Back to Nam!

Finally after more than a decade I am finally back in the country that started it all – Vietnam!

Way back in 2008 I went on my first ever Asian adventure to Cambodia and South Vietnam and I have always wanted to come back and explore the north of the country.

And finally here I am! Husband in tow we have landed in Hanoi, the bustling Northern city that will act as our base for exploring this beautiful country.

We’re based in the frantic Old Quarter in the Queen Light Hotel,

The Old Quarter is a place of street sellers, a million mopeds and more chaos and colour than you can shake a stick at.

But we’re only there a night before we’re heading off for our first trip. A three night tour of Ha Long Bay and Tam Coc. So watch this space!

Buddha tooth relics

We’re still pootling around Chinatown, heading for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. But naturally get distracted on-route by plenty of colourful sights.

From incredible street art like the traditional theatre scene above to the many stalls selling the very pungent durian fruit – an acquired taste that has been compared from anything from vomit to dog doo-doo in smell!!

Naturally my eyes are drawn to the myriad of bright coloured souvenirs . .

The hubby is not quite as enamoured by yet more lucky Chinese silk knots and tassels – but managed to raise a smile next to this very jolly buddha.

There’s also more traditional items on sale from beautiful Chinese writing, brushes and ink to delicate fans and piles of rice cakes.

Also some poor little flying lizards have become a street snack . . .

But finally we arrive at our destination. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Built in 2007, the temple gets its name from what the Buddhists regard as the left canine tooth of Buddha, which has been recovered from his funeral pyre in Kushinagar, India and displayed on the temple’s grounds.

On the first floor you’ll find a huge prayer hall that is surrounded by hundreds of little Buddhas.

If you arrive at meal time you’ll be lucky enough to be able to partake in a free vegetarian meal too!!

China town

Singapore’s Chinatown is known as Niu che shui which literally means ‘ox car water’

This is due to the fact that Chinatown’s water supply was principally transported by animal-driven carts in the 19th century.

We’ve entered Chinatown via Pagoda street, a hectic, shop and restaurant lined thoroughfare.

Pagoda street takes its name from the Sri Mariamman Temple that we’ll visit later. During the 1850s and 1880s, the street was one of the centres of slave traffic

Now however it’s a place to browse for souvenirs, eat and hunt for wall art.

By the 1950s, the shophouses here were mainly involved in retail trade and services.

The architecture of the shophouses on Pagoda Street and other parts of Chinatown originates from the Raffles Town Plan of 1822.

This stipulated the material that should be used to build the shophouses as well as the need to have covered walkways of five-foot width (hence known as “five-foot ways”.

Colourful chaos

One of my favourite things to do in a new city is just to mooch around and soak up the sights.

In Singapore’s Little India district you are besieged by sights, sounds, smells and colours.

From gorgeous floral garlands for use in temples, weddings and special occasions to piles of fresh, mouth watering produce.

My favourite exotic fruit – the rambutan – is to be found piled high with its prickly little exterior hiding a small, white fruit.

As well as fruit and flowers you can rifle through endless lovely handicrafts from embroidered umbrellas to wooden carvings – fancy a tiger dear . . .?

Even now my mouth waters at the endless selection of fruit juices on offer here.

From honey lemon to sugarcane juice, papaya to lychee, there’s a colourful option for everyone!

Finally before we head off I spot a bucket full of stunning lotus blossoms.

These sculptural blossoms can often be found gracing temples as offerings to deities.

The Lotus flower is regarded in many different cultures, especially in eastern religions, as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth.

Its characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition – even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower.

Les Puces

No trip is complete without bribing / forcing the husband to trawl around a market or two. And this is no exception as I get very over excited by the idea of a proper French flea market (blame Escape to the Chateau!)

The most famous flea market in Paris is the one at Porte de Clignancourt, officially called Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, but known to everyone as Les Puces (The Fleas).

It covers seven hectares and is the largest antique market in the world, receiving between 120,000 to 180,000 visitors each weekend.

