Posts Tagged ‘asia’

My first trip to Tokyo, and only 24 hours to take it all in. Most of the trip was spent in the office, but we did get a little bit of time in the afternoon to do some exploring.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo.  I wish I had a video camera to show the crossing in action.

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo. I wish I had a video camera to show the crossing in action.

No visit to Tokyo would be complete without a visit to a sushi bar.

No visit to Tokyo would be complete without a visit to a sushi bar.

I've been waiting for this moment my entire life.  Never before have I known such toilet luxury!

I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life. Never before have I known such toilet luxury!

A little bit of breakfast at the JAL F-lounge in Narita.

A little bit of breakfast at the JAL F-lounge in Narita.

Screaming monkey

Another long break between entries (and a reminder that I should go and upload some of my skiing photos at some point), but the first chance I’ve had to send an update from someplace exciting.

After three short days in Hong Kong, where we enjoyed good dim sum but mostly rainy weather, we arrived in Langkawi, an island off the coast of Malaysia. It’s been an adventure here – we had a tsunami warning on our second night, and the island is filled with wildlife which has been keeping us well-entertained. We stopped by the roadside to snap a quick picture of one of the cheeky Macaque monkeys – the next thing we knew, he’d jumped up onto the car and scared the life out of Aude, and six or seven of his friends quickly joined us. They’re everywhere on the island, and apparently very clever. They’ve worked out where the minibar is in each of the hotel rooms. Left to their own devices, they’ll happily raid the room and stage impromptu parties, getting drunk on the beer in the fridge.

Try explaining *that* on check-out.

We’re off today to Penang, another island about 120km away. It’s just a short hop on the plane, but a totally different experience from the rainforest we have here on Langkawi.

One of the things that struck me about Vietnam is that reminders of the war are everywhere.  Not just in museums and plaques, but in the fabric of the country.

The first thing that you notice is that there are very few older people in Vietnam.  Most of the people here are young, the generation born after the war.  And in parts of the country where the conflict was heaviest, there are still battle-scars everywhere — the buildings, the landscape, the people.  In the streets, you see beggars who suffers from missing or deformed limbs, either direct victims of the combat or the sadder case of the indirect victims of Agent Orange.

In Hanoi, we were tipped off about B-52 wreckage that laid in a pond in the middle of a residential district.  This isn’t a monument or memorial, nor is it on the tourist track (several of our books made no mention of it, and it took the driver quite a lot of wrong turns and asking directions to eventually find this place, which sits unmarked at the end of an alley in residential Hanoi).

But there it is — a testament to the events that happened here 40 years ago.


Several people recommended that we visit the Hanoi Military Museum.  Definitely worth the trip, and an interesting chance to see 20th century Vietnamese military history from their perspective — their journey towards independence from the French and later, the “American” war.  The museum is a story of the Ho Chi Minh-era rebellion struggles, and a very important part of the story of how the modern Vietnamese see themselves.

MIG-21 at Hanoi Military History Museum

A MIG-21 sits in front of the Hanoi Military History Museum, with the ‘Cot Co’ Flag Tower, built in the early 1800s, in the background.

American tank at Hanoi Military History Museum

An American tank at the entrance of the museum.

Sculpture from B52 remains at Hanoi Military History Museum

A sculpture crafted out of the remains of B52 bombers shot down over Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

American military hardware at Hanoi Military History Museum

A collection of US military equipment captured during the Vietnam War on display.

Temple of Literature as seen from the Cot Co flag tower

A view over the Temple of Literature as seen from the ‘Cot Co’ Flag Tower.  Don’t tell the Vietnamese government that I took this photo, as there were signs everywhere indicating that photography from the tower was strictly forbidden.

Courtyard of the Hanoi Military History Museum as seen from the Cot Co flag tower

Looking down into the courtyard of the Hanoi Military History Museum from the Citadel.

