Friday, February 27, 2009

Dalat Market

Wherever we go, we always check out the local market place for many reasons: It's the best way to feed our 'cultural buzz' addiction. If you haven't noticed, Eric and I are both foodies, and are naturally curious to what everyone else in the world is eating. Also, Eric loves to barter with the locals, while to his dismay I am always willing to pay more.

The street level market is mostly local wines, preserves, and produce.

The colors are amazing.

Vietnamese markets are really clean.

There is so much variety of produce here in Dalat because every inch of land has rich soil growing something.

Chicken anyone? Neck, head and feet included!

What's good for the goose is not good for the gander...

The butcher's area was a large covered room with
table after table of animal parts piled or hung like a meet locker.


Watching the butchers cut up the animals almost turned me into a vegetarian! We live in such bliss in America....our meat doesn't resemble the sweet animal it once was.

Snails

Rabbits

Larva's

Frogs

Live snakes or some kind of eel?

Live seafood.

Fish heads.

Spices by the bulk. Costco doesn't even come close.

Hardware...every thing Home Depot has but in a 5 '3 area.
Very organized.


The top floor of the market houses a high-end embroidery studio, and shops catering to tourists such as toys, clothing and decor. Just outside the market, a number of vendors sell anything from digital camera chips (we recommend not buying from the market) to affordable dinners. The market place is busy night and day, keeping a continuous fun and lively vibe.

Dalat's Marketplace leads to the main street where rows of vendors sell flowers.

We ate at this lake side restaurant. It was raining so hard for about 2 hours. So most of the food we chose was a variety of hot herbal teas, and soups. Oh ya and frog legs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lazy Day

Our lazy day began with sleeping in, asking our Butler to start up our fireplace (because he kept asking what he could do for us and this was the only thing we came up with), and eating breakfast in the Evason Ana Mandara main dining room. We had Pho, lemon crepes and fresh fruit.


Pho (pronounced Fuh) is a Vietnamese staple for all their meals.

It's served hot. Great on cold days. And, an even better alternative to chicken soup when you're sick. If you're feeling a little bit brave and have a day to kill, try this great Pho receipt. It's a combination of a cooking classes recipe (Eric and I took together) and Martha Stewart's recipe.

Ingredients
Serves 4

For the stock
8 whole star anise
1 whole cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 piece (4 inches) peeled fresh ginger
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut in quarters
4 pounds oxtail, or Knuckle bones, beef marrow or beef shank, rinsed thoroughly
6 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces, plus 4 thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
salt (to taste)

For the soup
1 teaspoon coarse salt
8 ounces eye of round or sirloin of beef, sliced thin
8 ounces thin dried rices stick noodles
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
fish sauce (to taste)

For the garnish
3/4 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup saw leaf
10 springs Asian basil
6 Thai bird chilies, or 1 serrano chili or 1 jalapeno chili
2 lime, quartered

Directions
1. Make stock: Heat star anise, cinnamon, and cloves in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a 6-quart stockpot.

2. Preheat broiler. Broil ginger and onions, flipping once, until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to pot. Add oxtail, 2-inch scallion pieces, peppercorns, and sugar. Add 5 quarts water; bring to a boil. Skim foam. Add salt. Reduce heat. Simmer, for at least hours.

3. Pour stock through a large sieve into a large bowl; discard solids. Let cool 20 minutes. Refrigerate, covered, 6 hours or overnight.

4. Make soup: Chill beef in freezer until firm, about 2 hours. Cover noodles with cold water. Let stand until noodles are softened, about 30 minutes; drain.

5. Cut beef in half. Place each half flat side down, and cut beef against the grain as thinly as possible. Allow beef to warm to room temperature.

6. Skim fat from stock; discard. Transfer stock to a pot; add shallots and fish sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until shallots are soft, about 15 minutes.

7. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until just tender, about 10 seconds; drain.

8. Divide noodles, beef, and sprouts among 4 bowls. Add simmering stock (it will cook beef gently). Garnishes with herbs and chilies. Serve.

Or, go to any local Vietnamese restaurant and order a bowl instead. I can guarantee they will have Pho on the menu and it will be cheaper than making it yourself. And probably just as good. But watch out for the cups of MSG some of the restaurants dump in. Eric constantly warns me of this. He has a supersensitive head and can detect MSG in his food within minutes after imbibing it because he gets a headache.

On a side note: to all those who want to start to cook Vietnamese, this is the cookbook I recommend.


Eric and his Dad, David, golfed eighteen rounds at the Dalat Palace Golf Club which was established in 1922. They got the royal treatment, each having his own caddy to carry clubs. Eric asked to have the same caddy he had the last time he was golfing in Dalat. Her name was Anh. She was quite a memorable characters. They had a great time.

The Dalat Palace Golf Course. Beautiful.

