Vanuatu Adventure - The Trip Archives

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02/11/2003 Entry: "Rice paddies, street vendors and Honda Om!"

Hello Everyone!

Where did the last two weeks go? We have reached the last day of our 15-day Vietnam Adventure and the end of our 2 month SE Asia Adventure. It's hard to believe! We have had some amazing experiences here and will definitely be back in the future. However, we're slightly wiped out from our go, go, go schedule and some of the intenseness of traffic, and vendors assertiveness, we think that we probably planned it right in keeping our time at just 2 months. We are looking forward to seeing my Norweigen friend, Tina and getting back into first world countries.

One quick side note, learning to cross the street in Saigon and all of Vietnam is a developed skill. The first few times leaving you in a state of post-adrenal rush fatigue. As Bao instructed us the very first day as we stood on the sidewalk staring apprehendsiously at the other side of the 30 ft. wide street filled with a sea of hundreds of motor bikes and a few odd taxi's:

Walk Slowly
Don't Stop
Don't do anything Unpredictable
Act Confident.

Yea Right! Anyways, now at the end of 2 weeks we are seasoned veterans, and actually view as kind of a fun experience, a bit like Frogger!

So... I think I left off at New Year's Eve (lunar new year). It turns out that I unfortunately missed much of the Tet Celebration (developed a nasty sinus infection that knocked me out for several days). We had been officially invited by Bao's grandparents to come to their house for dinner and celebration on the 31st of Jan. to bring in the New year with them. Fortunately, Brian was able to go and take lots of photos and bring back stories. He had a huge dinner with Bao's family, including a few Vietnamese New Year specialities that reminded us a bit of a tamale, but it was made with rice. Around 10pm Brian said the family put a small alter outside their home, complete with burning incense, fresh fruit and drink to appease and welcome the gods to the New Year (hoping in turn that they would be blessed with good health, happiness and prosperity). Brian, Bao and some of Bao's Aunts and Uncles went downtown shortly after midnight to check out the scene at one of the biggest pagodas in Saigon. It turns out thousands of others had the same idea and the found themselves quickly swept up by a sea of people. Brian purchased a 4-foot incense candle, that in photos made him look a bit like he was carrying the olympic torch. The night was complete after oohing and ahhing at a spectacular fire works display.

On Feb. 1st (officially New Year's Day) Brian and I were invited to be the first official visitors to Bao's grandparents house. I was still sick bigwan so I opted out for two reasons. I really wanted to go, but obviously didn't have much energy, but I also know that the first visitor has a lot of significance for the coming year. If I had gone, I could have possibly brought a year sickness to their house. Yikes! The visitor is ideally, supposed to be male, wealthy and have children. People who are sick are osterzied because it brings bad luck. Anyways, Brian went prepared to say a few nice sentiments and wishes for the coming year and hand a red envelope containing 'Lucky Money' to Bao's grandparents. Lucky money is just a small amount of the local currency to essentially bring good luck and prosperity to the family.

On Feb. 3rd we began our journey north, hoping on a 5-hour bus ride to the mountainous city of Dalat (at 1475m), glad to be leaving the overwhelming traffic and pollution of Saigon behind us. Dalat was significantly cooler than Saigon, I'd say at least a drop of 15-20 degress. In fact we were shivering by nightfall, when just the night before we'd been sweating in Saigon. We stayed for 2 nights, 1 1/2 days in Dalat. We enjoyed a cute little coffe shop in the morning. And shortly after breakfast, began our day of obscure sights and locations. First, we went to a place called, Hang Nga Art Gallery and Guesthouse, by locals known as "The Crazy House." It was designed by a Vietnamese architect and as it says in the Lonely Planet Guide, has architecture straight out of "Alice in Wonderland." All of the guesthouse rooms are contained in a what appears to be a large tree (made out of concrete) with nooks and crannies, stairs leading to nowhere, looking out on a giraffe and concrete mushrooms. Pretty wild, but definitely worth the visit. Next, we checked out the beatiful Dalat Flower Gardens (probably our least obscure visit). In the afternoon we went to the 'magic' spinning table. Bao toted it as a must-see experience (having been years earlier himself). We walked in a saw a few people with the hands resting on the 225 year old black table. Supposedly, you were supposed to rest your hands lightly on the table say a direction out loud, left or right and the table was supposed to magically begin moving on it's on. Finally, after a number of others had tried it out, Brian and I gave it a try. Somehow or another it really did feel as though it started moving on it's own. It was a little bit weird in fact. We're not quite sure how it worked, but Bao being a Physics major and myself believing in possibilities
of some things being unexplainable had some interesting discussions about it the rest of the afternoon.

