Category Archives: Vietnam

Mekong Delta

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Our last tour day in VN was reserved for a trip down the infamous Mekong River. Mary Ann and I had flown over the headwaters of the Mekong located high in the Himalaya mountains while we were in Nepal. We had floated on the Mekong when we visited the Golden Triangle area of Thailand. Both of those wonderful trips are archived in this blog.

I could not help but think that we were probably on the same molecules of water we saw leave the Himalaya. The length of the river is over 3000 miles, and it changes names according to the local dialect, but is always the Mekong to me.

We set out from Saigon (HCMC) early in the morning. We were in Vietnam at the start of the monsoon season. but so far we had not been monsooned. We had a lot of grey skies, but hardly any rain.

I was preparing my camera for the day when I noticed this scene in front of me. It made me laugh. A Mercedes passing this display of political bravado. Go figure.

Of course, the Mekong is a major waterway for commerce. The Vietnamese are hardworking people. All the boats have these eyes on the bow. I never did ask why.

Our boat captain advertising the company that employs him. There are quite a few tourists who take this trip.

As we started downriver we came upon this Catholic church. Catholicism is the second largest religion in VN. The French built many beautiful churches. This picture was taken in an area of the river known as the floating market. It s a gathering spot for agricultural vendors to sell wholesale to middlemen who sell to street vendors . Each boat had a bamboo pole sticking 20 or so feet in the air with whatever they were selling impaled on it. If they were selling watermelons, there would be a watermelon 20 feet up. The sky was so grey I could not get a picture worth sharing with you.

We constantly passed river boats, all set up for commerce

We left the main channel of the Mekong and headed up a canal. People live all along this canal and make a living bringing goods to the floating market. This canal reminded both Mary Ann and me of a canal that went from Almirante Bay to Changinola years ago in Panama. With the glaring exception that there were no birds on this canal.

This boat was all ready to head for the floating market to sell Rambutan fruit. This is a variety of the lychee. The difference is these are hairy on the outside. In fact the word comes from the word for hair. My wife tells me these were for sale in Panama when we lived there. I do not remember that, perhaps some of my faithful readers could let me know in a comment?

Inside they are the same. The red hairy shell comes off very easily. The white meat inside is soft and delicious. This is something I look forward to whenever I am in SE Asia. However, I cannot figure out what human first figured out these were edible!

We got off the boat to take a walk along the canal. I especially liked this little bridge.

The walk led us to a Bonsai garden and tea house where were given a pot of tea and some local lore. These Bonsai trees are very very old. But the tea was fresh.

Then we went further up the canal in a little cayuco style rowboat. This was our rower.

A boat full of locals headed for town passed us by. They were very jocular and greeted us with smiles. That is a lot of people in that boat! But they do not weigh much.

I love this picture of our rower. I hope you do. I think it is my second favorite photo from Vietnam. By the way, we truly over tipped her. I did not know that Mary Ann had already tipped her too much when I tipped her too much. We tend to ruin it for future travelers...too bad! These people earn it.

Our last stop on the Mekong was at a brick factory. Everything being built in VN these days (and yes there is quite a construction boom) is made with this same style of brick. This is the kiln. They fire the kiln with rice stalks. They do that for three reasons. Rice stalks are cheap, nothing should be wasted, AND, they do not have to burn the stalks and cause air pollution. In northern Thailand they just burn the fields and the air quality gets truly bad for a month every year. But here, they make bricks! Notice that the woman is inside the kiln. The women always have the hard job!

This girl had to schlepp the bricks across the factory to where they stack them for storage. Our guide said she was probably too young to be working.

We were done with our time on the Mekong river, our last tour of the trip. We got back into the car, and WHAM. The monsoon started. How our driver drove through this for two hours to get us back to Saigon, I'll never know. Yes, we tipped him as well. We had already inquired from our guide how much he earned a day. Then Mary Ann and I started discussing the amount of his tip between ourselves in Spanish. Our guide was surprised and laughed. He knew damn well what we were discussing! Anyway, we matched his salary for the day, and he was extremely grateful. Again, he earned it. I would NEVER have been able to drive through this torrential downpour.

I still have some pictures to show you and a few observations about VN to share, so there will be a final VN post, soon.

Thank you ever so much for reading. Please hit the LIKE button down below.

