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Vietnam

Cham Islands, An Bang Beach and Village

An Bang Seaside Village:

Before coming here, we took the public boat to the undeveloped Cham Islands. We heard the crossing might be rough, but it was not a problem getting there and back.


Not our boat, but it was similar to this
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The island we went to was beautiful, with snow white beaches, and the scruffy town also had a certain appeal.




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The children were curious as they often are.




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However, the people at our homestay were not particularly friendly. And they were intrusive, coming into our room, without knocking, to turn off the fan while they thought we were asleep. A bit weird, as almost everyone else has been so nice.

We are now staying in a bungalow just off the beach outside of Hoi An. The people are lovely. It is expensive compared to what we have been paying, but seems to be run in part to benefit the locals here An Bang "fishing village." Apparently the government gave the owner some money to start this project, after a similar ecotourism project in the nearby "vegetable village" was successful in attracting tourists for a woofing type experience. A local woman cooked dinner for us, which was quite good, and she gave me a mini-cooking lesson to boot. The manager, Phuong, told us she lost her husband and son two years ago, after a fishing accident. It is apparently quite common here. They fish in round boats that are essentially big baskets. It is easy to flip them, and get carried out to sea in the often rough waters.




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Every morning at 5 AM a loudspeaker comes on to make government announcements. At times it is a weather forecast, and other times it is lecture about something the government wants to promote. For example they want to encourage people to have fewer babies as the population is exploding, and so one day there was talk about the importance of birth control. Phuong also said that sometimes they broadcast government meetings and trials that go on all day long. A bit like big brother. We have not heard this anywhere else except the Cham Islands. It is interesting, as everyone says the former head of the province was the best official in Vietnam. He has now gone to central government in Hanoi.

Encouraged by Phuong, Nanette gave a group of village kids a singing English lesson yesterday for about an hour. Twinkle Twinkle and other songs. The Hokey Pokey was a particular hit. They were an enthusiastic group , all different ages, though most seemed small for their age. Perhaps their diet is not adequate.



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Some of them already spoke a bit of English, perhaps taught by other travelers like us. One self confident and obviously bright 11 year old girl said she wanted to be a tour guide. She and many of village children are quite engaging and seem eager to interact with us. Phuong thinks that learning English and getting involved with tourism may be their best hope to escape the hard life of fishing. Based on what we saw, some of the kids seem to have already figured this out.






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The beach here is still largely undeveloped, unlike Cui Dai and the areas closer to Danang, which are full of big resorts. Right now there are just a cluster of low key seafood places that put out loungers during the day to attract customers. For a buck and a half their steamers in broth are hard to beat. We ate them everyday for lunch, and then enjoyed lying on their lounge chairs sipping 50 cent beers before going in for a dip. As with other beaches in Vietnam, the locals only show up at the beginning and end of the day.




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Sitting on the beach yesterday, I was thinking about the people who died here less than 50 years ago. Now I am enjoying an idilic vacation in a place where GI's would come for R and R in between battles. This thirty mile stretch of sand between here and Danang was known as China beach during the war. It is hard to make sense of all this, looking out at the stunning South China Sea.

How do we account for these accidents of time and place?

How do we explain the atrocities that so many have perpetrated?

Perhaps the sea knows the answer.

The unforgiving sea, that also took the son and husband of our cook .

Posted by jonshapiro 12:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Hoi An

We have spent a few days in this charming, though commercial city. For hundreds of years it was a major port, but eventually the river leading to the nearby sea filled with silt, and so the boat traffic moved up to Danang. Perhaps this was a good thing, as many of Hoi An's old buildings were spared modernization. Most likely, things will stay as they are, because now it is a World Heritage Site. Hoi An is chock full of tourists, restaurants, lanterns, and above all, silk tailor shops. Nevertheless the streets set aside for walking are blissfully free of motorbikes, at least at times, and the riverside setting is quite pleasant.

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Hoi An has a vibrant food market in the center of town.

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It is next to the river.

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At night, the French colonial buildings are quite atmospheric.

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As well as the boats along the quay.



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Once again we had our own personal tour guide. Han, who had previously showed us around Danang, met us in Hoi An yesterday. We walked most of the city streets with her, and ate tiny snails, a local delicacy, as well as excellent ice cream. We also met her parents who live in town, and got to see her twin 14 month old nephews, who are as cute as can be.



