Ba Dinh District

The Ba Dinh district is an area in Hanoi that used to be called the French Quarter as there were many buildings with French colonial architecture in the area. Today this is where many government, political, embassy buildings, and some museums are located, including the Ba Dinh Square (where the Ho Chi Minh Complex is) and the Temple of Literature at the southern edge of the district.

After our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Complex, we continued our Hanoi sightseeing trip with a walk to the Temple of Literature, our next destination. The walk was not that far, about 3-4 large city blocks on the map that took us around 15 minutes or so. During the walk we noticed the difference in the landscape as compared to the Old Quarter where we stayed. The Old Quarter was very dense with small streets and narrow buildings, and the area seemed to evolve organically over the time. The Ba Dinh district area on the other hand seemed to be more spread out, with lots of trees around, and it seemed to be laid out in a planned manner. We also saw that many of the buildings that we passed during the walk were government buildings, and I think we also passed a couple of embassies along the way. This reminded me to the Menteng area in the Central Jakarta that shared similar characteristics, very green and filled with important government buildings and foreign attaches.

Another interesting observation was seeing the banner saying ‘chúc mừng năm mới 2011′ on many of the buildings. They are all written in yellow scripts on red background — two colors that were prevalent everywhere in the city. I didn’t know the meaning, but the 2011 part gave it away — it was ‘Happy New Year 2011′ sign (as it was January 2nd, 2011 when we visited the city). I didn’t expect to see this as widely celebrated as from what I read, the biggest celebration of the year is actually the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tết) which usually is celebrated around the same time as the Chinese Lunar New Year. I guess with Hanoi becoming a popular tourist destination, the western/international culture also influenced the locals.

The photo below was taken during that walk. It was one of those signs that we saw. I couldn’t help to notice the color selection. Both colors apparently are quite important colors in the Vietnamese (and its Chinese influence) culture. Red symbolizes joy or happiness and yellow symbolizes wealth — both are what you wish for the new year. However, they’re also the standard colors for the international communism, so I guess they might have double meanings here.

Happy New Year!

Lolei

Lolei is one of the temples in the Roluos group of temples in near Siem Reap, Cambodia. These temples were part of the city of Hariharalaya, the seat of the Khmer Empire prior to the move to the nearby Angkor area. The temples built during that era were different than those at Angkor as they used bricks as material. Currently only the ruins of Lolei’s four towers remain, though there is an active monastery still operating nearby.

We visited Lolei after our snakehead fish lunch. When we arrived at the temple, it was pretty quiet and the only other visitors we saw were a couple who happened to eat lunch at the same restaurant where we ate and sat next to our table, and a gentleman who came alone on a chartered tuk-tuk. The couple was met by several young Cambodian girls who tried to sell souvenirs to the lady. Her husband took photos of her and the girls as she peruse the goods that they offered her. The lone gentleman came by himself and went straight into the temple to observe the ruins. We went there around the same time. As we passed him, our tour guide Vanna said hi to him and asked him where he came from. He said he was from Spain, and after a short conversation, he moved on to observe the details of the temples alone.

I took the photo below from a distance. It was the Spanish gentleman looking at his guidebook and observing the ruins, and there were a couple of young Cambodian boys sitting on the remains of a naga sculpture and observing the tourist checking out the ancient ruins. I thought it’s interesting to have a tourist coming from far away to check out the ruins of an ancient civilization, and here were two boys who lived around these ruins and not caring much about the significance of the ruins, but more interested in seeing foreigners coming in.

Lolei

Jim Thompson House

After our whole day full of activities in Bangkok, on the following day we had the morning time to do one last activity before we have to head to the airport to continue our journey. We decided to visit the Jim Thompson’s House Museum, which was easily reachable from our hotel by SkyTrain.

Jim Thompson was an American ex-pat who came to Thailand when he worked for the CIA. He ended up staying in Thailand and building a business empire selling Thai silk products. In the early 1960s, when he was in Malaysia for vacation, he disappeared and was never found. Today his house in Bangkok is a museum as a tribute to his life and his art collection.