A Place Where Victor Hugo is a Saint

Before I start this blog, I need to tell you that I THINK I have changed the way this goes out to my readers. You will now need to click on the title to read the blog, Please do. you will get a better look  and I will know how many people read it. Thanks.

There is a religion in Vietnam called Cao Dai. The full name is   Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion [of The] Third Period [of] Revelation [and] Salvation). That  might be the least complicated thing I know about it. The religion has approximately 30 million followers in Vietnam. They believe that before god existed, there was the Tao. Then a big bang occured from which God was created. In order for God to create the heavans and the earth he first had to create the Yin and the Yang. All things followed that.

The Cao Dai people believe that there are 36 levels of heaven and that there 72 planets with intelligent life.  Planet number 1 is the closest to heaven, and planet 72 the furthest away. Earth is planet number 68. The Cao Dai folk believe that the lowliest person on planet 67 would not choose to be a king on planet 68, and so forth up the chain.

They have 3 saints. One is  Sun Yat-sen, a former ruler in China.  Another is Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, a Vietnamese poet and sage and then we have Victor Hugo who wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Our guide was a Cao Dai guy and I think he was perplexed that I was perplexed as he tried to explain it all to me. He quickly gave up and just showed us the really cool temple. So I will stop now, and just show you some pictures.

This was my first view of the temple and I was already impressed. I have seen an awful lot of temples in the last 18 months, but nothing quite like this.

The front view of the temple. This place is basically the Vatican for the Cao Dai. There are many Cao Dai temples in Vietnam, but nothing this big. They are all very ornate.

A closeup of the front door just to show that these people are serious about the bling.

The eye is the most prevalent icon of the church. God is symbolized by the Divine Eye, specifically the left eye because Yang is the left side and God is the master of Yang. Got it?

We arrived just before the noon mass, which is the main mass for each day. There are four. These two guys are leaders in the church. The colors represent which religion they come from. I believe red is Catholic and yellow is Buddhist. Notice the eye on the cool hat.

Once inside the door you see this painting with three saints. Right there in the middle is Victor Hugo, and you thought I was joking.

We were there for the noon mass. This is not Easter or something, it was just a Thursday. The guy standing in back has the job of making sure everyone is perfectly aligned. Look at those columns, I have a close-up for you shortly.

This picture shows that the leaders in the colors are separated from the devotees in white

As promised, here is a close look at one of the columns. Of course there are dragons on them. Dragons seem to be everywhere in Asia.

The devotees and kahunas are in front of the alter of the divine eye. This is a big globe maybe 15 feet across.I am not sure which of the planets it is supposed to represent.

Well, that will do it for Cao Dai. I liked everything I learned about the religion, and I sure would like to see plant 67 and up someday. I wonder if I have the frequent flyer miles for that!

Thanks for reading. There should be a little button below that says LIKE. If you hit it I get a penny!

The Tunnels of Cu Chi

I read a book about these tunnels many years ago, and I ripped off the title. It was written by Tom Mangold and you can buy it at Amazon. So there, I really did not rip  it off.

Now I am going to rip off Wikipedia. I really did know all this stuff myself but I tend to get long winded. WP stuff will be in bold,ok?

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968

This is as far as I was willing to go. I spent a half hour in some tunnels near the DMZ and my back ached for hours. Even though they have been widened and made a bit higher for tourists, they still left them just miserable enough to get the idea of what it was liketo be a freedom fighter.

American soldiers used the term “Black echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”.

Today the tunnels are a major tourist attraction. being about 90 minutes north of Saigon, oops  HCMC, they are besieged by tourists from everywhere mostly arriving in hordes on buses. We were lucky enough to be by ourselves and arrived before two buses of  Japanese.

The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam,[2] and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.

Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47, as well as a light machine gun like the M60.

We did all the above except I never saw a caged monkey.

We were just standing around when all of a sudden "Charlie" popped up out of the ground! My fat gut could never have gotten through this hole in the ground

He walked over to join his comrades.

This is a demonstration of how the VC made footwear. If you are as old as me, especially if you lived in SoCal, you probably remember these sandals which some of us wore in some show of support for the VC. Besides, they were comfortable. Ours were made in Tijuana, but...

Remember now?

Oh yes, I did not forget to go to the firing range! Committed pacfist that I am, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to fire an M16 and an AK47. Call it experiencing history.

