Vietnam

the shabby old capital, “halong bay of the rice paddies,” & a french feast

Monday, January 17:  I wake up to a drearier day than any I’ve seen in Vietnam, my throat burning.  But, I’m on vacation, so I force myself out of bed and get ready for another local tour I’ve arranged, to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc, about 100 km south of Hanoi .

bikes for rent near the entrance to Hoa Lu

bikes for rent near the entrance to Hoa Lu

It’s a long drive to both of these places, and in the van, I get to know the other travelers.  Our guide is “Adam,” his American-version name that happens to be the same name as my own son.  Most of the day, I talk to Colin and Tracy, a couple who work for the postal service in Manchester.  There is Joao, a quiet older guy from Lisbon, Portugal, and an entire Vietnamese-Canadian family from Toronto: mother, father, daughter, and Chinese son-in-law. Danny and Kim are a young couple from Australia.  Danny is wearing a smart wool jacket he had tailor-made for dirt cheap in Hoi An and Kim says she had some great dresses made there as well.  They just came from Cambodia and loved Siem Reap.  Sathris and Leholm are two guys from Singapore.

"special food goat meat soup with chicken" ~ near Hoa Lu

“special food goat meat soup with chicken” ~ near Hoa Lu

The Vietnamese father escaped on a boat from Vietnam in 1983, when he was 49 years old.  He slaved in a Viet Cong labor camp and then was out to sea in this boat for 11 days with no food or water.  Luckily a British tanker picked up the passengers and took them to Hong Kong.  He eventually was able to join his family in Toronto; his wife had already left Vietnam years before.  His daughter and her Chinese husband escaped on a fishing boat when they were 20 and 23 years old, with two small children in tow.  They spent 4 days on a boat that eventually ended up in Thailand.  The whole family, now coming back to Vietnam for the first time since their escape all those decades ago, is happy that they left here.  They now have a nice life in Canada.  I am captivated by their stories, similar to Andrew X. Pham’s stories in Catfish and Mandala, one of the books I read before I came here.

Adam tells us that Hoa Lu, in Ninh Binh province, was the first capital of Vietnam. His English is bad so I don’t know half of what he’s talking about.

munchin' on a thailand plum from the "happy room"

munchin’ on a thailand plum from the “happy room”

He keeps referring to two-digit numbers like twelve o’clock as one-two o’clock.  He tells us we will see the Ling Lai Temple at Hoa Lu and then we will have lunch at one-two o’clock.  After lunch we will spend two hours on a small boat at Tam Coc, where we can see scattered tombs at the tops of the mountains.

We stop at another “happy room” on the long trip south; there I buy a Thailand plum, a cross between a pear and an apple, but not as sweet.   Back in the van, as I munch happily on this fruit, we fly past a biker pedaling along loaded down with big flat cone baskets full of limes and tangerines.

the entrance to Hoa Lu ~ the ancient capital

the entrance to Hoa Lu ~ the ancient capital

It’s a long drive in a van with no seatbelts on bumpy potholed roads. The driving style is the same; on two lane roads, people drive at an excruciatingly slow pace, passing bikes, motorbikes, buses or trucks regularly despite the traffic being heavy in both directions.  At the last minute, these passing vehicles manage to slide back into their proper lane before a collision occurs.   In between chatting with people, this is what I see out the windows: a gas station called Petrolimex; concrete open-air cubbyhole businesses, doorless garages with corrugated tin roofs.  Rusted chain link fences, piles of dirt, piles of gravel, refuse everywhere.  Palm-like tropical plants fuzzy with dust.  Two- or three-story thin rectangular concrete houses with fancy balconies, chipping paint in Mediterranean colors, some with red tile roofs.  Again, no paint on the sides, just windowless gray concrete.  A few exceptional houses painted nicely with plants on the balconies.

crazy rock sculptures?

crazy rock sculptures at Hoa Lu

wall at Hoa Lu

wall at Hoa Lu

a gate at Hoa Lu

a gate at Hoa Lu

Huge gravel lots dotted with grotesquely shaped rock sculptures.  Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Symauto.  Sidewalk barbers giving shaves and haircuts.  The Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam.  Government buildings in faded banana yellow with brown trim, palm trees in front.  Another park with more huge Rorschach-blot rocks.  Motorbikers bundled up in knit caps, helmets, bubble jackets, slippers with fuzzy socks, masks.  Old buildings in various unfinished states of construction, much like the ubiquitous apartment buildings I saw in Egypt.  Not new, these unfinished projects sprout plants and weeds and vines on walls and floors;  I can’t help wonder why the projects died before they ever got off the ground.  Cemeteries filled with hundreds of miniature pagodas. The ever-present gray haze here with us even 50 km south of Hanoi.

the people you meet along the way

the people you meet along the way

And in the midst of all this, I write in my journal:  “A journey is really all the people you meet along the way.”

The truly nice and beautiful places around Hanoi are just specks in the overall landscape of rubbish and decrepitude.  This is more apparent on this drive south than on the eastward drive to and from Halong Bay on Saturday and Sunday.  In front of houses along the road, square or rectangular fish ponds are hemmed in by scrubby palm trees or refuse.  One of the Vietnamese guys explains that these ponds are filled with sunfish, meals for the local families.  Rubbish, rubbish everywhere.  Dust, haze, smog, gray skies.  It’s dreary and cold.

Colin & Tracy from manchester: "India is something you endure, not enjoy"

Colin & Tracy from manchester: “India is something you endure, not enjoy”

It’s a bit depressing today.  There is no attempt made by the Vietnamese to hide their piles of rubbish.  Piles of gravel, bricks, tires ~  the discarded building blocks of society in useless array.  Around the sculpture businesses, chips of stone are left where they fall, littering the ground.  I keep thinking that the rubbish collection business could make a killing here if the proper laws were passed and enforced, and public dollars went towards creating a rubbish collection infrastructure.  My question about the rubbish is this: is it just poverty, naturally sloppy Vietnamese, or poor government planning ~ no infrastructure?  I think the garbage problem is worse than what I saw in Cairo.

I mention my thoughts on this to Colin and Tracy from Manchester, who just came from a month in India.  Colin says in India I will see ten times the rubbish I see here.  They say there are rules that you can’t smoke in certain parts of India, but it’s okay to pee or defecate anywhere.  I ask them what was their favorite thing about India, and Colin says, “The flight out.”  They say a trip to India is “a trip you endure, not enjoy.”  Funny how their experience was the antithesis of Ryan and Thea’s trip.

Australians Danny & Kim: they thought Phnom Penh was rubbish

Australians Danny & Kim: they thought Phnom Penh was rubbish

Australians Danny and Kim say Phnom Penh is worse than Hanoi by far ~ impoverished, filled with rubbish, and not much there.  But they loved Siem Reap.  Later, when I get to Phnom Penh, I don’t see this at all; to me Phnom Penh is nicer than Hanoi; I find lots of interesting things there.  It’s so funny how each person’s experience of a place can be so different, how one’s experience can be colored by interactions with people, weather, where exactly one is in the place, whether transport goes smoothly.  So many factors.  Two people can have totally opposite experiences of a place, one loving it and the other hating it.  This is how I feel in Korea; while so many native English teachers love their experience, I dislike it altogether.

offerings to the Buddha in the temple at Hoa Lu

offerings to the Buddha in the temple at Hoa Lu

Finally, after an interminable drive through the dilapidated outskirts of Hanoi, we arrive at Hoa Lu, the political, economic and cultural center of 10th century Vietnam.  It was also the native land of three royal dynasties.  Today, the ancient Citadel exists no more, and all that’s left are some remainders of the dynasties.  I find the entire complex quite shabby.  No matter how we humans try, everything we create disintegrates around us.  While we’re there at Hoa Lu, we run into another tour group, and in their midst, surprise, are Roz and Sway and the Korean woman from my first day Hanoi City tour.  We are surprised to see each other again and spread hugs all around.

Sway and the Korean girl from my first day tour in Hanoi

Sway and the Korean girl from my first day tour in Hanoi

walkways at Hoa Lu

walkways at Hoa Lu

gates and walls of Hoa Lu

gates and walls of Hoa Lu

I don't know who this guy is... doesn't look like Buddha.  Possibly Confucius?

