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Melaka Malacca – A tale of two cities

16 Jul

A few weeks ago Mister Noodle and I thought we would venture out of the Little Red Dot and so joined a group of friends on a road trip to Melaka, Malaysia.

There are various coach options for making the journey from Singapore to Melaka, all of which are relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately trying to coordinate our party of six to find a suitable time to travel after work on a Friday night was not so easy so we opted for hiring a car. I shall use the term ‘we’ fairly loosely when referring to all automobile matters on this trip. I don’t drive, I hate driving, I know little about cars (Father-in-law please forgive me!) so all these arrangements were left in the very capable hands of our friends. A good tip when embarking on road trips: take some teachers with you. Mister Noodle’s colleagues could be relied upon to bring copious snacks for the journeys and numerous pens to enable us to all fill in our immigration forms.

Eschewing all matters car-related, the Noodles were in charge of accommodation. Top of our wish list was rooms at The Majestic – a very beautiful, colonial era hotel where we could imagine ourselves sipping cocktails in the library bar and taking the hotel up on all the offers of walking tours of the town provided free each day. Unfortunately, the hotel was packed to its beautiful, colonial rafters that weekend (as were most of the hotels in Melaka). Just as we feared we would be camping out in our SUV, Mister Noodle happened across a house rental on TripAdvisor. In fact, it was the only Melaka house rental on TripAdvisor. And boy, what a house. When we arrived the very accommodating owners gave us a tour of the vast residence including how to disable the panic alarms in all bedrooms which also set off a dividing barrier that separated the stairs. Don’t get the impression the area we were staying in was very dangerous – I think they had just gone to town on mod cons.

So what to do in Melaka?  The town has a very rich cultural past with a history that meshes together many different cultures and influences, including Peranakan, Dutch, Portuguese and British. We felt the best way to explore all these aspects of Melaka would be through eating, people watching and shopping  (not much different to anywhere else Mister Noodle and I go).

 Our top tips

Hereen House – we had a lovely lunch at this boutique hotel/restaurant although we did leave feeling a bit guilty. Not only had the owners kindly served us lunch beyond their usual afternoon closing time (to which we had been oblivious), the lady owner also made valiant attempts to engage us in conversation that largely went ignored.  We were all so busy woolfing down her delectable food that we probably weren’t the most worthy of conversational companions. According to one guidebook the owners are very willing to show you round the hotel and point out the various colonial/historical influences on the architecture. Maybe do this when you are not starving hungry.

Jonker Street – First stop on our tour of the Jonker Street night market was to witness a man famed for being able to break a coconut shell with his finger. All I can say is, “When in Melaka….”. However, what we did not realise as we avidly watched digital coconut destruction was that whilst the stalls on Jonker Street would be open at night, the many interesting junk/antique shops lining the road and surrounding area would not. This meant we had to make a hurried recce before leaving on the Sunday morning which did not afford us the time we would have liked. Also, as an auctioneer’s daughter, I have to say I approached many of the ‘antique’ shops with a little trepidation. I always feel as if I have a certain Yorkshireman sitting on my shoulder whenever I look at anything purporting to be antique (thank goodness he is not that heavy) and worry that I will buy a dud. However, I think the best attitude to take in such situations is to think that if you love something then buy it, but don’t assume you are getting an incredible bargain that you will be able to proudly present on the Antiques Roadshow in years to come. Oh, and visit during the daytime, obviously.

Trishaws a go-go

I envy Mister Noodle getting this snap. I love it.

Melaka is famed for the vibrant trishaw taxis plying their trade in the town centre and, whilst we did not have time to get a ride on one, taking in the sights and sounds (many have their own inbuilt light and sound show) was fascinating. I was particularly drawn to the one below that inexplicably featured a massive papier-mache scorpion on its roof with two Barbie dolls held in its pincers. I like to think of it as the Lady Gaga of trishaws.

Trishaw driver's contribution to the feminist discourse?

Little Momma

On Saturday night we ventured along to the riverside to enjoy some drinks and a bit of food. Thanks to more teacher-based forward thinking and a downloaded list of restaurants we headed towards Little Momma. A small, family run restaurant, the warmth, welcome and good food made for a very enjoyable evening. I was also taken by the family’s very ancient dog that wandered about with no teeth and a wonky hip. But that’s just me and probably goes some way to explaining why I don’t write reviews on TripAdvisor – noone wants to know about the wonky hipped dog (more’s the pity).