"Take that commie"

"Take that imperialist war mongering running dog lackey of the imperialist forces"

Obviously I was not the only tourist yearning for a hands on history lesson. They charge US$1 a bullet for the experience, so I did not fire the M60 machine gun!

I policed my shells, and asked if I could keep one as a souvenir. No problem. However, I put it in my back pack and did not think about it again before I went through security at the airport. I was walking away when the guy who runs the xray machine noticed it. They yelled "Sir, Sir". I ignored them thinking it could not be me they want! Finally I went back to the inspection line and the smartly uniformed Vietnamese guard started saying "empty uchsch, emptu suhch". I had no idea wht he was saying besides empty so I dumped the contents of my backpack on his table. He grabbed this shell and said "empty bullet, no go." Well, of coursei I was dissaponted but more mad at myself for not packing it in my suitcase. However, when I got home I read another blogger who said he packed his in his suitcase, and he was paged to come to security, where they proceeded to go through his bag until they found the shell. He thinks Cu Chi souvenirs are illegal, I just think bullet casings are.

My wife and I bid farewell to the freedom fighters.

In all it’s touristy glory, the tunnels are a must see if you are in Vietnam and have any interest in contemporary history.

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My next post will be titled “Where Victor Hugo is a Saint.” And yes, it is also from VN.

Saigon, oops, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We saw HCMC on the fly. We used it as a base to visit both the tunnels of Cu Chi and the Mekong Delta. Consequently this will be a short post.

The first place we visited was a brand new version of the War Remnants Museum. It is dedicated to the victory of and the gallantry of the people of VN in the war against the American aggressors. It is divided very nicely into areas of interest where you can pick and choose what you want to see. This poster is in the area that displays international outrage at America.

They have some excellent photos of the futile American war effort. All that stuff, and we still lost. Just think how much money is in this picture. Meanwhile schools in the US had to have bake sales to afford books.

They had some photos of American miltary bases, I liked this picture of a billboard outside the gate to a base.

Of course they displayed this memorable picture of the evacuation of Saigon, right before it became HCMC

They also had a room displaying pictures of towns and villages in VN during the war and how they have rebuilt since. This one of a small town we drove through.

The hardest room for me to visit was the room displaying the continuing tragedy of our use of Agent Orange. If you do not know much about this, use Google and educate yourself. Basically, America practiced chemical warfare on a scale dwarfing Saddam's usage and probably the entire usage of chemical weapons in WWI. Americans are quick to condemn others, and quicker to forget when we perform the same atrocities. What I want to emphasize is that even TODAY babies are born with birth defects directly attributable to this war crime. This room was so depressing I could only stay a minute.

Outside was the cool stuff. We left behind tons of hardware. Here is a collection of American artillery pieces.

This is a collection of what the grunts called "fast movers". They would zoom in, drop some napalm and head back to base for a beer.

Of course this was a helicopter war. I think this is a Sikorsky. It mostly moved material to support advanced fire bases.

This was the standard troop mover. It is called a Huey and a group of them together could move a platoon or an entire company a long distance in a short time.

We then made it over to another historical site.

This is now called the Palace of Reunification. It was the Presidential Palace where Thieu thought he ran VN from. Just to the left of this photo is where Diem was assassinated in 1963. A very large underground bomb proof basement contains the war rooms. Today, the place is a fascinating tourist attraction. The rooms underground contain map rooms and communications rooms. The comm equipment is right out of Dr. Strangelove.

See what I mean?

This was Thieu's library.

Some of his books. Airport? Leon Uris?

From the roof of the palace. This is the front gate today.

This is what the front gate looked like on April 30,1975. To quote the Doors, "This is the end."

We then visited the cathedral of Notre Dame. Even though my wife is a BC grad I think she liked it! Built between 1877 and 1883 in a neo-Romanesque style, it has no stained glas windows because they were blown out during WWII.

Sharing the square with the cathedral is the central post office designed by Eiffel. It functions quite well today and you can mail everything from post cards to whatever anywhere in the world.

No one should leave VN without riding on a pedacycle. We took a ride around HCMC. I thought I had negotiated a good price, but once we arrived at our destination, the guy demanded 10 times that much. At first I was upset, but I quickly realized I was worried about maybe US$5. Besides, the guidebooks all tell you to "get it in writing."

Pedacycle NUMBAH 1! Walking Numbah 10!

Thanks for reading, tell a friend. make a comment, I beg you! In fact I dare you!

Next post from the Cu Chi tunnels and the main temple of an amazing religion that includes Victor Hugo as a saint. Heh,I’m not saying I get it, but it is a beautiful temple and I got some good shots. So stay tuned.

Hoi An Photo Class

Ever since I bought my new Nikon I hve been yearning to learn how to use it better than I do. If you know what the acronym RTFM means, it barely applies in this case. The camera has more features than I can find time to use while travelling. I always find myself trailing my wife and our guide by 50 steps while I try to frame a decent shot. She gets the low down on where we are and then I try to catch up. Consequently I leave the camera on the auto setting most of the time, which defeats the artistic capability of this fantastic gizmo.

This camera is so incredible it can even take a picture of itself!

What I needed was to spend time with a professional travel photographer. I found one based in Hoi An. His name is Etienne Bossot and you should check out his web site, http://www.hoianphototour.com. If you ever find yourself in Hoi An, take his photo tour even if you do not need to learn more about your camera or have little interest in indulging yourself by improving your skills. Etienne has lived in Hoi An a number of years. Not only does he know where everything of interest to photograph is, he knows the people there. His Vietnames is fluent, (he has a long-haired dictionary at home). He has gotten the local tradesmen to trust him and they let him into their lives. Monthly he takes sets of prints to them, which of course they love.

Our day started at 5 a.m. That’s five in the friggen morning. “It’s about the light” said Etienne. We set off on his motor scooter through back roads on Hoi An until we came to the river, where he had a boat waiting for us. Usually this boat serves as a ferry across the Thu Ban river for locals and their scooters. It was all ours this morning.

It was a cloudy morning, so the light from the sunrise was “very diffused”. I guess that means the sky was grey.  We headed down river, in an easterly direction. Our objective was a fishing village and the morning arrival of the fleet in from a night of hard work.

Before we got to the village we passed many of these fresh water fishermen. They use these huge nets that they control up/down with a peddle type of machine. I have never seen this before,it was fascinating. Entienne was encouraging me to use different settings on my camera, primarily my ISO settings to take advantage of this early morning light. I think I did alright, but what I really needed was an early morning cup of coffee! This was the start of Etienne's constant reminder that I do not want to take snap shots. I want to be a photographer.

As we pulled into the dock area where all the fishing boats were returning from a night at sea, I had the opportunity to take dozens of pics of the boats. However, I only got about one dozen because I kept hearing "no snapshots, watch your exposure, pay attention to your aperture for a better depth of field". I was happy he was doing this,because this is why I was paying the big bucks. In the end, I knowI am happier with the photos than I would have been with 5 times as many snapshots.

With Entienne as your guide, you can walk right into the midst of the people at work, and they do not mind. I am not so sure if a "normal tourist" would have been accepted. He has built up a trust and friendship over the years. This is a photo of 3 generations of fishermen on their boat. Entienne was working with me on composition here. He, and I, are happy with the end result because I got good character features combined with the little nets and the wheelhouse of the boat. How do YOU like it?

Once the fish get put in the boxes to unload them, the women take over. They do all the rest of the work including sales. If they let the men handle the money, they woud drink and gamble it all away. In this shot, Entienne was influencing me to stop squaring off all my pictures. He says that (what I call) cockeyed shots can be more interesting. Heh, that works for me!

This might be a little too cockeyed, but I like it. Entienne said that westerners like shots tilted form left to right, while Chinese like them from right to left, because that is the direction we read. Whatever, just plan on seeing a lot more shots at angles from now on.

There was just no way to get creative, artistic or cockeyed with this shot. I just wanted to show you what they spent the night catching.

The women set the minnows out to dry. when they are dry they package them up and they get sold to China where they get eaten as snacks. In this shot I was aiming at getting the entire shot in focus (proper aperture) exposed properly with just the right ISO setting, very worried about the composition (the fish and the hat) but most importantly trying to do all this while staying out of the ladies way. Entienne said that people in the east do not have the same sense of "this is my space" as us Americans do, so "get right in there". All I know for sure is if I tried this on a dock in Gloucester,it would be I who was dried,packed and sold to the Chinese as a snack. I guess that is why we travel!

Sitting at the end of the dock like the queen of it all (for all I know she might own a few of the boats) was this ancient woman. Entienne has her featured on his web site. She lit right up when we arrived. He started taking shots of her up close and personal, and so did I. She was used to it. I worked on exposure with this shot. All I was interested in was her magnificent face and eyes. The challenge was to not have a background confuse the issue, and to get a proper exposure of the face and eyes underneath the hat. I Iove this shot. It may be the best photograph of the entire trip for me.

Now Entienne wanted me to place her in context. The idea was the fishing scene in the background, I think I succeeded pretty well. Those bamboo hats are so damn iconic and photogenic. I love the way I set off the corner of this shot with her hat.

 

This is a picture taken inside a dark shack where a man lives who makes and repairs the little bamboo boats that the fishermen use to get to shore. He also makes bamboo furniture. I took great pain to get the exposure right. Also I sought an expression his face which reflected his rather serious demeanor. I think I got it right.

 

wjile we finally having our first cup of coffee, a very strong blend the fishermen drink, Entienne took my camera and said "look, you can do this." He took the next two shots, but I have no idea what he did. He called it panning. it is NOT covered in my manual. This shot shows a scooter rider in motion with a blurred background.

In this one the background is clear while you can barely make out the bicycle rider going by. See her? Or is it a him?

 

When we stopped for breakfast in ancient town, I took this shot because I could include in it the bicycle, and a woman in her conical hat. All very Vietnamese.

 

Then we stopped in a fish sauce factory. I almost gave up fish sauce on the spot. The smell was incredible. After months in bigger tanks, the sauce is transferred into these little containers where it sits for a while longer, then they filter it. What is left behind is fed to pigs because it makes better bacon.

 

From here we went out of town and found people harvesting rice. We waded (literally) out into a rice paddy. It was hot and humid and I could not imagine carrying 80 pounds of gear and a rifle with the fear of getting shot while trying to get through this muck. Anyway, the rice farmers were glad to see Entienne and took some good shots. As usual, the women worked hardest.

 

The man fed the rice through a peddle powered shredder.

 

Then a woman sifted the rice from the sticks. Entienne praised this shot for all the elements he had spent the day trying to get through my thick skull. Light, composition and focus.

 

Entienne took my camera and tried to make me look like George Clooney modeling my new knock-off Rolex watch. Actually he was demonstrating that with a small aperture he could keep everything in focus. Do you think I look like Clooney???

 

My last shot of the day is a cock-eyed sot of my wonderful wife in a typical hat!

 

That’s it for Hoi An. I hope you see here and in the future a marked improvement in my photography.

Thanks for reading (and looking). Tell a friend, make a comment. Next post is from Saigon, oops Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Hoi An 1

I called this post Hoi An 1. I should probably have called it Hoi an BCC (Before Camera Class) and the next post  Hoi ACC (After Camera Class). I took an excellent camera class in Hoi An and hopefully you will see a marked improvement in my photography skills in the next post.

Hoi An is a wonderful little city. It has the 3rd largest GDP in VN behind Hanoi and Saigon, and it is almost all based on tourism. The center of the tourist industry is what they call ancient town. Hoi An was spared any combat or destruction in the French or American wars. Thus, the buildings are all authentically old. In the part of town called ancient town, they have wisely prohibited "modern" vehicles, basically anything with a motor. It makes for nice pedestrian passages. The economy is based upon shopping.

If you do not want to walk around ancient town, hire a Pedacycle!

In ancient town they say there are 500 tailors. I think that is a low estimate. My wife got some work clothes made and I had one shirt made for my "Happy Buddha" body.

There are also a couple of dozen shoe stores where you can have any type of shoes made, in any color, as outrageous as you want. I mean if you want shoes made with the Starbucks logo, no problem. Of course if you want shoes with wings, here they are! You can be the envy of your bowling league after a trip to Hoi An!

Ancient town is split into two parts, the Chinese and and the Japanese area, connected by this Japanese bridge.

The Chinese area has a large assembly area which dates back about 600 years. Built by a series of Chinese traders, it is a beautiful area with fountains and gardens and worth a visit.

We splurged in Hoi An and stayed at the Victoria Hotel. It had a great beach, but most importantly, an excellent Spa. This is where Mary Ann spent the day while I was taking my photo class.

The hotel had beautiful grounds and wedding parties came there to pose for pictures. All over Hoi An, we saw brides posing for pictures.

We decided to spend a day in a cooking class, where we thought we might learn some of the secrets behind the incredible food in VN. It started with a visit to a community of 50 or so families that together run a set of organic gardens. This might be an endangered enterprise because the young people are not becoming farmers like the previous generations.

A farmer watering his onion crop.

A woman harvesting her lettuce.

It is a large garden area, probably 5 acres. It sells veggies to restaurants and at the markets.

Next we went to the local market to buy ingredients for what we would be cooking. Everything from peas to pig ears were available, all fresh, and ripe.

An important part of Vietnamese cooking is fish sauce. It is locally made. My next post will cover a fish sauce factory, which ALMOST made me rethink ever using it again..but...

The entrance to the red Bridge cooking school.

We made our own rice noodles. This is not as easy as it looks! Our instructor was trained in Hanoi at a school called KOTO (Know One Teach One) which was started by some Aussie expats to take disadvantaged youth off the streets and give them a career in the restaurants serving the booming tourist sector.

Soon enough we had enough noodles made.

Then we prepared the ingredients we had bought at the garden and at the market.

And soon it was soup! Delicious soup.

The soup went down well with a local beer.

That does it for Hoi An BCC. The next day I took a photography class, and I really think my skills have improved.

Stay tuned for Hoi An ACC. Tell a friend. Thanks for reading and be my buddy and make a comment!

Danang and the Marble Mountain

This will be a short post because we briefly passed through Danang on our way to Hoi An. Hoi An will be a very long post, because we spent 4 days there enjoying a marvelous little tourist trap.

We were driven from Hue to Hoi An over some mountainous roads,but mostly along the beaches. Danang  just happens to be along the way.

We made a couple of stops before Danang. This was a view of a major oyster farm. Cultured pearls are sold everywhere in Vietnam. They of course come in various qualities. The rounder they are the better, and the black ones which come from deeper waters are the most expensive. I managed to pony up for a nice string of black pearls for Mary Ann. She deserves them, and I would not be here without her so it seemed fair.

 

This is the beach where the first elements of Marines landed in Vietnam.

 

We visited a Cham sculpture museum. The Cham people occupied the central area of Vietnam in ancient times. These are just a few of the 300 or so sculptures and statues on display.

My wife loves this elephant god which we have found in many countries.

 

I always enjoy a funky monkey.

Danang sits on the shores of what the US soldiers called China Beach. This beach goes on for miles. There are a few new hotels on the beach and more coming. Across the highway from the beach is the Danang  U.S.  Air Force base, which was the largest US airbase during the war. It sits empty behind a 10 foot wall. Too bad, it prime property for a big development, and I am sure it will be some day.

 

Then we arrived at Marble  Mountain. It rises above the south end of Danang and overlooks the city and the airfield. Amazingly there is a huge cave inside this  mountain which for many years served as a hospital for the Viet Cong.

 

Inside the cave, hospital, which is now a Buddhist shrine. The rays of light come from two bomb holes made after the USA finally found out about the hospital and bombed it.

Bomb holes in the roof.

 

The mountain contains pure marble of various colors.

This is a photo of marble quarried from the mountain.

We visited a store that sold beautiful marble carvings and statues. They were not expensive for what they were, but we could never have gotten one home! Of course they offered to ship it to us, yeah right.

From here went onto Hoi An.

You will need to follow to my next post for that story!

Thanks for reading. Share with a friend and please make a comment!

 

Hue To Go

After Hanoi we flew Vietnam Airlines to Hue, pronounced whay. This is an absolutely beautiful city which has grown immensely and recovered and rebuilt totally after it was obliterated during the TET offensive of 1968. It is an ancient capital of central Vietnam both politically and spiritually. The city is now mainly on the western side of the Perfume River which separates old and new Hue.

These "dragon boats" ply the Perfume river carrying sightseers like us.

There is still a vibrant fishing industry on the Perfume river. This is one of the boats. Notice the bamboo cages they use to catch fish with. Somethings never change.

Commercial transport still happens. There were many boats carrying all sorts of cargo. I have no idea what this stuff is, but somebody must buy it!

We did the normal tourist stuff, like we always do.

We stopped at a combination Pagoda and education center for monks that dates back to the days before there was such a thing as the western hemisphere. It still educates monks today.

The site for this school was chosen because the King who established it had a dream that led him to this site. It was a nice dream. The school sits high on a ridge overlooking the Perfume River, with lots of shade trees and breezes. This is imortant in a country with intense sun and humidity! This is my wonderful wife enjoying the view.

There were three entrances to the campus. One for Royalty, one for the best students and one for dunces like me. The entrances were guarded by these scary looking guys to be sure you did not enter the wrong door.

Inside the school is a happy Buddha. Many Vietnmese said I looked like him. Time for a diet?

There is a commemorative display of a terrible event in Vietnamese history. In 1963, a graduate of this school, in order to protest the overall political situation in the country lit himself on fire in Hue. It was a galvanizing act in Vietnamese history.

Hue is the closest city to the old DMZ. Tours are available of such sites as Hamburger Hill and Khe San. My research said that these battlefields do not have much to show anymore, so we passed. But I wanted to see the DMZ area. Our guide kept mentioning something from the war that I was ignorant of. It is called the McNamara line. Simply put, it was a barbed wire and electronic sensor barrier which would forewarn the US Marines of infiltrators crossing the DMZ. When activated the Marines would call in air strikes. Our guide kept mentioning how much fun the Viet Cong had with this absurdity. They would do things like capture rats, set their tails on fire and send then through the barriers en-masse. Then they would go back to their bunkers and watch as the US navy came in and dropped hundreds of bombs, wiping out a section of McNamara’s line, and later just walk right through.  This is another example that high tech tactics can always be defeated by low tech tactics, with a bit of ingenuity.

Just south of the DMZ is a large Karst called the rock pile.The following is from the web.

The Rockpile is located in northern Quang Tri Province in Hue. This particular place was used as the famous listening post and a guide port for bombers during the Vietnam War. From here the US troops were helicoptered in and out.

The Rockpile was also an artillery base during that time. This was a weaponry with a huge array of big guns, including 175 long Toms, 8-inchers on tracks, 105s and 155s.

This shot retrieved from the web shows the 3d Marines (my fathers outfit in WWII) being resupplied by helicopter. They basically used this mountain to blast the living hell out of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Rumor has it that the rockpile makes really good bed rock for road construction and that it will be soon quarried to help build roads.

From the rockpile it is a short trip north on what used to be the Ho Chi Minh trail (now a major highway) to the 17th parallel. This is the line of demarcation established at the Geneva conference in 1954 mostly along the Ben Hai river. The accords established that there would be an election in both North and South Vietnam for an overall government. But both the SVN government and the US government  knew Ho would win, so the election was not held, leading to the Vietnam war.

Just south of the Ben Hai river is a beautiful dedication to the separation of families by the political boundary. This is a woman and child waiting the return of her husband.

The bridge over the Ben Hai River. This bridge got bombed with your tax dollars every day. Every night the Vietnamese rebuilt it to bring supplies across and onto the HCM trail.

My wife striding the infamous 17th parallel.

On the north sde of the river is a nice little museum which depicts the courageous acts of the people of Vietnam while fighting the imperialist Americans. This is a bike used on the HCM trail. They were made by the thousands in Hanoi. Notice the cool star on the chain guard. While the USA paid Ford and GM millions for trucks and jeeps, the Vietnamese won with low tech little hand made bicycles.

You cannot escape the propaganda in any museum dedicated to the struggle of the freedom fighters against the Yankee imperialists. This is to remind us of the senseless carpet bombing that took place for years. The next shot shows just how futile most of it was, resulting in holes in rice paddies. Just think of the schools we could have built with that money.

Lets see, if each bomb cost....

This is me taking my seat at the conference table telling all those idiots just what is up.

Enough about the war for now. I want to show you some of Hue’s beauty.

The Perfume River at night from our hotel room.

A lotus flower

Mary Ann in front of a pond of Lotus flowers

Kids at a wedding.

Girls at a wedding reception

We went out to dinner at a restaurant with authentic Vietnamese music played for authentic tourists.

This is the rhythm section.

This is the lead.

This is a one string instrument, I cannot remember the name. In the old days, a woman was not allowed to hear it played because she would fall in love with the musician. It IS a nice sound, but that sort of redefines the groupie doesn't it?

And this is the percussion section. A woman playing tea cups.

But the food as usual in Vietnam was the best.

Spring rolls served on a pineapple crafted into a hen. The pineapple was carved out with candles inside to keep the spring rolls warm.

Hue, like all cities in Vietnam has a bustling trade in knock-off merchandise. I found a new model Rolex watch and bargained to US$8 for it. Yeah $8. It looks great, actually looks real and it keeps perfect time. At least it does now. When  I was looking at it the vendor set it to the correct time. When I got back to the hotel, it had not moved. I walked back, and said “no workee dude”. He looked at me and said “Tha becuz you no buy Baturee”. Live and learn.

Hue is not anywhere near as hectic as Hanoi. Mary Ann actually said she could live there.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend and make a comment, oh please.

Next, Danang and then Hoi An.

The Citadel at Hue, Vietnam

There are so many wonderful experiences in Vietnam as a tourist these days that one could spend weeks there and never visit a war site. But I am a bit of a history buff so among many others, I was determined to visit the Citadel.

In January of 1966, President Johnson met with General Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam. Johnson asked “Wastemoreland” what the North Vietnamese would do if the wanted to truly win in South Vietnam. Westmoreland said quickly and simply “take Hue”. This was almost two years to the date before the TET offensive. Hue sits on Highway 1, the main link between the supply port of Danang and the DMZ. Therefore it was a critical city from a military standpoint. Hue is also a historically significant and sacred city to the Vietnamese people. One might think that it  would have been fortified, and prepared for an attack. It was neither.  When The TET offensive happened a division sized force of NVA and Viet Cong combined to quickly take the entire city. Hue is split into the new  Hue, on the west banks of the Perfume River, and old Hue, comprised mainly of the Citadel, on the east side. The NVA swept in from the west and north and the Viet Cong just sort of rose out of the country side. They met with little or no opposition  and quickly raised the NVA flag atop the tallest flag pole in Hue, in front of the Citadel.

The NVA flag flew here for almost a month while the battles for Hue raged on. Now of course it is the Vietnamese flag, a red field with a yellow star.

 

A 180 degree turn from taking that last picture and you are facing the front gate of the Citadel. The three doors are somehow significant, one for royalty only, one for poobahs and one for normal folk. The gate along with a major portion of the citadel has been rebuilt with help from international funding and the world heritage site people. Money is not the only issue, the architectural plans have not exactly survived the 1000 or more years since it was built. The rebuild is based upon old photographs mostly.

The battle for Hue went on for a month. U.S. Marines were not trained in block to block street fighting. At first there was a combination of bad weather and a desire to not destroy the culturally significant buildings which prevented the use of air power. But when losses mounted and the weather cleared, they bombed the hell out of Hue, including the Citadel which is a moat and wall enclosed area of about 5 acres filled with ancient buildings.

In the rebuild they are paying attention to the smallest details. This is the roof, Notice the detail.

This moat surrounds the entire citadel. Those are lotus flowers growing in it.

Not all the Citadel has been restored and the scars of war can still be seen. This is in the remote back section of the citadel. word is that they will get around to fixing this in a few more years.

 

That is it for the Citadel. There are many historical  and first hand accounts of the battle for Hue on the internet and if you are a student of military history, it is worth checking out. This was the nastiest fighting the Marines ever had to do in Vietnam.

My next post will deal with the beauty of Hue.

Thanks for reading. Make a comment, tell a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

Halong Bay

This post starts with a photo of the fleet of junks we toured on in Halong bay. This a very comfortable way to spend a couple of days. great food, nice rooms, and beautiful cruise.

The reason Halong Bay is a tourist attraction is the huge number of Karsts in the bay. They make for dramatic backgrounds to photos, even on a day like we had which was grey, not blue.

The bay is home to thousands of indigenous fishermen in their sampans.

Our junk delivered us to a fishing village where women rowed out in bamboo boats to take us to their village where we would hopefully spend some money.

This was our rower in her village resting up before rowing us back out to the junk. They really work hard.

In fact they work so hard that I tipped our girl 100,000! That is 100,000 Dong, about US$5. There are so many zeros in the Vietnamese currency that the zero button on every ATM machine I used was worn away! At the end of the trip we had a bar bill of a MILLION Dong!

There were about ten of these boats rowing tourists around. We went past this scenic Karst.

In short, the Halong Bay tour is almost mandatory for a tourist in Northern Vietnam. They do it right. The food is wonderful. If you are ever in Hanoi, take this tour!

Thanks for reading. More Vietnam to come. Keep reading, tell a friend and make a comment. My ego is fed by your comments.

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