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Southeast Asia: Vietnam

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S: Southeast Asia: Vietnam

FC: Southeast Asia: Vietnam | March 2014

1: Vietnam | From Siam to Saigon: Vietnam | Hanoi | Halong Bay | Hue | Hoi An | Nha Trang | Dalat | Ho Chi Minh City

2: Hanoi | Bangkok | Hanoi

3: We flew to Hanoi today arriving at our hotel at 4:00. We met Ethan, our Trip Leader who took us for an orientation walk around the neighborhood. We stopped at a beer house to sample the local brew and then saw the flower and vegetable markets. After a short rest, we drove to the Old Quarter for dinner. What a feast! We had eggplant, soup, beef, chicken, rice, vegetables, and mango. | Ethan, our Trip Leader

4: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum | The next morning we set out early for our tour of Hanoi. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. The line stretched for blocks! We were told to line up and proceed to the mausoleum without talking and hands out of our pockets. We did as we were told.

5: After walking through the mausoleum, we toured the grounds. We saw the Presidential Palace, fishpond, gardens, and House No. 54 where Ho Chi Minh lived.

6: House No. 54 | Local candy | One Pillar Pagoda

7: Temple of Learning | Our next stop was the Temple of Learning, built in 1070, and dedicated to the teachings of Confucius. We walked through beautiful gardens and courtyards, saw the Well of Heavenly Clarity, and listened to musicians playing traditional instruments.

8: Temple of Learning

10: After exploring the temple, we walked to the Five Spices Restaurant for lunch. The traffic was terrifying! We were told to pick a time to cross the road, not to look at the traffic bearing down on us, not to stop, speed up or even slow down - just keep moving. All the cars and scooters would just go around us. Sure enough, we made it safely across!

11: There were very few trucks; everything was carried by scooter or bike. We even saw a tree on a scooter. | After lunch, we walked through several markets before reaching the dog market. Dog apparently is a delicacy in Vietnam.

12: We stopped at the John McCain marker on Truc Bach Lake where McCain was shot down in 1967; then returned to our hotel for some free time before dinner. Later, on the way to the restaurant, we stopped to see the lowering of the Vietnam flag - very stirring with all the music and marching.

13: The next morning we headed out of the city to visit a small village where the main industry is making rice paper. First we stopped at a war cemetery where we had tea with the caretakers. | War Cemetery

14: Later, we stopped at a local market where everything was sold: meat, flowers, spices, even live chickens and fish.

15: Tho Ha Village Visit | We finally arrived at the Nhu Nguyet River which surrounds the small village of Tho Ha. Our ferry arrived in a few minutes; we all fought our way on trying to avoid getting run over by the scooters. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way in Vietnam! | Our Captain

17: Almost everyone in the village makes rice paper either by machine or by hand. Forms, covered with rice paper, line every street; it takes about 5 hours to completely dry. We visited a home where the paper was made by hand. After observing how it was done, we all got a chance to try. Not as easy as it looked; mine was misshapen and had wrinkles in it. | We visited a local herbalist and learned about herbal medicine. | Almost every family had a pig or two in their cellar.

18: We visited a local musician who demonstrated traditional Vietnamese instruments. | Our last stop in Tho Ha was the local temple. We watched while several women made dolls to be used as offerings. | We left the village, took the ferry again, and drove to a local restaurant for a lunch of soup, rice, dumplings, rice paper wraps, and yogurt with honey. We returned to Hanoi where we had the option to visit the Hanoi Hilton Museum or walk back to the hotel. We skipped the museum and had a great adventure getting lost and crossing many very busy roads.

19: Hanoi | Halong Bay | We left early the next morning for our four hour drive to Halong Bay. It rained the entire trip. We made several stops; once for fresh bread and again at a very large gift shop. Very nice things! Later we saw farmers working in their rice fields.

20: Halong Bay | It was still raining when we arrived at Halong Bay. We boarded our junk which was quite spacious, had lunch, and set sail. The bay is dotted with more than 3000 mountain islands and has numerous caves.

22: The bay has many small fishing villages. We saw fishing boats, market boats, kayaks, and dozens of junks bearing tourists to see the sights.

24: Hang Sung Sot Caves

25: Later in the afternoon we visited one of the largest caves in Halong Bay - nice formations, including a dragon and an emperor on his throne. After our tour, we continued sailing to our night anchorage where we had a wonderful dinner and settled in for the evening. The next morning we sailed back to shore at 6:00. It was still foggy but at least the rain had stopped. We drove to Hanoi and then flew to Hue, arriving at our hotel at 5:30.

26: Halong Bay | Hue | Hue | We just had time for a quick shower before leaving for a water puppet show. The tradition of water puppetry is at least 1000 years old. The puppets are suspended over water, directed by puppet masters who must sit semi-submerged for over an hour. We saw acts with ducks, fairies, farmers, and even dragons.

