i say a little prayer for you

As soon as I saw the prayer flags gracing the landscape of Bhutan, I knew I was going to learn about them and share with you. I think they are splendid.

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For centuries, prayer flags have been part of Bhutanese people’s tradition. The flags are raised for happiness, long life, prosperity, luck, and merit.  When the wind blows, it carries the prayers on the flags to all beings.

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You will see them hoisted outside homes, hung on bridges, hilltops and places of spiritual importance.

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Years ago, prayer flags were printed  from wooden blocks and slates. Today pre-printed flags are available. The flag colors  represent the elements. Blue symbolizes the sky and space; white symbolizes the water, air, and wind; red symbolizes fire; green symbolizes the environment; and yellow symbolizes earth.

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The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade from exposure to the elements. Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life.

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Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

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yakety yak

Snow yak

Snow yak

On our way up the winding mountain road to Bumthang, we came across a herd of yaks led by a zhop (herder). There are more than 37,000 of these endangered animals in Bhutan. Since they cannot survive below 10,000 feet, they are found at higher altitudes. They have a special hemoglobin in their blood that helps them adapt to higher altitudes. As I have seen up close and personal, they are very large animals. Some males stand nearly six feet tall and can weigh over a ton!


Yaks provide food for Bhutan in the way of milk, milk products and meat. Their hair is used for garments and tent shelter. Pack yaks are an important means of transport in mountainous terrains. Also, yak dung is the only source of fuel in summer pastures above the tree line. In recent years, yaks are increasingly being used in the high altitude   trekking tourism industry.

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My new Bhutanese yak wool jacket.

Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

flying with the prime minister

Our flight to Bhutan had an unscheduled stop in Myanmar to pick up the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay! What better way to begin our Bhutan journey than to be accompanied by the Prime Minister himself! And the fact that he was so engaging and charming, was icing on the cake. Easy to see how this charismatic man was elected last year. I see good news for Bhutan’s future! Here’s a little clip of this historic moment:

Of course, our momentus meeting was memorialized with a Bhutanese commemorative stamp.

Me and my friend, the Prime Minister of Bhutan!

Stamp of me and my friend, the Prime Minister of Bhutan!

Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

leopards and tigers and elephants! oh my!

Ready for any tiger or elephant!

Ready for any tiger or elephant!

Who knew that Vietnam had its own coliseum? Hổ Quyền is an arena on the banks of the Perfume River in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam. Here, tigers (and sometimes leopards) and elephants fought to the death, gladiator style, once a year for the benefit of the emperor and his royal family.

Elephant Gate

Elephant gate

Historically in Vietnam, tigers were greatly feared as they preyed on helpless villagers and their livestock. In contrast, elephants were noble animals who represented the honorable virtues of the royal family. The fight was always carefully rigged to give the elephant an advantage by declawing, defanging and tying up the tiger. Still, the tigers would put on a show by jumping and charging the elephant. Almost always, the elephant would win by trampling the tiger. And if the elephant was not getting the job done, another one would enter the arena to assist.

You can see tiger cages on far side or arena wall in this photo.

You can see the openings where tigers would enter in this photo.

This tiger arena was built in 1830 and the last duel was held in 1904. Unfortunately, the site is not well preserved and approaching ruin. Although the practice of dueling animals would not be acceptable today, hopefully there will one day be an effort to renovate this fascinating piece of Vietnamese history.

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In the heyday of Hổ Quyền Arena

Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

long life

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Longevity Symbol

For centuries, Vietnamese people have considered the longevity symbol as a sign that promotes long life before and even after death. It is also believed to protect people from sudden accidents and create energy that leads to good health.

Image In the city of Hue, Vietnam, this symbol was popular with Emporers of the Imperial Dynasty as they believed in addition to their own long life, it also ensured the well being of their descendents and longevity of the dynasty when they left for the eternal next world. I saw the symbol on tombs, windows, floors, fabrics, jewelry, ceramics, clothing and anything else you can think of!

ImageSaigon LOVE to all, Lisa

ancient burmese beauty secret

Watermelon girl with thanaka

Watermelon girl with thanaka

During my holiday in Myanmar (Burma), I learned about a centuries old method of Burmese beautification called thanaka. A paste is made by grinding the bark of a thanaka tree with a little bit of water on a stone slab and is then applied to the skin. It has a fragrant scent similar to sandalwood.

The golden creamy paste is applied to the face in many different designs. The most common ones I saw were striped circles  or leaves on cheeks. Some Burmese use it from head to toe. Thanaka cools the skin, works as a sunscreen, tightens pores and is an organic skin conditioner. It is also an anti fungal, laxative and acne medication. Every day, after taking a bath, women, children, and even some men, paint on the thanaka.

There is an old saying that the world’s most beautiful women have a Thai smile, Indian eyes, and Burmese skin. Now we know the secret to their legendary skin! If you doubt these claims, watch this little slideshow and tell me that these faces are not beautiful!

