07 July 2015

Halong Bay

So after a fabulous few days in Hanoi we left bright and early on an approximately three hour minibus ride for our next stop, Halong Bay. The beauty of this journey being that we got to see a little of the Vietnamese countryside and some small towns on our way. I was told beforehand that Vietnam has the most amazing different shades of green throughout its countryside and I wasn't disappointed. The colours were stunning, so vivid and yes so many different shades, just beautiful.

As we left Hanoi behind us our journey took us past paddy field after paddy field many being lovingly tended by workers and all of them a beautiful, lush green. It was interesting to observe that many of them had a corner with graves in complete with, in some cases, simply huge grave stones. It is a tradition in the north of Vietnam for people to be buried in the piece of land where they lived so therefore not uncommon to see the graves in the paddy fields. I had already noticed in Hanoi too and, this continued on our journey to Halong Bay, that most of the buildings we passed were built in a tall, narrow way, often with large balconies at the front and on many occasion looked just a little precarious. This style also seemed quite common when we got to Ho Chi Minh as well, quite different from what I'm used to seeing. If you want to see what I mean check out this link for a photo of a very typical tall, narrow Vietnamese building.

On the way to Halong Bay

As we got closer to our destination the weather gradually began to change and whilst it wasn't cold the air became damper and on a few occasions just a little drizzly. The weather stayed like this for much of our two day stay and whilst it would have been fantastic to get a spectacular sunrise or sunset it was nice to get this cooler, fresher weather just for a while to give us a small break from Singapore's pretty consistent hot and humid weather. The journey there took us through several different provinces and past the Pha Lai power station, the largest coal fired power plant in Vietnam. Finally, though we arrived at Halong city and it was time to board our boat at the pier and begin our mini cruise.

Halong Bay which literally means 'where the dragon descends into the sea' is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of over 3000 islands in various sizes and shapes. Legend says that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a dragon that lived in the mountains. As the dragon ran towards the coast his tail gouged out valleys and crevasses and as he plunged into the sea the areas dug up by his tail became filled with water leaving just the very highest land visible.

Upon setting sail we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch of various local dishes whilst enjoying the views as we sailed further out into Halong Bay. There were about twenty of us on the boat so, whilst we could chat to our fellow passengers if we wanted we also had plenty of opportunity to enjoy our own space as well. In fact on many occasions we were practically the only ones up on board the outside deck. Though this may have been partly due to the drizzly weather which, as I said before, we thoroughly enjoyed!

Views sailing out into Halong Bay

After lunch first on our itinerary was a visit to the Cua Van floating fishing village. Cua Van is the largest of a number of floating villages in the area with about 130 floating houses and a population of around 600. Leaving our boat we got taken in a small bamboo boat by one of the village residents around the village for a closer view of their homes and way of life. The village is located beneath a number of tall mountainous islands which gives them some protection during typhoon season. This village is quite unique as it is the only one with a primary school and a clinic which are also floating in case you were wondering.

It was a quite fascinating place to visit and to see all the normality of life with washing hanging out to dry etc. but all done on the water rather than on dry land. It was incredibly peaceful too. At the end of our visit we got taken to the place where all their fishing catches come which also includes a small visitor centre telling you a little more about these unique communities and the work being done to ensure the environment is protected and the villagers can remain living here as they wish to.

From the village we returned to our boat to spend the evening on board, enjoying more food, some drinks (including two happy hours) and just simply enjoying a peaceful evening away from the connected world. Our boat did offer wifi but, as you'd expect, it was a bit sketchy so it really was all about just enjoying the moment. We also got to try our hand at some late night squid fishing off the side of our boat. Which included a beginners luck moment for me as I actually managed to catch one! After posing for photos the squid was promptly returned to the sea and proceeded to show his disgust by squirting ink out in the water.

As I mentioned we unfortunately didn't get any spectacular sunsets, but watching darkness fall over us and the other boats moored nearby in amongst the beautiful rocks of Halong Bay was simply stunning.

