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The Bloody War!

May 11, 2011 4 comments

Helicopter outside the museumThis was a visit suggested by Mr W – The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I wasn’t against going but could have taken or left it. I am glad I went, though it turned out to be the most emotional visit to a tourist attraction in our travels.

Having been to the Imperial War Museum in London a few times, I expected the same sort of thing. That’s because not being very interested in military history, I hadn’t given a second thought to our visit. If I had, I would have guessed the massive difference between Britain and Vietnam, especially given the latter’s history. It was in my lifetime that the US war was ended in Vietnam. A war – which I learned from this museum – which destroyed lives so much more severely than I had imagined.

Whereas the Imperial War Museum has tones of courage, bravery and victory; the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city is an account of suffering, misery, death and destruction. On three floors are laid out facts, photographs, relics and propaganda in equal measures. The most shocking and emotive turned out to be the middle floor. One half of the floor has an exhibition of photographs of journalists from many countries who recorded the atrocities during the war. The other half of the floor is also photographs, but of the aftermath – landscape and people destroyed by the after-effects of Agent Orange – a chemical sprayed liberally by the US army across Vietnam and some of Laos to make sure that the enemy couldn’t hide in the foliage – Agent Orange was a deforestation chemical which exterminated the landscape of all fauna.

The result of Agent Orange for generations to come.Pic from causticsodapodcast.com

But it’s the unintended effect of Agent Orange which will define the aftermath of this bloody war. I say unintended because I am guessing the US Army didn’t intend to have the same effect on it’s own soldiers. The 80 million litres of the herbicide sprayed on in the 1970s has had very long lasting effects – in fact to this day and will continue for some generations. People exposed to Agent Orange died or were maimed. Children of this people who lived are born with gross birth defects, pictures of whom hang on the middle floor of the museum. I have added a picture here – though there are thousands, if you google and you will find most more disturbing than this.

Reading on the web, I found much negative feedback about the museum , mainly by Americans calling it propaganda and one-sided. That as may be and I am sure the same is the case at every War Museum in the world, however photographs don’t lie. And it’s the photographs at this museum which are a horrific document of the tragedy which shock, disturb and bring burning tears to your eyes.

Dan Sinh in the aisles!

May 9, 2011 3 comments

The US Navy watch bought at the market!

Someone told us there was another market a few minutes away from Ben Thanh Market which had a number of surplus stores with lots of ex-military clothing and paraphernalia. This obviously piqued a particular fellow traveller’s interest so we went along, crossing highways with mad traffic and snaking our way through the narrow alleyways with little daylight filtering through into south of De Tham. All around Dan Sinh market are specialist stores selling thick wires, electrical cables and all sorts of other similar things that I don’t know the names of.

We found a tiny entrance way into the market and jumped in and luckily we found ourselves at the right end of it as we were surrounded by military green. At one point I though I’d lost Craig but dressed in his favourite colour green, he blended into all the camouflage around us.  There were medals and belts; flasks and canteens; hats and boots; helmets and swiss army knives. There were lots of uniforms – mainly US but also some Viet Cong. Many had a red or a yellow star on them.



Craig found a tiny stall with some old US navy watches and we looked through, deciding on one, haggling and then walking away. Usually there will be lots of vendors selling the same thing but when we looked, we found only one other stall selling old watches and they quoted twice the price we started at the other stall. Tails between our legs, we returned to haggle further and if not to our original target, I got her down to halfway between her last quoted and our target. They know when you return for something that you really want it! Procurement skills always fall by the wayside when you have an eager-to-buyspouse in tow I guess! He is very happy with his new purchase and even has his strap from the old Marines days belted into it!

Shell out at Ben Thanh Market in Saigon!

May 8, 2011 3 comments

Fish stall at the market

Situated in between the centre of Ho Chi Minh city called District 1 and the backpacker’s area called Den Tham is a famous indoor market called Ben Thanh Market. The place sells absolutely everything under the sun! Clothes, costume jewellery, make up, shoes, handbags, nick-nacks like fans, umbrellas etc. When you are past this lot you come to the centre area of this huge covered market where there are two dozen food stalls all competing for the punters walking past smelling and salivating at every type of food. Beyond the food stalls and towards the back of the market are

the fresh fish, meat and vegetable stalls. In theory, you can turn up at the front of the market naked, dress and adorn yourself, fill your belly, do the weekly grocery shopping and exit through the back door after a couple of hours!

These days, the market is too focussed on tourists so going through the clothes and nicknack stalls is like being searched by Homeland Security at a US border. The stalls are in narrow lanes with their vendors stood outside and they all touch you and call out at you. We soon found a wider central aisle which leads into the centre and hence the most interesting part of the market – the food stalls!

