Life in a floating village–Kampong Luong, Cambodia! Then Exploring Battambang.

May 2019

As we boarded the bus to depart from Phnom Penh we had no idea this would be another eye opening, life changing day in Cambodia! Heading to our next destination, Battambang, we would travel northwest for 295 km which should take about 5 hours and 40 mins. However, in addition to stopping for coffee and baked goodies; and visiting a location where mentally challenged people craft items from recycled silver; we were stopping to tour and visit an authentic floating village of about 300+ families at Kampong Luong.

As usual, our packed day would not end there…Once arriving in Battambang we would take a bamboo train to watch the sunset, then tour the downtown area prior to a late dinner! Here is a glimpse of our day.

Our tour guide (and most members of our tour group), adore coffee in the morning so our first stop was Tous les Jours authentic Bakery and Coffee shop. Due to my gluten intolerance, these bakery visits are difficult for me as I usually can not eat anything on the menu. Oh well…I gain less weight this way!

The modes of transport in Cambodia have their own unique flair. There are many motorcycles and tuktuks in Cambodia, but unlike Vietnam, honking is less common. Many motorcycles pull long carts (remork-moto). Foreigners can rent motorcycles here but do your research prior to choosing this option. There is extensive infrastructure upgrades occurring, and dirt roads and huge potholes are still common in areas.

Sareth was entertaining during the bus drive teaching us about multiple different ways to wear the famous Khmer scarfs. He was so convincing with the multiple uses for the scarf for males and females that many of us purchased scarfs prior to departing from Cambodia.

Roadside housing varied from elaborate (often with French influence), to homes on stilts, or simple shacks. Overhead electrical wiring looks very similar to what we witnessed in Thailand. During our trip to the floating village, it was quite common to see skinny cows munching on sparse blades of grass along the sides of the road/highway.

This is a pictorial representation of our journey from Phnom Penh to the floating village.

As we drove down the long dirt road towards the floating village of Kampong Luong 54, Krakor, Cambodia  we were greeted by the site of garbage and remnants of previous homes. As the water levels subside on this lake (Tonle Sap), the homes must be moved. We weren’t informed how often this occurs or how far the homes must be relocated. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.

“The floating village of Kompong Luong offers the opportunity to visitors to discover the everyday life of Cambodian families on the Tonle Sap lake. The families live in floating houses with a constant movement of boats that brings people and goods to the village. The village consist of both Cambodian community and Vietnamese community both living in the same floating village.” For a home stay experience at this floating village check out this article written by Chris Green. https://impactexplorer.asia/kompong-luong/

As we neared the lake there were a few tiny homes situated on the land adjacent to the area where dozens of long boats were located. Emaciated cattle, dogs, and water buffalo wandered along the banks searching for sustenance. Several thin, agile Khmer boys gathered to assist the tourists in getting into the boats then free ropes for the driver. Perhaps the driver’s sons?

Later when we returned from the boat tour the same boys were collecting plastic and Styrofoam from the garbage heaps on the sides of this lake. As they ran to assist with the docking of the boat one little boy lost his flip-flops and cut his foot just prior to jumping into the murky greenish/brown lake water. They must be incredibly resilient children as the water was polluted and unsanitary. The little boys were friendly, helpful, athletic, welcoming, and had the most beautiful smiles.

Our tour group was informed there were over 300 families living in the floating village. Additional research indicates this number could be substantially low! Citizens from both Cambodia and Vietnam live together in this floating community. Interesting enough, although the village is located in Cambodia it is apparently considered a Vietnamese settlement?

We didn’t see any life jackets (except hanging in our tour boat!) and children seemed very confident independently maneuvering their vessels.

The lake water was used for bathing, swimming, washing, fishing, transporting boats and loads, and the outhouses were located directly above the water!

This experience was another eye-opener for us.  There was so much to observe and learn about this unique way of life. I have created 2 videos about our time at the floating village. This is Part One from our arrival until we reached the floating school in the village. (Note the boats docked in front of the school which the children quite capably navigate through the waters.).

According to our guide, students who get to attend schools in primary grades usually attend from 8:30–11:30 for the first 4 years of their education.

As we toured through Kampong Luong we passed the school, fueling station, phone stores, health center, convenience stores, ice shop, church, temple, police station, 2-3 home stays run by the village, fishing supply store, machine shop, and many other small businesses. The recreation building was located near the outer edge of the village. Entrepreneurs even rowed around the village with wares or vegetables in their heavily laden boats.

Children waved and adults seemed neutral or tolerant regarding the invasion of tourists exploring their community. The pace was slow and peaceful –except for the occasional loud engines as the longboats passed by.

No drive throughs. No junk food. No obesity. No eating unnecessarily. Food here is for sustenance and survival requires an active lifestyle. Turquoise, green and white are popular colors used on many of the homes and businesses here. Here is the second half of our trip through this unique floating village.