Evening arrives in Halong Bay

The next morning and after a very good night's sleep we were up bright and early, I'm talking well before 7am for coffee and delicious pastries. We then had the opportunity to take part in a Tai Chi class up on the outside deck. Of course we joined in, it was fun and kept nice and simple as I suspect none of us joining in were hugely proficient. The morning began as the day before with mists covering the tops of the rocks and just a light drizzle. It really was a spectacular backdrop to our class.

After that we were off on another visit to the nearby Titop island. Titop island was named after Gherman Titov, a Russian cosmonaut. If you look at my photo of the island below you can see a structure right at the very top. The main thing to do here is climb the many steps to the top and this viewing platform. Something we did and despite the relatively cool weather we still managed to get incredibly warm! The views from the top are quite beautiful, even with the misty conditions that day. It is well worth doing the climb and is relatively easy, thanks to the steps going all the way to the top. 

After coming back down again there was a chance to go swimming, we opted just to go paddling as the water was very cold. Though we did see a few brave or crazy (you decide) people going out into the water. After dipping our toes into the water we just enjoyed sitting on the beach despite it raining just a little more heavily by that point.

Approaching Titop island

View from the top of Titop Island

Heading back to our boat once more we enjoyed a delicious breakfast, something I think we were all ready for after our early morning of Tai Chi and climbing rocks. Then it was time to head back to Halong city and back to dry land once more.

Halong Bay truly was beautiful and definitely up there as one of the best places I've had the opportunity to visit since living in Singapore. We visited in February and whilst the weather may not have been amazing for us it was a delightful change. It also wasn't cold at all, in my opinion. It was fairly busy but I think visiting then it was quieter then it would be at peak season so for us it was definitely the best time to go. Certainly somewhere to return to one day if I have the chance.

30 June 2015

Homescapes Photography Exhibition

As Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence fast approaches lots of events celebrating Singapore are starting to happen all over the place. One such event is this photography exhibition which I popped along to to take a look at. Being right on my doorstep how could I not?

This exhibition is a part of the SG Heart Map, a whole series of events all over Singapore aiming to share and celebrate the many places that are special to Singapore residents and the many different reasons why. You can even upload your own story, special place and memory on their website.

The photography exhibition is a collection of local photographers and pupils from Raffles' Girls School photos exploring the concept of home and what it means to Singaporeans. As you may expect there are photos of HDB's, views of different parts of Singapore but also more personal photos of families in their home and people's personal trinkets. Also included, and in keeping with the SG Heart Map theme, are individuals memories of the different parts of Singapore that they lived in and what that place means to them.

You can just see in my photo above some white boards covering the safety railings of the HDB walkways. Some were white and some red and at the launch these made a rather cool massive heart design. I saw it the following morning on the way to work and it really looked fabulous in the morning sunshine. I made up my mind to get a photo when I returned home later but sadly by then they'd taken it down! A shame that it couldn't have been left for a little longer, however if you want to see it for yourself check out the SG Heart Map website or this YouTube clip.

This is a really delightful collection of photos and worth checking out if you are in the area.

 Just a couple of the photos on display

The Homescapes photography exhibition is on now at the void deck of Block 99, Old Airport Road just near Dakota MRT station. It is free to the public and is on from 10am - 8pm but hurry as it ends on the 5 July 2015.

For more information about this exhibition and other events check out the SG Heart Map website here.

26 June 2015

STEPS in the Park 2015

‘STEPS in the Park’ 2015 organized by the Singapore registered Charity EmancipAsia is back!

The aim of this event is to enable people to ‘take their first step’ toward understanding modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

'STEPS in the Park' is a 5km fun run/walk that the whole family can take part in.

The event details are as follows:

Date: 12 September 2015

Venue: OCBC Square, Singapore Sports Hub

Time: 7.30am to 12:30pm

Cost/pax: SGD 15

Other than the run, there will be live performances, merchandise sales, exhibitions, film screenings, interactive learning and fantastic lucky draw prizes to look forward to. We look forward to seeing YOU, your family and your friends there!

Visit http://stepsinthepark.com/ for more information and to register online NOW!

21 June 2015

Wandering Around Hanoi

After an interesting first day exploring Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum etc and in-between stuffing our faces full of good food we still had plenty of exploring of the city to do before moving on to our next stop, Halong Bay.

