Vietnam

The last stop on the trip home, Vietnam combined ancient history, modern history, and nature to give a good send off.

 

Ho Chi Minh City

 

When your tour agency says that things are arranged, that your letter of entry will allow you to get a visa upon arrival no problem, don't believe them. It was quite the hassle, took over 30 minutes, and cost extra. Should have just done e-visa like the other countries.

Country divided in 1954.

Breakfast had bacon. It was Budapest all over again. Andy Lovely knows what I'm talking about.

Exports include coffee, rice, pepper, garlic chili, seafood, cashews, dragon fruit, charcoal, and handy crafts (lacquer ware, hand painting, rice painting, and embroidery). Tourism is also kinda big.

Vietnam’s got 4000 years of history. It was under Chinese rule for much of that.

Our guide was a little confusing about the written language. Apparently it used to use Chinese characters, accounting for 70% of the characters. When the French came in, the Vietnamese adopted Latin characters.

The French liked Vietnam because of its coastline. Also charcoal, rubies, tin, and gold in the northern mountains. Also people to oppress that the Brits hadn’t gotten to yet.

In Ho Chi Min city there are 15 million people and 7.5 million motorbikes, but there are only 1 million cars and truck.

The French imported the rubber tree from Brazil. Harvested rubber/latex was exported to France.

It used to be that only men got education, but now everyone can.

Three million Vietnamese died in WW2. The Japanese burned all the food, and people died in the streets from hunger, making them mass graves.

 

Cu Chi Tunnels

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Lots of munitions left behind.

Boys are required to do 1.5 years national service. Girls can volunteer.

It’s like a Disney resort with guns.

Black and white propaganda film is propagantastic.

"The ruthless American bombs decided to end this peaceful countryside."

"Like a crazy bunch of devils they fired into women and children.  Into chicken and ducks..."

"He used his intelligence and life force to destroy planes."

Bomb crater.

The jungle here is all new. Regrown after it was destroyed by the bombs.

Bamboo traps two meters deep with pivoting cover. Sometimes anointed with cobra venom from cobras that soldiers released into tunnel entrances they found. The snake was also eaten for meat.

Some tunnel entrances are small and lined with wood that would expand in the rainy season to seal and prevent flooding.

Yup. I can fit down one of those.

Information compartmentalized.  Not everyone knew all passwords or booby traps in case of capture.

GI checkpoints had a 5pm curfew.

Tunnel entrances were every 60 to 100m. Even though dark knew the tunnels well.

Tunnel between river and base. Practically under the base.

US Infantry 25th division base.

NVA was North Vietnam Army. Different from Vietcong

NVA had green uniforms. Vietcong wore brown or black farmer's clothes as those were the only clothes they had. Vietcong could tell NVA by their hats and shoes (sandals).

Extracted clay was tossed into the river, into bomb craters, and stacked around some tree bases to look like burrows and termite mounds and hide ventilation holes.

Ground is all hard clay.

Traps. Not as elaborate as Grimtooth’s, but still many clever ideas.

Plate Trap - A pit with a pressure plate that sends spikes into your leg when you fall into the pit.

Clipping Armpit Trap - A pit with a horizontal wood frame. When you step in the middle, swivel platforms to the sides spin so spikes face straight up and go through your armpits.

Sticking Trap - A pit with a lot of spikes sticking in horizontally or at a downward angle to prevent you from getting out.

Rolling Trap - A pit with two spiked rollers near the top, so you step in and get impaled along your body and armpits.

Window Trap - Spiked shutters, which opened into a spiked pit.

Folding Chair Trap - A pit with two wooden frames that would swivel up and clamp into you when you fell through.

Swinging Up Trap - A variant of the sticking trap where the principle horizontal spikes meet in the center.

Fish Trap - A pit with one or two vertical spikes to impale your foot and multiple downward facing spike to keep it there.

Door Trap - A bar that would swing down into your face and chest when you opened a door. Of course, since you could block that with a rifle or your arms, there was a lower spiky portion attached by a chain that would swing into your guts anyhow.

Yup, I'm a gamer.

Three levels down in the tunnels was the foundry, where they recycled bombs and weapons.

Bomb shrapnel was used to forge spikes for traps.

The exhibit used to be underground but too many visitors felt it was claustrophobic.

