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..............Cindys Gallery - Photos of my Life

Singapore & Vietnam (Feb 2010)

This trip had been planned for some time & had finally arrived! We were to meet Alastair & Yvonne (my brother & his wife) in Singapore where we would stay for 5 nights & then on to Saigon, Vietnam. Derek & I flew from Phuket to Singapore on the morning of Feb 4th & Alastair & Yvonne would arrive late that evening from Mebourne. We met them at the airport & settled into our very comfortable 2 bedroom apartment we'd booked in the Bencoolen area of Singapore. After a late evening of conversation & a few reds, our first outing the following day was a shopping expedition to the "Mustafa Center". This is a large 6 storey building which sells just about everything imaginable at very cheap prices and a favourite shopping venue for Singaporeans & expats. The girls quickly split up from the boys & by the time Al & Derek had done the whole building, Yvonne & I hadn't got past the ground floor! Later that day we visited Sim Lim Square (huge complex devoted entirely to Electronics) & after much haggling with the shopvendor (a very patient man), Alastair purchased himself a Canon 500D SLR digital camera at a bargain price.

Mosque in Arab street mall.

Singapore Air Show

We'd seen an advertisement in the newspaper for the "Singapore Air Show" & decided it may be worth a visit. It would also be a good chance for Alastair to try out his new camera. We finally found the venue & the crowds!! Our taxi driver informed us that for the privilege of arriving at the Air Show by private car, there was a S$100 fee. This was to supposedly deter people from driving & encourage public transport. It hadn't worked very well as there were thousands of cars queuing up to get in, obviously there are too many people in Singapore with too much money! The Air show was great but there wasn't a lot of shade & therefore very hot. We watched as fighter jets screamed above our heads, pilots showing off their skills with vertical climbs & nose dives. When the acrobatic show was over there was a mad scramble to get inside the airconditioned exhibition halls where we browsed the stands before heading back to the hotel.

The next few days we spent discovering the streets of Little India Chinatown & Arab street. We all tucked into a "Masala Dosa" at our favourite indian cafe & a mug of ginger tea. Derek found his favourite chair (the only chair) at his Indian sweet shop & consumed his obligatory bowl of "gulab jamin". Every time we visit Little India this is a ritual & our 2010 visit was no exception. We also spent a very enjoyable few hours in the Chinatown Museum discovering the early days of the chinese occupation in Singapore. Fascinating stuff & great reproductions of the living conditions of the time.

Derek enjoying his Gulab Jamin

Lake at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Yvonne & Alastair have friends (Terry & Jo-Ann) who have lived in Singapore for many years as expats. Terry kindly offered to take us on a tour of Singapore the following day, promising to show us a part of Singapore which we wouldn't have experienced before. In the morning Terry drove us to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a small 1.64 square kilometer (410 acre) nature reserve located on the slopes of Bukit Timah Hill. It's about 12 kilometres from Singapore's central business district & contains approx 840 flowering plants & over 500 species of animals. Upon entering the reserve Terry informed us that there was reportedly a crocodile in the river here, but his tone suggested that perhaps it was a legend & only a handful of people had ever seen it. As if by magic, the legendary crocodile appeared right before our eyes! Here we were in the middle of Singapore witnessing a 2 metre crocodile in the river below and I think Terry was more surprised than any of us. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious lunch in Terry & Jo-Ann's home suburb of Clementi.

Singapore remains one of our favourite destinations. It's cleanliness never ceases to amaze us & it must be one of the world's easiest cities to navigate, thanks to its tremendous MRT system. We ate almost every night at local food markets where the food was incredibly cheap & quite delicious.

Our last evening was very special due to an invite from Terry & Jo-Ann to join them for dinner at Singapore's famous "Tanglin Club". A delcious meal was had by all & we enjoyed listening to Jo-Ann's recommendations for shopping in Saigon (from which she had just returned) as this was our destination the following day.

Dinner with Jo-Ann & Terry at the Tanglin Club.
Saigon, Vietnam (Feb 2010)
After a 2 hour flight from civilised Singapore, we arrived into the chaos of Saigon, Vietnam. The taxi ride from the airport had Yvonne squirming all over the seat in disbelief, as the driver squeezed through intersections & dodged mopeds (most with at least 4 passengers) from every angle. If you've never experienced Vietnemese roads, you're in for a treat. Cars are rare, the wide roads of Saigon are alive with mopeds carrying entire families & in some cases a new washing machine or fridge as well!. It has to be seen to be believed. Our destination, the "Lavender Hotel" was directly opposite the Ben Thien Market & smack in the middle of town. This hotel turned out to be lovely, quiet oasis in the center of complete madness and comes highly recommended. (thanks Judy).

