Heritage House, Hanoi

One of the smaller “museums” – if you can call it one – is the one along Ma May (almost opposite the famous “New Day” restaurant – review coming up) called the Heritage House.

Heritage House

Looking in…

It’s got an entrance fee 10 – 30,000VND (can’t quite recall), but that works out to about S$1.80 at most, which is really a steal.

once you step in...

Front of house

Once you wander past the “main lobby”, chances are you might spot this old man. He offered to draw me, but I didn’t want to  waste his ink. :p

He'll draw you, for a fee I bet!

Artist and his work

If you like taking photos, this is a nice place to shoot. It’s been designed to maximise airflow and lets in plenty of natural light. Combined with dust and time, the house and its contents have aged gracefully.

green!

Floating green plants. Tell me if you know what they’re called!

Assam?

Left hanging

bird in a cage

Birdcage with bird. Not for sale – i checked.

There’s more stuff upstairs, so don’t forget to make your way up the narrow stairs…

Chinese chessboard

Chess game abandoned?

Unfortunately, it seems as if the proprietors are eager (maybe too eager) to squeeze their VND from every nook and cranny  available. What happens is that nearly everything on display is on sale. From small knick knacks and snacks, to paintings and opium pipes!

Buddhas of various colours and sizes

Bring Buddha home

Big pipes

Opium not included

I feel the folks in Penang who also have their own UNESCO World Heritage site, have a better idea of how to earn money from curious tourists, but are conscious in preventing things from getting over-commercialised. i.e. sustainable heritage tourism. Here’s hoping the Vietnamese people latch on to these ideas before all that’s left are crunky souvenirs in an oversized giftshop. Lots more photos in my Hanoi Flickr album.

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Dac Kim: Hanoi’s best Bun Cha?

There are spring rolls and there’s pho… but you really haven’t been to Hanoi / Vietnam if you haven’t had Bun Cha.

Hanoi's best Bun Cha?

Nha Hang Dac Kim Bun Cha

This was the first place we tried for Bun Cha, and frustratingly, everyone else I’ve asked subsequently points me to this same joint. It’s not that the food wasn’t good (it was GREAT!), but it did feel as if we were being charged “tourist” prices at 100,000VND per person, which is about 3 times the price at less famous roadside joints. To be fair, we did try alternatives and they were all lesser incarnations, so maybe Dac Kim knows they’ve got the market cornered. To be more specific, the lesser incarnations are likely to only come with the meat patties in broth (which still tends to be dry) and without the spring rolls.

Meat heaven

Bun Chaaaaaaarge!!!

There’s no need to stress about what to order. Just tell them how many people are eating and they haul out the corresponding motherload of meat. The meats and sauces are just FAB. BEW. LUSS. One of the staff came over to point at what goes with what, but frankly every combo – no matter how strange it may seem to a Hanoian – tastes amazing. The crispy Nem Cua Be (Crab Springrolls) go perfectly with the bowl of sauce that you flavour accordingly (depending on your heat and bad breath tolerance) with chili padi and garlic. You can then dunk chopstickfuls (did I just invent a new word?) of white noodles into that bowl of porky paradise. The broth is flavourful without being overpowering, containing slices of meat that live in harmony with mini patties of ground meat wrapped in a little green leaf. They didn’t live very long.

Lots & lots of greens.

Eat your veggies! Or maybe not…

Hygiene tip: There’s a wise saying that if you want to eat good street food, try not to see how it’s prepared. Unfortunately, I was curious enough to see what happened to the mountain of assorted greens that comes with each Bun Cha portion. Most people are unlikely to get even half-way through. Turns out that the leftovers go back into the central pile of vegetables to be dished out to the next customer. I’m already not a fan of coriander, so this moment of “enlightenment” made sure I never had raw vegetables again in Hanoi – especially when they come in generous piles.

dong dong qiang

Your friendly neighbourhood music shop

Next door is a interesting distraction while you’re chomping down with god knows how many musical instruments stuffed into a store. Meat + Music = Yumm… And don’t forget the beer (or “bia” as the Vietnamese say…)

Address:
Dac Kim Bun Cha
1 Hang Manh
Hanoi, Vietnam

 

 

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Getting fried at Quan Goc Da

We were looking for Nguyen Sinh along Ly Quoc Su after a recommendation by smittenbyfood when we came across  this place.

Fry

The Hanoi version of Old Chang Kee?