I don’t know who this guy is… doesn’t look like Buddha. Possibly Confucius?

another wise character

another wise character

on the grounds of shabby Hoa Lu

on the grounds of shabby Hoa Lu

When we leave the complex, locals descend on us from every direction and try to sell us bananas or water or postcards.  I feel stingy sometimes not throwing my money at every person trying to sell me something, but I can’t save the world and I can’t afford to be too generous.  I believe in buying goods made locally, but I must limit myself to buying only things that speak to me, things that I find aesthetically pleasing.  I cannot afford sympathy buys.

lunchtime :-(

lunchtime 😦

One old lady carrying bunches of bananas attaches herself to Adam, our guide, and won’t leave him alone until he buys a bunch from her.  She’s relentless; she must have given him the fellow-Vietnamese guilt trip.  Later, on the van ride home, he gives us the bananas for snacks.

our boat operator at tam coc

our boat operator at tam coc

While I’m at Hoa Lu, I start getting messages on my camera: CARD FULL!  I keep erasing old pictures, but for every 5 or so I erase, I can only take one more picture.  Finally, one of the guys from Singapore looks at my camera and tells me my pictures are set on RAW, instead of jpeg, meaning they are HUGE files.  I don’t know how this happened, but he corrects the setting.  However, many of the pictures I’ve already taken on this trip are now RAW, and I cannot delete them.  They are taking up the card space.  It appears I might have to buy a new card on this trip.

on the river at tam coc

on the river at tam coc

Tam Coc

Tam Coc

Tam Coc

Tam Coc

When we get to the lunch destination, near Tam Coc, I am hustled away to a table all alone, away from the rest of the group.  I protest that I came on a tour and I want to sit with the others.  But, they insist: you paid for the VIP tour. You get a table all to yourself!  I say, I never paid for any VIP tour.  I just want to sit with the group.  The group is eating a buffet dinner, while I am to eat from the menu.  That doesn’t sound like VIP to me, it sounds like RIP-OFF!!  I tell them I refuse to sit where they want me to sit, that I WILL sit with the others.  They don’t know what to do with me, but it apparently causes great consternation among the staff who insists that it’s a problem for the “menu” people to sit at the same table with the “buffet” people, because how do they monitor us to keep us from helping ourselves to seconds and thirds from the buffet menu?  I find all of this utterly ridiculous and just plop myself down in the midst of the others.  The “menu” meal is bland and cold, hands down the worst meal I have eaten in Vietnam.  The “buffet” people say the exact same about their meal.  So, what’s the difference?

so gray, cold and dreary :-(

so gray, cold and dreary 😦

We then head out to the metal rowboats, not as charming as the bamboo boats on Halong Bay.  Tam Coc, which means “three caves,” is a 2-hour boat excursion down the Ngo Dong River through rice fields, limestone karst towers, and 3 caves.  My partner in the boat is the Portuguese guy Joao, since we’re the only two not paired up.  On the boat ride, Joao keeps talking about the “visitation” in Portugal, and I say, What? Like the Virgin Mary? After much going around and around, I finally figure out he’s talking about the “vegetation” in Portugal.  Joao keeps hacking away and has been doing so the whole way down from Hanoi.  When I express concern about his health, he says he’s sick from going from warm Ho Chi Minh City to cold Hanoi.  I know what he means because I have felt sick all day, chilled, sore throat, nasal stuffiness and post-nasal drip.  Yuck.

the vietnamese are adept at paddling with their feet:-)

the vietnamese are adept at paddling with their feet:-)

The boat paddlers are Vietnamese of all variety, some young women with conical hats, some toothless old men.  Some paddle with their feet, all playful, laughing and joking among themselves, across the expanse of water.

We float along marveling at the sheer karsts; I keep looking for rice paddies.  This place is touted as the “Halong Bay of the rice paddies,” but I don’t see any at all.  Maybe it’s because it’s winter and the rice has all been harvested?  Since I’m expecting to see these and don’t, I have to say I’m disappointed.

We go through the 3 caves with their low ceilings, ducking to avoid getting clocked by the granite ceilings.

one of the three caves on the river

one of the three caves on the river

Our boat lady paddles us into a floating market, a virtual Vietnamese 7-11, and as we go into the midst of the boats, they surround us.  In their straw cone hats, they fling their sales pitches at us.  We are at the furthest point out and trapped.  One lady offers hot coffee and as I’ve been cold all day, I take her up on it.  She hands me a small dirty glass with her brown stained hands.  I drink it, unsanitary though I think it is, just to feel warmth for a few short seconds.  In the meantime, she holds out a coke and some crackers and motions that I should buy them for my boat lady.  Portuguese Joao remains stone-faced the whole time, acting as if he is totally removed from the scene.

the floating boat markets ~ oh thank heavens for 7-11

the floating boat markets

the boat market ~ oh thank heavens for 7-11 :-)

the boat market ~ oh thank heavens for 7-11 🙂

Later, when we escape the floating 7-11, the boat lady paddles out into the middle of the river and opens a big chest in the boat and starts displaying embroidered linens.  I say no, no, no, but she keeps bringing out item after item.  I just want to get back so I can be warm.  I say “No!” adamantly, and then make paddling motions, urging her to take us back to the start point.  During all of this the Portuguese is in a world of his own, saying absolutely nothing.  Nothing at all to contribute to the situation.  At the end, when we get to the shore, she says: Madame, Monsieur, tip??  I give her 20,000 dong ($1), expecting the Portuguese to give her another $1, but he gives her absolutely nothing, just totally ignores her.  I don’t know what his problem is, but it really irks me, this totally superior, standoffish, attitude.

Joao the Portuguese

Joao the Portuguese

Finally, we are on our way back to Hanoi in the van.  A repeat of the drive down, more of the same.  Late in this afternoon, it is gray and even colder than earlier, so I ask the guide and driver if they can please turn on the heat.  They tell me the van has no heat.  I have been quietly freezing for 1 1/2 hours.  Finally, I’ve spoken up, and still I will be cold.  Overall, it is a miserable day.  I would definitely NOT recommend this tour and I wish I had just stayed the day in Hanoi, exploring the city.

floating along the gray river at tam coc... where are the rice paddies?

floating along the gray river at tam coc… where are the rice paddies?

Traveling abroad takes me out of my comfort zone and throws me into an alien world.  Sometimes this world is comfortable, relaxing, beautiful, serene. Sometimes it’s a hardship, ugly, dirty, cacophonous.  I often feel dislocated, a little off kilter, because nothing is familiar.  Most times I like this; I feel my senses are heightened, I’m more present to the moment, I notice things I wouldn’t notice at home.  Other times, it can be drudgery.  But ultimately, I’m awake, I’m alive!

paddling through the caves

paddling through the caves

a mansion along Tam Coc

a mansion along Tam Coc

I think about my time in Cairo in 2007.  Egypt was a hardship.  In July, it was miserably hot, and being covered in long pants and long sleeves didn’t help.  Infrastructure was poor, the city was awash in dust and filth, the electricity was unreliable and sporadic, unexpectedly going off for hours at a time, several times a week.  Once a week at least, we had no hot water.  Internet service was slow and would cut off in the midst of a session.  Public transport and taxis were ancient and lacked air-conditioning.  Yet.  I felt more alive there than I had felt in a long time.  This is what I love about travel, that sharpened awareness, that immersion in cultures and different worlds.  It takes me out of my comfort zone, but it mesmerizes, it seduces, it jolts.

dinner at la badiane

dinner at la badiane

Finally, in the evening, I meet Ruth at her hotel and we go to a French restaurant, La Badiane, that Ryan and Thea recommended.  Ruth had to work today, but she also found time to go out and buy a warmer coat.  I am still cold.  We order a bottle of red wine and the whole set menu, with appetizers, main dish, & dessert.

appetizer at La Badiane

appetizer at La Badiane

The food is masterfully and artistically prepared.  Sadly, my memory is like a sieve and as I was enjoying myself too much to write down what I ate, I have forgotten.  But I swear it was delicious!!  We had an amazing time laughing and sharing our stories.  Thanks to Ruth, my day was saved!

Ruth & I have dinner at La Badiane

Ruth & I have dinner at La Badiane

As we’re taking our taxi back to the hotel, Ruth sees an Apple store and she needs something for her iPhone.  Next door, I see a camera store, so I run in to buy a new card for my camera.  I buy an 8MB card for about $25, but strangely, it comes in just a plastic case, with no cardboard packaging.  It isn’t sealed.  At the time, I don’t think much of it, but later, as you will see, this comes back to haunt me.  Ah, the perils of traveling and doing business in a foreign land.

Me at Tam Coc

Me at Tam Coc

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Categories: Asia, Hanoi, Hoa Lu, La Badiane, Tam Coc, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

fishing villages, the riff-raff edges of hanoi, and the green mango

Sunday, January 16: In the morning, we float among the descending dragon’s islets of jade.   My cabin gleams, its wood rich and brown and deep as the earth.  I’m in my down comforter cocoon.  The quiet is punctuated only by the lapping of tiny waves against the boat.  This is a time, this morning, when I savor  being alone, when I have moments to myself, but I know I can connect when I choose to.  I don’t mind being alone under these kinds of circumstances.  It’s only when I feel there is no one for me, no one to connect with, that loneliness haunts me.