It would be fascinating to experience a home stay in Kampong Luong … but due to my current digestive unrest in Cambodia, I am sure I couldn’t survive the poor sanitation conditions!

However…. I would have loved to teach these delightful children!

Back on the bus… searching for emergency bathrooms! Then onward to Battambang–the second most populated city in Cambodia.

After unloading our belongings at the “Classy Hotel” we headed out on tuktuks to drive 4km to the train station, O-Dambong, where we would all board bamboo trains to ride through the country and observe a sunset Cambodian style.

The bamboo trains were very simplistic. The train is known as a norry, a 3m sq. metal and wood frame, covered with strips of bamboo. The “bamboo” section of the train was the floor boards which were covered in a reed mat upon which we sat. 10 from our group plus Sareth were divided into 2 “trains”.

Each “train” had a driver at the rear. There was no safety gear on this excursion. We sat bundled together on the mat and zoomed down the railway tracks. The rural landscape was lush and the ride was fun.

We had 2 brief stops en route to the bridge (sunset observation point). One stop occurred when a herd of cattle was led over the tracks to new grazing areas. The second occurred when a family was coming the opposite direction down the track! They stopped, got off their ‘train’ and lifted their base and wheels off the track until we passed then re positioned them on the track.

The only casualty occurred when a large hornet flew into my knuckle resulting in a substantial sting, swelling and welt. Apparently I “took one for the team!” However, I wasn’t thrilled about getting another sting as I previously was stung by a wasp at Halong Bay while kayaking! Thanks to Julie and Mac who shared their antihistamine cream to reduce the swelling each time. 😬

Presenting our sunset adventure on the Bamboo train.

While anticipating the sunset at the bridge area we heard croaking followed by a quick splash. A local man was sifting through the reeds capturing frogs and passing them to (possibly family) members waiting up the bank. Dinner?

After a beautiful return trip aboard our bamboo train admiring the romantic beauty inspired by the setting sun’s hues and impact on the scenery, we boarded our Tuktuks. It was time to return to our hotel after another late evening dinner and photo shoot at the enormous Ta Dumbong (Powerful Black Man) statue in central Battambang.

It was another packed day with Intrepid tours! Tomorrow we tour rural Battambang via bicycles then travel 3-4 hours to our next destination–Siem Reap.

Note: I would like to acknowledge that some of the photos/videos in this blog post were taken by my husband, Mark, or shared by members of our Intrepid tour group.

 

 

Cambodia here we come! HCM City to Phnom Penh!

Early May 2019

Bright and early our newly formed Intrepid team of 12, plus our Cambodian guide Sareth, met by the steps of our hotel in anticipation of our upcoming adventure. Laden with cases we departed from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to board the public bus bound for our new destination of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Highlights from our trip Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia May 6th 2019

Our trip would include border crossings and the estimated length of travel today was 10 hours! It would take about 2 1/2 hours to the first border crossing. After arrival in Phnom Penh we would check into our hotel then quickly head out for a tuk tuk (Cambodian style) tour of the downtown area.

We entered this next stage of our tour with fresh knowledge as we prepared to cross borders into Cambodia. Sareth, our guide, offered some introductory information to ease our transition into Cambodia.

We learned Khmer is the proper name for a Cambodian person. Generally people here are easy going and laugh a lot. It is rude to touch somebody’s head. 4,000 reil = $1 USA ATM. 54% of the population of this country is below 18 years of age! Wars have really effected family structures here!

Currency in Cambodia also required thought and preparation. Cash is available from ATM machines in Cambodia (as in Vietnam), but the bills you receive are in US dollars. We were advised to only carry small amounts of cash while travelling.

Although Riel is the national currency of Cambodia, usually prices were quoted in US dollars. Change is often returned in Riel though. So it’s to your benefit to learn money conversion values quickly! Also… Be careful about the US bills you bring. We were advised to only bring US $1, $5 and $10 bills. The bills must be crisp, not torn or marked, and newer than 2006. Members of our group did experience refusal at hotels if bills were crumbled or too old!

The 12 members of this tour group included 3 couples from our previous Intrepid tour through Vietnam and 6 new tour partners. The countries/cultures we represented were quite global: 4 Canadians (Nanaimo and Calgary), 4 Australians (Adelaide, and Canberra), 1 from Chile, 2 from New Zealand, 1 from Romania. However… the Romanian lived in Switzerland; a New Zealander lived in Brisbane; and several of us hold dual citizenships. The group was a prime example of what an interwoven global community our world is now.

Day 1 of our Intrepid tour of Cambodia

Here’s my video reflecting our day departing from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam at 7:30 am travelling by public bus, passing through 2 border crossings (no photography permitted at border crossings), then continuing our travels through Cambodia to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In Vietnam 🇻🇳 there are red and yellow flags displayed everywhere—yellow stars are the national flag of Vietnam, yellow scythes represent communism. Motorcycles are the main source of transportation for families. Vehicles drive on the right side of the road (mainly). Traditional conical straw hats are common. Pagodas are seen occasionally; but unlike Thailand, there are minimal Buddhist Wats or places dedicated to religious study.

