Friday, October 31, 2014

Tại bãi biển

While we managed to take some evening walks by the beach to enjoy the quiet, of course we allocated two full mornings to chill out by the beach. The hotel has a little private beach for guests. Deckchairs, towels, and all the usual amenities provided. Quiet enough. The Son Tra Peninsula is picturesque and it would really sad not to portion out time to admire it. That's the whole point of staying in this hotel. The convenience of a beach at our doorstep.

I do like the sun on the skin. For a while, under sunblock. Not to tan for hours. No wish to get burnt. The best way to get a tan is to pull on a hat, wade in the water or squat around. Fun! Not swimming in the sea. Eeeks. Not unless I'm in a wetsuit with a dive mask and air tank. The man didn't mind plunging in for a bit. He misses the beach. It's been a long time since our last beach vacation.

Didn't bother to take a book or the iPad to the beach. Simply wanted to enjoy the sound of the waves and nature. Stared at the horizon for the longest time. What a pleasure. Did loads of that all over the resort. Our villa holds a spacious balcony that is conducive to reading, periodically looking up to the sky and the horizon.

Went to terrorize marine life. It's been a long time since I saw a beach this alive. Most beaches in the world have been occupied by humans all day. Sea creatures only come out night. On this beach where no more than 20 humans walk on each day, I treaded softly and saw plenty. Loads of bustling and colors going on.

Patiently waited for crabs to crawl out of their little holes. Only one did. Bah. But saw many tiny sand crabs scurrying around. Spent like 45 minutes stalking crabs. Spotted a bright purple crab. It was quite big. At least something big enough randomly spotted. Dunno what species it is. I only know it can't be eaten. :P Tiny clams were waving about. Placed them back into the water. Didn't want to think about whether they should be eaten. Stared at shells washed up whole and in broken bits, dead fish and garbage. Loads of sand dollars hanging around too. Love this business of chilling out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nhà hàng Madame Lân

Steamed crab in tamarind sauce.

Went to Madame Lân Restaurant for the man to overdose on seafood. It's a huge restaurant, but a venue that the locals go to, if they want proper seats instead of low stools by the roadside eateries. Something a little more formal, but doesn't offer air-conditioning. This time of the year, it's cool in the evenings.

The man loves crabs, but I watch his crab intake quite zealously. He can easily polish off a whole crab on his own any time. That's bad. LDL Cholesterol. Tsk. I make exceptions while on holiday. So this meal held the one and only crab he ate for the whole trip, and the second in the past three months. Hahahaha. Had to dissuade him from taking oyster porridge and grilled bloody cockles with garlic. He already has a minor upset stomach for two days from ingesting dunno-what. We ate the same food, but I've a cast-iron stomach. He doesn't.

Ordered so much food. Grilled squid, prawns and kangkong. Had a pan-fried cá dìa, which the menu translated into 'rabbitfish'. But I thought it looked more like a discus fish, unless it's an interchangeable term to mean both types. Erm...I thought they both belonged to saltwater aquariums... Anyway. Made the man eat a bowl of bún bò Huế because he didn't want rice. But he needed to line the stomach with some carbs. Rice vermicelli it was, with beef. He merrily slurped it up. He liked it.

Nothing at this restaurant was particularly outstanding. But there wasn't anything terrible either. It measured up fine overall- fresh seafood cooked well. All good. Seafood steamboat was also available, but perhaps another night. Stomachs were too stuffed. Needed a long walk by the river after just to burp. Heh. In time to see the Dragon Bridge lit, alive and breathing fire.

Bún bò Huế. The noodles are rounder than and perhaps thicker than phở.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thuyền thúng

Saw those round boats parked on My Khe beach. Saw them bobbing merrily in the sea too, helmed by experienced fishermen who weren't heading out too far. Woven bamboo basket boats. Thuyền thúng. They're just tubs and look so fragile! I was determined to hop into one and try my luck to see how far I could bob without capsizing. One basket boat holds two to three persons. Luckily our hotel owns a few and its stretch of water didn't seem so choppy. The hotel staff would usually paddle you out for like five minutes along the shoreline, but if you're like me, crazy woman, then feel free to ask them to let you go on your own.

Pulled on a lifejacket and climbed into the boat. Grabbed the oar and started to paddle out. The staff gingerly asked, "Are you sure you Okay?" I was certain it would be manageable. The balancing might be off though. But the sea seemed calm enough that morning. The staff who were familiar with the currents and tides said that the morning was fine in this sunshine and clear skies, but not the afternoon when the rainclouds and tide roll in. No danger of being adrift in the Bay and out to South China Sea.

It was SO FUN. Hahahaha. I was terrible at it, but I didn't topple over. The trick is not to stand up in the middle. Stick to a corner of a round tub. Hurhurhurhur. Yes, that's possible. *cackles* For a namby-pamby city girl, that's quite achievement. Was expecting it to turn round and round, but it kinda kept its direction quite easily. Although, the tub isn't water-proof. UGH. Didn't realize that! Had to bail water out! Duhhh. Had to do it quickly and keep an eye on where the currents were taking me in that few minutes of non-paddling.