The Geographer Cafe

We enjoyed a lazy Sunday brunch at the Cafe on the corner of Jonker Street, listening to some of the Rat Pack’s finest and taking in our surroundings. Appropriately enough, given the area it is in, the Cafe has the feeling of being an old, established part of Melaka but in fact is only just ten years old. It is the sort of place I could imagine myself in the 1940s, sipping on a cocktail with the perfectly manicured red nails that all women of that era seemed to have. Instead it was nasi lemak and a fresh pineapple juice – not quite so glamorous but very welcome. The Cafe features live jazz on weekend evenings and is a place we would definitely return to.

Not on our list…

So, why a tale of two cities? Well, I have just gone through all the things that we were hoping to find in Melaka, that you will read about in various other travelogues, and for which we were not disappointed. What follows probably won’t make it into the Luxe guide to Melaka but is the true representation of about 30% of our weekend, and is best summed up with these photos:

Nothing says intrepid travel adventures like KFC

Friday night became a calamity of driving round Melaka’s suburbs trying to find somewhere to eat, stopping in a Tesco and finding a two-headed pineapple and a range of Shandy called ‘Anglia’ and ending up at KFC. Saturday morning was spent again driving around the very same suburbs looking for a garage to repair the flat tyre that had mysteriously appeared over night.

Unlikely to feature in Tripadvisor's top 10 things to experience in Melaka

One final thing that is also unlikely to make it into the guidebooks: judging by half of Mister Noodle’s photos Melaka is also a good place for observing middle-aged men going about their business. We have pictures of men on bikes, pictures of men who look suspiciously like Malaysian versions of Johnny Hallyday, pictures of men smoking and playing board games,  and finally pictures of men talking to cockatoos:

Somehow I don’t think I have married Suffolk’s answer to The Sartorialist. However, as I am responsible for taking a photo of a KFC sign reflected in a car window and previously snapping trolleys in Ikea we are probably well suited. Who knows, maybe one day National Geographic will bid for our combined photo library…

No rest for the Noodle: Orangutans, families and German philosophers

1 Jun

Whizz, whizz, whizz and the last couple of months have flown by in a blur of all sorts of things other than writing blog posts. I have attempted to sit down and write this update post several times to no avail. There is just so much to include that I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to risk inducing a bout of narcolepsy in anyone reading it. So here’s a little taster of what has been going on in the House of Noodle…

House of Noodle, boutique hotel, opens for business

We knew April was going to be a busy month for family and visitors – ok, probably not as busy as it was for the Middleton/Windsor households, but still hectic by Noodle standards. Mister Noodle’s parents flew in from London, his brother popped over from China and one of his oldest school friends and their girlfriend came via Hong Kong. Having five visitors, all new to Singapore, and all with us at the same time has been a great way of looking at our adopted home afresh and also means that the House of Noodle now has an abundant supply of towels, bedding and champagne glasses (bookings always welcome). So, five visitors, two weeks and the little red dot to explore. What to do….

Checking in at Chinatown

Explore Singapore!

We went down some of the well-trodden tourist routes, like the night safari, Singapore Slings at Raffles, taking in the waterfront area at night.We also tried some things that were new to us Noodles as well as to the rest of our party. Our cycling trip to Pulau Ubin, the small island off Singapore, was one particular highlight. We cycled, we wildlife spotted, we laughed – and I brought all my previously acquired Brownie/Famous Five experience to the fore by remembering to pack a picnic…well, some cheese rolls and biscuits at least.

Boat to Pulau Ubin - state of the art health & safety signage

And beyond…

We also got to venture further afield…

Inspired by posts from the wonderful Notabilia and Flora we decided to take a trip on the old Malaysian train line from Tanjong Pagar station to Johor Bahru, across the causeway. It is an experience that is very time limited as the line, in its present form, will close in the summer.  My father-in-law loves anything with a whiff of diesel and the glimpse of an engine and getting the opportunity to nose around the abandoned trains at the old Johor Bahru station was quite an experience.

