multiple times in our short trip.  The spring rolls would also be on Andrew’s best in the world list.  The downside of this location was the tables are at knee height and we had to curl ourselves up to eat. 

The next morning we go on the local bus and made our way over to Chinatown.  We had booked to go on a mystery tour which was expected to take the morning to do - The Strange case of Dr Lam.  The lady who met us was super impressed we used the buses.  I did end up in the opposite seat to the lady in the picture below, with my chin resting on my knees due to the wheel dome, while Andrew sat quite comfortably with a nice flat area for his feet.  We did like the hanging hand holds, which were a cup of noodle advertisement

The concept for the morning was that Dr Lam had been murdered and we had been called in to solve the murder.  We were given the scenario and a set of clues and sent off to solve the murder – a sort of hybrid structured walking tour and role playing game.  We finished just before 13:00.  Up until the last hour we had enjoyed the process, getting the clues, moving from place to place, meeting “contacts”, but in the last hour we felt the concept lost it’s way a little.  We got stuck on a clue at a Chinese temple and weren’t sure where to go next.  Anyways, we solved the mystery, and eventually found the final steps.  Andrew was highly impressed with my ability to break codes and still has no idea how I could do it.  

We did move to the nearby Rex Hotel for our last night as we couldn’t get a 3rd night in the room we wanted at the Saigon Boutique Hotel.  The Rex is a bit of an institution in Saigon and it was interesting seeing the high society weddings being hosted there on the Saturday night.  We headed back to the Secret Garden for a final meal

And a lovely photo of Andrew in art-viewing mode, with his fan and shopping bag

Monday, July 8, 2019

Hong Kong, the June Birthday Version

Andrew was offered the option of a set of new hankies for his birthday or a trip to Hong Kong.  Not surprisingly he chose the latter option. 

We arrived into Hong Kong about 8pm and headed off to our accommodation in Wan Chai:  Apartment 218 which was good value and an easy base for getting around. 

On THE birthday we went out for breakfast at a recommended coffee shop, the Cupping Room.  Pleasingly they also did a nice Eggs Benedict.  

The excellent coffees and food on board we headed to the Central Piers to catch a ferry to Cheung Chau island. 

We timed it well and were soon off on the slow boat into Hong Kong waterways.  Andrew had a great time watching the hydro foils, large container ships and other boats for the hour long journey.

We arrived about 11:00am so decided to do a short walk before heading to a beach bar for a beer an lunch.  The island has no cars so there are plenty of bikes, which we could have hired.  There were a few women riding covered from tip to toe like the picture below - note she also has stabilizer wheels, another common sight

It was very hot and humid and as we got to the beach bar it began to rain.  So we parked up under an umbrella and had a couple of cold drinks to re-hydrate.  We were still not hungry after the heavy breakfast, so decided to skip lunch and made our way back to the harbour for a return ferry.

In the IFC mall we went into Apple and got new batteries in the phones.  It was the 1st time we had used the Genius Bar services at Apple and it was such a slick operation.  The staff were easy to deal with and less 2 hours later the phones were returned to us.  We had spent the time doing a little shopping and having a couple of Tim Ho Wan Crispy Pork Buns to tide us over until dinner – didn’t want to spoil our appetites before the birthday meal.

We turned up at Ship 22 Ships shortly after 6pm to get a seat, as there were no reservations.  The dishes we selected were all very good and we enjoyed watching the tiny kitchen operation hum.  

Saturday was a bus-ride to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.  It was good sitting on the top of the double-decker going through areas we had not seen before.  At the Heritage Museum was the “A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum” exhibition.  As expected it was very good and we enjoyed the eclectic selection of items.  The museum is also home to an extensive homage to the HK actor Bruce Lee.  A good part of the 3rd floor was given up to exhibits on his life and movies in both Hollywood and Asia.

Exhibits covered 3000 years of human existence, and included a metal clubs made by the botanist Joseph Banks in London as gifts for Maori, but her never had the opportunity to bring them back to NZ

In the evening we got on another bus and headed for Central.  We are lucky Andrew has a Seniors Hong Kong travel card, so our transport costs are significantly reduced.  We specifically targeted a Moroccan restaurant, because it is one type of cuisine we don’t get in Laos.  We met Sarah at Le Souk, and had a lovely meal and evening. 

On Sunday we had some fantastic pastries at Gerard Dubois’ Passion bakery, followed up by some top notch coffees elsewhere. 

We took the free hotel shuttle-bus back to the Airport Express terminal.  It was interesting driving around the streets, that one week before, had been teeming with protesters.  There was an obvious police presence this trip, but no problems for us.  One week later the protesters, objecting to the proposed extradition to China law, returned to those same streets and stormed the Legislative Buildings.