Roadside photos reflecting daily life

Crossing into Cambodia… The most immediate differences were: no more red and yellow flags; large billboards of the King; driving is also on the right side of the road (unlike Thailand); increase in cars and trucks; variances between areas of poverty and wealth; and Buddhist Wats and religious temples.

However, in both countries the rivers are fundamentally important to their economy and food production; weather in Early May is extremely hot (32-40 degrees C) and humid; and local men lift up their shirts and expose their bellies to cool off!

Border crossings were hectic with lengthy lines and masses of people. (And this wasn’t high tourist season!). First we needed to complete forms and pass our passports and papers to our guide—who then passed them to another individual. There were some mix ups at the booths, but everything was solved and we progressed through the first border crossing to exit Vietnam. No photographs allowed!

Next we had to walk, following our guide, a fair distance to the Cambodian buildings where we completed more forms and repeated the passport process again to enter Cambodia. I didn’t see any wheelchairs or mobility supports, so I’m not sure how physically challenged people would cope? Thankfully Sareth solved issues when they occurred and we all progressed into Cambodia.

Some members of our group quickly bought new SIM cards for their phones and Cambodian Riel and US dollars, then we were back on the public bus heading to Phonon Penh the capital city of Cambodia. This bustling city of over 16.5 million people has been the national capital since French colonization and is known as the nations industrial, cultural, and economic center.

Tuktuk tour of Phnom Penh led by Sareth

After registering at the Cardamom Hotel, we decided to take the optional Tuktuk tour of the city. $5 US/person lead by our guide Sareth.

The French architecture is stunning and we really enjoyed the delicious sweets Sareth shared. Tourists and locals enjoyed the sights and sounds of the lively evening activities. Entrepreneurs approached us to buy products like: sweet treats, hand fans, clothing, even releasing birds to bring you good luck. Eamonn was approached by children to release a bird and he released it when we were down on the main pier.

Most tuk tuks had barriers on the outside walls where you sit, as protection. We were informed to keep purses and bags hidden and protected as there is a problem with bags being stolen as motorcycles speed past near the tuktuks. Our Tuktuk driver’s son ran over and begged to join his dad as he toured us through the city center. In spite of the broken rear vision mirror and no helmets on our driver or son, it was a fun way to experience the city.

Tuktuk tour of Phnom Penh

This short video reflects our fun and memorable evening activities in Phnom Penh. We saw many highlights including: the Royal Palace (from a distance), Independence Monument, and Norodom Sihanouk Memorial commemorating former King Norodom.

Tomorrow the group views Tuol Sleng genocide museum and the Killing Fields, then the National Museum and Royal Palace (optional), and an optional boat cruise down the Mekong River. Wait until you see what Tyler and Mark eat!!!!

Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon– Somber Past and Optimistic Future!

May 2nd 2019

The purpose of today’s adventure on our Intrepid tour was more serious than on previous days. Vietnam is incredibly populated (over 97 million people), for its geographical area. On Sunday, August 4, 2019, the United Nations estimated that Vietnamese population is equivalent to 1.26% of the total world population. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/vietnam-population/

During our 9 days in Vietnam, we have witnessed hard working, serious people who adapt to their situations and environments and have diverse talents. Each day has been a new adventure on our Intrepid group tour.

Today’s agenda was to depart from Da Nang airport and fly to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon). Our tour of the most populated city in Vietnam (over 8.6 million people according to most sources–although 13 million was also quoted?), was postponed due to plane delays and traffic jams. However, we would be expanding our knowledge about Vietnam/American war history at the War Remnants museum and during the Cu Chi Tunnels tour.  This is not my favorite topic…but knowledge brings new understanding.

We departed from our hotel in lovely Hoi An at 5:30 a.m. to drive to Da Nang airport.

I was lucky to gain a window seat as the aerial views during the journey were fascinating and really told a story about the geography, land use, and importance of the mighty rivers between Da Nang (Han River) area

and the (Saigon River) metropolis of Ho Chi Minh city.

The people in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) seemed to have a more entrepreneurial outlook and dressed more western style than Vietnamese locals from the north and central regions. This was evident from the moment we exited the plane at the Ho Chi Minh airport.

Early in our tour we were informed by our tour guide that there are over 45 million scooters/motorcycles in a population of 97 million Vietnamese people. This was clearly evident here!

Foreigners are not permitted to drive in this country. Unlike Thailand and Cambodia, in Vietnam you drive on the right side of the road (like North America)–well at least that’s the plan!

Sidewalks and the opposing traffic lanes are also fair game here. Each day of travelling in the bus was a new experience in terms of eye opening limits. The record for a family transported on one scooter was 10 members! The loads and items we observed being transported, never ceased to entertain and shock me!