Sunrise on Halong Bay

Sunrise on Halong Bay

Yes, I’m here on top of this water world, this bay of limestone and emeralds.  I love it.  Too much for words.  I lie in bed and soak it in, breathing the sea air, pulling the comforter close to ward off the chill seeping through the door.  I still taste the happiness I felt last night.  How, I wonder, can I have it again?  Why is it that I’m greedy?  Why can’t I just enjoy it when it comes without wanting it more, again and again?  Could Buddhism, I wonder, teach me to do this?

the morning after

the morning after

After breakfast, we go on bamboo boats through a floating fishing village.  In all of Halong Bay there are about 1600 residents of 4 fishing villages.  They live on floating houses and sustain themselves by fishing.  In this particular village, there are 59 floating houses and about 300 people.  They live here year round; they live with their children, who attend school at one little schoolhouse in the village, and their dogs, who protect what few belongings they have.  Ryan insists the dogs protect them from Somali pirates.

our bamboo boat operator

our bamboo boat operator

floating villages

floating villages

floating fishing villages

floating fishing villages

Most of the houses have generators for electricity, but they’re only allowed to use them from 7-9 each evening.  As we float past the villages in our bamboo boats, we can see flat screen televisions inside the huts, complete stereo systems.  Thanh has told us that generations live here, that their sole livelihood is fishing, that it’s a hard life.  I can believe it.  I can’t imagine living like this year round and rarely visiting land, or cities, or people outside this small community.

karsts and fishing villages

karsts and fishing villages

in the midst of the fishing village

in the midst of the fishing village

floating houses

floating houses

more colorful floating houses

more colorful floating houses

Before we came out on our boats, Thanh told us that there is a problem with the residents throwing “rabbits” in the water.  Several of us look at each other, baffled.  Rabbits?  Where would they get rabbits to throw in the water?  WHY would they throw these rabbits in the water?  I ask Thanh, probably with a “duh” look on my face: they throw rabbits in the water?  Thanh nods, Yes!  But one of our group knows what he is saying, “Rubbish, he’s saying they throw rubbish in the water.”  Ohhh.  That explains.  Thanh says Indochina Junk and other tour operators have a system set up to take away their rubbish.  To promote a green bay.  Bravo for them!

fishing villages

fishing villages

home sweet home

home sweet home

picturesque neighborhoods

picturesque neighborhoods

isolation

isolation

We stop near the little blue schoolhouse and go into a pearl shop where I see beautiful black and white watercolors of the fishing village for only $6, but since Thanh mentioned only that we should bring $3 to tip our boat operator, I have no other cash on me.  I have to pass up the watercolors, much to my regret.

kids who live in the floating fishing village

kids who live in the floating fishing village

bamboo boats

bamboo boats

a congregation of bamboo boats

a congregation of bamboo boats

more floating houses

more floating houses

I love the colors of the houses!

I love the colors of the houses!

rowing back to the Dragon Pearl

rowing back to the Dragon Pearl

me in the rowboat

me in the rowboat

boats docked at a floating house

boats docked at a floating house

We take a boat back to the Dragon Pearl, where we return to the dock and meet our van to return to Hanoi.

Ken, Ryan and Thea

Ken, Ryan and Thea

Christo and Julia

Christo and Julia

the two French boys

the two French boys

Ruth

Ruth

On the way back, we are all quiet in the van. Ken sleeps, Ruth reads, and I nap in between staring out the window, and closely observing, with clenched teeth, the harrowing chicken games on the road.  Out the window are the riff-raff edges of Hanoi.  Gray woolen skies.  Smoldering fires burning in open fields.  Women in conical hats bending over in rice fields with huge power grids in their centers.  Water buffalo grazing, oblivious to the slummy areas surrounding the fields.  Further along, more ladies in conical hats selling loaves of French bread hung on racks displayed along the highway, open to the elements, the pollution.  When the ladies make a sale, they bag the loaves in bright yellow plastic bags.  Many of these yellow bags have made their way into the unkempt patches of dirt and grass along the roadway, yellow blights yelping out to be noticed and hauled away.

All I know is that I feel a sore throat coming on.

Back in Hanoi we ride alongside the ceramic mosaic mural on the dyke beside Hanoi’s Red River.  The wall depicts scenes of the different periods of Hanoi, along with modern art work, children’s drawings, and paintings of Hanoi.  It is said to be the world’s largest ceramic mosaic.

the mosaic wall in hanoi

the mosaic wall in hanoi

the mosaic wall

the mosaic wall

I go back to my room at the Ngocmai, where I climb under the duvet and watch some TV, drink some orange juice, hope to feel better.  After a while, I go out to the fabulous Green Mango for a light dinner.   It’s an elegant and rich place, hung with draperies, dimly lit, with artistically stark dried flower arrangements.  Lonely Planet describes this place as having the feel of “an opium den.”

the green mango ~ rich and elegant

the green mango ~ rich and elegant

The wait staff all wear tee-shirts for a cause: Save the Cat Ba Langurs. The Cat Ba langurs are the most endangered primate species, with only about 53 individuals alive.  (Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project)

my waitress with the Cat Ba Langur T-shirt

my waitress with the Cat Ba Langur T-shirt

My dinner consists of beer, appetizer, salad, dessert, tea.  Grapes in goat cheese and cashew nut, Green Mango grilled prawn salad, lemon custard with strawberries and raspberries, chamomile tea.  The perfect ending to a perfect three days.

prawns salad

prawns salad

grapes with goat cheese and cashew nut

grapes with goat cheese and cashew nut

Categories: Cat Ba Langurs, floating fishing villages, Green Mango, Halong Bay, Hanoi, Indochina Junk, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

junkin’ it on halong bay: the happiness cruise

Saturday, January 15: Winter in Hanoi is not winter in Korea, or even in Washington for that matter, but it’s cold enough.  Especially since I’ve brought only lightweight clothing.  Layers and layers, but cotton and knits, not wools and down.

some fellow junks on halong bay

some fellow junks on halong bay

Maybe because of this chilly and overcast weather, we are just three in the van cruising from Hanoi to Halong Bay .  Each on our own bench seat, we can stretch out like lazy cats and enjoy the ride.  Enjoy? Wait. We are driving slowly, as everyone seems to do in Hanoi, but the driver rolls across the center line and then lackadaisically meanders head-on toward the oncoming traffic.  At the last minute, he cuts smoothly  in front of the truck in the right lane, and continues on until the next time he repeats the same.  On this 4-hour drive, he plays chicken too many times to count. There seems to be some logical order to this kind of driving in Hanoi, but frankly, it doesn’t make for a very relaxing drive.

indochina junk

indochina junk

The road is chock-full of bicycles and motorbikes and slow-moving trucks piled high with all manner of tropical fruits, sugar cane, green leafy vegetables.  One couple whizzes by; the driver has a huge sack of rice between his legs.  Debris dots the roads, the businesses, the yards. Another motorbike scoots past with dead unplucked roosters piled high behind the driver. Weathered shacks and paint-chipped houses fly by.  At temples along the roadside, incense smoke spirals upward, prayers to the Buddha. The yellow haze of Hanoi follows and envelops us like an old ratty blanket, too threadbare to cushion any head-on collision.  Ruth comments on the ever-present haze: “At least it’s atmospheric!”

Ruth

Ruth

Ruth, a redhead who lives in Toronto but was raised in Australia,  is in the seat directly behind the driver.  She’s working in Hanoi for 3 weeks helping Vietnamese community colleges with strategic planning through a contract with the Canadian equivalent of USAID.  She’s close to my age and we immediately strike up a conversation, finding we have a lot in common.  She has teenage children in college, she’s been married and divorced twice, and she loves to travel.

Ken, the two French boys, Thea & Ryan

Ken, the two French boys, Thea & Ryan

Behind me, in the third seat, is Ken, a bearded New Yorker with a hearing aid who’s retired but traveling around the world, volunteering as he goes along.  Mostly teaching English, apparently.  He tells us that he was practically deaf for 5 years but had a cochlear implant.  Now he’s just “hard of hearing.”

We make a stop at a “happy room,” which is basically a shop for tourists that has a bathroom.  I buy a bunch of Vietnamese souvenirs, sucker that I am: a buffalo tusk bracelet, an alabaster box with a carved vine of pretty flowers, a leaf box, placemats, and a lacquer picture that looks like an impersonation of Gauguin.  Ruth buys some scarves.  We use the “happy room” and head on our way.

the dragon pearl III

the dragon pearl III

We arrive at Halong Bay and board a little motorboat that takes us out to the Dragon Pearl III, our own personal junk moored in the bay.  We luck out in that there are just 9 of us on a junk that holds 22.  We meet our fellow passengers, Julia and Christo from France, Pasqual and his friend (name forgotten), also French.  Thea and Ryan hail from Brooklyn; they’re a couple in their 30s who take one big trip every year.  Thea has her own public relations firm and Ryan works for a software company that enables online banking.  Ken, Ruth and I make nine.

halong bay ~ descending dragon

halong bay ~ descending dragon

cruising into Halong Bay on our junk

cruising into Halong Bay on our junk

When I first meet Ryan and Thea, they ask if I have kids and I say yes.  But I’m not the kind of mother whose life revolves around her kids.  Sometimes, I say, raising kids can be pure drudgery.  I think Ryan is taken aback by that and during the rest of the cruise, I feel he’s a little stand-offish, possibly judgmental.  They are in their 30s and of course see children in their future.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Underway on the boat, all polished dark wood and gleaming brass, our guide Thanh tells us there are 1969 islands in Halong Bay.  Its name means “descending dragon,” and it’s been recognized by UNESCO twice. As we cruise along, we marvel at the limestone karsts and isles that make Halong Bay famous. Legend has it that the gods sent a family of dragons to defend the land of Vietnam.  The dragons spit out jade and jewels which became the chain of islands that served as a blockade against Chinese invaders.  Later, the dragons settled here to live peacefully.  The place where the mother dragon descended is called Halong Bay.  It’s quite lovely looking out from our little junk, as we cruise along, at rock formations shaped like slit-eyed monster faces and other imaginary notorious creatures.

