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Pampered by Banyan Tree Lang Co at Central Vietnam

We arrived at Da Nang International Airport in Central Vietnam at about 6 PM, after a 4 hours and 15 minutes journey by Silkair from Singapore via Siem Reap, Cambodia. My wife and I were invited guests of Banyan Tree Lang Co, under the Banyan Tree Community Reward Stay programme from September 23 to 25.

We were greeted by a couple of slim ladies dressed in the purple ao dai (Vietnamese traditional long gown), before being shown the way to a waiting van that took us from the modern Da Nang Airport to the heavenly resort by a secluded beach north of Da Nang. We were part of a group of 4 couples that arrived on this flight, all bound for a weekend of bliss and pampering at Banyan Tree Lang Co.

Our van made its way slowly through the narrow streets of Da Nang, giving us a glimpse of Da Nang city at night before entering the Hai Van Tunnel, the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia at 6.28 km. Once past the tunnel, it was an hour long journey through the dark countryside. If we had arrived earlier, we would be able to see scenic vistas of rice paddies, grazing water buffaloes, cloud covered mountain ranges and even a lagoon en-route.

We were warmly greeted by the manager, Mr Sree Valsan, and staff of Banyan Tree Lang Co upon arrival.  Each guest was presented with a long stalk of lotus flower, signature flower of Vietnam, before being whisked to our villa, on an electric powered golf cart or “buggy” as they called it here, through pathways lit by colourful Chinese lanterns.

Checking in was done in the comfort of our luxury Beach Pool Villa, one of the 17 that lined the shores of a private red sand beach. The best villas of course were the 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms Seaview Hill Pool Villas, perched high up on a rocky spur that provides panoramic views of the East Sea, followed by the Beach Pool Villas and the Lagoon Pool Villas, built round a lagoon offering water activities.


The spacious bedroom of the Beach Villa at Banyan Tree Lang Co with a King size bed. The bath area is behind the large screen with pictures of the lotus flowers, a study area with long writing desk, welcome fruit basket.

The spacious bedroom of the Beach Villa at Banyan Tree Lang Co with a King size bed. The bath area is behind the large screen with pictures of the lotus flowers and a study area with long writing desk.


Bath area with basins and toiletries at Beach Villa at Banyan Tree Lang Co

Bath area with individual basins and toiletries for Him and Her. There was much attention to details; down to the sizes of the bathrobes, sandals and even which side to place our luggage when they were delivered to our villa.


Each villa has an assigned villa host, whose job includes ensuring that we enjoy a personalised and unforgettable experience.  Our villa host served us a welcome drink, cold towels, did the check-in paperwork and ran us through the itinerary of our stay, including the timings of the yoga and spa sessions we had booked prior to arrival.  She advised us on some changes in the programme and that we would be going for a guided tour of Lang Co area the next day instead of a visit to a nearby village school.

A sumptuous multi-course dinner at the Azura restaurant soon followed. We were served by the staff of Seedlings, a restaurant operated by Banyan Tree in the UNESCO World Heritage Hoi An ancient town. Banyan Tree is engaged in many projects to support the local community and Seedlings is a company-wide mentorship programme for helping under-privileged young people. All staff members are from marginalised backgrounds and the training provided by the restaurant helps them build vocational skills for a successful career. The food with a fusion of contemporary and classical Vietnamese influences, and drinks was excellent and the impeccable fine dining service provided was flawless.

Another community project is the Green Imperative Fund where guests could donate US$2 per room per night, which Banyan Tree matched. This fund is used to finance environment conservation and community projects.

Guests are encouraged to contribute to the Banyan Tree's Green Imperative Fund and we get to keep the stuff toy sea turtle as a keepsake.

Guests are encouraged to contribute to the Green Imperative Fund. We could keep the stuffed toy sea turtle as a keepsake. Another sea turtle to add to my Banyan Tree collection.


After dinner, we made a stop at the main lobby to change some money to Vietnamese Dong. We would need the local currency when we visit the two UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hue and Hoi An after our stay at Banyan Tree. Both of these cities are located about one and half away by car, with Banyan Tree located right in the middle of both.

Lobby at the Banyan Tree Lang Co

A large pool with water lilies, floating lanterns at the lobby at the Banyan Tree Lang Co.


We decided to take a slow walk back to our villa instead of using the buggy as the resort is so beautifully lit by colourful lanterns at night.

