A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Four Days in Cambodia

Our Post-tour Extension

sunny 30 °C

We said good bye to Saigon and boarded our short flight northwest to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We were collected at the airport by our new tour guide, Thai, who gave us many excellent insights to his country over the next few days.
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Thai, our Cambodian Guide

He indicated that the country had a large number of different "occupiers" and changed their flag with each one. The Kingdom of Cambodia is currently a constitutional monarchy where the King reins and the elected Head of Government rules. Most are Buddhists.

We stayed in Siem Reap, a charming town full of tourists with a great sense of fun. It was very safe with little crime. They have very unique vehicles - motor-rickshaws which seat 4 people and are pulled by small motorcycles.
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Cyclo-rickshaw

This is how they fasten the rickshaw to the motorcycle.
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The rickshaws themselves are very ornate. Here we are in one of them. It cost very little (1 - 2 USD) to make the trip from our hotel to the downtown market and restaurant area.
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Roy and Dave in a cyclo-rickshaw

With a population of 14 million, Cambodia is half the size of Newfoundlland and Labrador (and marginally larger than North Dakota). It is one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered greatly from the genoside of The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. It is estimated that 30% of the population were murdered - everyone with any sort of education, artistic ability, leadership qualities, connections with other governments, members of Buddhist, Muslim or Christian faiths and those from certain ethnic groups was hunted down and murdered. They killed the children of these people as well because they believed they would grow up and want to avenge their parents' deaths. Many more starved. They have located over 20,000 killing fields which are the sites of mass graves. They found the most recent one just a couple of years ago. They also destroyed about 95% of the beautiful temples, the ones left were used as warehouses. Despite all of this horror, the people are rebuilding and moving forward with enthusiasm. They say they have "poverty but not misery".
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Killing Fields Memorial Temple
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Bones found in a mass grave

After arriving we went on a local orientation walk and then boarded our bus to head out of town for a ride on and oxen cart to view the life along the river and a local home.
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Oxen Cart Ride
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Michael and Mercedes
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Many of the houses are built on stilts. Note the little spirit houses.

We headed out to a local restaurant for dinner which features a Khmer Cultural Dances show.
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Traditional Cambodian Dancer

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Cambodia has the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia called Tonle Sap - the "Great Freshwater Lake". This lake changes to ten times its size in the rainy from the dry season. In fact, at the end of the rainy season when the mighty Mekong is at its highest, it actually backs up into Tonle Sap. It is the only lake in the world where water flows into it in one season and then back out to the ocean during the dry season. In addition to becomming ten times larger in area, the lake will rise a good 20 to 30 feet during the year. The industrious and resourceful Cambodians have adapted to living on this lake in many floating villages. They build homes, gardens, schools, and animal pens on floating structures and gather together in floating villages. During the year a village will move to 3 different locatiions depending on the height of the water. We were there at the highest water level - so we saw only the tops of the trees. People there say that this is the only place in the world that the trees grow from the top down.

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Tops of the trees - people are fishing underneath

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Floating School with the students arriving by boat

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Students going to school

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Floating Houses

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Floating Gardens

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Catholic Church

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Souveneir Store

Below is a Buddhist Pagoda which is normally able to stay above the water level even in the rainy season - you can note the water lines which were over the top of the ramp in especially high water years.
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Our guide, Thai, was born and brought up in one of these floating villages. He went on to University to study Law and has worked with several environmental organizations as well as a guide for OAT. As we saw a mum paddle by with her two youngsters, we heard him quietly comment that there he was, 30 years ago.

On our second last day we were able to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor - a holy city which took centuries to build and stretches over an area of almost 100 square miles and was a great population center with over a million people in the 11th to 15th centuries. It was amazing to see how the jungle had taken over the magnificent and intricately carved walls and towers and temples of this area.

Here is an entrance
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There were many examples of trees growing right through the ancient and carved walls.
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This is some of the carving which would have been done in situ after the structure was completed.
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Here is a group of restoration workers - they have years and years of emplpoyment security!
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This is a picture showing "before" and "after" of a restsored wall.
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Here is our group of happy OAT explorers.

Another area had amazing carved faces on each of the 4 sides of each of the towers.

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Angkor Thom was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Its grandeur was enormous with large terraces bordered by carved walls and large entertainment areas for the rulers and royal families to enjoy.