Saigon LOVE to you, Lisa

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When in Rome…

goodbye water snake…hello wood horse

Today, January 31st in the Gregorian calendar, is the first and most important day of the Lunar New Year or Tết. This biggest-holiday-in-Vietnam  is spent with close and extended family, where time is enjoyed together and blessings for the future are made.

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2014 is the Year of the Wooden Horse, a symbol of energy, intelligence and success.  This year is considered a time for fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is also an excellent year for travel (gotta love that!), and the further off the beaten path, the better.

I started this auspicious day off right…with a yummy cà phê sữa đá! Click here if you want to learn how make this famous Vietnamese iced milk coffee at home!

Refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee at Continental Hotel

Refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee at Continental Hotel

After breakfast at the historic Continental Hotel, I took a stroll around Nguyen Hue St. and soaked in a little of the first day of Tết festivities.

Beautiful girl in ao day with Tết flowers

Pretty girl in ao dai dress and traditional Tết flowers

Families were in full swing, sporting new clothes and posing in front of an abundance of vivid Tết decorations and flowers.

This cutie caught my eye!

This cutie caught my eye!

During Tết, the city is so much quieter, with many gone to their hometowns to celebrate the new year. So many fewer motos, but I did catch this one…

Moto Tết girl

Moto Tết girl

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Cool cat!

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Lovely mother and daughter enjoying flower festival

Vietnamese people believe that a lion dance performance on the first day of the Lunar New Year will make the year a prosperous one. It is very often mistaken (I’m guilty!) for a dragon dance. In a lion dance, you do not normally see the performer’s face as they are inside the lion and it is most often performed by two people. In a dragon dance, there can be many performers and you see their faces as the dragon is held on poles. The lion dance is accompanied by synchronized drums, cymbals and gongs. I found these lions prancing outside our apartment building! Here is a tiny snippet of their dance so that you, too, can have a lucky year:

 

To think of Tết simply as a New Year celebration would miss the mark completely. It is a very special occasion lasting officially for four days (although many celebrate for two weeks!) that are filled with tradition and special family time. It is also a time when the Vietnamese people celebrate their culture and share a common goal of peace and love.

Saigon LOVE and Chúc Mừng Năm Mới to you and yours, Lisa

take me to the river

Riding on the Irawaddy River

Cruising the Irawaddy River

One of the highlights of our trip to Myanmar (Burma), was seeing the powerful Irawaddy River. This river is over 1,350 miles long and flows north to south through the middle of the country. It is Myanmar’s largest river and vital to their economy. As early as the sixth century, this river was used for trade and transport. The river still plays a  huge economic role transporting rice, teak and other important goods.

While cruising on the river, it was obvious that the Irawaddy also plays a significant role in the day to day life of people in Myanmar. People were trading, bathing, swimming, doing laundry, working and savoring life all along the banks. And the sunset I experienced was nothing short of spectacular! Here’s a tiny peek into life on the Irawaddy River:

Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

chasing waterfalls

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Obviously, Leonardo visited the Kuang Si falls. His quote perfectly describes my feelings when visiting these sensational waterfalls in Laos. Mother Nature in all of her glory!

Our waterfall trek began on a 45 minute chillier-than-we-thought tuk tuk ride!

Our waterfall trek began with a 45 minute chillier-than-we-thought tuk tuk ride!

The Kuang Si Waterfall Park is a collection of multi-tiered waterfalls. The falls begin in shallow pools on top of a steep hillside. These lead to the main fall with a 200 ft cascade. The water collects placidly into numerous bright turquoise pools as it flows downstream. Most visitors to Luang Prabang, Laos make this a must-do day trip. You can see why in this video (and we DID go chasing waterfalls!):

The many aqua pools are considered safe to swim in but because of the chilly temps, I did not bring my bathing suit. During the warmer afternoon, I REALLY wanted to jump in and regretted not having my bathing suit. However, I have since learned that there are leeches in the water that might have been unpleasant. Also present… harmless little fish that attack dead skin on swimmers’  feet. Shoot…I have paid for that service at a fish spa!

We had a delightful lunch at the Cafe Bel Air that included Mekong River weeds. Nearby in the park, is a Bear Rescue Centre for endangered Asiatic black bears that have been rescued from poachers. We just missed the 12:30 feeding time but did enjoy seeing them lounging about.

Tasty Mekong River weeds

Tasty Mekong River weeds

The journey to these waterfalls was definitely the highlight of my trip to Laos. There is nothing quite like the powerful rush of waterfalls contrasted next to still pools of water. A feast for all senses and an experience I will long treasure. Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

couture fashion…saigon style

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Thien LE is a Vietnamese Canadian fashion designer and founder of the Thien Le label which specializes in exclusive couture. He is internationally recognized and has been featured in several fashion fairs. Most recently, he had his first show in Ho Chi Minh City. Sandra, Traci and I had the pleasure of attending his trunk show at the Park Hyatt.

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modeling our Thien LE scarves

We loved the attention to detail and the luxurious fabrics that are hallmarks of Thien LE’s designs. Unfortunately, the jacket that caught my eye was a little out of my budget. Saving now to be ready when he returns to reinvent the Saigon couture scene. Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa
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