A Morning with Madame Ha

We’re sitting the the lobby of the Saigon Morin sipping coffee, watching the drizzle and listening to Celine Dion singing O Holy Night and crucifying our Lord well before Easter (that woman has a great deal to answer for!) The entire hotel is aglow with Christmas lights and decorations – O Holy Night indeed!

We’ve just returned from a delightful morning at Tinh Gia Vien attending a cooking class with one of Vietnam’s national treasures – the delightful Madame Ha. Perhaps her style of cooking is a trifle elaborate for the home cook but the ornate presentations were a layered omelet becomes a Phoenix, spring rolls provide the body of a peacock and sculptured carrots are the scales of coleslaw dragons are fit for a Hue Emperor.

We were the only two in the class and we laughed at our mistakes, basked in compliments on our omelet technique and helped created some memorable dishes. Our Dance of the Phoenix was served to a table of ex-pat Vietnamese who were visiting from Venice Beach. One of the most memorable mornings we have spent in a long time.

I finally was able to upload some of the Halong Bay photos (just click to view.) The connections here are not the best and I have not been able to access my blog to see how it looks. Hope everything looks okay.

Technical Difficulties Are Only Temporary

It’s been over four days since my last update but the technical end of things have been causing all sorts of problems. What with difficulties getting a Photo CD burned, incredibly slow response times in Sapa (we were in the middle of the mountains so go figure), BlogSpot being inaccessible and my dropping and breaking my camera things got just a bit out of hand. Also to be honest Sapa was just so damned overwhelming that at the end of a day of trekking all we wanted to do was sit by the fire and drink hot wine!

We are now in Hue after a touch and go experience with our friends at Vietnam Airlines. We were up and out of the Hotel by 0500 with our bleary-eyed guide Hai. I had an uncomfortable feeling at the airport when I couldn’t see our flight on the departure screen: Cancelled for lack of interest! We had to standby for Da Nang and then take a car back the 80 kms to Hue. Wonder of wonders we got on, by the time we had arrived at the baggage carousel our bags where there and the driver was outside waiting for us! Vietnam Luxury Travel had done an incredible recovery job. Enroute we saw China Beach of TV fame, incredibly ornate cemeteries and some of the most baroque catholic churches I’ve seen outside of Austria! This country is a constant source of surprise and wonder.

We are now checked-in to a grand hotel from the 1901s – the Saigon Morin. Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard spent their honeymoon here – now the Beaulieu-Hobbs duo is ensconced in a room the size of a football field with rose petals scattered on the bed! Life is tough!

Harried, Harrassed and Hurried

We have been on the go for the past few days and it has been difficult to get into an Internet cafe for any length of time. We are currently between the Junk cruise of Halong Bay and the overnight train trip to Sapa. So just a few highlights – there are pictures to come, honestly!

  • It’s been bloody cold here and unfortunately overcast and frankly the constant honking his driving me crazy!
  • The good part of the drive to Halong Bay is through a deeply depressing coal mining area – the soot coats everything and dulls even the normal vivid green of the rice paddies.
  • Halong Bay is truly a World Heritage Site
  • Being very ecologically inclined I chastised two Korean women for climbing over the limestone formations in the caves – I was then gently told by our guide Hih that before the area became a World Heritage Site, the local fisherman used explosives to catch their fish!
  • We had more shrimp in three meals on the Bai Tho Junk cruise than I’ve had in the past four months in Ottawa.

Hanoi at 60

Not much different from Hanoi at 59 frankly – scooters still buzzing around. Only difference is that the temperature dropped today and its been slightly chilly. The locals, of course, have donned winter parkas.

Some Birthday treats:

  • flowers from our tour guide – lovely but not as nice as the 24 roses the Rex Hotel sent up to atone for the incident in the Health Club ( more about that later)
  • a birthday cake from the Sheraton Hotel – expect the picture to appear in their magazine
  • cooking lessons at the Metropole
  • a lovely dinner including Champagne
  • being with Laurent
  • the greetings sent by my friends and family – love you all!

A Quick Update

Sorry that I haven’t been posting as much as I wanted to. Its been go, go, go for the past few days. On top of that I didn’t bring my laptop with me so I have to depend on Internet at Hotels or cafes. The Rex in Saigon wasn’t too bad but the Shearton in Hanoi wants $1 USD a minute for a connection.

Anyway here are a few observations/highlights/thoughts:

  • If you get a relaxing message at the Rex Hotel – expect them to want to recreate the entire American journalist experience for you (more about that later)
  • The drive to the airport in Saigon took 50 minutes to go 7 km – those bloody scooters again
  • When we got there our 1130 flight had been rescheduled for 1100 – couldn’t be delayed the way everyone says AC always is.
  • The flight was on a beautiful brand new 777 – very attractive and attentive service and a great flight – Vietnam Airlines is doing something right!
  • No I did not look at the dog being sold as meat at the market during our cooking school tour.
  • The drivers in Hanoi are scaredy-cat chicken-shits compared to the drivers in Saigon
  • People here are incredible – friendly and helpful
  • The Vietnam War is known here as The American War – depends on your perspective
  • The “Hanoi Hilton” is pretty bloody scary.
  • A little of the Water Puppet Theatre goes a long way.

Hope to have some pictures and something more tomorrow.