Author

Monica Nilsson

Sri Lanka
Coastline

My husband and I spent 7 days in Sri Lanka for the first time in beginning of December 2018.I had put together the itinerary myself and was for the first time a little bit anxious how it was going to be.Will it work? Would the contacts be reliable and was it silly not using an agency. I have travelled in 63 countries over the last 30 years and only a handful of these travels we have used an agency, so why wouldn’t even this one work. Luckily it did, almost perfect and according to the schedule and plan. We started in Colombo and had booked us for at the colonial classic nice hotel Galle Face Hotel by the sea, which is a wonderful hotel and I looked forward to this stay very much. https://gallefacehotel.com/What I didn’t expect was to see when we arrived that this beautiful hotel is now surrounded by sky scrapers, landfill, a new harbour and extreme exploitation.All of this mentioned is owned by China in one way or the other.

Construction

Hotels and condos, the new harbour owned by China. They are even planning and construction a new “island” made of landfill from the sea, which looks like a new Marina Bay in Singapore, or Pudong in Shanghai, if you look at the drawings for this 5 year plan. China has also done the new highway and major other roads. OK, at least it is good for the labour and that people after all these years with war now have work. We thought. What we learned is that since the economy for many years during the civil war was so bad in the country, many workers have left already seeking work elsewhere so now China brings their own people to work on the constructions. This is quite sad. You get the feeling even more that China with the country’s even stronger economy is ruling ports, roads and hotels in Sri Lanka and also in Africa. Anyway let’s not talk more about politics. The people in this country we found to be very friendly and helpful and of course, they good speak English (as it used to be a British colony). We had a great time and took a 2 hour tuk-tuk ride in the city, went out walking by our own and enjoyed the hotel’s fantastic restaurants the first few days.

Train Station

After spending 2 days in Colombo we had hired a driver who came punctual to pick us up at the hotel and drive us down the coastline to Galle Fort. It is very nice there and along the way we saw some touristic resorts and beaches and we made a stop at a turtle sanctuary. A man took care of turtles that he found on the beach that was injured from fishing boats or other accidents. He kept them in pools. It was a very simple place and sometimes you have doubts about places like that in poor countries, because people do everything for money and to get entrance fees but I truly hope all of it was true and real and that no turtle was purposely harmed. We came back after a full day to the hotel and enjoyed the nice Mexican restaurant by the beach that belonged to Galle Face Hotel. A very cool place with great interior and we just loved it.Next adventure. Day 3 was to go by train from Colombo to Kandy. We went to the train station a bit early with our pre-booked tickets that was delivered to the hotel from this company https://visitsrilankatours.co.uk/ This train ride was in first class and had air conditioning and the journey took around 3.5 hrs. The schedule was exactly on time.

Amazing

Amazing and we said to each other: How often does this happen nowa days in our home country Sweden? Unfortunately many would agree with me – not so often. In Kandy we had a 2 hour walk in the late afternoon after arriving to our hotel Mahaweli Reach https://www.mahaweli.com/We could see along our walk that many people were about to build new houses and renovation new homes for themselves, right by the rice terraces. Kandy is a lovely little place by a river and we had just a one night stop here to avoid travelling on the train for more than 6 hours. The final destination and goal for this train journey was in fact Nuwara Eliya and to see and live close to the tea plantations. Many friends told me that Ella is even more beautiful but that would have been another 2-3 hours on the road or tracks.

Hotel View

We felt that what we did was more than enough actually. I had found this great place called Luxe Wilderness https://www.booking.com/hotel/lk/luxe-wilderness.en-gb.html and we had 1/2 of the house to ourselves. This yellow, 1.5 year old house, sits on top of a hill overlooking the highest peak in Sri Lanka and it was a new experience. The manager greeted us when we arrived and showed us around the house, he was very helpful and service minded. In the evening we had to go down to the village to a restaurant and the man suggested Grand Hotel, which was a good choice. Grand Hotel was Christmas decorated almost like in the Chevy Chase movie. There were lights and trees and Santas everywhere. t looked like most tourist groups stay here. The journey back to Colombo we choose to do by a private hired car and it took about 6.5 hours. The first hour along the beautiful tea plantations is magnificent and just amazing. The roads are very good almost everywhere. Better than most in Thailand in fact.

Rice Field

Whatever and whoever made them (in this case China) the people of Sri Lanka I think are grateful for. The one thing that concerned me was – again – pollution. You are in the most beautiful of nature you can find in this part of the world and yet the air feels polluted. Diesel trucks and buses use cheap fuel which give back smoke and exhaust and everywhere in the evenings or early mornings fires are to be seen. Individuals burn all household garbage and the air gets very polluted. It is really sad to see when infrastructure and community service not work properly in poorer countries. The other thing that was annoying and in this part Thailand is way better. Everyone out on the roads is constantly on the horn. The buses are the worst. Biggest vehicle wants to be ahead even if it is obvious traffic jam and not much to do about it more than to be patient; they still give you this very long and very loud, angry honking. Leave the way, I have to pass you! Like the buses were an ambulance or an emergency vehicle. In some way and at the same time we started to laugh about this because it seemed so silly and meaningless. No one can really move much in traffic jam situations unless someone is dying and needs to pass.

Citadel

In Thailand you seldom hear this noise and in Sweden it is banned unless there is a real danger situation. We have other noise in Thailand that we feel annoying, e.g. motorbikes. Cars are usually quiet and drivers are patient and tolerant towards each other. Silence and unspoiled nature is more and more luxury nowadays and when you find that peaceful feeling you just want to close your eyes and “be in the moment”.We will not forget Sri Lanka as one of many places on earth to be grateful for having experienced if only for a week. We finished this week just like we started with the last night at Galle Face Hotel. The nice man who drove us there 6 days earlier came on the spot to pick us up also. All worked very fine. Reliability, honesty and trustworthiness are a must in the tourist business and I can say that our experience here was 10/10 in feedback. Well done and good for you and the Sri Lanka people and for all of us visiting you. May your country forever from now on live in peace and harmony!

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
Tea plantage
Monica Nilsson

Three friends and I had planned this “girl trip” together and wanted to combine a visit to Kuala Lumpur where our host friend now lived after a year in Bangkok, with a few days in Cameron Highlands. We were really looking forward to some fresh air after the recent smog in Bangkok but also to see this amazing nature with the tea plantation landscape.

In KL we stayed close to PETRONAS Twin Towers where she lives and went out for a nice evening at the Marini´s on 57 skybar overlooking the magnificent skyscrapers and all the evening lightning.

The day after we had hired a driver who came at 9 in the morning and the journey began. It takes around 3,5 hour to drive from KL to Cameron Highland. The first 2 hours are on highways but then the last 70 km:s can be a real challenge if you like one of our friends, easily becomes car sick. The road is like in the alps in Europe, very crooked and here and there quite narrow. Truck drivers seems often very fearless and seemed to us drive way too fast considering the road situation. I guess they are used to it but also live according to the arabic o muslim´s saying – Inshallah (“If Allah wants”) it will be OK, even today.