Colourful lanterns hang from trees and over a river that flows through the property

Colourful lanterns hang from trees and over a river that flows through the property.


We could appreciate that the architecture and decor of the resort reflects Vietnam’s Imperial past and the historical Chinese influence in the area.

The bridge across the river at Banyan Tree Lang Co is modelled after the famous Japanese bridge found in Hoi An ancient town and is also beautifully lit by lanterns.

The bridge across the river is modelled after the famous Japanese bridge found in Hoi An ancient town and is also beautifully lit by lanterns.


There are plenty of activities to keep guests occupied within and outside the resort. These include cooking classes, golf, yoga, excursions to Hue or Hoi An, cycling, water sports or just enjoying the villa facilities.

My wife had signed up for the “yoga by the beach” the next day at 6 AM. Our villa host had taken the initiative to arrange for a buggy to pick us up at 5.45 AM from our villa.


Map of Banyan Tree Lang Co

The ever efficient buggy system within most Banyan Tree properties is the best way to travel within the spacious and well planted resort. Alternatively free bicycles are available for those who wish to burn some calories and explore the resorts and its vicinities at leisure.


Yoga by the beach, under the watchful eye of an instructor.

Yoga by the beach, under the watchful eye of an instructor.


The yoga is conducted at Moomba Lawn, in the premises of Angsana Lang Co, located just next to Banyan Tree.

Private beach shared by the Banyan Tree Lang Co and Angsana Lang Co Resorts.

Private beach shared by the Banyan Tree and Angsana Resorts.


The Seaview Hill Pool Villas of Banyan Tree Lang Co, perched high up on a rocky spur that provides panoramic views of the East Sea could be seen in the back.

The Seaview Hill Pool Villas, perched high up on a rocky spur that provides panoramic views of the East Sea could be seen in the back.

View from the lobby of the Angsana Lang Co resort.

View from the lobby of the Angsana Lang Co resort.


lobby of the Angsana Lang Co resort.

Lobby of the Angsana Lang Co resort. The Banyan Tree is positioned as an exclusive, ultra-luxury, “romantic escape” theme resort while the Angsana is positioned more for couples, families and friends.

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Colourful lanterns in the lobby of Angsana Lang Co. Such lanterns are a feature in both resorts.


Both resorts are operated by Banyan Tree and shared the same 3 km long private beach, as well as the river that flow through both resorts. Kayaks and other water craft to explore the river are available for those with plenty of energy!

River boats providing an alternative means of transport between the Banyan Tree and Angsana resorts.

River boats providing an alternative means of transport between the Banyan Tree and Angsana resorts.


Breakfast at the Banyan Tree’s Watercourt restaurant was excellent. We get to order our eggs, cooked in any of the six different ways, plus the usual breakfast spreads. In addition, there are local delights like spring rolls, steamed buns, beef pho, Bun Bo Hue, local fruits in season (dragon fruit) and rounded off with a glass of Taittinger champagne and cheese.

As part of the Banyan Tree Community Reward Stay programme, we were treated to an eco-tour of Lang Co after breakfast.  The itinerary included a visit to a nearby fishing village in Canh Duong where we learnt about the hard life of the local fishermen, navigate through mangroves in a traditional basket boat, see the beautiful Lap An lagoon and also travel along a winding road to the Hai Van Pass, a journey made famous by an episode of a popular TV programme Top Gear. 

 

Explore Lang Co's beautiful lagoons and the local fishing village, navigating through the mangroves in a traditional basket boat.

Explore Lang Co's beautiful lagoons and the local fishing village, navigating through the mangroves in a traditional basket boat.


Our guide, named Hung, was a knowledgeable young man from Hoi An. I was able to learnt so much about history of Vietnam, Hue and Hoi An during this tour.

We learnt that Banyan Tree hired 70% of staff locally, created jobs and add value for the local community. Most of the staff was from nearby villages, neighbouring cities like Hue and Hoi An or other parts of Vietnam. They lived in the village of Lang Co, a short distance away. Most of their needs are provided by the hotel, including free hourly transport service to and from the village.

We headed back to Banyan Tree's signature restaurant Saffron for Sunday Brunch after the tour. Our group was a bit late for a brunch due to a traffic incident on the way back. No problem. The restaurant extended their operating hours till 3.30 PM. Just for us.

