Friday, November 14, 2014

A love affair...with Vietnam

It is so easy to have a love affair with food in Vietnam. Since moving to Vietnam nearly two and a half years ago, we have had it at least five out of seven nights of the week. All your senses are on full alert from the moment you first contemplate a menu. Walk through a Vietnamese market and you will fully appreciate the feeling. The sights, sounds, scents, touch, taste..they are all there, some exhilarating..some surprising...and all of them unforgettable. Just give me a stick of lemongrass, a whiff of lime, a crunch of Vietnamese mint and I will be beside myself with joy at the possibilities.

I recently had the chance to share it all with a friend, Paula, who asked to see "my" Saigon. She was coming to Saigon for a few days, post business trip, and said she wanted to experience the "tales" that I write and speak of. It was a challenge I wholeheartedly welcomed as I knew it was going to be  easy. I had a feeling that no matter what I suggested, she would be up for it...and she was. Best memory was when we were both on the back of a Vespa, riding side by side in Saigon, grins as wide as can be as she exclaimed "Amazing! I love this!". I was on the right track...and suggested if she loved riding around Saigon...then we had to take the day tour to the Mekong. I had done it before and loved it...especially the mussels and little pipi's in the photo above. We sampled, we sipped and both exclaimed at the same time when something was delicious...always a wonderful feeling when you share the same enthusiasm for travel and food with another.

If you plan to travel to are a few of my favourites.

I have tried a few cooking classes around Saigon 
and this is my favourite.

I highly recommend both. We took the day trip around the city
with XO Tours and the Mekong trip with Vietnam Vespa. I have also
taken the day trip with Vietnam Vespa around Saigon and thought it was great. 
You can not go wrong with either. 

I am partial to the spa treatments at the Hyatt.
 I know I can always count on them for offering
a great experience every time. 

As for the food...there are so many great options.
 I have listed a few here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Atmospheric Saigon

Le Duan Street, behind Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon

Atmospheric is one of the things I love about Saigon. 
You never know how the light is going to catch you. 
It is magic to behold.

images by Jeanne Henriques

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wellness and jet lag... #saigon

They say that to fully recover from jet lag you should allow one day for each hour of difference between time zones. For me, an eleven hour time difference between Saigon and Boston means I should be hitting my usual stride...about now. It has been ten days since I returned to Saigon.

We all have our ways of coping with jet lag. When I travel to the USA, I hit the ground running and do not look back. It never seems to hit me that hard, I am to busy to think about it. When I return to Saigon it comes in with a wallop. Throw in the heat and a slower and more limited pace to life and I feel like someone sedated me for days on end. I have learned to give in and take it slowly and gently...because I can. 

Slipping into something light and cool is the first order of business.

And then I walk...

around the compound where we live.

Looking for curious sights.

I always manage to find something.

If not walking, I hop on my bicycle for a spin...

or make my way to the pool.

and then...
a Vietnamese iced coffee
followed with a chaser of iced water...
because it is that strong..but oh, so good. 

It is all about the moment...and staying within it.

Healthy eating followed up by lots of water
and more water and more water.

and most important of all..
spa time.

Hyatt Xuan Spa

Sure to cure the worst case of jet lag,
wellness and beauty treatments.
Works every time.

I love to share...
If you live in Saigon or plan to visit,
Here are a few of my "go to" places...
you might enjoy them too.

Spa Treatments



 If you have places to recommend I would love to know!
You can write to me

Photos by Jeanne Henriques

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From where I stand...USA to Vietnam

I count the days and months by the sun, 
the moon and rainbows.
It is a glorious thing to watch, 
no matter where I stand in the world.

Sunrise over Chateau Mango in Vietnam.

 I have been away these past four months, 
doing what many expats do during the summer months,
spending time back in their home countries with family and friends.

A few key moments are highlighted here.

No matter where I am,
all I need to do is follow the moon, the sun and a rainbow 
to stay connected to the people I love.

From our home in Saigon, Chateau Mango..

Rainbow over travellers palm..

To our home, Tahilla Farm in the USA...

Alongside a mountain...

Over a meadow...

A rainbow comes to call.

It was lovely to be there, 
it is lovely to be back in Saigon.
I feel restored...I am ready.

Beep Beep Saigon...
bring it on!

Dodging traffic yesterday morning in Saigon.