When we finally arrived we were more than pleased to see both the surroundings but also the nice hotel we choose Highland resort, which is a Colonial hotel from 1930s. The area by the way Cameron Highlands was first discovered 1883 by William Cameron during a British expedition hence the name. During that time the British army and allied forces found the cool climate good for resting. They also discovered the climate good for growing fruit, strawberries and also the famous quality tea. We went on a tour the following day and we learned that the owner of this land is from Great Britain since 1929, The Russel family. They still live today on top of a fantastic hill in a very British looking nice house, overlooking the plantations. The hotel served High tea of course according to British-Malay customs in the old days. Another quite famous hotel in the area is the Smokehouse, a charming guesthouse hotel surrounded with flowers. It looked very pretty. There is a golf course and as a golfer I must admit I was very temped to play golf with this perfect temperature of 23-24 degrees and nice green and lush environment.

We had booked a bus tour one afternoon with Viator and were picked up at 2 pm sharp outside the hotel lobby. The first stop was to the BOH Tea plantation. http://www.cameronhighlandsinfo.com/attraction/BOH_Tea_Plantations/

Tea plantations Malaysia

BOH Tea is apparently a very famous and popular brand in Malaysia. We visited the tea factory and admired the amazing environment and of course like everyone else, took a lot of photos from all different angles. Our smart phone photo apps suddenly became very GREEN. The rest of the tour (a few hours) was a bit wasted for us, since it was not really meeting our likings; rose “garden” in a greenhouse, bee and honey farm, butterfly garden (very small) and some small market place along the way. However the tour was still worthwhile because of the BOH tea fields and also it was a very inexpensive tour. You could also probably just book a separate private drive to take you there or to the other plantation named Cameron Valley that you actually will pass on the way up. There are only these two who rules the area. The population in the three cities in Cameron Highlands is 40000. The numbers of hotels being built were quite a few and we guessed that an invasion of Chinese tourists was expected in the near future even here. As for us we were happy and maybe lucky that we choose the week before Chinese New Year to go here. It was peaceful and calm and not many people at all at the hotel or even on the road. No tourist buses yet. Thank goodness.
The flora and fauna on this high altitude reminded us of some plants back home in Sweden and it was a mix between the tropical climate, e.g. wild orchids but also the Christmas flowers we have in our homes back home, Amaryllis and Poinsettia were growing like big beautiful bushes. We had a fantastic walk up hill to Jim Thomson Cottage which used to be a hotel but are now a private owned property only renting out for special occasions. We were not allowed to get close since there was preparations for a wedding this day. The history about Jim Thomson and what happed to him after he disappeared is a mystery still today. The house is on a steep hill with magnificent view overlooking the valley.

I am very grateful for this trip and to finally have seen Cameron Highlands, which was on our bucket list already when we lived in Singapore during 1999-2005, but during these years we never went. It was just so many other placed at that time with two teenaged daughters we wanted to visit instead; China, Australia, New Zeeland, Bali etc. There are just too many magical places to visit in this great world of ours, isn´t there? 

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
The temple-Angkor Wat-outside
by Monica Nilsson

We had visited Siem Reap like many other tourists, mainly to visit Angkor Wat and wanted to do that while we still were living in SE Asia but had not yet visited Phnom Penh. To be quite honest with you I had no wish to go there for reasons I no longer remember or understand. I had in mind that it should be a large city with no little charm or nothing really of interest except the “Killing Fields” that I did not intend to see anyway. My husband and I have both seen so many war memorials so we decided that it was more than enough and besides we didn’t want to spend half a day outside of town to see sorrow and pain but rather focus this only time on the positive side of Cambodia of today.

Phnom Penh-post office
Phnom Penh-boat

The sites we have seen are Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland (horrible), the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam (grotesque pictures) and also the Cu Chi tunnels. I have also seen all the white gravestones in France and also visited a very creepy church outside of Prague called “Bone Church”. I have seen how the Japanese treated the British soldiers (why were they in Singapore in the first place? Hmm, wars you never quite understand) during the occupation of Singapore in 1942 through pictures on Changi War Museum in Singapore (terrible pictures of starving men weighing 45kg) and to finish off the war museums we have also seen the Latvian War Museum in Riga. The Russians for sure have not been nice people either in the past, in war times. My goodness all these totally meaningless horrible wars! So we decided that it should be enough of that kind of exploration or visit on this three day time trip only.

I rather wanted to focus on the more positive side of Phnom Penh and for us it now for ever will remain as a quite cosy, pleasant and nice city.

We arrived to Phnom Penh the day after the yearly Water Festival that what we understood is a quite spectacular event with boats all covered with steel racks decorated with thousands of coloured light bulbs. It must have been a sight to see in darkness. Additional they organise a rowing competition when over one hundred boats participate. This race is called “Bon Om Touk” and lasts for three days in November every year. The very first was 1914 so the tradition is now more than 100 years old. The Water Festival commemorates the end of the rainy season and changes the flow of the Tonle Sap River. The King and Queen attend as well as hundreds of thousands of people.

https://www.tourismcambodia.com/tripplanner/events-in-cambodia/water-andmoon- festival.htm

Phnom Penh-walkway
Phnom Penh-foot path

We missed it and I still don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing. Crowds like that can be difficult to stand and the sight and visibility may have been quite poor anyway, as I can imagine. Maybe it was a pity, I don’t know. I simply have to enjoy the pictures of it to be found on the internet and think that we at least were pretty close to have been there.

I found this nice classic colonial hotel on booking.com called Palace Gate Hotel and it was such a nice place. I can highly recommend this if you go to Phnom Penh. I liked everything about that hotel in fact. It is well located close to the river and opposite the Palace. It was walking distance to everything we had planned to visit, very convenient. The hotel reminds you of a small replica of Raffles Hotel in Singapore and even the welcoming staff outside the hotel are dressed in colonial style like they still are at Raffles. The swimming pool area is a charming and green oasis that you need after a couple of hours of motorbike honking out on the streets. You don’t hear a sound there funny enough even though the street life is right outside. We had a nice 45m2 suite facing the pool area and it may sounds expensive but in fact it is not.

Phnom Penh-road- taffic

Comparing to what you get on a 4 star hotel for that kind of money (160€) in my home country in Sweden, maybe 18m2 in Stockholm without breakfast. If you are lucky and it is not high season! You might as well enjoy this while you can. We have a few tips from our good friends in Bangkok and we had to visit the FCC – Foreign Correspondence Club. It is a “not to miss” place indeed. http://fcccambodia.com/our-story/ You can sit there and look around you or you can even close your eyes and still imagine how things once were, in and around that building. The second day we took a 2 hour tuk tuk ride with a very nice guy who spoke excellent English. It cost 15USD and was worth the money. He took us over the bridge and across the river to a few temples and we saw the fishing people who live and work on their boats. Such a difference from the luxury hotel right opposite where they harboured. You can also go to Silk Island or Koh Dach from a dock with a small ferry and see silk factories, etc. We chose not to but if I ever come back, I will for sure explore this as well. They have fantastic silk fabric and silk clothing to purchase in Cambodia. There is one very nice shop just across the beautiful yellow Cambodia Post building. It reminds very much of another fantastic Postal Building, namely the one in Saigon which looks almost identical to me. The one in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is much nicer inside though and better restored and preserved.

Not far from the hotel are two large areas where the first one is a huge public area and space where it is very nice to go and see all the young people and children play and kicking with a bamboo ball. At one side of the area loudspeakers were placed on the ground and a group of maybe thirty youngsters danced to the music.

