My impression of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bay has some 1,600 islets with limestone karsts, some huge and many small ones rising above green and calm waters. Legend has it that a descending dragon (Ha Long) created these islets with different sizes and shapes to prevent the invaders from attacking the villagers. These isles are not habitable. The attraction is to go on a cruise and sail around these islets and see them up close.

We did that by going on a cruise (Golden Cruise) and stayed one night on the cruise. To reach Halong City and catch the cruise, we travelled some 4 hours car journey to the East of Hanoi centre. The water wasn’t choppy and we could get a good night sleep in the cabins.

We had a good feast on the Golden Cruise during dinner. They put up Singapore flag at our table. We are the only Singaporeans on board. The rest were Swiss, German, and Canadian.

The views are spectacular and there are many photo worthy shots of this Bay. It has lived up to its reputation as a heritage site.

We visited Titop island on Halong Bay. It has a  small beach where one can swim in it safely. Tourists climbed up 400 steps to reach the top for a spectacular bird’s eye view of many islands in Halong Bay. However, there were too many tourists descending on this small islet in waves. One must be prepared for it.

We had also visited Hang Sung Sot, “Cave of Surprises”, in Halong Bay area. This is a limestone cave that is big enough to go around it. Here you can see stalagmites and stalactites in their glories. It is paved with easy pathways for the visitors to walk on.

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My impression of Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa town is in Lao Cai Province of Northern Vietnam. To reach this town from Hanoi city, you can take the roads using the highways or you can take the overnight train. We ride in a car and we set off at 8.00 am from Hanoi City. It took about 4 hours to reach Lao Cai. We had our lunch before we moved up the mountain to reach Sapa. It took another hour. It was a comfortable journey after a good night sleep the night before.

Sapa sits about 1,200 to 1,800 m above sea level. Weather in October month is cool at 19 to 16 degrees C. We had an unusual weather this trip. It was rather wet and Hanoi was caught in a worst rain in many years.

In Sapa town, you can walk the places to visit the Sapa Lake. The buildings had French and European influence. An ancient stone church or Holy Rosary Catholic Church was built by the French in 1920s. The Stadium sees people playing volleyballs and other outdoor activities. Behind the church is Dragon Mouth Mountain. Climb the steps to the top to have a bird’s eyes view of Sapa town.

Sapa is very popular resort town for foreign visitors and Vietnamese alike. It strives on tourism dollars. Because of that, many new hotels are sprouting all over.  As a result there were too much constructions with heavy vehicles plying the narrow roads. The roads get very muddy. Hopefully, Sapa can reach a steady stage when the new buildings are completed.

The draw for visiting Sapa is also to trek the mountains around there. We took a 2-hour trek to Lao Chai and Ta Van villages. Beautiful view of valley and rice terraces abound. We see how the ethnic local tribes live with farming like the Hmong and the Red Dao. For urbanites like us, we get huge dosage of various fruits and vegetables, animals like chickens, ducks, piglets, young goats, buffaloes, cows. It would be educational for the young who has not been to a farm.

We visited Cat Cat Village, a residential area of Black Hmong minority group. They do almost everything by hands, from house building, handicrafts, daily activities.

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Trip to Hanoi 2017

Last year in January, my family visited Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC sits at the south of Vietnam. It was such a culture shock visiting Vietnam for the first time. The impression then was the deepest. We did not know how to cross the roads with so many motor bikes on the road. It was lawlessness and chaotic.

We returned again to Vietnam and this time to the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. We arranged the tour with a travel agency in Vietnam directly through a recommendation of our friend. So for 9 days we had a tour guide who speaks good English and a 7-seater SUV car for our exclusive use. Much that we would like to go free and easy on overseas trips, we needed transportation to far away places out of Hanoi.

We visited Sapa a town up in the mountain (1,200 to 1,800 m above sea level) towards the North-west of Hanoi. On another day, we went to the world famous Halong Bay, to the East of Hanoi. Both trips required at least 4-5 hours on the roads to reach there.

Sapa is a favorite for trekkers who want to move from village to village of ethnic minority tribes. We spent 2 hours trekking one morning. The views of these mountains with rice terraces at the sides and valleys were spectacular. It was picture perfect for every shot taken. We saw the lives of Black Hmong and Red Dao and the way of their lives preserved till today. We visited Cat Cat Village, Lao Chai Village, Ta Van Village.

