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

international ladies in vietnam

Partay!!!

Partay!!!

This post is long overdue! My participation in the International Ladies in Vietnam (ILV) organization has contributed greatly to my happy lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City.  I am still grateful to my friend, Lydia Ozuna, for bringing me to an ILV meeting shortly after I arrived in Saigon. Diversity smiles on this group with over 300 members  from over 45 countries. There is someone or something for everyone.  And there is no better way to learn where to shop, eat, find resources, travel, and have FUN!

Every Thursday morning, we meet for coffee at the Purple Jade in the Intercontinental Hotel, where we catch up and often entertain an interesting guest speaker. After our coffee morning, the good times usually continue over lunch. There is also Shanghai rummy, bridge, mahjong, line dancing, cooking class, flower arranging, calligraphy and more.  We have evening ILV, book clubs, charity bazaars, parties, tennis tournaments, golf outings, tiara parties, bowling, crafts, holiday luncheons and dinners. We love a reason to dance, dress up, celebrate a good cause and just have FUN!

I have made wonderful friends (maybe you’ve heard me mention Laura?) through my involvement with ILV. But, there is a downside…expats tend to leave right when you get to know them (sniff, sniff…goodbye Nanna)! But there is a silver lining. There is always a newcomer ready to make friends and have FUN!

got monk?

 “You must become a monk, before you can become a man.”  Burmese saying

Young novice monk at Mandalay temple

Young novice monk at Mandalay temple

The answer in Myanamar is yes….500,000 plus strong! Buddhist monks hold the highest status in the society of Myanmar (Burma) where 89% of the population is Theravada Buddhist.  Incredibly, in the city of Mandalay, over 20% of the population are monks. In Bagan, Laura and I were so moved during a visit to a teaching monastery of young, orphaned novices. As I watched them chanting thanks and fanning flies away from their simple lunch, I was mesmorized and transported to another world. You will understand why they tugged at every heart string I own when you watch this video:

Monks typically rise very early in the morning. In addition to meal preparation and cleaning, there are lessons to be learned. By mid morning, they leave for their daily alms walk. It is a very common sight all over Myanmar to see monks in their maroon robes walking with their alm or offering bowls. They do not beg. People come out of their homes and businesses and put offerings in their bowls as part of their good deeds. This is how monks receive most of their food. Monks have two meals a day: breakfast and lunch. They are not allowed to eat after noon.

Monk with lam bowl full of offerings

Monk with alm bowl full of offerings

Most men in Myanmar will spend at least a few days as a monk to learn the basics and to earn spiritual merit.  Many will do it twice. Some boys enter as early as 10 years old as a novice. Often, sons of poor families enter to have a roof over their heads and to receive an education. When they reach the age of 20, they will decide whether to continue as a full monk. Here are some of my prized monk photos taken during my visit in Myanmar:

Obviously, monk life in Myanmar is much more complicated than I have presented here. They are very personable and we were approached a few times by monks wanting to practice their English or to share. In 2007, monks led and participated in protests called the Saffron Revolution against the military dictatorship of Myanmar. Many were killed and arrested in that movement. This blog post does not even begin to scratch the surface of this subject. Still, I feel so blessed to have witnessed up close a tiny bit of this fascinating culture in our big world!

သြာေတာ့မယ္။ (Goodbye) and Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

đây là mẹ tôi (this is my mother)

I proudly learned  this new sentence during my Mom’s visit. I loved introducing her to everyone and our life in Vietnam.

Hoi An with Mom

Hoi An with Mom

Besides meeting many of our friends, we enjoyed cyclo rides, cooking class, visits to the tailor and fabric street in China Town, runs to the market and eating at beaucoup of my favorite restaurants. Lots of shopping including the purchase of these very authentic Vietnamese socks that my Mom can’t wait to wear this fall!

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A big highlight was time spent together at the Fusion Maia Resort and Spa in Danang and a side trip to the exquisite town of Hoi An. The only bug was the one that found its way into our tummies early in Mom’s visit. But it didn’t keep her down! Enjoy this little video montage of my Vietnam mama:

We made so many lovely memories that I am already cherishing and will hold dear for the rest of my life. I consider myself very fortunate to have had this very special time with my Mama. Con yêu Mẹ rất nhiều (I love you very much, Mom)! Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

100!

Seems so fitting that my 100th blog post coincides with two years of Saigon Love blogging, my two year wedding anniversary, and two years of living in Vietnam. Please indulge me for a minute as I express a few thoughts about these little milestones:

  1. SAIGON LOVE – Although excited when I began this blog, two years later, I am also grateful for this online diary of my time in Vietnam. I have learned so much about writing, video making and photography. So far, Saigon Love has had over 17,000 visits from 97 countries! So crazy when I think that this began as a medium to share my photos and experiences with family and friends.