Phnom Penh-river-boat

It was so lovely to see the activity in this enormous square. For me places like this – the huge areas – symbolize very much communism since we have seen them both in Moscow and Beijing e.g. but no matter history – it is a gathering place where people meet and are active outdoors instead of sitting indoors with their cell phones or games

I was amazed to find that even here in Phnom Penh the majority of the people we met spoke almost fluent English, which is quite the opposite of the people in Thailand. Still today I find even people working in the tourism industry have very poor knowledge of the English language. Maybe in the future they will have the pressure of trying to learn Mandarin instead of English, who knows.

One thing we did while there was that my husband tried one of many hair saloons just a few minutes from the hotel. 3USD and 30 minutes later he had a great haircut, just as good as the ones in Bangkok for 10 times the money. Amazing.

Phnom Penh-monk
Phnom Penh-two man

I got a tip from our Swedish friends to visit the restaurant MALIS, which was a 10 minutes stroll from our hotel. We went there but had to go back and book for the following evening instead. It was fully booked in the garden that we found very much nicer than the indoor air con area. It is a lovely restaurant with great food and good service. I can highly recommend it if you’re going.

By the way… I happen to have a 50USD voucher for this popular and nice restaurant that I gladly sell to anyone for 30USD (win-win) since I probably won’t have time to go back to Phnom Penh before I am moving back home to Sweden in early May. This is a great opportunity for Expat Life readers. The voucher covers both cities have a good selection of cafe’s and restaurants with good food both local but also international cuisine we found in both places.

Tuk Tuk-parking-temple
Phnom Penh-building
Phnom Penh-barbers

We understood from our tuk tuk driver that they are not entirely pleased with their government and its PM has held this position since 1998, that’s 20 years. Of course people are still struggling and the minimum daily salary is not enough but luckily the history of its past is a memory long gone for the young people of today and that no one ever will see happen again. You can only hope future will be bright for the people of Cambodia so that the smile will remain and not fade away.

Phnom Penh-walkway
There are three people

At least I will remember the spirit and joy of the dancing young people in the park that evening a few weeks back and keep my memory bright. Go there. You will not regret it.

View-evening
1 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail

Provence

by Monica Nilsson

Finally my dream came true!

A few years ago I wanted to travel to Provence in France with the main goal to see the lavender fields that I had seen in so many post cards and travel magazines on flights etc. etc. It looked so amazingly beautiful. It was in 2014 and hotels were prebooked etc. Luckily the flights were not booked because the vacation plans got ruined and changed due to a business trip to Edinburgh in Scotland instead and a Science conference I had to attend to. However it turned out to be a very good vacation after the working week.

My husband joined me after 6 days and we spend 4-5 more days in Scotland, playing golf etc. It was just a bit different than we had planned from the beginning. Scotland turned out to be a fantastic destination and that year in particular, since 2014 was the warmest summer they had experienced in 20 years. We read the headline in their newspaper one morning “Another day of uncomfortable weather” and we smiled and thought to ourselves they are just not used to warm climate here. Now back to 2018 and finally heading to France.

We started our journey in Nice and spent the evening and also the day after, by the Promenade de Anglais and around the harbour. In the morning we, like many more went to the local market opposite the Promenade. The fruits in all the stalls looked so nice and it was really tempting to buy a basket full of tomatoes, peaches etc. It was great atmosphere in that market. We

also walked up to the highest peak from where you have a fantastic view over the nice NICE(!) beach. After Nice our next stop was Monaco and Monte Carlo and we took a tour in a “Hop on – hop off” bus. Usually this is a splendid way of getting a glimpse of a city for the first time and to tell you the truth I am not sure we had taken the time to go and see even the famous Casino if it wasn’t for that one of the stops was right next to it.

I’m happy that we got the chance to see this place with all the rich and famous strolling outside blending with tourists, watching the Lamborghinis and Ferraris and McLaren luxury cars. Not to mention all the enormous yachts in the harbour. Gosh, so much money and capital in one place! It sure is a different world from Bangkok and Sweden as well. It was also quite amazing to think of that the Formula 1 Grand Prix race goes through the number of tunnels there is and that they are driving at 200km/hr(!!) I wouldn´t do that for all the money in the world.

We then drove back towards Nice but had booked 15km outside of Nice high up from Cagnes-sur-Mer towards the mountain and a fantastic hotel called Chateau Le Cagnard, ww.lecagnard.com which I highly can recommend. The hotel is situated in a medieval castle and beautifully restored and decorated. We learned that it is a Swedish owner to this place and that was my guess already for breakfast the following day. Who else would choose to serve herring and salmon at the breakfast buffet? Not a French person any how is my guess. The room we stayed at was really lovely and I was very thrilled about the staff´s willingness to offer me the room I had seen on the hotel´s website.

In the evening we walked up to the top of this area where you find numerous restaurants and a chapel. There is also a boule area in the public square. What we didn’t know was that they didn’t serve any food between 14:30 and 19:00 and exactly 14:30 we arrived together with some other tourists very hungry and thirsty. Thank goodness that beer can be quite filling. It was long but still hours until we finally got our pizzas around 19:20. It was time for us to leave for the next destination, which was Marseille.

Marseille has been know more for being an old industrial city with lots of problems earlier such as higher criminality than other cities in France but has improved in many ways the last ten years or so as I have understood. We stayed in the harbour and it was time for the Football World Championship Semi Final this our first evening. We cheered and laughed and clapped our hands together with a lot of football fans and we shared their joy at a nice restaurant close by.

It was a memorable evening to be in the “right” country for this event this time I must say. Day two we spent in the fantastic artistic alleys and if you like to see mural art this is the place to go. It is everywhere you turn and some of them are really amazing. You could sense the bohemian side of Marseille here. By the harbour there is also a new modern cool arty, touristic thing in a big space and that is a huge roof mirror out doors. Everyone wanted to look up and take photos in the reflection.

No need for selfies. You took a photo up towards the roof to get your selfie(!). Some street acrobats came also and drew the attention to the public for a while with their show. There is a cute blue train (looks like a big toy train), which you can take around the city and we did that too and we did an early morning walk the last day up to the cathedral on the hilltop – Notre Dame de la Garde. It was a hot and very steep walk but worth it of course. There are many churches and cathedrals in Marseille but we picked the highest located one mainly for the view. So, finally after a number of great days and fantastic French cities it was time to go to Aix en Provence to look for charm, lavender fields and vineyards.

I had booked a hotel with a very common name – Hotel de France located in a small square: www.hoteldefrance-aixen provence.com and it was just perfectly located and quite charming too. Right outside the entrance door was a café/pub and 3-4 other places with lots of people drinking, chatting and enjoying themselves. The first thought was: – Oh boy, we will have a noisy night in this place and lack of sleep!! But in fact it was the opposite. When you opened our hotel room window it was very loud from all the people, but once you shut the window it was totally 100% sound proof. Thank goodness.

We were also impressed with watching outside in the morning when everything was emptied, no chairs, no tables no nothing – so that the cleaning of the street could be possible. Around 8am it was spick and span, clean and almost spotless. Fantastic. 15 minutes after the cleaning was done, the restaurant staff put everything out again and the morning Espresso could be served. I almost immediately fell in love with this place. The market, all the nice streets, the wine, the cheese we ate was incredible. Warm Camembert with smoked Chorizo sausages, toasted small bread. Just yummy, that’s all and in perfect French setting. It was only the man with the French beret and a accordion that would have made this almost “too good to be true”.

