Thursday 26 May 2011



Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

John Keats, 1820
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is beginning to put on a splendid display.
The persimmons (Diospyros spp) decorate the bare twigs of their tree.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) berries make a beautiful show
The bergenias (Bergenia cardifolia) make a splendid show.
The African yellow daisy (Euryops spp) brightens up even the dullest day.
Nasturtium leaves love catching the raindrops.
Ripening grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) promise sweet delights in mid-winter.
One of the least demanding and most rewarding of fruit trees: The tamarillo (Solanum betaceum). 
A discarded fig leaf leaving branches shamelessly bare...
One of the last yellow tea roses, braving the cold and wet weather.
This one is rather sad...
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) leaves choosing a watery grave.
Beautiful, bright blooms of the Camellia sasanqua are at their best now.
The humble Viola tricolor rarely stops blooming.
Irish strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) flowers, soon to be succulent prickly berries.
Succulents always look good whatever the season!
The chrysanthemums are just about finishing their display now.
It's a beautiful season...

Monday 16 May 2011


Here are some more photographs from Hanoi to finish off the last two posts.
The original Tran Quoc pagoda was built in the 6th century and is considered the oldest in Vietnam. It was founded on the bank of the Red River by King Ly Nam De who named it Khai Quoc (National Founder). Much later, it was moved to its present site beside Hanoi’s Ho Tay (West) Lake during the reign of King Le Kinh Tong (1600-1618) and renamed Tran Quoc (National Defence). The current building is the result of major renovations in 1815.
Waiting to enter the temple precinct of the Tran Quoc pagoda.
The term "pagoda" is from Portuguese "pagode", perhaps based on Persian "butkada" - ‘temple of idols,’ influenced by Prakrit "bhagodī" - ‘divine’.
The altar in the temple adjacent to the Tran Quoc pagoda.
The loads carried on bicycles around the city are simply astounding!
Thousands upon thousands of lotus blossoms (Nelumbo nucifera) are offered daily in temples. Here the buds are being prepared for sale.
We went to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which is open from 8:00-11:00 am Tuesdays-Thursdays and at weekends. Be prepared for extremely long queues and a long wait!
The large mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body lies in a bier inside a glass case. Visitors must file through the room without stopping. No photography is allowed, and all personal possessions must be left outside.
The building was erected with assistance from the USSR, and is a good example of Soviet architecture of the period. It’s guarded by an honour guard of Vietnamese soldiers in immaculate white dress uniforms who march around the building at regular intervals. Ho Chi Minh left directions for his cremation in his will. However, at the time of his death in 1969, the year after the Tet Offensive, the war was still raging and morale was low. Communist Party chiefs recognised his iconic status and overrode his wishes.
The One Pillar Pagoda was built originally in 1049 during the Ly dynasty and is located on the west side of the original capital of Thang Long. According to the legend, King Ly Thai To dreamt that Goddess Quan Am sat on a lotus leaf and promised him a son. Soon after the king married a peasant girl and she bore him a son. The king became so overwhelmingly happy that he constructed a wooden pagoda on a stilt in a lake so that the goddess of Mercy- Quan Am, could be venerated and the long life of his son could be assured. He named the pagoda “Dien Huu”, which means happiness and good luck. According to a theory, the pagoda was built in a style so as to resemble a lotus emerging out of the water.
The pagoda is both small and striking. It is an extremely popular attraction and place of pilgrimage.
 The altar inside the One Pillar Pagoda.
 Young devotees lighting incense and praying outside the One Pillar Pagoda.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum preserves everything memorable related to the great revolutionist, Ho Chi Minh. The Museum consists of five extensive floors and was inaugurated on 2nd September, 1990, celebrating the 100th birthday occasion of the beloved Vietnamese President.