Thanh, our guide on the Dragon Pearl III

Thanh, our guide on the Dragon Pearl III

Our phenomenal 9-course lunch, which Thanh introduces to us by reading aloud the extensive menu, includes: soup with red beans and lotus seeds, slivered vegetable salad with carrot juice, Halong clam with fragrance smooth fruit and cilantro, oyster cakes with garlic sauce, deep-fried prawns with garlic and butter, steamed sea bass with soya sauce and vegetables, cabbage with garlic, steamed rice, and tropical fruits for dessert: passion fruit, watermelon and oranges.  I add a beer and a glass of red wine for good measure.

steamed sea bass

steamed sea bass

At lunch, we all share our travelers’ tales.  Thea and Ryan have been to South Africa; they loved Cape Town but not Johannesburg.  Ken went to Zimbabwe and Tanzania and loved Peru with Machu Pichu and its huge sand dunes and rain forests.  Ryan also loved Peru.   Thea and Ryan spent a couple of days in Tokyo on their way to Vietnam. They have often done home exchanges and say they did one with a couple in Montreal, which they loved.  Montreal is where Ruth’s kids go to college. Ruth tells about hiking the mountains in Morocco.

After lunch, we try to sit on the cushioned lounge chairs on the top deck, but it’s downright cold.  I walk around on the deck, shivering and taking pictures; I come across Ryan and Thea huddled under royal blue towels on the lounge chairs.

the lounge chairs on the deck ~ too cold to lounge!

the lounge chairs on the deck ~ too cold to lounge!

on the good ship dragon pearl

on the good ship dragon pearl

Wanting to be warm for a while, I retreat into my cozy cabin where I write a while and take a short nap.

my cabin on the dragon pearl III

my cabin on the dragon pearl III

After lunch, we are given the keys to our cabins and told we can settle in.  A little later, the crew instructs us to put on the rubber slippers in our cabin closets because we’re going to explore caves on a little island.  My slippers are about twice the length of my feet, so I feel like some kind of cartoon character harumphing about in them.

I feel like a little girl wearing my father's shoes

I feel like a little girl wearing my father’s shoes

the captain

the captain

ken, thea and ryan

ken, thea and ryan

the little island where we lay anchor

the little island where we lay anchor

another view of the junks on the bay

a view of the junks on the bay from the little island

our fearless group of nomads from dragon pearl III

our fearless group of nomads from dragon pearl III

the view climbing up the island

the view climbing up the island

view from the side of the island

view from the side of the island

the view of our junk, and others, from the path to the cave

the view of our junk, and others, from the path to the cave

On the little island, we climb a path to reach caves filled with, alas, stalagmites and stalactites.  Of course as in all things natural, rocks & clouds, we see familiar-shaped formations such as sea horses and dragons.

inside the cave

inside the cave

After exploring the cave, we clamber back down the path to the beach, where we don life vests and get into kayaks, promptly heading out into the rough and cold seas.  Ruth and I are not experienced kayakers. We zigzag through the choppy water, waves jumping into our boat at every opportunity.  Around the islands we go, paddling hard to keep up with the others, getting soaked and cold.

soaked and cold after our zigzag kayak trip

soaked and cold after our zigzag kayak trip

About halfway through the trip, Ruth and I see a path through the islands that looks like a shortcut back to our origination point; we ask if we can take it and then plow through.  Funny thing is, when we get back using the shortcut, the others, who have gone the long way, come in for a landing right behind us.  On the beach, we are welcomed by a rock formation shaped like a whale against the setting sun.

the whale on the island beach at sunset

the whale on the island beach at sunset

Another extravaganza at dinner.  Thanh again reads the menu aloud and tells us to get our cameras out as we will have much to see.  Ruth and I prepare to enjoy by ordering a bottle of red wine.  First, we’re served another fresh vegetable salad, covered delicately in some kind of spring-fresh sauce, cilantro abounding.  Then out come the spring rolls, accompanied by two herons carved out of turnips.  Prawns in a delicious sauce decorated by a dragon carved out of a pumpkin.  Crayfish, very messy to peel, but delectable.  Chicken, mackerel, rice, and more tropical fruits.  And the grand finale carving: a sailing junk carved from a watermelon.  Apparently, the chef spent three hours of his day carving these showpieces.

spring rolls with carved swans

spring rolls with two herons carved out of turnips

a dragon carved from a pumpkin ~ with prawns :-)

a dragon carved from a pumpkin ~ with prawns 🙂

At dinner, we’re all drinking wine and enjoying lively conversation.  Ryan marvels at Ruth’s eyes, tells her they are stunning.  Ryan and Thea tell how they met on jury duty where neither of them were actually chosen, but in a random twist of fate, they found they lived five doors down from each other on the same street in Manhattan.

Ken tells us he went deaf from being a child of the 60s: too much loud music and too many drugs!  We laugh about the drugs, questioning him as to what kind, and he replies:  “There are not many I didn’t know…”

the chef with his sailing ship carved out of watermelon

the chef with his sailing ship carved out of watermelon

We talk at great length about India, where Thea and Ryan went last year, and where I’m planning to go in March.  They say they hated Delhi: “It’s so in your face!”  But they adored Kerala, taking a house boat in Allepey: “it’s SO chill.”

the watermelon sailing ship :-)

the watermelon sailing ship 🙂

After dinner we go out to the deck, me wrapped in my black sweater and a royal blue towel ~  a fashion statement.  Ruth and I sit with the French couple.  Julia, short and squat and wrapped in a cream pashmina, has short blonde hair poking up in spots like a punk hairdo; she smokes and speaks French in a raspy voice.  She doesn’t know much English, but Christo does so he translates.  Ruth also speaks French quite capably and is able to carry on a halting conversation with both of them.  Julia has that French classiness and elegance about her, despite her age and being out of shape; she’s really quite chic in an old world sort of way.

Julia & Christo ~ the French lovebirds

Julia & Christo ~ the French lovebirds

Earlier they had mentioned their kids were 42 and 45; I can believe her kids can be that old, but not his; he definitely looks younger, but then men often do.   I say, I can’t believe you have 40-something kids!  You look too young!  Christo proceeds to tell us that there is a huge age difference between them; he is 51 and she is 70!! A 19 year age difference!  They’ve been married for 33 years;  he was 21 and she 40 when they got married, she a university professor and he her student, and they’ve been happy ever since.  We can all tell they are still madly in love, the little French lovebirds.  He is protective of her, like when we walked up the hills to the caves, he held her arm the whole time; he told Thanh that Julia didn’t care to go into the cave, so he wondered if we would exit through the entrance or through another exit.

When Christo tells me of their age difference and their long marriage, I say, Good for you!  I’m so impressed that you have lived your lives outside the box, outside of what is socially acceptable.  Bravo!  I comment that they have a “joie de vivre” that’s quite obvious and infectious.  I love the French lifestyle; as with most Europeans, they know how to truly enjoy life.

One of the two French boys (I know one is named Pasquale, but I don’t know which one, and the other’s name I don’t know!) is very quiet and the other is friendly and talkative and even a little flirtatious.  I’m thinking he’s quite cute.  But I’m unclear if the two are gay.  I can’t tell as I don’t see any physical affection expressed between them.  The one who’s quiet is such because he can’t speak much English, while the other (I’ll call him Pasquale) can speak English quite well.  The two boys go fishing for squid off the bow of the boat, coming up every so often to show off their tiny slimy catches.

Meanwhile, I am disappointed in my own inability to speak or understand the French that is flitting about in the night air, especially considering the years I spent in half-ass study.  It’s funny, I can understand Ruth’s Americanized version of French more than I can understand the French people’s speaking, in which all the words blend together in a string of unintelligible but lilting chatter.

happiness on halong bay

happiness on halong bay

Later, back in my cabin, I write a while, as I left my book behind in my suitcase at the Ngocmai Hotel.  I realize that today I feel quite intoxicated, high, not only from the bottle of wine I drank, but from life.   From two days surrounded by interesting and adventurous people.  From immersion in a fascinating culture.  I haven’t felt happy in a long time, and now at this moment I can claim true happiness, in this time and space, as my own.  I love meeting fellow nomads, soul-mate adventurers, sharing stories and our love of cultures.  I love sharing new experiences with other vagabonds.  We have a spirit connection, a thread of whimsy and a lust for life connecting us, dreamers all.

I’m floating, anchored, in the midst of whales and turtles and sea monsters in this bay of descending dragons.  My cabin is toasty and pristine, and I’m under a white-cloud duvet, on a bed of pure white, rich paneled walls surrounding me.  I try to draw the happiness I feel in my little notebook, but how does one draw happiness when one’s artistic ability is limited to stick figures, star doodles, hearts, musical notes, and smiley faces?  How can I capture this happiness, bottle it, and take it with me back home, to Korea, where happiness is elusive as a firefly?