Battle your way through the initial rows of cheap plastic tourist tat and mass produced junk that circle the old flea market to the heart of the original old market and you’ll be rewarded with a treasure trove of the old, retro, unique and down right odd.

Mountains of glittering beads tempt me like a magpie while terrifying old dolls stare blankly from every stall and box.

Les Puces is a mix of street and floor stalls, old established antiques shops, pop ups and undercover markets.

There are actually around 15 different markets that collectively make up Les Puces. Some specialise in expensive antiques, others have old fabrics and buttons.

One market is a colourful explosion of street art and knock off clothing!

While the covered markets and actual shops are interesting, my favourite part is the actual street markets where goods are piled up on the floor and on walls.

As well as the fascinating things for sale, the walls themselves provide an outdoor gallery to enjoy.

A visit to Les Puces is a highlight for rummage fiends and knick knack lovers. Just keep a close eye on wallets, purses and other valuables as it is a pick pocket haven.

Sauntering around the Seine

There’s plenty to see just wandering around the alleyways and markets on the banks of the Seine.

Including this sumptuous flower market that I dragged the reluctant hubby around.

Here he is looking particularly unimpressed with the delights on show!

The riverbanks are lined with little stalls full of curios, postcards and paintings.

Below posters advertise a Paris / Tokyo expo – reminding me of my favourite every country!

Parisians love their dogs (even if they do not like cleaning up after them!)

The walls and fences are impromptu outdoor galleries as fly posters vie to get their colourful creations in prime spots.

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It’s all over…..for now . . .

It is with a heavy heart that I finally come to the LAST EVER POST ABOUT JAPAN!*

It has taken a whole year to document our amazing trip and it is fitting that it is almost exactly a year since we set off on our odyssey.

So lets’s take a last romp through Osaka’s colourful markets and indulge in my love of all things consumerable.

This fabulous fabric store has a wealth of wacky cartoon prints including little smiling sushi.

Let’s stop for a moment to appreciate this – possibly the epitome of all things Japanese.

It’s cute, quirky, colourful and quite frankly bonkers . .  . .basically my assessment of the whole country 🙂

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Here’s a variety of decorative Sake bottles. All beautifully labelled with delicate details.

Let’s rejoice one more time in the plethora of insanely colourful boxes and packaging.

Pandas to advertise meaty lumps? Why not! Then there’s the plastic sushi shining under artificial lights.

A final gallop through the Blade Runneresque Osaka streets. Complete with their eye popping manga advertisements.

A final look at the eye watering colour combos and indecipherable store fronts.

A final forced pose by the man next to unidentifiable meat products . .  .

And of course, it wouldn’t be my blog without a final “stick your head through that”!!

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Farewell Japan it has been beyond a blast! From school girls with ninja swords, lightening speed bullet trains, delicate Geisha and serene temples.

Everyday was an incredible assault on the senses, a delight to the eyes, ears and heart.

We’ve seen futuristic metropolis with neon towers reaching to the heavens, rang heavy bells in lonely rural temples, bowed to drivers while crossing the road, seen the horrors of war and the promise of the future.

We’d move there in a heartbeat and as soon as we’ve scraped together enough money we’ll be back with bells on! Till then, sayounara Japan!!

* It is HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT THIS IS THE LAST EVER POST ABOUT JAPAN . . . .*

China town

We’re off to experience a little taste of China in Japan now as we head to Kobe for a day trip.

Nankinmachi is a small but perfectly formed chinatown in central Kobe and is the centre of the Chinese community in the Kansai Region.

The area was built up by Chinese merchants who settled near Kobe Port after it was opened to foreign trade in 1868.

As the chinatown developed, it became known as Nankinmachi after Nanjing, the former Chinese capital.

The two main streets are full of shops, restaurants and food stands selling popular items such as steamed buns (manju), ramen, tapioca drinks and various other Chinese dishes

I love love love the little animal steamed buns that come in a wide variety of shapes from piglets to baby chicks! Super kawaii!!

