Tag Archives: Church

Travel Guide: Hanoi x2

Two and some years ago, I explored Hanoi with my dad when he came to visit. We spent a few days there before going to Hoi An to relax from the hustle and bustle that characterizes Vietnam’s capital city. This time around, I was travelling with my sister and we spent a total of three nights in Hanoi, bookending a trip north to Sapa (as a respite from Hanoi’s hustle and bustle). I really enjoyed being back in the city and showing my sister some places that I remembered. The weather was completely different this time around and far more enjoyable now, during Hanoi’s winter, than it was in the summer. We were able to do so much more walking because the air was (relatively) fresh and cool.

We arrived in Hanoi on Christmas Eve and found the city even busier than usual. Crossing the street is an activity of its own in Vietnam and the closed streets, parading Christmas celebrants complete with costumes (my sister likened it to Halloween), and jazzy Christmas concert (we actually heard a rendition of “happy birthday, Jesus”) made it more challenging than usual.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral

One of the things I really love about Hanoi is that the Old Quarter and French Quarter, though adjacent to each other and both quite small, feel like completely different cities. We spent time every day in the Old Quarter, which I think is the more fascinating:

Needing quiet, however, I wandered the French Quarter by myself the morning of our last day in Hanoi:

There’s an excellent café culture of Hanoi and coffee was a highlight of every day. Vietnamese coffee is served in tiny cups and I rather enjoyed visiting two cafés in quick succession.

Though we spent most of our time just wandering, my sister had told me that she really wanted to visit temples on her trip to Asia and Hanoi did not disappoint. There are Buddhist temples everywhere and it’s perfectly acceptable to stop in. We entered several instead of just passing by, especially at the beginning of our trip when it was all new:

Hanoi also has some very famous temples that I was more than happy to visit again. The first of these was Ngoc Son Temple, located on Hoan Kiem Lake, the center of Hanoi:

To get there, you need to cross Huc Bridge, which is cool because it’s red. I did take a photo during the day but this one was better:

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Turtle Tower is another Hanoi landmark, also located on Hoan Kiem Lake, but is inaccessible:

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My favorite temple in Hanoi is the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius 1,000 years ago. I love it because in addition to being really beautiful, it is dedicated to learning (my favorite thing!). It contains massive carved turtles listing the names of students who passed state exams. Unfortunately, I was dissatisfied with all of my turtle pictures, but the Temple of Literature is still really pretty:

We also visited the Hanoi Citadel, which was new to me. The citadel is really more of a palace; it was the residence of Vietnamese royalty until the nineteenth century. It was lovely to walk through the grounds and see several small museum exhibits of artifacts found during various excavations. There was also an exhibit on the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese call America’s War, as I learned when I visited Ho Chi Minh City) that was interesting because it portrays a different war than the one I studied in school.

Although I don’t have any pictures to prove it, we also went to a water puppet show, which was the other new activity for me! Water puppetry originated in the wet rice fields in Vietnam and now is performed on stage by puppeteers hidden behind a screen. They control the puppets on very long poles while standing waist-deep in water. The shows depict scenes of traditional Vietnamese life and are accompanied by singers and an orchestra playing traditional instruments. We didn’t understand the words but we understood the ideas and enjoyed it very much.

Again, no pictures to prove it, but we ate very well. There was far more vegetarian street food available in Hanoi this time than I remember from last time (or maybe I’ve gotten better at looking) and all of it was delicious! The only disappointment was not being able to find vegetarian pho, which seems to be everywhere but Vietnam.

From Hanoi, we took a sleeper train northwest to Sapa, which is up in the mountains and very close to the border with China. More on that soon!

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Playing Tourist

My sister has been here visiting since Tuesday and it has been so great having her here. It’s nice to share my life with her and show her the city that has become so important to me. It’s also a lot of fun to play tourist along with tour guide, indulgently doing all the things that are on the list for “someday”. For example, the Red Dot Design Museum was completely new to me and having my sister here was reason enough to visit the 50th storey skybridge at The Pinnacle@Duxton in Tanjong Pagar:

What has also been interesting is that my sister’s visit to Singapore has included visits to several religious buildings. Unlike when I travel, I don’t seek out religious buildings to admire here. I often pass by them and peek inside, but I don’t purposely find them like I do else. However, I was at Chijmes shortly before my sister’s arrival . . .

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. . . and have since visited Masjid Abdul Gafoor, which my sister asked to see . . .

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. . . and Thian Hock Keng, which we passed completely by accident while walking through Telok Ayer. . . .

There have been others, too, but these have been new for me. It’s nice to share something new with my sister, too. We don’t do that nearly often enough now that we live so far apart.

