Category Archives: Travel

Vietnam 9, 10 and Conclusion

Day 9.

For me the last couple of days have been excellent as there have been great photo opportunities in both Sa Pa and Bac Ha, and the weather was really good, as opposed to Hanoi where it rained quite hard, the remnants of the Super Hurricane. Agaan the long trip home on the train through the night. I sleep fairly well for the 8 hour trip but Anh points there had been some rock falls that we were lucky didn’t make it as far as the track. As we start to come through Hanoi it is amazing how close the tracks are to the houses in the city. In fact we can see straight into peoples homes, in fact I feel if they left a window open it would hit the train.

We arrive and it is drizzling rain and I think what a great opportunity of photos of Hanoi in the rain. We get back to the hotel for around 7am decide to get breakfast and a rest and I plan to head out then for a few quicks shots. We are due to head out to one of the provinces for the opening of a chapter of the association, a two hour drive there and another two back, but this is cancelled and meetings later in the afternoon are arranged. Anyway I get up and hope to get my rainy shots but when I look out the sun is shining, the storm is passed and heading to China!

A meeting in the afternoon and we are invited to Prof Tri’s house for dinner with his family. Again a lovely meal and evening. Now to get packed for the long trip home tomorrow, so early to bed for a good sleep. But I wake up at midnight with a terrible pain in my back, I just can’t find anyway to lie comfortably, sO I take an injection hoping it’s a bleed and will heal overnight. I don’t get much sleep but after a few hours the pain subsides it must have been a bleed, never had one there before!

Day 10.

Another nice breakfast in the hotel. We are staying in a nice boutique hotel on the outskirts of the old town in Hanoi. Brian has used this chain a number of times and stayed in a number of them and they are all very good. The back is getting better but still a few tweeks of pain, I’ll take another shot before flying. This morning I have the final photography workshop but it gets cut short as we have a final and concluding meeting. A quick lunch and off to the airport for me and I will be home in about 24 hours!


Another really great trip. The people of Vietnam are friendly, Hanoi has a real buzz about it, and I love the food although there are a few things you have to be weary of. Our hosts have been fantastic, they have looked after us fantastically, feeding us great food, entertaining us, and showing off their beautiful country of which they are rightly proud.

From a haemophilia treatment point of view they have huge challenges. It reminds me of how things were in the 1960’s in Ireland. The sad thing though is that there is excellent treatment available in the world but it is not available freely in Vietnam. Consequently the hospital is filled with patients many sleeping two to a bed. They have injuries and consequences from bleeds that just would not happen in Ireland, in fact a donation of treatment by us almost certainly saved the life of one person with haemophilia while we are here.

In Ireland we have treatment available in our homes that we can self administer at the first inkling of a bleed, or in fact that is administered, in the case of children and teenagers prophylactically, to prevent any joint damage. This is just an option here, consequently long distances may need to be travelled to get treatment which in itself is not adequate enough. This means that many people with haemophilia are seriously immobile, miss a lot of school because of this, and therefore cannot get jobs thus left in a position of near or actual poverty. None-the-less the doctors, nurses, staff, haemophiliacs and their families remain hugely positive in the face of such adversity and continue to fight to improve their position. It is our hope that we can help in some way through our efforts of twinning with the Vietnamese Haemophilia Association (VHA). We continue to work with them and try to find funds for programmes such as creating some jobs, teaching English in order to improve their opportunities of employment and to fund minor alterations at some of their homes to make life safer for them and to prevent accidents. The IHS also continues to work with VHA to help them with their organisation, to provide a better service and to advocate for better treatment.

Good bye Vietnam, thank you so much for making me feel so welcome and looking after me. I hope to return again some day.

Vietnam Day 8

Sunday morning but no lie on, the girls have us called at 6.15am for breakfast and ready for checkout by 7.30 in time for a pick up by a tour guide for a days outing. First an hours journey to Lào Cai, where we will take the train back to Hanoi tonight. A very quick stop and we have an 85 km journey which will take us over two hours. Although Hanoi has had a lot of rain we are fortunate to have very good weather. Our destination is Bac Ha which has a large weekly market that is famous for its size, variety and numerous local ethnicities that attend in their local costume. The market has food, clothes, machinery, live animals, toys, crafts, gifts, spices, fruit, vegetables nearly anything you care to mention. But the bonus for me, is the rich culture from a photography perspective. Everywhere you look there are woman, men, children, animals, and artefacts to be photographed. The colour and texture is amazing and they are used to being photographed, as there are a huge number of visitors with cameras snapping everywhere. So we have from 10.30 to 13.00 to see everything and time just flies by. We had wondered if the long journey that wound its way along narrow windy roads rising higher into the mountains with 15 of us packed into a minibus would be worth it, but yes definitely.

