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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
to food
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.

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
then fasten it to a frame
then coat it with water buffalo dung and then coat it with a resin they obtain from a local tree
The final product looks like this

Continuing on the way, we stopped at China Beach - the setting of the TV show of the same name.

There was a beautiful huge Lady Buddha on the hillside we could see from China Beach

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.

Street Scene

Japanese Bridge

Dragons in front of a Pagoda

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
and a spectacular pool
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.
Our group ready for our cooking class

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

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.

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.
My Son Champa Ruins

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.

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.
Local people making brooms

Lee with newly manufactured brooms.

Right next door there was a little business weaving cloth on a very old, noisy loom.

In the afternoon we took a cyclo-rickshaw ride through suburban Hoi An.
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.

From the cyclo-rickshaws we boarded a small boat and took a cruise on the Thu Bon River.

and sailed back to the old town for dinner.

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.

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.
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.
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.

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

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

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

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.

Lizard "Farm"

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.

Andrea learning how to weave a basket

Basket Making

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

Making chopsticks

We returned to our coach past more markets

Street Market

and on to the busy streets of Nha Trang

and our hotel, the Angella Hotel, which seemed to be "wedding central" with a series of weddings being celebrated most of the time.

The next day we took another boat tour on a "drawing" boat

to a local fishing village

We had the opportunity to ride in a basket boat

and spent the rest of the morning on a lovely beach

We later visited the Long Son Pagoda

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

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)

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.
Ox pulling the cart

Lee quickly negotiated with the driver who happily took several willing volunteers for a ride.
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.

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.
Greenhouses in Dalat

After checking into the hotel and having lunch at a local restaurant,
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.
Bob and Patty in Cable Car

Truc Lam Pagoda

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

We then moved down to the kitchen where Mercedes helped put the final touches on dinner which we all then enjoyed

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

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.
Greenhouse with roses

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

As soon as we reached the village the children rapidly hopped on to join us for the ride.

Many of the houses had large tarps in front to dry rice
or coffee

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

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!
Bathing and washing area

This is the well that provided the water

They did, however, have a modern school, again provided by the central government,

a community center (with coffee beans drying in the front)

and a Catholic Church
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
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

We later drove to visit the descendants of another hill tribe, the K'ho people and were treated to a dance performance

The next day we were off on another short flight to our last stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon.

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.

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

and did some shopping in the Post office which has a lot of space converted to retail activities. Note the picture of Uncle Ho.

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

and also sat down at those ever present tiny plastic tables and chairs for a cup of coffee.

We boarded our boat

and cruised down one of the tributaries towards the mighty Mekonng river to see life in the delta.

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.

We disembarked the larger boat and climbed into a sampan

to our lunch spot which was an historic house

It was refurbished with the help of a Japanese foundation. There was an amazingly ornnate interior

with the mandatory ancestor altar in the prime position as you enter the house

We sat outdoors in the back to another multi-course meal which featured fish like this one

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.

Other scenes of river life

Dave even found a couple of familiar signs


Back in Saigon we took motorcycle taxis

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
Local Restaurant serving dog

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.

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.

Typical entrance to the tunnels
A typical tunnel

Underground they had hospital areas

meeting rooms for planning military strategy

and cooking areas

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.

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.

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)

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.
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.

This is how they fasten the rickshaw to the motorcycle.

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.
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".
Killing Fields Memorial Temple
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.
Oxen Cart Ride
Michael and Mercedes



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.
Traditional Cambodian Dancer



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.

Tops of the trees - people are fishing underneath

Floating School with the students arriving by boat

Students going to school

Floating Houses

Floating Gardens

Catholic Church

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.

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
There were many examples of trees growing right through the ancient and carved walls.

This is some of the carving which would have been done in situ after the structure was completed.

Here is a group of restoration workers - they have years and years of emplpoyment security!

This is a picture showing "before" and "after" of a restsored wall.

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.




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.


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.

Angkor Wat

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.

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.

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

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

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
Carving detail all along the walls.

We sat and watched this magnificant temple turn gold in the sunset

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.

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.





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)

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