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) had a strong French influence in the past and is known for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, made entirely of materials imported from France, and the 19th-century Central Post Office. Photos of French architecture will be displayed on the next blog post as we saw these buildings on our city tour tomorrow.

Meanwhile… The next stop today was the War Remnants Museum (formerly called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes). The brutality of war expressed in a new and different point of view with graphic photos and artifacts was deeply disturbing.

After viewing the effects of Agent Orange and meeting survivors, I was too horrified to see further displays. This museum was a strong reminder why we must communicate, compromise, respect one another and avoid war!

This short video mainly shows war vehicles and paraphernalia displayed around the exterior grounds of the museum … I did not wish to share visually disturbing images.

After checking into our new hotel –Hoang Phu Gia Hotel on Bui Thi Xuan St, 7 members of our group were off again to experience more Vietnamese war history and view the Cu Chi Tunnels. I enjoyed the scenery as we drove past rubber tree plantations and different rural landscapes 47 km north west of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Cu Chi Tunnels, are located about 1 and one-half hours away. They are part of a 250 km maze of connecting tunnels and chambers below the city.

These famous tunnels took over 25 years to construct and were started in the late 1940’s. We were informed the tunnel network was utilized successfully by Viet Cong (VC) to control a large rural area during the “American” war.

There are 2 main areas of Cu Chi Tunnels which are open to public viewing–Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Our tour guide took us to the Ben Dinh site.

Here is a video of this frightening historical reality.

Introductory maps showing the locations and the layers of tunnels. Some were several stories deep and included living quarters and field hospitals in addition to multiple traps. It’s truly unbelievable to fathom this scary existence forced necessary to survival during these extreme war circumstances.

The Ben Dinh site included: a section which illustrated types of death traps for people; tiny underground hiding holes; an actual 50 m long section of original tunnel; as well as outdoor displays; a gift shop and an area where a man sold sandals made from recycled tires; and an optional activity where you could pay to operate and fire machine guns!

The bursts of fire exploding from this “activity” resonated throughout the wooded trails making this experience feel even more real and unsettling! None of our group chose to partake in this option!

Out of the 7 of us on this tour, no women selected to try fitting into the tiny underground hiding holes or crawling along the actual underground tunnel passages. These tunnels are the original size. The other location at Ben Duoc has enlarged their tunnels for tourist access.

Although the GIF showing the underground hiding area might seem amusing, one man on our tour closed the camouflaged cover over his head longer than others were comfortable with, and required assistance to be pulled out of the tiny opening. What horrifying conditions must have existed to precipitate humans to hide in these holes!

All three men on our tour also selected to crawl through the entire 50m section of actual Chu Chi tunnels. They all entered the tunnel with smiles and waves, but re-emerged moving a bit more slowly!

Imagine living and moving underground this way for extended periods of time!

Today was a day of pushing my comfort zone levels and learning about the atrocities of war. Tomorrow I’m so thrilled to be touring Ho Chi Minh city and exploring the lush Mekong Delta!

Alluring Hoi An! Dragon Boating Vietnamese style! Boat/Cycle Tours. Shopping. Cooking lessons. Rice wine!

April 30th/May 1st 2019

Hoi An, a city located in central Vietnam, is a thriving hot spot of adventure, shopping, history and markets. We had a free day on our tour today and we all chose to maximize our time between tailor fittings, optional extra tours, and night life/markets .

In addition to the usual draw of tourists to this tantalizing city, we were lucky enough to experience an influx of Vietnamese due to a national holiday! As a previous Dragon Boat competitor, I was thrilled when we even discovered a dragon boat competition–Vietnamese style– during our bike tour! The video of this high energy event is located later in this blog post!

On April 30th, 1975 this national holiday, called Reunification Day by our local guides, was born.  This date has varying names in other geographical areas from Liberation Day to the Fall of Saigon. After researching, I discovered on this date “Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, forcing South Vietnam to surrender and bringing an end to the Vietnam War”. nytimes.com “The country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year” history.com

Our entire “Tiger Team”chose to participate in the optional half day boat/bike Discovery tour around the island of Cam Kim. Cost CA $47.00/person. I am not able to peddle bicycles due to a chronic knee condition, but gratefully was accommodated as a passenger on the safety motorcycle which followed the group.

Our adventure started at Hoi An Cycling where our group of 12 were fitted with helmets and bikes for the day; met our vivacious leader and tech support men; and reviewed basic safety rules for this outing. Next we were off to the boat launch area! The bikes were loaded and the vessel headed off to Cam Kim Island.

During our short boat trip we passed multiple types of eyed water craft. We witnessed Vietnamese fishing techniques and enjoyed the sights of cattle grazing along the banks.

Upon arrival at Cam Kim Island the bicycles were unpacked and the 15 + km adventure commenced! The group cycled past rice paddies, sugar cane fields, cow pastures, reed fields, rivers, and numerous home businesses. An unexpected result of exploring during the national Reunification holiday was that we even witnessed a local Vietnamese dragon boat competition!