As an aside, nearly everywhere we have travelled around Sa Pa, Lào Cai, and Bac Ha, is marked with signs of construction. From small homes, outbuildings, to large hotels (particularly in Sa Pa) making you wonder if the whole place will be destroyed with new construction!

A quick lunch in Bac Ha at the market and we get back in the minibus for a sort journey to a tiny village where we can visit a local’s house, garden and fields. The family was there and actually live in the house and it hits you how poor these people are and how primitive their dwellings are. After a vert short stay here we head back to Lào Cai for our dinner at 6.30. We arrive with a couple of hours to spare and Anh and Mai arrange for a taxi to take us around Lào Cai. It is quite a big town and the reason becomes apparent as it is on the border with China. First we are taken to a local temple, then the border gate where we can nearly touch China on the other side of the river and finally we are taken to a local market. The time until dinner flew by, and after dinner off to catch the overnight train back to Hanoi. It looks like the storm that tragically killed so many in the Philippines is now heading towards the Vietnamese Coast and will ultimately make its way to Hanoi. Hopefully it will have eased off and it will not cause as much destruction. From our own point of view we have to be concerned about getting our flights home on Tuesday.

Here is a samples of the photos taken today. I think I took about 300 in total, hopefully there is a handful of keepers!

Vietnam days 6&7

Day 6 is Friday and we spend the day in the hospital, I spend the day giving photography tutorials. I hope the volunteers and staff that attended enjoyed the day I had a good time anyway. We finish up at 4pm, and we have the afternoon to ourselves as we will be picked up at 8.30pm to be brought to the train station for our overnight trip to Sa Pa in Northern Vietnam practically on the border with China. It is about 380 km from Hanoi and we will leave the station at 9.50 and are due to arrive at Lai Chua at 6am.

The train has 4 bunks and is quite comfortable so Brian, myself, Mai and Anh head off all with our cameras hoping to have some fun.

Day 7 we arrive a couple of hours late in Lào Cai , we are next stuffed into a minibus. Men, woman kids and baggage are all jammed in. The bus driver is no slouch either and to be honest you would be better to have your eyes closed with the overtaking manoeuvres he takes along the winding roads to Sa Pa. We arrive after another hour, quick book in to hotel and breakfast and we head straight out. Sa Pa is a surprisingly big town with a lot of building and construction. Parts of it are really nice with a lovely lake in the middle of it. But you can tell that tourism in particular trekking is a huge business. Bus loads of tourists and trekking shops filled with North Face in particular.

We are taken on the back of motors bikes to the outskirts of the town for a walk to an ethnic village. Fortunately the morning is glorious with plenty of sunshine though the clouds roll in later. We walk out of town and see the familiar stepped fields for which Sa Pa is famous. We walk through the village and the views are spectacular although the locals dressed in local costumes are particular annoying, trying to sell you their wares. After a while it becomes tiresome. But the walk itself was fascinating and on the way back to the hotel picked up some bargains on North Face which is made here.

Some photos from the day.

That night we have one of the best meals in Vietnam and that says a lot as nearly all the meals have been good, some lovely salmon, raw that you soak for a minute in lemon, a cooked salmon dish and loads more. After dinner we head around the village for a look around and to visit the night market.



Vietnam day 5

Here is a short video walking around the streets of Hanoi, it gives you a feel for the sights and sounds of Hanoi. It is in the Old town of Hanoi as I walked around today. You will here the beeping horns of cars and scooters the sounds of traffic and see how packed the walkways are with parked scooters and people seeing on the street eating food.

Hanoi the sights and sounds from Shay Farrelly on Vimeo.

After doing some work in the hotel I headed out for a walk in the old town. It was great just wandering around taking it all in, dropping into shops stopping for a coffee took some video as you can see above and took a few photos, nothing spectacular but here are a few.

Finally one to prove that it’s not just in Dublin that they walk around the city in their pyjamas!


