Sunday, February 4, 2018

Snake Cuddling in the Mekong Delta

Beautiful sunshine and the temperature was over 30 degrees.

We were picked up at our hotel at 8am to start our last day in Vietnam with a tour to the Mekong River Delta. 

Of course traffic was crazy. At one point a family of four on a motorbike (with young children) were driving down the wrong way on the freeway. 

There is a lot of horn blowing in Vietnam. Our guide explained that it means, “I’m behind you” or “get out of my way”.

The bus transported us to the Mekong River . On the way to the Mekong we stopped at the Cao Dai temple. Members of the temple are Taoist, Confusionist and Buddhist. Even Christ is recognized there.

Once at the river, our small group took a boat and stopped at an island where we saw coconut candy being made before walking to an area where we tried numerous types of fruit (including a water apple and lychees). We also dipped pineapple in a chili salt which was delicious. Local girls sang while we ate.

We next followed a path to a waterway where we were paddled down the river in large canoes. I loved watching the mudskippers on the banks.

Sampling honey tea and seeing bees were the next stop on our tour. I also got to hold a python. For some reason, no one else in our group wanted to. It was surprising how heavy that snake was.

Horse carriages then took us to a lovely place where we had a large lunch. There was a small zoo with crocodiles, frogs, snakes and porcupines...not sure why they were there because I don’t think they are native to the area.

We then took yet another boat through a waterway so covered by trees it was like being in a tunnel. We then returned to our original bigger boat and crossed the river to our bus. I bought a couple of the pointy hats...I guess I’ll be wearing them on the plane. Now that should make an interesting fashion statement.

It was about an hour and a half to drive back to our hotel. We passed many rice fields. There are all kinds of graves in the rice fields. Our guide told us that people bury their dead wherever they want. Rice fields where the deceased had worked is very common.

Our guide explained a few beliefs in regards to the afterlife. She said that to communicate with the dead, you had to burn incense. Since the dead can’t eat, they use incense as food.

Also the meals are put out during the two days of a full mood as offerings to the gods.

A lot of pesticides are used on the rice and produce. To make matters worse, there are still a lot of chemicals in the water from the war.

In regards to Vietnamese food. I was told by another one of our guides that many people eat dog. I saw no sign of this however at the beginning of the trip our cooking class instructor jokingly told us that “if it’s dead, they eat it. If it’s alive, they kill it then eat it.

We got back to our hotel by 4pm so we went for a beer in an outdoor cafe and watched the traffic go by.

I saw a fair number of families with four or five people all riding on one motorcycle; grandparents, adults, babies, toddlers and children. Although the adults are usually wearing helmets (it’s the law), the kids rarely do. I was told if they are stopped by the police, the parents say that they are concerned that their children’s necks are not strong enough to support the helmet and the police let them go. 

I saw a lot of little kids standing up while riding the motorbikes. Yikes!

People event text while driving.

We had supper at the Five Oysters Restaurant across the street from our hotel.

Cora was tired so John and I decided to end our vacation with one more massage before the car arrived to take us to the airport.

It took only twenty minutes to get to the airport since it is right in the city. There are all kind of light displays on the main roads and throughout the city for Asian New Years which is like our Christmas holidays.

The line ups took forever at the airport. Its a long flight home.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Hoi An to Saigon

After breakfast we moved our luggage to reception and spent our last few hours in the old town.

The market as usual was packed and busy. I purchased all kinds of special tools for making vegetable flowers.

Wine with Cobras and Scorpions were offered for sale. I didn’t buy any.

We stopped for egg coffee and watched people burning fake money and paper in the middle of the crowded road in front of their store. Motorbikes just drove around them. People go out and specifically buy fancy shiny metallic gold and coloured papers to do this. So much paper is burned this way. Tables with candies and dead chickens or pigs were also set up. I don’t think anyone eats them. They are offerings.

Packing had been a bit of a challenge since I am pretty well dead on the maximum capacity of luggage. I had to do some fancy clothing layering and weight distribution (including into my pockets). With a tshirt, money belt and three jackets, I was no fashion plate.

We headed back to our hotel where we were picked up and driven to the Da Nang Airport.

