Tuesday, March 31, 2009

VIETNAM BECKONS, AGAIN


ARTS, ARCHITECTURE AND FINE DINING: HANOI, HUE, HOI-AN AND DANANG
MAY 25 - 30, 2009


March 25, 2009

Dear Friends,
My recently concluded Vietnam tour was such a success that I am doing it again for those whose schedules couldn’t fit the first time. There will be just a bit of tweaking (mostly in the order of fine dining on which day), an added side trip to Ho Chi Minh’s house, and an optional tour of the heritage site Halong Bay but everything else will be the same enchanting tour that my first group experienced. This will be a limited group so please read my itinerary over and come on board. Vietnam will amaze you.

Monday, May 25

Depart 1:10 pm PAL to Saigon. Transfer Vietnam Airlines and arrive in Hanoi at 7:30 pm. (For those interested in a whole day Halong Bay trip, it is recommended they leave the day before)
We check in at the Hotel Sofitel Metropole, a colonial masterpiece. Before dinner we shall walk the neighborhood visiting several contemporary art galleries. Along the way we will appreciate the Opera House and other colonial buildings lit up in their full glory.
We shall dine at Opera, the Vietnamese restaurant across from the hotel, deemed one of the best by the group.

Tuesday, May 26


A full day ahead. After a hearty breakfast we visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, containing fine and decorative artworks housed in a 1937 graceful Indo-French Deco building. Its 28 survey rooms cover iron age materials, 11-19th c. dynasty Buddhist and Cham objects, folk crafts and woodblock prints. There are exquisite works on lacquer and silk. My favorite is the last floor replete with 20th c. paintings produced by the first wave of Vietnamese graduates from the 1925 French-established Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine.
To rest our heels, we shall motor around the city, seeing the best of French-colonial architecture that abounds stopping at the National Museum of Vietnamese History to admire the city’s most aesthetically pleasing of colonial edifices. It is a wonderful hybrid of Western concepts of space and Eastern decorative devices. We shall wander its shaded garden, enjoy the stone and terracota sculpture from the 11th to the 19th century. That morning we would have reviewed a significant breadth of Vietnam’s history and culture so we can munch.
Lunch:
We must try Restaurant Bobby Chinn known for its Asian/Pacific fusion dishes. We had their set menu in a private room, raved
over the ten courses, and surprise, gorgeous Bobby came to our room, regaled us with stories, showed off his contemporary paintings, and we all bought his book.
After a delightful, slow food lunch, we take our bus once more and visit two contemporary art galleries, Art Vietnam, and Apricot Gallery. The latest in artistic energy are found in these spaces. By late afternoon we return to our hotel and the energetic ones can take a complimentary one hour pedicab tour of the Old Quarters to soak in the ambiance and mark out which section to return and shop to your hearts content. Or jump out of the pedicab and buy it there and then.
Return to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Press Club a chummy continental cafe right across the hotel.

Wednesday, May 27

A more leisurely breakfast this morning and we drive to Ho Chi Minh’s simple house on the presidential grounds. We then proceed to the Museum of Ethnology, which I rate as one of the best in the world in presenting the diverse groupings that populate Vietnam. There’s outdoor exhibits showing vernacular architecture and inside exhibits with the best of textile and ethnic wares. I was amazed at the similarity of a Montagnard group’s weaving and clothing with that of our Cordillera group.
Lunch will be at the Paris Deli, a divine bistro with a balcony that overlooks trendy Nha Tho Street and St. Joseph Cathedral at a distance. With a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, and the view outside, we are happily disoriented.
The afternoon will be devoted to the Old Quarter to shop from linen to lacquer. Vietnam shopping is still very reasonable and we might as well stock up on doilies, table mats and beddings. We will split into three groups, those who want linen and embroidery, those for antiques, and those who want to go back to the art galleries.
Dinner will be on your own if you need to pack for the next day. For those interested there’s Cafe des Arts (where else?), a lively painting-filled brasserie with a French menu featuring classics like bouillabaisse and steak tartare. We’ll catch their regular art exhibitions held inside the restaurant.