Vietnam Day 4

A lazy morning this morning not up until 7am and we are picked up and brought to the Hospital for our meetings today, so no real opportunities for photographs. Our hosts are charming and friendly, and we are treated very well. The objective of the Twinning project between the Irish Haemophilia Society and the Vietnam Haemophilia Association is to help the Vietnamese Association to improve services for people with Haemophilia in Vietnam. In previous blogs from when I was here in March 2012, I documented my feelings regarding this project and my feelings about the situation for haemophiliacs and the trojan work performed by the health service providers there considering the challenging circumstances that prevail. Here are links to my previous blog.

After the meeting the board and guests were invited for another great meal and Brian and spent a lovely evening with Dr Mai and her family. I am providing tutorials on photography on Friday, to which I am looking forward, thanks to Peter & Paul who supplied some a lot of raw material for the workshop.

I forgot to mention that yesterday we were told of the details for our trip to Sapa. We leave on Friday night by train and although it is roughly 3-400km away we do not arrive until early Saturday morning. An unexpected pleasure (I hope) to travel by train. We spend Saturday and sunday in Sapa and return on Sunday night by overnight train again. I’m really looking forward to Sapa and I am hoping for some great photographic opportunities and to see and experience this region of Vietnam.

So tomorrow I’m skipping the meetings and preparing my tutorial and I’ll get out and about old town Hanoi to take some photos.

Sorry no pics today!

Vietnam Day 3

Up early this morning at 6am, Prof Tri and one of the hospital administrators Ms Anh collected us at 6.15 and we headed out for breakfast. Prof Tri was very keen we try the traditional Vietnamese breakfast of Pho, so we headed to a local Pho eatery that has been there for 3 generations. Pho is a soup or broth with rice noodles, beef and two raw eggs broken into it, and it was really nice and a great way to set oneself up for the day. It was something I was keen to try but wasn’t sure where to get it. I was really pleased to have tried Pho and would recommend it.



The above shows the owner cooking breakfast and Prof Tri and Brian enjoying the Pho.

Next we headed off for coffee and naturally in Hanoi there is a street for coffee bars.


Our very hospitable hosts took us out for a very enjoyable day, we headed for Ninh Binh (pronounced Ning Bing) province which was a drive of over two hours. We had a lovely drive through the country side and arrived first at Chua Bai Dinh a fairly modern complex containing a large number of temples.


Fortunately we arrived early at about 9am and beat the crowds. It was a fascinating morning plenty of walking and loads of steps. Here are some of the photos I took.

A really interesting morning and although it was hot at times and a lot of walking the weather was just perfect.

Next we headed off for lunch. Vietnamese food is great, very fresh, simply prepared and served with delicious dipping sauces that enhance the food and the experience. Prof Tri was insistant that the food be as fresh as possible and sent Ms Anh into the first restaurant to check and it was given the thumbs up. We were early so the first and only ones there. The food was extremely fresh so fresh in fact, you will see in one the following images where they had just killed the chicken for our meal. The staff were very friendly and kindly invited me in to take some photos.

The food started with a sort of salad of fresh leaves of mint (two different types I think) and a third leaf that looked like a bay leaf but wasn’t, banana cut in slices in the skin and a sour tasting star shaped vegetable which was gorgeous. Lovely dipping sauces were also provided, a peanut sauce, a sort of nam pla with chillis, and a brown sugar with lime juice. Next came two pork and two (very fresh) chicken dishes and a soup made with spinach. Just so much food and so good.




After lunch we were taken to Trang An in the Ninh Binh region. Trang An is a waterway with caves or grottoes that run through and between vast limestone cliffs that rise out of the waters and it is often compared to Halong Bay. We hired a boat that took us through the waterways and through the caves in a trip that took over two hours. We were very fortunate that it was not high season as there was very few people around. In high season there can be over a thousand boats on the water. The woman that rowed our boat was a slight person and as I said it took her over two hours to take us around and it didn’t appear to take anything out of her. It was truly a memorable experience and gave a feel for what the famous Halong Bay must be like.

