The Mekong Delta – RTW Blog #21

Today wraps up my visit to Vietnam.  I visited a couple of historic museums in the city but skipped the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels among others.  The War Remnants Museum is a collection of US warplanes, tanks, etc. left behind after the Vietnam War and the Cu Chi Tunnels show off what the locals refer to as the “steel frontier”….the tunnels used by the Viet Cong to move troops south and where several people I know fought.  I saw several marketing pictures of cute blonds smiling as they popped up out of the tunnels and I doubt whether any of those who actually fought in these tunnels came up smiling.

I did learn about life on the Mekong River from my two day/one night trip there.  Tourists go there to see how people live on the river but it is not a tourist site.  It also shows how commerce is conducted in the floating markets. I also visited the Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City.  I’m going to make these two different posts.

First, the Mekong River Delta.  People use the river as transportation, commerce and home.  Today was laundry day for this lady.

People fish on the river although I was told there’s not a lot of fish here.  Some fish for themselves and others fish to sell in the market.  Most seller boats seemed to be couples working together.

In the floating market, large boats collect produce from farmers inland and bring it here to sell to wholesalers who will sell it to resellers in the towns.  Others, in smaller boats, will buy produce to sell to people living on the river.  For many along the river, there are no roads that come to their homes.  They depend on delivery to their homes.  A reseller loads  potatoes in the first image and watermelon in the second.  When sellers come to the floating market they may be here a day or several weeks depending on how fast they sell out.

The first boat below sells along the riverfront and the second is referred to as a 7-11 boat because it offers a variety of product from soft drinks to everyday needs.

On this boat, rice husks are being loaded and will go to a factory for making different products.

Kids still have to go to school.

For some kids, when they get to school age, they live with grandparents on land while Mom and Dad live on the boat.

Along some of the side channels, we visited some families who produce different products for local sale like rice paper for making spring rolls.

The mixture is cooked then dried and the cut into smaller pieces.

Rice noodles are done similarly.

A mixture of 30% tapioca powder and 70% rice powder is mixed with water, cooked, put on reed racks and dried for a week.

They’re stacked and in this form have a consistency of heavy plastic.  Thinner than floor mats in your car but nearly as indestructible.  They’re then sliced for packaging.

They end up here.

In the next post, I’ll show you my visit to the Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City….

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ll Give You a Hand…or Two! RTW Post #20

I arrived in Hoi An, a city about a half hour from Da Nang, on Saturday.  I’ve spent the last three days seeing a variety of sites around the city.

One of the places I wanted to go was the Golden Bridge.  It’s about an hour from Hoi An and according to what I’d learned doing my research the place is elbow to elbow with tourists arriving by the bus loads with tours from Da Nang and Hoi An.  So….I hired a private driver for a 5:30 am pick up that would get me there before the first cable car heads up the mountain at 7am.  I wanted to be on that cable car.  And I was.  I rode up with some employees and this was my view.  The Golden Bridge is at 4,000 ft. (Sorry for the water marks on the glass but the attendant wouldn’t wipe it down as it went around the bottom of the lift.)

Yes, it was a little foggy.

The Golden Bridge is part of an French entertainment center similar but a lot smaller than Disney World.   I wasn’t interested in coming to Vietnam to see a Disney World but I did want to see the Golden Bridge.  This is why.

The Golden Bridge appears to be supported by two sets of hands.  Due to the fog you couldn’t see but one at a time.  By being there before most tourists, I got a fairly uninterrupted view.

There were three photographers shooting wedding pictures there, too.

If you strain a little you can see another wedding couple in the background.  By 8:15, the first buses were arriving and the crowd began to thicken.

As I started back down at 8:30, the cable cars were full and by 9:00 or so, I’m told the bridge appears to be elbow to elbow with people taking pictures of themselves.  It seems like many people are more interested in a picture of themselves then they are of what they came to see.  “Here I am in front of (pick a place) then they are in the place itself.”

The driver cost me $50 ($10 per hour for five hours) plus $32 to get into the theme park to see the bridge.  Not a bad deal, at all.

I also spend a couple of evenings wandering around the night market and photographing the lantern boats and a lighted bridge over the river.

A lady floats a candle-lit lantern into the river.

I’ve eaten 90% of my meals at street side places like these.  The only restaurants I’ve been in in Vietnam are as part of tours or when I was on a cruise.

Another excursion took me to My Son (pronounced…me son) Sanctuary.  This is a Hindu temple and surrounding buildings built around 400-1300.