Thursday, May 28

Our Vietnam Airlines flight departs from Hanoi to Danang at 2:30 pm arriving at 3:45 pm. Our coach takes us to the Golden Sand Hotel Resort and Spa in Hoi An. After checking in at the hotel, we do a one-hour walking tour of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage town. From the 16th - 18th century, Japanese and Chinese traders came and left their architectural imprint on bridges, temples, courtyards and wall murals. Along the way there are wonderful little shops brimming with textiles and handicraft to be tempted and disappear into. There’s the charming Cafe des Amis with no set menus but an effusive Chef Kim to delight you with his scallops on the half shell, stuffed calamari and fried won tons. The persnickety New York Times calls it the “best meal in Vietnam.” Or, if the heat has gotten to us, there’s our nearby resort, good dining and a soothing spa.

Friday, May 29

We leave earlier than usual to drive north to Danang to learn about the ancient Hindu state of Champa (2nd - 6th century) which pervaded the area even before the arrival of the Vietnamese. We shall visually feast on the Museum of Cham Sculpture, an open air museum, founded during the French colonial period by the prestigious Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient. The museum, with a bucolic garden built in 1915 is another East-Meets-West hybrid but this time, its European structure has a Cham influence overlay like towers, temple adornments, columns, and turrets.
We then proceed to Hue, the ancient capital until the last king decided to move to Hanoi in 1945. A long line of indulgent emperors created architectural legacies with charming lakeside gardens to compose poems in the evening. A few were out of control, one having 102 wives. Another had 52 course dinners. Daily. We get a whiff of their sybaritic lifestyle in the main citadel built by the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th century. For obvious reasons, this resplendent dynasty would be the last, ending in the 1954 partitioning of the country at the Geneva Convention. We shall walk the grounds, peer into the Forbidden Section and soak the whole royal ambiance.
Lunch will approximate what the royals ate in taste, but slightly lesser in dishes. A French villa nearby, Y Thao Garden, has a wonderful set menu starting with their popular lightly battered eggrolls.
After lunch we shall journey nearby to Emperor Tu Doc’s palace, the most resplendent of all the royal sites complete with a charming lake.
We head back late afternoon to our resort where we dine there and start packing for the journey home the next day.

Saturday, May 30

We leave Danang for a 1:40 pm flight to Saigon, and transfer to a 3:55 pm PAL flight back to Manila. Those who wish to stay the night in Saigon can do so at the historical Caravelle Hotel for just $100 per person.
We just experienced the best of north and central Vietnam arts, culture, and dining.
If you wish to come along, call Anscor Casto, ask for Em, at 810 0079 or call/text me (John Silva) at 0926 729 9029 or e mail me at jsilva79@mac.com

Thursday, March 05, 2009

SOMETIMES A PAINTING NEEDS A DASH OF INSIGHT: THE GRAND TOUR OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM



Works of art are appreciated by their own merits. But oftentimes a painting or a sculpture has a story that adds to its worth. Or a brushstroke, almost imperceptible, that needs pointing out, and expanding a painting’s dimension.

John L. Silva’s renowned three-hour tour of the National Museum’s painting and sculpture collection incorporates history, interpretation, and even a little humor.

Get to know the Philippines from as far back as 40,000 years ago through its fascinating archaeological artifacts from stone-age tools to exquisite textiles.

Understand the country today with its colonial period collection from Spanish ware to American architectural influence on the two buildings housing the National Museum.

All tours begin at the rear entrance of the Museum of the Filipino People (formerly the Finance Building) located on Finance Road and fronting Rizal Park. Tour covers two buildings and over 20 galleries.

Come and discover a fascinating Philippine past. It will astound you.

Tours start promptly at 10:00 AM and ends at 1:00 PM.

TOUR DATES: MARCH - MAY ’09

March 25, 28,
April 1, 4, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29,
May 2, 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23, 27, 30

TOUR FEES:
800 pesos Adults
500 pesos Youths

RESERVATIONS NECESSARY:
Call/Text 0926 729 9029, 0917 419 5928, 527 5082 or e-mail jsilva79@mac.com

Lunch afterwards? Try La Cucina de Tita Moning. A gustatory experience. Website: http://www.lacocinadetitamoning.com/

A blogger gave a review of my tour recently. Check it out:

http://witsandnuts.com/2009/01/25/museum-of-the-filipino-people/