Categories: Asia, Halong Bay, Indochina Junk, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

hanoi: city of motorbikes, enthusiastic buddhists & ho chi minh

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

~Freya Stark~

Friday, January 14:  In the morning, I snuggle under the heavy duvet, warding off the cold air.  I debate: should I sleep in and have a leisurely first day in Hanoi or should I get up and do the Hanoi city tour?  Since I have such a short time in Vietnam, I think I should get up and go; I’ve found that small locally-run tours are great for getting an overview of a city.  Plus, after all my travels locally in Korea, I know that the logistics of getting from one place to another using public transportation can be a challenge, wasting much time and money.  So, despite the fact that I’m totally wiped out from yesterday’s ordeal, I get up and take a lukewarm bath in the only bathtub I will see on this trip.  In the breakfast room, with a TV blaring episodes of Tom & Jerry , I have a nondescript omelet, orange juice, bananas and papaya strips, and coffee.  Though I try to communicate that I want Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, somehow the omelet comes unbidden to my table.  I eat it.

breakfast at the ngocmai with tom & jerry

breakfast at the ngocmai with tom & jerry

entrance to Ngocmoi Hotel

entrance to Ngocmai Hotel

On the way out, I tell the friendly English-speaking Vietnamese  lady at the front desk that my heat wasn’t working last night.  She, very concerned, promises to have someone look at it.

Thanh ~ our tour guide

Thanh ~ our tour guide

I hop in the tour van at 8:30. Our guide Thanh tells us that in 1010 the capital was moved by the emperor of the Ly Dynasty  to Hanoi.   At that time he named it Thăng Long, which means “ascending dragon,” because he saw a yellow cloud in the blue sky and thought it looked like an ascending dragon.  In the 15th century, the name was changed to “Hà Noi” , which means between rivers or inside river.  He says Hanoi has about 6 1/2 million people and about 4 million motorbikes.  Hanoi is of course the capital of Vietnam and its second largest city.

our vagabond group on the hanoi city tour

our vagabond group on the hanoi city tour

We head first off to West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi.  Many people flock here to visit the plethora of temples.  In transit, I introduce myself to everyone in the van.  Andrew from Melbourne is a young medical student who  is traveling all over southeast Asia.  Roz and Sway, her Burmese husband, are from Sydney.  She does temp work and he teaches Japanese.  There’s a couple from Malaysia whose names I don’t catch, a young Korean medical student named Il Ho, a 32-year-old Korean woman, a couple from Norway, Kathy and Joe from Ireland,  Peruvian Gonzales who transports animals to zoos worldwide, and a Finnish guy who doesn’t like Hanoi much because “it’s too cold” and he only has a pair of flip-flops for shoes.  This unlikely group of vagabonds is garrulous and fun and we have quite a grand time all day.  We look like a bunch of homeless people as we have all come dressed for summer and so have thrown together a bunch of mismatched layers to keep warm in the unexpectedly cold Hanoi.  I’m happy to find other misguided souls who so wrongly predicted the weather in northern Vietnam.

At our West Lake stop, we are accosted by Vietnamese  ladies wearing conical hats.  Some are selling yams, peanuts and ginger root out of baskets attached to their bicycles and others are carrying heavy poles over their shoulders, with baskets of bananas & pineapples at each end.

saleswomen in conical hats

saleswomen in conical hats

the vietnamese lady who makes the "sympathy sale" of her bananas to me

the vietnamese lady who makes the “sympathy sale” of her bananas to me

One of them makes a pitch to me for bananas; I don’t want any but she persists.  She transfers her pole to my shoulder and I’m shocked by how heavy it is.  Especially for such a diminutive lady.  Gonzales kindly snaps a picture of me, the “Americanese.”  The vendor takes the opportunity while I hold her pole to pull her blouse off her shoulder; she shows me a deep scar on her shoulder from carrying the weight.  I reach out to touch it, feeling sympathetic, and then she goes in for the kill.  She holds a small bunch of five tiny bananas in my face.  How much? I ask.  She says 50,000 dong.  I am shocked, thinking this sounds like a huge amount, but then I remember that 20,000 dong equals about $1.  Feeling sympathetic about her hard life, I give her the 50,000 dong, $2.50, for the privilege of carrying around a bunch of bananas I neither need nor want for the rest of the day.

me, the "americanese"

me, the “americanese”

As we walk to the Tran Quoc Pagoda, I mention to several others that I think I just got scammed, paying too much for the small bunch of bananas.  A sympathy purchase.  The rest of the day, my bananas become an ongoing joke among the group.  “Cathy, how are those bananas?  If you want bananas, just see Cathy! When are you going to open your worldwide export business?”  It’s like I’ve become one of the vendor ladies.

the walkway at West Lake to the Tan Quoc pagoda

the walkway at West Lake to the Tan Quoc pagoda

Walkway to Tran Quoc Pagoda

Walkway to Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Ridiculously, this becomes the story of my entire trip in both Vietnam and Cambodia.  Poverty runs rampant in these countries and it’s unbelievable how little they ask for goods and services that we would pay much more for in the U.S.  Somehow I feel guilty giving them only their asking price and so usually throw in a few more dollars.  Sometimes I think I’m stupid for doing such a thing;  other foreigners seem to be happily enjoying the cheap prices.  Other times I feel like it’s money they need more than I do.  Although when I really think about it, I work hard for my money and I don’t make a lot either.  It’s not like I’m some multimillionaire philanthropist who can afford to throw money around casually.  It’s a dilemma.

Bonasi at Tran Quoc Pagoda

Bonasi at Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Vietnam  and the cultural symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism.  It holds beautiful Buddha statues in its many-layered niches.  Luxuriant temples surround the complex; inside are more Buddhas enfolded in bountiful offerings.  We light incense sticks in front of one temple and make wishes.  Inside, an orange-robed monk leads a worship service for about 20 devotees.  A temple full of energy and warmth, it’s quite unlike the cold empty temples I encounter in Korea.  Tropical fruits, flowers, colorful Vietnamese dong surround the Buddha in abundance.  Energy is here, positive energy.  I like it very much.

worshippers at the temple at Tran Quoc Pagoda

worshippers at the temple at Tran Quoc Pagoda

incense burning at Tran Quoc Pagoda

incense burning at Tran Quoc Pagoda

temple at Tran Quoc Pagoda

temple at Tran Quoc Pagoda

worship at Tran Quoc Pagoda

worship at Tran Quoc Pagoda

offerings

offerings

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

at Tran Quoc Pagoda

leaving Tran Quoc Pagoda

leaving Tran Quoc Pagoda

another local Vietnamese woman selling goods

another local Vietnamese woman selling goods

buddha statues in Tran Quoc pagoda

buddha statues in Tran Quoc pagoda

the temple at tran quoc with monk presiding

the temple at tran quoc with monk presiding

We head to the Ho Chi Minh complex and I am glued to the window.  The Old Quarter is an extravaganza of motorbikes.  Sometimes there is a single rider with a medical mask over his face.  Sometimes whole families: father wearing a helmet, bareheaded mother and child, even a baby in the mother’s arms.  A motorbike with a huge flower bouquet, the stems whipping through the air high above the driver’s head.  One with bundles of herbs, open to the elements.  Piles of bananas.  Stacks of plate-glass,  egg cartons, firewood.

chaotic streets of hanoi

chaotic streets of hanoi

The French colonial architecture, evidence of a bygone age, lends a dilapidated elegance to the hazy city.  Tall thin rectangular detached row-houses painted in chipped and faded yellow, terra-cotta, light blue, green.  Balconies on the front facade.  The sides of the homes are windowless unpainted concrete.  Porches sag, trash is strewn everywhere.  Commerce is ubiquitous, on every sidewalk, every street corner, every store front.  The smell of cilantro, limes, mangos lingers in the air, mingled with exhaust from cars and motorbikes.  Cyclos roam the streets, somehow surviving the onslaught of the motorized vehicles that pack the street ten across.  Pho (noodle soup stalls) are tucked into every crevice.  Oversize people hunch on miniature plastic stools in front of low plastic tables savoring the street food prepared by cobbled-together food stalls.  The energy here is infectious.

ho chi minh's mausoleum

ho chi minh’s mausoleum

At the Ho Chi Minh complex we see the impressive mausoleum where the Vietnamese hero lies mummified within.  However, it’s closed on Fridays for renovations so we miss out on viewing his body.  This was built despite his own wishes to be cremated and have his ashes scattered all over his country.  It was built from materials found all over Vietnam between 1973-1975.  Every year his embalmed corpse gets a 3-month holiday to Russia for yearly maintenance.