According to my guide, it was bombed during the war.  As an aside, at home, it was the Vietnam War…here, it’s the American War.  As one reader ask, “What do the Vietnamese think of America?”  According to a few I’ve talked with since being ask that question, I think the answer is that it’s been such a long time ago that it doesn’t bother them any more.  I haven’t had the opportunity to visit with anyone of that era.  Most of the young people that I’ve encountered are too young to remember it or are also in the tourism industry in some form or other, and aren’t going to speak negatively about Americans who are spending money here.  The general feeling I have is that they were angry for some time but it’s been so long ago that they’ve largely put it out of their minds.  I’m not sure if that would be true for those my age who fought in that war from either the United States or Vietnam.

I’ll have a little more to say about this after I visit Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on my next stop.

Back to the My Son Sanctuary.  This place is similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia but a lot smaller.  A couple of interesting construction points.  If’ you’ll notice, the bricks have no mortar between them yet they are said to be connected.  Also, the tight shot of the sculpture brick, they assembled the brick, smoothed it, then carved out the designs.

Also, there’s one image here of sanskrit.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I landed in Da Nang.  From what I saw, Da Nang is more a coastal resort city.  I saw multiple luxury resorts on my way to Hoi An.  Similar to golf resorts in North Carolina coastal areas or beach resorts in Hawaii or Florida.  Its  a much more modern city than Hanoi. The roads both in Da Nang and here in Hoi An are good.  There is lots of develop in the works with cranes and construction sites everywhere.

Today is my last day in Hoi An.  I’ve enjoyed it here.  Tomorrow I fly to Ho Che Minh City for my last few days.  Sunday night I leave for New Zealand.

I covered a lot in this post.  I hope you enjoyed the information and the images.

Ron

 

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A Daytrip to Ninh Binh, Vietnam’s First Capital. RTW Post #19

I took a day trip to Ninh Binh today.  It’s about 3 1/2 hours southeast of Hanoi.

First, here’s a look at motorbike traffic during rush hour this morning as we were leaving town.  The downtown streets were nearly impassable.

Ninh Binh is Vietnam’s first capital from 968 to 1010.  Prior to that, Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese.  When they won their independence from China the then king of Vietnam decided to make Ninh Binh the capital because it was easy to defend being located in the limestone mountains and with rivers all around it.

In 1010, a new king decided that their army had grown enough to defend the country and  the population of Ninh Binh had also used all it’s available area and could no longer expand, so he moved the capital to Hanoi.

Today we visited the original capital and the temple that honors the first king.

The grounds are beautiful even for something as old as it is.  The original capital building has been destroyed but the temple is still there. Pictures are not allowed in the temple.

After lunch we went for a boat ride on the river where the women row with their feet.

The nearly two hour ride up and down the river was very quiet and relaxing.  We went through three caves/tunnels.

I learned a valuable lesson on this trip.  Don’t raise your camera over your head to take a picture in a dark cave.  Especially if you don’t know how much clearance you have overhead.  Luckily for me nothing was damaged except for a scrape on one knuckle and a little embarrassment.  The picture wasn’t all that great anyway!

And no matter the mode of transportation, there’s always someone who has to be on their cell phone while driving!

I fly to Da Nang tomorrow.  $38.  The ticket says the fare is $7 with $31 in taxes.  I believe it.

More later.

 

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It’s Like a Mini-United Nations! RTW Blog Post #18

It was a three hour bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay for my 3-day/2-night cruise.  We stopped at a craft village were handicapped individuals produce artwork and jewelry to sell to tourists.  There’s enamel painting, thread art, sculpture, and jewelry with various stones and pearls.

From there we continued to Halong Bay.  After boarding our ship,

the Cristina Diamond, the nineteen of us were served lunch and then head out for our first excursion, a visit to a water village where we had a choice of kayaking or riding around the islands with a lady rower

who took us past floating homesteads were people living there have been grandfathered onto their floating homes when the government changed the rules and no longer permit people to settle on Halong Bay.

The limestone rock formations in Halong Bay are very photogenic.  The first day had some sun but otherwise it was very overcast.

Then it was off to the Pearl Farm where oysters are raised to produce pearls.  We see examples of oysters raised in different parts of the world and then watch as a oyster is opened to check on the growing pearl inside.

The last step is the gift shop were you have the opportunity to purchase pearl jewelry…rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, etc.

Back to the ship for a cocktail party before dinner and a little squid fishing if you’re interested out the first deck door.

All you need is a light, a bamboo pole and a hook.  All supplied for you.  No one had any luck hooking a squid.

Here’s a night shot of another ship that was anchored near us the first night.