We also made a five-day visit to Sarawak, Borneo with Mister Noodle’s parents. I will post separately about this shortly as it was a quite incredible adventure – jungle trekking, river dolphin spotting, orangutan watching and blowpipe firing – and all only an hour’s flight from Singapore. I used to live an hour away from London, but never met anyone like this…

Or saw views like this…

Sunset, Damai Beach, Sarawak

And then there were none

Barely was there enough time to take in the eerie quiet or do the washing after all our visitors had left and Mister Noodle and I were packing our spotted handkerchiefs to head off on separate adventures – Mister Noodle on a trip to Tioman on the Malaysian east coast and me to England.

All I have heard from Mister Noodle about Tioman was that “It was fantastic. The snorkelling is out of this world. We must go back”. So, when we do, I will write a bit more.

As for me and England, I spent a wonderful, whistle-stop week catching up with some of my nearest and dearest and inhaling great lungfuls of cool air. The last few weeks in Singapore have been stifling for a Suffolk girl so I relished the chance to wear jeans and not feel like I was going to collapse in a heap like a melted ice cream. Suffolk in spring is really quite beautiful…

Darling buds of May

So there we have it. A busy two months that have been full of fun, laughter, family and friends. And as for the German philosopher – here’s a bit of Goethe for a rainy Wednesday afternoon: ‘There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings’. I came across this quote earlier in the week and it summed up a lot of what the last few weeks have been about and how important our families have been in all that we have done since moving out here. Both sets of parents have been wonderfully behind us with our move to Singapore and it has been great to be able to share some of it with Mister Noodle’s family. At the same time, spending time with them here, and then with my own side of the family back in England, is a reminder of how very important our roots are, wherever our wings may take us.

So, on that pondering note I shall sign off. As I think Mister Noodle’s father would agree, it has been a busy time…

Taking in the sights

Playing with the petrolheads (a weekend at the Malaysian F1)

11 Apr

Since moving to Singapore I have discovered quite a few things about myself that I didn’t know: I actually like avocados, contrary to popular belief I won’t go into complete meltdown being away from home (though it is hard), and most surprisingly of all I quite like Formula 1 racing. Admittedly, my introduction to F1 was at the uber-cool, visually stunning Singapore Night Race in 2010. If you can’t get excited watching very fast, very expensive cars race against a glittering city skyline backdrop at night then it probably isn’t a sport for you. Singapore was so much more than the race alone – converting the roads that are at the heart of the city into a super-slick race track means the whole country gets bitten with a bit of F1 fever. Even the cake shops get in on the action…

Croissant to go

So, when friends suggested to Mister Noodle and me that we travel with them to Kuala Lumpur this weekend for the Malaysian Grand Prix we jumped at the chance. Living in Singapore we are incredibly spoilt for travel – so many destinations are only a short flight away and at just under an hour Kuala Lumpur is the closest. We flew out Friday night and were back home by 11pm again on Sunday.

Unlike Singapore, the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place at a dedicated track – Sepang International Circuit – just outside the city. As first time visitors we opted to stay at an out-of-town hotel, situated between the track and the airport. In hindsight we probably should have just plumped for a city hotel as the nightlife of Putrajaya was a little limited (with the exception of the mass karaoke session being conducted in Chinese right below our hotel restaurant on the Friday night) and the hotel a little, um, odd.  By the end of the weekend it felt a bit like staying in the middle of a resort designed by a group of Disney artists, tasked with conveying the theme of Aladdin  by using a visual game of consequences – no one seemed to know what the other had designed until it was all built. However, as we were travelling with the same friends who got to experience our weird CNY break with us, we felt things were looking up: we had moved on from surroundings whose only distinguishing feature was a burnt-out warehouse to a backdrop that was more industrial estate chic (lots of pruned trees surrounded by concrete). We did, however, get the opportunity to sample a bit of KL during the day on Saturday taking in, amongst other sites, the iconic Petronas Towers.