We spent three nights here in this charming town and then head off to the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque – a monastery I had read about that is supposed to be surrounded by lavender fields. And yes, there was lavender in front of the place but there were also hundreds of people taking photos. We paid tickets and went inside but it was not much to see actually, just three empty medieval “rooms” so not worth the 22€ if you ask me. The best places came when we had left and it was actually on our way back to Nice when we choose “not high way-roads” and we had lavender and vineyards all around us. Magnificent is the best word. It was just so beautiful everywhere we looked. Back in Nice and chose to be close to the seaside again.

It was the final and then I mean the final of the World Cup. My goodness what a joy to see all the people cheering and they were so very happy. They won the Gold medal. Best in the whole world in football to hold fours years to come – not bad at all. We were very happy for them and as one girl said at the restaurant later on by the promenade de Anglais: You know we suffered so much pain and sorrow after the terror attack and now this – I think we deserve it! Some joy, celebration and laughter to our people. I can only agree with her. Vive La France. This story could have ended nicely here, but in fact it didn´t. Our last day turned out a bit different than we expected. Many years ago I was in San Remo Italy celebrating a jubilee with co-workers from Malmö, Sweden.

I wanted to go back with my husband to show him where we were and also to visit the Alfred Nobel museum. Between Nice and San Remo is just an hour drive so we checked out from our hotel and took off. Along some Italian roads we came to the seaside and San Remo only to find that the museum was closed. I recalled it was Monday but in fact this museum was closed both Monday and Tuesday. Remember this folks if you ever go. So my dear husband just has to live with it, without having seen the summer home of Alfred Nobel. I think knowing him that he takes this quite well.

We found the great hotel Royal in San Remo and I got a bit nostalgic since we spent 3 very nice days there and I also remember the “freeflow” we were offered as part of our celebration one evening, in the hotel bar and a few nice Mimosa drinks we enjoyed there me and a colleague. Memories. Good memories. I was not too happy in that working place (a law firm) but I must say that this trip was very nice and memorable, in all aspects. Only the roads could be improved a bit but besides all was great. Back to Nice and we took this time the highway, which in fact is a quite nice one for being a highway. You have the mountains on the side, great view all around and through some tunnels etc. Not too bad at all.

We went straight to the airport to return the hire car and had planned to enjoy the business lounge since we both are Gold members of Star Alliance. Car returned, bags checked in, looking hungry for the lounge only to find there isn’t one. SAS and Star Alliance only has a business lounge left in Paris we were told. I am not sure if this is the truth but in Nice there is none. Time for a meal then in a airport restaurant with lots of noisy kids running around, a chicken that was not cooked enough and had to go back to the kitchen etc.

Time to go to the gate for boarding. There came next surprise! 40 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off, it said cancelled on the sign. What?!! OK – to make a long story short we had to spend another night in Nice and we were happy that the airport is so close that it only takes 15-20 minutes to go back to the promenade again. It didn´t bother us too much since we still had vacation so we just went down to the closest restaurant and shared a bottle of nice red wine and had dessert and went back to Copenhagen the next morning around 10. All was settled quite smoothly and we were rebooked by SAS very fast.

There was a thunderstorm in the evening so we guess the cancellation was due to the weather. In that case in fact one should be thankful that they take this precaution and decision and not risk our lives. To summarise – it was fantastic 11 days in France, which I highly can recommend to anyone. It is not the cheapest destination in Europe but to go there at least once in your lifetime – please do! We met very friendly and nice people and I must say their English skills have improved over the last 20 years. Good for them! And for the rest of us.

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
Field full of yellow roses

“What I especially appreciate now is the fresh air, the number of cars,… the flowers fragrance here in Europe, the birds singing in springtime – the blackbirds especially. Open fields. The light.”

When you live in Asia as a Swede after a large number of years, I often feel that I value different things in life now, than what I did before. What you felt like a tremendous adventure almost 20 years ago when moving abroad for the first time, you now find that certain things shadowing the glory of the expat life. The past year I even have written a book about our adventure years.

A lot of words and pages became a book that I also at last had gotten printed via Solentro.com as the main purpose to give it to our two daughters as a memory, a gift. Their mothers view on different things and happenings that we shared together as a family. It almost took a year to write it, read it, correct it again and again and finally decide and accept that it was “good enough”, which was the hardest part.

bridge

Southeast Asia is a jewellery box for sure and has so many diamonds inside when you open the box that it´s almost sometimes unbelievable. So many places there are to discover and travel to and that you want to explore. We will forever appreciate all of that. All the beaches, the islands, the people, the food, the culture, the climate. But. There is always that but, isn´t there? The last year(s) the pollution has been difficult to cope with for us, especially if you are born in countries where you never even think of something like air pollution, because it hardly exists. Not if you compare with real pollution. I am talking about the dangerous and terrible haze and smog in India and China but also in Vietnam and Thailand the recent years.

There might be other things that annoy us when living in Europe because we always need something to complain about, don´t we? What else should we talk about and discuss with each other. The positive things doesn´t create debates in that sense, sadly and ironically enough. As for myself I was rather sick and tired of air pollution already in February, all the chaos, the noise and too many people and was more than ready in early May to go home for my four month summer vacation in Sweden. This would be the very last one going back and forth since we will move home for good next summer.

building near into river

When you travel to Sweden and especially to the southern part, in May you know almost for certain that you will go home to something really good. But this year I must say it was the best May I have ever experienced in my life. Not since 1947 when Sweden started carry out statistics of the weather, has the temperature been that high and the weather been as consistent as this year 2018. Every day sunny, a clear blue sky and 25 degrees – for five weeks. Five weeks! You almost felt that you were in Tuscany, Italy or in Provence, France. Almost too good to be true and people started to worry about their job vacation.

Should the summer end even before Midsummer this year, or what is happening here? The flowers like bird cherry and common lilac e.g. that normally starting to bloom and flourish right before or at least in time for the school to finish – they are already gone. Every day I took my bike and went out for a ride. Sometimes a very long one, like 40km and some days maybe 15-20km. But biking I did almost every day for 5 weeks. Now being home for 6 weeks I have biked 430km and yes, I keep track of the distance. I draw one diagonal line for each Swedish mile (10km) on a piece of paper on the door inside of the pantry(!).

The nature in Sweden is so beautiful and of course I knew that of course since in fact 58 years but I think, not until you travel a lot out of your own country and also live abroad for a longer period of time, you start for real to appreciate your home country for what it is and what is has to offer. You often find people back home complaining about a lot of different things that you find almost hilarious since you see so much that is worse, if you know what I mean.

A Girl was Happy

Dalby, Skåne June 18th

“When you bring your camera you will find yourself seeing things with different eyes because you are looking out for and searching for the beauty, for details, flowers, small things, people, faces, kids laughing and playing.”

What I especially appreciate now is the fresh air, the number of cars, which is more bearable than in big cities, the flowers fragrance here in Europe, the birds singing in springtime – the blackbirds especially. Open fields. The light. The Swedish light is amazing and by Midsummer in the northern part it is almost not dark at all, whilst in the southern part we have the sun up between 4am and 10:30pm in the evening. You never get tired. Some find it even disturbing because they can´t go to sleep but I find it just amazing.