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We enjoyed a home-hosted lunch with a local family and then set out to see Angkor Wat - the City Temple. Angkor Wat is a large pyramid temple with 5 magnificent towers built about the same time as Notre Dame in Paris. It is surrounded by a great moat 570 ft wide. It is the symbol of Cambodia and featured on its flag.

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Angkor Wat

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Bullet holes on the outer walls of Angkor Wat from the Khmer Rouge taking target practice. Thankfully this beautiful temple was not part of the 95% destroyed during that period.

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Hindu statue inside the Angkor Wat

We entered the Wat and climbed up the many stairs to walk around the inside and look back out.

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Wat showing the many stairs up to enter the top area.

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View of the courtyard below from one of the top windows - note the Buddhist monks.

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View looking back to the land beyond the moat of this great Wat

This temple has over 1 km of carvings along the walls of its very long corridors
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Carving detail all along the walls.

We sat and watched this magnificant temple turn gold in the sunset
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before having a little cocktail party on the edge of the moat where we were able to sample local delicacies and watch the beautiful Angkor Wat settle into the darkness.
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On our last day in Cambodia we had a bit of spare time in the morning before departing for the airport. Our guide took us back to town and we were able to visit a place called Artisan Angkor. A group of enterprising artisans have set up a training program where they pass on their skills to young people from neighboring villages and produce some very beautiful artworks. We were able to walk through their workshops to see their intricate and painstaking work. This is another excellent way to move their economy forward.

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We returned to the hotel, checked out and headed for the airport and our Bangkok Hotel - the Pantip suites. Then next morning we headed for the Bangkok Airport and retraced our 20+ hour journey home.

All in all this was a truly amazing trip, one which we would highly recommend to those of you with a yen for adventure and foreign lands. It was physically and mentally demanding yet so very informative. We were very impressed with our tour company Overseas Adventure Travel and a special thanks to our primary Tour Leader, Lee Trien who was instrumental in making this a trip of a lifetime. Not only did Lee have encyclopedic knowledge of the country, the politics and the history but he was able to herd 16 people day after day with grace and humour. Also thanks to Khin Po-Thai our excellent tour leader in Cambodia.

Posted by DavidandHazel 12:02 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Dalat to Saigon

sunny 31 °C

From Nha Trang, which is one of the most easterly points of Vietnam and on the coast of the East Sea, we travelled westward and a little south up to the mountains to the beautiful little city of Dalat which is nicknamed the "City of Eternal Spring". It has a lovely mild climate because of its altitude which supports its main industries of agriculture and tourism. It is also known for scientific research and education - started while Dalat was under French influence. One of Pasteur's proteges set up medical research activities. The legacy of boarding schools where children from the whole of Indochina were taught by French priests, nuns, and expatriates lasted until the end of French rule. On the tourism front, it is also called the "Honeymoon Capital" because many Vietnamese prefer this beautiful place for their wedding and honeymoon. Our tour guide, Lee, had his honeymoon there.

On the way to Dalat, Lee had the driver make another impromptu stop when we passed an ox cart on the road.
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Ox pulling the cart

Lee quickly negotiated with the driver who happily took several willing volunteers for a ride.
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Linda, Patty, Bob and Andrea

He took them right down the main street and kept going. We had to chase him down in the bus to get him to stop and return his passengers.
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At lower altitudes they grow flowers, vegetables and fruit. There are acres and acres of greenhouses most of which are built with bamboo frames and covered with plastic sheeting. They last a few years and are then easily re-built. We will be able to visit some of these later. In the upper altitudes they grow coffee.
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Greenhouses in Dalat

After checking into the hotel and having lunch at a local restaurant,
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we had a tour of Dalat and then rode a cable car up to the hilltop Truc Lam Pagoda. Unfortunately it was rainy so the beautiful views were hidden by the mists.
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Bob and Patty in Cable Car

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Truc Lam Pagoda

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Main Altar of the Truc Lam Pagoda - note the monk at the right. He is holding a bat to hit the large brown gong in front of him.

