I almost forgot…..There is an amazing French photographer called Rehahn who now lives in Hoi An and has captured the soul and spirit of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. Needless to say I bought several of his small prints and one of his books, and now just need to find some space to hang them on. They come in a range of sizes from postcard to ginormous. Here are some of the ones that I had, but his full range can best be seen by clicking on (or pasting into your browser):
Otherwise just google Rehahn. Its an amazing story and the photos are breathtaking!
Some of these photos have “gone viral” – whatever that means, and the subjects are now some of the most famous images to come out of Vietnam in recent years. He has put a lot of the the money that he is making back to the “models” and their communities and all in all is a good egg !!
Anyway back in Hanoi we visited the History Museum but by this time all eyes were on the airport and it has to be said that our little group of seven was now a group of four and another of three as after 3 weeks together things had become somewhat fractious !!
One thing that we all agreed on though was the fact that Jules Verne (our travel agent) had not done us or themselves any favors. Since returning home several outraged missives have been fired at their head office (so far no reply of course). I have already contacted the trusty Abercrombie & Kent to plan my next Asian adventure. But more of that later…………
Home via Bangkok and Heathrow and needless to say a rapturous and very waggy reception from the kids when their jet lagged Dad arrived at the Kennels to collect them and take them home !!
So that’s the end of this adventure. Thanks for the various comments and for making it to the end. Watch this space for news and plans for the next adventures – The Dneiper (Ukraine) in May and Irrawaddy (Myanmar or Burma in my history books) in November are on the horizon. As you may have gathered by now I am thoroughly enjoying this travelling and River Cruising lark !! Long may it continue, before the Chinese tourist hordes make it to unbearable, or I run out of funds, and while I still can !! Oh yes Selfie Sticks should be banned !!
Its just the airports that suck !!
Well a two-day cruise around Ha Long Bay was supposed to be the climax of the trip on board the Paradise Luxury. Paradise it certainly wasn’t – apart from anything the weather didn’t help as it was cold and misty. Luxury – well I’m sorry but a dingy cabin in the bowels of the ship, stinking of sewage and having to endure what has to have been the most incompetent Crew & Staff that has ever set sail anywhere. We almost had to storm the galley in order to get fed. I could rant on but suffice it to say that the freshly baked pastries that were advertised for breakfast, may have been freshly baked at some point, but not in this millennium. Everything else was of a similarly disappointing nature. Various excursions around the bay, that is an extraordinary series of limestone “lumps” rising out of the sea, were somewhat limited in their scope though we did get to visit some pretty impressive caves.
Then a quick glimpse of the boat that we should have been on and back to the mainland and a bus ride back to Hanoi.
Oh yes and a floating village that was really a fish farm !!
A flight from Danang to Hanoi and straight into a city tour which included the inevitable French Opera House, the never ending competition of how many people can you get on one motor scooter ? A lot of very thin “tube houses” and a flower market. Of yes and a very blingy Hummer……….
Then onto a the Temple of Literature which is the oldest university in Vietnam. A huge series of Temples and Pagodas, a gold turtle surrounded by bank notes, lots of incense and some very big drums and bells….
There was some sort of graduation ceremony taking place in the main courtyard:
Then onto the Museum of Ethnology – not terrible exciting but the History Museum was still closed for Tet New year.
Some ladies doing yet another photo op, the history of Egg Coffee and the local Railway station.
We then headed into the labyrinthine Old Quarter and its various markets etc
The chickens with the Roses up their bums are en-route to one of the temples as an offering !! All too much for the chap with the wellies !!
Then another temple, this one on an island on a lake, a huge turtle who is much venerated and dead !
Then onto Ho Chi Minh’s house and mausoleum with very smart soldiers changing the guard. Why do they always try to outdo John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks ?
Then onto Ho’s House and some of his cars. He refused to live in the Palace that they build for him, preferring a simple stilt house in the garden. Likewise he did not use the Limo much !!
The One Pillar Pagoda and that was it for the day.
Now of course I don’t have a son, so just to explain, it is the name of a very old group of temples in the jungle outside Hoi An. Unfortunately the Americans reduced most of the sites to rubble, along with huge swathes of this wonderful country. However there is enough left standing to be quite impressive !! Built by the Cham dynasty as a religious center between the 4th and 13th century. The Cham arrived in Vietnam from Indonesia and worshipped Hindu Gods including Shiva, Ganesh etc. See previous posting for examples of Cham sculpture and carving. Lots of rounded breasts and dancing girls !!
There is still a lot of unexploded ordinance in the surrounding area and the statuary is displayed with a couple of US bombs that fortunately did not go off. Also a rather stunning butterfly amongst the rubble !