27: Water Puppet Show

28: Puppet Masters | Master Carver

29: The Citadel

30: The next morning, we toured the older section of Hue which is a moated, walled citadel surrounded by eleven stone gates. Lots of fish in the moat. We wandered through the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City, and beautiful gardens. | The Citadel

31: It was a holiday and many of the young women were wearing the ao dai, the national costume. Others wore their village dress.

32: The Citadel

33: Geocaching

34: Thien Mu Pagoda | This seven-story pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue, is located on the banks of the Perfume River. We had time to explore the grounds; there was a very nice garden and small pagoda behind the Thien Mu Pagoda.

37: Dragon Boat Cruise

38: After touring the pagoda, we boarded our dragon boat for a cruise down the Perfume River. Lots of other dragon boats were sailing up and down the river; we even saw a swan boat. The highlight of our cruise was setting the eels free. This was supposed to bring us good karma. Who knows? It was great fun especially when we dropped our eel in the boat.

39: Setting the Eels Free

40: After our cruise, we stopped at a Vietnamese cemetery before having lunch with the Buddhist nuns at the Dieu Thanh Pagoda. | Dieu Thanh Pagoda

41: Minh Tu Orphanage | After lunch we visited an orphanage where we spoke with one of the nuns and saw some of the young children.

42: Hue | Hoi An | We left early today for our long drive to Hoi An. Our first stop was a large market where we bought the ingredients for our cooking class this evening. We then drove along the lake shore, stopping at an oyster farm.

43: Oyster Farm

44: Dragon Bridge | We walked across this bridge so we could get a close-up view of the construction - very ingenious and interesting! Our last stop before Hoi An was China Beach, the setting for a TV show about Vietnam. | China Beach

45: Hoi An

46: We arrived in Hoi An just in time for lunch. Later we took a walking tour of the Old Town. The buildings were very ornate, the streets narrow and crowded, and the canal surrounding the town full of interesting boats and fishing nets.

48: Japanese Covered Bridge

49: A highlight of the tour was seeing the Japanese covered bridge built in the early 1600's. The bridge has its own temple; the dog and monkey statues at either end are said to guard the bridge.

50: Buddhist Temple

52: After our walking tour, we checked into our hotel; our room overlooked the pool which looked really inviting after a long hot day. However, we only had 30 minutes before we had to leave for our Vietnamese cooking class. | The class was a lot of fun; our chef was very patient with us as we tried to make spring rolls, calamari salad, and grilled tuna. The chef actually cooked the tuna, we only seasoned it and wrapped it in a banana leaf. Everything was delicious! | Cooking Class | Spring roll filling

54: My Son Sanctuary

55: The next morning we drove to the My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam's most significant ruins. There are 70 Hindu temples, many in ruins from the Vietnam War. The temples were built between the second and 15th centuries.

58: As part of the tour, we saw a performance of traditional dances.

59: As we returned to our hotel, we saw this tomb in the middle of a rice field. Apparently it is there so the family members can pray to their ancestors. Later we stopped at a small broom factory. Business was booming; they couldn't keep up with demand. | Broom Factory

60: Cycle-rickshaw Ride to Cam Nam

61: After lunch, we rode cyclo-rickshaws into the countryside. We stopped at a small peanut farm and a cemetery, and rode along the river. Very peaceful after the busy roads we had been on earlier in the day.

62: After the farm visit, we rode to the Thu Bon River for our cruise back to Hoi An. | Thu Bon River Cruise

63: As we cruised down the river we saw a ferry and several fisherman setting their nets. They demonstrated net throwing and even let us try. It was quite difficult.

64: We returned to Hoi An at dusk, walked to our riverside restaurant, and then bought paper boats to float down the river for good luck.

66: Nha Trang | Hoi An | We had an early flight the following morning with a wake-up call of 3:15!!!! We arrived at the hotel by 8:30, had breakfast, and then napped for a few hours before leaving for our village visit. | Xom Gio Village

67: We had lunch with the village chief and his wife, visited basket makers, and a small business where chopsticks are milled.

68: Nha Trang | This morning we boarded a small boat for a two hour cruise to a fishing village and then on to a small island where we spent several hours swimming, exploring, and just relaxing. | Cruising to the Beach

69: Fishing Village

70: Basket Boat Ride

71: At the Beach

72: The water was warm, there was a cool breeze, and the view was delightful. We walked along the shore and later had a lunch of spring rolls. We hated to leave.

73: We returned to Nha Trang mid-afternoon and decided to walk along the shore and enjoy the sand and cool breeze. Later we had a wonderful dinner at a beach-side restaurant.