Time to head back to Hanoi and we met Hanoi evening rush hour. I’ve never seen anything like it, cars, bikes and scooters coming from all sides and angles. For dinner we were brought to a special restaurant that served mainly mushrooms in loads of different guises and varieties and as always everything was great. It is typical for Vietnamese food to be cooked at the table. A burner is put in the middle of the table and a broth already boilng is placed on the burner. Next the raw ingredients are added to the broth, in this case a variety or mushrooms and small black skinned chickens no bigger that same a Robin, and of course the head is still looking at you.,5 of these one for each of us. This cooks for 10 mins until fully cooked. The waitress serves up and we avoid the chicken. This time there is a beautiful coconut based dipping sauces. But it doesn’t stop there, next raw thin slices of beef are added (really yummy), then sliced salmon and finally fresh vegetables like spinach and spring onions. It was all finished off with a serving of ice cream (though not this time in the broth). The perfect end to a prefect day.

Tomorrow it’s work.

Vietnam Day 1&2

Day 1 & 2 have just merged into each other, mostly spent in planes or airport lounges, something like 24 hours since I left the house. I must say Etihad have been excellent, literally from the time I left the house until I reached Bangkok any way! Quick checkin, nice lounges, very relaxing flights they literally flew, pun intended! Bangkok airport is not great and unfortunately had to spend the most time there. Finally make it to Hanoi after a little sleep on the plane, and I’m prepared for the long wait for bureaucracy to take its course and issue us with our visas. But I’m pleasantly surprised at how quickly we got them, another advantage of getting off the plane first and getting to the top of the queue. Pick up the cases, thank god it makes it here, but half my case is full of toys for the kids in the hospital, Brian forgot to take them so I get volunteered to give up half my case. I wouldn’t mind but there is a street called toy street (in Hanoi there are streets named for different guilds or products, like silk street, tailor street, shoe street, bag street etc) where we could have got these toys cheaper. Like taking coal to Newcastle. In arrivals we are met by two sets of people to take us to the hotel. Two staff from the hospital and a taxi arranged by the hotel!

I’m knackered when we arrive at our hotel and when I get to my room it’s 27 hours since I left the house. The hotel is in the old town of Hanoi, it’s very comfortable with a laptop in every room, free wifi and friendly staff. A sister hotel to the one we stayed in last March 2012, called the Essence hotel chain, and this one is called Happy. Glad we didn’t get any of the other 7 dwarfs!

But no rest for the wicked, unpack, the 4 s’s and out again for a short walk to the Metropole hotel where we meet with the Irish Ambassador. We spent a little while having a chat with the ambassador to bring him up to date with the twinning programme. We headed out for a walk around the lake and I took a few photos. I have to admit I missed my Nikon D800 while handles the dark nights in the city, focuses faster and captures sharper. I hope it’s just a matter of adapting to the X-E1 and changing style a bit. then off for a bite to eat a nice light Vietnamese meal in a restaurant down the road from our hotel and then off to bed an early rise at 5.45 am as Prof. Tri is meeting us for breakfast before we head out for the day.

I attach a few photos I took as you can see a few are soft.

Chicago Revisited

The last time I was in Chicago I was 16, and that’s not today or yesterday, is was 1976.  I stayed with distant relatives in the suburbs and what I recall is as follows.

It was the first time I saw an American Style fridge, it was huge and it was in the garage and stuffed with Coke cans.  Lovely suburb with large gardens and no walls.  We went to a few concerts, one an outdoor concert, apparently on 14 August 1976 at the Hawthorne Race Track with over 75,000 people and starting big acts at the time like Yes,  Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gary Wright (amazing what you find out on the web!).  I bought my first Thin Lizzy LP, Jailbreak.

Finally, I was the front seat passenger in my cousin’s Mustang when it was slammed into by a guy who was high and drunk and came screaming around the corner and hit us in the front, spun around and caught us in the back as well.  His girlfriend was taken out screaming and shouting at him for being drunk and high!  I remembered being scared I was going to bankrupt my family by having to go to hospital for treatment!


Anyway it was nice to return with Sharon and Aislinn to see Chicago again.  It is a lovely City, great architecture, easy to get around, clean and felt very safe.  We were lucky with the weather mostly bright, not too cold and dry.  The city is on a huge lake which gives a lovely Lake shore just like the beaches at the sea and you don’t realise how huge the lake is until you get to see if from on high like we did from the John Hancock observatory deck.  We did some shopping, sightseeing and had some nice meals.  Only problem was losing my iPhone at the departure gate!

Here are some of the shots I took.  My first time to really use my Fujifilm X-E1 and I enjoyed it.  I see the X-E2 is now out with some improvements that should be interesting to see.