 

Here is a video depicting our amazing views and experiences during the first half of our boat/bike tour.

After rice is harvested, it is dried and sorted on the roads! Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza Sativa (Asian rice). When rice is harvested it is called “paddy”.

Sometimes the rice is spread on top of tarps and sometimes it sits directly on asphalt or cement roads. It was a common sight to see locals out in the ferocious heat spreading the grain and kernels around as they dried.

After passing over a small bridge we were thrilled to discover multiple long boats full of men in the river; crowds of exuberant locals sitting on the river banks; and motorcycles lining both sides of the road. My motorcycle driver yelled “Racing Day!”

I nearly jumped off the motorcycle in excitement! We convinced the tour guide to stop here for an unscheduled break so we could share this dynamic experience!

Many locals wear decorative masks over their noses/mouths as protection against air pollution–especially when riding motorcycles. Observe the woman in the 1/2 sphere boat. These boats are common with locals as a previous king taxed boats based on their length. So Vietnamese responded with these round vessels!

Here is a video representation of our local Vietnamese Dragon boating experience! Such fun!

 

After resuming our journey we passed more fields then small man made ponds with interesting aeration systems. The tour guide informed me these were prawn farms. There are so many innovative and practical ways to utilize and maximize harvest potential here. More huge drop nets were evident near water edges. My guide said the nets are dropped around sunset and lifted before sunrise.

The next stop on our day’s experience of rural Vietnam was a rice wine distillery.  The distillery and adjacent home were owned by an elderly ex soldier who proudly displayed photos and sang songs about Ho Chi-Minh. This positive man lost his foot as a result of a land mine explosion during previous war periods in Vietnam, but has adapted to a small prosthetic foot. He greeted us with smiles and welcomed us to his home.

The connection between pigs and rice wine is substantial. The manure from the pig and piglets is used as fuel (as well as rice husks) to heat the boilers. The left over rice product not used in the rice wine is fed to the pigs. Win. Win. There are different levels of rice wine. We sampled the “typical” rice wine. It’s strong! Only a few dared to try the rice wine which was fermented with cobras, poisonous snakes, scorpions, or giant centipedes. The question is…did they suddenly become more manly and virile?

Reeds were thickly growing in many locations around the island. We observed people hacking them down with curved machetes while others sorted them into piles. We even observed piles of reeds dyed in various colours–yellow, red, green (natural), purple. Reeds were used to create colourful sleeping mats. Prior to arriving at the home of the couple who created sleeping mats we passed more very unique modes of transport…

We had the opportunity to observe the mat weaving process and try adding a few rows! The couple who introduced us to this traditional craft work together for nearly 10 hours a day to create about 4 mats/day.

I’m afraid our group would starve if we were dependent on mat production to feed our families–as we were painfully slow! It was fun attempting this type of weaving, but I would imagine your back would ache doing this endlessly!

Next stop was lunch at a family home/store. We learned how to make wraps created from rice into a type of appetizer.

Add to that real coconut water and traditional Cao Lao noodle soup.

We also learned about Vietnamese celebrations including lanterns, decorations, and symbolic burning fake US dollars. There was a small residence at the back of the rice wraps/noodles area and small store at the front. A lady (grandma?) and 2 children were sitting on the floor in the back area. There was also 1 bed and a tiny bathroom with a squat toilet which they allowed me to use during the visit. Everyone has been so welcoming to us.

Our 5 hour tour around Cam Kim island was drawing to a close as we returned to the boat launch site for our homeward trip.

This is a video representation of the second half of our wonderful experience and events from the rest of our packed day! I would highly recommend this Discovery tour.

We had tailors to visit in Hoi An prior to our next extra excursion which was a cooking class at the Green Mango! Cost for the 3 hour group cooking session was $92 CAN/person. Our Intrepid tour guide presented us with a list of suggestions of where to shop if we were interested in any of the following: custom tailoring, shoe-making/leather, silver, optometrists, etc.

Mark decided to get some fancy new frames and prescription sunglasses at Optic Au Viet Glasses. For 2,200,000 Dong $129.00 CAN the owner had his new glasses made to his specifications and delivered personally to our hotel within about 24 hours.

Although there are literally hundreds of tailors in Hoi An city,  most of our tour group decided to get some clothing custom designed from one of the two tailors Jay recommended. We stopped in to check out both locations. Yaly was upscale and quite famous. They also had the best selection of styles and fabrics. Sisters Tailor was family run with a very good reputation.

Mark and I decided to support the smaller company and selected Sisters Tailor. We were carefully measured then we selected our designs and fabrics. We had 4 items custom tailored for 7,820,000 Dong which was $461.00 CAN for 2 custom designed dresses, a fully lined sports jacket, and a men’s dress shirt.

By our second fitting the items were nearly perfect for us. Everything was delivered to our hotel on the second evening. Overall…Our group had more success with Sisters Tailors as multiple extra fittings were required before the clothing from Yaly fit properly.