74: Dalat | Nha Trang | Today, we have a four hour drive through the mountains to Dalat. We drove by rice paddies, and passed many green houses growing just about everything. We arrived in Dalat at lunch time where we had a feast at a local restaurant.

75: Dalat | We walked through the central market and saw Hoa Binh Square before taking a cable car to a hilltop pagoda.

76: Truc Lam Pagoda | We drove up into the hills to take the cable car across the valley to the pagoda. It was very peaceful; the monks were working in the gardens and cleaning the temples. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and admiring the various temples.

80: Home-Hosted Dinner | That evening we had our home dinner. Our host was a professor at the University of Dalat; his two children were a delight. | Flower Greenhouse

81: Dalat Agricultural Tour | Coffee Plantation | On this tour we visited flower greenhouses, a coffee plantation, a village that practices subsistence farming, a silk factory, and a weasel coffee plantation.

82: Buon Chuoi Village

83: We had an unusual mode of transportation to the village - an open trailer pulled by an ancient tractor. Many of the village children joined us for the ride, so many that there was barely room for us! We stopped at the school, saw basket making, and visited with the chief and his wife.

84: Cuong Hoan Silk Factory

85: Weasel Coffee | Our last stop was a weasel coffee farm. We saw the weasels and the end product and learned much more than we ever wanted to know. We had an opportunity to taste the coffee and also to buy a 3.5 oz. bag for 'only' $20.00. It turns out that $20.00 was a bargain. In the US the same size bag sells for $94.00 to $150.00.

86: Crazy House | We had free time after lunch so decided to tour the Crazy House. There are a few hotel rooms but it is mainly a tourist attraction. We walked up and down crazy steps, over bridges, and up on the roof. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

88: Later we visited the University of Dalat. We learned about the educational system and then toured the campus with students who got a chance to practice their English. | University of Dalat | K'ho Hill Tribe | After the university tour, we drove to one of Dalat's hill tribe communities where we saw a traditional dance performance.

90: Ho Chi Minh City | Dalat | Another early day! We were up at 4:30 to catch a short flight to Saigon. We arrived at 8:30 and started our city tour. Our first stop was the war museum. Naturally, it was quite slanted against the Americans. We spent most of our visit looking at the planes and tanks where we did some geocaching. | War Remnants Museum | Presidential Palace

91: Ho Chi Minh City | Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame | Opera House

92: Old Post Office | Just across from the cathedral was a huge elaborate post office. It was a Saturday and brides were everywhere. Apparently, the post office and cathedral are 'the' places to have wedding pictures taken.

93: We continued our walk through Saigon past beautiful buildings and small city gardens. We arrived at our restaurant where we had a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. It was a fun experience. | Vietnamese Pho Soup

94: After lunch we had some free time so decided to walk to a near-by park. It was quite peaceful once we got there. | Cyclo-rickshaw Ride | Unlike our ride in the Hoi An countryside, this ride was through the city streets. Cars and motor bikes were coming in every direction. We were assured that our drivers knew what they were doing. It was quite exciting not to mention scary.

96: We headed south today for Cai Be and the Mekong River. Our first stop was a small coffee shop where we relaxed for a while and some of us bought hats from a local seller. | Thanh That Cai Be Temple

97: Later we stopped at this very elaborate temple. The temple combines elements from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and several other religions..

98: Mekong River Cruise

99: We eventually arrived at the Mekong River where we boarded our small boat. We cruised past a floating market where we bought some fruit for an afternoon snack and then stopped at a local market where we had the opportunity to sample snake wine. It was quite strong and bitter.

101: We transfered to a smaller boat to cruise down a canal to Mrs. Kiet's House where we would have lunch. This Mandarin house was built in 1838 and was filled with beautiful antiques. We walked through the gardens and then had a delicious lunch of spring rolls, fish, chicken, rice, and vegetables. | Mrs. Kiet's House

103: After lunch we cruised down the canal to our larger boat where we had a nice dessert of fresh fruit with tea. We cruised up the river, drove back to Ho Chi Minh City, and relaxed a bit before going out to dinner. We weren't very hungry after our huge lunch so we ate at a small shop where we had a croissant sandwich and seafood noodles.

104: Today we explored the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a vast network of tunnels stretching over 125 miles. These tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to control a large area near Saigon. We had a chance to actually go into four of the tunnels but skipped the longest which was over 150 feet long. | Cu Chi Tunnels

106: After exploring the tunnels, we drove to a private home to have lunch with three former Viet Cong. We had a very interesting conversation with them. | Vietnam War veterans | We returned to Saigon mid afternoon, relaxed, and then had our farewell dinner. It was a wonderful trip!

107: McCormick | Atlanta | Ho Chi Minh City | The next day we started our long trip home: Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok to Seoul, Korea. Seoul to Atlanta, GA. Atlanta to McCormick, SC.

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Carol LaPonte
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