That evening we were able to learn more of the local customs and culture when we attended a home-hosted dinner. We were split into 2 groups and introduced to our hosts in the lobby of the hotel. We then all piled into a van and headed to our host's home. Our host was a local high school teacher who taught mathematics. Her husband was an architect. She took us on a tour of her home which is one of the typical Vietnamese homes - very narrow and 3 stories high with windows at the front and back but not the sides. On the very top floor she had a classroom because in Vietnam teachers are paid very little so they often take in students for extra tutoring in their spare time. Here we are in the home classroom
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We then moved down to the kitchen where Mercedes helped put the final touches on dinner which we all then enjoyed
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Hazel, Marilyn, Andrea, Michael, Linda, Dave H.

It was interesting to see how few appliances there were in this middle class home. We never saw more than a 2 burner hotplate for a stove.

After dinner we had a lively Q & A period and 2 of our host's 3 daughters played a little electric piano for us
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The next day we explored village life and the agriculture of the region. We visited some of those massive greenhouses and saw acres of roses and gerbera daisies.
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Greenhouse with roses

We headed up into the mounntains to learn about coffee
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Coffee Flowers
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Coffee beans

The area is known for its "Weasel Coffee" which is coffee made from beans which have passed through the GI tract of a weasel. The weasels eat the surface coating of the beans but do not chew the beans which then pass through the digestive tract intact and reappear to be dried and processed. The farm we visited had about 20 weasels, all kept in little cages and fed lots of coffee beans and bananas.
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Weasel
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Weasel poo drying in the sun

Yes, we did try some and found it much too strong for our taste.

We continued on upwards to visit the isolated traditional village of Buon Chuoi which is inhabited by the Chil people, a hill tribe which practices subsistence farming. Vietnam has over 50 tribes. Many who live in the mountains practice "slash and burn" farming and stripping the hills bare. The government is relocating those people to villages and encouraging better farming practices to save their gorgeous environment. With a population of about 88 million and a land area of 127,844 square miles (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia together or slightly bigger than New Mexico) they indeed have a challenge. The road into the village was too rough for our mini bus so we transferred to a tractor-pulled wagon
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As soon as we reached the village the children rapidly hopped on to join us for the ride.
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Many of the houses had large tarps in front to dry rice
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or coffee
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This is a very primitive community - some live in buildings that the government built for them but many live in lean-to sheds where they cook and sleep in the same single room
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Toilets seemed to be non-existant and washing areas consisted of a wash basin and not much more - but they did have their tooth brushes!
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Bathing and washing area

This is the well that provided the water
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They did, however, have a modern school, again provided by the central government,
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a community center (with coffee beans drying in the front)
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and a Catholic Church
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Interior of the Catholic Church

That afternoon we had a visit to Dalat University wherre we learned about their educational system from one of the professors
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and then each of us were paired up with one or two students who took us on a tour of their campus and took great delight in practicing their English. Hazel's student knew quite a bit about Canada and admitted that the 2 most famous things he knew about Canada were RIM and Justin Beeber! Here is a picture of our whole group
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We later drove to visit the descendants of another hill tribe, the K'ho people and were treated to a dance performance
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The next day we were off on another short flight to our last stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon.
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This is Vietnam's largest city with 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes! In addition you see a few cars and busses, bicycles, and cyclo-rickshaws all sharing the road.
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Our first stop was at the War Remnants Museum which was a small 3 story building filled with pictures of the American war and also some other conflicts they were involved in. It was a sad reminder of this country's very troubled history. We then stopped at the Cathedral of Notre Dame
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and did some shopping in the Post office which has a lot of space converted to retail activities. Note the picture of Uncle Ho.
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The next day we travelled to the town of Cai Bo on the Mekong River. On the way we learned an interesting fact about travel in Vietnam. Since most people travel by light weight motorbikes and since that is a fairly tiring mode of travel, the roadside rest stops have all added hammocks so the travellers can rest comfortably. We stopped to try them out
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and also sat down at those ever present tiny plastic tables and chairs for a cup of coffee.
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We boarded our boat
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and cruised down one of the tributaries towards the mighty Mekonng river to see life in the delta.
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Here is a shot of several schoolgirls wearing the traditional Vietnamese dress held up so it won't catch in the chain, riding their bicycles home for lunch.
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We disembarked the larger boat and climbed into a sampan
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to our lunch spot which was an historic house
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It was refurbished with the help of a Japanese foundation. There was an amazingly ornnate interior
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with the mandatory ancestor altar in the prime position as you enter the house
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We sat outdoors in the back to another multi-course meal which featured fish like this one
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and for the brave few, rat. Rats in Vietnam are a pest because they eat the rice in the rice fields. They are not seen as "dirty" and are seen as another good source of protein.

