Saigon bid us farewell with still more noise 🙂 about 10 minutes after we boarded public transport for the Cambodian border, the bus’s horn got stuck in the on position. A long 10 mins later we changed buses and got back on the road. it was just over 2 hours to the Cambodian border. The bus was set up with a huge TV screen so we passed the time watching a movie and the countryside passing by.
The Cambodian border was interesting. If you go – here is the drill. The first thing you have to do is line up to exit Vietnam. If you don’t have a broker (for want of a better word) and pay the extra “tax” you will wait a long time to exit Vietnam and a long time to enter Cambodia. The two borders are separated by about 100 meters which you will need to walk. Our company has it down pat and we moved quickly through border formalities and got back on the road.
The decrease in traffic on the road is marked as soon as you are in Cambodia. The country lost 1/4 of its population during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and population levels are much lower than in Vietnam. Our route to Phnom Penh took us to the Mekong River again which we crossed by ferry and finally wound our way on dusty roads into the city.
Phnom Penh is a mix of old and new. Opulent houses of the governing elite line some beautiful blvds, just a street away are slum like streets. We were introduced to the city via a cylco tour on a beautiful early evening. The cyclos took us to the Mekong River promenade that is the home of countless restaurants, bars and the Kings Palace. It is high season here now and the people watching is first class 🙂 A tuk tuk trip after dark revealed a seamier side of the city with the local ladies of the night plying a brisk trade.
Our gateway to the Mekong Delta was via the city of My Tho about 2 hrs from Saigon. The Delta covers about 15,000 sq miles and is an incredibly rich ecosystem. We took a boat from My Tho out to the first of two large islands we visited in the Delta. 6,000 people live on the island which supports a wide range of cottage industries including bee keeping, orchid growing, large market gardens and active fisheries.
The second island we visited has a small restaurant where we had the best meal so far on the trip. Local elephant fish was steamed in coconut milk, lemon grass and green onion. it was then rolled in rice papers with basil, lettuce, rice noodles and drizzled with tamarind sauce. The islands are completely off the grid, the fish was cooked over wood and finished at the table using paraffin burners. A server was dedicated to each table to make the rolls for us. The lack of refrigeration makes for interesting restaurants. It hit home today when our guide ordered chicken. A number of small cages at the side of the restaurant housed individual chickens which I was photographing after we ordered. As I was snapping away a young man grabbed one rooster out of a cage and walked around to the back of the restaurant where the bird made its demise and reappeared as a saute about 20 mins later.
The Delta is a world in itself. House boats, fishermen, a huge highway leading to the sea and deeper into the continent and Cambodia – where we head tomorrow as we travel to Phnom Penh.
Th Cu Chi tunnels are about 55 km outside of Saigon and were a military stronghold for the North Vietnamese army throughout the war. The fighters and their support staff lived in the tunnels during the day and came out at night to tend crops, go on patrol and replenish supplies. The tunnel complex was huge. At one time 16,000 people lived in the tunnels. The US tried for years to destroy the tunnels on bombing raids and on foot but never entirely succeeded.
The tunnels have been enlarged to allow safe passage for tourists if you wish to go through them. We also saw examples of booby traps and trap doors used in the war.
Perhaps the most profound thing was the jungle. Distance of sight is about 10ft in all directions – moving through it is like being blind. Visibility is zero
Our guide was an officer in the south Vietnamese army and worked as an interpreter for the US during the war. Following the war he was arrested by the north Vietnamese and spent 2 years in a re-education centre. He was 65 kilos when he went in to the camp and 37 kilos when he came out. His memories of the war and of the changes during and after the conflict made for some fascinating stories today and added immensely to the quality of the day.
Saigon sprawls over 2000 sq km and it took a while to escape the suburbs on the way to the tunnels. We were entertained by the usual street life – also passed orchid farms and fish sellers.
Headed out this evening to a roof top restaurant for our final dinner here. We head to the Mekong Delta tomorrow.
Our dinner in the sky was fabulous. Eating wonderful vietnamese food overlooking the skyline of Saigon. The night air was like warm silk.
The Dr yesterday knew his stuff because today is much better 🙂 A local tour guide at the hospital suggested rice and soy sauce as a good diet for today and it works – wasn’t sure about the soy sauce but it went down well. Once we were up and about – quickly negotiating the chaos of the morning market and entering the motor free zone took us to the oldest part of Hoi An. The Japanese bridge built 400 years ago still is used to enter the old Japanese quarter of the City.
Based on the height of the monsoon season flood waters it it is amazing that the old buildings and structures are still here at all. The photo above of two flood water height marks in the last few years in a restaurant we ate at today gives you an idea of how major the flooding is. Many buildings have trap doors in the ceilings of the first floor. When the flood waters start rising the furniture is pulled up on pulleys to the second floor.
After crossing the Japanese bridge we visited a communal house – Cam Pho – as well as an old house Tan Ky – that has been occupied for 400 years. Descendents of the founding family still live there. Our final cultural stop was a Lantern manufacturing factory.. I keep looking for a small one to bring back but they are all huge. The city is decorated right now for the Vietnamese new year Tet with Lanterns hanging in all the streets and in front of all the houses.
It is our final day here – we fly to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow.