While walking in front of the complex, the Finnish be-sandaled guy asks if I’ve encountered any anti-Americanism since I’ve been here.  I say, no, people have told me that Vietnamese surprisingly don’t hold any grudges.  He humphs and says, yeah, sure.  I say, well, I don’t really know if they hold grudges or not.  I can certainly understand if they do.  He says, well, they won, didn’t they?  Americans will never learn, will they?  I say, you could say that about any country, looking at the long years of recorded history.  And then I turn my back on him and pick up my pace, walk away.  I am pissed!! It always seems non-Americans hold America up to a different standard than the rest of the world.  They expect us somehow to be perfect and when we’re not, then we’re some kind of cursed demon.  I encounter this kind of attitude often in my travels abroad.  I wonder about his home country of Finland, whether it is different from most other countries, whether the Finns have “ever learned.”  After it got independence from Russia in 1917, Finland fought civil wars and wars against the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, but it stayed neutral during the Cold War.  I guess Finland has “learned” though, as it is now ranked, with its 5 1/2 million population, as the 2nd most stable country in the world.

the presidential palace used mainly in french indochina

the presidential palace used mainly in french indochina

We walk around the grounds of the complex and see an updated version of the Presidential Palace, formerly used by the governor-general of Indochina and built in 1868.  It later was the official residence of the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. In February 1962 the palace was bombed by two South Vietnamese fighter planes in an attempt to assassinate President Diem.  It was destroyed by the bombing even though the President wasn’t hurt.  A new building was constructed called The Hall of Reunification.

We see some of Ho Chi Minh’s collection of cars.

one of Ho Chi Minh's cars

one of Ho Chi Minh’s cars

We then visit a beautiful carp pond where Thanh tells us you can bring the fish to the surface by clapping your hands, so everyone stands at the railing idiotically clapping hands over the pond.

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the carp pond

the carp pond

the carp pond at the Ho Chi Minh complex

the carp pond at the Ho Chi Minh complex

the lovely carp pond in front of the house on stilts

the lovely carp pond in front of the house on stilts

On the far side of the pond is the House on Stilts, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1958-1969, when he died.  Built of lacquered and polished wood, it emphasizes the simplicity and modesty the revolutionary leader believed in ~ he wanted to be seen as a man of the people.  The house is modeled on a traditional communal house on stilts.  The setting is quite lovely, with the carp pond in front and gardens and greenery around.  A tunnel leads from the dining room, which provided an escape route for Ho Chi Minh if his life was in danger.

ho chi minh's house on stilts

ho chi minh’s house on stilts

inside the House on Stilts

inside the House on Stilts

a little bridge over a part of the pond

a little bridge over a part of the pond

pomelos

pomelos

painted baskets

painted baskets

a woman demonstrates a Vietnamese musical instrument

a woman demonstrates a Vietnamese musical instrument

Next we see the One Pillar Pagoda, built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong (1028-54), designed to represent a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

the One Pillar Pagoda

We visit the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and later established as a university for the education of mandarins.  It has 5 courtyards, with a serene reflecting pool in the front courtyard, roofed gateways, and low-eaved buildings.  In 1484, Emperor Le Thang Tong ordered the establishment of stelae honoring men who received doctorates in triennial exams dating back to 1442.  Each of these 82 stelae is set on a stone tortoise.

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

Tree at the The Temple of Literature

Tree at the The Temple of Literature

Musicians perform at the The Temple of Literature

Musicians perform at the The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature

i think this is confucius, in the temple of literature

i think this is confucius, in the temple of literature

At a ceramics factory, Thanh asks if we’d like to try shaping clay on a pottery wheel.  The Malaysian man in our group says, Cathy will do it!  I say, why me?  He says because you’re just the kind of person who WOULD do it!  This comment pleases me immensely, but nonetheless I say, no, not me!  I don’t like to get my hands dirty.

at the entrance to the ceramics factory

at the entrance to the ceramics factory

Lunch is a cold affair in a cramped restaurant, but we warm ourselves with Hanoi beer and mixed drinks.  We eat spring rolls with peanut sauce, deep-fried eggplant, chicken….  We’re cold but the food, in typical Vietnamese fashion, is wonderful.  I sit with Roz and Sway and they tell me how they met.  She was walking toward the bus stop.  He walked past her and did a double-take, then he turned around and followed her onto the bus, despite the fact that she was grumpy and did nothing (so she says) to encourage him.  After that she could never shake him!

lunchtime in hanoi

lunchtime in hanoi

The end of our tour is at Hoan Kiem Lake, or Restored Sword Lake, with its Ngoc Son Temple.  Once again the Buddhist temples are rich in color and offerings and energy.  We also see young Vietnamese couples having their wedding pictures taken on the bridge on the lake leading to the temple.

rickshaws outside of Hoan Kiem Lake

rickshaws outside of Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

incense burning at Hoan Kiem Lake

incense burning at Hoan Kiem Lake

temple at Hoan Kiem Lake

temple at Hoan Kiem Lake

a young vietnamese couple on the bridge at hoan kiem lake

a young vietnamese couple on the bridge at hoan kiem lake

Some of us decide to go see the water puppet show.  As it’s near the lake, we ask the tour guide to drop us off there.  We negotiate the crazy traffic as we attempt to get to our destination.

streets of Hanoi

streets of Hanoi

streets of Hanoi

streets of Hanoi

Roz and Sway, the Finnish guy, the Korean woman and I go searching for the theater, find it and buy our tickets for a mere $3 for the 5:30 show.  While waiting for the show to begin, we stop in to a hole-in-the-wall for warm beers for $1.50.  I ask everyone their story and Roz and Sway tell theirs again.  The Finnish guy, who has obviously taken a great liking to the Korean woman, tells us that he has two children, one 12 and one 4, but he’s never been married.  He’s lived with a woman for a long time, but never married her.  The Korean woman tells how she and her long-time boyfriend just broke up two weeks ago, and she promptly breaks into tears.  The Finnish guy puts his arm around her, trying to soothe her, and tells her HE likes her very much.  It is funny that no one thinks to ask me my story; apparently no one cares. 😦

beers with Roz & Sway, the Finn & the Korean

beers with Roz & Sway, the Finn & the Korean

Later, walking up the stairs at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, the Finnish guy puts his arm around Miss Korea, but later, as we sit in the theater, she and Roz do some seat switching as she has no interest in the Finnish guy, who has become quite proprietary with her.

The show is quite cute, although it’s all in Vietnamese.  The little puppets are doing all kinds of silly actions & acrobatics and we can’t help but laugh even though we don’t know the story.

the water puppet show

the water puppet show

the water puppet show

the water puppet show

After the show, I decide I will leave the group since there are two couples here and I am the third wheel.  When I walk out of the bathroom, the Korean woman is having a serious talk with the Finnish guy, probably telling him she still hasn’t recovered from her recent relationship and so isn’t ready for any kind of friendship with him.

vietnamese delectables

vietnamese delectables

I go directly to a nondescript restaurant that has a glass case showing delectable treats.  I order shrimp with broccoli and noodles.

my dinner of shrimp, broccoli and noodles

my dinner of shrimp, broccoli and noodles

After dinner, I take a cyclo back to my hotel, and though I’ve agreed to give the driver $3, he doggedly suggests, as he pedals along, an hour tour of Hanoi for $5.  When I say I don’t want to spend an hour, he suggests a half-hour tour for $5.  Funny, when someone doesn’t want to buy something, don’t you come DOWN on your price?  I end up giving him $5 at the hotel anyway… again, it’s that feeling sorry for people and feeling guilty for giving them so little for their efforts.

taking the cyclo back to the hotel

taking the cyclo back to the hotel

Back at the hotel, I am checking my emails on the lobby computer, since I didn’t bring one along, and it is exceedingly slow.  I have hundreds of emails, mostly junk of course, and it’s taking me forever to sort them out.  In addition, I find that Facebook is blocked in Vietnam, as it is in China.  Later, I find out from Ken on the Halong Bay cruise that you can get past the block by using www.lisp4.facebook.com.  At the time I don’t know this, so I spend wasted efforts trying to log in to answer some messages from friends.

night streets of Hanoi

night streets of Hanoi

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese guy visiting from Ho Chi Minh City pulls up a chair next to me and starts yapping, asking me all about myself.  I get irritated and try to ignore him, because I’m tired and trying to concentrate on my emails but he won’t let me be.  When he sees I’m ignoring him, he disappears, but then he comes back and asks if I’d like to go out into the city with him.  I say, to do what?  He says he wants to give me the Vietnamese-Hanoi experience.  I say, doing what?  He says we can have dinner but I say I’ve already eaten and I’m really tired, so no, I can’t go.  He seems disappointed.  Usually I am up for some kind of adventure, but tonight I’m tired from trying to ward off the cold all day, from an activity-packed day, and from my horrendous travel day yesterday.  I go to my room, where luckily the heat is now working, and take a long warm bath and watch a ridiculous movie on TV with absolutely no plot.  I fall asleep before the end, loving Hanoi, its craziness, its chaos & energy, its cilantro- & lime-flavored food, its sing-song whining language, its rich colors, its French-ness.  Loving Hanoi.

the view from the cyclo on my way home

the view from the cyclo on my way home

Categories: Asia, carp pond, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Complex, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hotel Ngoc Mai, House on Stilts, Old Quarter, One Pillar Pagoda, Presidential Palace, Temple of Literature, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, Tran Quoc Pagoda, Vietnam, West Lake | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

taking myself along: sometimes travel is an ordeal

Thursday, January 13:  This morning, I take a deep breath as I psych myself for the trip ahead.  When planning this journey from East Asia to Southeast Asia, my thought was that it should be a cinch; after all, these countries are in the same quadrant of the world.  It should be minimal hassle to get from one place to another.  But.  When traveling from Daegu, four hours south of the biggest international airport in South Korea, this is what it takes:  (1) a one hour door-to-door trip from my apartment to Dongdaegu Station by walking and metro; (2) a +four-hour trip by bus to Incheon Airport that costs around $31; (3) a two-hour early check-in at the airport, meaning a wait of 2 hours before flight; (4) a ~4-hour flight to Guangzhou, China; (5) a five-hour wait in the airport; (6) another +2-hour flight to Hanoi; (7) a +half-hour drive to my hotel in Hanoi.