The area is a delightful explosion of colour, smells and tastes.

The carp fish is a commonly seen good luck symbol as the Chinese character for carp (li 鲤) is pronounced the same as both the character (li 利) for “profit” and the character (li 力) for “strength” or “power”.

Another colourful little charm is the monkey, the ninth of 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.

When we visited Japan, it was 2016 which happened to be the year of the monkey.

Finally let’s give some love for this super cute vending machine complete with reclining panda bear! Nothing is too mundane to be made cuter in Japan.

 

Pet cafes and fishy markets

Continuing our tour of our final Japanese city Osaka. We spot a few of the more quirky features of Japanese socialising – pet cafes! In this case all things tiny, fluffy and spiky!

As well as photo perving on yet more perfectly replicated plastic meals and sushi.

This tiny shop is a manga lover’s paradise. Stacked from floor to ceiling with colourful books.

I love the vivid hues of the spines and the somewhat impenetrable plots!

Naturally there are an abundance of novelty items to make the man stick his head through or pose next to . . .

Then it’s onto Kuromon Ichiba which is one of the most well known central food markets in Osaka.

Its undercover stalls are crammed full of all manner of veg, pickles, fish and delicacies.

The market has a total length of close to 600 meters with 170 shops.

Although over half of total sales are for the business market, Kuromon Ichiba is also popular with the general public and definitely with tourists.

As well as fresh ingredients to make your own meals, you can easily pick up lots of ready meals to eat on the go. Made in front of your eyes or scooped out of tempting dishes.

My eye is drawn to these poor little baby octopi on sticks! Their heads look rather too round and that is because they are stuffed with a quails egg!

Considered to be a Japanese snack they are known as takoyaki or octopus balls and they are candied and skewered. Hmmmm . . .

Finally here are a few more fresh crabs and a vendor preparing some snacks.

We’re getting so very close to the end of our trip now . . . I almost can’t bear to finish it.

Although it will almost be a year since we visited it has taken all this time to document it all!!

Tsukiji fish market

Up early the next morning we’re hitting the road to visit the humongous Tsukiji wholesale fish and vegetable market.

It’s the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind.

 

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The world famous fish auctions in the inner market opens at 3am. with the arrival of the products by ship, truck and plane from all over the world.

 

The market handles more than 400 different types of seafood from cheap seaweed to expensive caviar, tiny sardines to huge tuna.

As I’m not an early riser, there’s no chance that we’d actually be in time to see the bidding frenzy (and as a veggy I can’t stand the smell of sigh TBH!)

Instead we’re looking forward to pottering around and soaking up the atmosphere and sights in the outer market streets.

 

The outer market is a ragtag collection of retail shops and stalls that sell fresh seafood, street snacks, and kitchen supplies.

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Lots of sushi restaurants are to be found here and some have huge queues due to their popularity.

Every conceivable type of seafood can be found here, on sticks, bloodied in bowls, displayed on ice.

It’s not just fish based items however, it’s also a vegetable market. Above is fresh wasabi and colourful , edible flowers.

Nosey tourists are reminded not to “push” the scallops! Now all I want to do is squeeze them…

There’s lots of colourful characters around the market while the tiny snack bars heave with hungry locals and curious tourists.

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Amongst the traditional methods of food preservation you can see “Himono” – a traditional salting and air-drying process used to preserve fish for a long time. The process helps concentrate the  flavor of the fish.

Tiny Sushi sweets, wasabi beans and vegetable chips are more colourful snacks.

Another ingredient that you’ll see everywhere is dried bonito flakes used to make “dashi” (clear fish stock) which an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Bonito go through a rigorous process of boiling, smoking, fermenting, and drying.

There are calls to relocate the historic market. This was scheduled to take place in November 2016, in preparation for the 2020 Olympics, but the move was postponed.

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Lucky for us as we managed to see it in its original location before it is potentially destroyed forever.

We also manage to see our first Sumo wrestler! Out doing his shopping . . . and the man spots his doppelganger.