Didn’t think much of it the first time we passed it in the day time, but when the crowd picked up in the evening, it looked like something we had to try.

People enjoying their fried stuff

You don’t get this sort of crowd at an Old Chang Kee!

Think there might be some minimum order thing going on as they didn’t seem too pleased when the Indonesian (I think) couple ahead of me ordered a few items. Being the greedy Singaporean, I didn’t face any problem. Hur hur. I think the staff may be more forgiving if you’re ordering only a few pieces for take-away, as we did on our second visit.

Nom nom nom

From left, in descending order of delish! Didn’t touch the veggies (will explain in my post on Bun Cha)

What to eat: Ordering is a challenge as I had no idea what each item was, but pointing works and the boss lady knows her English well enough to tell you how much it all costs.  The skinny long thing (1st item on the left on the plate) is some fried seafood item that’s my personal favourite. The fried spring roll (middle on the plate) is pretty good too – suspect this is the Nem Cua Be (or Crab Springroll). The thing that looks like a curry puff has mushrooms in it. Not bad either! Tell me if you know their real names!

Quan Goc Da in action

Boss lady (centre) and her crew. There’s actually a board in the shop (behind the red clock) that has English translations of the food items.

Address:
Quan Goc Da

52 Ly Quoc Su
Hoan Kiem District 
Hanoi

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Hanoi 2013: Getting an internet connection on your mobile device

Another trip and I haven’t finished posting about the last one. What’s new. :p

Made my maiden visit to Vietnam, and here are a couple of tips on hooking up to the internet while in Hanoi.

When you arrive at Noi Bai airport, exit customs and turn right.

Arrival waiting area

What you see when you exit customs

You might come across an information counter along the way and if you ask, they’ll point you in the same direction, telling you to look for the “Post Office”.

Nobody at the post office

Nobody’s home at the “Post Office” at the moment

Nobody was around when I got to the Post Office, so I got directed to the minimart next door.

They have everything

They sell everything and the kitchen sink

The tricky thing is they sell full-sized SIM cards here, and if you’re using something that requires a microSIM that most of us take for granted these days (like an iPhone or Samsung S3), it’s going to be a gamble. The first SIM card that they massacred cut didn’t work when slot into my S3 – No SIM detected. They then went on to snip another one which worked. Unfortunately, I tried removing the SIM card a few days later (long story… ) and it didn’t work after I put it back. From the looks of it, the ladies at the airport cut too close to the shiny gold portion on the SIM card. (sorry, no photo!) I looked around for a shop that could slice up a new microSIM for me, but couldn’t find one in time before we headed to Halong Bay, where I assumed reception would be rubbish anyway.

When I got back, I recalled seeing a shop that wouldn’t look out of place in Sim Lim along Hang Bac street. Turns out I was right! Think the shop’s called “Cua Hang

Best place to get your microSIM!

53 Hang Bac… Bingo!

The great thing is that the dude in the shop speaks decent English and could tell me exactly how much each minute and kb of data would cost, though I’ve completely forgotten now.

Both times (at the airport and at Hang Bac), I was offered a prepaid mobifone SIM card which apparently gives better value than competitors Vina and Viettel (can’t even find their websites, actually!). The standard starter pack costs 150,000VND. On average, I ran out of 100,000VND (approx S$6) value every day with fairly heavy usage. Even with double the load (200,000 VND or S$12), it’s still cheaper than the S$20/day I would have had to pay SingTel for their Bridge Dataroam, but granted the SingTel deal is for unlimited data. At the moment, SingTel charges more for data in Vietnam than places like Thailand and Malaysia which cost S$15/day.

Or if you really don’t want to bother, wifi seems widely available in most cafes and restaurants though I think some are heavily overloaded (e.g. Highlands Cafe along Nhà Thờ) and the connection really crawls. Free wifi in hotels is more widely available than many other places I’ve visited!

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Homeless in Hong Kong

I heard a lot about Goods Of Desire (G.O.D.) before I made my virgin trip up to Hong Kong. Waayyyyy back in 2010, it was a great place to shop for kitschy, unconventional, quirky stuff for the home. They’ve since set up shop in Singapore too, but sadly I find the selection here not quite as happening as what I seem to remember in HK.

During this latest trip, I made a lucky find while having lunch at Sing Heung Yuen. The Foursquare entry for this hole-in-the-wall eatery had a tip that suggested shopping at “Homeless” across the street.

Watch out for the construction!