And a colourful lizard on the way out !
Then we headed back to Hoi An for a very unimpressive pottery display and then a short boat ride along the Thu Bon River to our hotel. A rather tedious set menu dinner in a local restaurant and they back to pack for a flight from Danang to Hanoi. The luggage has expanded and am hoping that I can get away without paying too much excess baggage !!
Next stop Hanoi……….
We left Hue bright and early for the 4 hour drive to Danang over the Ba Na Pass which afforded us great views of the misty mountains and down to the South China Sea with spectacular white sandy beaches. Unfortunately the misty bit meant that no good photos were forthcoming. We stopped briefly at an oyster farm and then into Danang with its rather spectacular Dragon Bridge.
Danang is the 3rd largest city in Vietnam and is very different and modern with a large harbour and lots of sandy beaches. Including China Beach (of TV series fame). Danang also has the Museum of Cham Sculpture which has many statues and carving salvaged from the My Son Hindu temple complex (more of that later) and other sites.
We then drove along the coast towards Hoi An, passing numerous enormous new hotel, resort and condominium developments which, when completed and occupied, will unfortunately probably swamp the entire area with millions more Chinese Tourists with their bloody selfie obsession. Hoi An is or was a lovely old town which was an important trading port, attracting traders from China & Japan and even Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Many of the old buildings still remain and it seems to have avoided being bombed during the Indochina and Vietnam Wars. My favourite town so far with loads of street life and shops and restaurants which finally, after Tet, are reopening their doors. Fab hotel on the banks of the Thu Bon River but heaving with tourists !!
An ancient covered bridge which used to be the link between the Chinese and Japanese quarters. And a couple of dogs having a love-in on the pavement…
A good Vietnamese restaurant for dinner and then a stroll back to the hotel. Off to My Son in the morning.
Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyem Dynasty which compared to other historical sites is comparatively recent (19th Century). The Citadel is vast and contains many Palaces & Temples all surrounded by substantial moats containing substantial Koy Carp and catfish. It was obviously very grand – think Beijing Forbidden City with mildew and many areas were flattened and destroyed either by the French in the 1st Indochina War or more recently – and I suspect more devastating – by the US during the Vietnam War.
Then onto a large Pagoda and Temple complex, occupied with young monks with very dramatic hair dos, and whose sole activity seemed to be tolling the various large bells that were scattered throughout.
Those of you who were paying attention to Vietnamese issues in the 1960 may remember the Buddhist Monk (the first of several) who cremated himself at one of the major intersections in Saigon, in front of the worlds press and TV crews. He was protesting against the corrupt and brutal regime in South Vietnam. His actions were displayed and broadcast around the world and became one of the iconic images of the Vietnamese conflicts. The car that he was driven in to his death is looked after and venerated by the monks in this Pagoda.
Then a cruise along the Perfume River and back to our hotel to discover that Hue is still closed for Tet and that we will be eating again in the rather good, if not somewhat “up itself” restaurant in the Hotel. Off to Danang and Hoi An tomorrow as we head towards Hanoi and ultimately homewards.
New Years Eve with serious fireworks…….. Unfortunately not very visible from the Hotel !
A one hour flight to Hue which used to be the capital of Vietnam and its emperors in the 19th Century. So quite recent in comparison to other empires but easy to see why the starving and oppressed population got pissed off with the extravagance and hooked up with Uncle Ho and his communist buddies and ideals !
First stop was a pair of Royal Tombs, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh two of the Nguyen Dynasty from the 19th and 20th Century. So lots of concrete and tromp d´oeil (sic) but still very impressive.
And the other one…………
Lots of ponds and moats with some very impressive Koi Carp !!
We said farewell to our Pandaw boat & crew and were taken by bus into Ho Chi Minh City. 8-10 million population and a major city. As with most things Vietnamese HCM City or Saigon as we used to know it, is impressively resilient and seems to have recovered from the horrors of the 20th Century. We have arrived in time for Chinese New Year (Tet in Vietnam) so the place is heaving !! Mainly with the locals dressed in their finery having selfies and photos taken in front of massive floral displays.
A city tour stopping at most of the iconic landmarks, most of which are remnants of the French regime which governed and enslaved Vietnam from the mid 19th century until they got their arse kicked by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 which led to what we know as the Vietnam War which continued well into the 1970s. The Opera House, Post Office and Catholic Cathedral for starters…
Then Independence Palace where numerous French and US sponsored regimes “ruled” South Vietnam for decades – each one more corrupt that the other. The Viet Cong stormed it in 1975 and President Van Thieu hopped on to a helicopter on the roof and legged it to America, leaving total chaos behind him…………
Various other buildings, a market and street life
Oh yes and a temple – very bizarre…..