The light and the sun give me energy, even more energy than before. I almost feel a bit silly when I am biking around the yellow canola fields smiling to myself almost in euphoria. I am just so happy being at home again. Knowing that after all the wonderful memories in Thailand and other neighbouring countries we´ve visited, it is this country we will go back to.

drogo

Growing old in Sweden. Yes. Travelling of course we will do for sure as long as we can, but I truly feel that I will enjoy going back home. And this is a nice feeling, which gives me comfort and peace in my sometimes quite restless soul. I just spent a weekend in Malmö and walked around the city. Malmö is Sweden´s third largest city and I have lived and worked there twice over the years. I had a nostalgic walk and took a lot of photos and got the response later on Facebook “wow, such nice pictures of my home town, I don´t see it that way!!” Well, that is the problem.

We don´t see the beauty in places we live in every day. I always say to friends: Don´t forget to look up in cities on all the wonderful architecture, the fantastic buildings. We tend to only look down or right in front of us, because we are so busy, we stress too much and are always in a hurry somewhere. But when you bring your camera you will find yourself seeing things with different eyes because you are looking out for and searching for the beauty, for details, flowers, small things,
people, faces, kids laughing and playing.

dancing ladies

Southern Sweden has so much to explore. Österlen in the south is sometimes called Sweden´s Provence. There are many small cities quite close to one another, just 20-30km in between them. Lund, Landskrona, Kristianstad, Malmö, Helsingborg, Ystad, Trelleborg, Simrishamn and Skanör￾Falsterbo are all within the distance of 100km. There is just so
much to see and this part of the country. And if you ever get tired of Sweden and live in the south, it is just 45 minutes by car or 25 min by train from Malmö to Copenhagen. Not bad at all to have this variety so close by.

Gothenburg and Bohuslän are also fantastic favourite places to visit and of course Stockholm, Sweden´s capital city and the number one summer city if you ask me. Stockholm has its archipelago and it is so nice to take the ferry out to Fjäderholmarna or to Vaxholm for example. To stroll around in Stockholm is simply fantastic. The Old Town, Haga park, Djurgården, Kungsholmen etc etc. I could go on forever mentioning favourite places and also restaurants in Stockholm.

boat in the river

Once many years ago I travelled with my friends that I know from our Singapore years as far up north as to Kvikkjokk. The distance from Malmö to Kvikkjokk is 1,750km. Sweden is in all around 2000km long. We always learned in school as kids that if you turn our country upside down you would come to the “tip of the boot” of Italy. It was simply wonderful, all of it.

We saw reindeers alongside the road, big preys flying in the sky, a moose swimming in a lake (yes that´s true!) and a nature that is magic. I will not forget this trip as long as I live. Now I guess almost all of you would like to come to Sweden and visit next year. And you know what? You are all very welcome.

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
Malsdives

What I will write now and tell about, for those of you who not yet have had the opportunity to get your dream journey come true, you may think I am a bit negative. If so, I apologise if I just ruined your dream trip and illusion. You just have to go there yourself to prove me wrong.

My husband and I went in March this year for three nights and four days to the Maldives and the island we stayed at is called Lankanfinolhu and it is situated in the North Male Atoll. I wouldn’t say it is easy to choose among the hundred plus something islands with resorts in the Republic of Maldives. You just have to go by your wallet and your own spending ability on which resort to book I suppose.

Beach

“Is it really that magical and special like nothing or nowhere else in the world?”

The Maldives is expensive. It is very expensive I would say, as most people also know. The resorts or travel agencies only want payment in US dollars and don´t favour their local currency. It was our most expensive daily rate in a resort ever I believe and we only choose a mid range expensive one. There is so many more luxury ones for the very, very, very wealthy people (!) or at least those who care to spend more money than we wanted.

After all it´s pricey enough as it is. Anyway, when it comes to us mostly women I guess, who read this magazine Expat Life, we all live in South East Asia for a number of years and we all travel, some more than others. We go to wonderful spots only a few hours away. We see so much and we compare with each other and give tips to our friends to get the best out of your next travel.

Coconut

We experience fantastic beaches, clear blue water and white sand in Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Australia etc. and we tend to be quite spoiled with the natures glory, and especially are we spoiled with not having to spend a fortune on a great long weekend away from the bustling and vibrant Bangkok.

So with this in mind and my new experience and knowledge, if you ask me again: Is it worth it? The Maldives? Is it really that magical and special like nothing or nowhere else in the world? Since many years the Maldives has been the “dream travel destination” in the Indian Ocean among the tourism industry and its customers. Like all places there are plus and minus, so also here. I will write a few things about both opinions and note please, this is from my very personal point of view.

We are all a bit different and have various travel experience and requests when it comes to our holidays. The photos speak for themselves and of course it was lovely. But. There´s always a but… Some people like it, when it is all organised from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave and the older we get, perhaps the more we tend to want it that way.

crabs

Our adventurous youth has faded away a little bit. We also get a bit lazy as we get older when we are on holiday. But when it comes to the Maldives and this resort we visited, they almost at some point overdid it. For me that takes away the charm somehow. We arrived at Male airport and exited the arrival terminal and almost immediately stepped into a speedboat.

Within 25 minutes we were at the resort. It all went very smooth. After checking in we were taken to our room maybe 300m away from the lobby. The room was very simple and nothing special at all considering the rate (!). But I figured that it is not the resorts’ hotel room that is the most important here and what you pay for. You pay for the pleasure of experience the most fantastic water you have ever seen in your life most likely.

You have all seen the turquoise colour and felt that – well yes you can always make photos to whatever colour you like these days. But it really is the most turquoise water I have ever seen. No doubt about that. And I have been to a few so-called Blue Lagoons. The sand is very white so the three main colours you see around you white-turquoise-blue will indeed dominate your days.

White Flower

To walk along the beach and be accompanied by swimming baby sharks was nothing I thought would ever happen to me in my life. I even had a big shark swimming just beside me when I was snorkeling. They are luckily not dangerous and this typical species is called Black tip coral shark. One of the evening “happenings” at the resort was that they fed the sharks and the ray-fish and hotel guests were able to watch this and of course lots of photos were taken. Not a single hand in the air was seen without a smart phone in it.

Half board was included in our “stay” and this meant that you between 19:30 – 21:00 went to one of the two restaurants there was and to a large buffet. The restaurant was very over furnished, tables everywhere so you could hardly walk between them all. You sort of struggled your way through all chairs and tables. You were not allowed to pick where to sit, but the restaurant had chosen a table for you during the whole stay.

I was not so fond of that (this is the “too organised” bit I don´t like) and I definitely did not like where they had placed us, which was for some strange reason very far away from both food and people, so the following nights we got a new table after I made a request. The food was very nice, nothing bad at all in fact but when so many people should eat during 1,5 hour it becomes a bit stressful and with long queues lining up – I don’t like that feeling when I am on holiday, that we have to hurry up.

The other “too organised tourist things” I am not so fond of, was the evening activities/ events/music. Every evening something new was going on and the music was quite loud when we wanted to enjoy our glass of wine. The activities could be; muscle competition for men, Ms Maldives beauty contest, karaoke etc. Some may like that and find it amusing but it was not our “cup of tea”.

House on the Sea

 

“…Worth it? If you value and appreciate water sports, snorkeling, marine life and water, I would absolutely say yes.”

