Singapore fling!

We’d left Vietnam behind, but we weren’t quite done with our travels yet.  Instead of heading straight to Sydney, we stopped for a week in Singapore.  What a way to round out our time on the road!  Singapore was also the 30th country that I’ve visited, so that was a great milestone to reach at the end of this trip.

(Side note- It’s a super fun game to count up al the countries you’ve been to.  Brings back tons of fun memories.  But, there are a few rules.  You can’t count places that you’ve only had a stop-over in.  So, even though I’ve been to the airport in Frankfurt, I can’t count Germany.  Also, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t count because they’re part of the United Kingdom and Great Britain.  Angry Scots, please don’t email me about this.  It’s just how it is.  So, how many countries have YOU been to?)

Anyway, after almost three months in Vietnam, Singapore was a little bit overwhelming!   Gone were the sweaty afternoons spent wandering amongst colourful local markets and dodging locals who spit all the time.  Instead, we went from mega-mall to mega-mall, never leaving the air conditioning in a country where spitting is literally against the law.  It was a culture shock to say the least!

Modern, sprawling and beautiful. The view from high above Singapore.

Our hotel was in Little India and we had a fantastic time exploring the neighbourhood. I was especially keen to pop into every single Indian grocery store that I saw.  It killed me not to fill bags with all the gorgeous spices and mixes that I saw, but I knew I’d never be able to get them past Australian customs.

My first EVER mango lassi. Won't be the last!

Our friends James and Briony, whom we last saw in Buenos Aires, were in Singapore for a few days as well, so we reunited over great food and many drinks.  It was messy, but great to see them again!

Dinner with James and Briony on our first night in Singapore

I was amazed by the buildings in Singapore.  It’s super hot there so people seem to go outside as little as possible.  Instead, huge malls and office buildings are all connected via underground corsos.  We went shopping one afternoon (shopping is the Singaporean national sport I think!) and we got off the train at one mall.  After walking and shopping for a few hours we went outside and discovered we were blocks and blocks away from where we’d started our day!  It’s like being a very pampered, very posh hamster!

One of the dozens of huge shopping malls in Singapore

Inside one of the constantly busy shopping malls

One of the most amazing things about Singapore is what an international little nation it is!  There are people from all corners of the world living and working in Singapore… and it seems like they all brought their favourite foods with them!  In the space of one week we ate Chinese food, Indian food, German food, Malaysian food, Singaporean food (duh), American food, Japanese food and Turkish food.  And that was just a sampling of all the cuisines available to us!

A massive dosai and curries in Little India

Steins of German beer

Chicken and mutton satay

Huge burgers with blue cheese, carmelised onions and pears

Japanese food and beer

Turkish dips and breads (first time I'd had hummous in more than three months!)

So, it was a culture shock to enter Singapore with it’s giant shopping malls and endless choices of food and drinks.  But, I think it was just what we needed to prepare us for our reentry to Australia!  Here we come!


Vietnam wrap up

Goodnight, Saigon!  Our time in Vietnam has come to an end.  We were there for more than two months and we managed to see at lot in that time.

We started in the capital.  We started in the cold.  We ended in the South.  We ended in the heat.  We saw the coast and we saw the rice paddies.  We saw huge cities and we saw tiny villages.  We ate and drank and made friends and memories.

When we left South America I wrote a wrap-up post full of numbers.  I thought I might do the same for our time in Vietnam.  But, when I began thinking back on our time there, it wasn’t the volume of things that stood out to me at all.  Instead, it was the small and significant moments that we enjoyed.  So, here’s a small wrap up in the form of my Top Five Most Memorable Moments in Vietnam.

1.  Making friends in Ha Noi

New friends on a night out in Ha Noi

My memories of Ha Noi are mixed.  I loved the architecture, I hated the cold.  I loved the food, I hated the damp.  But one memory of Ha Noi that’s entirely positive is the memory of meeting a group of new friends out at a Bia Hoi one night.  We ate and drank and translated for each other and laughed a lot.  Amazing people.  Amazing night.

2.  Kayaking in Halong Bay

Andy is paddling happily in Halong Bay

This is something that I have literally wanted to do for years.  We spent a cloudy, misty hour kayaking together around the jade green waters of Halong Bay.  The cliffs rose above us, the water lapped at the kayak and I thought, again, how much wonder there is in the world if you go looking for it.  A fantastic experience to share with my husband.