Now we were off to the Green Mango for our evening cooking lesson and concluding meal. The chef was delightful and so vivacious. We all wore black aprons and chef hats.

Although it was interesting to learn how to cook new Vietnamese dishes and fun to bond with our group in another setting, I preferred the cooking lesson we experienced in Chiang Mai when we each had our own station rather than standing around watching most of the time. Plus $92 CAN/person seemed a bit pricey for this activity.

As we headed back to our hotel the streets and markets were bustling with activity and energy. The lanterns strung above our heads truly made the place feel so magical. The sound of drumming and chanting caught our attention and drew us toward an active area where people were sitting up in a type of tree house playing a Vietnamese game.

We watched and were enticed to try playing the next game. It was like Vietnamese Bingo! You paid a small amount of Dong to buy a wooden stick with 3 designs on it.

As the lady started chanting, a man walked around showing a wooden paddle with a design on it. If you had that matching design you were passed a small yellow flag. The first people to obtain 3 yellow flags won that round. It was fun! We were so close!

Another full and exciting day in Vietnam! Tomorrow we fly to Hoi Chi Minh City!

 

 

Hue to Hoi An–Vietnamese Shopping Central!

April 30th 2019 Vietnam!

Today was mainly a day of travel through gorgeous rice paddies and windy mountain roads with spectacular ocean views through Hai Van Pass. Then we had lunch in the tourist center of Lang Co Beach eventually arriving in the shopping hub of Hoi An–home of Old Town attractions, lanterns, and a plethora of tailors!

Tiger Team departed from our Hue hotel about 8:00 a.m. destined to spend the next 2 nights in the shopping mecca of Hoi An.

Initially we passed beautiful countryside of rice paddies until we reached our morning tea break location.

What fascinated me at this location was the oyster farms behind the shop. I observed men filling their simplistic wooden boats with old tires then wading through the water setting up floats and checking oyster lines.

After our morning coffee, we continued upward through the spectacular scenery of the Hai Van Pass. The windy highway was narrow and scenic displaying tropical flora and rugged ocean views.

Here is a video depicting some highlights from our trip from Hue to Hoi An.

At the summit there are some historical bunkers. They were built by the French in 1826 to protect this strategic pass. Control of the bunkers was later held by the US Army.  I located information indicating the Vietnamese People’s Army also used this ramp to shell Da Nang. We passed a look out where we observed a train on one side of the highway and a gorgeous view of Lang Co Beach on the opposite side.

As we approached the tourist beach location, we noticed some interesting new ocean equipment/apparatus. There were enormous nets supported by poles which were dropped into the water at sunset and lifted at sunrise. Round 1/2 sphere boats lined areas on the beaches. This tourist area was very different than any other location we had previously seen in Vietnam…beach volleyball nets, parasailing, beach chairs? We were informed that Lang Co Beach is a very popular vacation destination for Chinese tourists.

Next stop …Thuy Duong 3 Hotel in Hoi An.

Hoi An is a World Heritage Site city of appropriately 152,000 people located on Vietnam’s central coast. Hoi An is known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals and excellent shopping–particularly tailoring, shoe-making, leather, silver-making, and optometrists services.

Hoi An was historically a thriving trading base port city. The architecture is diverse mixing eras and styles “from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.” Wikipedia

After unpacking, we headed out with Jay for a fascinating sightseeing tour through the Old Town of Hoi An visiting some of the city’s major attractions. Here is a video reflecting some of the attractions we experienced.

We viewed the historic Japanese covered bridge which dates back to the 18th century and is depicted on the Vietnamese Dong , and explored multiple lantern clad historic streets. This truly is a fun and fascinating city–especially during Vietnamese Re-unification National Holiday period.

We visited an interesting historical home/museum where a family member had been a high official of the communist party under Ho Chi Minh’s leadership.

We had a lovely group dinner at Lantern Town Restaurant observing the beauty of the canals and lanterns. Gin and Tonic is the preferred drink by our English members, so I tried one tonight! After dinner, Jay surprised us by shouting for us all to participate in a special Vietnamese lantern ceremony.

It was an extremely touching and moving experience. We each got to light a candle and place a red paper lantern in the canal.

The paper lanterns carry ‘wishes’ and this ceremony usually marks the Buddhist Vesak festival in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it was a windy night and a few lanterns overturned. But the experience was surreal and deeply moving.

Instead of returning to the hotel, many of us detoured to explore the night markets or get fittings from the multitude of tailors in this city. The skies opened up and there was a tropical rainstorm! The night market street flooded. Entrepreneurs ran around selling plastic rain ponchos. Mark and I waited out the downpour in a clothing shop with a merchant and her children.

It was another full and fascinating day in Vietnam!

 

Exploring Hue, Central Vietnam by motorbike and dragon boat!