Keeping The Muscles Oiled

Gorgeous daily views from the balcony.

At home, stretches are done daily; three times a week, I turn up at classes to use the machines. On vacation, I like doing stretches first thing in the morning. It isn't a chore for me. It's a happy thing to condition the muscles. Don't want to lose all the strength and flexibility acquired through the decades, starting from gymnastics at four years old. Sure, I can't do every routine now. But as I age, I want to retain the incredible core strength built and keep as much flexibility as possible.

I didn't attempt parkour at the resort. The waves crashing among the rocks kinda warned me not to try it. Cartwheeling and back-flipping across an empty beach on the sand early morning was ridiculously fun. Was in stitches after that. Breathless laughter. Heh. Been doing stretches on the balcony of the hotel room. It was spacious enough. Our little villa was right at the very edge of the property facing out to the sea. It was really awesome to hear the waves rhythmically crash.

One morning we got up at 6am and went to the gym. I'm not a gym-rat like the man. But I tagged along to check it out. Didn't even know the man sneaked a few photos before he got bored and went off to do his weights. The one thing I don't know what to do with is that exercise ball. I rarely use it. Sure, it stretches the muscles in another way but it also hinders movement. Back bends, flips and rolls, and the ball just kept bouncing ever so slightly, throwing me off. Forgot about the walking shoes. It's a pair used for serious walking, not running and definitely not for other purposes. First time using them in a gym. Those soles were so thick and affected my balance! Too used to bare feet or thin Vibrams. Oof.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mì Quảng

Since mì Quảng originated from Quảng Nam province right here, all the more we ought to taste a few versions of the rice noodles tinted yellow with turmeric. Udon-like, but thinner. Almost like a thick kway teow. Eating the noodles at the eateries in other Vietnamese cities or good eateries outside of Vietnam doesn't count. I already know that the tastebuds prefer this any day over phở. I'd love to know how the locals cook it and set out to eat a couple of versions.

The meat can be either shrimp, pork, chicken, beef or fish. Versatile. The broth is usually boiled from a mix of pork and chicken bones and dried shrimps. That broth is just poured in 2cm thick at the bottom, enough to moisten the noodles and that's all. It's not meant to be soup, although towns in southern Vietnam tend to prefer the noodles to sit in more soup. There's a local couplet about this mì Quảng. Something about a girl inviting her lover to a cup of green tea and making him a bowl of noodles. Don't look at me. As much as I love this dish, I'm not inspired to make it yet.
Thương nhau múc bát chè xanh, Làm tô mì Quảng anh xơi cho cùng.
There're many little stalls offering different versions, with the most common being pork, then chicken. This is Central Vietnam, so often, the broth is minimal, as opposed to what the South prefers. This is definitely my favorite type of Vietnamese rice noodles. Love all the toasted peanuts, rice crackers and greens. And THOSE GREEN CHILLIES. It's a big satisfying spicy chilli that I like just biting like that with every slurp of noodles. I usually leave the meat aside, opting to finish the noodles to the last strand. But at seafood eateries in the Son Tra District, especially those along My Khe Beach (yes, of that 'China Beach' 80s soap)mì Quảng topped with fish or big prawns are easily done if you ask for it. Or just shrimps and pork as the usual mì Quảng tôm thịt trứng is great too.

There's a version with eel- mì quảng lươn. I'm not a fan of sea or river eels because of those weird tiny bones I can't get over. So didn't try that. If I can avoid pork, I will. My favorite is the fish- mì Quảng cá lóc. It's apparently a specialty from Gia An commune in the Tánh Linh district of Bình Thuận Province, close to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course the fish used is the snakehead. IF I ever re-create this, I'll experiment with a broth of daikon and mushrooms, and other types of fish. Maybe the kurau or ikan parang. Or even monkfish. We'll see. Where can I get fresh Quảng noodles in Singapore?

mì Quảng cá lóc.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mỹ Sơn

Went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mỹ Sơn to see the atmospheric ruins of the spiritual centre of the ancient Chăm Empire. The one thing I really wanted to do on this trip. This completes my list of visiting Borobudur in Java, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Bagan (or Pagan) in Mandalay, and Ayutthaya off Bangkok.

Requested for an experienced guide because I didn't want the usual spiel, and he should be able to summarize key points without me gleaning it online faster than he could speak. Stopped by the Museum of Chăm Sculpture and the village of Trà Kiệu. The village used to be Singhapura (City of the Lion). Tickled by the name. Well, nothing remains of the old city. It's just another modern agrarian village now.

Nobody mentioned anything about the persecution of what's left of the Chăm who are recognized as minorities and marginalized since the fifteenth century. It isn't different from what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia. Apparently, property confiscation and incursions of the Chăm in Vietnam occurred as recent as in the past three years. We didn't mention anything about that either. Or the recent exodus of refugees to Australia, or the imprisonment and release of political blogger Ngyuen Van Hai. This is research that we quietly do. This isn't our country and I still don't know my country's position on civil society and politics, although, the idea of religious freedom here seems stilted. No matter what, these aren't topics to be openly discussed with the Vietnamese hosts who aren't our friends.

