Saturday, 31 March 2012

Life in the fast lane; Hanoi, Vietnam

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
My four days in Hanoi flew by, everything seemed to fly by in Hanoi and nothing flew quicker than the traffic! 

Navigating the streets (for it was rare to find a footpath you could actually walk on), was a whole new and sometimes unnerving experience. Each time I made a successful crossing after having weaved, dodged and pirouetted my way through the traffic I felt like I had achieved the near impossible.

While I was waiting for openings on one side of the street my finger would start twitching for the camera and I would hang myself out over the gutter and snap the hundreds of faces that would be flying past me. It soon became a favourite pastime......these photos are a few of the end results.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The Old Quarter

I loved staying in the old quarter of Hanoi, I spent most of my time there as it's the heart and soul of the city. I loved the vitality and frenetic pace and the remaining French colonial buildings are gorgeous, albeit rundown. Here the vietnamese seemingly go about their very busy lives paying little attention to the tourists.

The smell and sight of food is everywhere, it is either being prepared, cooked or eaten. Life seems extremely social with endless groups of the young and not so young chatting, eating and drinking while seated on teensy tiny little plastic stools that sit only a few inches from the ground. 

Women move gracefully through the traffic (unlike myself)! and balance their baskets brimming with pineapples and mangos (cut and ready to eat), as well as dragon fruit, paw paw and every other fruit and/or vegetable. Their heads and faces are sheltered from the elements by their traditional conical woven hats. 

The streets in the old quarter are named after the merchandise or produce that was traded there in the past, and today many of the streets still have their specialty products; some are lined with shops selling sunglasses others propaganda posters, fabric, shoes, jewellery or paper products.

The shops / houses in this quarter are typically only a few meters wide and up to 60 meters deep (apparently in the past shop keepers were taxed according to the width of their property), hence the living quarters were (and still are I imagine) situated in the back and the houses were known as 'tube houses'.


I stayed in (and can recommend) the Hotel Hanoi Elegance Saphire on Hang Bong Street, I adore this street name, its impossible to forget. Many of the street names in the old quarter start with the word Hang as it means merchandise or shop and Hang Bong apparently means Store of Cotton.

I also stayed in the Aranya Hotel it's on the same street and both are good choices.

Drop by the Metropole Hotel (situated in the Hoan Kiem district and close to the Opera House) for lunch, dinner, or as I did just for a pick me up cup of coffee. Its the Raffles of Hanoi.

Halong Bay

I dont think anyone can go to Hanoi without visiting the magnificent Halong Bay (a four hour road trip from Hanoi), that is unless you are me, and the boats are not permitted to leave the harbour because of bad weather! The 8 hour bus trip (there and back) in the one day along with the disappointment of missing 2 days and 1 night on the boat was not the highlight of my time in Vietnam I have to say.  However, I now have a very good reason to return to Hanoi. 

Tom Coc

Do make the 2 hour trip to Tom Coc, here you can cycle and boat your way through the Halong Bay of the rice paddies, the scenery is truly spectacular.

The boat ride is approximately 2 hours in total, and you may like to grab the extra oar and help your boat's oarsman/woman out every now and again, (I'm not totally sure if I helped or hindered mine, but it gave my arms a good work out either way)!  They actually rowed most of the way very skillfully with their feet.

Don't avoid this trip because of the number of tourists that flock there. If you leave it later in the day and visit the temples of Hua Lu before Tom Coc you may have less boats on the river in the late afternoon than earlier in the day. But check this out with the hotel.

And to finish off....... a few more faces on the move in Hanoi, enjoy your weekend.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Millie x

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Cambodia and Laos...'Because of your smile you make life more beautiful' Thich Nhat Hanh

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A little girl runs to give me a lotus flower (which I proudly kept in my room for many days), Cambodia

I have been traveling in southeast Asia and I have not blogged in a few weeks.... besides having very little time to do so my main reason is that I simply did not know how to put into words the experiences I was living at the time...and I still do not know.

It is my hope that my photos will replace these 'lost' words and help tell the story of the incredibly wonderful and resilient people I met in both Laos and Cambodia.

I felt so many emotions during my time there......I was overjoyed, I was sad, I was happy, I was HOT, I smiled a lot, I cried a little (behind closed doors)! but mainly I was amazed, amazed by the courage and fortitude of people whose everyday hardships never seemed to wipe the smile from their faces, whose gratitude at the smallest gesture of kindness or even just recognition was overwhelming. 