To summarise my story and experience about Maldives and answer if its worth it? If you value and appreciate water sports, snorkeling, marine life and water I would absolutely say yes. Once in a lifetime thing, if you can afford it that is without having to suffer too much for the rest of the year. You will see incredible beautiful and clear water, sharks and stingrays and other colourful fish.

If you value other things like peace and quite, simplicity and charm, nice restaurants I think I would say no because you find all that to a much lower price in the country we are in right now. You can do three different trips for the same money with much higher standard of hotel rooms, as good food and a shorter flight in Thailand. We paid for 2 persons for the flight and 3 nights with half board (buffet)? 70,000B. It´s an awful lot ofmoney for only 3 nights. You betterlove and enjoy turquoise water for that kind of money. Would we want to go back one day? No, I don´t think so. We don´t regret the trip but as you can understand by now, doubtful if it´s worth all the money.

Happy Travel!

People

 

Additional info:
We were a bit reluctant at start if we dared going, because of the political situation in the republic and in Male city and if it would affect us somehow. It was called “State of Emergency” not too long ago and even talks about curfew. However we were reassured from the agency, that when landing at the airport we would be directly transported to the resort and would never see or hear anything and didn’t have to worry, unless you were to take a day trip in to Male. But why would you want to do that is my question? The agency is correct. We didn’t see anything troublesome.

When it comes to air quality and pollution even the Maldives can be affected by winds from Colombo in Sri Lanka and from India. When we visited much to my surprise the sky was not totally clear and we could see and sense a greyish sky in the horizon.

They are dumping enormous amount of garbage offshore the Maldives. Male city is the most densely populated capital in the world with 350,000 people on 2,2 square km in size. The Maldives is a 100% Muslim country.

Human rights is a contentious issue in the republic. To add problems is the unequal treatment of women. In 2013 the court sentences a 15 year old rape victim to 100 lashes and 8 months of house arrest for having had “extra marital relations” (!!). The conviction was based on the confession of the girl after being raped by her stepfather.

Info above taken from Wikipedia. https://www.iamat.org/country/maldives/risk/air-pollution

Beach

0 comment
1 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
Singapore

When we first set down our feet on Singaporean ground back in 1999 it felt like walking straight into a sauna. I used to joke about it. “I haven’t felt this kind of steamy heat since back in school after 20 kids had just taken a hot shower all at once after a gymnastics lesson”.

Singapore Marine

It was our second post as an expat family and we were quite excited about it since it was very far away from Sweden. All we knew was that it is a tropical small country in Asia, very well developed, with lots of palm trees and skyscrapers. I still remember my husbands words when he gave me the news about a new contract opportunity. It simply was the words: -You’re going to love it!

Singapore is a comparatively young country, only 52 years old as an independent state. They celebrate their Independence Day on 9th of August every year. Two years ago it was a big party. The island used to belong to Malaysia and then it was a British colony. The Japanese occupied Singapore under the Second World War and after that the British army took it back again. This is the shortest history version and summary of the background. There is an interesting war museum at Changi area. The Battle Box in Fort Canning Park is also interesting and a quite different visit of a museum.

Singapore lights at night

Singapore means “The Lion City” and it has a so called “Merlion” as a symbol, which is a mix between a lion and a mermaid. As you can guess by the name. It can be spotted in Benjakiti Park here in Bangkok as well. It was a gift from Singapore to Bangkok many years ago. Singapore is the country with almost 6 million people and is known as being the country with the highest living standards in Asia.

Still today it has very low or hardly any crime. It is an extremely efficient and organised society and what we also always have appreciated so much is that everyone speaks English.

I can be a bit sad and upset when friends or acquaintance say: – Well, I didn’t like Singapore so much, it is so artificial and not Asia. This is a common impression we often hear that short time visitors get. I guess when you have lived and experienced Singapore for six years your feelings are quite different. The longer you stay, the more you love it.

Singapore orchid

It has so much to offer except from Orchard Road and the riverside area. You have to look beyond the luxury buildings to see that even Singapore has a genuine and quite loveable soul and charm.I love the people for one thing.

The many discussions with often quite bright and intelligent taxi drivers – e.g. They love to get into political discussion and always seem interested in your country, where you like to travel or how you find Singapore. Even our teenage daughters ended up in debate and discussion with the drivers during our years.

I love the food stall hawker, which is the local food served in a very simple way – often you sit on plastic or wooden stools at the side of the street.

Singapore

I drove myself in Singapore over the years and it was fun and quite easy. The driver’s license test was mainly 50 questions, no practical driving if you had another license already. We didn’t pass the first time I remember and had to redo it. There were three answers to choose from to each question; two that you felt were easy and one tricky.

I love the tropical climate and you can feel that you are close to the equator (only 140km) since it is almost the same temperature all year around. You can see parrots, monkeys and even snakes (cobras and python) in Singapore in various areas. No white tigers any longer though. There is a fabulous movie about Singapore called Tanamera, which during an evening that SWEA (Swedish Women’s Educational Association) arranged, saw backwards; meaning the part 1 and part 2 VHS cassettes were mixed up.

We therefore saw the ending first and finished off with the beginning. Quite confusing for me and my friend Inger, who were the only two persons in the group that had read the book. I still laugh when I think about it. “Why do they start with the war and not the British aristocrats playing tennis and having a jolly good time in the black and white houses? But as my British boss used to say “Never mind”. We saw the 3.5 hour long movie and found out at the end about what had actually happened.

Our daughters went to the Singapore American School, my husband worked for the Swedish packaging company Tetra Pak and I was engaged in SWA, Scandinavian Women Association and also worked. For the girls to go to an international school of that size with almost 3000 students was of course very different.

The school had very engaged and professional teachers, 80% of the students were from the USA and there were lots of sports activities after school. Incredible school trips every year to Australia, New Zealand, India or Malaysia. We lived in two lovely houses, since we were lucky enough as expats to come to Asia after the economic crises which meant that housing and rentals had gone down drastically a couple of years before we came. Family life became different.

Singapore pool

We brought our cat Fiffi from Sweden, a fluffy and furry Norwegian forest cat who was totally terrified of the thunderstorms in the beginning. We had to go looking for her for hours before we found her hiding place. One year later she totally ignored any kind of thunder or lightning. Fiffi was the animal equivalent to us humans when it comes to our adjustment to the heat and humidity. Explanation in five words: you get used to it.

Everyone we met was very friendly to us. I don’t recall that I ever met a rude or unfriendly person during those years anywhere, isn’t that amazing? It was like the perfect world faraway. To live in this small, yet huge super modern, well organised and at the same time charming paradise island in the tropics. Can it possibly be better?

The expat community stick together of course as anywhere in the world, we all sit in the same boat but you still felt that you easily could communicate with the locals in Singapore. As the nowadays – a bit lazy, soon to be even older person that I am, I feel a bit ashamed that I haven’t even bothered to learn Thai. When we lived in Istanbul, Turkey I learned and spoke Turkish rather well. I have forgotten most of it now unfortunately.

Someone here in Bangkok said to me:- Life is short. Use and spend your time here to do something else. They won’t be able to understand you anyway. These words didn’t exactly encourage me to sign up for those lessons and it felt like the “easy way” not to. But I do admire when I sometimes hear foreigners speak Thai All respect to them!