We returned to our boat and continued to the floating markets. Here the boats hang an example of the produce they are selling from tall poles over the boat in the case below it was sweet potatoes.
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Other scenes of river life
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Dave even found a couple of familiar signs
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Back in Saigon we took motorcycle taxis
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to a restaurant where they served dog. They raise dogs on farms for meat. A few adventurous souls tried it and said it tasted a bit like duck
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Local Restaurant serving dog

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Roy testing the restaurant's fare

After returning, we cleaned up and went to the rooftop bar of the famous Rex Hotel for a drink.
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The hotel was made famous during the Vietnam War when it hosted the American military command's daily conference, derisively named "The Five O'Clock Follies" by cynical journalists. The rooftop bar was a well-known hangout spot for military officials and war correspondents.

On our final day in Vietnam we travelled to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels which were a major base of operations of the Viet Cong during the American War. These started out as bunkers built by homeowners. They subsequently joined the bunkers with tunnels and developed a vast network stretching more than 125 miles. There were whole villages operating like this.

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Typical entrance to the tunnels
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A typical tunnel

Underground they had hospital areas
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meeting rooms for planning military strategy
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and cooking areas
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We then went to visit a village elder and 2 former Viet Cong soldiers who had lived in the tunnels to talk with them and learn of their lives at that time.
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We returned to our hotel to do any last minute shopping and to get ready for our last dinner in Vietnam - another beautifully prepared dinner
with many courses.
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Tomorrow 14 of us go on to Cambodia for a post-tour extension trip and we say good bye to our new good friends, Linda and Dave H and our wonderful guide and new friend Lee Trien.

Posted by DavidandHazel 20:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An to Nha Trang

sunny 31 °C

We boarded our bus for a trip of several hours down the coast to Hoi An. We stopped at a local market which sold everything from clothing
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to food
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We continued our journey down this beautiful country with mountains on the interior and beaches stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles on the east coast.
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Our tour guide, Lee, became famous for his impromptu stops along the way whenever he spotted something of interest. One such stop was to see basket boat making up close. He had a chat with the local people to ensure we would be welcome and then we all trooped around to learn about these interesting little round boats which are very similar to the rudderless boats we saw in Wales which were called coracles. First they weave a mat
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then fasten it to a frame
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then coat it with water buffalo dung and then coat it with a resin they obtain from a local tree
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The final product looks like this
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Continuing on the way, we stopped at China Beach - the setting of the TV show of the same name.
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There was a beautiful huge Lady Buddha on the hillside we could see from China Beach
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Around noon we arrived in the quaint port town of Hoi An. Due to its location it was an area of very active trading over the centuries and you can see evidence of many cultures (Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Persian) in its buildings and architecture.
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Street Scene

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Japanese Bridge

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Dragons in front of a Pagoda

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Quan Thang shop/house built in the late 17th century and carefully restored

We arrived at the lovely Glory Hotel to find flowers on the beds
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and a spectacular pool
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which we were too busy to take advantage of!!!

For dinner, we headed out to a cooking class at a local restaurant. We noted that a number of the restaurants offer this activity so it must be a popular one in this area.
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Our group ready for our cooking class

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The Chef/Teacher watching Roy wilt banana leaves over a flame to make them supple enough to wrap a piece of fish in for cooking on the BBQ.
Andrea, the Chef, Roy, Linda and Dave

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Kent, the Chef, Phyllis and Nick getting ready to deep fry rice paper-wrapped rolls which we had all made.

To make the evening complete we celebrated Marilyn's birthday with a gorgeous cake.
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The next morning we rose very early as we wanted to be the first visitors to the My Son Sanctuary - ruins from the Champa Kingdom (2nd to 15th centuries). When we left later in the morning we realized how wise Lee was to get us on the road so early because people were arriving in droves and it was a very hot day.
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My Son Champa Ruins

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Bas relief carvings on the exterior, likely done in situ. They used no mortar to hold these stones together and no one is positive how they were able to build these structures.

On our way out we were able to watch some local folk dancers.
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On our way back, Lee spotted another opportunity for us to learn more about the local culture. This time he spotted a small shop making brooms.
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Local people making brooms

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Lee with newly manufactured brooms.