The next day we visited the Cu Chi Tunnel where the Viet Cong lived and hid for years whilst harassing the might of the US armed forces. Hundreds of Km of Tunnels – not for the claustrophobic !! A 50m crawl through a specially enlarged (for tourists) was enough for me.
Then to the War Remnants Museum for a full immersion session of the horrors of the Vietnam War and the atrocities carried out by all those involved. Extremely harrowing especially the after effects of Agent Orange (Millions of tons of which were sprayed over Vietnam to flush on the Viet Cong. Four generations later and children are still being born with major deformities. Needless to say the US companies who manufactured the shit have compensated the US Veterans who were “collateral” damage but have yet to do anything about the millions of Vietnamese who were contaminated and continue to be. A very dark period in US and indeed world history !!
Only a few photos but you should get the idea:
After Phnom Penh I started to realise that the “excursions ” that we were experiencing were not at all what I had been promised. Instead of visiting interesting historical sites, we were introduced to something called eco-tourism which involved a mind numbing series of visits to local villages. These usually involved clambering over river banks and rubbish tips, and being subjected to a variety of uncomfortable and unsuitable modes of transport, which considering that approximately 25% of the participants were of a certain age where mobility was a problem, was both unsafe and unwise. Especially as the reward for such adventures was usually a total anticlimax. Had I wanted to see spring onions or chillies growing for example, I could have stayed at home !! Also most of the local crafts that we were supposed to witness were absent due to the Tet & Chinese New Year which meant that most of the male population was off celebrating and inebriated ! Anyway Rant over (for now anyway) !! So a trip via Sampan to a floating village and fish farm
Lots of extremely friendly Vietnamese welcomed us to their island
A stumble around the paddy fields and vegetable beds before a visit to a rank smelling fish farm where we witnessed a feeding frenzy of small fish through a trap door in the deck of the “mothership”.
Then back to our “mothership” in time for sunset and dinner.
Due to not being terribly interested in basket weaving or flower pot making I decided to have a day on board and catch up with my reading (Saigon by Anthony Grey) which I wanted to finish, and indeed did, before we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (otherwise known as Saigon). Highly recommend the book as it covers the history of Vietnam through the 19th century through the eyes of an American family intertwined with Vietnamese and French folk from North and South of the 17th Parallel that split to country in two and caused all sorts or horrendous conflicts !!
Then we were off again by Sampan, rowing boat and horse cart to another island, more welcoming Vietnamese, a temple, alligator farm and a coconut candy factory.
Also an invitation to try Mekong Whiskey which involved a very dead cobra that had been marinating in a jar of the local firewater with assorted scorpions and other slithery people.
Back to our boat, another sunset and some musical entertainment before being serenaded by the ships entire crew and an invitation to dance with them to a medley of Chubby Checker and Abba songs. Needless to say yours truly did not participate !!
Our last night on board before we head of into Saigon just in time for Tet (think Chinese New Year) with loads of flowers and photogenic Vietnamese dressed in the finest finery.
The day in Phnom Penh was split into two very different halves. The first was a tour of the Royal Palace, The Silver Pagoda and the National Museum: Starting with a Rickshaw (or cyclo) ride through the streets of Phnom Penh
The Silver Pagoda which is so called due to the solid silver floor tiles was a bit of a let down as they had covered the entire floor with carpets so one had to use ones imagination ! So various stupas a rather lovely Buddha Flower and the tree from which it came, Buddha’s rather oversized footprint and a white elephant.
A quick rickshaw dash across town followed by a visit to the National Museum which contained a fine selection of statues and carvings from the Ankor Temples etc
After lunch back at the boat we were driven to one of the most notorious “Killing Fields” where around 20,000 victims were massacred and buried in mass graves under the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge regime. Not for the squeamish so brace yourselves !!
The back into town to the Genocide Museum housed in the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison which was housed in a converted school and was where many thousands of unfortunates were imprisoned, tortured and them shipped off to the Killing Fields. 2 million Cambodians were either massacred or died of starvation during the Khmer Rouge Reign of Terror which only came to an end in the late 1970s and didn’t finally collapse until 1997.
So memories are still very “raw” and every family lost members in the purges, and if they survived Pol Pot, many were and still are being maimed and killed by the 40 million land mines that were left behind by the Americans and the rival factions within Cambodia.
When Tuol Sleng prison was finally liberated only 14 people were found alive. One of whom has written his harrowing version of his ordeal “The Survivor” which he sells to tourists and regales them with his tales of torture etc, A remarkable human being !!
A couple of the other residents and a sign about coconuts