April 29th 2019

Here’s to another spectacular day of sightseeing and exploring Hue, central Vietnam, care of Intrepid tours! We progressed from adventure to adventure throughout the Hue area on the back of a 125 cc motorcycle driven by a local guide.

Some of the highlights included: 18th century covered bridge, local markets, 17th century active Buddhist monastery of Thien Mu Pagoda, a dragon boat cruise down the Perfume River, lunch at a nunnery, the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, and a dinner together in the home of a local Vietnamese family who were close friends of our guide.

All these experiences were magnified by the fact we had been lucky enough to be in Vietnam during their Re-unification National Holiday! Let the adventure unfold…

After admiring the view of Hue “Hway ” from our hotel window in the early morning, we met our “Tiger Team” in the lobby of the Gold I Hotel 28 Ba Trieu St . Just at the base of the staircase, we met our local motorcycle drivers for our day of adventure!

Yesterday was Cyclos… Today we had more speed on our whooping 125cc motorcycles! Before we commenced, Jay led us through a safety lesson 😉. As the day progressed, I discovered my driver spoke some English… “Hello” and “quack quack” (each time we passed duck farms!) I practiced my survival Vietnamese, “Xin chao” (Hello) and “Cam on” (thank you). We mutually recited “quack quack” whenever we passed flocks of ducks!

After a quick tour through Hue a city of over 455,000, we were off heading towards Thanh Toan.

Hue is in central Vietnam and was the national capital from 1802–1945. It’s history includes the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors. A major attraction from this era is the 19th Century Dai Noi Citadel (built between 1804–1833) which was heavily fortified including a moat and 2m thick stone walls. Inside the Citadel is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Imperial city with palaces, shrines, and memories of a past existence and royal history in spite of extensive damage due to several horrific wars.

Here is a video showing highlights of our day exploring Hue on the backs of 12 motorcycles!

We took our first stretch break by the rice fields and duck ponds dodging a tractor which happened to cross the narrow back road as we were chatting together. We continued on our adventure to Thanh Toan where many local Vietnamese were visiting the 18th century famous bridge, the market, and the neighboring village.

Thanh Toan Bridge is situated at Thuy Thanh commune, Huong Thuy district. It is 8km east of Hue. We enjoyed observing fishing boats, lanterns and decorations, and the Vietnamese version of BINGO which was very upbeat and energetic with its chanting and drumming excitement. The market was fairly small.. but very diverse and traditional..

People dressed in traditional clothing were being photographed beside the famous covered bridge.

The bridge was built in the time of Emperor Le Hien Tong from the mid 18th century. Tran Thi Dao, the wife of one of the emperor’s high ranking courtiers, who grew up in the area, provided the money to build it. The tiled roof makes it quite unique for its age and it spans an irrigation channel.

Although this site was included in our tour the entrance fee is normally 30,000 Vietnamese Dong/person.

Our next stop was the Buddhist monastery of Thien Mu Pagoda. 4 km southwest of the Citadel on a hill overlooking the Perfume (Huong) River you can locate this Pagoda.

Thien Mu Pagoda was constructed in 1844 under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri and is known for its unique 21m high octagonal tower. It is also renowned as the location which houses the car of a former monk who drove to Saigon in 1963 to set himself alight to protest the poor treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. 

As you can tell from the slow movements of the people and the multiple sun umbrellas and hand fans in the video, the temperature was oppressive–hitting nearly 40 degrees while we were walking around the grounds.

Happily, our next adventure was a dragon boat cruise down the Perfume River before eating a vegetarian lunch at a nunnery.

As a previous member of a dragon boating team in Canada….this was a fun excursion (although we weren’t paddling and getting soaked in the process!). There were merchants on board promoting the sale of intricate pop up cards, wooden toothpick bookmarks, and other souvenirs.

Time for a break from the sun while eating a delicious vegetarian lunch at the Nunnery.

Back on the motorcycles for our final destination of this tour–the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc located 5 km south of Hue. This elaborate, beautiful and expansive tomb was constructed between 1864–1867 and designed by the benefactor himself.

Tu Duc is the longest-reigning Nguyen Emperor on record. Although he had over a hundred wives and concubines, he was unable to father a son (some information indicates it is possible he became sterile after contracting smallpox).

This mausoleum also known as Khiêm Tomb, was built with the intention that Emperor Tu Duc would use it both before and after his death.

In addition to the extravagance of his mausoleum, the Emperor is remembered because he demanded forced labor during its construction.

It’s so disheartening and surreal seeing bullet holes and damage from bombs intertwined with such magnetic detail and artistic beauty.

Back on the motorcycles…It’s time to return to Hue and air conditioning in our Hotel!

Tonight we have another special event planned…Our amazing guide, Jay, has organized an authentic home visit with a family in the Hue area. We all assisted with money to buy the groceries and the family will be cooking an authentic Vietnamese dinner hosted in their own home.

Here is a short video of our host family and our lovely meal sharing and learning about different cultures.