Right next door there was a little business weaving cloth on a very old, noisy loom.
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In the afternoon we took a cyclo-rickshaw ride through suburban Hoi An.
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Andrea, Marilyn and Linda

Hoi An seems a little more prosperous than some other communities we visited.
We did stop to visit with a local family of a man, his wife and two daughters. His wife had very red lips and black teeth from chewing the betel nut.
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From the cyclo-rickshaws we boarded a small boat and took a cruise on the Thu Bon River.
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and sailed back to the old town for dinner.
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The next day we rose early, had another great breakfast and boarded our bus at 7am. The Da Nang airport is a lovely large very modern new facility and was not at all crowded at 9 in the morning. It had good WiFi so we caught up with emails. The aircraft was an ATR 72 Turbo Prop with a 2 and 2 seat configuration. It was a nice aircraft and was quieter than any of the previous Turbo Prop aircraft we have flown on.

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Sue and Roy getting off the plane

The flight was just under 1 ½ hours and they gave us the usual bottle of water. It was a gorgeous flight right down the coastline of the East Sea which we often refer to as the South China Sea. Vietnam has pretty well a continuous beach for hundreds of miles all down this coastline. You can easily see the deltas created by the various rivers that flow into the sea. It is very flat near the coastline with a ridge of mountains running north south along the center and west of the country. It is lush and green after the rainy season. As we came to Nha Trang we could see that resort development is starting and this seems to be quite a tourist area. Apparently this is one of the areas that the locals will come for vacation. There is a great deal of fishing and fish farming in this area with the major products being shrimp, tuna, anchovies and lobsters. They have a huge lobster export market to Japan and consequently lobsters are very expensive here. They are not our East coast lobsters but rather the smaller speckled Caribbean warm water lobsters.

From the plane they take you by bus to the terminal.
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Mercedes on the bus to the terminal

After collecting our luggage we boarded our small charter coach and drove for about an hour to the village of Xom Gio. Xom Gio is a small rural village of about 2000 inhabitants spread over a fairly wide rural area. Our tour company (OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel) has selected Xom Gio as representative of a typical rural community in this area that has not been invaded my tourists. In fact we are the only tour company to visit this village. Our small tour coach was even too large for the village road so we disembarked on a little rural road and walked into the village. We met the village chief who invited us into his home. His wife had cooked us an amazing multi course lunch.
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Wife of the Chief cooking lunch

We all sat on little plastic stools at 3 make shift tables under the shade of the bamboo and frangipani trees in front of his house while the chickens scratched in the dirt beside us.

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Mercedes, Michael, Dave G., Dave H., Linda

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Bob, Nick, Roy, Andrea, Sue, Phyllis, Sim

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Clockwise from left: Sherry, Kent, Patty, Bob, Andrea, Marilyn. Background: Roy, Nick

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Village Chief and his family

After our lunch the chief and his wife held a questions and answer session with our group on a wide range of topics including the village’s history, culture and daily life. He also talked about social issues such as spousal abuse in the village and alcohol abuse. He talked freely about the Vietnam/American war. It was quite interesting as the chief was an officer in the South Vietnamese army during the war. He considered that a far far away issue now.

Although the family members are primarily rice farmers they also breed lizards which are considered a delicacy and excellent source of protein. They asked for volunteers to select, catch, kill, clean, cook and eat one of those critters. Roy, Dave H. and Dr. Bob were the adventurous ones to try out a lizard. After the first bite they all agreed that they were in fact quite flavourful and reminded them of chicken wings.

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Lizard "Farm"

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Roy selected and caught the lucky lizard

Over the past several years OAT has worked with the village chief to provide some financial assistance to four of the poorest families in the village to help the community upgrade their housing. Housing in the rural areas is extremely rudimentary and usually consists of a small concrete shell of a house with one central common area where people gather to eat and sleep. Due to the practice of cooking on an open wood fire, most of the time there is usually a separate small area for food preparation as well as an outhouse style structure outside the normal house structure.

After our visit to the chief we walked through part of the village to see a family who were making and selling baskets.

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Andrea learning how to weave a basket

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Basket Making

We walked on to a house where they were making chopsticks from bamboo.

