31 December 2006

I'll miss 2006

2006 has been good to me in more ways than I can imagine. It has been rewarding, enriching, and ultimately, a huge personal triumph. Amazing how so little achievement can make oneself feel so good.

No, I don't have any terminal disease I have to deal with. I didn't have any personal tragedy of gigantic proportions to overcome. I am not forever running away from Ah Longs. To just about anyone, I had a life as normal as can be.

However, personally, this is the year I turned the corner. The human mind is too good a thing to waste. I was about to waste away my own life - with negative thoughts, and a total sense of personal negativity in 2004 and 2005. My life was just wrong, in my mind. But really, I had so much going for me, and was blind not to see that ...

Well, events late in 2005 made me rethink about my own outlook and approach to life. I lost my optimism, got myself drowned in work, and never really recovering from personal issues I've had in the past. I decided in the first few days in January 2006, that I was not going to accept that I have to go through life with that sort of pessimism in me.

Negative thoughts were abandoned there and then. And I started to build a more positive and cheery outlook.

It wasn't easy, and it didn't take a short while. I only really embraced positivity as my approach to life in August, after some deep, probing questions were thrown to me.

So, what's so good about 2006 ?

Well ...

The travel's great ... Beijing, Pulau Perhentian, Hong Kong, Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne, Manila and Hanoi ... that's more places than some people have been to in their entire lifetime. I should be (and I am) so thankful for that. And that's beside the staple of Singapore and Bangkok ...

The blogpals are great ... angeliu, pelf, inevitable, cik epal, che-cheh, jems, cheng sim (still around or not, cs?) ...

New vehicle is good too, but not so good for the pocket ... still makes me happy though ...

Moz became a happy soul ...

And what's in store for 2007 ? And btw, these aren't resolutions, they are goals and principles for living happy ...

More of the same ... to keep being positive and happy. Happy or sad, life goes on ... might as well make each day a happy one !

To work myself back to my previous fitness level ... you only have one body. Better take care of it now while it's still in relatively good order.

And to keep the smile permanent ... if ever I get wrinkles, I want happy wrinkles !!!

BTW, click to see larger picture. And email to get original sized pics ...

I love you all !!! Happy New Year 2007 !!!

28 December 2006

I'm so touched ...

This package appeared in the mail today.

The ordinary packaging doesn't betray the important contents within it ...

It's an album ... featuring my own photos !!! Princess, that's the most original, and the bestest gift I've ever received. Period.

Thanks loads Princess !!!

Now I wanna buy my own photo printer and print tonnes and tonnes of my photos !!!

Sue me if you think I'm over reacting to getting a pressie for Christmas ... you'll just not understand what this means to me.

23 December 2006

Hanoi - Day Nam: Farewell

5 days in Hanoi to a Malaysian is a lot of days. However, truth is, we met a lot of people who are on weeks-long, month-long; I met these two French people who've been away from home for 6 months, and have no idea when their holiday will end. 5 days is too short a vacation.

On the final day in Hanoi, there were just 2 objectives: One Pillar Pagoda, and Temple of Literature.

Both are a bit farther away from Old Quarters, and in the interest of time, we took a taxi (costing around 22,000 dong) from the hotel to the Temple of Literature.

Those who have visited Thailand would have no doubt heard that Wat Po is the first university in Thailand. Wat Po is only about 300 years old.

The Temple of Literature, "Van Mieu", is Vietnam's first university, and it's history is about 1000 years old. It is one of the few temples or structures not destroyed or altered or significantly reduced to rubble by the French invaders of Vietnam.

The present site of the Hanoi Opera House, for example, used to be where the oldest temple in Vietnam was. It's a bit like our A Famosa, the Temple of Literature.

It's a B E A U T I F U L temple - landscaped gardens in 5 separate courtyards. Actually, it is a complex of 5 separate compounds (called courtyards), each reflecting a Confucian principle. The last courtyard houses the inner sanctum that was once even off limits to the Vietnamese emporers. Now it houses a temple and a museum.

Next, we walked from the temple to the One Pillar Pagoda. The guidebook says its 250 meters or so away. Guess what? It's much more than that ... and we got very, very, lost. Thank goodness we found it tucked in one corner near the Ho Chi Minh Museum just before we gave up looking ...

Allegedly shaped like a lotus, and also very effective for those wanting a son, the One Pillar Pagoda is one of the symbols of Hanoi. The Temple Of Literature and the Turtle Pagoda are the others. I found it a bit of a letdown, really. Maybe if I'm desperate for a son I'll visit again.

I think you should stop by here as part of a visit to the larger complex - Ho Chi Minh's house, Ho Chi Minh museum and Ho Chi Minh's Maoseleum are all within the general area.

We headed back to check out of the hotel, then took one last walk around the Old Quarters. It's my favorite place in Hanoi. I really can see myself there again. And again. And again. And again.

What's so good about Old Quarters? Besides what I wrote here, what else is good? Hmm ....

I got lost there a lot. It's always good to be discovering and constantly getting lost, and yet happy to be lost, IMHO.

And there's a lot of architecture - like the world's narrowest houses. Viets used to get taxed based on how wide the house is .... so houses only 10 feet wide is quite common.

It's got a lot of cafes and nice restaurants ...

We made it to the Noi Ba International Airport with plenty of time to spare. It's a small, comfortable airport, much better than the LCCT, that much I'll say.

Hanoi ... I heart you ...

21 December 2006

Hanoi - Day Bon: Perfume Pagoda

*You should know the drill by now. There are so many pictures in this post, it's insane. If not on broadband, be patient. My lawyer's really good, won't do any good suing me*

After a good night's rest - the next day, day 4 in our Vietnamese holiday, we headed out on a small tour to the Perfume Pagoda.