Dealing with unexploded ordinance was a two man job. One sawed, and the other poured water to keep it cool.

This place has the only shooting range for live ammo in the country that’s open to civilians.

It costs about $2.5 per bullet to fire the AK-47.

Well, that was loud.

Making rice paper - Husk the rice. Leave the rice in water for two hours. Grind it. Mix with water, tapioca, and salt. Pour this over a cotton or silk cloth strung over boiling water to steam it. Take it off and put on a bamboo screen to dry. The dried form can keep for six months. You have to add water when you want to use the rice paper for making spring rolls or similar.

Yep, rice wine too. 45% alcohol.

They dug the tunnels in five man teams: two dug below, one pulled clay up, and two disposed of the clay.

Tricks for clay disposal include putting it in basket and covering it with vegetables. Also putting it in pockets so it fell out as you walked and it looked like you just came from the farm.

Normally a person was, at most, down there 48 hours, but one group of 16 soldiers got stuck down there three months.

Rubber shoes made from jeep tires. Can last 5 years. Some built backwards to confuse footprints.

When a bomb hit the river, the Vietcong would collect the dead fish and dry them with salt.

Craters were sometimes filled in with water to make a fish farm.

Young vines from some trees can be cut for fresh water when the well is poisoned.

Farmers wore scarves to keep sweat out of their eyes. These were also used to cover their faces in meetings to conceal identities.

Underground chimneys ran at least four bunkers away.

Cooking was done at 4am so the smoke looked like fog. The smell was concealed by all the bombs and smell of burned bodies.

Tapioca was one of the main foods for the Vietcong.

You eat the root of the tapioca plant.

Pandan tea is good for sores in the mouth from eating too much hot, spicy food.

Rubies are mined from two large mountains in North Vietnam.

Emeralds are imported from Columbia.

 Fancy drink.

Fancy drink.

Vietnam as 640000 hectares of rubber trees. They export 680000 tons of latex/rubber each year.

Rubber trees are grows for six years. For the next 30 years you can collect latex. You collect for 10 months then let tree recover for 2 months. After this you cut down tree for furniture.

One fourth of the country is still jungle. It is protected by government, but some people still farm the wood illegally.

They used to bury dead at least 3 meters deep, and stack up to six bodies on one another. They do more cremation now because land is expensive and funeral costs are high.

 

Reunification Palace

Now it’s called the “Reunification Palace”.  The original name was “Friend Governor of Cochin China”. Its second name was the “Presidential Palace”.

It was HQ of the French government.

It took ten years to build.  It was redesigned in 1963 after a bombing.  They gave it the current 60s aesthetic.

The new architect in ’63 was Vietcong. Talk about an HR failure.

The palace has two basement bunkers.

From our guide's description, the first President was a turd. Random guillotine executions. Killed in 1967.

The second president was a comparatively decent guy. He was a good propagandist, but the damage was already done.

The place is now used as a museum, exhibition hall, and for meetings with foreign dignitaries.

Jade granite and marble from central Vietnam.

Green is used in the room for military meetings to calm people.

Yellow carpet in the banquet hall.

The map room door is a "secret" door going to the bunker(s) below.

The president's chair in his office has dragons on it, unlike other chairs. When meeting with dignitaries from other countries, they got similar chairs, but the president's chair was then set higher.

Flag of South Vietnam was yellow for yellow skin and three red lines for three regions of Vietnam.

Two bombs dropped on republic palace by republic pilot who was actually Vietcong. HR fail part deux.

The lacquer painting took three years to paint.

The ambassador chamber was for meeting others.

Mongols attempted to invade three times. Never took Vietnam.

The private apartments are on the second floor.

The dining room has a round table for Asian food and square table for western food.

Backup radio station in the basement.

The two tanks that knocked down the gate are enshrined in the yard.

Finally got real rain. Felt good.

 

Lacquer

There 17 layers with mother of pearl inlay or eggshell.

For eggshell design only duck egg is used. It is thicker and stronger than a chicken egg.

They only do lacquer on wood here: ebony wood, rose wood, and jackfruit wood.

Bowls are carved wood. Not woven stuff.

 

Temple of Jade

Taoist temple.

If you are a good person you go to heaven. If you are bad person then you go to hell.

This temple has heaven section, a hell section, and a creation of baby section. Twelve lady Buddhas help you make a baby.