We are all so grateful for this wonderful experience. Another full and amazing day! I loved Hue! Tomorrow we travel through mountains and beaches to our next destination Hoi An, Central Vietnam.

 

 

 

Overnight Train to Hue. Oi, troi oi! Comfy Cyclo Tour–fun way to explore!

April 27th and 28th 2019

Another day/night packed with adventure, care of Intrepid tours. Our group of 12 plus our leader, Jay, will be departing from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam and arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, via Vietnam railways overnight train! Oi, troi oi! This would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget!

During our bus trip we passed interesting architecture–influenced by previous historical association with France.

We also passed several public schools where uniforms were worn by students and these fit youngsters did not ride buses, instead as they exited the school most jumped on bicycles as their means of transport home.

Around noon we re-connected with our luggage, refreshed and relaxed at Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel in Hanoi in preparation for the overnight train experience. Many of our group decided to have massages and/or take an optional Hanoi Street Food tour. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter there is much to explore and extensive food options.

A popular market in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is Dong Xuan Market. It is a fascinating gathering place for locals 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Thanks for these awesome pictures Jess!

While about half of our group attended the Hanoi Street Food Tour, others had done this awesome tour earlier, so decided to visit another popular location for dinner–Hanoi Food Culture. It was relatively pricey and we noticed that most of the clientele were foreigners, but the food was lovely.

We had been advised to stock up on food and drinks for the overnight train trip and avoid eating/drinking from the train vendors. We picked up some supplies from the extensive options in our area. The honking from vehicles and activity around here is quite intense until about 11:00 or midnight, then it slows down for about 6 hours during the night.

We headed off about 9:00 p.m. to Ga Hanoi Train Station. Jay was busy during the day fixing our reservations because the train company had split up our tour group into different carriages with other tour groups. He spent multiple hours at the train station until our group of 12 were placed in 3 carriages together. Thanks Jay!

Trains classified as SE are the best quality train option apparently. There are 4 main ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. Only the express trains offer air conditioning. The trip from Hanoi to Hue via express trains takes approximately 13 1/2 hours leaving about 9:30 p.m. and arriving about 11:00 a.m. There are 4  narrow sleeping bunks in each carriage (each supplied with a pillow and a sheet), a tiny table, a narrow aisle, and a door. This is an example of the soft sleeper (highest level) carriage with 4 of our lovely Intrepid group–At the start of the adventure! 

The toilets (which left much to be desired) were located at the end of each carriage. We used them as little as possible! Our carriage was ‘air conditioned’ (or so we were told)…

Here is a short video of our overnight train experience from Hanoi to Hue. You can’t hear the Foreigner child who was screaming for hours. There is a photo near the middle of the video showing several people standing in the hall by the open windows. The air conditioning was either freezing cold or blowing heat during the night. We gathered in the hall to try and breathe and locate somebody to fix the extreme heat variance problem.

We located 2 females working for the train company. One was sleeping on the floor near the toilets and the other one was throwing up by a carriage divider. We were all pretty excited when we reached our destination and disembarked the train! Welcome to Hue!

Hue is pronounced ‘hway’ and the city is located on the Perfume River. This city was the Imperial capital of the Nguyen emperors. Sadly, many of the buildings were damaged and destroyed by bombs during the Vietnam war (which they call the American war). However, we were to discover there is much to see and experience in this fascinating city.

Our Hotel was not ready when we arrived, so we headed to a restaurant beside the Perfume river for lunch and karaoke Jay style! Our guide, Jay, is getting married soon and we convinced him to practice the song he plans to sing to his bride. It was very beautiful and touching for us all.

Our base for the next 2 nights is Gold I Hotel in Hue. This is our view of Hue from our hotel room.  

We settled into our rooms then headed off to visit the war damaged ruins of the Hue Imperial Citadel complex. The Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh) was built between 1804 and 1833.

Although war damage is obvious, the Citadel  was heavily fortified with 2 m thick walls which ran 10 km in length. Plus there is a moat and 10 gateways.

We walked around the Imperial Enclosure with locals and other tourists. One focal point is the 9 dynastic urns which are huge bronze urns commissioned by Emperor Minh Mang and cast between 1835 and 1836. They are decorated with landscapes, rivers, flowers and animals.  

We saw the Thai To Mieu Temple Complex and the Halls of the Mandarins.

After we completed the walking tour of Hue Citadel with Jay, most of our group chose the optional Cyclo Tour around Hue.

What a fun and relaxing way to get a sense of a community! Each of us sat in our own Cyclo while a male driver behind us peddled the bike. Generally we traveled single file in a long line of 8 cyclists. I feel certain we were quite a spectacle!

We traveled everywhere from major highways to back alleys! Children would run and practice their greetings “hello” and wave when we drove past. We were able to view sites and local spots that we probably would not have known about. I enjoyed the experience so much there is 2 parts to this movie adventure.

Cyclos were tons of fun… but tomorrow we explore Hue on motorcycles!!!