Petronas Towers, KL

So, to the race itself. We got 3 day passes and went to both the qualifiers and the race. We opted for hillside ‘seats’ which basically involved staking your claim to a bit of grass on the hillside by the track and not moving. By the Sunday race, after 2 days in 30 odd degree heat, and a few Saturday night tipples, it also afforded the luxury of being able to lay down. Albeit this involved lying down on the flattened cardboard boxes our friends ingeniously snaffled from a local supermarket. As we arrived at the track on Sunday, so did a great contingent from Lotus, each driving an Elise, with the odd Aston Martin thrown in for good measure. Inevitably our arrival, documented below, cut slightly less of a dash and did not demand the road being blocked by the police in quite the same way:

Make way, 'Team Cardboard' have arrived

In many respects Sepang didn’t have the glamour quota of Singapore and there were a few things that left a little to be desired – the on site food, facilities and general organisation (there was a complete lack of queues – something so hard for a Brit to deal with at any public event). Still, we had a great time. Sepang was much more about the racing and having enjoyed this experience, albeit in a different way to the Singapore Grand Prix, I think I may be slightly more than just a fair-weather F1 fan. I am already getting excited at the prospect of Singapore in September and to demonstrate why, I turn to the wonderful BBC who put together this spine-tingling promo for the 2010 qualifiers:

Hopefully by September my F1 knowledge will have increased enough that I feel confident writing a post about the actual race. At present my knowledge extends to knowing who won yesterday (Vettel), that one Brit was happy (Button) and one was…um…not (Hamilton), and that everyone was hoping for a bit of rain as the going gets really tough at Sepang when it is slippery.

PS: One other thing I discovered about myself whilst in Malaysia – opting for the Sunday morning lie-in isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. According to my friend I missed the opportunity of seeing the entire Toro Rosso team (comprising 40 young Italian men), who were staying at our hotel, getting ready to leave for the track on Sunday morning. Hey ho, some you win, some you snooze!

Chinese New Year breaks: Managing your expectations

8 Feb

Ah, seeing in Chinese New Year on a tropical island…relaxing in the sun, soaking up the surroundings, perhaps a little bit of exploring and a lot of cocktails by the pool. Are you jealous yet?

Ever since we arrived in Singapore everyone we encountered told us we must go away for CNY. “The whole of Singapore shuts up shop for a week”, “You’ll either starve or die of boredom”, “If you don’t book soon you’ll end up in an industrial wasteland with only the rusty shell of a warehouse to look at”. Two of those statements are lies, the third is the honest truth and to prove it here is the photographic evidence. The picture above wasn’t shot by my fair hands, unfortunately the one below was. And it is the only picture I took in the whole 3 days we were in our chosen tropical getaway.

 If you squint beyond the scrubland you can just make out the deserted husk of the aforementioned rusty warehouse. This was the only building of note in our immediate surroundings. Still jealous? If you are, then get in touch – I know a hotel that will be just perfect for you.

I feel a bit mean dissecting everything that was wrong with where we visited because that wouldn’t be fair but to give you an idea of how our break panned out, here are a few choice quotes from the weekend:

As we left Singapore by boat to head for our tropical getaway one of our fellow travellers and friends offered the following words of wisdom: “I guess it’s all about managing your expectations”. Just imagine how bursting with holiday excitement we all were!

On our first night: “This is a s!*@ hole, isn’t it?” “Yes”

On our second day: “It really is a s!*@ hole, isn’t it?” “Yes”

On our second night: “It’s still a s!*@ hole, shall we get an early ferry back?” “YESSSS!!!!”

As we left our tropical getaway to head home Mister Noodle offered an insight worthy of all the great travel writers, “At least it didn’t rain”.

So there we have it. Chinese New Year. I really thought I couldn’t top my photo of an Ikea shopping trolley last week but it seems with the rusty shell of a warehouse I am really spoiling you, dear reader. Luckily for us, we hadn’t planned our CNY break as a romantic break a deux and went with friends. We ate a bit, drank a bit and laughed A LOT and isn’t that what holidays are all about? I am sure the laughing buddha would approve!

(With apologies to my mum, my auntie and my mother in law for the swearing!)

Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I’ll never own an ao dai)

10 Dec

Reproduction propaganda posters bought on Dhong Khoi road

Mister Noodle and I both like shopping and faced with a new urban place to explore we both tend to hit the shops. Saigon was no exception so, eschewing all the other information you can find in much better written blogs and guidebooks, here is a quick rundown of where we went and what we bought…ardent consumerists that we are.

What we got

Like a bad parent I am going to talk about my favourite first – Mr Pham-Van-Tu. This beautiful, handmade bear was discovered in Nagu, a little shop tucked away in the arcade of the Hotel Continental. He is made of silver and ivory striped silk, has fully functioning joints and was throwing himself at customers for a mere 20USD.