The Homeless storefront

That neon sign + industrial material is eye-catching, and you can’t help but wander into the warmly-lit store with your wallet open.

Wasn't sure if I was allowed to take pictures, so I missed the front of the store!

Walk a little further in and the store opens up

There’s really quite a lot to see, and I really took my time looking through everything to make sure I didn’t miss any of the little gems everywhere.

Guess what I bought here?

Mobile phone and tablet accessories, but not of the night-market knock-off variety

Guess which one I bought here??

Ice can be a great conversation starter if it comes in the right shape

Tick tock

A few cool clocks

Optical toys

Kaleidoscopes (can’t remember exactly how much, but they’d make pretty nice gifts, methinks)

 

Came mighty close to getting this!

DIY Cat Playhouse comes in Fire Truck, Tank, & Plane variations!

Cute overload

Brilliant if DJ Mao actually takes to scratching this!

There are stores in Singapore that carry some of these items like Molecule, Totally Hot Stuff, and other smaller players who I can’t remember. But I don’t think any of them have the sheer concentration of “I-want-to-buy-this!!!” items that Homeless carries.

The address for the Central Flagship store(s) i.e. the one described above:

28 & 29 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong (It’s actually 2 stores facing each other!)
Tel: +852 2581 1880
Opening hours: 11.30 – 21.30hrs (mon – sat), 12.00 – 18.00hrs (sun & holidays)

Also visited the Tsim Sha Tsui Flagship store, which I felt was more mall-ish, and hence more sterile than the Central store. And for good measure, checked out the Causeway Bay Store too. This one is up a few flights of stairs and is cramped. Careful when you make any sudden movements with your backpacks & shopping bags! Didn’t spot the sign, but “You break, you buy” likely applies here too.

Tsim Sha Tsui Flagship store
L8, The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2997 8192
Opening hours: 12.00 – 22.00hrs (sun – thu), 12.00 – 22.30 (fri & sat)

Causeway Bay store
1 – 3/F, 19 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2890 8789
Opening hours: 12.00 – 21.30 (mon – sat), 13.00 – 21.00 (sun & holidays)

Visit their website (www.homeless.hk) for more information (there’s one other store in Shatin and they operate F&B outlets too apparently)

Now to back to G.O.D.

The rate at which Hong Kong moves is brutal, and it was quite sad to see the G.O.D. at Silvercord having a “removal sale”. Remember getting quite a few things there during my last trip. There wasn’t very much stuff left by the time we got there. This was a potential candidate for purchase, but even it didn’t work out.

Monkeys everywhere

Paul Frank sheets – but they don’t come in King size because it isn’t a very common bed size in HK apparently.

Darwinism applies to retail too, I guess.

Survival of the fittest...

Bye bye Silvercord G.O.D.

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I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (a.k.a. when “Site Search” screws up)

The U2 anthem is perfect when describing many flawed implementations of Site Search. You know the kind where you go to a website (usually with a frantic front page covered in buttons and links) and key in a search term resulting in a gazillion results? Most of them irrelevant, or worse still… ridiculous?

Worked on a project where some stakeholders were asking for “Site Search” functionality on a website. The argument against that was that it wasn’t feasible to put in the function if we couldn’t get it to deliver quality results when matched up against grand-daddy Google. Had a conversation with a Google guy a few weeks back and he also backed up our stance for “No Search” being better than “Bad Search”. Have to give it to the guys at Google for coming up with some hilarious content to explain how Site Search can go so painfully wrong.

You inner geek can’t get enough? See here for more videos on Landing Page Optimisation and Online Checkout.

And to cap it all off, why not sing along to Bono and the boys if horrid Site Searches aren’t turning up what you’re searching for?

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Hong Kong 2012: Apps for Eating & Shopping

Stuffing your face, and taking the stuffing out of your wallet. Fortunately (or unfortunately). there are apps to help you for both.

Google Maps: This is a pain in the a$$ when you have lots of places listed on one map and need to scroll up and down. Workaround for me is to go into “Edit” mode, but then it’s easy to accidentally move location pins and the lag is just awful. Doesn’t work well at all on the iPhone and iPad. If you have access to a proper computer during your visit, I recommend moving the places you intend to visit for the day at the top of the list (left column). Still looking for a zoom-able itinerary mapping that can be stored offline (i.e. no internet connection required to access), but until I find a better solution, here’s a rudimentary map for Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau.