 Photos by Jeanne Henriques

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Foodie Tour- Saigon, Vietnam

Image via XO Tours

Like many other expats, I have escaped the heat and rain of a Saigon Summer for a few months. I have been back nearly a month in the USA and I have to say, Vietnam is always on my mind. I miss Vietnamese food in a big way and am already planning my TO DO list for when I return in September.

One of the many items on my list is the Foodie Tour by way of a motorbike around Saigon. If you are living in Saigon or planning a trip, check out this looks like fun and I am sure it will be delicious!

Read all about  The Foodie Tour  here
Read tripadvisor reviews here

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When parasites come calling...Vietnam

It took me a while to find an image that would convey my message in the nicest and simplest way possible. Trust me, when you are diagnosed with a species of parasite, which is somewhere in your body, and then go on a google search of said parasite, you are in for a shock. With a case of information overload, I backed out of the image search as quickly as I could and decided to stick with text.

Now here is the thing, a few weeks ago, my very able fitness trainer, asked if I was having regular blood tests for parasites. I wasn't and I panicked...sort of. I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City witha few minor tummy grumbles and count myself lucky. Let's just say I have been knocking on wood, frequently, since moving to Vietnam.

I made an appointment to see the doctor. I asked about a blood test, wondering if I needed it. He asked if I was sick, did I have any symptoms? etc... I said no. He don't need it if you are not showing symptoms. Since I needed a blood test for something else, I asked if we could still order the test, more for my peace of mind than anything else.

Three weeks on, the results are in, the little buggers are there. So...I am sending this message to those of you who live in Vietnam, expats, like me. Speak to your doctor about parasites, ask about having a regular screening. I know I will...from here on out.

My doctor said it is most likely resulted from consuming fish, possibly that was not fully cooked. We eat a lot of sashimi. I am rethinking sashimi while in Vietnam. I am very selective about where I eat and how food is prepared. You have to be. It just goes to show, you never know.

With thanks to Stephane for bringing it to my attention. It is one of those occasions when your trainer  knows best and I am glad he suggested it.

I am currently packing for a four month trip to the USA with a 21 day supply of medication. I have 40 boxes to contend with. I think a re-pack is in order. Dratz!

If you would like to prepare for a trip to Southeast Asia, you can start here .

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Two birds taking flight at Chateau Mango

From my favourite chair...
From my favourite chair,  I caught it out of the corner of my eye, a little flash of motion and a chirp...then silence. I was so involved with what I was writing that I thought it must have been my imagination. It could not possibly been a bird, not in a house that has barely seen the crack of a window in months.

scribbled thoughts...
I went back to my writing and then it happened again, a little sparrow bird, a baby, was flying frantically looking for an escape. I did what any person would do, I opened all the windows and doors hoping for it's safe flight home. I turned off the AC and put on the ceiling fans. I now recognise that was not one of my wiser moves. No, I did not accidentally take the life of the wee thing.

an open window...

Fortunately for me, it sought safe haven on my is WHERE it took haven on my bookshelf that astounded me. I have three iron birds, dipped in gold, who travel with me from country to country. This clever little bird decided to queue up right behind the third one on the left. If ever there was a Kodak moment, I had it...but I did not have my camera.  I was to busy flapping about trying to encourage the little fellow to take flight..and he did..a happy moment.

Once there were four...

As I collected myself and went along to close the windows, I thought how rare an occasion it is to see an open window at Chateau Mango. If we are lucky, we might catch a few semi-dry breezy days in December but certainly not now, with the rainy season looming. The days are as hot and sticky as they come.

On the times I have opened the windows, Huyen, our helper, has been on my heels closing them again, warning me of mosquitoes..the kind that bring dengue fever. She explained that in our compound we are relatively safe, the management is regularly active with pesticides to combat mosquitoes. I always assumed that living in Ho Chi Minh City, we were safe from the ills found in the Mekong and other rural areas of Southern Vietnam. The only time I wear bug spray is when we are sitting on our veranda at the end of the day, when the little nips come out to play. I have been fortunate to have steered clear of mosquito bites. You only need to pick up the local Vietnam English newspaper to see that it is a very real threat in other areas of the country.

a view from our window..

So...on this Saturday morning, as my little friend took flight, I enjoyed looking around our rooms of open windows, took a few photos before locking them up. I could see my little friend happily chirping from a ceramic pot in our garden...we were both ready to start the day.

That's my morning, from Chateau Mango, along the Saigon River. The red dot is where you will find least for three more days before I take flight to the USA for four months. From there I will contend with more mosquitoes and black flies..nasty little nippers, but fortunately, you will always live to see another day.