    Fishing basket boat on China Beach in Danang, Vietnam

    Love my photo of this fisherman on China Beach in Danang

  2. VIETNAM – I fall more in love every day with this amazing country. There are so many dimensions to its diverse culture that I could live here 100 years and still have more to explore. In the past two years, I have traveled over 250,000 miles to 31 cities in over 9 different countries. And I would be lying if I said the exquisite cuisine did not factor into the pleasure of my time here! But sweetest of all, is my widening circle of friends in Saigon. I am so blessed to have made meaningful friendships here that I will carry with me long after I leave Vietnam.

    Laura and I are masters of self portrait iPad photos!

    Laura and I are masters of self portrait iPad photos!

  3. PAUL – So appreciative of my husband for his contributions to this wondrous and beautiful chapter of my life. Thank you, my sweetie.

    Celebrating two years in Hanoi

    Celebrating 2nd wedding anniversary in Hanoi

And thanks to everyone who reads Saigon Love. So gratifying to know people are interested enough to read my blog. It keeps me blogging away. Here’s to year three! Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

all aboard!

Laura and I recently journeyed over 1,200 miles from Singapore to Bangkok on the Orient Express’ Eastern and Oriental line. We decided to make the most of our one night in Singapore and stayed at what is often billed as the world’s greatest hotel…the Raffles Hotel. Since 1887, this hotel has been a destination in of itself and exudes a colonial ambiance and history that no other hotel can match.

Enjoying a Singapore Sling

Raffles is home of the Singapore Sling

Chicken Satay

A trip to Singapore is not complete without chicken satay!

Captivating Raffles Hotel

Stunning Raffles Hotel

The next morning we boarded the train and settled in to our TINY compartment, which was ingeniously designed to hold all of our luggage with room left over to breathe! Now, it was time to explore our glamourous new environment. We adored the open air observation car and spent relaxing time with a coffee (or beer!) watching the lush landscape pass us by.  Lunch and dinner was served in one of three ornate dining cars (breakfast served in our compartment) and often we were seated with fascinating passengers from around the world. There was also a bar car with pianist and for one evening…Thai dancers.

Our cozy compartment...bunk bed over me!

Our cozy compartment…bunk bed over me!

After a brief stop the first night at the historic Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, we disembarked the second day at the Butterworth railway station for our visit to George Town on Penang Island, Malaysia. By motor coach, we crossed the longest bridge in Malaysia to the Penang capital of George Town. We toured this delightfully historic town by trishaw. The multi-cultural heritage was evident by the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities. We saw vibrant markets, elaborate temples, mosques and colonial architecture throughout the city.

Laura enjoying her trishaw ride through George Town

Laura enjoying her trishaw ride in George Town

On our third and final day, we visited the Thailand-Burma Railway. You probably know it best from the Academy Award winning motion picture Bridge over the River Kwai. The railway is an extraordinary 257 miles in length over mountainous jungle and unbelievably constructed with hand tools and some dynamite in just twelve months in 1942 during WWII at a cost of over 130,000 lives.

Bridge over the River Kwai

Bridge over the River Kwai

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Final resting place of thousands who perished building the Thailand-Burma Railway.

Were you worried that I forgot to make a movie? You are one of the select few to get a sneak peek of this Spring’s blockbuster – Mystery on the Orient Express. Feast your eyes:

We had a hunch this might be one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” trips. We were correct! Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

what? angkor wat!

Angkor’s Ta Phrom Temple is strangled by ancient fig tree roots

This description from Trip Advisor pretty much sums it up: “Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivaled. Its mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp and a luxury surpassing that of a Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal.”

It was an experience like no other walking around stunning, ancient temples that are surrounded by a tropical forest in the Kingdom of Cambodia. My faithful travel friend, Laura, and I began our adventure with a short 50 minute flight from Saigon to the north central Cambodian town of Siem Reap, which is the gateway to the city of Angkor. In Siem Reap, we settled in at the lush La Résidence d’Angkor which is ideally situated for exploring these treasured ruins.