Day two I was transferred to another small daytrip boat to go kayaking and to a very small beach.  There were two ladies on the trip with me.

One was from Spain and the other from Belgium.  I took my camera in a dry bag and got a few pictures.  I also got soaked as we rowed into the wind and had plenty of water coming over the bow.

I was with two different groups because most were on a 2 day/1 night trip.  I met Germans, Brits, Swiss, Japanese, Vietnamese, Danes, Netherlanders, Spanish and Estonia. Everyone spoke a little English. We had a great conversation.

Before our last lunch together, one of the crew showed us how he makes the table decorations from a cucumber and carrot.

This last piece looked like a fish net and was made from a carrot.  It was used to cover a fish that we were served for dinner the night before.  It looked realistic!

It was a relaxing couple of days.  Now I head to Ninh Binh for a daytrip before heading off to Da Nang/Hoi An on Saturday.

Thanks for following my blog.

Ron

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A Horn and Trust: What Do They Have in Common?

They are the two most important ingredients for traffic.  It took a few minutes to work up the gumption to cross the street in Hanoi.  The most important accessory on a car or motorbike is a horn.  The most important character trait in a pedestrian is trust.  I’ve seen cross walks and in a few places where there are stoplights, they seem to work.  But in places were there are no traffic controls, I think they are merely a suggestion.  So how does it work?  You simply start walking across the street moving at a steady pace.  The cars and bikes will find their way around you.  Haven’t seen a pedestrian hit yet!

This lady wasn’t in any peril but I’ve seen them cross at rush hour and the motorbikes are flying by.

Whoever gets to the intersection first seems to have the right of way….unless maybe it’s a bus.

Spent the afternoon doing some street photography.  There is a place in Hanoi called Train Street.  It is a narrow street where people go about their lives until the train comes through then they pull the kids off the tracks and let the train pass with not much room to spare.  This has become quite a famous place for people to come and take pictures.  About two weeks ago the Hanoi government…or somebody with the power… closed Train Street.  Too many of us tourists have been hanging out there and not everyone was getting clear of the train fast enough so the train would have to slow down or stop and that isn’t good for commerce.  So now, you can’t walk down Train Street and the businesses along the street have also been forced to close.

Here’s a shot I took this afternoon looking down the track through a metal barricade.  There are police at every crossing to maintain the rule.

I went back tonight at  7pm when the only train of the day was to go down this track.  Police kept everyone back but this is what I got.

Many of the streets are dedicated to a product.  For example, I walked a street this afternoon that was all fabrics, another was electric materials: wire, conduit, etc.  Around the corner were stores selling lights.

Some other random street shots from this afternoon.

Slow day at the office!

Moving stuff!

A funeral.

My lunch being cooked at a street side vendor!  5000 Dong, .22 cents. I’m going to spring for a bigger dinner.

And I did!

Tonight’s dinner was noodle soup with duck.  Very tasty but served very hot.  $2.38 USD including a Coke.  A street vendor near the railroad tracks.  The bowl is about 9″ across.  I learned how to eat this with a spoon and chopsticks.  It’s okay to slurp

The previous guy (from the funeral) may have smoked too many of these…Thuoc Lao pipe.  It is inhaled and is stronger than a regular pipe.

A potential customer checks out the birds and bird cages while the store owners look on.  There are real live birds in every cage,

As a kid I used to play a game called Chinese checkers where you try to move all your marbles across the board before anyone else.  This, I’m told, is the Vietnamese version of Chinese checkers.  Apparently, these guys have lost their marbles!

Lastly,

As the old saying goes, “Shave and a haircut, two dong!”  You need to say it kind of sing-songy.

Sorry!

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to Vietnam! RTW Blog Post #16

I arrived in Vietnam last Friday after an overnight flight from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia through Seoul, South Korea.  I had arranged for my Vietnamese visa online to speed up the clearance process.  I’m glad I did because the “speeded up” process only took two and a half hours.  I can’t imagine how long it would have taken if I hadn’t done that.  I did talk with some others who cleared Immigration much quicker.  It must have been the number of flights arriving at the same time.

Anyway, my driver was still waiting and got me to my hotel.

Friday night I went exploring.  My hotel is located on the edge of the Old Quarter and I was told one of the streets is closed down to car and motorbike traffic at 7pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and it becomes a street market.  I got some street food and walked a couple of blocks in the market.  Lots of people and I had been warned to be careful here as there are pickpockets working the crowd.

Those sun glasses are 100,000 dong or less than $4.50!  Now there’s a deal.