A very cultured bear indeed

He seems to be quite at home in Singapore and has even been catching up on the works of the Hotel Continental’s other famous resident, Graham Greene. Mr Pham’s name derives from a little side character in The Quiet American who ‘never…dressed carelessly, [or] said the wrong word.’ Just the sort of name for such a well turned out, respectable little bear.

 No introduction required for our next purchase (or prizes for guessing who chose it)…  

Our very own Uncle Ho courtesy of Saigon Kitsch

I have to say that up against the striped splendour of my bear, Uncle Ho is looking a little lacklustre. However, I have been informed that a style makeover is in the offing with Mister Noodle planning some prop art decoupage. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes! Along with Dogma, Saigon Kitsch is part of a funky two storey shophouse located on Nguyen Van Thu. Both levels are filled with quirky gifts, posters and clothing that have more than a hint of 1960s Vietnam about them.

Zen Monkey, Tara & Kys Gallery

Saigon is also a good bet for interesting art work – the authenticity and originality of some of it has to be taken with more than a little pinch of salt but I figure that if you like it, those sorts of things really don’t matter. Vietnam has very strict laws governing the export of antiques from the country so the chances are that if propaganda posters are your thing, you’ll be bringing back repro ones anyway. As well as the posters above, we also brought back a couple of prints from Tara & Kys Gallery situated at 101 Dong Khoi Street. The shop is worth a visit for its architecture alone. Going up the wooden staircase to the first floor showroom you have a real sense of what the shophouses would have once been like. If houses could speak, I am sure that this one would have more than a few stories to tell.     

What we would have liked to have got were dong, time and a western woman’s proportions no object…

1. Mai Lam military jacket. Mister Noodle would have plumped for one of the beautifully embroidered military jackets at Mai Lam’s at the Hotel Continental. Frustratingly I couldn’t get hold of an image to put on the blog but believe me they are exquisite, which probably explains the 1,200USD price tag. Mai Lam’s is also an interesting place to go just for a bit of window shopping – the garments are draped and hung across old-school wooden furniture and set against a very evocative backdrop of chandeliers and scooters.

2. A bit of bespoke. Saigon is famed for its tailors who can run up a suit in less than 24 hours. We didn’t get our act together this time to put their sewing skills to the test but it’s definitely on our list for our next visit. Since getting back to Singapore I have been given a good tip for a tailors near to the Sheraton Hotel so we’ll make sure we get suited and booted when we are next in town.

3. Oh dear, ao dai. Finally, the ao dai…

I fear that the closest I will ever get to owning an ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, is the one depicted in the print we bought, above. There are many, many elegant women sporting gorgeous silk ao dai in Saigon and I know that I would do nothing for the outfit’s image were I to don one. My Suffolk-girl proportions are just not designed for the slim fitting dress/trouser combination and will have to be consigned, forever, to the list of items I would love to wear but just don’t suit me. Depressingly, with age, this list seems to be increasing and currently includes: converse trainers, cropped trousers, boyfriend fit jeans, hats of any description, and red dresses*.

With the exception of the absent ao dai, we gave Saigon a pretty good run for its money, and have some souvenirs I know we will treasure…along with at least one I hope won’t ever see the light of day outside this apartment. Eager to dispense with the dong at the airport, Mister Noodle purchased a replica Vietnamese army hat. Does it suit him and will he ever use it? Let’s just say it probably belongs on the same list as my ao dai.

*That last one has been off the list ever since the age of seven when my mum told me I looked like a skinned rabbit in a Tammy Girl dress. In hindsight, considering the weird, clingy mohair material, I guess see she was probably right.

Miss Saigon? I do already!

8 Dec
Cocktails at the Purple Jade, Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon

Saigon, like the picture of our cocktails above, proved to be one part elegant, one part funky, with a little bit of an edge and a hint of darkness. After just 48 hours I have to say that I am in love with the city and know we will visit again. Here’s just a little taster of what we did and where we went…

Getting there

Mister Noodle and I took the 8pm Jetstar flight out of Changi and thanks to the wonder of a -1 hour time difference and a punctual service were in Saigon just after 9pm. Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport proved to be a revelation – with the international terminal built in 2007 it was bright, clean and surprisingly empty for a Friday night. Having read a tip in the inflight magazine we headed straight for the information booth where we picked up a taxi token for just 8USD and were soon on our way into town and heading into our first uniquely Saigon experience…the traffic.