It’s an ordeal.  I love to travel and savor the adventure, the anticipation, of it all, but sometimes I get worn out by the thought of the logistics.   So, when I leave my house at 6:30 a.m. and spot a taxi, I’m tempted.  It will cost around $13 to take the taxi, but less than $1 to take metro.  The taxi is so enticing, so much easier.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  I pause on the street, freezing in my lightweight jacket which I’m wearing for the “warmer” Hanoi weather.  No!  I force myself to keep walking, rolling my suitcase behind me, the 5 blocks to metro.  I cannot, simply CANNOT, be lazy and toss money away on the first morning of my trip.  So, I trudge miserably along to subway and endure the long ride on metro to the bus station.

On metro, a middle-aged Korean in a crisp suit with a pin-striped button-down shirt opens his magical satchel and starts trying to sell footless tights, holding them up and stretching them out every which way. A throwback to the old days of vacuum cleaner salesmen, he with his slick classiness.  Sales pitches such as these are quite common on Korean trains.

I didn’t reserve a bus ticket for the ride to Incheon because it’s not a holiday and it’s a Thursday, and I figure there should be no problem getting a bus.  Wrong.  The 7:30 bus is sold out.  Luckily, I get the last available seat on the 8:10 bus, which will put me at Incheon at 12:10.  I’m supposed to check in at 12:15 for a 2:15 flight.  If I hadn’t made that bus, I would have suffered all kinds of difficulties.  A person must plan every single detail ahead of time, it seems.  Nothing can be left to chance.

Check-in at Incheon is fast and easy; it’s a modern airport and I’ve never encountered any problems here.  I’m flying on China Southern airlines, which I’ve never flown before and I will never fly again.  The price was cheap; that’s why I took it.  And most definitely, I get what I pay for.

The food on the airplane is the worst I’ve ever had.  The seats are cramped.  There are 179 people onboard, so it’s on the small side.  Nonetheless, its job as an airplane is done satisfactorily as it gets me from here to there alive and well.  I arrive in lovely Guangzhou, China around 5 p.m.  Here, the true ordeal begins.

I’ve never flown THROUGH China before, so I don’t know if this happens in every Chinese airport or not.  Since I’m just doing a transfer, I think I shouldn’t have to show my passport, go through immigration or security checks.  Yet.  I do.  You do.  Everyone does.  It’s such a freaking hassle.  I wait in line, I show my passport; some people are upset because the authorities take their passports, ask them to have a seat, give them the third degree.  I am irritated, as are the other transferring passengers.  I stand in another line and put my belongings and myself though metal detectors and x-ray machines, AGAIN, even though I did all this at Incheon.  After all this, I am finally at the gates.  My gate is downstairs on the ground level.  It’s COLD.  There is no heat in this airport.    I find a little cafe to get a cup of coffee. Just to warm up.  It’s small and it costs me $9 and it’s not even hot.

I think since I have five hours here, I will try to get comfortable.  Most airports I’ve been to have fold-up armrests so a person can stretch out on the seats.  Most airports have slightly cushioned seats.  The lovely Guangzhou airport has hard plastic seats with no retractable armrests.  I’m forced to sit in these uncomfortable seats, freezing because of course I’m dressed for Hanoi (which I think will be warm but actually is not, as I will write about later!).  No carpeting, just a green speckled linoleum floor, which I get to know quite intimately.  It emanates cold.

Funny.  If your body is uncomfortable, a minute can seem like an eternity.  I am chilled through my bones, my blood, my internal organs.  I have brain freeze. There is nothing I can do to get warm.  I try walking around, I try sitting, I try reading my book to take my mind off my misery.  But the book, Eaves of Heaven, about wartime Vietnam, only makes me more aware of my discomfort as the characters in the book suffer all kinds of bodily degradations.  Their miseries magnify my own.  In a moment of desperation,  I ask the lady at information if there are computers available for passengers for a fee.  No, nothing like that exists in this airport.  No TV, no diversions of any sort that don’t cost a fortune.

I find a little bar on the basement floor that serves beer.  They will take US dollars but no charge card and they can’t give change in dollars.  I have just the right amount for one beer, which I nurse and savor for a good 45 minutes.  I don’t want any of the Chinese Renminbi floating about in my pockets, so I pass on another.

my lone beer at the guangzhou airport... trying to pass the time

my lone beer at the guangzhou airport… trying to pass the time

Misery.  Pure and simple.  When finally the hour arrives to take the China Southern flight to Hanoi, the stone-faced flight attendants just stand there doing nothing.  The time approaches and no one is boarding.  So infuriating.  I am losing patience with this whole process.

I strike up a brief conversation with a gray-haired bohemian Californian in a faded jean jacket and his Vietnamese wife; they are headed to Hanoi to visit her family.  This diversion is brief; luckily, we are called to board a bus to the tarmac, where we climb the stairs to the plane.  Already it is a half-hour past take-off time.  I’m due to arrive in Hanoi at 11:15 p.m.  Now it appears I will be late, as if 11:15 p.m. isn’t late enough.

On this flight, they serve another meal they say is “seafood.”  I find when someone says something has “seafood” in it, you really have no idea what you’re getting.  I take a bite and chew; it is some kind of squid.  I HATE that rubbery texture and I spit it out immediately.  I’m so classy. 🙂  I ask for the chicken but find that is just as bad, locked in its skin and fat as it is.  Disgusting.  I am so sick of bad food, as I really have grown to dislike Korean food immensely.  My mouth waters thinking of the ten days of good food I KNOW I will encounter in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I arrive at Hanoi airport at about midnight.  A yellow Transylvanian haze envelops the airport.  A man has my name sloppily printed on a piece of cardboard; he is apparently my ride.  The taxi ride from the airport to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is in slow motion, surreal, through a highway bordered by untidy open fields, streetlights casting a titanium glow.  The driver keeps asking for my hotel information.  Shouldn’t he know this since the hotel arranged for him to pick me up?  It feels like we’re in some scrublands, some place far from civilization.  He is driving so slow I think we will never get there.  I am tired and a little afraid that I’m going to be taken to some place where I will be robbed and left by the roadside to freeze to death in my lightweight raincoat.

my cold room at the hotel

my cold room at the hotel

Finally, we arrive at the Hotel Ngoc Mai.  The neighborhood doesn’t look great especially at this hour. Next door a building covered in green construction netting.  Across the street, poor Vietnamese squatting on the sidewalk, talking and drinking and smoking.  Motorbikes parked everywhere and buzzing on the street. The hotel staff is awaiting me; it’s near 1 a.m.  They escort me to my room, which looks nice at first glance, but on closer inspection, I see it’s seen better days.  It’s cold and though the guy shows me how to work the remote, the air never warms after his departure.  I lie under the thick white comforter shivering all night, tossing and turning.

Welcome to Hanoi!  Xin chào!

Categories: China Southern Airlines, Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, Hanoi, Hotel Ngoc Mai, Incheon Airport, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

imaginings of vietnam & cambodia ….

Here I am, Tuesday, January 11, 2011, sitting in Daegu, Korea and finalizing the details of my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.  I leave this Thursday, January 13;  my plane takes off at 2:15 pm from Incheon and arrives in Hanoi at 11:15 the same evening, after a 5 hour layover in Guangzhou, China.  As usual, I am stressed out, as I always am before I travel; thinking of all the details makes my head spin. In addition to the regular stress, something has happened to my back; I didn’t do a thing, just got out of my bed after a nap on Sunday, and voila, I couldn’t move!  Why is it that I always get sick or get some physical pain right before I leave for a vacation?  So, in addition to being stressed because there’s not enough time to get everything ready, now I have to take the time to visit the hospital for physical therapy on my back!

I’m excited, as I always am, to travel to an exotic land.  But, I’m also feeling a little melancholy about this trip, mainly because of the extensive reading I’ve been doing to prepare. Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that have suffered unbearable trauma, some of this trauma in years that fall within my own lifetime.  I am a child of the Vietnam War-era; though I was too young to know & understand everything that was going on at the time, I remember the frightening images of the war on T.V.  I remember the student protests on U.S. college campuses, especially the Kent State massacre.  It seemed to me that the world was a crazy and scary place in those years of my youth.  In later years, in one of my writing classes, I read a great short story by Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried;” it told about the things American soldiers in the Vietnam war carried with them and the meanings behind these things, which in essence told the greater stories of the soldiers’ lives and the horrendous war they were part of.