One of the first things we did was buy tickets for the water puppet show which several people had told us was a must see during our visit. Hanoi is also apparently the place to see one of these shows too. The theatre we chose was just a short walk from our hotel so we booked to do this in the evening after our explore of the mausoleum. There are several theatres giving these performances but we went to the Thang Long water puppet theatre. The place was packed out with both locals and tourists and although you buy tickets, either in advance or on the door, there are no allocated seats so get there prompt to ensure a good view! 

The water puppet shows are a tradition that dates from the 11th Century. As the name suggests there is water involved, the show being performed in a waist deep pool. The puppeteers are hidden behind a screen and control the puppets via long rods, giving the allusion that the puppets are moving on the top of the water. This type of puppetry came about when villagers would entertain each other when the rice fields flooded. The water acts as a stage for the puppets as well as a symbolic link to the rice harvest. The puppetry is accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra and the singers perform songs which tell the story being acted out by the puppets.                      

We were given a programme for the evening and got to enjoy fourteen performances that had been selected from a repertoire of 400! A lot of the stories come from Vietnamese folklore and centre on day to day life with stories of the harvest and fishing amongst many more.  The performances follow straight on from each other and apart from a couple that got a little confusing I was able to identify each performance from the visual performances despite not understanding any of the words being sung or spoken. It was fun and quite a different way to spend our evening.

Displays of just a few of the puppets in the entrance to the water puppet theatre

The orchestra that accompanies the puppeteers

Our couple of days in Hanoi gave us the chance to explore a few of the city's other famous landmarks. One place we decided to take a look at was Hanoi's Botanic Gardens, whilst not quite in the same league as Singapore's or Kew Gardens it was nonetheless pleasant enough to kill a little time in. It is quite a drive from the centre (we got a cab) and I'm not sure you would want to spend hours there but it did also give us the opportunity to then walk back via the Tran Quoc pagoda on the West Lake. For me though the main thing really spoiling the gardens were the cages with monkeys and peacocks in. It would have been far nicer to see the peacocks and monkeys roaming freely in the park. 

Inside Hanoi's Botanic Gardens

As I said from the, slightly underwhelming, Botanic Gardens we made our way back to the centre walking past the huge West Lake. Take a look at my photo below, it is a simply massive lake! We stopped in a place for coffee, a breather, a bit of wifi and watched the world go by for a while before carrying on to the Tran Quoc pagoda. 

The West Lake, stretching as far as the eye can see

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc pagoda is the oldest pagoda in the city. It was originally constructed in the 6th Century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De who reigned from 544 to 548. The pagoda was originally constructed on the shores of the Red River but was moved to the West Lake in 1615. When we visited there were a lot of people making offerings, burning incense and saying prayers. It was lovely to observe just a little of that too as we took in the beauty of this ancient pagoda.

Thap Rua Tower (Tortoise Tower)

Back nearer the city centre and we found ourselves near the Hoan Kiem Lake on several occasions throughout our couple of days in the city. As we walked around it you can see a small tower on an island in the lake. This is the Thap Rua Tower or Tortoise Tower. It looked like a beautiful tower on an isolated little island which I admit I would have loved to have been able to go across to and visit. 

I've since learnt that it was built in 1886 on a site where a temple had once stood and at some point previously had been destroyed. This tower was built to commemorate a warrior called Le Loi born in 1384 and the impact he had on Vietnam.The story goes that whilst he was growing up he witnessed many atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people by the Ming Chinese who occupied Vietnam at that time and that he vowed to free his people. Eventually in 1426 a battle took place at Tot Dong to decide the outcome of this rebellion. This battle resulted in the Vietnamese being successful in capturing and executing the Chinese General and luring the Chinese forces into Hanoi where a trap had been laid. Instrumental in all of this was Le Loi and the use of his mystical sword which it is said he received from the Dragon King in his underwater palace. The sword was said to have given Le Loi great power and strength and also increased his physical stature when he used it. The lake that the tower stands on is called Hoan Kiem Lake which means Lake of the Returned Sword. It is called this because this is the lake where the Dragon King reclaimed his sword after Le Loi's victory. Legend says that Le Loi was in a boat on the river when a turtle came out of the water and took back the sword and despite Le Loi's best efforts the sword was never found. Le Loi determined that the turtle must have been sent on the Dragon King's behalf to retrieve the sword and he renamed the lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. The tower therefore stands in honour of what Le Loi did for the Vietnamese people and has stood since as a symbol of patriotic pride for the people of Hanoi.