Google Map of places to go in HK, Shenzhen & Macau

The list on the left column keeps bouncing back to the top when you try to scroll down on your ipad/iphone

Open Rice: Just like Singapore’s Hungrygowhere, it pulls up the name, location and reviews (if any) of eateries around you. Not as many reviews in English as there are in Chinese/Cantonese. Pronounced “Hoi Fan” in Cantonese. (Available for iOS, Android and Window Phone)

Open Rice Hong Kong

A reference guide to Hong Kong eateries

Open Rice

Launch screen of Open Rice

Foursquare: The grand-daddy of location services works well in HK too, especially if you can’t find reviews in English for Open Rice. (Available for iOS – no dedicated iPad version, but iPhone version blown up works too, and Android)

FourSquare

Foursquare is still going strong

Price.com.hk: Great guide to have if you’re looking for electronics (cameras, phones, A/V, appliances, video games) and strangely, kids stuff too. It’s essentially a listing of the best prices being offered by various merchants. Of course, it’s susceptible to being used by scammers who bait and switch, e.g. you go to a store because of a product being advertised as HK$XXX but the store says it’s out of stock and offers you a “similar” product, or just say that the price isn’t updated and quote you a higher price. My suggestion is that you use your local SIM card to call up the shops before making any trips. If the stores/sellers don’t list a number or shop address, I wouldn’t waste my time. Best to use the app as a rough guide. No English version, so hopefully you know some Chinese. Otherwise, it’s fairly intuitive based on the icons/graphics used. Do we have a Singaporean version of this? If not, maybe I should quit my job and get it done. (Available for iOS, Android)

Price.com.hk

Price.com.hk

pricehk1

Price.com.hk

Price.com.hk

Note the orange “行” boxes come with warranty, whereas the ones with the blue box “水” indicate “water goods”. These are usually for export and don’t come with warranty.

Got any other apps to recommend?

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Hong Kong 2012: How to stay online

Back from my second HK holiday. Less of a newbie though my cantonese still sucks. Dreading to see the credit card bill. Here are some basic tips if you’re heading to stay connected while in Hong Kong:

Telecommunications

I can’t imagine how people used to travel without Google Maps and apps. Compass? Paper maps?? Seriously??? To think I used to do orienteering back in school in the wilderness. Anyway, here are some modern options for the generation that’s perpetually logged on to the interwebs.

1) Roaming with your SG telco (more expensive): You could also get one of those global roaming deals if you’re on M1 (Unlimited Data Roaming) or SingTel (Bridge Dataroam). M1 users have it good. You’re only charged a maximum of $15/day if you bust the data limits. No need to inform M1 of your trip either. SingTel to activate the service BEFORE your trip starts, either by calling them (which I recommend, even if the waiting time can be ridiculous) or using the app (I’ve never gotten it to work). Even when I’ve gotten the confirmation over the phone, I was once slapped with a ridiculous bill after my previous trip to HK. Benefit is you only carry one device, as opposed to 2 (See next option)

Price:
S$75 for 5 days unlimited roaming in HK for SingTel (CSL is their HK partner),
S$15 per day for unlimited roaming in HK for M1 (SmarTone is their HK partner)

2) Prepaid HK SIM (cheaper, more reliable): In this day and age, you’ll probably have a spare phone somewhere at home. Reason for this is that you’ll want to use your current phone as your data device in HK, and stuff your existing SIM card into your spare phone for urgent calls from the boss/clients/wife/… The stinker is that unless you have a dual-SIM smart phone, you’ll need at least 2 devices if you want to remain contactable on your regular number while having access to cheap data. (List of top dual SIM phones doesn’t look promising)

Price: HK$198 3G Rechargeable SIM card deal (approx S$31) gives you unlimited data for HK$18/day (Approx S$3). Also allows for voice calls.

Image

I got the prepaid HK$198 microSIM from 3 that I used on my iPad, with my Samsung S3 still on SingTel with dataroaming disabled.

Where to find a prepaid HK SIM card at HK airport

Once you clear customs at Chek Lap Kok with your bags, head up to the 7th floor (Departure Hall).

There are escalators, but given you’ll probably be hauling luggage, one of the elevators might be a better idea.

Elevators

This elevator is in the center of the Arrival Hall. Note the 7-Eleven in the background as your reference point.

Once out of the elevator, walk forward towards the shops and make a right. You’ll soon see a 1010 store and a 3 store. There’s a Tissot store (expensive Swiss watches) opposite both of them.