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Making chopsticks

We returned to our coach past more markets

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Street Market

and on to the busy streets of Nha Trang
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and our hotel, the Angella Hotel, which seemed to be "wedding central" with a series of weddings being celebrated most of the time.
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The next day we took another boat tour on a "drawing" boat
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to a local fishing village
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We had the opportunity to ride in a basket boat
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and spent the rest of the morning on a lovely beach
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We later visited the Long Son Pagoda
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Interior Altar at Long Son Pagoda

which has a 79 foot tall white Buddha and was established in 1963 to honour monks and nuns who died demonstrating against the Diem goveunment of South Vietnam
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After another long and facinating day we were ready to rest up for our trip the next day to the agricultural and university center of Dalat.

Posted by DavidandHazel 12:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Halong Bay to Hue

sunny 28 °C

After breakfast, we set off for Halong Bay—the Emerald Bay of Vietnam—a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Tonkin about 165 km east of Hanoi. We packed everything we needed for the overnight stay in a small carry-on bag and locked our luggage in the bus. The journey offered quiet views of the flat green countryside dotted with rice paddies and small villages.
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En route we stopped for a bio break at a place where they were carving marble and doing some very fine embroidery work. This is a local success story. An entrepreneurial former soldier set up the business to employ local people – he was so successful that the government helped him buy more land and expand his facility on the highway. They also built good “western-style” washrooms and thereby encouraged tourists to stop and shop. The business has prospered as it is a regular stop for most of the tour busses since it is just about at the half way point between Hanoi and Halong Bay.
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Local people doing beautiful embroidery work

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Carvings for sale

We arrived about noon to see a small harbor crowded with boats of all types.
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We boarded a smaller tender boat at the main marina area of the village
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and set off for our junk where we were greeted with cinnamon tea. We had a lovely lunch on the junk while we motored through some amazing scenery.
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Lunch on the junk.

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Halong Bay

Our room on the junk was quite a surprise.
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In addition to the good sized bedroom we had a good sized bathroom with a very large shower. Clearly these craft are purpose built for tourists.

We travelled for a couple of hours through incredibly beautiful scenery.
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We passed places where they caught and farmed fish
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Fish farm
and also farmed oysters for pearls.
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Oyster farm

We arrived at an area where we disembarked to explore a huge cave system.
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View of Halong Bay from the mouth of the cave.
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Inside the cave

We returned to the junk to have a “happy hour” with our fellow passengers as we continued to cruise through this unbelievably beautiful part of the world.
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Michael and Mercedes

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Dave and Hazel

The next morning we were up before dawn, showered and packed while the junk cast off from its moorings and headed back to the harbor. We had breakfast and landed just as the sun was rising. We needed such an early start because we had a long drive back to Hanoi to catch an early flight to Hue which is further south down the coast.
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Our junk docked in the early morning.
As you can see, it has a sun deck on top, the main dining room the next deck down and below that the deck with the cabins.

We boarded our Vietnam Airlines plane about 10:30 am for the one hour flight south to Hue.

Hue was the capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945 when the emperor abdicated and a communist government was formed in Hanoi. It was not only the political center but also was considered a cultural, educational and religious center of the country. Although it suffered a good deal of damage during "the American War" it has many beautiful historical sites and is an Unesco World Heritage Site. The emperor returned in 1949 with the help of the French and established another capital in Saigon in the south.

We met our new bus driver at the airport and were taken to the lovely Camilla Hotel. After checking in we went for an orientation walk with our leader, Lee. He took us to his favourite lunch spot for some Bun Bo Hue - a soup much like Pho with either chicken or beef. This is the little restaurant
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After lunch we walked down to the Perfume River and walked along the waterfront looking at all of the dragon boats ready to take us for a ride for "two dollah, one aowah (hour)".
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Dragon Boats on the bank of the Perfume River
We didn't take advantage of the offer as we knew our group was scheduled for a dragon boat trip the very next day. After a good walk around the area we returned to our hotel and got dressed to see a local water puppet show and have a late dinner.
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Water Puppet "stage"
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Water puppets are an ancient Vietnamese art form. The Puppeteers behind the scenes who spend hours submerged up to their waist while performing their craft.

The next morning we went on a tour of Hue starting with a dragon boat ride on the Perfume River. These boats are also the homes of the people who own them. The smaller ones have a single hull and one dragon - the larger have 2 dragons with 2 pontoons. We had a double.