No tour to Vietnam can be considered complete without a ride in one of the cyclos, the modern-day equivalent of a rickshaw.  With a little negotiating, $2 gets you an hour of peddle-power around the city, and the locals swear that this is the best way to see the place.  I swear that this is the easiest way to give yourself a heart-attack, considering the unpredictable traffic and constant chaos on the roads.  Aude’s driver seemed to be okay, but my driver managed to hit 1) Aude’s cyclo, 2) a motorcyclist and 3) stopped mid-tour to buy a pack of cigarettes so that he could smoke as he peddled.

Aude in a cyclo

It was a good way to see the city, though, and we spent an hour riding through the old town, where each of the streets is dedicated to a trade.  Ironmongers on one street, porcelain on the next, and so on.  Despite having a haircut only a few days earlier, I must have had twenty offers of haircuts from the barbers who seem to station themselves at every lamp post, armed with nothing more than a small stool, chipped mirror, and pair of scissors.  Everyone needs to earn a living, I guess.

Wiring chaos in Vietnam

We never had any problems with the electricity in Vietnam, but most of the wiring looked like this picture and I was in constant fear of being electrocuted every time it rained.  The standard of wiring is similar in India, although the supply is a little less reliable in my experience.  In either case, it doesn’t really inspire confidence.

Motorcycles and scooters in Vietnam

Scooters and motorbikes are the kings of the road in Vietnam.  Cars are out-of-reach for most, so two wheels is how most people get around.  We saw anywhere from 1-5 people riding on a single scooter, and people carrying just about anything imaginable: plate-glass windows, full-sized beds, pigs, chickens, DHL deliveries.  You name it, the Vietnamese will find a way to strap it to their scooters.

After three days in Singapore, we’d seen most of what there was to see and were ready to move onto the exciting part of our trip: Vietnam.  We landed in Hanoi airport mid-morning and were met by our guide from Buffalo Tours, who incidentally did a fantastic job putting together an itinerary for us.  It took just over an hour to get into the centre of town, where we checked into our room at the Sofitel Metropole.  We took a few hours to relax, then went out for dinner and to see a traditional ‘water puppet’ show.

Traditional Vietnamese water puppet

Above, a traditional Vietnamese water puppet.

The next morning we started early on the main sights in Hanoi.  Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.

Matthew in front of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Outside Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.  Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday when the mausoleum is closed, so we couldn’t go inside.

Inside the Ho Chi Minh complex in Hanoi

One of the French colonial government buildings, now used to receive foreign heads-of-state visiting Vietnam.

Aude in front of Ho Chi Minh's House

Aude in front of Ho Chi Minh’s house.  Apparently it was built in the style of the farmer’s houses in the North where Ho Chi Minh had spent much of his time.

Aude in front of the One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi

Aude in front of the one pillar pagoda.

Chinese Lion in Hanoi

Around the Ho Chi Minh complex.

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Entrance to the Temple of Literature.

Inside the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Inside the Temple of Literature

Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton

Inside Hoa Lo prison — the famous "Hanoi Hilton"

Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton

A plaque outside the Hoa Lo prison

John McCain's flight suit at Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton

John McCain’s flight suit and parachute, on display inside Hoa Lo Prison.

The entire tour was well done.  The centre of Hanoi isn’t very big and most of the main attractions are close to one another.

History is written by the victors, and Vietnam is no exception.  Travelling through Hanoi, I certainly heard a very different version of the "American" war than I heard when I was growing up, and while there was clearly an element of propoganda about much of what we heard, it’s always important to remember that there are two sides to every story.

Our first impressions of Hanoi were good, though.  The city was more developed than I’d expected, with an infrastructure on par with most other large, developed Asian cities.  There were plenty of very expensive cars cruising down the streets.  The French colonial architecture has been well-preserved and the streets have a small, intimate feel that you don’t find in a lot of other Asian cities.  The food is great and the people are friendly (and speak reasonably good English, for the most part).