Vietnam

There is still a lot I don’t know about Vietnam and Cambodia, but in the last several months, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the culture from afar, reading novels, guidebooks, memoirs, historical books and watching movies.  Before I started my recent reading binge, I had seen one movie about Vietnam that evoked a peaceful and slow-paced culture.  The 2000 movie, Vertical Ray of the Sun, was about 3 sisters and their families and their loves.  The movie is full of lush greenery, drenching rains, romantic scenes.  This movie has colored my imaginings of Vietnam since I saw it nearly 10 years ago.  Of course, when I was younger, I also saw violent Vietnam war movies, such as the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Good Morning, Vietnam, Born on the Fourth of July and others.

My Korean friend Kim Dong Hee had seen the movies Indochine and The Scent of Green Papaya, so she was determined that I should see those movies.  One night we went to the DVD bang and watched the 1992 French film Indochine, with Catherine Deneuve and Vincent Perez.  Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the tale of a love triangle between a rubber plantation owner, her adopted daughter and a younger French navy lieutenant.  The rising Vietnamese nationalist movement is the backdrop of the movie.   It’s a great movie that gave me a feel for Vietnam under the French Protectorate.

In that same vein, I’m currently reading a book by Uyen Nicole Duong called Daughters of the River Huong, that tells of 4 generations of women in the same family, beginning with the story of the Mystique Concubine of the King at the time when the French were in charge in Vietnam; the love story continues through to the modern-day.  I adore this book so far and am getting a feel for the beauty and the mystique of Vietnamese culture.

On the other hand, I read Catfish and Mandala, a memoir by Andrew X. Pham, a Vietnamese-American guy who bicycled all around Vietnam to explore his heritage.  He and his family escaped Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975.  This book tells a true story of Vietnam from a victim’s perspective, with no gloss or glimmer.  The horrors visited upon families during the war are depicted here; when he returned to his home in 1989 for this trip, Vietnam was still a very poor country, rife with corruption and filth.  It’s a memorable and sometimes disturbing personal story of war and a search for roots and identity.  Some parts were difficult to read, but I’m glad I did, because I could really feel for Andrew’s struggles and the search for peace in his life.

When my son Alex came to visit in Korea, he brought me two movies, The Scent of Green Papaya and Three Seasons.  Finally, this past Friday night, Kim Dong Hee, who has been dying to see The Scent of Green Papaya for months, went with me to dinner at Little Italy across the road from my apartment.  We shared an entire bottle of wine and then took my DVD to 3 DVD bangs before we were able to find one that could play an American-made DVD.  We settled in to watch it.  It’s really a mood piece, depicting the simple daily lives of a Vietnamese family and a servant girl.  It has very little conversation and even less action.  After all the wine I drank, I’m sorry to say I fell asleep and missed parts of it!  Kim said it looked to her like I slept through the whole thing, but I think she’s mistaken because I remember a lot.   A lot of lush green leaves dripping with dew, green papayas, cooking, scrubbing of floors, and ants.  Taken from Wikipedia, here’s a plot description:

A young girl, Mui, becomes a servant for a rich family. The family consists of a frequently absent husband, a wife and two young boys. When the husband leaves, he takes all the household’s money. As Mui grows up, the family falls on hard times, and eventually she becomes a servant for a pianist who befriends the family. That man is engaged to be married, but he prefers playing the piano to spending time with his fiance. One night, after blowing off his fiance yet again, the pianist sleeps with Mui. The engagement is broken off. The pianist starts teaching Mui how to read and write. A pregnant Mui reads to her unborn child.

I read another book by Duong Thu Huong called Paradise of the Blind, the first Vietnamese novel published in the United States in 1988.  It is currently banned in Vietnam because of the political views expressed.  It tells the story of a girl whose family is torn apart by the Communist takeover, including the land reforms and the so-called Rectification of Errors.  The girl’s uncle is the primary culprit in the novel and is really the personification of the evils of Communism.  It’s a powerful book; it infuriated me to read it.

Last but not least, on Christmas Day, Myrna lent me her computer, since mine crashed two days before Christmas, and I watched the 1999 movie, Three Seasons, a movie that takes place in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, well after the war.  It tells intertwining tales of different Vietnamese characters in a changing Saigon, including that of an American ex-soldier who comes in search  of his lost daughter and a cyclo-driver who falls in love with a Vietnamese high-class call girl.  The movie may be somewhat romanticized but I found it also depicted the dark underbelly of the city, especially in the story of a little boy, Woody, who lived on the streets.  But the story was also a hopeful one, one that shows a Vietnam on the verge of a new life, caught up in modernization and globalization.

Finally, when I leave here on Thursday morning,  I will take along another book by Andrew X. Pham called The Eaves of Heaven, which I plan to read while I’m traveling, in between writing, seeing the sights, floating on a junk in Halong Bay, and eating some great Vietnamese food!

Cambodia

When I originally planned this trip, the only place I had in my imagination was Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap.  I had heard from various people that it could take 3 full days to see all the temple ruins, ruins that are engulfed by huge trees and their immense snake-like roots.  Pictures of this place have fired my imagination for years.  I really knew nothing about it except that it looked mysterious and beautiful.  Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.   It was originally a Hindu temple, then Buddhist, and is now the world’s largest religious building.   Restoration of the temples started in the 20th century, but was interrupted by civil war and Khmer Rouge control of Cambodia during the 1970s;  amazingly little damage was done to the complex during this time of upheaval.

I’m embarrassed to say I really didn’t know anything at all about Cambodia.  I remember hearing of America’s bombing of Cambodia during the war, but I didn’t understand Cambodia’s involvement or why we were bombing them.  My first introduction to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge was through the non-fiction book called First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, written by Loung Ung, Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime.  It’s an intense and highly disturbing account of her personal experience during the years of Khmer Rouge rule.  I was so shocked by this book, and especially shocked by my own ignorance of what happened during these years of the 1970s.  These horrors were happening in Cambodia shortly after I graduated from high school and during my college years, while I was partying and studying and enjoying life to the fullest.  How could I have been so blind to what was happening in the world at this time?  Loung Ung was a mere 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge emptied the entire city of Phnom Penh and sent everyone to the countryside to work in the fields.  She saw her parents and siblings die in the Killing Fields of Cambodia;  she saw horrors no child should ever see, suffering starvation and humiliation under this terrible regime.

Here is Loung Ung’s personal website: Loung Ung

In the midst of reading this book, I became intensely curious to know more and so I watched another horribly upsetting 1984 movie, The Killing Fields, which I had never seen before.  The film opens in 1973 in Phnom Penh when the Cambodian national army is fighting the Khmer Rouge.  The story follows three journalists, two of whom include Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. Later the movie moves ahead to 1975, when the international embassies are being evacuated in anticipation of the Khmer Rouge invasion of the capital.  When the Khmer Rouge demands that all Cambodian citizens be turned over, the other journalists try desperately to forge a passport for Dith Pran, identifying him as a British journalist.  Their attempts fail, and Pran is turned over to the Khmer Rouge; he barely survives the next years under the horrible conditions as a captive of the totalitarian regime.  He endured four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam defeated the Khmer Rouge in 1978.  Dith Pran died at age 65 in 2008, years after he managed to escape from the Khmer Rouge death camps. He coined the phrase “killing fields” to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile escape. His three brothers and one sister were killed in Cambodia.

Finally, I read another book by Cambodian author Somaly Mam, called The Road of Lost Innocence.  Somaly herself was sold into sexual slavery at a young age and endured a horrible existence in the brothels of Phnom Penh.  She managed to escape with the help of a French humanitarian worker who became her husband.  She has worked tirelessly in her adult life to help other Cambodian girls who have been sold, often by their own parents, into sexual slavery, and she founded the organization AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations): AFESIP

Here is an article written by Mariane Pearl about Somaly Mam in the August 2006 issue of Glamour magazine:  Global Diary: Cambodia

All of these books about Cambodia were intensely disturbing and opened my eyes to a part of history I’m sad to say I knew nothing about.   With so much depth added to my body of understanding and knowledge, I actually became more curious about Cambodia and decided I wanted to explore Phnom Penh as well as Angkor Wat.  Thus I changed my plans to spend 5 1/2 days in Cambodia and 4 days in Vietnam, as opposed to splitting my time evenly as I first planned.

The last thing that happened very recently was the mass stampede at the Khmer Water Festival that killed over 300 people in Phnom Penh on November 22 of this year.  Apparently, according to a Cambodian journalist, the panic was caused by police firing a water cannon onto a bridge jammed with people.  He said police fired the canon to get people to move off the bridge when it started swaying, which caused a panic.

So much sadness in Cambodia and Vietnam.  I am hoping to find more optimistic places on my journey.  Hoping to believe in, to find evidence of, the resilience of the human spirit!

Here is my itinerary:

January 13-14 & January 17-18: Hanoi Ngoc Mai Hotel: Address: : 07-17 Cua Dong str., Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi, Vietnam

Tel: (84-4) 3923 1931/39231932 – 3828 6236/38282605
January 15-16: Indochina Junk on Halong Bay (The Dragon’s Pearl Junk): Indochina Junk

January 18-20: Villa Langka in Phnom Penh: Villa Langka

January 20-23: Auberge Mont Royal in Siem Reap: Auberge Mont Royal d’Angkor

Categories: Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Halong Bay, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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