Luckily we found what turned out to be our favourite stall the first day. Well, it wasn’t difficult – it was the only one surrounded by shellfish! So we took a pew – a small at the tiled counter and ordered. The first day Craig didn’t feel too well so it was just me eating and as it was 10.30am, it had to be something breakfasty. So I ordered a plate of clams – like every else in Vietnam these were succulent and juicy.

The grill (similar to an angeethi)

Having finished the plate, I couldn’t help myself and ordered a small portion (I got 20!) of the medium sized snails cooked in pork fat. These were something else, not like the French have them where they cook for longer. These beauties

The mixed shellfish

were flash cooked in spitting hot pork fat. At Cua Dai beach, we were given rough plant stems to tease our cockles out with but at Ben Than Market they had their own tool – similar to the one French use – to weedle out the snail with. As the snails were perfectly cooked (French ones come out quickly from their shells as they are smaller and cooked for longer so disengage with the shell inside), they put up a fight coming out and again it took a few to get the knack of it.

Next day for lunch we went back to the same stall and shared a crab and a plate of clams. Then we stared again at the scores of different types of shells and snails and decided to have the mixed platter with a few of every kind thrown in. Mostly these are grilled right on top of a small earthenware grill (similar to angeethi in India). Another conch shell was cooked with rice flour and coconut which made it look like porridge and I wondered whether Heston Blumenthal got his snail porridge idea from here!

Stall lady tasting the snail sauce

Later still, we decided to walk around the fresh fish market to see where our food was bought. In our flip flops, we were unsuitably attired for a place which is overflowing with fish innards and juices Most of the workers wore wellies. We had to wash our legs up to our knees to get rid of some of the smell and stuff from our legs later!

The stalls are small and all sell one type or another of fish, shellfish, snakes and frogs. We walked through the market wide-eyed watching people sat on a stool, nonchalantly picking out a live frog from a basket and pulling it’s neck apart to kill it before in one swift movement, pulling off it’s entire skin.

At another stall, a woman sat running a blade down the length of a snake, disembowelling the creature. Everywhere there was a din of work going on, people selling, people purchasing, types of food I have never even imagined! But it was all a happy clatter, and we thoroughly enjoyed every visit to Ben Thanh Market!

Seafood and eat it at Cua Dai beach!

May 7, 2011 2 comments

My crab before the pot

Food has been fabulous in Vietnam – they really know how to put together different flavours whilst still allowing the individual notes of the ingredients to shine through. The food everywhere we have been – Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hue has been great so we expected the same from Hoi An. The town is a few kilometres from our resort which is by the sea so each day at least at one meal time we have walked down the beach perusing the live menus of the dozen or so shacks set up there.

I say live menus because they are – all local seafood and fish are in tanks to be seen and chosen before being freshly cooked to eat on the beach. Luckily all four of us are massive seafood fans and didn’t take long for us to have tried pretty much everything on offer.

Fresh Mackerel

Jamie & Lisa with crabs!

The clams on Cua Dai beach are the best I have ever tasted – and I love clams. They are seriously juicy and sweet. Sucking on these little babies with the local condiment of sea salt and chilli mixed with lime juice feels like tasting the essence of the sea.

The other popular seafood in tanks all around is the crab. There are all sizes, shapes and even river crab on the menu. The only one we didn’t see was the horseshoe crab (looks like it’s wearing an army green helmet) which was everywhere up in Halong Bay.

I adore crab so ate it everyday. Sometimes we’d get a few of the small ones and suck and spit through the platter and

Tiny cockles size of an ant - yum!

other times get one each or to share between two. As a crab only has two claws where the best bit of the meat is, sharing crabs is not that much fun!

Whilst at the beach, we also tried these minute cockles which are the size of a chick pea and you tweeze out the cockle by putting a toothpick in and gently pulling it out. There is a knack to it and until you get that you won’t be getting much protein as each cockle is smaller than a grain of rice.

We also ate kilos of shrimps and squid. The weekend was a big holiday in Vietnam and lots of locals came to the beach and it turned into a massive diner party with dozens of small stalls set up to serve seafood on rattan mats on the beach. We ran and told Jamie and Lisa who were lying by the swimming pool and they came to join us. We had small crabs, clams, baby squid – all grilled and served with the salt, chilli and lime.

Living it up in Hoi An

May 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Our resort in Hoi An

To cap off the two week holiday the Dr. and soon to be Mrs. Scott spent five nights at the five star Hoi An Beach Resort hotel on Cua Dai beach and we decided to take a ‘holiday’ and join them there. The resort is nestled between the Thu Bon river and the sea with two large curving swimming pools so that you can lie back on your sun lounger and be able to see both the river and the sea on either side with the swimming pool in front of you. I haven’t spent much time at a resort before but this was very pleasant. The room was very large and overlooked the river so you can spend the dusk watching fishermen float by whilst sipping from a beer bottle.