Singapore Building

Back to my stories about Singapore and what I love about the city. I like the braveness in the architecture for example that we noticed early on. In Sweden it is the quite the opposite. Except for Turning Torso in Malmö and maybe a few more, there are not many exciting modern buildings to explore. Nowadays Bangkok follows but Singapore was early. Singapore is a comparably safe place to live in, which is extremely valuable these days.

When I volunteered for SWA I used to organise study visits and among the most interesting ones were to the Parliament House, the Highest Court, Bukit Timah Police Headquarters and to Changi Prison. Because of the “low crime country identity” I started to be very interested in the subject and wanted to know more and the reason behind it.

Singapore happy place

They have a large scale of undercover policemen. They are there, but you don’t know where. It keeps citizens quite careful, straight I guess. They have zero tolerance of drugs in the country and very high taxes on alcoholic beverages. They are efficient also when it comes to the judiciary, no long detentions before the sentence. Quick and efficient, that’s Singapore in a nutshell.

Arriving at Changi Airport is a good example. Less than 20 minutes after you have passed security and passport control and you already stand waiting for your taxicab. And you can still rest assured that you and your entire luggage have been thoroughly scanned in each and every corner. It always surprised us how they manage to do it.

Singapore place

We lived in Singapore during the SARS period. That was many weeks of drama and fear. There was body X-ray scanning equipment everywhere measuring your body temperature. If it was above 37.5 degrees you were not allowed in the country or into a shopping mall. You were sent to a hospital for checkup and in worst case the isolation unit. We also lived there during the chicken flu period and I got dengue fever but that is a different story altogether.

There are so many spots in Singapore and I will mention a few: Arab Street, Little India, Chinatown, Holland Village, Tiong Bahru, Singapore Night Safari, Bird Zoo, Henderson Walk, Mount Faber, Sixth Avenue and hawker stalls, Thomson Road and the Polo Club, Novena area, Singapore Cricket Club, eating at Chimes, satay places around Raffles Place, taking the cable car to Sentosa Island and dine on the beach in the evening, the more classic and luxurious Raffles and Fullerton Hotels, having a drink at 1st Altitude or dine at CéLaVi at the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel to mention a few.

Singapore River

My favourite walking trails are McRitchie Reservoir, Botanical Gardens, Bukit Timah and Fort Canning Park. Sentosa Island has changed so much since we lived there. Where Universal Studios is today, we used to take our 10 year old on riding classes. The main attraction was “Underwater World”, a nice golf course and to go up on a hill with some peacock birds and look out over the huge container harbour.

When we lived in Singapore and wanted to go on a beach holiday it was one small island we adored and that was Rawa Island. It is a 3 hour drive to Mersing and then a speedboat ride for half an hour. We have been to Rawa seven times and that says a lot.

Singapore lights

The first time we visited it was simple red cabins with only a ceiling fan to chill the warm nights. You took your shower in a house behind the huts, sharing with others like in a camping area. Charming but very simple. Inexpensive. We used to wake up in the morning and take 3 steps out to have our morning swim. Having a nice Pina Colada on the terrace. After dinner I recall the beach was pitch black, remember trying to find the way back to our house and the only thing that lit up the beach was the moon and lots of firebugs.

Today all is different, a different resort with new green beachfront houses, electricity and air conditioning, better food, fresh water, showers in your hut but also much more expensive.

One year I also worked at a company called DBC, which is a computerised physiotherapy programme for people with back and neck problems. The clinic was situated in Thomson Medical Clinic – it was a good year and I made friends from former colleagues that I am still in contact with today. I started my own company “MON Secretary Consulting”. You went for a few hours to Ministry of Manpower and registered your company, paid an annual fee and that was it, more or less. It was very easy.

Singapore Building

During our years in Singapore we travelled a lot during the school holidays like most expats in Asia do. We visited a variety of destinations that have left us with so many good memories to our family. We all feel fortunate and lucky to have experienced this, to travel and see different cultures is a well-spent education for your children and helps keep the family close. If you go far away or just take a weekend around the corner it can be just as good.

The company my husband worked for bought a junk, an old wooden boat that we used to borrow and go out on a Sunday into the Singapore straits to places like Turtle Island.

Every time I go back to Singapore it feels like I am “coming home” and that must be a good testimonial for the place – don’t you think?

Singapore Building

0 comment
1 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
Hanoi River

Bless the long weekends in Thailand in December, which gives you a chance of travelling even more while you are here in Asia. We decided to go to Hanoi this year during Fathers Day celebration, since my husband had not been there before. I had been there many years ago with a group of girlfriends from Singapore while enjoying my expat life there. The Hanoi visit was combined with Halong Bay that time. I will tell you about that at the end of this story.

Anyway, I booked us on Pan Pacific Hotel which is located right by the big West Lake, not to mix it up with the lake with the red bridge most of you have seen on pictures. The name of that lake is Hoan Kiem Lake.

Hanoi Village

I was happy I did that booking actually and I can highly recommend this newly renovated hotel. The hotel had just the perfect distance from the noisy streets further down the Old Quarter and I would like to mention a few things I appreciated with the hotel. The first impression was the immediate meeting with the reception girl. She was the perfect staff member in that position. Very friendly and very informative in the right kind of way and she even managed to sell me the upgrade to the Executive Lounge in a manner that I didn’t feel robbed and we didn’t regret it either.

We started our early evening by walking for 1.5 hour around West Lake and noticed just like I remembered, all the men sitting on the tiniest plastic stools you can imagine so they could be close to the ground. The ground

that held the table for their Mahjong game. The pollution in Hanoi was not good during our first 2 days and unfortunately choked me the most. It was almost unimaginably bad with PM 2.5 over 200 for those of you like myself, who have been hooked onto the air quality Apps.

I even said to my husband that “how can I write an article (that I want to be positive) about Hanoi without mentioning this? I just have to. Its in a way kind of part of our Hanoi story and memories forever now even if I would like it so badly to be different. I wanted to be a clear blue sky with small white clouds on it. People and especially children with no face masks etc.

Motor Bike

China, India and Vietnam are the countries mentioned to be worst when it comes to bad air quality mainly in Vietnam because of coal mining, fossil fuels and industries. December in Vietnam is like Scandinavia and the northern part of Europe and the US in wintertime. When they have 17-18 degrees celsius they wear leather jackets and scarfs. When we in Sweden where I come from get 17 degrees in early May we gladly throw away our winter jackets and enjoy the warm temperatures. It sure is different in other parts of the world.

Hanoi Street

We head back to the cosy Christmas decorated luxury hotel for a glass of wine and some cheese in the executive lounge before going out again to a restaurant called HOME. I think I spotted it at TripAdvisor and I had a table reservation. The restaurant was worth the visit and also walking distance from the hotel. Nice setting with lots of coloured lanterns in the ceiling. The special with this place was also that they had live music, a guitarist and a violinist playing cover songs you recognised. Not too loud, just nice to listen to while you enjoyed the dinner.

Egg Coffee

The second day we wanted to go to the Old Quarter and to Hoan Kiem Lake. We took a tuk tuk ride for half an hour that lasted for about 20 minutes and the driver wanted to have extra money after the trip over and above the negotiated price, “just 200,000 Dong for some beer” he tried. Good advice in Hanoi is to be careful also with taxi drivers to have taxi meters with a speedy meter that shows you 6 times more fare than the taxi ride should cost.