Here is a shot of a bridge built by the same builders who built the Eiffel Tower in France from our dragon boat.
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We then visited the famous 7 story Thien Mu Pagoda - one story for each reincarnation of Buddha. Behind it was a temple where we saw Buddhist monks praying and chanting.
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Thien Mu Pagoda
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Buddhist Monks

We continued on to the citadel - a huge walled area over 2 km on each side which was where the Emperor lived. This is a model
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Here are some shots of the outside and inside.
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One of the 11 gates to the Citadel
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We then headed over to visit some Buddhist Nuns and to have lunch with them. This is a young woman training to be a nun. The trainees leave one lock of hair growing and shave the rest of their head twice each month as do the nuns and monks.
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We had a delicious vegetarian lunch (nuns and monks avoid meat if possible) and then an interesting discussion with one of the nuns who spoke English and was very open to discussing her life, reasons for becomming a nun, her hopes, and any other questions we were able to come up with.

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Dr. Bob and Patty with our host, a Buddhist nun

We later visited the Minh Tu Orphanage which was started by a Buddhist nun after finding an abandoned baby on her doorstep. We were encouraged to play with the children and were able to leave some gifts which we had brought for them. Our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and its parent company Grand Circle are financial supporters of the orphanage.

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After play time we were able to sit and chat with the nun who started the orphanage who was also able to speak English and was delighted to share her experiences and philosophies with us. They now care for about 180 orphans and are seeing their charges grow, attend university, marry and join the local community. This is another true success story.

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Buddhist Nun who started the orphanage

We would be off to the port town of Hoi An early the next morning.

Posted by DavidandHazel 16:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Hanoi

The start of our OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) Tour

sunny 31 °C

After breakfast at our hotel, we gathered in the lobby. The group boarded 3 vans heading for the Bangkok Airport. After clearing customs and security we boarded our 2 hour Air Vietnam flight to Hanoi where we boarded our tour bus. Here is the group in the bus.
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We were amazed at the traffic in Hanoi with all manner of things being transported by motor scooter.

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and arrived at the lovely May de Ville hotel. Here is the Hanoi skyline from our hotel.
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Hanoi is the capital and second largest city with a population of 6 million in the greater metropolitan area. 50% of Vietnam’s population is under 30 so the people are young and appear very lean and healthy. There are considerably more motorbikes, motor scooters and bicycles than cars. There are at least as many women as men on the road. We saw many, many of the people, particularly the women, wearing face masks supposedly for the dust and pollution. However our tour guide told us that now a big part of the reason is to protect their faces from the very powerful UV rays of the sun. The fashion here is to try and stay as white as possible and not develop more tan or get weather beaten skin. Many of the scooter riders also wore various forms of helmets, none of them very substantial. You have to look long and hard to find any motorbike or scooter over 150 cc. This is because fuel although priced about the same or even a little less that in Canada is very expensive given the very low wages of the average citizen. Many many city people are working for less than $10 a day and in the rural areas it is less than that. Although Vietnam has several large cities the vast majority of the population is involved in small farming operations of one sort or another.

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We went on an orientation walk with our tour leader, Lee Trien and then gathered for a dinner at a local restaurant. The food is delicious with many small courses. There are often 2 or 3 appetizers followed by a main course which is always signaled by the arrival of a large bowl of steamed rice. You frequently will have both a meat and a fish main course along with a vegetable dish. This is all followed by desert. They serve bottled water with every meal. Alcoholic beverages are available as well. The local beer is quite good.

The next day we drove through the beautiful French Quarter to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.

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Hazel and Dave in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Visiting “Uncle Ho” as the people fondly refer to him, was quite an experience. The security was very tight and we were not permitted to even carry a camera into the mausoleum. We had to dress appropriately, of course, with our knees and shoulders covered and with no hats or sunglasses. We had to walk in two lines with our hands by our sides and once inside were not permitted to talk. There were soldiers every hundred feet or so all along the walk and at every corner of every staircase in the building. We all walked slowly up and around the stairs and into the main viewing room. Ho Chi Minh lies in a glass encased coffin with 4 soldiers posted around him. Everything is very quiet and respectful.

Once outside we walked all around the magnificent square and visited two small houses that Ho Chi Minh lived in and saw the building in which he worked.

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Ho Chi Minh’s first house

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The more traditional one he moved to several years later.

