Saturday, February 27, 2010

The second day at the NY Times Travel Show

 This was one of the heaviest snow storms
in New York in many years
The snow finally stopped falling this morning, and quite a few brave souls made it to the Jacob Javits Center. By mid-afternoon, the exhibition hall was jumping with music from all over the world, and at times, there were so many simultaneous melodies that it began to sound like a cacophony. Taylor Holliday and I manned the PATA booth, however, most of the folks who stopped in to see us were already members. 

 Taylor and I at the PATA Booth

It was a great day for networking with travel partners; photography trips, culinary trips, cruises, culture trips, and everyone wants to go to Vietnam before it becomes too touristy. We will be offering the Vietnam tours in Spanish to a New York based agent, so stay tuned for the details.

 music filled the hall
 South Africa took the stage here
 Turkey was kicking up a storm

If you were a traveler, you certainly got your money's worth at this show! Dancing from four corners of the globe: I caught the end of a Sri Lankan dancing to the tune of "we are the world", except they were saying "we are Sri Lanka". I did stop for a few minutes to watch native Turks. And some were gracious enough to just pose for me as you will see in the below pictures.

 She did this just for me (from Panama)
 Caribbean dance troupe got up from the
floor so I could take their picture
 Cooking class in progress
 Boys from Greece

The  Caribbean area was offering a cooking lesson with a Puerto Rican chef who was making arroz con pollo. Imagine how cool it would be to get a Vietnamese chef to teach us all how to make nem rolls? There is always next year.

 a fabulous sand sculpture in progress
 Yes, live baby penguins!!
the interior of a cruise ship cabin

If you are attending tomorrow, you can still go to Booth # 350 which is the PATA booth and pick up sample tours to Indochina. I left them there for you as I will not be there. The weather will also be much nicer than today, with sunshine and in the mid 40's. My email, phone number and name are on every brochure. I am based in New York.

 and it's Aurora Travel for your every whim in Indochina and Thailand

Enjoy the show and see you next year!

Friday, February 26, 2010

First day at the Show: trade only

The Show gets bigger and better every year

Simone Bassous, Director of NYPATA

Aurora is the only Vietnam Tour Operator at the Show!!!
Let's talk about getting you to Vietnam, your way, your choice
Have we got cruises for you!! Just ask
Impossible to resist when it's on screen and as big as life
Many people told me they had never been in the Mekong Region
I'll be waiting for you at Booth # 350
I know this is not Vietnam, but it was so pretty to look at

I am really looking forward to meeting all the members of the NYPATA

At 5PM, Brazil hosted the trade reception by making their national drink, capirinhas. And then some wonderful food was served alongside, for which I am eternally grateful, since I don't drink. The Brie cheese slid down rather easily! The show officially closed at 5:30PM, and the snow continued to fall. I headed for the hotel, and looked forward to putting up my feet! Tomorrow, we open the show at 10:00am and run through 6:00PM. Don't miss us.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's at the New York Times Travel Show?

If you've never visited this show, as a person in the business or a traveler, this might be an opportune time to do it. The NY Times Travel Show opens tomorrow *trade only*, but Saturday and Sunday, it is open to consumers. Considering the hideous weather in New York currently, it might do you good to get away to as many countries as you can fathom without going very far!

I will be there all day Saturday, at Booth # 350 as a partner with PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) of which Aurora Travel has become a New York chapter member. There will be plenty of mouthwatering itineraries to look at, and tours to talk about.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
644 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001-1188
Exhibition is located in Halls 3D & E.
Seminars are located in Hall 1E

See you there!

Viet Nam's 'Port of Choice' | Video Library | Asia Society

Viet Nam's 'Port of Choice' | Video Library | Asia Society

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam - Part 3

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let's Eat - Thuy Dong Restaurant

According to my guidebook, Nha Trang is considered "party central". American soldiers came here for R&R during the war and must have loved the beach. Chuck had already been here on a photo shoot, and insisted that we go back and look at the water, put our feet in it, and enjoy some fresh air without the heavy humidity and heat we had felt all along the trip. Walking around has always enabled me to discover buried treasures.