Some 60kms southwest of Hanoi, the limestone mountains suddenly appear again - in the province of Ha Tay. Here, in the poetically named Mountains of Perfumed Terraces, the countryside is dotted with about 30 buddhist temples (also called pagodas), making this the center of Vietnamese buddhism.

We didn't come here as pilgrims. But if you come during the 1st - 3rd lunar month, the whole place will be swarming with Vietnamese undertaking pilgrimage.

The day starts again at 7.30am, and after picking up all 11 people in the tour, we headed out of Hanoi, for a 2 hour ride. The scenery today was more rural compared to yesterday's, but the ride was just as comfy. Just an annoying Spanish woman to spoil the day a bit. =(

2 hours later, we found ourselves reaching the Yen River, where we drop off the van, and splitted into groups of 4-5, each group getting into metal sampans.

The 1 hour, 3 km boat ride was by far the best thing that happened to me in the whole trip. The river was so peaceful, the air was fresh, no motors means quiet and the scenery was to die for ...

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves ...

At our drop off point, after a 10 minute hike, you can decide to either walk all the way up to the pagoda (1 hour, rocky trail, dangerous in the rainy season) or pay extra VND 30,000 for a cable car ride (15 minutes, beautiful view). Me & Taiko chose to take the cable cars both ways. Some more adventurous souls walked up and down. Some walked up, and took the cable car down. Truth being said - the walk up is not much, because it's all jungle only, says the guide book, tour guide, and some of the people in our group.

The perfume pagoda is really a cave, with a temple inside. Chinese would know it as 南天洞, and Viets call it Chua Huong. A bit anti climatic, but atmospheric, and it's set in great natural settings. And it happens to be the most important pagoda in the whole of Vietnam. During the months following the Vietnamese new year, this place gets thousands of pilgrims every day, some even overnighting in the cave itself !!!

Back from the trip, at the foot of the cable car station, is the beautiful and ancient Tien Chu pagoda, Chua Tien Chu. Truly atmospheric, in a great natural setting, it's worth the time to visit and just soak in the atmosphere. It was under a little bit of restoration work when we visited, but still very much a great temple. The guide told us this temple is more than 500 years old.

Truly a great trip !!! Costs us USD 18, includes the transportation from hotel both ways, the boat trip, lunch and includes 2 tour guides. Of course, you visit the two pagodas, get good commentary from the guides, and generally have a good time !

Hehe ... but the boat ladies will hassle you for tip. Pay around VND 2,000 - VND 4,000 per person. Don't spoil the market ... one of the groups actually paid USD 10!!! I think that lucky boatwoman would be having a good meal that night !!! And she might just wash that meal down with some snake wine ...

18 December 2006

Hanoi - Day Ba: Halong Bay

*Ridiculous amount of pictures. Dial up users should upgrade to broadband. Broadband subscribers should be patient. Patient readers will be rewarded*

Hanoi is not a huge city. Even on foot, and at a leisurely pace, around 2-3 days will be sufficient to cover all its attractions. So, we headed out to Halong Bay for a day cruise on Day 3.

For around USD 20, you can take a day tour from Hanoi to Halong Bay. We had a small group of around 12 people in our van departing from Hanoi, and in the boat, we had around 16 people only. It's very important to make sure your Halong Bay tour is (a) small - 16 people max (b) refundable (in part - since you still pay for the van journey) if you can't cruise because of inclement weather (c) air conditioned if you go in summer.

The day starts early, at around 7.30 am - Halong Bay is 180 kms and a rather comfortable and uneventful 3 - 3.5 hours away from Hanoi by car. The scenery is quite monotonous until around the halfway stop - lots of farm lands, and factories.

As you get closer to Halong Bay, you start to see the limestone mountains Halong Bay is famous for ...

Halong means "Descending Dragon", and is famous for the large numbers of limestone mountains (also called karst) that poke out from the sea. In fact, these are the same limestone mountains that extend from Guilin in China, into north Vietnam. It's featured in Tomorrow Never Dies - the Bond movie featuring Michelle Yeoh.

Once in Halong Bay, the boat cruise itself is around 4 hours. It'll cruise around the islands nearer to the shore, and stop to visit one cave (Thien Cung). I have mistakenly watermarked my pictures with the words Trien Tru Cave ... I lazy to correct. It's Thien Cung cave, ok ?

It also stops at some Floating Fishing Village, where you can pick some of the seafood to add to lunch. Lunch is included in the tour, but if you want additional seafood from fishing village, it's extra. At additional USD2, you can also tour 2 sea caves on a motorboat - it'll take you into caves in 2 islands, both leading into a sea lake - (imagine the island in The Beach).

Of course, there's a lot of things to see. The rock formations here are quite interesting ...

And there's the floating vendors as well. I'll just call them floating markets =).

There is an option to do a 2D/1N stay in a boat in Halong Bay, and we've been told it's more interesting because it'll take us to some very narrow channels that will give us very close look at the mountains, include a trekking option on Titov Island, and also feature a beach visit. (We hear there are some exquisite beaches). These overnight boats are air conditioned, and has full complements of facilities, we heard from other travellers.

This being winter, the whole area is enveloped in a slight mist, which makes the atmosphere quite mysterious. Looks a bit like chinese painting, really.

The boat cruises along very slowly, which is good - you can enjoy the scenery better.

Halong Bay is absolutely lovely. The misty weather meant we didn't get any of the sparkling water or crystal clear views, but it was very good nonetheless, and the mist created an atmosphere that was out of the world.