07 February 2020, 09.19 PM
Food, Our Travels, Post by Heather
Meanwhile, in Asia.
Eric and I have left Australia for now, and are making our way through several countries in Asia. On the list: Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan. So far, we’ve made it through Singapore, and half our time in Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, and Sa Pa.
Our first stop landed us in Singapore (Jan 15th), where we stayed in the “Little India” neighborhood. We eased our way into our Asian experience by staying in this unique neighborhood, but in a western hotel chain. They say that Little India in Singapore is as close to being in India as you can get without actually going there. Can’t compare since we haven’t been there yet, but I could get a good feeling for it. So many delicious smelling restaurants, food markets, jewelery stores and trinket vendors block after block, and the Mustafa Centre – a multilevel/multi-block variety store, likened to Walmart, where you can get anything your heart desires. A couple of interesting aspects of our hotel stay – 1) since we were in Little India, there were traditional Indian food dishes on the breakfast buffet, soooo good! And 2) the hotel was situated next door to a Hindu temple. Each morning they would play horns and other instruments and chant prayers as the sun rose. A unique and interesting alarm clock for sure!
We didn’t know much about Singapore before coming here, other than what we’ve seen in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”. Singapore is a small island country, south of Malaysia. They are known for having very strict laws, and because of those laws, it’s also known for being very safe and clean. We learned from our chatty taxi driver on the ride in, that Singapore is so safe, that you can wander around anywhere at any time of night, by yourself, and not have any worries.
First impression – Singapore is beautiful, starting even with the airport! It’s a small and wealthy country, and you can definitely tell they take pride in keeping their public spaces functional and fantastic. Everywhere we went, I was in awe of the beauty of the parks, the skyscrapers, the nighttime light displays and street art, and the availability and punctuality of public transport. The only real “negative” to being in Singapore was the humidity – we basically went from the desert, to one of the most humid places we’ve ever been! Kind of like jumping in a pool, then wandering around town for eight hours without drying off first. We did luck out though, it is technically the rainy season in Singapore – we were only caught in a downpour a few times and were always somewhere we could duck in and take shelter until it stopped (they never lasted long).
“Tree” light display at Gardens by the Bay, Merlion Fountain in the Marina
Atlas, art deco hotel & gin bar (NOT the hotel we stayed in unfortunately)
At the Botanic Gardens
After Singapore, we headed to Vietnam, first stop Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We only spent a few days here, but it was packed full of activity. Never thought to check any holiday schedules, and we arrived in HCMC at the start of the lunar new year celebrations. We had reserved an apartment downtown in District 1, and our taxi driver expertly weaved his way in and out of what seemed to be MILLIONS of people on scooters, all coming downtown to get the party started. It wasn’t a crazy party atmosphere, more of a family affair – we saw so many scooters with whole families on them! Oh, how the scooter drivers had the nerve to drive in that traffic with three passengers, I’ll never know, but we found that this was more of an everyday norm, not just something we saw on the eve of the lunar new year.
Since we had limited time in HCMC, we picked a few major things to see (the War Remnants Museum, the fine arts museum, the Notre Dame cathedral, the historic post office, the Ben Than market, etc), and really just did a lot of wandering through “neighborhoods” and festival areas nearby to see what we could see. HCMC is a big city, a lot like many other cities we’ve been in. Not as clean as Singapore, and we didn’t even try to figure out the public transport since there was so much to see within walking distance of where we were staying. Sight seeing can be tiring, and I’m not saying “poor me”, but we’ve decided we just can’t see everything with the time-frames we’ve given ourselves, and killing ourselves getting everywhere just isn’t that much fun. We pick one or two things that are a must see in a day and then anything we find on top of that is an awesome surprise. One thing we did run into while in HCMC was that a lot of things were closed because of the new year holiday. Luckily, restaurants and mini-marts were still open so we didn’t starve.
Year of the Rat, and a Lotus flower fountain
From HCMC we flew to Hanoi, the second largest city in Vietnam. Here we stayed in an apartment in the heart of the Old Quarter. What a difference between the two cities! Hanoi was still very busy, but had a much more laid back feel, once you got the hang of the flow. One thing we noticed when we came to Hanoi is that the traffic does not stop – traffic lights seem like they are taken as more of a suggestion, and are mostly ignored. Crossing roads is very interesting, you have to be very careful, but it’s kind of like stepping into a stream, just as water will run around you, the scooters and cars do the same. Some people might think of it like frogger, you don’t step out in front of someone, and if there are many scooters coming, you just time it to walk between, they see you and if you move forward, they move behind you. It’s mass chaos and zen-like order all at the same time.
While in Hanoi, we took the same approach as HCMC – see what we could, do a lot of wandering, eating, and people watching, plus we did do one day-tour out to the beautiful Ha Long Bay.
I mentioned the eating – the Old Quarter is packed with cafes, restaurants, and street food sellers. It’s so unique because everyone eats outside on the sidewalks on these tiny little tables that would remind you of being at the kids table at Thanksgiving dinner (maybe even smaller). Eating was such a social and lively event there, it was fun to just wander around and peek at what everyone was eating, and then pick the place that had the most people. We ended up eating a lot of Pho (rice noodle soups basically, with beef or chicken, veggies, seasonings, etc) because it was quite cool out, 30-50 degrees cooler than what we’ve been used to since we left the states. We did discover egg coffee here too – how have I been without this my entire life?!?! It is something I want to learn to make when I come home – it’s a sweetened, whipped egg yoke (kind of like a meringue?) on top of espresso, oh yum!
Side streets in Hanoi with colorful cafes and lanterns
After Hanoi, we took a bus up to Sa Pa. Sa Pa is a mountain town towards the northern border of Vietnam. Our goal was to do a day hike while here, but what we did not plan for here was a lot of heavy fog/cloud cover over the entire area, plus rain off and on every day (it‘s supposed to be the dry season in Vietnam!). So, we stayed and enjoyed the beauty of the mountain town, and got our “hiking” in just wandering the endless, hidden narrow streets. The fog was funny though, we’d get a few minutes flash of the sun occasionally, then another cloud would roll in and you wouldn’t be able to see ten feet in front of you. It made exploring the town fun and interesting because when the sun would poke through, it was a delightful surprise to be able to see what we couldn’t a minute ago. In hindsight, had we done more research on the weather outside of temp highs/lows, we might have skipped coming here, but it provided a good place to sit back and relax, enjoy some clean mountain air, Eric could get some work in, I could write my blog, download photos, and do some research/make bookings for the other legs of our trip after Vietnam.
Moments of Sunshine!
Cable Car up to Mount Fansipan
That’s where I’ll leave you for now. When we meet again, Eric and I will have checked out Tam Coc, Hue, Hoi An, and then Da Nang – a few days in each place to round out our trip in Vietnam.
In case you are wondering, we have been keeping up on the news online and are staying on top of the Coronavirus situation. As of right now, we are just making sure to keep our hands washed, not touching our faces, not touching things we don’t need to, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks indoors in crowded places, etc. In the areas we are in and are traveling to, it sounds like most cases of the virus (within each country) are popping up in people that have really close contact with the person they contracted it from – meaning family members within the same household. So, we are being careful. Everyone is on a heightened alert, and we are definitely seeing a lot of mask wearing by others as well, a lot more now than we were at the beginning of our time in Asia.
Until next time!