On Feb. 5th we began the bus trip that made us decide not to take the buses anymore for long distance travel. We took a 6-hour ride from Dalat to Nha Trang ( a beach town) spent 6 hours walking around and exploring the area. We hoped back on a bus at 6:30pm to begin our 12-hour, bumpy, winding route to Hoi An. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable, restless journey. Upon reaching Hoi An we groggily checked into a nice hotel and proceeded to take a 3-hour catnap. Feeling refreshed we ventured out onto the streets of Hoi An. In hindsight, I have to say that I personally liked the feel of Hoi An more than any other city in Vietnam and possibly all of SE Asia, a close-tie with Luang Prabang (in Laos). Hoi An's streets were narrow and windy. The streets lined with little French colonial houses, the were painted mostly a washed out yellow, intermixed with some light blue houses, all with a dark red brick-tiled roof. Truly pictureque! And on top of it all the shopping was a dream, over 200 tailor shops, making high quality products (ie dresses, skirts, shirts etc) out of pure silk for under 20 bucks a piece! We took a full-day tour to My Son - ancient Champa Ruins from the 10th-13th centuaries.

We took a 5 hour 128k bus ride to Hue on Feb. 7th. We found the nicest hotel for only 4 bucks a night, with better service than any of the $25 hotels we'd stayed in in the past week. We explored the remains of the Citadel and the building within including the Forbidden Purple City (area belonging to the Emperor). On the 8th we took a half-day tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). This particular area had some of the worst battles during the Vietnam War. The Rockpile, Khe Sanh, Lang Vay and Hamburger Hill. We had an excellent guide who gave us a very detailed historical account of the area. We also visited the Vinh Moc Tunnels. There are 2.8km of tunnels in which up to 300 people (at a time) hid in during the war to avoid bombs and gunfire. It was definitely sobering to hear about and see first-hand the impact of war on the local people.

We flew (no way were we going to do the 16-hour bus ride!!!) to Hanoi our final destination in
Viet Nam. We spent the first day checking out the 36 streets of the Old quarter. The are is consists of a series of narrow roads, filled with mainly one particular craft or product (such a silk, silver, and even headstones) on each street. It's a very interesting place to visit. Yesterday we took a full-day tour of Halong Bay, 3,000 plus islands made of limestone, in sharp and narrow peaks straight out of the emerald waters. Beautiful, Breathtaking and Mystical (due to the foggy, misty conditions)!

Today, we saw Bao off at 8am as he heads to India for his next adventure. Brian and I will meet up with our friend Jenn (the PCV that we met up with in Cambodia- she's arriving to begin her 2 weeks in Viet Nam today) for lunch. We'll visit the Temple of Literture, do a bit more shopping and then hop on a plan at 8pm destined for Bangkok, Copenhagen and finally Oslo.

Hope all is well with everyone! We miss you and look forward to seeing you all in just over a month!

Love, A & B

P.S. We found a bottle of Mineral water yesterday with the name "A & B water" so we bought it for the label.

Note: Click on any image to see the larger version.

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Crossing the street in Saigon (where are A&B)

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Fruit Market in Vienam

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Tet flower market

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Tet flowe market A, B and Bao

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Tasty Vietnamese food

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Saigon´s Cathedral

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Alter for Tet at Bao´s Grandparents´ house

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Fireworks for New Years

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Brian on New Years with 4 foot incense it was only 1 dollar (amazing)

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Dragon Dance on New years day

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Lion Dance

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Lion dance troupe in their truck

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Dalat rice and vegi field

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A&B at the Dalat ¨Crazy House¨

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Brian & Bao at the Crazy House

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Orchid at the Dalat flower garden

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Wedding reminders (hydrangeas)

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Magic table

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Japanese Friendship Bridge in Hoi An

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Monkey statue at the friendship bridge

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Old woman selling ceramic whistles in Hoi An

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Pinapple shake (these are everywhere in South East Asia)

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A&B ath the Cham ruins

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Carving at the Cham ruins

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Temple Ruin at My Son

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Rice Field Workers

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Buddha in Cave in Danang

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Cave in Danang

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Moat at the Forbiden Purple City in Hue

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The Forbiden Purple City (well part of it)

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Library gardens

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One of the Nine Urns

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Temple doorway

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Looking across the DMZ from North to South (an old french bunker in the foreground)

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DMZ monument

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Amy going into the DMZ tunnel

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Hanoi Bridge

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The Turtle Temple

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Water Puppet Show

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Turtle Temple at Night

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Cave in Ha Long Bay

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Cute Penguin Trash can in Ha Long Bay (for you dad (Ken))

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Floating Village in Ha Long Bay

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Rock formations in Ha Long Bay

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Rocks in HLB

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Rocks again

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Women and Bicycle with flowers in Hanoi

Replies: 3 Comments

Wow, you guys have done and seen so much! I'm sure you are ready to be with friend and relax a bit! Traveling is very tiring, especially on your schedule! Sheesh! Thanks for the updates! Us retired RPCV's love reading about your adventures! Keep em' coming!

Posted by Amy Jo @ 02/18/2003 09:37 PM MST

You have again given your readers picturesque descriptions of your travels. What fun it is to read about your adventures. (I hope you don't need to ride anymore buses!)
Thanks for taking the time to do your travel log. I enjoy it. Be safe on your travels home.

Posted by June @ 02/13/2003 02:28 PM MST

Enjoyed traveling with you in Viet Nam via your great discriptions! I know I would have had trouble 'walking slowly' across the streets. Way to go Brian being the 'Ambassador' while Amy was recovering. Happy Valentine's Day and happy travels to Norway.

Posted by Janet Switzer @ 02/11/2003 08:22 PM MST

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