St Joseph's cathedral

Our time in Hanoi would not have been complete without a visit to the very European looking St Joseph's cathedral, built in the late 19th century it is quite spectacular up close and dominates the small streets in its vicinity. The architectural design is said to resemble the Notre Dame in Paris, hardly surprising I guess. It was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it was opened in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. We were able to go inside during our visit with the interior being a peaceful retreat from the bustle of Hanoi's busy streets.

Whilst we did not go inside we also stopped by the Hanoi Opera House, enjoying a Vietnamese coffee in a nearby cafe. Another legacy from the French colonial government built between 1901 and 1911. It certainly is a beautiful building! Today it seems to be in the centre of the hustle of busy traffic going to and fro but definitely stands out as a real landmark of the city.

Hanoi Opera House

All to soon our time in Hanoi was over and it was time to head off for the next stop on our Vietnam adventure. Hanoi was busy and certainly a lot crazier than the likes of Singapore but it is somewhere I would happily return to if the opportunity ever arose.

09 June 2015

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends is somewhere we'd wanted to go for quite a while. We'd tried before but had not been able to get a table but eventually we got lucky. My husband has written a blog post about our visit. If you like what you read follow him on Twitter, @asksirstamford 

With the fairly recent publication of the fifty best restaurants in Asia for 2015, on reviewing the list we realised that we have been to very few of them, although we do eat out a fair bit. What have we been doing with our time and money, going to the same boring places all the time, probably. Anyway, one of the restaurants on the list was Burnt Ends on the edge of Chinatown, a modern Aussie BBQ place that we have tried and failed to go to in the past (after it was recommended by a former colleague). The restaurant operates a no reservations policy, save for the chef’s table and the first half hour of each service and as it is a small place it fills up really quickly. On the first attempt at going here we were quoted a wait time of approximately three hours, sod that, so went elsewhere. However I decided to try again and planned to use the strategy of early dining to see if we could get in. It worked, arriving as the place opened we were shown to the table (we shared with another couple, no worries there) and were told that they needed the table for a booking in 90 minutes. Done, we were in!

The food and drinks menus arrived with the extremely helpful waiter, who proceeded to explain the menu and ordering process. The menu was divided into four main sections covering appetisers, small plates, main courses and, of course, desserts with diners selecting two or three dishes from the first couple of sections and either separate or sharing platters from the mains. We decided to share across the courses, choosing two each from the appetizers and small plates and one from the mains (these are large and designed for two, three or four bodies).

Drinks were also chosen, there being a good selection of beers from around the world and split of wines by the glass or bottle. I choose a beer with a funny obscene name (which I can't repeat here) with the blog owner having a white wine (Sauv Blanc variety).

So what did we eat.

From the appetizers we chose to have the quail eggs and caviar (decadence or what) and the beef marmalade on sourdough. Two eggs arrived on a small spoon with a lump of fish roe decorating daintily on the top, when bitten into the warm soft gooey yolks oozed across the inside of your mouth deliciously. The beef marmalade on sourdough was a meaty tasting soldier of bread, infused with onion and was also superb.

Smoked quail egg and caviar
Beef marmalade and pickles

Next to the small plates, where we ordered a dish entitled the Burnt Ends' Sanger (Australian for sandwich) which was a burger bun stuffed with wonderful smoky pulled pork that delivered a bit of a chili punch on the finish. My accompanying German lager was a perfect partner in crime. The second dish was leeks sauteed in oil and hazelnuts, which were fresh, crunchy and very tasty.

Burnt Ends' Sanger
Leek, hazelnut and brown butter

On to the main event, we decided to share the suckling pig, which for two comes as about a quarter of the little piggy wig. I can assure you that the little chap did not die in vain, he or she tasted wonderful, with juicy succulent meat (oozing with smoky flavour from the barbie) and crispy crackling skin. The dish was served with fresh gem lettuce heads, who’s leaves could be used to make mini-wraps (sort of like in a top-class Chinese restaurant).