The telco units are just opposite these shops

You’re on the right track! Look opposite…

Step right up

The 3 store

Tips:
- For 3 customers, in case your data connection suddenly goes dead, check your APN setting. It should be imobile.three.com.hk and NOT mobile.three.com.hk. If you really need someone to check your phone, here are the 3 store locations around HK.
- If you need to top up your prepaid 3 SIM card, go to one of their stores instead of the 7-11 because they’ll give you bonus credits at their own stores.
- You can keep your Whatsapp messages coming to your existing phone even when you’ve swapped the SG SIM card for a prepaid HK SIM card. There’s an option when you load up Whatsapp that you can select.

More detailed information on getting a prepaid SIM card at HK airport from BeReady.net (Note error that the stores are on Level 7, NOT Level 6 as they mentioned – There is no Level 6!)

Wifi is available throughout the airport (#HKAirport Free Wifi). Just need to open up your browser and agree to the terms and conditions.

More on shopping and eating to come..

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The relevance of Ts & Cs

How many of you actually read the legalese that comes before hitting the “Accept” or “Submit” button on any website? I never bothered, and I suspect most of you don’t either. If this is the behaviour of the vast majority of internet users, why would something like this be of any importance? I’ve been thinking about this in the past few weeks and maybe it’s all a ploy to keep lawyers employed.

Saw this ad a few nights ago and I think it hits the spot.

Here’s another one that I didn’t know about:

Putting myself in the lawyers’ shoes (I think they’re pretty expensive shoes), I’d say that I’m protecting the company. Still, doesn’t it make you look bad to the customer if you persistently use walls of jargon  that nobody reads as a shield? In short, maybe we could all make our lives simpler by using something like this to start off your “Terms & Conditions”: Very bad things could happen to you and your computer if you use this website/service/product. If you accept, we’re not responsible.

This would even fit in Twitter’s 140 character limit.

Just to add to the relevance of this post, I’ll disclaim something too by saying the views expressed in this and other posts on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of my employers past, present and (why not?) future.

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New Paper

You know how most of the older folk gripe about the younger ones losing the feel of writing with real pens on real paper? I’m not sure which of these two camps I belong in. I still take notes with pen and paper, but abhor the process of having to get it all digitised afterward as meeting notes, to-do lists, etc.

Batman at the laundromat

Could you draw this with real pen and paper? (from dorkboycomics on Flickr)

Every generation loses something I suppose. My generation didn’t even touch fountain pens at all, even though I was given a hand-me-down fountain pen kit long ago which I had no idea how to work – apart from making a black, inky mess.

If you own an iPad and think you’re too cool for analogue, try Paper” by FiftyThree. (iTunes download)

Paper by FiftyThree

The Paper logo

It’s an app that’s made me want to sketch, paint, doodle… things I haven’t enjoyed doing since my days in secondary school. I don’t think I even enjoyed it this much back then.

This app transforms your iPad into a nifty virtual sketchpad, with instruments like the fountain pen, eraser, pencil, marker, paintbrush. The basic FREE version comes with just the fountain pen and eraser, but trying out the other tools in the demo pretty much makes you want to get them all. You can choose to acquire the additional instruments one at a time, or all at once. The latter method, which costs about S$10 or less (if I recall correctly) is a dollar or two cheaper than if you bought each instrument individually.

3 things make this a real stand-out app in my opinion:

1) realism of the instruments: how quickly you move across the iPad surface gives different results, just like how slowly moving a paint-soaked brush results in more colour being soaked up by the paper. Awesome.
2) easy to switch between instrument & colours: You don’t need a table full of paint bottles, split watercolours, colours pencils strewn about. No mess!
3) erasing/undoing stuff is so easy: You place two fingers on the screen, move them in a counter-clockwise direction (Cue “Turn back the clock by Johnny Hates Jazz“) and watch your actions roll back. Try doing that with real paper.

While it’s unlikely that I win any art competitions with my work, the process of drawing something is quite therapeutic.

Fictional Cycle Singapore logo

An anyhow logo drawn in seconds with the “fountain pen” and some “watercolour”

I am the walrus

One of the first pictures I doodled using the free version (i.e. only the fountain pen to play with)

Gahmen Panda

Drawn in the midst of Singapore panda-monium. I found text to be a struggle if you’re using only your fingers.

Sorry Lewis!

Used a rather crude stylus here. Gets you more detail, but as you can tell from the (weird) perspective, no additional talent.

The last sketch prompted me to go out and get a new stylus. More on it next time…

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