For those with Flash

[Not a valid template]



Our first cruise

After many years of Sharon asking we finally decided to do our first cruise, and we decided to start withe biggest ship out there the Allure of the Seas from Royal Caribbean and we were not disappointed! When we started looking first we thought we would go on a Mediterranean cruise, I fancied a few days starting in Venice and heading off to the Greek islands, but our two youngest girls who were coming with us didn’t fancy stopping off everyday in a different country and wandering around European cities. So we selected a Western Caribbean cruise with only 3 stops which were largely just beach lounging days. The first stop was an island owned by Royal Caribbean off Haiti called Labadee and that is exactly what we did there lounge on the beach. The second stop the following day we stopped at Falmouth in Jamaica and spent the day sight seeing and walking up the Dunns Falls. The final stop was in Cozumel off Mexico, here we spent the morning swimming with dolphins and then shopping in the afternoon. As you can see nothing to taxing or culturally challenging but exactly what the girls wanted.

The cruise is really all about the ship which is just amazing. I still don’t think I covered all the main parts of it. There are numerous restaurants, cafés and eateries most complimentary but a few that you can pay a bit extra for a special night out, and the Chief Chef is an Irish man from Cork. There are bars, night clubs, lounges, an ice rink, and a huge theatre that holds over 1500. He we saw the musical Chicago as well as some other shows. The whole place is a hive of activity and for the very active there are swimming pools, walk and race tracks, surfing, yes surfing on a ship, gymnasium, basketball, soccer, table tennis and the list just goes on! The ship even has its own version of Central Park with flowers, trees, walk way littered with cafés and bars.

The ship takes 6,000 passengers and has a crew of 2,200. There are organised activities for everyone, way to many to numerate or you can just laze about on deck, at the pools, in the library, on your balcony, watch TV, or do shopping in the many shops. The big thing here is diamonds! Apparently great deals can be had in jewellery either on board or in Jamaica or Mexico!


New York New York…

… So good they named it twice!

Last week I was concerned that storm Nero would interfere my travel plans, but I was lucky that the centre of the snow storm hit further north of New York. So, as planned I flew out on Sunday morning, and although it was cold and snow was on the ground it was beautiful and sunny in New York. I checked-in into my hotel, the Eventi on Sixth Avenue. Although it has a small footprint it soars 23 stories into the sky and that’s only half of it, I’m not sure what they use the other 20 odd stories for. Anyway, after a quick and efficient check-in I headed off to BH video. If you’ve never been there you just have to see it, it is a huge store at least 3 floors full of video, photography, and computer equipment and electronics. I just did a quick smash and grab, I filled my list and headed out of there before I got too tempted!

Sharon, Roisin & Eimear have been here from the previous Thursday in New Jersey playing at a basketball tournament. On this Sunday they were heading into New York for some sightseeing, an NBA basketball match and I met them for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Time Square. They headed back to New Jersey and I headed back to my hotel, I can tell you by now I was very tired.

Monday morning was wet, overcast and misty, but I had booked a trip to see Brooklyn. This trip was billed as the best of Brooklyn Sightseeing Food and Culture Tour. Normally they can cater for up to 25 guests and use a coach but I was lucky that was only two of us. Diane from the Philippines, me and our guide Isaac. So we had a Isaac to ourselves and did the visit by SUV. A sunny day would’ve been nice but we still enjoyed ourselves immensely. Isaac a native New Yorker was knowledgeable, good-humoured and plenty of fun. It normally would take four hours but Isaac was very good to us and took us to a few extra places and we were back five hours later. It was mostly a cafe crawl from one restaurant another, where we sampled different types of food as we visited the different parts of Brooklyn. This was not gourmet food but simple ethnic food from local simple cafes and restaurants but it was all good quality, fresh and full of flavour. It finished with a fantastic Cuban sandwich, which as you can see doesn’t look anything special but it was yummy!



Home again, a quick change, and I headed for a quick visit to Macy’s. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about Macy’s as I was a bit underwhelmed! I then decided to head out for dinner and look for a restaurant called the Wild Ginger. I read a few good reviews about it on the web but I could find it nowhere, and I was very disappointed. I found another little French bistro which was very nice it had plenty of atmosphere, by that I mean it was dark, busy, noisy with music and chatter, and the tables were very cosy. In fact they were so close that even a fart couldn’t slip by. Anyway the service was fast and the food was good, so time to head back and rest after a busy day, and look forward to Sharon and girls joining me for the rest of the week!