I shared their stories, I shared their meals, I partook in their ceremonies, I sang with them, I was hugged and I hugged,  I laughed with them......these four amazing weeks and these equally amazing people will stay in my heart forever. 

Here are some of the images I hope convey the emotion and huge respect I feel for these people.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Cambodian children paddling back from the floating school to their floating homes in Tonle Sap lake (there is always time for a lolly pop!)

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A loatian woman and her beautiful smile help pass the time at a roadblock

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Boys cleaning the fishing nets on the shores of the Mekong river, Laos

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Boys being boys on the river island of Don Khon, in Southern Laos

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Rice pickers employed for the harvest and their makeshift plastic tents 
outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A beautiful girl and her smile on Tonle Sap Lake (The largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia)

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Weighing the fruit and veg at the floating green grocer on Tonle Sap Lake

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A Nun sits with her offerings in a Temple, Cambodia

I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity to cross paths with these people and the many others that touched my heart and I thank them for their never ending generosity of spirit and their smiles which radiated from morning to night. 

Thank you also to Yaz, Dunakeo and Sichanh Duangmara, my very special friends from Laos who welcomed me into their home and their family, I can never forget their warmth and hospitality and the wonder at being part of such a beautiful and touching ceremony, thank you again and again.

Related and recommended reading

In the shadow of Angkor, Contemporary writing from Cambodia (Frank Stewart, Sharon May Editors) 

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal (edited by John D Ciorciari)

When Broken Glass Floats - by Chanrithy Him

Her Father's Daughter - by Alice Pung

When Broken Glass Floats and Her Father's Daughter make harrowing reading. I read these two books prior to my departure for Cambodia and they helped me gain some sort of understanding of the magnitude of suffering that the khmer Rouge inflicted on the khmer people; over 1 in 4 cambodians perished from either starvation, torture, execution or disease.

I have only just started the book The Khmer Rouge Tribunal, it has been written to give an overview of the issues surrounding the tribunal and why the call for justice has never really been successful and is still proceeding (albeit with all its frustrations) to this day.

In the shadow of Angkor I read whilst in Cambodia and  I struggled to put  it down.  It marks the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and 'reveals the vibrant written culture that flourishes in Cambodia today'. There are samples from writers who were prominent before the Khmer Rouge as well as stories from contemporary writers, interviews, memoirs and poetry. It is a stunning book.

Millie xx

Monday, 5 March 2012

The old and the new Buddha

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A monk sculpts a cement Statue of Buddha 

I'm in Luang Prabang and while the sun is at its strongest and hottest I thought I would stay in the cool and blog a post.

It's only a few months since my last visit to Laos and I am once again enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the Lao people and making new discoveries.

In a city known for its enormous number of Buddhist temples you are bound to come across the odd statue or two of Buddha!  There are the very old and the very new and I came across both in the one morning.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The toes are getting a lot of attention

Here (above) in an unfinished building in the grounds of the Temple of Vat Nong Sikhounmuang I had the good timing and good fortune to be passing by just as a monk was busy and concentrated on sculpting a cement statue of Buddha. Unfortunately the language barrier between us meant that I did not have the opportunity to gather much more information however I was content to watch him at work and snap some photos at the same time.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Restoring a 200 year old statue of Buddha at The Buddha Restoration Studio

Further into my day after having visited a sublime photographic exhibition called 'The floating Buddha' by German photographer Hans Georg Berger I happily discovered the Buddha Restoration Studio located in the same building and in the grounds of the Palace Museum.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

This statue is 200 years old the one behind it is 100 years old
The restoration work being done here currently is part of a 3 week project between The Lao Department of Fine Arts, Information of Culture and Tourism and the private Japanese Minobusan University in Minobu, Yamanashi prefecture.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The studio itself is part of the Training Technicians of Restoration in Buddhist Art and part of the world heritage of Luang Prabang here

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Looking at some of the before photos (where there were missing arms and huge gaping holes) it is clear that the work they are doing is extremely delicate and the results amazingly successful.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

.........from Buddha to fishing, I'm now off to find some fishermen on The Mekong.

Millie x
©Copyright Millie Brown 2012
All photos copyrighted please do not download
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