I also attended a water puppet show not far from the market.  Interesting but not great.

Saturday morning I was picked up by a van to head to Sapa, a mountain town northeast of Hanoi about 6 hours for a two-day, one-night trek and homestay.  From the van we switched to a sleeper bus.  Room for 20.

Double decker sleeping compartments.  This was something new to me.  Pretty comfortable even though we made the trip during the day.  The backs could be raised into a convenient sitting position.  Some interesting views out the window.

Sapa reminded me of a Vietnamese version of Myrtle Beach.  Lots of shops selling to tourists and many street people selling crafts.  Although there were some beautiful scenes.

Once in Sapa, we met our guide, had lunch at the hotel and headed for our homestay.  A trek of about 6 miles.  I wasn’t too concerned about the distance but when our group of 10 left the hotel it was nearly straight uphill (“only about 20 more minutes and  it’s downhill from there” our guide would say).  Well, everyone was in their 20’s except for a 63 year-old man from Australia and me.  I made it to the top and down the other side but not without a struggle.

The smiling picture of me is when I got to the top.  It was very muddy and slick.  A number of us…including some of the youngsters got a little hand holding along the way to keep us upright.  Several people took a spill in the mud.

The pounding on my knees going downhill was more than they could take and finally, my left knee was so painful that the last 3-4 kilometers was done on the back of a motorbike.  The hike over the hill offered us a great view of the terraced rice fields.  That was one of the reasons I’d signed up for this tour.

It was pretty foggy near the top but as we worked our way down the fog began to clear.

The homestay was very good. Our guide and all of the other guides in the area are Vietnamese Hmong’s.  This was Zn, our guide.  She’s 38 and his five kids.

There was a total of 16 of us at her house.  Six ladies from the Netherlands had arrived earlier and our group of 10.  Dinner was family style and there was plenty of good food.

The home belongs to our guide seen here pointing out something on the neighboring hillside.

We slept in an upstairs dormitory….sixteen mattresses with mosquito nets…arranged around a open view of the first floor in the center.  Had a great night’s sleep.

The next morning, after breakfast and while waiting for my motorbike ride to a waterfall, I shot a few images around the homestay.

 

We had a short stop at a waterfall, lunch at a local restaurant in a small village and then a van ride back to Sapa to catch the afternoon bus back to Hanoi.  This was was also a sleeper bus but arranged a little differently.  Three double-decker berths across the bus.

Got into Hanoi about 10:30 and back to my hotel.  I’m doing some photography around Hanoi today.  Tomorrow I leave for a three-day, two-night boat trip on Ha Long Bay.  Back into Hanoi on Thursday night then a daytrip to Ninh Binh.

More to come!

 

 

 

 

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A Nomad’s Life – RTW Blog #15

It was an amazing experience, spending nearly a week with our eagle hunter and his family but it was just that, an experience.  For them and many others in the countryside this is part of their everyday life.

The eagle hunter’s family are nomads.  They are not poor itinerant people although many herders struggle to make ends meet.  They pick up their gers and move four times a year.  Most live in the gers during three of the seasons.  The fourth season, winter, they usually spent in a hard wooden structure.  This is one of Erbol’s sons winter camp.

They are typically built somewhere where they are protected from the winter wind and snow.  (It gets cold in Mongolia.  It’s capital claims to be the coldest country capital in the world.)  These are framed buildings with dirt mixed with water to form a stucco-type surface.  When they dry they have cracks in them just like our ground does in July…but more so.  There is still no running water, electricity or toilet facilities.  There are squat toilets or pit toilets.  A pit in the ground with boards on either side to stand on…and squat.  They don’t have much furniture: a table and a couple of chairs, some low stools along with a cabinet or two, maybe a bench, beds and rugs to sit on.  There are very few wall decorations other than family wedding pictures and a couple of pelts from wolves they’ve shot.  You won’t see a house full of furniture!  What they own they have to move four times a year.

Here’s a picture of our cook’s parents.  You’ll notice at the very top of the frame you’ll see a pipe running along the ceiling.  That’s their hot water heat.  There is also one that runs along the floor.

Even homes in the village are built the same way.  The “brick” walls that form the property borders are constructed with handmade “bricks” and held together with dirt mortar.  Homes in the villages do have electricity.  Despite the convenience of electricity in town, they still have a pit toilet in the yard…usually some distance from the house.

There are three families supported by the herds that they run.  Erbol’s and his sons.  Together they have about 650 sheep and goats, about 150 yaks and cattle and about 60-70 horses.  Every night the yaks and sheep and goats come back to the camp and are protected from wolves by several dogs.