The beautiful girls of Saigon

Derek & Alastair in a familiar pose!
The evening in South East Asian cities is the best time of day. The sun has gone, the temperature drops & you can walk around without expiring from the heat. This is when everyone comes out & the streets are alive with people as soon as dusk falls. We wandered down to what's known as the "backpacker area" where the best food & best prices are to be found. We found a little restaurant that served every cuisine known to man, but specialised in Mexican. The food was delicious & the beer was cheap (so the boys were happy!). After our meal we wandered through the streets & came across what looked like an enormous plant nursery right in the center of Saigon. As Chinese New Year was just a few nights away, this was where the Vietnamese came to purchase their new year plants & flowers. The whole area çovered at least 2 acres & jam packed with sunflowers, chrysanthemums, orchids & the biggest bonsai plants at very reasonable prices, some standing over 6 feet tall. If only we could take one home, but I don't think Air Asia would have been impressed.
We had a few tours planned , one to the Cu Chi Tunnels & the other to the Mekong Delta. The Cu Chi Tunnels are quite unique giving an insight into the Viet Con during the war & the unbelievable network of tunnels they built beneath the ground. Alastair was keen to go down the tunnel so he joined the tourist trail which had been widened for "fat farang". He emerged unscathed, much to Yvonne's relief. The following day was our full day tour to the Mekong Delta. This included a bus trip, boat rides & a horse & cart ride along the Mekong Delta river & its villages. We all enjoyed this day, which included an insight into village life along the river. The highlight of the day was the boat trip on a Vietnemese Long Boat down the narrow streams of the delta & getting this geat photo of Al in his Vietnemese hat!

Everyone's favourite photo.

The picturesque village of Vungtau
Another memorable day was our ferry trip to Vungtau. This is a lovely seaside town with beautiful parks & gardens on the sea front & an amazing lack of traffic! A complete contrast to Saigon & definitely a town worth exploring futher on a future trip. As we only had a couple of hours, we took a stroll along the waterfront & had some lunch in a nearby cafe. I'm not keen on boats at the best of times & upon re-boarding the ferry it was obvious we had not been allocated a prime seat. The ferry had 3 seating sections and our cabin was at the rear where the air conditioning made a lot of noise, but didn't blow any cold air. 35 degrees in an enclosed cabin with no airconditioning was not helping my seasickness, so we all escaped to the middle of the boat where there was a small open air section. We were 2/3rds of the way back to Saigon when a big thump was heard & the engine stopped. We had obviously hit a big piece of wood. After a lot of shouting, one of the crew jumped swiftly overboard in an attempt to remove the offending piece of debris. After about 20mins, the engines re-started & we were off again. By the way I didn't see any of this commotion as I was prostrate on the floor of the first class cabin in a lovely shade of white. .
In the heat of the day it is necessary to take regular breaks from sightseeing & find somewhere cool to have a drink & re-charge. An unexpected surprise in hot, steamy Saigon was "Fannys". We stumbled upon this haven soon after our arrival. It is a 50's style ice cream parlour with the most amazing menu! They served everything from Sushi Ice Cream to Straccatelli Ice Cream (don't ask!). Alastair has a soft spot for ice cream & we found ourselves in Fanny's on an almost daily basis. Had they also served cold beer, he'd still be there.

Fanny's Ice Cream Parlour

Chines New year decorations in the street
Our last night in Saigon was Chinese New Year, we couldn't have timed it better (or worse!). This as an absolutely amazing spectacle & one which none of us will forget. On New Years Eve, every resident of Saigon (all 5 million of them) must have been on the city streets. About 30% were on foot & 70% were on motorbikes. I've been in large crowds before but this was something else. There was music playing in the streets (Kenny G!) & the whole place was a buzz with excitement. It was almost impossible to tell where everyone was heading as the whole place was gridlocked with motorbikes. It took us about an hour to make our way to the waterfront where the fireworks were supposed to take place at midnight. After we got there it was obvious we'd made a mistake as there were just too many people. Getting back to a slightly less crowded spot was not easy & quite scary. At one point I remember being squeezed like a sardine on all sides, trying not to lean my leg on any red hot motorbike exhausts when right in front of me was a man with a wok deep frying fish right in the middle of millions of people! Had anything happened in this crowd you could have easily been trampled to death, so we made our exit trying to keep sight of one another & find a little bit of air, all to ourselves!
Vietnam is an amazing place & well worth a visit. We also visited the major tourist attractions such as Museums & the Reunification Palace, all of which provide an insight into the war ridden lives of the Vietnemese. They are very friendly people (apart from the customs officers!) & Derek & I are keen to explore it further & visit Hanoi one day. Thanks to Jo-Ann for her recommendations on tours, food & shopping & thanks to Judy for her recommendation of the Lavender Hotel.

Vietnemese family enjoying Chinese New Year