Suckling pig and cider

Dessert was also shared, with the blog owner selecting the mint and chocolate dish, which was essentially mint ice cream with rich boulders of chocolate biscuit that reminded both of us of the sophisticated Eighties ice cream dessert Viennetta. Again, an excellent choice was made.

Mint and chocolate

All in all, Burnt Ends was great and well worth the wait to get a table. Must go back and so should you!

01 June 2015

The Entertainer Launches its 'Hot Summer Nights' for 2015!

I fully admit I was a bit late embracing the Entertainer (more fool me I know) and only recently really appreciated how good it was, just how many places were on there and how much you could save! We are definitely taking full advantage of those offers now.

As I've now learnt, as well as offers on restaurants, spas and attractions the Entertainer also offers some rather good travel deals on hotels. I recently attended the launch of their exciting new summer travel offer, the launch of their 'Hot Summer Nights' which has made travelling through the Entertainer suddenly even better! 

From now until the 31 August 2015, exclusively to Entertainer members, you can enjoy your holiday all the more by extending the buy one night get one free offers in the Entertainer Travel to cover multiple night stays. Basically this means Entertainer members can book one night, get one free; book two nights, get two free or even book three nights and get three free. Depending on the hotel selected and the length of stay Entertainer Members could save up to $2,500! Now that's not to be sniffed at I think you'll agree. Let's face it who doesn't want great travel offers when looking to maximize their travelling opportunities but also minimize that spending. This frankly fabulous offer gives you the opportunity to travel for less and #travelmore all thanks to the Entertainer!

You'll be excited to know that more than 90 of their leading hotel partners are currently extending their deal to offer these multiple night stays. You can choose from an amazing selection of hotels and resorts throughout the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean. Destinations include: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Maldives. There has to be somewhere there that you want to go to!

To find who which hotels and resorts are taking part just simply look for the travel offers on the Entertainer that are marked with a trophy icon, this means they are in the Hot Summer Nights offer. Once you've decided where you want to go, go ahead and make your booking. If you aren't already an Entertainer Member simply purchase an Entertainer Singapore 2015 product and you'll be able to access and enjoy this current offer. For more information take a look here.

Looking through the various hotels participating in the #hotsummernights offer I have to say they all look amazing with many 4 and 5 star hotels and resorts taking part. I was extra excited though to spot the Banyan Tree in Bangkok, a hotel I was lucky enough to stay in a few years ago, is one of those participating. It was a great stay, the hotel is a really distinctive building on the city skyline with its tall, narrow design, it offered us a great base for our visit (which was my first) and had a great rooftop bar. Perfect for sunset watching and holiday memory making! It would definitely be on my list of hotels to stay in again if I returned to Bangkok.  

Of course whether you choose here (check out a few of my photos from my stay below) or one of the many other hotels available I'm sure you'll have a fantastic time, how can you not with this offer? Quick pass me my phone!

The Moon Bar
View from the Moon Bar


Our hotel room
Sunset from the Moon Bar 

28 May 2015

Food Glorious Food in Hanoi

As you'll know, if you read my blog regularly, we recently went on a holiday to Vietnam with the first stop being Hanoi. Of course, whilst we were there we needed to eat and naturally being in Vietnam we wanted to eat lots of delicious Vietnamese food. My husband has penned a post about some of the best food we sampled. If you like what you read you can find him on Twitter, @AskSirStamford 

The first day we were in Hanoi we had a walk around the old quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. We also got tickets to see the Water Puppet show the next day, which was an amazing show by the way, (more on that in an upcoming blog post), after booking the tickets though we ended up in a bar called Le Pub. As it was just after lunch we had a look at the menu and hoped to order some nosh. I had not eaten on the aeroplane as Singapore Airlines regional menu often offers rubbish, barely edible food. However, there was a problem, a power cut in the kitchen meant there was no food. A Halida beer and a glass of wine (actually three of each) had to suffice. On the way back to the hotel I decided to be very bold and order a bbq’d pork kebab baguette from a street vendor outside the pub (I have always shied away from such stupidity) and it was absolutely fabulously tasty, a little spicy, in a mild way, but with freshness from the coriander leaves bursting through with every bite of crispy doughy goodness. The meat itself was succulent, juicy and beautifully cooked, perhaps it was the electric fan used to control the heat or the glowing of the coals that helped.