On the 14th day of every lunar month – Hoi An celebrates with a Moon Lantern Festival. The town shuts down most artificial lights, and the river is covered with paper lanterns with candles. Street performers can be found on corners and the town is like it must have been 400 years ago. We were incredibly fortunate that February’s festival fell tonight our last night here in town. What a magical send off 🙂
There is an old Asian saying may you live in interesting times – well it was an interesting day… The food markets in Hoi An were at their height in the morning as Carol and I wandered through the centre of the city. While Carol was getting some clothes made by one of the thousands of local tailors, I had a photographers dream hour and shot over a thousand photos in the market. We were due to meet some group members down the main thoroughfare for coffee and had a chance to look around a little more before that and walked along the waterfront.
Hoi An became a UNESCO heritage site in 1999. The old town is a very well preserved example of an 14-19th century Southeast Asia trading port. Hoi An lost its economic importance in the 19th century when the French developed Danang as the major port which it remains to this day. Hoi An has been rediscovered by tourists. Walks along the water front are lovely and sections in the city are motor vehicle free which is a nice change from the din of horns and obligatory scooter dodging.
After coffee the tour leader and I didn’t feel very good – to make a long story short we ended up in the local hospital with acute food poisoning. Riding on the back of a motorbike through Hoi An to the hospital holding on for dear life and trying not to throw up on my tour leader was quite the experience. She was probably trying not to throw up all over me. Another group member was there with a suspected broken rib after falling off a bicycle – so quite an evening. In any case good news – her rib was not broken and both the tour leader and I will be fine.
Onwards and upwards 🙂
Forever it seems……. Been an interesting 30 hrs so far. The flight out of Comox got cancelled because of fog – off down island to the Duke point terminal we went. caught the ferry and cabbed it to the airport. The flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong was delayed until 2:30 am. 14 hr overnight flight. Had an extra legroom seat which was nice 🙂 Caught up on some reading and watching a couple of movies I have been wanting to see – The November Man and Boyhood. Boyhood is excellent and well worth the time. The delay has been a nuisance. The airline sold the seats that a small group of us had booked on the connecting flight to Hanoi – we are now sitting in Hong Kong airport waiting for new boarding passes to be issued on a new flight- in the meantime, all the transfers to the hotels at the Hanoi end of the trip are toast….. On the up side have met some very nice people along the route . Things are getting a bit surrealistic as we are all sleep deprived…… More later.
Arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and our hotel! Found Carol at
the airport and we shared a car in. What a fabulous place!!! Sharing some quick photos. Have a whole day tomorrow to explore. Doing a street food and old quarter tour.
The old quarter of Hanoi was originally a naze of 36 streets each devoted to a separate industry. Now it is the location of some of the best street food in Vietnam and hosts about 99% of the world’s moped population with everyone tooting their horn at the same time 🙂 We have a lovely quiet room on the 6th floor of the hotel facing the back.
Another day of rare good weather in Ushuaia for our trip down the Beagle Channel. The channel was named by Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle who Darwin sailed with. I was trying to imagine Darwin’s thoughts as he sailed down the channel for the first time.
Our first penguin colony greeted us today. The catamaran we were aboard ran right up on the beach by the penguins and we spent a lovely 30 minutes with the little birds before heading on our way. Our trip meeting is tonight and we board our ship tomorrow. Will be out of Internet range until the 19th – hope to load Antarctic photos and blog in Chile when we stop over in Puento Arenas.
Today was a wonderful day in Tierra del Fuego national Park. Human habitation goes back here almost 10,000 years. The Yamana people lived along the coast living on sea mammals and fish. We also had the opportunity to taste some of the mushrooms and other native plants that they ate during our trek today.
There were 3000 Yamana in 1880, 1000 in 1890 and about 100 left in 1910. Disease and genocide by settlers and sealers was the main cause. Today there is one 85 year old woman who still speaks the Yamana language.
The scenery along the route of our trek was incredible as we walked through forests and along beaches bordering the Beagle Channel. A lot of similarities between the PNW coastal forests and a lot of differences. Same windblown trees – no conifers though – three types of Beech trees – 2 deciduous and one evergreen, lots of plants in miniature. Climate here is pretty uniform. 10 degrees C average in summer, 0 degrees C average in the winter.
At the end of the day we boarded a raft that floated us down the river and into the ocean where we disembarked at the end of Hwy #3 – the Pan American Hwy that starts in Alaska. A magical day 🙂
Traveling through La Paz to the airport at three am in a cab driven by a driver over stimulated by coca leaves was interesting…. The cabbie spoke no English and our spanish is pretty rudimentary – charades come in handy. Anyway we got there – and after filling out forms, more forms, paying to leave and then yes you guessed it more forms, we got our bags searched by narcotics police and finally got on the plane. Get to the airport early if you go…..
Some South Americanisms we have picked up on our trip so far.
1) Don’t worry – translation – we have a problem
2) No problem I’ll take of it – translation – We have a serious problem
3) No problem, I’ll take care of it,don’t worry – translation – time to get out of Dodge….
Our flights went fine – I had three seats to myself on the Lima to Buenos Aires haul and Carol had 2 – so we caught up on some much needed sleep. Buenos Aires is like most other big cities 14 million of the 42 million people n Argentina live here. Our driver took us the circuitous route to our hotel so we had a chance to see the outlying slum areas and then the inner city around the main square including the pink palace which is lit with pink lights at night. After a rest at our hotel we were picked up at 8:30 for a gourmet dinner and tango show. Fabulous dinner and fabulous show. On to Ushuaia tomorrow.