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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Contemplating Life After Vietnam

A very strange thing happens when realise that you are counting down the time you have left living overseas in months rather than years.  There is a definite shift in...well...everything!  We are now in the period of our posting where the majority is behind us and the imminent return to Australia is becoming more real.  Of course we always knew it was coming but one day you just go"OMG...I've only got "x" amount of months to go.  For us that magic figure is nine.  

Now a lot can happen in nine months.  A woman could have a baby (no, I'm not) or I could finish that book that has been sitting on my bedside table for 2 years.  Hell, I could WRITE a book for my bedside table in nine months (no, I'm not doing that either).  Ultimately though, nine months is just not enough.  To be honest, I don't think any magical figure would ever be enough.  The prospect of returning to Australia is exciting and daunting.  As I type I still don't know whether I should write "Australia" or "home".  It's very confusing!  There is a large part of me that is ready and an equally large part, in the heart region mainly, that cracks open and bleeds.  I panic that I have done all that I set out to do with my time here.  Such grand plans when we arrived.  I'm too scared to sit down a try to figure out what I achieved and what I didn't.  It seemed like we had so much time in front of us.  

So do I have a VN bucket list?  Not really.  I have just become super aware of appreciating every moment.  Buying that thing that I always said I would buy before I left (ok... things), getting that dental work done, visiting that town or restaurant, doing more of that volunteer work.  To be honest I think you have to try to stop yourself from turning into one of those bitter expats who seem to do nothing but complain. It is almost a self preservation thing to have the little things annoy you so badly that you WANT to leave and your heart does not get broken.  Putting up the invisible barriers if you will.  I have vowed to make our last nine months here even better for us than the last two and a half years.  Sure, I may leave my shattered shell of a heart on the tarmac at the airport but I think we can fit a lot in in nine months.  So hold on to your conical hats, it's going to be quite a ride!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cuc Gach Quan...Again.

I simply cannot get enough of this place.  Some of the best Vietnamese food in town in an amazing setting.  Had lunch there again yesterday and yet again, fabulous.  They consistently get it right.  The decor is eclectic but somehow it just works.  
Retro pieces.

Tranquil dining areas.

Quirky decor.

Ridiculously steep stairs.

Potentially decapitating low doorways.

The old and the new(ish)

Dining in the roof.

Dining in bed.

Hideaway nooks.

Mind your head.

Slivers of sunlight.

Waiting impatiently.

Almost there.....

Yeah baby!

Thien Ly.

Pomello salad with prawns.

Tofu with meat sauce.

Soft shelled crab.

Red rice.


So good in fact that they have expanded across the road to number 9.  If you can, try to take a stroll around the neighbourhood to walk off all of that fabulous feed.  It's a great little area with its own feel.  Cuc Gach Quan is located at number 9 AND 10 Dang Tat Street in Tan Dinh District.  Ph 38480144 or 01657101010.  Even though it is in district 1, it is not down town.  Head up Hai Ba Trung, past the pink church and past Tan Dinh Market. Yummo!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Probably the best steak in Ho Chi Minh City

I only say probably because I haven't tried them all....but I'm working on it.  Sometimes you just need a steak.  A big, fat, juicy, artery clogging steak.  As far a price goes, it's up there with one of the most expensive in town but...sometimes, you just need a steak!
El Gaucho Argentinian Steakhouse has in my opinion not just the best steak in Saigon, but one of the best I have had EVER!

Starting with complimentary bread and fresh salsa....

...and of course the obligatory bottle of red.
A huge selection of sides to choose from.  Fat chips, corn, mash, creamed spinach.  You pay extra but look at those chips, I mean, LOOK AT THOSE CHIPS!

But this baby is the hero.  There is an enormous selection of cuts to choose from including meat from the US and Australia.  They even have Waygu.  They come in two sizes but the smaller 250g is always big enough for me.

There is also of course a large selection of sauces (extra) as well.  If I'm going to pig out, I do it properly so I usually go with the blue cheese sauce.

This is the last photo and you were lucky to get that one.  I struggled to put my cutlery down to take it.  So if you feel like spoiling yourself and boosting your iron levels, I can highly recommend El Gauchos.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Laminating Guy

You may recall a few previous posts where I have captured, or tried to, just what an integral part of life motorbikes are here in Saigon.  Some of the most astounding things are sold, carried or collected from them.  This guy is my second favourite (you will have to wait for my favourite as I never seem to be able to get a photo of him).

Enter Laminating Guy!  This particular guy has a great setup.  It looks like he covers books as well.  Yes, there is a motorbike in there.