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It was a lovely day, as she got to practice her English, and we got to spend time with a local person who could show us the interesting Chinese meeting halls and other sites.




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They also treated us just like family in the Hai Au Hotel, learning our first names immediately, and anticipating our every need.



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Posted by jonshapiro 12:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged buildings people tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (3)

Danang, Vietnam

My kye Beach

We arrived in Danang by train, which would have been a beautiful ride along the mountainous coastline, were it not for the rain. It was also raining here as well, and fairly dismal in this seaside resort area that is now being massively built up. However, we received a warm welcome from Huan and his family at the rather spartan Eena Hotel. They have gone out of their way to take care of us and make us feel welcome. We also quickly made the acquaintance of two young Japanese, around 20, who are spending a month here. Huan's wife is Japanese, and the place has a number of Japanese touches, including miso soup and an optional Japanese breakfast. Also staying here, is a very bright and articulate young Aussie named Darian, after the Persian emperor of the same name. Darian says he was given this name three weeks after his birth in a rainforest, from his rather eccentric mother, who had a dream that this is what is name should be.

To most Americans of a certain age, (mine to be exact) Danang conjures up images of a huge airbase, full of GI's arriving and departing, and used as a major staging area for the war. There is still a large airport here, now used for commercial flights, and thanks to a relatively uncorrupt mayor, the city is a thriving and growing business center.

The next day brought an improvement in the weather. Han, a friend of Huyen, came to our hotel, and so once again, we had our own private tour guide.



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At first she told us that she didn't think that her English was good enough for such important personages as ourselves, despite that Huyen told her that we were just ordinary people. We tried to reassure her that her English was more than sufficient, and I think she gained confidence as she spent time with us.

The tour began with a taxi ride to a temple at the foot of Monkey Mountain. Recently built, there was an expansive view of the sea from the temple courtyard, as well as an enormous statue of Guan Yin or Guan Am, as they call her here. She looked like the statue of liberty in size and girth.




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Shoreline of Danang from the temple
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From there it was off to the Cham Museum. Cham culture is one of the oldest in Vietnam dating to 400 or 500 AD. There are still some Cham people, but most have been assimilated into Vietnamese culture.




You can see both Chinese and Indian influences on the Cham
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We ate a lunch of various types of local noodle dishes, the names of which elude me, let alone the pronunciation. While we try and say a few words in Vietnamese, with its six tones, it is more or less a continual tongue twister. We then went to a local market,

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followed by a visit to the Big C, (not unlike Big K) but more upscale, with a large US style supermarket. We returned to Eena in the late PM, exhausted but happy. Huan, the hotel owner, prepared a dinner of fresh tuna, veggies, rice, and miso soup.

Han had classes the next day, and with perfect weather, we spent most of it sitting on chaise lounges on the beach. It's interesting to note that we, and the few other white foreigners, were virtually the only people on the beach during mid day. The Vietnamese only come at the end of the day, as the sun is going down. It seems the white people want to get darker, and the Vietnamese, just like the Chinese, want to get lighter.




Beach with Monkey Mountain and faint Guan Am in distance
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In the evening we sat around drinking Mojitos, made with New Zealand vodka that Darian had brought in KL, Malaysia. Tomo and his Japanese friend were there, along with Han, his wife, and their adorable daughter. We listened to old Rolling Stones takes on my phone, which they all seemed to know quite well. I also brought out my Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and other Chicago blues. They, or at least Darian, a music school graduate, knew this stuff quite well. We danced, we talked, we drank. It was quite a night, and a good time was had by all.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches people postcards Comments (6)

Hue

When we arrived in Hue it was pouring, and our taxi driver tried to cheat us. Everyone, especially taxi drivers it seems, can't be nice. Hue, much smaller than Hanoi is more manageable. While there are motorbikes, and you still have to be careful crossing the street, it is more relaxed and far less polluted.

Today it is still raining, but lightly, and so we were able to walk around the Citadel and the old imperial city. Much of it was destroyed by very heavy American bombing. So pointless. It is hard to understand how it would be possible to bomb such a beautiful and historic place, but I guess that has never stopped others in the past. They are now in the process of reconstructing it, but there is still a lot to see. Old brick walls, dragon and phoenix paintings on the walls, dramatic archways etc. Despite the chilly and clammy weather we spent a few hours wandering around.