There are no fences anywhere.  Everyone knows where everyone else’s property is.  I don’t know how much land Erbol has but it’s significant.  Property lines are set up as from this mountain to the end of that mountain, etc.  We rode horses for eight hours on the first day and I don’t believe we were ever off his property.  Maybe when we went higher into the mountains to look for the ibex and the Agalie sheep.

Every morning the yaks are milked by the daughter-in-laws.

The yaks hind legs are tied so they don’t walk away from the milkers. While mom was milking the five-year-old daughter dragged a bucket around picking up dried dung for the stove.   One of the sons with a yak.  And a group of yaks.

The yak provides meat, milk and fur that is used to make warm clothing.  Much like wool from the sheep.

The herders families were extremely hospitable.  The second night I were there we were invited to one son’s house for dinner.  We entered the ger and removed our shoes.  We washed up before dinner.  One of his daughters walked around with a pot of warm water and a bucket.  She poured warm water over our hands and we washed them, then cupped our hands and filled them with water which we sloshed around in our mouths and spit into the bucket.  We then sat on rugs with a vinyl tablecloth in front of all of us.  (sorry, no pictures as I wasn’t expecting this celebration meal.)

That morning, as an honor to me as a visitor, they had butchered a sheep, cooked part of it along with some boiled potatoes and served it to us on a large platter.  Several of the others took the knife and starting cutting meat from the head and slicing the rest into small pieces that we ate with our fingers from the platter.  It was very good but it took a little getting used to.  Following dinner, we were served a bowl of broth the sheep was cooked in to drink followed by milk tea.  That’s 30% yak milk and the rest is hot water with a little tea and sugar. It is served with about everything.

The following night.  After our cook had prepared fried chicken for dinner, the other son’s daughter, who is about 5, came to our ger and invited us to tea at their place.  Well, tea turned into a freshly butchered goat.  And we repeated the dinner from the night before but with goat this time.  I was ask to say the blessing and cut the first piece off the goat’s head sitting in the middle of the platter.  So we had a second dinner!

So what happens to the parts of the sheep and goat that wasn’t cooked for dinner those two nights?  During the summer when flies can be a problem raw meat is hung on a line that goes above the stove.  The smoke from the stove keeps the flies away from the meat.  After fly season is over….like now…the meat is hung on the inside walls of the ger.

When our cook prepared each days lunches and dinners, she would select a piece of meat and take it to her cutting board and cut it into the right size pieces and cook them.  It all seems rather unsanitary but I never had an upset stomach and the food tasted very good.

One day we went into the village to our cook’s parents house to charge my computer.  When we arrived as happened when anyone came to visit, all the food in the house is served up.

There’s fresh homemade bread, homemade butter, cream, both white and yellow cheese, cookies and candies.  After Dauit, my guide, and I walked around the village we returned to the house to find lunch on the table.

A communal bowl of pasta, potatoes and …..horsemeat.

I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t ask.

Followed by a bowl of milk tea.

According to Erbol, herding has become easier over the last several years.  No longer do they have to walk or ride horses to move their animals from one grazing area to another.  They use motorbikes.  There are no Harley’s, that I saw, or mopeds.  Every nomad herder has a car or truck and a motorbike.  Some herders are still seen moving animals by horseback but there are more and more that are using motorbikes to speed up the process.

Even though herders are nomadic and move during the season, their kids still need to go to school.  Usually they go to the village and stay in dormitories. Classes run from 9-5 Monday through Friday.  All of Erbol’s children went through university.  These are not dumb people moving around the country.   They may not be as advanced as some of our ranchers and farmers but they are educated.  As I mentioned previously, Erbol’s youngest son is a math teacher but is looking to expand his knowledge and learn either Russian or English.  Teachers, I was told, make the equivalent of about $200 US a month.

This is his youngest son.

He and his wife and a newborn baby live with Erbol and his wife in the village.

I was also told that there are no nursing homes/assisted living facilities in Mongolia.  The youngest son is responsible for looking after the parents.  (Keep a spare room open for us Derek).

Well, I’ve probably ran a bit long on this post but my visit with Erbol and his family was more than I was expecting.  While it was also more basic than I was expecting it was an eye opening week.  I know this was part of a tour but I appreciated the hospitality shown to me by Erbol and his family.  All of them were interested in the pictures I took.  I felt like, for a short time, I was part of their family.  It was a unique experience!

One last image to end this post!

I leave for Vietnam tonight on an overnight flight through Seoul, South Korea.

Talk to you in a few days.

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