Meanwhile, my mother in-law, Jane and I went to the Six Sense Spa for a massage. And it was heavenly. All six of my senses were officially relaxed! Later in the afternoon we went out on the town, checked out shops and ate at a local cafe. We came home to snuggle by the fire with some hot drinks. This was a good day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dalat

After the Halong Bay trip we returned to the Hanoi Intercontinental for one last night. The next morning at 4am, we flew to the Central Highlands of Vietnam-a town called Dalat. The minute I stepped off of the plane it was a breath of fresh air both literally and metaphorically after the mayhem and humidity of Hanoi. Like a hug from "April fresh" Downy.

This map has main cities.
Just to help those who are not familiar with Vietnam.


Dalat's airport was 30km to the south of the actual town, so on our way we stopped and hiked to Pongour Falls, the largest waterfall in the immediate Dalat area.

The pathway to the waterfall.

Stopped for a drink of sugar cane juice and to enjoy the view.
Pearce found a kitty.


The view behind Pearce.
Wild Monkeys have taken over the mountain tops, locals told us.

At the Pongour Falls.
Double the waterfalls in this picture and that's how grand it was.

Pearce and Eric stripped down to swim.


Pearce and Eric. How luck am I?
I can't believe I wake up to Eric every morning!


The close up.

It was a little cold for swimming.

video
Movie magic.

This is how the falls look during the rainy season. The Buddhist monks come to chant and meditate at the falls, or...in the falls? Gotta be photoshopped, right?

Vietnam’s Dalat—nicknamed “The City of Love,” “Le Petit Paris,” and “City of Eternal Spring”— was discovered by Doctor Alexandre Yersin. The area, originally inhabited by the Lat and Ma hill tribes, which now live in nearby Chicken Village and Lat Village, increased in popularity during the French colonial era. Because of its temperate climate, and the surroundings of lakes, waterfalls, and pine forests, it became popular with the French who were desperate for a cool retreat from the insane heat of the lowlands (most of Vietnam). Dalat was considered to be a neutral zone during all of Vietnam's wars, thankfully sparing it the nasty scars of war that beset most of Vietnam. A small Eiffel tower, over 2,000 beautiful villas, a school and a train station are modeled after regional French architecture, mimicking a little French town from a half of a century ago. Dalat is still popular with Vietnamese and expatriate artists and writers who consider it the most bohemian of Vietnamese cities.

Eric has been to Dalat two other times before and had arranged for us to stay at The Six Senses, Ana Mandara Villas and Spa for the week. The Resort sits on 35-acres of pine woodlands on a hill side edge of Dalat, at an altitude of 5,000. The center of town is below the resort and takes about a 20-minute walk to get there.


This is the gate and drive way up to our Villa.

This is our private villa for the week,
and it comes with our very own Butler.


A Butler? I thought this was a dying profession... like a decade ago? I remember as a kid watching the Fresh Prince of Bellaire, their butler mostly answered the door. I didn't anticipate many visitors, so we were at a total lost of what our Butler should do. Thank goodness our Butler was proactive and asked to unpack our belongs, bring up food and drinks and started and managed all the fireplaces in the house. Which was really fun to have a roaring fire in each room. Very romantic. And very nice because it was rainy and cold. Dalat's average daily temperatures range from 15ºC to 24ºC so you'll need to pack a sweater for the evenings.

This was our gigantic feather down bed.

Our biggest decisions; first, to figure which pillow to pick from the Pillow Menu, Buckwheat or Featherdown or the other 6 pillow types listed? And Secondly, which relaxing herb pillow, to place under the first pillow choice, aiding our aim of a well rested sleep. I picked a lavender mix. Eric picked a woody mix.

Our bedroom sitting area and fireplace.

Making ourselves at home playing with wooden games found in our room.

Our bathroom.

Our bathtub.

The living room.

With a fireplace.

The dining room with a fireplace. The kitchen is behind the curtain.

We had the options to: request one of the resort's Chefs to prepare our meals in our villa kitchen and eat in the privacy of our villa dining room, or we could take a 10 second walk over to the resorts main dining restaurant.

We chose the main dining restaurant.

Pearce looking through his wooden puzzle menu.

We walked around the Evason Ana Mandara's grounds, past 17 other restored villas, each with a unique design and all connected by cobbled roads that were built by the French in the 1920's and 1930's. I wish I would have taken pictures of the other houses. One had a gone with the wind sweeping double staircase on the outside leading up to a grand front door. So darling.

We walked by the giant heated pool. Later, Pearce, Eric and David went for a swim. It wasn't warm enough for the girls to want to swim.

We found the Six Senses Spa, and made reservations for the next afternoon. Very beautiful place. This is a great place to get away and relax. The only thing missing was the rest of our family.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pearce's latest

Today, Pearce announced "I not a human boy, I am a super boy."

Pearce often sits at our mac, by himself, opens iPhoto and browses for hours through the 9,996 photos we have (the exact number as of today). Of course his favorites include the pictures of himself. Lately, he has stopped to contemplate his first Halloween pictures as superman. I could see the wheels turning in his head and BAM he had the revelation......."I am not a human boy, I am a super boy."

Pearce's first Halloween.



I love how his eyes match the blue in his costume.