View from Saffron Restaurant, Banyan Tree Lang Co.

View from Saffron Restaurant, Banyan Tree Lang Co.


Perched on a cliff overlooking the resort property, Saffron offers delicious Thai cuisine and magnificent views.

We had free time to enjoy the facilities of our Beach Pool Villa in the afternoon till it was time for dinner. The exterior of the Beach Pool Villa is surrounded by lush trees shielding wooden fencing from sight, offering privacy and a sense of openness.

Banyan Tree Lang Co. Private pool, lounge chairs, parasols, outdoor showers and jacuzzi at the doorstep of the luxury villa.

Private pool, lounge chairs, parasol, outdoor showers and Jacuzzi at the doorstep of the luxury villa.


A footpath led to the beach but who needs the beach when we had our own private pool, lounge chairs, parasols, outdoor showers and jacuzzi at the doorstep of the luxury villa.

Dinner on the second day was hosted by Mr Valsan, the manager of Banyan Tree Lang Co, in a private room at the Watercourt restaurant where we enjoyed the interactions with our host and other Community Programme guests. We were also treated to performances from a local musician playing a uniquely local instrument made from bamboo.

Dinner performance at Banyan Tree Lang Co

Making music from bamboo stems!


Returning to our villa after dinner, we were pleasantly surprised by the special turn-down service delivered by the housekeeping team.

special turn-down service delivered by the housekeeping team.

special turn-down service delivered by the housekeeping team at Banyan Tree Lang Co. Artistic work with flower petals

The award-winning Banyan Tree Spa is not to be missed. We had time for a 90 minutes full body massage on our last day before check-out. Once again, the spa treatments at Banyan Tree Spa did not disappoint.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. We checked out from this ultra-luxury resort, said goodbye to our villa host, and enjoyed a luxury private car transfer from the resort to our next hotel, in Hue.


Vietnamese countryside near Banyan Tree Lang Co

Vietnamese countryside near Banyan Tree Lang Co


We got to see the views we missed on our arrival day on our way to Hue. Scenic vistas of rice paddies, grazing water buffaloes,   mountain ranges and lagoons.

It had been an amazing weekend at the Banyan Tree Lang Co. We will certainly be looking forward to visiting other Banyan Tree properties in the near future.


Disclosure: My wife and I were privileged invited guests to Banyan Tree Lang Co, under the Banyan Tree Community Reward Stay programme from September 23 to 25. This blog post is voluntary and all views and opinions are my own.

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Free Museums to visit in Stockholm (Part 3) - Natural History Museum in Stockholm

1 June 2017

Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm

I have been to a several museums of natural history during my travels, so a visit to the Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm was not high in my list of things to do.

However, since it was near to University of Stockholm, we dropped by for a few hours and I had no regrets! This museum is nice in its own ways, as I would describe in this post.

The museum is located within walking distance from the Universitetet subway station. While visiting this museum, we took the opportunity to also check out the Tunnelbana subway art at the Stadion, Tekniska Högskolan and Universitetet stations.

Impressive building - Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm

The museum is housed inside an impressive building. Exhibitions are admission free. Tickets to Cosmonova (Imax Theatre) are 80-110 SEK for adults, 35-50 SEK for children and young people.

The main entrance is on the Ground level with interesting sections such as the Human Journey (showing the evolution of man), Fossils and Evolution (Dinosaurs), Polar Regions and Diversity of Life.

Coming face to face with a prehistoric bird in the Fossils and Evolution (Dinosaurs) section.Coming face to face with a prehistoric bird in the Fossils and Evolution (Dinosaurs) section.


I find the display of various species of butterflies on a large wall rather nice and creative.

display of various species of butterflies on a large wall Display of various species of butterflies on a large wall.

We could compare and contrast different characteristics and beauty of the butterflies. Butterflies are some of the most beautiful insects in the world although as a gardener, I dreaded their caterpillars.

Butterfly with transparent wings. Natural History Museum in StockholmButterfly with transparent wings. With the “eyes” on the wings, what does it mimic?


Butterfly that mimic an owl! Natural History Museum in StockholmButterfly that mimic an owl!


Butterfly at Natural History Museum in Stockholm

We walked through the open jaws of a mock baleen whale at the Polar Regions. This section showcases animal and plant life in the extreme climate of the Antarctic and Artic.