This is Tran Phu Street

The main drag by the waterfront is Tran Phu Street where one is likely to find lots of guesthouses and hotels. On the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Tran Phu was a spacious restaurant, with no doors on three sides. Far from luxurious, its appeal came from the wonderful breezes and great music choices. We had spotted pizza on the menu and decided that we were finally going to give this a try!

This is also Tran Phu Street facing the water

It's tough to get bad food in Vietnam. I must have said this to you before. This charming restaurant, is sort of half-outdoorsy and half not, in that there are no closures, but there's a roof above. And it sits right across the street from the wonderful XQ Arts & Crafts Center, which I wrote about here.

To the right of the restaurant, I could see an ad for rooms at less than $10 a night! A few other people were seated, but the ones that always catch my eye, and a disapproving one at that, are the couples where an older man, usually a Westerner, is flirting and lunching with a native female who could pass for his grandchild. Sorry, folks, I’m just a bit hard on this reality, even though I have seen it countless times during my trips to Asia.

 there's always someone at work anywhere you go

About 30 minutes after we've been seated, we are informed that pizza will not be available until 4pm, which means another 2 hours. The menu is extensive enough that we can make another choice, and it’s rather easy. Pasta with seafood it shall be for Chuck, and I’m going for the seafood salad. And while we wait, let’s have that diet Pepsi that is a rarity in some areas. Entrees start at VDN35,000 (which is about $2.25 or so).

Have a look at the photos and realize that both of us licked our plates clean!!

 my amazing seafood salad

 Seafood pasta with tofu
My salad had enormous pieces of conch, rice noodles, tomatoes, cauliflower, frisée lettuce, and red cabbage, all tossed and wonderfully seasoned with the unmistakable lemongrass and other citrus flavors. The seafood pasta had cubes of tofu, shrimp, and green scallion pieces and went down apparently without a hitch.

As we were eating, the owner, a woman, was directing a worker with some wiring, and every few minutes, a street vendor would catch our eye and explain her offerings, all neatly stuffed in see-through pockets of her showcase. Persistence is an art here.

 they are equipped with just about anything you can think of

Across the street was a huge sign that talked about women in art, and I asked everyone on the staff about the sign and if it meant that a museum lied behind there or if there was a special festival held about these women artists. I was bewildered that no one had a clue. After gulping down our iced coffee, we went across the street to investigate.

In Vietnam, one does not ask for diet Pepsi, but rather Pepsi or Coke "lite" or with no sugar. It is not surprising that the word "diet" is incongruous with life in Vietnam. Nobody is fat. However, if you are keen on finding these, stock up on them once you find them, as they are not everywhere.

To the right is one of those absolutely charming beach houses you find as you amble around. Those Santa Fe colors are stunning, aren't they?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam - Part 2 of 5

Treasures of Mekong River

Yes, another tantalizing tour of the Mekong River and its tributaries. Stop by the booth at the New York Times Travel Show (see details on the side bar) and let's discuss how you can do it.

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Escape to Authentic Vietnam

Yes, I know, you can't read this, but then you have a great reason to visit the New York Times Travel Show (see dates on side bar) to pick up your own copy!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Arts of Ancient Viet Nam Opens in New York

Arts of Ancient Viet Nam
Opening today, Asia Society's landmark exhibition Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea showcases the country's rich artistic and cultural heritage. Highlights include ritual bronzes, terracotta burial wares, fine gold jewelry, and large-scale Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.

Arts of Ancient Viet Nam website
Webcast: Curator lecture with Nancy Tingley, 2/2 7:00 pm EST

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Long So'N Pagoda in Nha Trang

Another wonderful unexpected discovery with a history of protest, violence and death. But once you climb what seemed to be an interminable staircase, you arrive at the top and nature smiles; bougainvilleas abound. Children play under funerary urns, without giving a thought to their significance. After all, it's a great place to catch some shade. 