Chateau Mango...along the Saigon River, Vietnam

Friday, May 2, 2014

Finding beauty in Vietnam...

I love looking through Asian fashion magazines. 
I do not understand a word but that's ok.
The images speak for themselves.

In a recent issue of

A fashion shoot in the northern region of Vietnam,
mixing the earthen elements of the land with
the vibrant colours of the culture.

If you understand Vietnamese, 
the following will tell you more.

If you are like me, 
you will just enjoy the beauty of each image.

Finding beauty in Vietnam. 

Fall/ Winter 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Expat Book Club

Hotel Majestic in 1940 where Graham Greene frequented
the rooftop bar to enjoy the "cool winds off the Saigon River".
I am double dipping today with about my experiences about my expat book club in Saigon. You will find the post on both Collage of Life and Expat Diary Viet Nam. It is my way of keeping track and recognising that there are different readers between the two. If you are here solely for the expat journey in might enjoy this story.

I belong to an expat book club in Vietnam.  We meet the second Monday of each month in a local cafe to talk about books and expat life.  Like other book clubs, we decide in advance, the books we would like to read for the upcoming months. We have a leader who has the daunting task of locating the books. You can find books in English in a few book stores around Saigon and on street corners but the selection is limited.

I tried the street corner bookseller when I first arrived and picked up Graham Greene's The Quiet American outside the Hotel Majestic on Dong Khoi Street for a song. I got what I paid for. The translation was limited, pages were missing and some pages were crooked..but I persevered. I was in Vietnam and experience is everything. I had the experience of reading a classic from a Vietnamese street bookseller...and my Kindle library has since tripled.

You can spot an expat book club reader in Vietnam on planes, trains and cyclos by the cover of their book. The paper cover is light blue, the text is black and they have that "hot off the press" look about them. Such is the life of the expat book reader. If you do not own an electronic reader or are a purist at heart, you have to take what you can get. It's all in the experience, I own a few of those tell tale books and I doubt I will ever part with them.

Our book group is connected with the ILV, International Ladies in Vietnam, an international group that binds the expat community together.  The ILV is the "go to" for expats and is a great source for those who are looking for like minded people. If you are an expat living in Saigon, you have something in common. I say expats but you also find local English speaking Vietnamese in the group as well. You are bound to find a kindred spirit amongst them, it's worth it's weight in gold when that happens.

Our book club meetings vary in size and members come and go according to the duration of their stay in Vietnam. Everyone seems to be coming and going from somewhere. Today, we had a small group, one each from Germany, South Africa, England, America, Australia and India. I tell you, it makes for very interesting conversation and is a great source for book recommendations. I loved the story today of the German woman who is taking French lessons in Saigon. She has been studying for over a year and is impressed with the abilities of her Vietnamese instructors. Our Australian member is leaving Vietnam in July after a one year assignment, I know she leaves with a heavy heart for she has loved her time in Saigon. We rally and support, it is what expats do well.

Some of us meet on other occasions and many of us only meet at the book club. Conversation tends to run off topic frequently and I often wonder if we will ever talk about the book. I have come to accept the course of conversation and just go with it. If we talk about the book great, if not, that's ok too. It's the journey and the experience that matter..the books are a bonus.

If you enjoy travelling, as we do, you will enjoy travelling with these books...

To Spain with

First Paragraph..
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

To Australia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
27th April 1926...On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. '...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' she whispered. 

To Cambodia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his. I heard the door open and shut with a soft click, I slid off my bed, careful not to wake Radana in her crib, and snuck out of my room. I pressed my ear to the door and listened.

To South Africa with
First Novel

Book cover ...
There are Ants in my Sugar is the warm hearted, engaging and humorous account of Annica Foxcroft's exile to a pondokkie in the country, when unexpected financial hardship overtook her family during the 1960's. Annica is a sassy young woman to whom the city chic of Johannesburg, and the dire warnings of her decorator friend Harry, still cling like perfume, as she is dumped unceremoniously on a plot in the dark, landing on a pile of blackjacks. She has to adapt and make a home for her baby daughter and aging husband amidst boreholes, long drops and Aga stoves... 

Next month
To Vietnam with

First paragraph...
The first shots came as they were flying northeast toward Danang. Over the terrific noise of the engine and rotors, she could hear a "pinging" sound, something like coins being lobbed against the metal where she was sitting. It wasn't particularly loud, and didn't sound remarkable or worrying. For many minutes she sat stiffly in the nylon seat of the helicopter, the wind rifling across her trouser legs, sending her field jacket back so that she could feel a button pushing against her hence, being aware of many things, but not the pinging sound, the bullets directed at her, at all of them, as they spun above a canopy of jungle. 