We left the square and walked past the Ho Chi Minh Museum

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Ho Chi Minh Museum

We walked over to the Temple of Literature which is dedicated to Confucius and hosts the “Imperial Academy”, Vietnam’s first national university. Now is a time of graduation and we ran into a group of newly graduated medical students who were delighted to pose with an American Doctor – our own Dr. Bob.
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Dr. Bob with newly graduated medical students

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Confucius temple

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Golden Turtle in the temple – a symbol of good luck.

On our way to lunch we drove past the lake where John McCain was shot down in 1967 during the “American War”.
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John McCain Memorial

Several of the streets in Hanoi are built on the top of dikes. Typical of the architecture of this region are the tall, narrow buildings which frequently have no windows on the sides.
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Typical Vietnamese Building

After another wonderful multi-course lunch we headed to the Museum of Ethnology to learn about the cultural history of some of the Vietnamese peoples. We saw reproductions of 2 fascinating types of housing.

This long house
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Would have been occupied by a family headed by a matriarch. The family lived and ate in the first part of the house. As each daughter married an addition was built onto the end of the house – so this house would have been for a family with several married daughters.

The tall house
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Is typical of a communal house of the mountain people. It was built on stilts not to avoid flooding but to protect against insects and animals.

That evening we gathered at a local restaurant for another great dinner and our Guide, Lee, surprised Dave with a gorgeous birthday cake. Having all of our passport information they know our birthdates and it is an OAT custom to celebrate the birthdays of travelers.

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Lee must have told our hotel about the birthday because when we returned the hotel management had left this lovely flower arrangement for him.
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The next morning we were up and out for a tour of the Tho Ha countryside 20 miles north of Hanoi. On the way we stopped to explore a cemetary.
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We stopped at a local market.
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One of the vendors showed us how they chew the Betel nut.
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We sampled Dragon fruit
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Here are some more market scenes

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Selling meat

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Selling fish

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Selling veggies

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Mom and child at the market

We continued on our way, left the bus and boarded this little ferry
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This was our ferry driver crossing the Nhu Nguyet River to the town of Tho Ha.
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Ferry driver

Tho Ha is an interesting little town. Years ago it used to produce small ceramic caskets to hold the bones of people who had passed away. The tradition was that the dead were buried for a few years, then family members would dig them up and clean the bones and bury those bones in a much smaller ceramic casket which would then be placed in a cemetary. At one point they lost the contract to produce those ceramic caskets - so the town switched industries and started to produce rice paper. This is rice paper used for cooking and eating, not paper to write on. There were many, many of those caskets remaining so the ingenious people used them as building materials. Here is a wall made of those old caskets.

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Ceramic caskets

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Wall of a house made of old ceramic caskets.

People in the town also make rice flat bread. It is made like a crepe on a hot griddle

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Man making rice flat bread

It is them toasted over hot coals
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Woman toasting rice flat bread

until it finally puffs up and looks like this:
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Lee with rice flat bread

Most of the rice paper is made in long strips by a machine and fastened onto bamboo racks to dry. Every street and alleyway in the town had rows and rows of these rice paper racks.

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Rice paper on drying racks

We visited a family who did not have a machine and made rice paper in the traditional way - much the same way the rice flat bread was made like a crepe on a hot stone. Here is Sue making rice paper at their home

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Sue making rice paper

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Rice paper drying in the courtyard of the house of our host.

We then sat in the main living area with our host to ask questions and learn about daily life in his village.

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Main living room of the house in Tho Ha

As it turned out, our host was a musician and he agreed to play several of the instruments for us and sing some traditional Vietnamese songs. Can you imagine our surprise when we recognized "You Are My Sunshine" ? We all promptlhy chimed in and sang along.

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Dr. Bob as the rhythm section as our host played.

Our host was in the North Vietnam army - being a musician his job was arranging entertainment and recreation actsivities to entertain the troops - and he was part of the group which marched south to take Saigon. He explained that they were told that the Americans had invaded Vietnam and the north Vietnamese were trying to free their countrymen from the invading army.

We walked next door to visit with a local "pharmacist and met some of the children of the family.

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Children of the pharmacist

This is the cooking area in their home

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cooking area

Here are some of the herbs and natural ingredients he uses for his medicines.
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We took another ferry back across the river to our bus. We were joined by local merchants taking the rice cakes we had seen being made to a local market.
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We returned to the hotel and got ourselves organized for a great group dinner
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We were to be on the road again very early the next day for our Halong Bay adventure on the junk.

Posted by DavidandHazel 06:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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