Saigon Scooters 

Just as every guidebook, blog and article will tell you, there are scooters, everywhere. They don’t stick to any particular lane, they rarely have less than three people on them, and their horns are permanently set to ‘blaring’. From the back of our taxi it was like watching some intricately choreographed piece of modern dance, to a soundtrack of what I am guessing was the latest in Vietnamese techno, courtesy of our taxi driver. Whilst the whole experience was crazy, alien and a little bit seat of your pants, as the sights and sounds of the City sped past, both Mister Noodle and I could tell we would like this city.

From the ridiculous to the sublime

There couldn’t have been more of a contrast, as we were whisked out of the hurley burly of Friday night Saigon and into the Intercontinental Asiana, our home for the next two nights. When originally planning our trip we were determined to book into the Hotel Continental, the hotel Graham Greene stayed in whilst writing part of The Quiet American. However, a bit of research suggested that there might not be quite enough old world charm to justify the price or lack of modern amenities. We plumped for the Intercontinental and I am glad we did. I could wax lyrical about this hotel but this is neither the time nor the place, so I’ll save it for another time and another post. Back out into the city and our first mission, crossing the road and reading a map…

History is written by the victors

Thanks to Mister Noodle’s superior navigation skills and a good deal of scooter-dodging we were soon at our first stop, the War Remnants Museum*. I had read up about the museum in advance and had an idea of what we were in for as the bulk of the exhibits on display are photographic records of the Vietnam War. Originally called the Museum of American War Crimes, but renamed under conditions of the 1997 trade agreements with the US, the museum pulls no punches, either in the images on display or the political slant of the narrative which accompanies them. I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting the museum, however, I would not suggest spending a long time there on any one visit. Most of the artefacts depict in stark and shocking photographic detail the damage war does but after a while what I found to be more disturbing than the images was how quickly I become desensitized to seeing them. The point at which you find yourself somewhat blithely walking past another set of images showing the horrific effects of Agent Orange is the point at which it is best to leave.

Soaking up the city

Attempt at arty sepia shot - and lots of cables

Back into present day Saigon and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend – just walking around soaking up the city. Due to the limited time we had to explore, and the belief that two legs are better than four wheels, we mainly stuck to the District One area. Relatively small in size, the district was brimming with life – from the elderly ladies wearing their non la (conical hats) and crouching on the pavements, cooking up snacks over open coals, to the young couples having their wedding photos taken outside Notre Dame and in the midst of the traffic, there was something new to see at every turn. There were so many beautiful things to capture on camera so why, when I get home, do I find I have this…

Arnie gets communist poster style make over

and this…
 

Who needs health and safety guidelines when you can stand on a motorbike to fix electrical cables?

I guess it just means we will have to go back again so I can pluck up the courage to ask one of the lovely hat ladies for their picture, get shots of things like the ritzy, glitzy shoe mountains at Ben Thanh Market and the architectural legacies of French colonial rule and not men fixing cables in the middle of the road. Ah well, you live and learn. So long, Saigon…for now.

(Those who know me well will note the absence of any real mention of Saigon shopping. The truth is the shopping was so good I have decided it is deserving of its own standalone post…to follow).

*I could not find an official site for the War Remnants Museum but for info, it is situated at 28 Vo Van Tan Street (District 3), and is open daily from 7.30am – noon, 1.30pm – 5pm. The admission charge was 20,000 dong (approx. 1USD).

SGN for the weekend?

3 Dec

You betcha! The minute the school bell rings this afternoon Mister Noodle and I will be heading off on a weekend adventure to Saigon. The bags are packed, the guidebooks marked and with just 48 hours to spend with Miss Saigon there’s a whole lot to do.

Passport? Check! Guidebooks? Check! Travel journal? Check! SGN here we come!

I am ashamed to admit that our shared knowledge of Vietnam currently stands at one Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, a Graham Greene novel, numerous war films, and a two-hour Top Gear special. Hopefully after this weekend I will come back with something a little more insightful – check on Monday to see how we got on.

Have a good weekend X

PS. A special mention must go to my friends Hayley and Alison for equipping me with my beautiful pink Smythson travel journal. It has so far recorded our move to Singapore, our honeymoon in Bali and has elegant, tissue-thin blue pages ready and waiting for Saigon.