Hong Kong

Hello everyone,
Well we find ourselves in Hong Kong airport with 1 hour free internet so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to email and tell you all about our experiences over the past three weeks in Vietnam.
Wow - what a country. We flew into Ho Chi Minh City direct from Bangkok and what a contrast. There are between 2 and 4 million scooters in HCM shared between 8 million occupants. The roads are organised chaos, to say the very least and also in a state of disrepair throughout the country. These two factors made road trips a nerve wracking experience.
But let me go back - there is no need to start on a negative. Only wished to point out that we were surprised with the differences we experienced between the 2 countries. HCM has a beautiful old quarter where the reunification palace is located. The avenues in the area are tree lined with magnificent old trees. Within the old quarter we visited a number of buildings and museums including the War Remnant Museum. This museum is devoted to the Vietman/American War and had some very powerful exhibits. We had a very intersting and moving day there.
While in HCM we visited the Mekong Delta. The impact of the defoliants used during the war cannot be underestimated here. 10% of the country was affected by agent orange and driving north from HCM to Nha Trang, it would appear as if not an inch has been spared. A truly desolate landscape. Half of the mangroves in the Mekong Delta were destroyed. These areas were important habitat and breeding grounds for fish and other marine life and an important food and income source for people in the area. We spent a day in the delta, however it was hard to gauge what it must have been like before the war.
Veitnam is an incredibly easy country to travel in, if you wish to do the usual things. There are day trips everywhere, reasonably priced, with the tourist buses to take you from A to B, directly to your hotel door. Getting off the beaten track is a little more difficult, the lack of tourist information places makes finding local buses a nightmare. Unfortunately our limited time prevented us exploring this further. We stuck to the beaten track a bit, but we plan on going back one day to explore further.
From HCM we traveled north to Nha Trang and spent a beautiful day lounging around on a boat. We did some snorkelling and visited a number of islands, including a small fishing village where we got to ride in a little basket boat.
Heading north again to Hoi An we drove through some spectacular coastal terrain. For anyone who has been to Timor and driven from Dili to Batugade, it is like the 16km undermined cliff stretch, only this stretch took us 2 hrs to traverse and the traffic is very heavy. We felt we were about to fall over the cliffs a few times - I believe we are supposed to place more faith in our drivers as they are familiar with these roads and the local rules! The rules being that if you are bigger and have a louder horn, then you have right of way, on whatever side of the road you prefer to be on.
In Hoi An we visited the old quarter of the town. This town was a booming port in the early 1800's and has many beautiful buildings influenced by the Chinese, Japanese and French from this era. For the traveller however, Hoi An specializes in the mass production of tailor made clothes. At least every second shop, if not every, specialised in this trade.
We then travelled north up the coast to Hue, the ancient royal capital of Vietnam, and in more recent years the capital of central Vietnam. This city contains the royal palace, the emperors' tombs, many pagodas and the forbidden city.
From here we embarked on possibly the most interesting part of our stay in Vietnam. We headed to Quy Hop, a small community west of Vinh. We visited the parents of a friend there, Peter and Kathy. Peter manages the local sugar mill and refinery. The impact that this operation has had on the local community over the past 4 years is remarkable. With 24,000 local farms supplying the mill with cane, 500 employees and 100's of contracters, the mill supports much of the province and has alleviated poverty in the region. We spent three days here enjoying the hospitality of Kathy and Peter.
But Hanoi was calling, we had heard so many wonderful things about this city that we were eager to get there quickly. Thanks to Bruce, the chairman of the board at the mill, we got there as quickly as is possible in his Pajero. Such a lovely change from trains and buses.
Hanoi is a wonderful city with a completely different pace from HCM City. It has fabulous architecture with many grand buildings from the French era, when Hanoi was the capital of Indochina. The Old Quarter of town is very interesting with all of the streets specialising in one commodity and named accordingly. For example Silver Street sells gold and silver jewelry, Tin Goods Street sells tinned goods, kitchen utensils and water tanks.
A highlight of Hanoi for us was a visit to Uncle Ho in his mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and contrary to his wishes was embalmed and is now a major tourist attraction for foreigners and locals alike. His wish when he died was to be cremated and the ashes divided into three parts. One part was to be buried in the north, south and the centre of Vietnam with a rest stop for travellers to be built over the ashes in each of the areas. He was much revered by all Vietnamese and still is, some locals visiting when we were there cried when they saw him. He looked very peacefull and remarkably well preserved.
We also visited Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island which was amazing scenery. Ha Long Bay has approx 3000 limestone islets jutting out of the ocean. There are also numerous caves and grotto's, one cave that we visited was enormous, it was around 150 m long, 50 m wide and 10-20 m high and full of the most gaudy mood lighting we have ever seen.
Vietnam has been visually very rewarding. In Thailand we needed to go to a Buffalo farm to witness traditional farming techniques. Here you see this everyday. Rice being planted by hand, by farmers in traditional conical hats. Buffalo ploughing the fields and carrying the produce to market, women carrying their wares in baskets on their heads or on poles over their shoulders. There is no such thing as a water pump here, water is transferred from the channels to the paddies by hand - fascinating to watch. There are two main techniques, firstly the use a shovel shaped tool with a half bucket end, this is suspended on  a tripod. The operator swings the bucket into the water in the channel, over the paddy wall and into the paddy. The second technique uses two people and a basket with two strings on each side. The workers straddle the channel and rhythmically pull the strings, resulting in the basket swinging deeply into the channel and over the paddy wall.
The Vietnamese generally follow ancestor worship which seems quiet straight forward. You must provide your ancestors spirits with all that they might need in the afterlife, this is the responsibility of sons. Most people have a shrine to their ancestors in their home where they burn incense and place food and money. In the country you see large above ground graves everywhere, keeping ancestors on their land and close to home.
Come here, come here now! The country is rapidly changing and becoming much more westernised. The experience that we have had here would not match the experience a traveller would have had 5 years ago and in 5 years it will be different again.
We were not able to finish this before we left Hong Kong so we are signing off from Kathmandu in Nepal. Don't worry we checked with the Embassy and they have said that things are fine in the areas we are planning to go and have given us the all clear to come.
We're here for 6 weeks, we will speak to you all again then.
Miriam and Craig

Comments: 2
  • #2

    M (Monday, 09 October 2023 20:22)

    I am in love with ur daughter

  • #1

    Miranda (Tuesday, 07 February 2023 22:07)

    Truly adorable!