This museum also does a great job in showcasing the stuffed animals in their natural surroundings and action poses. It brought the “life” back into these animals. 

Jon Snow’s direwolf from the Game of Thrones? Artic wolfJon Snow’s direwolf from the Game of Thrones?


Realistic looking stuffed Sea lion and pups

It also created good photo opportunities for photographers, except for the ceiling and spot lights.

The Upper Level of the museum featured sections such as Life in Water (Sweden’s waterlife), Swedish Nature, Treasures from the Earth’s Interior and The Human Animal.

Like most natural history museums, there are exhibits on minerals in the “Treasures from the Earth’s Interior” section which I don’t find interesting. It would be challenging to make rocks look interesting, so the museum cannot be faulted. 

What was really interesting and unique are the exhibits on Swedish Nature. I particularly like the wolf exhibit showing a pack of wolves and various behaviours of the individuals in the pack as you walked round the circular exhibit.

wolf exhibit showing a pack of wolves and various behaviours of the individuals in the pack as you walked round the circular exhibit.

wolf exhibit showing a pack of wolves and various behaviours of the individuals in the pack as you walked round the circular exhibit.

behaviours of wolves - Play, aggression, submission, communication or howling and friendliness.

We could see behaviours like play, aggression, submission, communication or howling and friendliness.

A wolf with a smile like a friendly dog. Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm. A wolf with a smile like a friendly dog.


Once again, we could see the stuffed animals in their natural surroundings and action poses.

Realistic display of a fox hunting in the snowy landscape. Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm. Realistic display of a fox hunting in the snowy landscape.

There is a very realistic display of a fox hunting. A fox could hear its prey hiding in burrows under the snow and uses its body weight and paws to bash through the snow to get its meal. Same technique used by the polar bears to catch seal pups in dens under the Artic ice.

Stuffed moose at the Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm. The only moose I saw in Sweden was not in the nature reserve but in the museum.


My wife and I enjoyed the interactive displays in the The Human Animal section where we discover which ways humans are like animals and how we differ. For instance, a dog has 220 million smell cells, while a human has around 5 million. So, don’t complain about a smelly dog again. The dog would find humans smelled 40 times worst!

There were also tests on speed, reaction time, and balancing. We did the fun sound tests where we had to identify sounds, determine the direction of a sound and try to hear different frequencies. I must say that we humans are poor in hearing too. We failed miserably!

As nature lovers, we enjoyed our 2.5 hours visit to the Natural History Museum (Naturhistoriska riksmuseet) in Stockholm.  Quite educational for both adults and children.

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Free Museums to visit in Stockholm (Part 2) – Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum)

31 May 2017

Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) in Stockholm

The Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) is one of the best museum I visited in Stockholm. And this museum is FREE!

Located in the midst of the posh Östermalm district of Stockholm at Riddargatan 13, it is within walking distance from the Ostermalmtorg subway station (Sibyllegatan exit).

When we arrived at the museum, the friendly staff on the entrance floor greeted us warmly and handed us a small information booklet of the museum and recommended that we take the lift to the 3rd floor and work our way down. That way, we get to experience Sweden's history of war and peace from the 16th century to the present day in chronological order.

Stepping out of the lift at the 3rd floor, we heard the noise of a group of chimps fighting.

One of the first display seen at the Swedish Army Museum - group of chimps fighting

This display actually tried to explain that war is natural and killing is in our blood. Even our close relatives, the chimps, kills their rivals to expand their territory. Men had been killing each other since 13,000 years ago and we are getting better at it over time.

There are interesting exhibits, with labels and signage in both English and Swedish. The life size dioramas show living conditions of the soldiers, their families and the general population during wartime and peacetime delivered information in an interesting and sometimes gruesome way.


One of the life size dioramas show living conditions of the soldiers and their families.  Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum)One of the life size dioramas show living conditions of the soldiers and their families.

One of the life size figurines at Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum)


Although Sweden was not directly involved in the 2 major World Wars, there were many conflicts with the neighbours Denmark, Poland, Finland and Russia in their earlier history. Russian, Polish and Danish banners, and other trophies captured in war, were on display in a special room. 


IMG_6737A cuirass with a bullet dent on it. A sign of quality during those times.