The real marvel is hidden from view upon arrival. A word of caution to anyone that cannot climb more than one flight of stairs: do not attempt to go to the top. There are 152 steps to climb, and in hot weather, it can be dangerous for some to undertake the ascent; there is a sign that discourages people with medical conditions from climbing, and it should be heeded. Luck came for us in the way of a bottle of water, which is absolutely necessary, and several rest stops on the way.  The young man at my side was impossible to shake off, no matter how hard I tried. I wondered how many times he had made the climb in order to get a few dong?
A huge, silver replica of a reclining Buddha waits at the top of the stairs (24 meters tall), which for us was a consolation prize for having missed the golden one in Bangkok. The view from the top is spectacular: you can see the entire city, the water, the housing, the shacks and the beautiful flowers. As we were taking photos, some curious young man appeared with shades on, and was ready to pose at a moment's notice. I called him the "little Elvis".

 and here's my Elvis:
Not to do any evil. To perform what is good. To keep one’s own heart pure. These are the teachings of lord Buddha. 

Indeed, these and other teachings are found scripted on the walls of Nha Trang’s largest pagoda in both Vietnamese and English. At any one time here, there are at least seventy students who are future monks, and eighteen orphans who serve as guides and above all, postcard vendors.

Two girls approached us as we were making our way up the stairs to reassure us so as not to worry, that they were not hawkers but rather students, and they wouldn’t be harassing us... except for the postcards. This is the way to make a contribution to this community, as they will not accept cash in any shape or form. There is so much to see here that it was great that a young man decided to serve as our guide.

The Pagoda was first built on Mount Trai Thuy in 1886 and named Dang Long Pagoda. In 1900, the Pagoda was damaged in a storm and was rebuilt down the mountain in its present location. It  was built to commemorate the monks and nuns who died while fighting against the Diem government.

 there is always work to do here; whether renovating or repairing.
Part of the monastery was damaged during the American War. 

Also visible are various buildings which are part of this establishment with their peaceful, tiled roofs, their sculpted ferocious looking dragons, and the prominent inverted yellow swastika which our guide hastens to tell us was a peaceful symbol and has nothing to do with Nazism.

By oneself, evil deed is done. By oneself, one is defiled. By oneself, evil deed is not done. By oneself, one becomes purified. Purity and Impurity are done by oneself. No one can purify another.

There are dozens such adages which adorn the walls of the main building, and one cannot help but read them all, and reflect upon their meaning.  The words continue to dance in front of my eyes, and they never quite leave me, as we continue our visit through the main hall: this area has been modernized and rebuilt several times, and serves as a memorial to the Buddhists who gave their lives to support the US-backed Diem regime of the 1960’s.

 The Memorial Building

There are very ornate mosaic symbols and decorations on top of the buildings. The combination of tile and glass is a Vietnamese specialty, which we had already seen in the ancient capital city of Hue.

All tremble in violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill or cause another to kill.

And also:

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.

We meet a very old man who seems in contemplation and is glad to engage in some words in English with us. His face breaks into a smile when we tell him we are American. He allows us to enter a very special room where chairs and tables are set in such a way for meetings. Around the room are framed photos of the various heads of the "congregation", and the years of their reigns.

huge white Buddha sits atop a gold pedestal

One does not get a sense of what must have been very turbulent times, when monks martyred themselves against their government. At this elevated haven, there is a serenity and calm, and marvelous views of the city of Nha Trang below.

As one continues to walk along the paths and staircases, there might be a young monk in deep study; or a smiling little girl playing with siblings.  But the special room which is normally not open to the public bears witness to those who died.

The fool worries thinking," I have sons, I have wealth". Indeed, when he himself is not his own, whence are sons? whence is wealth?