Entrance to the Imperial City
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Arch Details in the Imperial City
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The Vietnamese flag, once again, flies over the highest point in the Citadel. As Huyen says, it is very beautiful, but also very sad because of all of the destruction. The Vietnamese must be a resilient people, after all they have been through. One thousand years of Chinese domination, then approximately 100 years of French rule followed by a war of independence, and then the partitioning of north and south, followed by 10 years or more of war with the Americans. And yet here they are, proud of their ancient culture.




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On the following day, it was still overcast for our boat ride on the Perfume River, but the rain held off. The attraction here, are the late 19th century tombs of the emperors, which line the banks of the river, each trying to out due the others in pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately, the whole trip has become quite commercial, and each of the tombs has a separate admission charge. Nonetheless, it is worth doing.




Looking out toward Perfume River from tomb
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Tomb ceiling detail
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Stone warriors in tomb courtyard
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Yours truely
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A splash of color along the river
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Posted by jonshapiro 12:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged buildings tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (2)

Ninh Binh

After another night in Hanoi, we hired a car to take us to Ninh Binh, roughly three hours away. We wanted to spend more time with Huyen, and to thank her for all she had done for us. She met us in the morning, along with her cousin Huang, as well as three other university friends who we were not expecting. No matter, we all managed to squeeze in. They are such a great group of kids, seemingly much more mature than college students in the US. They all seemed excited to spend time with us, despite the age difference, and generally their English is quite good. Huang, the oldest at age 29, took charge of the whole day, and made all of the arrangements.

The small town of Tam Coc is famous for its goat restaurants, and we had an enormous lunch with all the local specialities. I won't attempt to describe them in detail, but suffice it to say we had goat and veggie spring rolls, goat with peanuts, goat with green onions and potatoes, etc. You get the idea. All washed down with the local brew. It was not for the vegetarian faint of heart, but it was delicious. Huyen and her friends insisted on paying. We somewhat guiltily noticed all the goats roaming around after the meal, minus one that is.



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The primary reason we were here, however, was not to stuff ourselves full of goat meat. It was for a two hour boat ride through a series of limestone caves and karst mountains on the Ngo Dong River.




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On our sampan, were gently rowed by a middle aged woman, who alternated between rowing with her feet and hands.



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We needed two boats because there were so many of us.



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As is obvious from the pictures, the scenery was outstanding, the ride, relaxing.


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At one point Huyen, who came with us, tried her hand at rowing. It seems she could use a little more practice.




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Nanette bought a few embroidered pictures made by our rower, who then brought us to her house to meet her 92 year old mother, who had also made one or two of the pictures. After the boat trip we drove over to Bich Dong, an old 15th century pagoda.





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It is located in a beautiful setting, white storks flying in a nearby field.



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Huang asked if we wanted to go to see more of the storks and of course we said yes. She hired a local man to accompany us in our jeep. The ride was on a narrow road that was still in the process of being built. We soon found out why. After 20 minutes or so, we came to a road block. Huang got out to negotiate. As it turns out, not far up the dirt track was a large resort, smack in the middle of the jungle. Although not yet open, they demanded the equivalent of about $8 for each of us, just to drive further up on the property to view the storks. Huang was furious. Something that had just been a natural event, was being turned into a tourist rip-off, open only to the rich. So typical, she said, about what is happening all over her country. We decided that it wasn't worth it and turned around. On the way back, she argued with the local guide, who must have known that this was going to happen and didn't say anything.





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On arriving in Hanoi, we made a stop for Pho Bo, (beef and noodle soup) in their favorite Pho shop, which are ubiquitous here. This one they said, was special. And it was the best.

The next day, Huyen remembered it was Nanette's birthday, and brought over a cake to Thuy's house. We celebrated with her three children and a neighbor, who all loved it, as did we. It was a great send-off before we left for the airport for Hue. We felt very grateful for Thuy's hospitality, and for introducing us to Huyen, her cousin and her friends. Huyen reminds us very much of Sunny, our favorite Chinese student, who we recently visited. She is a delightful, engaging, and bright young woman.

Posted by jonshapiro 13:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged landscapes people boats Comments (1)

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