3.  Cooking up a storm in Hue

Bun tron made for us by Trang in Hue

When we arrived in Vietnam we didn’t plan on spending six weeks in Hue.  But we fell in love with the small city, the great food and the wonderfully kind people at the New Life Hotel where we lived.  Our favourite staff member, Trang, even taught us how to make one of her family’s favourite meals- bun tron.  We cooked with Trang and our new friends Russell and Asia and enjoyed a delicious, authentic meal.

4.  Sunsets on Phu Quoc

Sunset over the Gulf of Thailand on Phu Quoc Island

Andy and I love a good sunset.  Whenever we have a chance we like to pour a glass of wine and watch the sun dip below the horizon.  There’s something very calming and contemplative about watching another day end and Andy and I often have our best conversations at sunset.  On the island of Phu Quoc we spent every evening with our toes in the sand and our eyes on the skies.

5.  Seafood pig-out in Saigon

The remains of a very successful shellfish dinner in Saigon

It was our last night in Vietnam, and I like to think we went out in style.  One last time we squeezed our American bums on tiny plastic stools, ordered icy cold beers and tucked into a feast of Vietnamese food.  This time it was freshly grilled shellfish and we managed to stuff ourselves on scallops, mussels and cockles.  What a way to end our adventures!

This is just a quick sample, a small number of the endless moments of fun, contemplation, deliciousness and laughter that we shared with each other and with the people of Vietnam whilst we were there.  We went to Vietnam hoping to recharge our batteries and regroup.  To get ready to restart our “real life.”  We left feeling rejuvenated, peaceful, full and excited about our next steps.  Thanks for all the memories, ‘Nam!

An example of why we travel

You meet amazing people when traveling; fellow travelers who share their stories. You’re lucky if you are able to meet locals. Locals tell you the best of their culture; share their hearts; places for good food; sites not in the guidebook; why things are the way they are; authentic discussions between non-fellow countrymen.

Monday night it happened to us….again. We visited out favourite local pub (Bia Hoi Ha Noi) with the idea of going for a delicious dinner of grilled skewers later in the evening. After a few beers, our night took on new life, summed up by my comment of ‘let’s just go with it’!

After ordering a few draft beers and munching on peanuts, a group of eight local Vietnamese joined tables next to us. The local pubs in Vietnam are nothing but flexible. A few more plastic tables and chairs were quickly arranged, and it was starting to get busy in our neck of the pub.

The whole group.

The group began ordering plates upon plates of food. Just when we thought they were finished, out comes a hotpot of broth with rare beef. The beef is cooked table-side, fondu style. Along with this was a salad of dried beef and local greens.  Being foodies, they now had our attention. SarahKate was longingly checking out the beef salad as the nearest lady offered to let her try it: The beginning of the end.

The famous and tasty dried beef salad!

Within minutes, we had new friends who requested that we turn our table to join them for the evening. For the next few hours, friendly bonding ensued.   Check out the video of the group: Our new friends!

They turned out to be a group of co-workers.  The boss was taking them out for the evening.  Food and beer was on the boss. Oh, and he decided to pick up our check as well. What a guy!!!

Me and the boss shaking hands.

Well, first there was the general stuff: Where are you from?; How do you like Vietnam?; Here, try this; Another round of beers; Cheers!!

Much fun by all!

This was followed by ‘do you like hot dog?’, where an affirmative meant that they ordered hot dog for us to have at the table. By this point, they had already shared the beef salad with us, and we had eaten a large portion of the beef cooked in the hotpot. They were so excited to share their food and culture with us. Constant ‘Yo’ was being said as we would cheers for a round during all of this.

SarahKate and her new friend.

Next, I seemed to have a good idea: shake everyones’ hands and get a few key photos as I went aroud the table. This was well received! I think I got a hug or two as well.

Who's the kid?

I love this guy!

Finally, as the night wound down, a few people headed for home; a few relatives showed up; we got a business card of where they worked; and an invitation for a Bun Cha lunch the next day was issued. What a night!!!

We said our goodbyes, only to be back up tomorrow thinking ‘Do we have lunch plans?’ We looked up the address, which was nearby, and headed out for lunch. Sure enough, they were expecting us. This time, only three of them joined us.  However, they gave us a motorbike ride to a very well-known and amazing Bun Cha restaurant.  We love a good motorbike ride through Hanoi.

Loving the motorbike rides in Ha Noi.

An amazing lunch of Bun Cha and Nem.

Lunch was delicious. We had a great time with our new friends, who again, paid for the food. Then, we were back to their offices to walk back to our hostel.  What an amazing group of people and experience for us all!