I will miss the next the five months of book club meetings but will keep tabs from New Hampshire. I will be back in regular attendance again in October 2014..and when I return, just maybe, I will sign up for French lessons too. I am thinking about it...such is the way of an expat book club in Saigon, you just never know where the conversation will take you.

As always, the books above and many more are listed in The Brown Paper Book Club here

Happy Reading my friends!

Jeanne xx

speaking of New Hampshire,
if you missed  
Stone Rising at Tahilla Farm
you can read all about it 

Tahilla Farm
and via Dan Snow's post
Mending Pasture Fences 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Lone Chateau Mango

Shortly before we moved into our home in Vietnam, a tropical storm swept through and uprooted a large fruit bearing mango tree on our property.  We were left with a large stump about 5 ft tall supported by beams to keep it upright.  We took one look and suggested removing it and replacing it with another. From our estimation, there was little hope.

Cries of horror ensued by our gardener, Mr. Thuan, and our driver, Mr. Khai, a gardener at heart. So we listened and let them do their magic in an effort to bring the tree back to life.

I am happy to report that after two years, it is thriving and no longer requiring support.  Sadly though, not a single mango appeared during that time, until this week. Mr. Thaun and Mr. Khai spotted it, high in the tree, one lone mango, growing in earnest. We are all overjoyed and keep a steady eye on our lone mango with hopes that there will be more to come.

Before we move from Vietnam, 
I hope to one day be like
The Lady in the Mango Garden
holding two mangoes.
This lovely painting is by
Vietnamese artist, Nguyen Trung.

I think it would be a perfect compliment 
to Chateau Mango.

Lady in the Mango Garden
Painted by Nguyen Trung
Galerie Nguyen

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ben Thanh Art & Frame and Galerie Nguyen HCMC, Vietnam

When the heat starts to rise in Saigon you will find me dipping in and out of galleries around the city. It is a cool respite from the steamy days that are rolling in and a chance to catch up on wonderful Vietnamese art. If you live in Saigon or plan to visit, I would put Ben Thanh Art & Frame and Galerie Nguyen on your list. Two galleries, around the corner from each other, owned by the same person. Any one of the many sales assistants that greets you will be only to happy to assist you. I think they are among some of the best in Saigon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gardening at Chateau Mango...Vietnam

Chateau Mango, Vietnam

Every once in a while, I wander to the front of our yard 
and snap a pic of the front of our house.
I then go to my computer to compare photos to previous pics....
just to see if the colour has changed.
It never does and I always seem to hope that it will. 
Shades of mango continue to shine.


 The only natural progression is to plan flowers accordingly. 
I recently picked up hibiscus in shades of orange and red. 

I will forever be in love with the lotus flower.

Lotus blossom

It speaks to a multitude of verses.


This week we had another shining beauty. 
I am in search of the name, it has a wonderful fragrance.

I am creating a Vietnamese herb garden. 
We snip from it regularly, a collection of Vietnamese mint, 
betel leaves, kaffir lime leaves and a few others I am trying to translate. 
We do not have a traditional garden...more an eclectic, eccentric garden.  
The betel leaves below are loving their new home.

In our herb garden...

Every day I find another little something hanging from our trees. 
Mr. Khai, our driver, has developed a love for orchids. I love orchids too.
I recently purchased a few books on orchids in Vietnamese for him.
I am letting him run with it, curious to see how he gets on.

Hanging orchids

Mr Khai is also the keeper of the pumpkin plants. 
This is our second attempt.
He is determined to make them work. 
The weather is warming up 
and the rainy season will not be far off. 
I do not hold out high hopes for this one. 

A pumpkin seed takes shape...but will it last?

Last year we organised the climber below to take hold 
and give us shade from the morning sun on our veranda. 
Mr. Khai had a plan and it seems to be working. 
He is a gardener at heart with a clever green thumb. 

 And another climber below, 
under the watchful eye of Mr. Khai and Mr. Thuan.

When we leave Vietnam one day, I intend
to bring memories of our Vietnamese gardens with me.
The paintings below are hanging in my office.
More on Vietnamese art next time....

I leave you with a mini view of passing water hyacinth 
along the Saigon River.
I walk past every morning just to watch it flow past...

Photos and video by Jeanne Henriques