The area around the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum is full of extensive gardens, parks, temples and other attractions, so definitely an area of the city worth visiting.
The Hanoi Citadel complex is in the process of being released by the Army - two buildings are now accessible, and more are to follow. Originally known as the Dai La Citadel, King Ly Thai To renamed it Thang Long Citadel (“Ascending Dragon” – the old name of Hanoi) in 1010. Over many centuries various monarchs moved the capital to other places and their successors moved it back again to Hanoi often modifying and rebuilding elements of the Citadel several times. In 1888 the defeated Nguyen Dynasty surrendered the Hanoi Citadel to the French colonialists. Hanoi became a colonial city for 66 years until the French were expelled in 1954. During their occupancy, the colonists broke down the walls of Citadel and destroyed most of the buildings inside. The old Watchtower remains, and offers an excellent view of the whole complex.
The Army Museum is located next to the Citadel and offers a vivid and fascinating history of the Vietnam War under the leadership of Vietnam’s communist party and of president Ho Chi Minh. The history of Vietnam’s struggle for peace, independence and freedom of the nation is captured in the thousands of exhibits of the museum.
The museum displays a wide collection of military waste including a MIG fighter, anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, and remarkable heap of wreckage from a US B52 bomber and French prop driven plane that were both blast in the Hanoi area and the tank that exploded through the gates in Saigon during the battle for liberation.
One of the back streets of Hanoi.
A barber plying his trade on the sidewalk in an improvised salon!
Maison Centrale, or to be precise, Hoa Lo Prison (Hoa Lo in Vietnamese means "fiery furnace"), is the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", as what the American prisoners-of-war nicknamed it, a sarcastic reference to the upmarket Hilton hotel chain. Its most famous inmate was probably Douglas Pete Peterson, the first US ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and John McCain, the US pilot who later became a senator. The name Maison Centrale comes from the French, where the term Maison Centrale usually refers to a prison back in France.
Maison Centrale housed Vietnamese political prisoners during their struggle for independence during the colonial period. In 1997 most of the complex was demolished to give away for development, but only parts of the old prison was preserved and turned to museum. It is an amazing experience seeing how the inmates used to live, how they were tortured and executed.
The original guillotine used in the executions of condemned prisoners.
A memorial to all the victims of torture and execution in the prison.
One of a series of plaques depicting the wretched life of hardship and torture inside the prison.
The National Cancer Institute is the leading hospital specialising in cancer treatment of Vietnam, which was established on the existing Indochina Radium Institute, the most long-standing unit for cancer control in the region (since 1923), established by the French in a more benevolent mood.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is built in European neo-Gothic style and dominates a small square in the heart of Hanoi’s tourist area facing a street of restaurants and boutiques. It was one of the first buildings erected by the French colonists, and was completed in 1886 – many of the materials and most of the craftspeople were imported from France. Most of the stained glass windows are original and good examples of the craft. Unfortunately it was closed when we visited.
The Hanoi Opera House rises magnificently at the end of the Trang Tien Street. Modelled on the Parisian Palais Garnier, and built by the French colonists in 1911 it was renovated in the late 1990s. The façade of the building is colonial French with pillars and balconies overlooking the city centre. Various performances of art - local, international, traditional, modern are staged at this 900-seat opera house, professionally managed by a solid team of various experts with the Vietnamese symphonies playing quite regularly. 
A timeless picture captured from the taxi, on our way to the airport.
Rice paddy and lone cyclist...


Ha Long Bay, situated in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1600 islands and islets forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and relatively unaffected by human influence.  The bay is located 160 km away east of Hanoi and it takes about 3 – 3.5 hours to get there by car or minibus. 

Ha Long literally means “descending dragon” and according to local myth, long ago when their forefathers were fighting foreign invaders from the north, the gods from heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long Bay and began spitting out jewels and jade. Upon hitting the sea, these jewels turned into the various islands and islets dotting the seascape and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders. The locals were able to keep their land safe and formed what is now the country of Vietnam. The Dragon family fell so much in love with this area for its calm water and for the reverence of the people of Vietnam that they decided to remain on earth. This is a perfect day trip out from Hanoi.

On the way to Ha Long, one passes many small towns and villages around which are market gardens and many rice paddies.
Rice cultivation requires much back-breaking work, most of it done by women.
We stopped at an embroidery and craft workshop where many young people were working, once again, mainly women.
A sample of the women's handiwork.
The harbour at Ha Long, with numerous vessels that take the tourists on trips out on the bay.
Sailing out on the bay in a beautiful old wooden boat.
We had a tasty, traditional Vietnamese lunch on board the boat.
On the 28 April 1962 Ha Long Bay was established as a historical and cultural relic and national scenic spot under Decision No. 313/VH VP, issued by the Minister of Culture in Vietnam and is
on the Unesco World Heritage List.
The Junks, are built in Vietnam using local materials and the handiwork of skilled shipbuilders, craftsmen and artists. As in the days of old they are built entirely of wood.
 One of the floating villages in the bay. A community of around 1,600 people live on Hạ Long Bay in four fishing villages: Cửa Vạn, Ba Hang, Cống Tàu and Vông Viêng in Hùng Thắng commune, Hạ Long city. They live on floating houses and are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture.
Another beautiful junk negotiating its way between the rocky crags of the islets.
The floating villages are supported somewhat by tourist-oriented activities such as selling crafts and fruit or renting out kayaks.
A fruit vendor near one of the floating villages.
The scenery is truly spectacular!
Many of the islands are associated with local myths and legends and have been given specific names, e.g. "Kissing Rocks", "Turtle Island", "Cat Island", etc.
Many of the islands have limestone grottoes and we visited one of the most famous ones, Thien Cung. The sign says it all.
A causeway and several flights of steep stairs up the cliff lead to the entrance of the cave.
The grotto is enormous and has some spectacular formations in it.  Local legend has it, that beautiful young lady named Mây (cloud), caught the eye of the Dragon Prince and he fell in love with her. They were betrothed, and their wedding lasted seven days and seven nights in the very centre of the grotto. In honour of the wedding, small dragons flew about through the stalactites and stalagmites, elephants danced together happily, snakes twined themselves around trees and two stone lions danced with their manes flowing in the wind. A large elephant, smartly dressed, waited for the bride and the groom. The genies of the south and north stars also came to attend the banquet, and the atmosphere was definitely animated and lively. All these scenes have been turned to stone in the grotto. 
It is very hard to not take many many photographs in this grotto!
The enormous scale of this chamber is indicated by the tiny figures of the people in the lower centre of the picture.
Last one!
It's a popular place! Junks waiting to take the visitors back to Ha Long City.
We had to pass through 4-5 junks that were moored next to each other to get to our own!
We made a stop at a roadside café and trading centre. This beautiful tropical lily was growing in the garden. Does anybody know what it is called?
Fruit for sale, beginning for the apples and going anticlockwise: Peaches, sugar bananas, pomelos, large and small mangoes and in the centre, dragonfruit.
I rather like this slightly impressionistic shot taken from onboard the bus.