The visit to the Jim Thompson House included a tour of the interior of his house. We were not allowed to take photos inside, but it was interesting to learn about some traditional features of Thai homes that were incorporated into the house. Things like having the home elevated to deal with possibility of flooding, and having a board to cover the bottom part of an entrance — believed to help prevent bad spirits to enter the home because there is a belief that the spirits travel on the floor surface. The home was a nice, cool oasis from the hot and humid day in Bangkok. It was not air-conditioned but it had very nice air flow throughout the house. It reminded me to some old homes in Indonesia.

Another interesting aspect that was similar to tradition in Indonesia was the rule to take off our footwear before entering the home. The Thai believes in keeping the house clean, so we were supposed to leave the dirty/dusty footwear outside and enter the house barefooted. It was interesting that within our tour group there were a couple of westerners who apparently didn’t feel comfortable with that rule, and they decided to just forego the tour and left.

The photo below was taken at from the gravel entry way outside the home. This is where visitors wait for their house tour to start.

Jim Thompson House

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace in old, downtown Bangkok, Thailand, is the official residence of the King of Siam since 1782. Though the present King, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, now resides in a different palace, the Grand Palace is still used for many formal functions. The complex includes The Temple of Emerald Buddha and several buildings that are used by the royal offices. It is now open to public as a museum, and it is one of the popular tourist attractions in Bangkok.

If you like to visit the Grand Palace, there are some things to note. First, as mentioned in a blog post a couple of days ago, beware of anyone that tells you outside the complex that the Grand Palace is closed for ceremony or for any functions. Often times these were scammers who will then try to offer you alternative to go elsewhere for sightseeing. You should go to the main entrance of the palace and check it for yourself; if you can’t get in or the ticket office is closed, then it is indeed closed. In our case, we ignored a couple of people who told this to us, to find the main entrance was full of tourists visiting the Palace.

Second thing to note is that there is a strict dress code for those who want to visit the Grand Palace complex, especially the Temple of Emerald Buddha area. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves — no tank tops. If you’re wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks (in other words, no bare feet.) Women must be similarly modestly dressed. No see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entry that can provide clothes to cover you up properly. You must leave your passport or credit card as security.

Another thing to note is that the Grand Palace is not easily reachable from the Metro system in Bangkok, but it is close to one of the piers of the Chao Phraya Express Boat. So you can take the BTS SkyTrain to the Saphon Taksin station, then embark on the ferry boat at the Central Pier on the river bank not far from the SkyTrain station.

We spent some time inside the Grand Palace complex, mostly near the Temple of Emerald Buddha area. I think our ticket also included a visit to one of the halls, but we ended up skipping that part of the complex as it was already around noon, it was hot and humid, and we still needed to walk to another area in downtown Bangkok to look for lunch place.

The photo below was taken inside the complex, near some of the big halls. They’re quite elaborate and large buildings — I couldn’t capture them easily in one photo frame.

Grand Palace

Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is a museum housing artwork from the collection of the Guggenheim Foundation. The collection includes paintings from old masters of various styles, but the most valuable part of the collection is the building itself. The building for the Guggenheim Museum in New York was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It took him 16 years (1943-1959) to complete the design of this building (including 700 sketches and six sets of working drawings), and it was his last major work. The museum opened in 1959, six months after the death of Mr. Wright.

I visited the Guggenheim Museum with my cousin while doing walks towards Central Park from my brother’s apartment in Upper East Side of Manhattan several years ago. We went into the museum’s lobby and took some photos there, but ended up not spending the time to see the artwork because it was a little pricey to purchase the tickets for the museum, especially when we were more interested in the architecture than checking out the art. But we did get some great photos of the building from many different angles.

The photo below was taken outside the museum. I thought it provided an interesting perspective to see the distinctive cone part of the building.

Guggenheim Museum