Our flight was a bit late and we landed in Saigon as the sun was setting. And what a difference in temperature. We went from 18-20 degrees in DaNang to over 30 degrees in Saigon. The traffic was worse than I remembered.

Back at the Duc Vuong Hotel, the street was alive and hopping. We crossed the street to the Five Oysters Restaurant for a delicious supper. I had jellyfish salad and octopus steamed in lemongrass. 

Afterwards we checked out the nightlife.  Our street was closed off to car and motorbike traffic and Saigon was rockin on this Saturday night. The street was packed with people of all ages, music blared from every bar, a live band was playing on the street and lights were flashing.

To relax ourselves so that we could get to sleep we went for an hour long deep (and I mean deep) hot stone massage. John and Cora’s masseuses has the giggles for some unknown reason.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Son Archeological Site

It was overcast today but no rain. Our tour bus picked us up at 8am to take us to My Son, which is a site of ancient Hindu temple ruins.

The ruins are similar to Angkor Wat but on a much smaller scale, older and in greater disrepair. They were still interesting.

You were not allowed to leave the path to and from the ruins because the area has not been cleared of unexplored ordinance from the war. The area was heavily bombed and most the the original temples were destroyed or heavily damaged. There are still many bomb craters visible. 

After we visited the site for a couple hours, we took a boat on the river back to Hoi An.  The boat driver was looking at his phone while he was driving, I wondered if he was watching a soap opera or something.

Once back in the old town of Hoi An we spent the afternoon checking out the market, having coffee, people watching, eating lemongrass and chili ice cream, shopping for a lantern, having a beer, listening to music, more people watching and having supper beside the river where we could do even more people watching.

I noticed that the rooster I was watching yesterday was down one girlfriend. I wondered if she was on someone’s plate tonight.

The Vietnamese are generally smaller in size than North Americans. I felt so tall.

During supper I enjoyed watching the old ladies selling their floating lanterns. The golden light from the candles accentuated the character lines in their faces. There was one in particular who worked the street right in front of our table. Of course I had to buy another lantern from her to float down the river one last time.

Too soon it was time to go back to our Homestay. There was a big New Years party going on across the street along with some of the worst (and loudest) Karaoke singing I have ever heard. Like, it was really bad; an eclectic mix of howling dogs and a cow in its death throes.

Thankfully they stopped just after 10:30...but restarted at 11:30pm.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Magical Day in Hoi An

Sunshine. Hallelujah!

We spent the day enjoying the great food, visiting the cultural sites, shopping and people watching in Hoi An’s Old Town. Such a beautiful place. Pictures do not do it justice.

The ochre coloured buildings were warmed by the sun. We relaxed with cups of delicious egg coffee.

Many locals had set tables as if for a meal in front of their shops and were burning fake money and papers for the gods. Some of the tables had full cooked chickens or parts of pigs on them.

Many women (mostly Asian) wore the beautiful Vietnamese traditional long dress with high slits up the sides and satiny pants underneath. Their delicate forms looked so elegant in them. I tried one on... was not an attractive look for me..(maybe 20 years ago it would have been).

Karaoke music was playing in a few places...many of the singers sounded like howling cats.

We attended a traditional music and dance performance; much more enjoyable than the Karaoke. Unfortunately I had four inconsiderate people ahead of me who kept their phones up above their heads for most of the show.

We continued to walk the streets of the old town. Some chickens were also enjoying the festivities; some looked to be shopping, some were begging and others just crossing the road.

We stopped to try some of Hoi An’s fresh beer and white rice wine. The beer was good but the rice wine tasted like turpentine.

Excellent live music played at the Dublin Gate Bar. We ate nearby at Curry Hoi An on the second floor terrace. We watched the lanterns light up as the sky darkened. More and more boats glided in the lagoon and hundreds of candle lit lanterns were released into the river.

I purchased my paper lanterns from an old lady on the street. Her face glowed in the firelight. Most of the people selling these floating lanterns were elderly women.

We hired a lady in a boat with a fuschia lantern to row us around the river for 30 minutes. She tried rowing back after only 16 minutes and I pointed to the time on my cell phone...she got the hint but still returned 7 minutes early.

We hung around the old town listening to music and watching life go by. I didn’t want the night to end.