This was part of the menu at Le Pub which unfortunately wasn't available when we visited, but what's a Special Facial Grilled Squid??

In the evening we ventured to a familiar restaurant, for me anyway, as I have been to Hanoi many times with a former employer and stayed in the hotel around the corner. Quan An Ngon is a famous restaurant, listed in all the guidebooks, it is essentially a series of hawker type stalls serving a vast variety of Vietnamese dishes, ranging from pho, to spring rolls to pancakes to everything (yup, Vietnamese menus are very extensive), although one orders from a menu at your table rather than going up to individual stalls. The day we went was slap bang in the middle of Tet (Lunar New Year in Vietnam) so the place was very busy and we had to wait for a table. I suggest you wait and don’t go to the restaurant across the road, it’s very ruff, as in barking. After we were seated the extensive menu was supplied, drinks ordered and the process of food decisions started. We eventually ordered fried spring rolls (we had these a lot over the course of the week), fresh spring rolls (rice paper rolls stuffed with prawns, noodles and salad), barbecued lemongrass pork ribs, beef in salt and chili (chunks of delicious beef dipped in salt, chili and lime) and a bowl of pho bo, I have had this every time I have been to this place. We also ordered a rice dish which never came or perhaps the waitress was trying to tell us it was not available, we could not work that bit out. The food was delivered promptly and was wonderful, flavoursome and very tasty.

Fried spring rolls
BBQ lemongrass pork ribs
Fresh spring rolls
Pho Bo
Beef in salt and chili

As one of the main courses did not arrive we decided to go to the bar around the corner for drinks and something else to eat. The Rooftop Bar is situated on the top floor (19th floor I think) of the Pacific Place building (next to the wonderful Movenpeck Hotel) and therefore offers stunning night time views across the city. To the north one can see the Flag Tower and Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place lit up like a Christmas tree or Chinese Lantern and the Hoan Kiem Lake area to the East (directions may be wrong, but sit on the outside terrace for these views). At the bar we ordered drinks, Hanoi Beer for me (always try to be environmentally friendly and consume the local ale upon my travels) and a wine for the blog owner. Looking at the menu it seemed to be tapas style with Vietnamese dishes. We ordered a platter, including spring rolls (we did eat a lot of these during the week), beef wrapped in asparagus and some French Fries (nod to the west). As we ate we drank in the aforementioned views before taking our jet-lagged Western heads, we'd only been back in Singapore one night before heading off to Vietnam following our trip back to the UK and those castle visits, back to the enormous hotel bed in the Metropole.

View from the Rooftop Bar across Hanoi

On Tuesday morning, after a fine sumptuous breakfast in the hotel, we visited the grave and working quarters of a former Vietnamese communist, Ho Chi Minh and decided to have a late lunch in a restaurant recommended by one of this blog owner's work colleagues. We had planned a visit to the Water Puppets that evening so would not have time for dinner before the show. After a few directional mishaps (I walked the wrong way down the right street) and a taxi ride, we arrived at the restaurant. It was called Au Lac House and was situated in a French style villa on a tree lined avenue, one could have been in Paris, except for the throng on mopeds and chaos of the street below. We were directed upstairs to the deserted veranda overlooking the busy bustling Hanoi street, if you fancied a feather duster there was a woman on a motorcycle selling them down below us. The tables at Au Lac were covered in tartan table cloths (a bit out of place, does the Auld Alliance stretch into former French colonies?) and were set for what promised to be a great meal. Orders were taken, drinks served and we sat back to watch the world go about its business on the street below.

We had ordered an appetiser platter, consisting of spring rolls (of course), in fresh and seafood variety, chicken wings and some little rice paper prawn pancakes. The mains were a plate of chili chicken cooked with lemongrass, kailan cooked in garlic and some mixed vegetable fried rice. All the food was excellent and tasty, but perhaps we ordered too much, another common theme of our Vietnamese trip.