My sister’s visit has reminded me that no matter how much time you spend in a place, there’s always something else waiting to be seen. I love that about the world.

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In a few days, we’re off to Hanoi, Sapa (new for me!), and Chiang Mai. Looking forward to going back and looking forward to going anew!

Travel Guide: New Orleans, LA

Prior to leaving on this long weekend with my mum (the first time we’ve traveled somewhere together!), I had the following conversation with more than a few friends and colleagues:

Curious person: Oh cool, New Orleans! Are you going for Mardi Gras?
Me: No, that’s not until next week.
Curious person: Oh right, of course.

To all of you who asked such a good question, I owe you an apology. I was completely wrong and you seemed to believe what I said without question (likely because I go a lot of places and do a lot of things and usually sound pretty confident when I speak, the latter of which is largely smoke and mirrors anyway). Mea culpa. Lessons learned: Factually, trust no one (as aptly phrased by Kyle) and always, always research.

The Mardi Gras season, as the extremely friendly and hospitable New Orleanians (I may have made up that word) told me, runs from Epiphany in January to actual Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). As the locals explained it, Mardi Gras is an excuse to do as much sinning as possible for 5+ weeks in order to have something to atone for over Lent.

So yes, I was in New Orleans for part of Mardi Gras. And it was amazing. There were parades everywhere at all times of the day and night. Most of these photos are from the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter:

My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed collecting as many beads as we could and ogling in astonishment at the parades, costumes, and general debauchery, especially on Bourbon Street. There are no open container laws in New Orleans, which was a lot of fun and probably explains much of what we saw:

More importantly, we learned a lot about the rich history and culture of New Orleans, which has been Spanish, French, and American throughout its history, creating Creole and Cajun cultures that give the city a flavor and a pulse unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The food is darn good, too, and this is coming from a vegetarian. If I was impressed, omnivores will be even more so.

I have to admit, however, that I still don’t like doughnuts. It was a lot of fun to eat beignets and drink café au lait while walking down the street, but I just don’t like doughnuts. That said, I’d still recommend a visit to Café du Monde, if for no other reason than to say you did. We got there around 8:15am on Saturday morning and beat the lines by about a minute. And the café au lait was truly delicious.

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Mum and I really love wandering along streets and in and out of shops and galleries wherever we are, which is how we spent most of our time. We explored the French Quarter and French Market on our own and also took a French Quarter walking tour to actually learn a thing or two about how New Orleans came to be. We were amazed at the beauty of the streets and buildings, and delighted with the art and music that were everywhere:

Another really excellent walking tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. There were some incredible homes in the Garden District, with a remarkable diversity of architecture based on sheer whim of the wealthy homeowners.We learned about the burial laws of New Orleans (as long as you wait a year and a day, you can open a tomb and shove another body inside) and some of the history of the city’s wealth from trade. The first burial in Lafayette Cemetery took place in the 1840s and the cemetery is still active, which is really neat:

We also spent one evening on Frenchmen Street where there was jazz everywhere, as well as an art market. The hard part was picking a bar to visit (we chose The Spotted Cat based on several recommendations) and a place to eat afterwards! And then we were interrupted by the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade in Marginy, which was so much fun. Unfortunately, I’m a rather petite person and couldn’t get close enough to the police barrier to take any decent photos of the parade itself. But here’s Frenchmen Street:

On our last night in the city, we took a ghost tour to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. I’m glad that we did the French Quarter tour first because the histories are obviously intertwined, but I don’t know that I’d seek out another ghost tour. I enjoyed hearing the stories and visiting a possibly haunted bar that doesn’t have electricity, but I got a lot more out of the daytime walking tours. That’s probably not surprising, considering the supernatural is questionable at best.

I’ve always admired the “doors of” posters of various cities that are often on the walls in waiting rooms, so I decided New Orleans was a good opportunity to work on my own collection of “doors of” photos. My favorites, including one set of mailboxes:

The most surprising aspect of New Orleans was the culture of the city and the genuinely open, receptive, and free spirits of all the people I encountered, from the man in the suit to the young couple in togas to the woman wearing only glitter. People playing music on the streets seemed genuinely excited to be doing it and artists hung their work anywhere they could and worked wherever they were standing. Palm and tarot readings were readily available and the voodoo shop we visited could not have been more welcoming; they even suggested a different shop when we couldn’t find what we wanted!

(Full disclosure here: Friends have read my tarot cards twice and palm once, and while I don’t know if I “believe” any of what they said, it sure was telling. And, in hindsight, frighteningly accurate.)

Maybe it was Mardi Gras or Southern hospitality, but there’s something truly wonderful about a place where what is normally considered “subculture” is just everyday being.

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