There were originally about 70 temples and towers built on the site from the 4th to the 15th century. But now, only 20 or so damaged structures remain. After so many wars, the historical site of Mỹ Sơn is mainly left in ruins. Already weakened by age, the ancient structures completely crumbled during the Vietnam War. Although international conservation efforts and funding are underway, again, to stabilize what's left, this is an impoverished region that has to consider threats of flooding as well as increased tourism. The structures held a haphazard format of old and new bricks. They stand, but the colors look strange. Trying to prevent the structures from collapsing is an uphill struggle. Forest growth lines the numerous bomb craters in the area. Do not wander off marked trails. There is a real possibility of stepping on unexploded land mines still hidden.

For quiet tranquility seen today in the site's rich history, the headless statues remind us of the implacable and inevitable cruel hands of fate and wars waged. Ideals, religions, politics, and winds of change whisper the rise and fall of regimes through the years, leaving the one ruler or government known to us at any one point of history. We can't change the past, but we could certainly try to shape the present and the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Morning Market At the Beach

To the far left, the huge white 67m-tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy
(Quan Am or Kuan Yin) stands in the Linh Ứng Bãi Bụt Pagoda,
keeping the people safe from storms and sea creatures.

I love beaches and being in the water. Not to swim in it though. Just to wade around. Dislike swimming in the open sea unless I'm in full dive gear. Đà Nẵng's beaches are still relatively unspoiled. They're also working beaches in the sense that fishing boats are still anchored out and go to work between 10pm to 4am, returning to shore in time with fresh catches for the morning boisterous seafood market. The public beaches are clean. Refuse washed up doesn't look too horrifying. Unlike Hội An's battle with coastal erosion, especially on Cua Dai Beach, Đà Nẵng is still okay. Non Nước Beach is home to many expansive resorts.

Further along to Son Tra Peninsula is My Khe beach (or otherwise known as 'China Beach') has a wide expanse of space and a few deck chairs for people to hang out. Seafood restaurants still mainly cater to the locals. Outside of these resorts, unlike Thailand, there're no souvenir or tourist traps nearby. WOOT. You can't like...walk out to lunch or something. There's nothing near outside of the resort. Everything is a 20-minute walk either way filled with roads and not particularly interesting sights. Unless you count the shoreline and beaches as a welcome sight. No massage parlors dot the roads, save for one or two for the locals which don't resemble the ambience or smells of a typical spa. Any decent spas are found within the resorts or a 45-minute ride to Hội An. Đà Nẵng is gloriously uncrowded for the now. However, the entire stretch of shoreline here is ear-marked for the development of five-star resorts and two more golf courses. This area has changed so much and in another five years, it would be more...touristy.

I didn't linger at the public beaches except to take a walk through and turn up at first light one morning to smell the fish and check out the informal seafood market. Didn't understand a single word of the bargaining that went on. Didn't dare to snap photos at will. Couldn't buy anything, but at least my companions and guides could. They were on their daily sourcing and buying tasks for eateries and restaurants. But it was a good walk. There's something magical about early mornings. Totally enjoyed checking out the buzz.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cool Rains

As Vietnam moves into a mild winter, Đà Nẵng usually rains everyday in October and November. Totally prepared for it. The locals call this 'high foreign tourist season'. Makes no sense. It's their 'low tourist season' in hot hot summer that makes a much better experience for most visitors.

Our scheduled activities have been matching the weather. Won't melt although the monsoon rains are heavy and not suited for trekking either. We're cool with walking in the rain. No biggie. No diving or snorkeling. Seas are too rough. I knew that it would rain mostly, and didn't bother to bring a bikini even. Hahaha. What sun. None. That's okay. Popping out to see the Chàm Islands (Cù lao Chàm) on a cloudy day was enough. As it is, limited tourist boats are allowed out to the islands during October to mid-December.

On rainy days, we stayed in at the resort. Time to enjoy its full facilities. The Intercontinental Hotel Danang Sun Peninsula is beautiful. It's perched atop a cliff in the Son Tra Peninsula. It's got such a glorious view that it would be a waste not to stay in to admire it. A total joy to hang out in the room or chill out at one of their many daybeds in quiet corners. Don't even need air-conditioning all the time because a cool breeze usually wafts through and rises into a strong wind in the nights.

We've got unlimited data on our phones, plenty of gadgets, steady WiFi throughout the resort. e-books and hardcopy magazines. All sorted. The man caught up on 'Agents of Shield' S2 and I happily lapped up 'Supernatural' S10. S10! Muahahahaha. Oddly, we haven't had any issues accessing social media channels. They load fast. Vietnam has announced so loud that it blocks everything that it deems unsavory. Had prepped and paid for VPN on the gadgets, but there hasn't been a need to turn it on. Strange. Hmmm.