I saw an interesting cuirass (a piece of armour consisting of breastplate and backplate fastened together) with a bullet dent on it. Worn by heavy cavalry during 1620 to 1650, the breastplate had to be bullet proof and so a test shot is always made at the finished armour to ensure its quality. In those days, don’t buy cuirass without a dent on it.

For the avid photographer, there are many photo opportunities with life-size and miniature figures of soldiers of past centuries, as well as scenes of the major battles of Swedish forces. There are dioramas of soldiers fighting in the woods, cavalry charge, cannon crew or freezing to death in winter.

Life size charging cavalry model at the top floor of the Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) Life size charging cavalry model at the top floor of the Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum).


Life size infantry man at the top floor of the Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum).Try staring down the barrel of a gun held by this 16th Century infantry man. 


I loved the miniature armies set out on a large table!

Miniature armies showing warfare in the 16th century

Miniature armies showing warfare in the 16th century

The drummers at the front are the bravest man.The drummers at the front are the bravest. Imagine going into the battlefield without a weapon.


Close-up of the militiamen.Close-up of the militiamen.

It was very interesting to learn how military disciplines were enforced during those times. Besides the usual imprisonment, lashings, there were some very creative punishments that include “riding the wooden horse”.

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IMG_6749

There was a mock up for visitor to try. Painful! I did not last more than a few seconds before I gave up. Imagine having to sit on it for a lengthy period of time.


The second floor of the museum deals with the 20th century and the two world wars.

There is a special area called the Raoul Wallenberg room. This is a mini-exhibition about Raoul Wallenberg, the man who saved tens of thousands of people from the Nazis.

WW2 history buff would enjoy seeing some of displays and photographs.

Uniforms worn by British Paratroopers, German soldier and Russian Soldier during WW2Uniforms worn by British paratrooper (left), German soldier (middle) and Russian soldier (right) during Second World War.

 

The enigma cipher machine used by the Germans during WW2. Unknown to them, the Allies managed to crack the code during the war and able to decipher all their coded messages.The enigma cipher machine used by the Germans during WW2. Unknown to them, the Allies managed to crack the code during the war and able to decipher all their coded messages.

The last section on the second floor showcases the technical development of weaponry.

I was on the lookout for the exhibit of the RBS 70 laser guided anti-aircraft missile. This was a weapon system that I was trained on during my days in the military service and it was with mixed feelings that I found it in the museum. Shows how old I am!

RBS 70 Laser guided Surface to Air (SAM) missile  in the Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum)RBS 70 Laser guided Surface to Air (SAM) missile.

We tried handling the various rifles used across history ranging from the muskets to the modern semi-automatic rifle that is accurate to a range of 300m. There were also old army uniforms to try on.

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Also seen were Swedish developed hardware such as the tracked all-terrain vehicle and the Ugglan (owl) drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

Ugglan (owl) drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Ugglan (owl) drone.

Glass case displaying modern machineguns at the Swedish Army Museum.Glass case displaying modern machineguns.


The ground floor of the museum hosts the temporary exhibitions. They were the War Games and photos from World War 1.

The War Games section (on display 24 Feb 2017 to 7 Jan 2018) was quite informative. We saw card games, board games like Risk and also various forms of chess from all over the world.

temporary exhibition at the Swedish Army Museum which was the War Games Chaturanga – Indian chess game that can be played by 2 to 4 players.


Shogi – Japanese strategy game. Predates the chess and related to the Chaturanga and Chinese Xiangqi.

Shogi – Japanese strategy game. Predates the chess and related to the Chaturanga and Chinese Xiangqi.

Hnefatafl, a Scandinavia game depicting a chieftain and his bodyguards. Hnefatafl, a Scandinavia game depicting a chieftain and his bodyguards.

There are a few armoured vehicles, including one that showcase Sweden’s participation with the UN’s Peacekeeping forces outside the museum.

Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) with an armoured car in United Nations peace keeping livery in the foreground.  Swedish Army Museum (Armémuseum) with an armoured car in United Nations peace keeping livery in the foreground. 

Across the road from the museum, we took a photo of an impressive red brick building.

the Royal Stables, supplying the Royal Court with horse carriages and car transport.Royal Stables in the foreground.

This building is the Royal Stables, supplying the Royal Court with horse carriages and car transport.

I must say that the Army Museum exceeded my expectations. Even my wife enjoyed the 2 hours we spend in our visit. A must see when visiting Stockholm or the Östermalm area.

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