Our veranda view at Au Lac House
Appetiser platter to start
Mixed vegetable fried rice
Kailan cooked in garlic
Chili chicken with lemongrass

Upon leaving we passed a fine looking drawing room, where one presumes a chap may have taken a cigar, back in the day. I decided to test my navigational skills again with a walk back to the hotel. On the way we passed a German beer hall where the activities on offer were obvious, Drinking or Drinking, or so the sign outside said. As recommendations go Au Lac House was excellent and I duly forward the sentiments and thanks through this blog.

In the evening we had arranged to go to see the Water Puppets at the main theatre on the lake, so a late dinner was needed after the show. After a wander and some hazardous road crossing in the dark, crossing roads is hard enough in daylight when one has a perception of the direction of the random traffic streams but impossible at night, we decided upon another rooftop bar, overlooking the lights of the Hoan Kiem Lake, near the island temple. The restaurant was on the seventh floor of the building that also housed many bars with similar views and was called Cau Go. We sat on the outside terrace and ordered food from the menu under iPhone and candlelight, including the usual fried spring rolls, chicken skewers, beef and ginger hotpot and streamed rice. The beef was sensational and the spring rolls were great and served in a novel and unusual little basket. In fact the whole meal was excellent until clearly wanting to close (it was about 9:30pm) the waiter arrived with the bill. The place blotted their copybook the next day / afternoon however when they wouldn’t serve just drinks as we needed to eat too, there was no option of just having a drink in the sunshine. We went back to Le Pub for drinks instead.

Evening view from Cau Go across the Hoan Kiem lake
Beef and ginger hotpot
Chicken skewers

On my first trip to Hanoi in 2012 a client took me to a wonderful restaurant in the Old Quarter of the town, called Green Tangerine, and I had been attempting to re-find the place, without success, ever since. I rediscovered it on my last trip to Hanoi in December 2014 and decided on our last evening there to give the place a holiday try-out. Green Tangerine is also located within an old French style villa, although those from Singapore may say that it is more of a shophouse type building, with a large terrace at the front, closed off from the road by the entrance, and further tables inside (and upstairs). The inside has a French café style bar, reminiscent of the bar in the British sit-com ‘Allo ‘Allo (listen very carefully I will say this only once). We sat inside and perused the menu, which could be described as modern French-Vietnamese fusion. There was also a set Vietnamese menu targeted at the mainly tourist clientele, the restaurant was expensive and therefore filled with Western non-locals which I assumed were tourists, like us. We chose the Vietnamese set menu option. Unfortunately, I neglected to take many pictures of the food as I was too busy eating it, perhaps that is a good sign as to the quality of the meal.

Interior of the Green Tangerine

We were supposed to be on a flight to Saigon at about 8pm on the Friday of our holiday, after having taken a trip to Halong Bay before leaving Hanoi (more on that soon). Whilst waiting for the car to the airport in the glorious Bamboo Bar of the Metropole Hotel and checking our emails and social media, after two largely unconnected days in Halong Bay, I received a mail from the airline (the only thing Jetstar Pacific did right all day) informing us that the flight was two and a half hours delayed. So after the airport transfer was re-arranged, the hotel in Saigon informed we decided to go for one last dinner in the city, a better option than the expected bowl of pho in the airport. 

When I was in Hanoi in November / December I had visited another French villa style restaurant around the corner from the hotel with colleagues and we decamped here for an early supper pre-airport. The villa was complete with a decaying Citroen in the drive and was very ornate. It was called the Ly Club and we were informed upon arrival that they were fully booked but we could have a table as long as we were out by 7:45pm (it was 6pm and we had a delayed flight to catch), fine, done, seated. Dinner was excellent, as most meals were in Hanoi and we even tried Vietnamese wine, with the red Merlot being perfectly drinkable to my non-cultured palate. The usual spring rolls were ordered along with a chili beef mince dish that was served with little fried rice cakes which were hand-held and topped with the sauce, these were brilliant and a little different to stuff we had had earlier in the week. We also had a roast chicken dish and some rice.

Interior of Ly Club

Glasses of red and white Vietnamese wine

Our trip, from a food perspective, could not have begun better and there was only more to come in Ho Chi Minh!
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