Barber

It is very annoying but apparently well known by the hotel when I discussed it with the staff in the lobby. I was recommended to take a picture of the taxi and ask for drivers name. Another thing they do if you are requesting to take you back to your hotel – they don’t go up to the hotels entrance but instead drop you off at the side of the street. In that way you cannot get help from the hotels staff. The staff at Pan Pacific mentioned this to me.

We walked around in the smog and tried our best not to think about pollution so much, but to enjoy all the nice café’s and small boutiques there are. The Vietnamese people are coffee drinking people and you just have to try both egg coffee and the Vietnamese strong coffee with condensed milk in it.

It is sweet like a dessert so there is no need to have a cake to the coffee. Just the coffee is enough for your daily dose of sugar. There are of course hundreds of small shops everywhere but if you want to find a nicer more exclusive one we got this recommendation to go to Tan My on 61 Hang Gai road. It is a very nice shop, a bit pricy but lots of nice clothes and things of better quality too.

Sunset

Out on the streets again my husband wanted to buy a helmet for his little (yes it is small) motorbike at home in Sweden and he found one of course and some jackets for future cold autumns and winters ahead. Because one day, in a few years from now we will leave Thailand and Asia behind us with all our fantastic memories.In Hanoi almost everything is transported on a motorbike unless it weighs a ton. In some ways nothing has really changed in 15 years since I visited the last time.

There are more high-rise buildings on the outskirts but in the city centre it is pretty much the same daily life going on. It is very interesting to see of course and you cannot help admiring, in Vietnam like in Thailand the street vendors, the struggle they do every day from early morning to late night. The 9 to 5 working day is nothing that seems familiar to their lifestyle.

That evening we went to a very nice popular restaurant by the small lake called Cau Go. We also happened all of us there to be witnesses to a young couples engagement. The man proposed after having stood up and explained to us in English what he was about to do. He knelt and held up the ring to his girlfriend and bride to be and she seemed so happy – the air was for a moment filled with passion and romance. A nice thing that we will all share with the cute couple forever. I hope they will be happy together. At least their beginning looks promising.

Our third and last full day I had booked a tour with GetyourGuide taking us a few hours outside of Hanoi to a picturesque place called Trang An as the last stop. The first stop was a Buddhist temple called Bai Dinh. The temple is rather new and situated on a huge land area. It was completed in 2010 after 7 years of construction. After lunch we were biking for 5-6 km in a fantastic landscape surrounded with beautiful limestone hills and mountains. The last stop and the main attraction for the day was the boat ride for 2 hours in a rowing boat. It was very relaxing and we also made a short stop at a small island where they filmed the monster movie from this year 2017 “Kong Skull Island”.

Hanoi City

Overall my second and my husbands first visit to Hanoi was very good and I would very much recommend you to go there or to go back if you have been long time ago, like me. The people and the food very pleasant, they speak better English than in Thailand and the best part is: the quite inexpensive and short 1.5 hour flight there. It is not complicated to walk around in Hanoi and I really like the French architecture with window shutters that remain even today.

Bridge

Halong Bay is also fantastic and to experience what we girls did 15 years ago, to sleep on the deck watching the starry night on a pitch dark sky and then wake up and jump in the sea right into the sunrise reflection was nothing but magical and I will never forget this as long as I live.

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail
women yoga in the park

We all have different ways of dealing with the so-called grey days in our lives. It can be related to just anything from just a bad moody day to stress, sorrow and of course worst of all grief, that we all will go through in life sometimes.

Different individuals find different ways of coping with these days. Some have to go and burn out all those stress hormones in a sweaty hour at the gym. Others go for a run. A good swim might be good for some if you are privileged enough having a pool close by. Some people escape into another world with a good book not having to think of the things that give you that “blue or sad feelings”.

For me however it is always has to be “being outdoors”. Always. Whenever I feel low for some reason the best thing I can do is to get out of the house or apartment or office, if only for an hour. To get away from the area where the negative or sad feelings started if you know what I mean. To walk a few hours at least is preferably the best for me and it should not be walking to a shopping mall or to the grocery store, which is more stressful than anything, but to walk to a nice green park somewhere. In Bangkok my two favourite parks are Benjakiti and Lumphini Parks. I walk there several times a week since I live fairly close to both of them and can walk to the parks as well. No tuk tuk, taxi or skytrain needed. Sometimes I walk with friends if I want to talk but quite often I walk alone with music in my earphones.

A park differs from day to day. Nothing is really the same. The weather varies of course which gives different light, shadows and sometimes even a bit of drama if it starts to rain or if a thunderstorm begins in the middle of your walk. That can happen during rainy season in Bangkok as we all know.

In the park you find animals, flowers, lakes, statues, clock towers, old people, young people, cyclists, kids playing, people out with their parents in wheelchairs, workers, tired people having a sudden nap on a bench, friends having breakfast together, Quigong exercising people, sometimes you even see people dancing in Lumphini park practicing outside. People are simply enjoying spending time in a park. It´s just the way it is. Everywhere. The need we all have to get away and to have a free zone without boundaries of musts for a little while.

Away from computers and TVs etc. All cities in the world have at least one park. I don´t think I have ever been to a city that actually doesn’t have one. It would be very strange. It gives me so much pleasure to live close to Benjakiti Park and that was in fact a request I had when moving to Bangkok since I love walking so much. A park or some green area at least in this busy “concrete jungle” was a must. However when moving here I realised to my surprise that I had mixed this park up with Benjasiri by Emporium in Phrom Phong. I like Benjakiti better so that mistake didn’t matter at all when looking at housing.

My Swedish friends and I have a few people that we have seen around for all of the three years I have lived here and I would in fact miss them dearly, if they suddenly were not to be seen. It is for example the man who collects branches and leaves from the other gardeners and he has his sort of bicycle with a loading tray right in front. He bikes really slowly around the lake. I guess this is his routine for a daily life. Then we have what we call “the sleeping man in the park”. He has a white

pony tail and almost always wear the same kind of shorts and we see him resting or sleeping on a bench. He seems quite happy with that. There is also this cute boy I have been following now for three years and I think he is there with his mother instead of being at a day care centre or more common here with his grandmother and grandfather looking after him. Sometimes this cutie also sweeps and collects leaves and the other gardeners spoil him sometimes with candies. He looks very happy and I have always thought to myself that you can indeed have worse times as a child than this boy has. I can see in his eyes that he admire the gardeners who run the grasscutters. The sound they make attracts the boy.

Then of course we have the “cat of the park”. This one in Benjakiti has a feeder so he is also a lucky one. Parks, animals and people. The combination and green life – I just love it. In Lumphini but also in Benjakiti you can spot monitor lizards and turtles but also big fish of course in the lakes.

man rest in a park

The duck boats usually are used a lot by visitors on Sundays. I have a few fantastic parks that I would like to share with you if you travel to any of these places; Namsan Park in Seoul, Central Park New York, Haga Park in Stockholm, Botanical Garden in Singapore, Griffith Park LA, Shinyuku National Park in Tokyo, Keukenhof in the Netherlands, Kings Park in Perth, the park and walk up to Sintra Portugal is simply amazing. There are just too many to remember. Your park lover of the month.

Monica Nilsson is president of SWEA
(Swedish Womens Education Association)

0 comment
0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail