Asia 2017 – Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam

Time to prepare for our next great adventure! These countries have become great tourist destinations over the past few years. Rose did a great job in finding a tour company called Buffalo tours which has a number of offices throughout Asia and specializes in personalized tours. Our group ended up with the 4 of us so it will certainly be a small group tour! We have all traveled together before so we pretty much know what to expect from each other as travel companions – easy going wine drinkers. Of course there were a variety of preparations needed before we hit the road. But first here is a map of the places we will go:

Resources: Our travel agent emailed a synopsis of the countries that we will be visiting. In addition I signed up for an online course through Wild Spirit Travel ( called Traveling to SE Asia. This provided a lot of good practical information about traveling in this area of the world. For example did you know:

- You shouldn’t point the soles of your feet at anyone and especially in a Buddhist temple your feet better be pointed backward away from the Buddha statue.

- Take off your shoes for entry to sites and homes

- Be very careful never to say anything bad about the royal family in Thailand as you could get in a lot of trouble. And for sure don’t stamp your foot down to prevent a dropped bill from flying away as the king is on the bill! Note the king passed away in October 2016.

- Women cannot initiate conversation with monks

- In Thailand you eat with a spoon and the fork is only used to push food onto the spoon. It is considered very poor manners to eat with the fork. They only use chopsticks for their soup of all things (which has noodles usually).

- Don’t “flip” your fish when eating (just work around the bones)

- The “wai” is a slight bow with hands in a steeple formation in front of the chest. This is to be done only towards the elders (never to children or waiters for example)

- Don’t ever pat the head of a child as this is a sacred part of the body

- It is “illegal” to tip after a meal in Vietnam. Tipping isn’t necessary in the other countries but it is usual to leave the coins behind

Money Issues: Naturally each country has its own currency unlike having the handy euro when traveling across Europe. For Thailand it is the Baht with the US dollar equaling about 35 Baht. Oh great, this is going to be fun doing the math. Even worse is Vietnam where about 22,700 dong equals a dollar. Cambodia has its own currency but the US dollar is acceptable pretty much everywhere in this country. Of course the bills have to be in good shape – so start saving up nice $1 bills especially.

Driving: Fortunately we will not be doing any driving but as a pedestrian in Thailand remember to “look right” as they drive on the “wrong” side of the road. (Vietnam and Cambodia drive on the right side.)

Funny things that happened before we even started the trip:

Issues on the itinerary:

We have a very observant travel agent who noted mom’s age from her passport application. Understandably she was concerned about the all day trek and wondered if mom could manage this part of the trip. Little did she know that mom is extremely active and most likely is more capable that I am of making that trek!

We travel by air, train, boat and road on this trip. Poor Steve will be stuck with 3 women in a berth on a couple of overnight train rides in Vietnam. Rose pointed out that perhaps some alcohol will be helpful on this part of the journey (at least for Steve).

Mom has thoroughly reviewed the itinerary and spots that a cyclo ride is scheduled for one of our days in Vietnam. This generates considerable fuss and worry about learning how to ride a bike again. Well….it turns out that somebody else is the cyclist while you sit in the front seat of the 3 wheel contraption! This is what they look like – kind of a “wheelchair” attached to a bike. I am sure that pictures will be posted later with us on one of them.

Photo of Hanoi Cyclo Tours

Airline seats:

I worked on finding out seating arrangements on partner airlines with United. I ended up talking to a very nice Japanese gentleman who helped with mom’s seats. We had some difficulty communicating – it must have taken 5 tries to communicate her confirmation number. But we were both determined and managed in the end to make the changes.


Vietnam requires a letter in advance approving entry into the country. This was provided thanks to Buffalo travel. However we were slightly alarmed to see that the dates were incorrect: 11/05/2017 to 11/06/2017. Then it hit me – DUH – the US has to be different from most of the rest of the world right? In fact in Vietnam this date is May 11, 2017 to June 11, 2017. So OK then, we are fine with our visa!

And poor Rose has a birthdate in which the numbers can be flipped and translated wrong. So...12/10 was taken to mean Oct 12th rather than Dec 10th on some of the paperwork! This was sorted out fine in the end. Mom, myself and Steve did not have the potential for this problem as our birthdays had days in the 20s so they could not be confused with the month. As an aside our birthdays are all within a week of each other (Feb 21st, Feb 26th and Feb 27th!).

Fly Portland to Bangkok: April 29-30th

And I am off! But first I managed to leave my boarding passes in the bathroom at PDX. I was fortunate to catch the maid before she tossed them. Oh great I am off to a good start. Thanks to additional frequent flyer miles from Butch (thank you!) I was able to fly Polaris business class to Bangkok. What a treat! Access to all of the United lounges en route was included. And it was a great deal to be able to sleep in a bed flat on the 14 ½ hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Here are a few pictures.

Global First SFO Nice snacks for the 3 hour layover in Frisco

Nice new plane (should be safe!) My area of comfort

Whaaaaaaaat? I thought we were flying over the Pacific! It turns out that the plane’s flight pattern takes it on a northwest loop over Alaska on to China and Hong Kong.

May 1st Monday: First full day in Bangkok (Ok we are in hot and muggy weather)

Well we pretty much just recovered today after our long flight over. Unpacking we discovered that we had both bought identical blouses from Costco for the trip:

Mom and I did bravely venture out to walk around from the hotel. We were quite cautious as they drive rather wildly with little attention to pedestrians and on the other side of the road (watch out, look right!). In the evening we went to a local restaurant with traditional Thai dancing. Note that the spoon is the primary instrument for eating and the fork just pushes stuff onto the spoon.

First evening in town! First Thai meal – watch out for spicy!

Traditional Thai dancers with their fingers bent waaaay back. Apparently this is something that requires stretching from childhood years.

May 2nd Tuesday: Bangkok temples and Grand Palace (very hot and humid today)

Thailand is mostly a Buddhist nation so of course temples with Buddhas were very, very common. Here is the largest solid gold Buddha (at the temple Wat Traimit).

Reclining Buddha – note the little person in background (see how huge is this!) This one by the way is not solid gold.

Here we are in one of the temples within the Grand Palace. You have to be careful about the position of your feet so they aren’t pointing at the Buddha. Note: I became totally tangled up with everything around my neck and it took 10 minutes to free up my camera for this shot!

Just posing! Look at those wild pants I have on!

Nice picture of the Grand Palace. I wonder how much work it takes to trim those plants.

Here we are on the Grand Palace grounds

May 3rd Wednesday: Ayutthaya and the Summer Palace

We drove outside of Bangkok to reach the country’s former capitol of Ayutthaya and visit the summer palace of King Rama IV. It is actually a bit cooler in the morning hours!

Here is a nice view across the lake on the grounds. While walking away we heard a “splat” from a snake that had fallen right smack in front of us from one of the trees overhead. Thank goodness it didn’t land on my head!

Next we visited some ancient temple ruins nearby – Angkor Wat on a smaller scale. We stopped by a Buddhist temple to witness a ritualistic ceremony involving draping a giant Buddha with an orange drape over its shoulder. This was made by connecting many smaller pieces of cloth contributed by the worshippers that were present for the ceremony. We finished off the afternoon with a boat ride back to Bangkok and delicious lunch buffet in an air conditioned boat cabin.

Then out for an exciting evening in Bangkok. First off we had to get to the mass transit station for the Sky train. The guy at the hotel desk said that their “tuk tuk” was broken and we certainly couldn’t expect to walk there. So….he called a cab (undoubtedly a friend) and off we went for the world’s shortest cab ride just around the block. Ok…the meter didn’t even turn over. Next we had to figure out the sky train. We had trouble getting someone to understand the stop that we wanted as we pronounced it really, really wrong. But finally we were whisked off in the very clean above ground train. We had an intense hunt for the street called Soi Cowboy. Everyone knew about it but the language barrier was a bit of an issue in directing us. We finally made it to the “red light district” as you see below:

We finished up the night at a huge shopping mall called 21 and had an American meal at Tony Roma’s. We made our way back to the skytrain and proceeded to get lost trying to find our hotel street after exiting the station. After much exploring and attempts to get help (again with that language barrier) we found our way back. We are very tired but no worries as we can sleep in tomorrow morning.

May 4-5: Flight to Phuket and speedboat tour the following day

Our flight to Phuket was uneventful as it should be. We had about an hour drive to our little town of Kata Beach and our lovely hotel. Our rooms were upgraded and quite nice with our own balconies overlooking the pool area. There were some flowers that were in bloom outside on the way to our room and they smelled just lovely! This is a very lush and tropical place. Here is the view from our room:

The following morning after a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel we were off for an all-day speed boat ride. This day was the biggest surprise ever as it is a beautiful area with multiple islands with colorful cliffs. The canoe ride was especially fun! Here are some pictures from that day:

We had a delicious buffet lunch at a very large restaurant on one of the islands. The tempura vegies were especially good. On the last island we were able to sit in a chair on the beach, have a beer and relax.

May 6th and 7th are days of leisure in Phuket

We had much appreciated days of leisure. On both days we went to a wonderful beach near town. There was a free shuttle from the hotel however it was quite annoying that the driver drove right past us and didn’t pick us up for the ride home the first day. Boy that was a long hot walk back! The water at the beach was like bath water – so warm and pleasant and there was a nice breeze the first day. There were quite a few Thais on the beach trying to sell a variety of things – including massages. There was a cosmopolitan crowd with quite a few Russians in this part of the country. (We had run into very, very few Americans on the trip so far.)

Massages here are totally wonderful and very cheap. We had an hour long full body massage (which was more complete than usual on the front side, just saying) for 15 dollars. The next day we went back for wonderful foot massages and oh, don’t miss the fish eating the dead skin off your feet!

Evenings in Phuket: We went to the large hectic night market in downtown Phuket Saturday night. They had a wide variety of products some of which we purchased. You must haggle a bit and sometimes walk away. They come out with their calculators to communicate prices with you. The last evening we had a fabulous meal out. We had a chicken blue cheese dish with a delicious sauce.

Phuket Saturday night market

Last dinner in Phuket – so good!

Here we are modeling one of our recent Thai purchases – elephant pants. They are great for the heat as they are loose fitting and very light weight. Everybody wears them – men, women, young, old. Once size fits all (unless you get an odd sized one!). Of note a pocket is included, however mine was sewn off so you couldn’t actually get into it.

Cute elephant pants!

May 8th Monday: We flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today was a transit day. I was able to try out my Priority Pass card and it worked! All four of us gained free access to lounges in Phuket and Bangkok. This took care of our needs for food and even alcohol (note the one in Bangkok had an open bar – serve yourself). We had a small prop plane that flew us to Siem Reap and included dinner on the brief one hour flight. We were processed through the small arrival area of the airport. I was the only one of our group that was fingerprinted. I suppose I looked suspicious or something? Our guide was waiting for us after we exited and off we went to the hotel. We noted that we were once again back to driving on the right side of the road. The hotel staff greeted us with cold washrags and a drink on arrival, nice!

May 9th Tuesday: Angkor Wat and other temples (VERY hot and muggy!)

Today was a busy day touring. We started out though with a delicious buffet breakfast with a variety of menu items including artisan breads and made to order eggs and vegetable rice. The hotel doesn’t appear to have many guests as we were the only ones at breakfast. Later on the way to Angkor Wat we passed a “lecture hall” with a policeman giving a talk to a group of monks about the evils of drug use. There were also some busy monkeys that were fascinated by the side mirrors of a car. I have a feeling that the driver will need to readjust them!

Hmmmm…..some of these monks seemed a little bored by the talk

OK…..just a little bit more up and to the right

We went to the massive Angkor Wat – the largest religious monument in the world. This is the most recognized symbol of Cambodia and in fact appears on their flag. It is about 900 years old and was built as a tribute to a Hindu god. There are elaborate scenes carved into the stone walls of the temple. A person could certainly spend a lot of time at this location!

WOW…….Angkor Wat is massive

Stairway to heaven in Angkor Wat Cambodian Flag

Later we went through the South Gate of Angkor Thom with the statues of good and evil lining the sides of the bridge.

Left – “good”, right – “evil” statues with gate in back

The evil row with a bunch of frowning statues

Statue with backdrop of the river Love this one!

Here is a photo from Ta Prohm with framing compliments of our guide. This is where Lara Croft and the tomb raider was filmed.

We also went to Bayon. This was built about 100 years after Angkor Wat and is in the center of the city of Angkor Thom. It has very detailed carvings in stone that depict some everyday aspects of life in that period. It is known for its many, many smiling faces on the towers. Here are a few pictures from Bayon:

Look at those smiling faces!

Rubbing noses Framed by a window in the structure

And one of the busy murals on display

May 10th Sunday: Sunset Quad tour

Today started out again with our great breakfast buffet. Steve reported that his clothes received an “extra rinse” overnight as it apparently rained heavily on his clothes hanging out on their balcony. After breakfast we took a “tuk tuk” ride to the nearby town to check out the shops.

Are we having fun yet?

In the afternoon we enjoyed the pool – so refreshing! We had our own pool attendant at the ready for our orders for drinks and lunch.

View of the pool from above Ahhhhhh!

Then we went on a ride in a “tuk tuk” to the ATV location where we received our instructions for driving the ATV (all except mom who rode on the back of one of the guides). This was great fun as we were able to get into the countryside and see the rice paddies and water buffalo. We all did pretty well though Rose took a bit of a detour to make a circle in one of the fields. I was following her and let’s just say that I was uncertain about what was going on…. Was she circling around to be next to Steve or what???? Anyway we did well as the guides were very attentive and stopped traffic at some of the road crossings for us. Here we are victorious at the end of the ride to the rice field at sunset:

We had dinner out at one of Angelina Jolie’s haunts – the Red Piano. I had her favorite drink appropriately called the “Tomb Raider”. We then proceeded to have foot massages across the street ($3 for 20 minutes) and Steve opted for another session of feeding the fish with his feet. Finally in the midst of a downpour we found a covered tuk tuk for our ride home to the hotel.

May 11th Thursday: Visiting a community village & local life

We headed out with our guide and driver to a small village in the country. On the way there were a variety of stalls set along the road selling local produce and other products. In one area they were selling bamboo stuffed with “sticky rice” which is sweet like a dessert. We witnessed the transport of a pig……..on a motorbike! Almost all of the homes in the country are built up on stilts with hammocks and open living space below. This is a cooler place to sleep! Most do have electricity and shared wells. We visited a school and looked at the library which was built with the financial help of our tour company Buffalo Tours. Our guide told about the issue of many left over land mines that had to be cleaned out after the war. He also told us of the challenges of education such as recruiting good teachers and issues of cost and transportation for students to attend high school. Often the teachers have to travel to the school to teach and in fact there was a room for them to stay during the week. After we finished at the school we were off on the oxcart!

Many bikes at the school Minefield cleared!

We stopped to see a woman making brooms and then watched the process of processing rice by hand. We had a lunch prepared by a local villager consisting of rice, soup with vegetables and pork and of course rice. Fruit was for dessert – watermelon.

Making the broom The final product – it works!

Stomachs are full, we are ready for the afternoon

After lunch we headed to a monastery to be blessed by a monk. We each received a small colored tie around our wrist after the blessing. The monastery takes in young boys who need help. Then we went for a boat ride on the huge Tonle Sap lake with a very large population living on the water in boats.

The monk with a few of his charges

May 12th Friday: Fly from Siem Reap to Hanoi

Our flight wasn’t until late in the afternoon so we had great massages at the hotel. We decided to go to the airport early but found that we were unable to check in more than 2 hours before the flight. And….there was absolutely nothing available outside of security as far as restaurants or stores. Most of the seats were also taken. Up steps mom to the rescue! She spoke with one of the airline agents and explained she was a diabetic and needed to be able to eat something. So….we got to check in an hour earlier with the first class passengers. Way to go mom! The lounge we had access to in the small airport was the nicest of the trip. It was large and we were practically the only ones in it. There was great food the chefs were serving and a great bar too. It was just a peaceful oasis. After our flight we were of course met by our guide who delivered us to our hotel. It was right smack in the middle of a very busy area of town so I used my earplugs to help me sleep at night.

May 13th Saturday: A very busy day touring Hanoi

We had a fabulous guide in Hanoi. His name was Tinh and he had a beautiful British accent that was easily understandable. We first went to see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and decided not to spend hours in line to visit the interior. Instead we took a few pictures from the outside and then went for a walk along a street known for its French style buildings. The French colonized Vietnam for approximately 100 years until Ho Chi Minh put up a fuss and kicked them out in the 50s. Prior to that time the Chinese occupied this part of Vietnam for about a thousand years. We saw their influence in the ancient Temple of Literature.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum “French quarter” buildings

Temple of Literature built in homage to Confucius

We next had a delicious multi course Vietnamese lunch. Now we are in a country that uses chopsticks for the first time!

Multicourse menu!

We are ready to eat! Chopsticks in this country!

Our guide also took us wandering around for some street food. What a culinary adventure! We watched our spring rolls being made, had a sandwich of sorts and stopped in for some potent but great tasting Vietnamese coffee. We also made a beer stop for Larue beer (first concocted by a Frenchman and made in Vietnam). The streets are named for their specialty – one street had lots of mats, another had a bunch of shoe shops and so forth. It is very, very busy and noisy. “Tube” houses are prevalent and are very narrow buildings with businesses on the first floor and homes up above. Apparently street front property is expensive so the more narrow the place the less costly. Here are a few “street” pictures:

Fixing our rice rolls Squid anyone?

Nice vegies!

And….beautiful flowers

Typical Hanoi street scene with businesses below and residences above and of course motorbikes

Here we are having our potent Vietnamese coffee. Note the potent spirits in the case behind us also!

The picture below reminds me of traffic in Hanoi. I am just sure he is telling us to watch out for the motorbike. We were told when crossing the street with our guide to be like “sticky rice” and be right next to him. Just walk across…..even steps, no hurry or pause and traffic indeed weaves around you!

Watch out! Stay back!

Late in the day we made our way to the water puppet show. There is a lake near the show theater (and our hotel) where it is pedestrian traffic only on the weekends.

I love the reflections on the water from the bridge!

May 14th Sunday: Boat cruise UNESCO World Heritage Halong Bay (Mother’s Day!)

We had a 4 hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay. We stopped at an oyster place to see how they produced pearls and then onward to get on our small cruise boat. We had a fabulous cruise through the many small islands in Halong Bay. The food was wonderful and our cozy little cabin worked well for us. A map of the bay – look at all those little islands!

Our cute boat Dining room – boy did we have good food!

Beautiful! Look at all the boats

Viewpoint on the climb up to Surprise cave

Viewpoint on the way to the cave

Surprise cave!

Made it up and down all those steps, yay!

What a great, great day! This site certainly deserves the UNESCO world heritage designation.

As an aside it was mother’s day and mom certainly had a great day. She has turned out to be a fabulous travel companion! I gave her a mother’s day card pointing out that wine bottles make good flower vases. So drink up!

May 15th Monday: Boat ride at Halong bay and overnight train ride to Sapa

We didn’t get up early enough for Tai Chi but we did make it for the small boat ride to a fully enclosed bay (except for the arched entrance).

We had a wonderful brunch on board and then were driven back to Hanoi. There were a lot of rice fields and water buffalo (pronounced “booffalo” by our guide). We went back through the coal mining town which seemed quite dusty and the air seemed hazy (was this just my imagination?). We had a day room back at our hotel in Hanoi since our train didn’t leave until late in the evening. And about that train ride – there were 4 of us in a very dinky berth with bunk beds. All I can say is that it is a good thing I was a gymnast many years ago as it took some maneuvering to get up on the top bunk! I did manage to get some sleep though the train jerked a lot and was quite noisy.

But it looked so much fancier and bigger in the brochure

Oh boy, this is going to be a rough night but what can we do about it?

Well we are just going to have to laugh about it!

May 16th Tuesday: Trek with homestay

We were picked up bright and early in the morning from our train ride and then were driven to Sapa. This town is in the northern mountains of Vietnam so fortunately it was quite a bit cooler. We could literally see China from the town. We had a nice breakfast and then off we went to the starting point of our 6 mile hike. The minute we left the van we were accompanied by some Hmong women hoping to sell us something. They walked quite a ways with us before our guide finally encouraged them to leave. Our walk was mostly downhill or level (thank goodness) and we had some of the most beautiful scenery ever. The hills were extensively terraced with rice fields creating interesting patterns and a deep green beauty.

Our “guests” on the walk

Pretty good panorama shot!

Smoking an air pipe (with tobacco just to clarify)

Water buffalo were everywhere Including the porch!

We stopped by to make our own batik paintings. I am afraid our expert painter had her hands full in helping us! Look at her laugh at the end!

I can’t wait to see my finished product. I am just sure Butch will love his gift.

The last part of the walk was the most difficult as it was up a very steep path. It was paved concrete as they use their motorbikes to travel to different areas of the rice fields.

The end is in sight!

Ahhhhhhh, mineral bath soaks for our weary feet

Map of the area with a number of homes participating in the homestay program. We were staying in house #8 with Ms Moa and Mr. Chinh. They are a H’Mong couple who are married with 3 children. They often take care of other children for relatives also. They have rice fields and grow other products in addition to raising chickens and a pig. By participating in the homestay program they were able to upgrade to modern plumbing and also receive some monetary compensation. Electricity was present (so we could charge our phones and tablets) and they had a small TV. They were absolutely wonderful hosts! Of note our guide stayed with us at the home and helped us with the language barrier as needed.

Our hosts with us on their porch

The kids were so cute! Note the binoculars Steve and Rose brought were a big hit!

View from the front porch

We participated in a number of activities such as “helping” with dinner, playing cards with the kids, and presenting our hosts with gifts.

Making spring rolls Dinner! We had potent rice wine also

Time for a card game The USA map was helpful

Presents for the kids

Here are a few additional scenes from the home stay:

Hair washing time! The cook in her kitchen

The pets included 2 dogs and the essential cat (for keeping the rodents away of course). The little puppy was often in trouble. He was busy stealing eggs from the chickens while we were there. We would just find some egg shells here and there and then he was caught eating one.

There was room for all of us to sleep and then some. I had a quite comfortable mat on the floor upstairs complete with a mosquito net. It was noisy at night with crickets and frogs croaking but I slept well! Here is the bed on the bottom floor where mom slept:

May 17th Wednesday: Finish the homestay and then train overnight back to Hanoi

For breakfast we had rice pancakes with honey and bananas – delicious! Remember our artwork? The finished products arrived this morning:

What a gift for Butch!

After saying good bye to our host family we headed out. There were rain showers so our windbreakers finally came in handy. It was a shorter walk today into a different town. It was a good opportunity to see the families working in the rice fields. It is a full time job and is done by hand with both husband and wife helping out. The water buffalo assist for some of the plowing that is required. Apparently they have 2-3 harvests of rice during the year. The irrigation systems are created by ditches and breaks in the terraces to allow water to flow down by gravity.

Working the rice paddies, ponchos required today

Don’t we look cute??????

Just hiking along!

After we finished the shorter hike we met up with our van and off we went to SAPA where we were able to use a “day room” at the hotel to freshen up and have lunch. Then off we went to the town at the railway station for another fun night.

Oh no…..not again! Another overnight train ride!

May 18th Thursday: Arrival by train in Hanoi and flight to Hoi An

Our guide picked us up bright and early from the train station. We were taken back to our Hanoi hotel to freshen up and then we had some time to kill. So our guide took us out for a Vietnamese breakfast – beef noodle soup. After that we stopped in a coffee shop with chairs and tables very low to the ground. We had delicious “egg” coffee that indeed contained an egg yolk and probably lots of sugar and milk. It reminded me of egg nog and was quite tasty.

Beef noodle soup at a local street vendor

And this is our egg coffee – wonderful. Note the cups are floating in hot water to keep the coffee warmer longer.

Then we were taken to the airport for our domestic flight to Danang. As usual our guide was waiting for us after we picked up our luggage and we were off to Hoi An. This town is a resort area along the coast just south of China Beach. We drove through a bit of Danang which appears to be a more modern city as compared to Hanoi and then along the coast packed with resorts to Hoi An. We arrived at the best hotel of our trip!! We had a wonderful swim in the pool and a great multi course dinner at the hotel. Of all things the most memorable was the tomato soup – so very rich and delicious!

View from the pool area

Doing the splits in Vietnam!

Instead of splits…….

May 19th Friday: Hoi An tour and cyclo day!

Today we were quite busy touring Hoi An. This is a former trading port that was influenced by various cultures – particularly the Chinese, Japanese French and Portuguese. Here are a few places we saw on our tour:

The Chinese influence shows up again

Typical street scene in Hoi An Ancient Town – note the yellow lanterns

We toured a silk factory (note the silk worms) Also embroidery was being produced by hand

200 year old merchant’s house Japanese covered bridge

Later went to have tea at the Reaching Out Tea House where the hearing impaired served us. We had lunch along with a lesson on making beef salad. It certainly turned out delicious!

I had iced coffee and the presentation was beautiful

Steve assisting with lunch

After lunch we went on our cyclo ride (remember the confusion about what exactly this was on our itinerary?)

Oh this is going to be fun. Just sit back and relax while somebody else does all the work.

We were taken along one of the canals to a local home to try out some coconut milk. Then we proceeded to get into “bamboo basket” boats. All I can say is I am glad I didn’t have to row the darn thing as we would have gone in circles!

Coconut milk – not a lot of taste but refreshing Careful getting into that tippy thing!

And here we are in our “boat” with our cute Vietnamese hats on

So our boat captain skillfully guided our basket through the little water channels and out to the river where we transferred to a regular boat to return to Hoi An. Apparently the bamboo basket boats are extremely popular with the South Korean tourists. We ran into a group of them. They had loud music playing and one of the boat rowers doing a show for them on one of the boats. Pretty wild! In the evening we went swimming in the pool and later sat out under the umbrellas drinking wine in the midst of a sudden thunderstorm.

May 20th Saturday: Hoi An and the cooking class at Red Bridge

We had more cooking experience today. First our chef took us around the marketplace to point out various products that he uses for cooking. His day starts around 4 am so he can be right there when the fishermen come in with their catch. Here are a few of the market scenes:

Our chef pointing out fruits and vegies

How is this for displaying a chicken? 80ish year old lady still working in the meat market

Fish anyone?

Note that all of the meat is from fresh kill of the day without odor or flies. After enjoying the market place we headed on a short boat ride along the Thu Ban river to the Red Bridge Cooking School. We had great fun despite being less than talented cooks (at least mom and I). The chef was just so funny and good at his job. His assistants were great help for us and kept things moving along. We sampled and really enjoyed the delicious results of our work.

Of course – the red bridge “Chefs” hard at work

Busy making our spring rolls Now isn’t that pretty!

Tasty too!

I made this creation (with guidance) believe it or not!

A well-deserved and delicious lunch

In the afternoon we had massages at the hotel that were just great. The massage therapists get right up on the table over your back for some added pressure. We went into Hoi An to experience it at night. The multicolored lanterns really lit up the streets.

I spotted this suit in one of the stores and immediately thought of Butch. Do you think he would like this for a gift?

May 21st Sunday: Free day

Today was quite relaxing. We took the hotel shuttle to the beach and just lounged for awhile. The water was warm but the surf was quite rough and in fact the life guard had the area closed at one point. We were just south of China Beach but could look north and see it extending for miles. There was a TV series called China Beach. It was set in a military hospital near China Beach in Danang.

After we returned we had a nice relaxing time at the pool. Beautiful!

Our dinner was at the same place we had fixed our lunch a couple of days ago. They barbecue their meats right in the restaurant. Rose picked out the best dish – some type of meat (Australian beef?) that had the best coating I have ever tasted.

May 22nd Monday: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City and tour

We were up early for our flight and then hit the ground running in “HCM” (as the locals call it). Of course the city was previously known as Hanoi. We first went to the War Remnants Museum (which used to be called the war crimes museum). This presented an interesting but horrible perspective on the Vietnam war (or “American war” as it is known in Vietnam). Our guide warned us that this would be a difficult part of the tour. The viewpoint is from the Vietnamese and highlighted the poor treatment and torture of the Vietnamese by US soldiers. The agent orange part of the museum was particularly graphic with horrible effects caused by this drug directly or via birth defects.

Comparisons between WWII, Korean War and the Vietnam War (note they use periods rather than commas in the numbers)

We had lunch at a “fast food” noodle place that was quite delicious. The tour continued with some additional sights. Remember this iconic photo from the evacuation from Hanoi in 1975?


Well here is the building today. It was not the embassy building as was widely believed but rather an apartment building that housed the CIA at the time of the evacuation.

The Central Post Office (built by famous architect Gustave Eiffel) from the outside

And….from the inside with a prominent photo of Ho Chi Minh

Notre Dame Cathedral constructed by the French 1863-80

This is the Reunification Palace where the North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the front doors to end the war April 30, 1975.

Views from on top of the Reunification Palace

Later in the afternoon we took a speed boat tour along the river and then back to the hotel. We went for a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant of all things, recommended by our guide. The taxi ride was a good way to go as it was very inexpensive but he let us off a couple of blocks away from our destination (communication issues?). Nevertheless we found our way – I guess it is all part of the adventure.

May 23rd, Tuesday: Cu Chi Tunnels

Today we traveled through the countryside northwest of Ho Chi Minh City to the location of the Cu Chi tunnels. We toured the Cu Chi complex of tunnels which provided extensive hiding places for the guerilla Viet Cong fighters and served as underground living areas, hospitals, storage areas, supply routes and so forth. We were able to descend into one of the narrow tunnels to experience traveling underground (hunched over) and to see an example of an underground kitchen. The Viet Cong were very clever in concealing the entrances to the tunnels. In addition they had to figure out sneaky places to hide the dirt that was dug out such as putting it in bomb craters. The smoke from underground ovens was allowed to escape through multiple small vents to hopefully blend in with the surrounding mist. Ventilation for oxygen was done through vents camouflaged as termite mounds. Some of the tunnels were purposely made narrow so the average American GI could not fit through. Of note one of the challenges for American GIs was to determine who was the enemy and who was not as the Viet Cong could blend into the community if they so desired dressing in clothes typical of the surrounding communities.

Underground kitchen Vents made to look like a termite mound

I was ready to disappear into the tunnel. Note it practically took a crane to get me out.

Us posing next to a tank (obviously) Not so obvious – a bomb crater

Models of “booby” traps the Viet Cong set up

Model of Viet Cong using US bomb material to convert into their traps or other weapons

In the evening we went to the famous Saigon Saigon bar at the top level of the Caravelle Hotel. This particular hotel housed many of the US reporters during the war. We also had a great grilled swordfish and salad at a restaurant recommended by our guide.

Information about the Caravelle Hotel

Reporters (note Peter Jennings) and cameramen outside the rooftop bar Caravelle Hotel in 1967

View from the bar at sunset

Fun times. Babsie’s head looks like it is sitting on top of the drink.

May 24th Wednesday: Mekong Delta boat tour

Today we had a bit of a drive to get to the location to board our boat. As always the drive is part of the experience. We saw “rest stops” with hammocks and the expectation that the local family’s produce should be purchased while at the stop. Also there were of course a lot of rice fields. Of interest was the frequent presence of stone monuments in the middle of many of the fields. We were informed that these were in fact burial sites of family members.

This structure is a burial site in the family’s field

Time for a snooze in the hammock at the rest stop?

One of many road side stands. This one is selling my favorite fruit – jack fruit.

We arrived at the river and boarded our boat. It was just the 4 of us with 3 crew members including our guide. It was a small long boat that even had a couple of lounges. We had several stops along the way to see some local businesses including the making of coconut candy (yum), puffed rice and a brick making place. We also passed by the floating market with their wares flying high to announce what was in their hold (see below if you are confused). We finished the excursion off with a delicious lunch at a restaurant inside a lovely colonial style villa.

One of many boats we passed on the river. Families live on these!

Boats with the floating market Boats with “eyes” on the front

This is what I meant by the boats advertising their wares. The one on the right I think had a hold full of sweet potatoes??? I am not sure what is on display on the left pole.

Nice colonial style villa for lunch

Display of our fish to be eaten shortly

Miscellaneous topics on Vietnam:

Vietnamese traffic scenes: The journal would not be complete without a few pictures of the amazing traffic scenes in Vietnam. They managed to transport a whole variety of items on their motorbikes. Motorbikes were by far the most common mode of transportation and just packed the streets.

Waiting at a signal for their turn to go

Bananas anyone? Now if I could balance just one more thing

Communism in Vietnam: Our guide in Hanoi spoke of this a bit. Certainly there is control of access to information and news with quite a process involved for gaining approval for publications. There is also some control of internet sites in this modern age. We heard some of the regular loudspeaker announcements from the government in Hanoi.

May 25th Thursday: Flying home!

And before you know it we were on our way home! We all shared a flight to Tokyo and then went our separate ways. It turns out mom was on a different plane than Rose and Steve heading at the same time to Los Angeles. So…4 of us flew in 3 different planes across the Pacific! I was very, very lucky and had a row of 4 seats to myself.

And so ends another GREAT, GREAT trip!!!!!!

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