We then moved to Bac Ha town with the sole purpose of visiting the Bac Ha Sunday market. We stayed a night at Bac Ha, 700 m above sea level. The draw in Bac Ha is the Sunday morning market. You can buy almost anything: buffalos, pigs, dogs; fresh produce from the farms, chilies, green rice; things for the home; things to wear, and local handicraft items. You can even have a haircut along the street. Some people choose and smoke tobaccos through a pipe. The market gets crowded from late morning when bus loads of tourists arrive. It is a colourful sight with ethnic minority groups selling their products.

We visited Ta Phin grotto where Red Dao tribe lives, the King’s Palace of the Hmong and the border town of Lao Cai that connects to China, Yunnan Province separated by the Red River.

In Hanoi, we went pretty much free and easy exploring the big city. Hanoi is less complicated than Ho Chi Minh City. This time round we were not too shocked with the sights and sounds and we knew Vietnam better.

This time of the year should be less rain in Hanoi and at Sapa. But it has been unusual with heavy downpour that caused severe flooding at low lying areas in Hanoi. It was the worst flooding in years for Hanoi. We were lucky that we could proceed with our planned itinerary. There were some days with sunny weather. With rain, we just put on our ponchos. This is just traveling and we just adjust.

The nine days had been a wonderful experience. One advice is to seize the opportunity to travel to Sapa region when we are still young. The roads up and down the mountains are bumpy. It can be a bit rough for some people.

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This blog is taking a break

of about 2 weeks.

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Meeting my Secondary School classmates

Six met at Grand Copthorne Waterfront for a buffet lunch yesterday. We were classmates at Gan Eng Seng School from 1970 to 1973 some four decades ago. We were celebrating one friend who had his 60th birthday recently. All six of us are 60 years old now. I did not feel the age when we met. My memory of them was still when we were in our teens. We still look the same, almost. We still have the same mannerism. One would lean back on the chair and rub his tummy when he was happy after making a point. One was still as soft-spoken as before. One liked to tease another and try to make him angry. It was all good humour. Oh, all these brought back memories of so long ago.

Imagine, we have families with grown-up children and one is a grandfather. I saw that we still wanted to have fun. It was not that we did not meet up for many years and this was the first time we met. We still kept in contact over the years. Starting this year, we planned to meet in the birthday months for a makan session.

I like this group of secondary school friends because we do not have to keep up with pretences. I can remain who I am. Being a less chatty person and more a listener, I was accepted as who I am. We do not impose on each other with personal requests. I would be uncomfortable if a friend were to push a sale, such as insurance or property. There was no such thing. We have reached a stage in our lives that we are comfortable with our finances. We do not compare.

The bonds built up in our secondary school days were strong and this has brought us together. Well, I am fortunate to have such friends. Friends like that are harder to come by as we grow older. For example, colleagues in our previous work places were friends for a short while. It did not last. I count my blessings and thankful.

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“They came to Baghdad” by Agatha Christie – A Book Review

Baghdad, capital city of Iraq, had a glorious history. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 changed all that. Back in the 1950s when this novel was published, Baghdad was a place for travellers to visit.

In this spy story the President of America and the Premier of USSR were to meet in a summit in Baghdad. The British Consulate personnels in Iraq knew that an organisation was trying to stop sensitive and political information from reaching these VIPs at the summit. Communism as an ideology was on the rise in that era and its ruthless agents were out for bloods to silence anyone who was in possession of evidence of their clandestine activities.

This was the backdrop. Then came along a young British woman, Victoria Jones, who was untrained as a spy and an ordinary person into the story. Read how she was to survive or at all in this spy thriller.

Agatha Christie showed that she too could write a spy novel with all the secrecy of undercover agents and bloody actions culminating in deaths in the course of their duties. The novel can be confusing at the start with so many things happening with so many people involved. I could not make out who was good and who was bad. Fortunately, the story got clearer towards the end. That was the hallmark of Agatha Christie’s writing style.

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Started using PAssion Silver Concession Card

I am officially a senior.

Singapore citizen on reaching 60 years old can apply for the PAssion Silver Concession Card. This concession card can be used for travel on public transport. The same journey now costs me 30% less.

Eligible seniors can make enquiries at any TransitLink Office on this concession card. If you are IT savvy, you can apply for the card on-line from the comfort of your home. 

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