Tailor made

The town of Hoi An, an ancient regional capital and a thriving market community is a buzzing place with the ubiquitous badge of UNESCO ‘World Heritage site’. It’s where many tourists come to do one particular kind of shopping. The gentleman gets a tailor made suit for and the lady an own designed leather handbag or a pair of heels. The place is swarming with tailors, clothes and shoe shops. Aside from that and on the banks of the above mentioned river is a huge marketplace, more for locals, where people come from far away villages to do their food shopping. There are hundreds of little stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, dried goods (sun dried prawns, fish etc), spices, sauces and anything else you might need for cooking. Every stall covers it’s space to protect their wares and customers from sun or rain so the entire market looks covered by a multicoloured canopy.

Craig snapping the happy couple near the Japanese Bridge

Bananas at the market!

Nearby is a short covered Japanese bridge which the city is famous for and at night the bridge as

well as the surrounding area are covered in chinese lanterns throwing a warm reddish glow on everything. On the river, floats with large papier mache lit sculptures of dragons float by. Ladies sell small paper lanterns with little candles inside to make a wish and let go on the shore of the river. The whole ambience is quite exotic and very pleasing to the eye!

We went into Hoi An a couple of different evenings and met up with Lisa and Jamie who were getting some tailor made shopping done. BEside the market on the banks of the river are three or four stalls selling fresh sugar cane juice by the day and VIetnamese beer in the evening. These Bia Hois are to be found all over in VIetnam and are little more than a small vendor set up on the side of the road with half a dozen small plastic tables surrounded by scores of tiny plastic stools or chairs on which the punters sit and enjoy a quick beer and a chat or just watch the world go by.

This is Hue it is!

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently I have been wondering that either we pick our destinations really well or that UNESCO hands out World Heritage Site certificates easily because we seem to visit one every week. I would like to think it’s the former!

So, out of the blaring horns and mild climate of Hanoi we took a night train south to the historic city of Hue which was the region’s capital a few hundred years ago. The city is quite compact really with the ancient citadel on one side of the Perfume River and the modern city with dozens of hotels and restaurants on the other. Quite a pleasant little place and the citadel really is worth a look if you are into history or local architecture.

Hue is also famous for it’s local cuisine which we sampled at a traditional restaurant. Several different styles of rice pancakes stuffed or sprinkled with pork or prawn then dipped into the sweet lime dressing before chopsticking into your mouth. Very nice but couldn’t beat the food in Hanoi which was exceptional!

Categories: Vietnam Tags: , , , ,

The Float Gloat

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Barely two weeks ago I wrote about the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru and yesterday I arrived at Halong Bay in Vietnam with it’s own floating villages of fishermen. The two communities can’t be further apart in terms of culture and geography – one is on the highest navigable lake in the world whilst the other on the sea, one creates it’s floating homes with the reed found in the lake whilst the other with wood from the trees from the natural islands, one fishes trout whilst the other mostly shellfish. But both communities live off the the water and the resources it provides for it’s residents.

Halong Bay is made up of thousands of rocks of all sizes jutting out of the sea in an archipelago. Some islands are small and rocky whilst others are large enough to sustain a small community of half a dozen fishermen families. One island Cat Ba – is the largest and is in the centre of this archipelago. Cat Ba has quite a population and has a few hotels for tourists visiting the archipelago to spend a night or two in. By far the biggest attraction here is the wonder of nature which can be explored on traditional boats called ‘junks’ which snake around the islands to provide fantastic views.

Halong Bay

The rocks provide hundreds of caves and grottos of all sizes. One we visited was enormous – larger than the largest cathedral I have seen and with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites forming shapes which our guide described as an elephant, a frog, an eagle and even a nipple. I remembered our guide in Lake Titicaca who was very enthusiastic about seeing shapes in the island formations!

After a day sailing around on a tourist boat, the four of us are on our own private ‘junk’ with a captain, a guide and a cook. We had half a dozen dishes cooked for us last night including clams to start and a grouper to follow. All washed down with the local Dalat wine which is fine after a couple of glasses! We anchored somewhere int he centre of a  number of islands surrounding us and slept in our comfy bedrooms.

It’s 6am and the skies are clear and the sun about to shine through. It’a absolutely beautiful and I am looking forward to a day of touring around the islands, visiting more caves and maybe getting on some kayaks to explore grottos. Oh and more yummy seafood!

Categories: Vietnam Tags: , , , , ,
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