Usually when people say  ‘Angkor Wat’ they often are referring to the gigantic 400 square kilometre complex of over a hundred temples which is actually the Angkor Archaelogical Park. Angkor Wat is the largest and most preserved of all the temples in the park. These ancient temples were built by the Khmer empire between AD 802 and 1432.  At one time it is believed that the city had a population of over one million at a time when London only had 50,000! This Unesco World Heritage Site receives over two million visitors every year.  Many of the temples have been pried apart by humongous banyan (fig) tree roots. Of course, Miss Paul Studios produced a short film to document this wondrous place:

The most famous temple is Angkor Wat and is seen very much as a symbol of Cambodia. It is even on the country’s flag. At 500 acres, it is the world’s largest religious building and is surrounded by an unbelievable 600 foot wide moat. Angkor Wat was built over the course of 40 years by Khmer King Suryavarman II. Engineers estimate that it would take 300 years today to construct such a huge monument. Construction was not completed because the king died. Surprisingly, when Frenchman Henri Mouhot discovered the complex in 1860, the jungle natives thought the temple had been built by gods or giants. The temple is renown for the Hindu stories carved into the walls. My favorites were the many Apsara celestial nymphs everywhere with all their different hair styles and adornments. Although built as an Hindu temple, Buddhist monks eventually claimed the site and still travel to the site today.

Our tour guide extraordinare

Our tour guide extraordinare, Mr. Prem Sophiap

And as  impressed as I was with this ancient marvel, I was equally affected by the beautiful people of Cambodia. Our tour guide for the duration of our stay was the oh-so-knowledgeable  Prem Sophiap. He arranged a personalized tour that could not have suited us better. In addition to temple tours, he had great suggestions for photo ops, dining and shopping.  After one rainy temple visit, Sophiap pointed out a group of young boys having the time of their life in a rain swollen ditch:

Cambodia does not have child labor laws and many kids work at these temples selling souvenirs or begging. Be sure there is an adult somewhere nearby to collect their earnings. The average Cambodian adult makes $30 a month, so every time a child earns a dollar it is equal to their parent’s 12 hour work day. These children touched my heart, especially the young girls. I wanted to put them in my suitcase:

I did not appreciate the architectural achievement that is Angkor until my visit. I only wish I were better able to articulate and share with you how astonishing it was. Words, photos and videos can never do it justice. Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

fine china part iii

Shanghai stole my heart. It is quite the modern contrast to Beijing. Not as many ancient attractions but it is so charming and friendly with its own unique vibe. It is hard to believe that Shanghai has a  population of over 23 million persons (12.21 million live in the urban areas) making it the largest population in the world!

I loved it from the minute I entered the shady tree-lined former French Concession via moto sidecar during my Shanghai Sideways tour, until it was time to return to Saigon. The only down side was my travel buddy, Laura, having to work :( which left me to play all by myself. Besides hanging out in the former French Concession, I also visited the Bund with its incredible skyline and The Shanghai Museum to visit its extraordinary jade exhibit. I saw pieces of jade dating back to B.C. times! Another highlight of my stay, my morning outing with Shopping Tours Shanghai.com, where I visited a silk market and factory, porcelain store, local wet market and a fab lunch in a very Shanghainese restaurant. Oh, and let’s not forget, I had the best dumplings of my life in Shanghai…

You’re going to want to jump on a jet bound for Shanghai after watching this little movie…just do it!

Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

fine china part i

Used to describe ceramic porcelain in China and elsewhere, “fine China” is also an appropriate description of my first trip to mainland China. I met Laura in between her business trips for a little holiday in Beijing and then followed her to Shanghai. The city of Beijing is Part I of a three part series on China:

Laura and I are ON the Great Wall of China!

Beijing, sometimes referred to as Peking, is the capital of China and has an incredible population of over 7 million people, making it one of the most populous cities in the world. It is the second largest Chinese city after Shanghai, and is renown for its ancient history and must-see attractions. We of course checked the hard-to-wrap-your-brain-around Great Wall of China off our bucket lists in addition to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and so much more.

Our tour guide, Lisa, was amazing! She took us behind the scenes and personalized the tour perfectly.  Her choice for my first Peking duck at a local’s place was spot on and delicious. We also snagged reservations at the Black Sesame private kitchen which was founded by a Chinese American, Jen Lin-Liu, who returned to China and learned how to cook.  She wrote a very inspiring book about her experience called “Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China” which I enjoyed immensely. After finally finding the restaurant in a crowded hutong neighborhood, we began our degustation menu which included ten Chinese gourmet courses (the red braised pork was unbelievable!) and a free flow of beer and wine…all for $50. There are only two tables in the restaurant which are shared with others from around the world. We were seated with a local Beijing professor, a Russian mother and daughter and an Oxford professor. A very memorable evening and one of the  best dining experiences I have ever enjoyed!

Black Sesame Kitchen

It is impossible to capture Beijing in a video, but here is my highlights reel attempt:

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