Pearce also informed us, that he could fly when he was a baby but not now because the doctor said his powers would return when he is 18 years old. Oh I just love his imagination. Unfortunately the pictures that really have convinced Peace he's a super boy, blogger can not download. Probably because we photo shopped Pearce in his costume flying over Honolulu, Manhattan, and with Emperor Penguins in New Zealand. If you want to check out the super shots, click on the link provided. It will take you to Pearce: year one, on our mac website. Then wait, the link will take you directly to the Superman photos; Pictures

One last thing, Pearce hums the Superman anthem over and over almost perfectly for a two and a half year old. I love my little super boy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The epic battle

video

We allow fighting at the table. Watch Pearce and Tutu battle over the pancakes. We are back in Hanoi at the Intercontinental for one day and night. Tomorrow, early in the morning we fly to Da Lat. And yes we are still in our PJ's.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Halong Bay

Once again, I will travel back in time, back to Vietnam...

Day 1: After three wonderful months, we are sadly checking out of the Intercontinental. Eric's parents, David and Jane had joined us at this point.

While Pearce waits, I catch him pen in hand concentrating on a newspaper crossword puzzle. He really was trying. So cute.

Before leaving Northern Vietnam we had to visit one of Vietnam's natural wonders, the magnificent limestone islets of Halong Bay. The Bay covers an area of 1500 sq km, with it's 3000-plus islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Ha long means where the dragon descends into the sea. Legend has it that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon who lived in the mountains. As it ran towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses; as it plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by the tail became filled with water, leaving only bits of high land visible (thanks lonely planet).

We aren't the type of travelers who like guided tours. But in this case, with parents and a child, we decided the best way to see Halong Bay was on a two day historical 'junk' sailboat cruise. Everything is taken care, form dinning, sleeping, beach visits, kayaking, cave exploring, ect.

This is what a traditional Vietnamese 'junk' sailboat looks like.

All aboard. Pearce and Tutu. We set off into the open bay.


Pearce wasn't too sure about his lunch because it seemed to stare right back at him.

A few hours into our 'junk' adventure we stopped off at an island called Doa Titop, designed for a day at the beach.

Pearce, Papa and Tutu Phillips.

We rode wave runners.

We swam. Eric, Pearce and David.

And, hiked up the mountain top. This was a spectacular view. The little islands go on and on.

After couple of hours of playing on the sandy beach, we returned to the boat. Along the way to our destination, we didn't see anyone for hours. Then out of nowhere, brightly painted houses floated in small villages.


This is someones house!

Okay living in the middle of no where has to be hard enough. But to live floating in a tiny little house on the water in the middle of no where...I can't imagine.

Our Junk dropped anchor in the middle of one of the countless bays. Jagged limestone and lush green islands towered around us, and a few other junk boats, creating our own private cove. The whole gang decided to explore the area by kayak.

We kayaked through an eroded hole in the limestone.

A closer view of the hole to the other side. Then, we continued around the island back to where we started and continued past our junk to the other side of the cove. There, we found a long, low cave that revealed one of the most breathtaking places--a private water filled crater with hundred-foot sheer walls all around.

We jumped out of our kayaks and swam around. We felt like Columbus finding a new world.

The floating seven eleven store.

In the late Evening, we ate dinner and hung on the top deck enjoying the stars.We retired to our quarters, which also included a full bathroom and shower. And yes, that bed is as hard as it looks.


Day 2: Breakfast and more waiting to get to the next destination, Surprise Cave. Situated in the center of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage area, Sung Sot or Surprise Grotto is on Bo Hon Island, and is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Halong Bay.

The Surprise Cave or "Grotte des surprises" was given its name by a French explorers who discovered it in 1901. From the wharf, fifty steps lead up to the grotto entrance, which lies 25m above the sea level. From there you'll proceed on a 500-meter paved and lit walk way through three progressively larger grottoes each adorned with stalactites and stalagmites that take on different shapes, such as a dragon, tiger and penguin. You could fit several football fields inside the grotto.

The view from the cave's entrance.

At the side of the entrance, the rock seems to form the shape of a horse with a long sword. Legend has it, that after having defeated the An aggressors, Thanh Giong (Saint Giong) helped the population to chase away evil spirits and demons. After this feat, Saint Giong flew to heaven, leaving a stone horse and sword to continue to keep the demons away. Sounds good to me.

Inside the first chamber of caves being similar to a wide theatre hall. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling. Eric and Pearce.


A narrow passage leads to the second chamber that is so immense it could hold thousands of people at one time. It absolutely lived up to its name!

On our way out.

Exiting the caves, hot and sweaty, we were rewarded with a spectacular view over the bay below. Wendi, Pearce, Eric, Jane, and David.

Still on our way down to the boat. The closest boat docked is our junk.

A few hours later we had lunch and the junk took us back to port. It was a sensational adventure. Pearce loved living like a pirate for those two days. Halong bay tours offer longer trips. But if you do this with kids, you may want to keep it short to spare them from dying of boredom. For us, it was a perfect way to end our stay in Northern Vietnam.