Loving his beatbox so he can listen to some tunes as he laminates his heart out.  Believe it or not we have actually had cause to use this guy when Nicks ID card went through the wash!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And a Hue we go! (See what I did there???)

Last weekend was a long weekend here in Vietnam so we took advantage and made a flying trip up to Hue.  It had never really been high on our must do list while we were here as it always seemed to be in second place behind places like Halong Bay, Hoian, Nha Trang etc. Only a quick one hour flight from HCMC it was perfect for just a 2 night visit.  Hue was the capital of Vietnam from the beginning of  the 19th century until 1945.  It is a stunning ancient city with some amazing buildings including the Citadel that used to house the emperor, his wife and often his hundreds of back up wives.  Hue is also very proud that Ho Chi Minh was educated here.  Unfortunately not all of the things Hue is famous for are fabulous.  In 1968 it was also the site of one of the major battles of the infamous Tet Offensive and many of the buildings were very badly damaged or destroyed during the month long battle.
Having left it so late to book these were the only seats left.  Not nearly as extravagant as it sounds, the prices are still pretty reasonable....and we needed the leg room.
.....actually, I can't back that up.

Our home for 2 nights was the very tranquil La Residence Hotel.
With stunning views over the Perfume River it was a beautiful property.
Usually travel within Vietnam on long weekends is horrendously busy.  I don't know where everyone went this holiday but it wasn't to Hue.  The place was nearly deserted.

With not too much planned for day one we just hung out at the pool.

Seriously, I think she is half mermaid.
The kids made a new friend.

The weather was overcast, drizzly but still pretty hot.  Not bad weather for exploring we thought.
These fantastic boats can take you along the Perfume River.  Apparently in Autumn flowers from the orchids upsteam fall into the river giving it a perfume like aroma.  Being the cynic that I am, I find it hard to believe that any river in Vietnam can smell like perfume but it is a nice story none the less.

This is the Thien Mu Pagoda on the banks of the river.  It was built in 1601 and has its roots in local legend.  Apparently an old woman appeared on the hill and said that the Lord would come and build a Buddhist pagoda for the country's prosperity. Hearing this Lord Nguyen Hoang ordered the construction of the pagoda of the "Heavenly Lady" (Thien Mu)

Phuoc Dien Tower has seven levels as 7 is an extremely lucky number in Buddhism.  

Fearsome temple guardian.

One of my favourite parts of the trip.  When you say your prayer to Buddha this lovely monk waits until you finish then hits the bell to signal to Buddha that your prayer is on the way.

One of the more bizarre things within the temple and not what I was expecting to see!

This is the Austin car that you can see in the background of that very famous photo of the Buddhist monk who drove from Hue to Saigon, got out of the car and set himself alight in protest of the anti-buddhist stance of the South Vietnamese government. 
Here is the photo in question.  This was made all the more poignant as the photographer passed away just this week.

Monkeying around.

Our next adventure took us to the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. It was built in 1864-67 for Tu Duc who was the longest serving Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty (1848-83)  Interestingly, although he had hundreds of wives he never produced any children.  Do you think it might have been him?

The Emperor actually lived here during his reign.  It is a huge area and he could punt on the lake or go hunting within the grounds.

There was actually a coup attempted during the construction as it's construction was so elaborate that the people had to pay extra taxes and it was pretty much forced labour.

The colours are just amazing.  It's very hard to try to get a photo that does it justice.

This is his wife's tomb.

Now here's the thing.  After all of that, the guy is not even buried here!  He was buried in a secret location and to this day no one knows where it is.  The 200 labourers who buried him were beheaded on their return.

Incense is big business in this area.  What a stunning way to display your wares.

We then went to visit the enormous Citadel.  This is the flag tower near the entrance.  You can just make out Quiddy going crazy with such wide open spaces where you can RUN!

During the Tet Offensive in 1968 a lot of the fighting was concentrated around the Citadel and you can see remnants of it today.

That Sir, is a lovely handbag.  Work it baby!

Within the Citadel itself is another smaller Citadel called the Imperial Enclosure or the Forbidden Purple City.  You could spend hours wandering around exploring.

Right next door is a military exhibit which is worth a look.

The kids got a buzz out of clambering over the tanks.

It was Fathers Day in Australia so we had a lovely lunch at Vuon Thao Garden.

We of course had to try the local brew.  Not too bad.

All in all I would definitely say that Hue is worth a visit.  It was a tad challenging with the kids as they get templed out quite quickly but there are enough things for them to climb on to keep them happy.  If you wanted to extend the trip you could drive the beautiful Hai Van pass through the mountains and visit Hoian which is not far away.