Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hoi An and Hue

Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage Sight, Vietnams most important trading port from the 16th to 18th centuries.   Many of the picturesque buildings are protected historic landmarks, some of which show the heavy influence of China and Japan with whom trade relations were strong throughout the history of this charming city.
Women young and old carry produce for sale in these traditional twin baskets carried on the shoulder.  They often set them on passing tourists shoulders, encouraging to take a picture, which then makes the tourist somewhat obliged to buy some of their produce.

The most popular activity in Hoi An is having custom clothing made, the city streets are full of tailor shops offering beautiful wardrobes. 

                                   The Japanese Covered Bridge, built in the early 1600's

The city is very foot traffic friendly, there are more people riding bicycles than mopeds, a welcome relief after Saigon.

Stephane took a Vietnamese cooking class, firstly touring the market to learn about the various fruits, vegetables, and spices.  The witty instructor would dryly offer such advice as "if onions make you cry, make someone else cut them" and "if they don't have these particular ingredients where you live, move."  

A four hour drive, some of which was along this pretty although grey coastline, and we were in Hue (pronounced Hway).

A short boat ride on the Perfume River takes one to the Thien Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady Pagoda), whose grounds contain several well manicured gardens,

One of the entrances to the Citadel and Imperial City

The walls and moats were impressive but unfortuantely no match for the French and American wars which destroyed much of the area.

In the Forbidden Purple City, the Royal Traditional Theater puts on free daily performances highlighting the ancient art of nha nhac, courtly music and dance.

  We walked through a textile museum and workshop and watched the embroiderers hard at work.  Then we wandered through the centers garden area leading to the bank of the Perfume River and noticed this picture out of the corner of our eye. Never thought we would have has such a randomn reminder of home halfway across the globe!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saigon and Nha Trang

 We were warned of what to expect of Vietnam traffic but had no idea what an extreme sport it would be to cross a street in Saigon.  We rested up at a public park where there was a festive cultural performance before getting the nerve up to brave the walk back to our hotel.

  After a couple of days of the big city we were happy to have the opportunity to kick off our shoes and walk barefoot along the beaches of Nha Trang.  Our weather was rainy and chilly so a day at the Thap Ba Hot Spring Mudbath was in order.


On the way back to the city from the mudbaths we stopped at the Po Nagar temple, established pre 781 AD in honor of the legendary Queen of Champa (who may also be identified with the Hindu buffalo slayer goddess, Durga) .  A group of local women gathered around the temple entrance and chanted while a lone drummer dressed in traditional Cham attire kept time.  Our quide showed us a mini marvel; a tree that from the front looked to be a healthy thriving green srouting branch but from the back revealed an entirely burnt and dead carcass of a trunk.  

The view from the top

The following day our group decided to take a long cable car ride over to Vinpearl Land, where there was something for everybody between the amusement park, the water park,  

the  temples,

and the Aquarium where we caught sight of this mythical creature.
Just the views on the ride back alone were well worth the reasonable price for the entrance ticket.

Dinner and fresh brewed beer at La Louisiane  before boarding the sleeper train to Danang.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sihanoukville and Chau Doc

 The following day we found ourselves in the city of Sihanoukville, whose beaches might pale in comparison to Turks and Caicos but were a welcome nature break from the city.  The nightlife reminded me of Cabarete in Dominican Republic; restaurants lining the beachfront, coconut trees towering over rustic tables and chairs  filled with tourists.  Dinner and drinks were entertained with live fire dancing and this night should have been great fun, feet in the sand and stars overhead.  Unfortunately we were surrounded by obnoxious American men; a group of young, loud, every-other-word-a-curse-word crew on one side, and an older group of hefty, cigar smoking opposite.  Both groups had beautiful young Cambodian women flanking either side of every man, who were dishing out drinks and drunken smiles like they were superstars.  We excused ourselves early and I walked back to our hotel feeling ashamed to call myself American.  I sincerely hope that there are more visitors coming to Cambodia with intentions to respect the country, the culture, and the people that have been through so much, versus capitalising on the dark underworld of cheap access to young bodies. 

Notice the crafty use of coconut trees as dock bumpers

The boats bar

Cambodia's version of a gum tree; the flip-flop tree 

Our guide explains various types of plants and animals during the river walk

The following days boat trip was intended to head to the Ream National Park but unfavorable weather kept us closer to the mainland. We still had fun jumping off the top of this triple decker and visiting a nearby island. 

We stopped along side this large boat who had a tall stake with a watermelon pierced through the top end.  Our guide explained that this is how you can tell the inventory aboard for purchase.

In Chau Doc we booked a river cruise to witness daily life on the Mekong Delta.  Every mile was dotted with fishing boats, women washing clothes, children bathing, and farmers growing crops along the banks.  The river acts as home for thousands who live aboard boats and in floating villages.    We made a stop at a fish farm, a floating house resting on top of a giant fish cage with a small square opening in the floor used for feeding. 

A typical walking bridge off the marsh areas of the Mekong

A remnant of the European influence

Getting our helmets on and choosing our moped and drivers of choice

To end the day we hopped on moped taxi's to climb Sam Mountain, well worth it as it was the most spectacular sunset of our trip.  A nearly full moon followed, almost shedding enough light to get a good picture of this temple.  After four attempts without flash, this was as best as I could do.