The temple is a teaching temple. It helps teach you to be a better person.

The pond is so people can buy little fish and put it in pond as offering. When they grow up they are released in the river.

Same with turtles, but you can write a person's name on the turtle shell that you want to make wish for

Shoes on.

Green dragon and white tiger Buddhas are guardian Buddhas. Happy and angry Buddhas.

The temple is from the 1920s. It is hand carved wood with plaster of Paris statues.

Jade King Emperor of heaven is in the center.

The left side is hell. There’s ten levels to hell.

Money evil if you let it rule you.  You can pray on the evil side for better business, but then you should come back and repay the temple for your good fortune.

In front of hell are the 12 lady Buddhas for children. Pray if you want a kid or if you want a virtuous kid.

Buddhism here is very much a blended religion combining local ancestor worship, Taoism, and Confucianism with Buddhism. This marks it as Chinese, not Indian in origin.

 

Post Office

Designed by Eiffel.

Building started in 1886. Finished in 1891.

Still used as a post office.

It was not damaged in the war.

Ho Chi Min also called Uncle Ho.

Outside there’s a smallish brick replica of Notre Dame without flying buttresses.

 

Opera House

Acrobatic shows depicting Vietnamese history.

French design. In 1900.

Americans covered the exterior decorations with plaster of Paris until 1997, the celebration of 300 years of Saigon.

In the south your bed was made from bamboo. In the north your bed was made from wood.

Aodai is traditional dress.  Same for men and women.  Colors may differ.  Longer one is aotuthan and is from northern Vietnam.

By acrobatic, they mean dance.

According to the program - The Mist. A story of original life… Nebulous and surreal, the morning mist is rendered in rustic colors of ordinary day in their ingenuous life. Days rise and wane over sunlit fields. Nights are woven from dreams of rice. On black mud, rice plants stand and thrive, tenacious roots deep-seated underneath, indicate strength and determination of Vietnamese farmers. Inside each humble rice is an invincible power bursting into life that has permeated Vietnamese souls. Rise is life, the essence, the devotion, the predestined love ties in the culture of Vietnam. A synergy of sensational village life, unique live music, ne-classical ft. contemporary dance. Duration: 60 minutes.

He who controls the rice controls the universe.

It was actually a pretty cool show, and essentially just centered on a portrayal of village life.

 

Dinner Boat

Meal time is time for guests.  Hence guides generally don't eat with clients.

The dancers had the glassy eyed stares of people who were dead inside.

 

"Those helmets won't protect you in a crash." Sister. "But they will protect you from police" guide.

Bubble tea comes in one flavor of tea but with three flavors of jelly.

 

Mikong Delta

One of the seven longest rivers. 12880km long. 2000km of the river is in Tibet.

Laos plans to build 12 damns along it for hydropower.

The boats here have flat broad fronts like in Cambodia. Taller roofs though.

Mi means mother. Kong means river.  So it means mother river.

Legend says Vietnamese originally came from the sea. Their 2nd and 3rd toes were webbed together for swimming.

Fishing boats stay out 20 days. Go with ice and salt but they only last 1 day. So each day they trade their load off to other boats.

Floating houses have nets underneath to farm fish.

Rice barges are a regular site.

Unicorn Island grows tropical fruit.

Longen fruit - Like Lychee, but lychee does not grow this far south.

Unicorn Island is 11km x 1km.

Orchid nursey. Sell young orchids to gardens.

Only natural fertilizer is used. Rice husk and peanut shell are common.

Dragon fruit comes from a cactus that grows on and kills another tree (or a concrete or wood post).

Land on the island is divided by canals for property lines. They are also used for irrigation and fish farming.

Karavat fruit is not for eating. Put the seeds into rice wine then harvest for massage oil.

They also raise bees. The longen fruit gives sweet honey

My honey tea came with friends. Lots of friends.

Melissidae powers activate.

Let lemon grass is encouraged to grow wild here. Mosquitoes hate the smell.

Provided ponchos fit awkwardly, look worse, and function like ovens.

Coconut Island. Grow lots of Coconuts. Who’d a thunk it?

Folks could not afford concrete, so houses are made of coconut wood roofed with coconut leaves.

These boats were used to smuggle weapons. Put them in plastic and attach under the boat.

They also make coconut candy.

Drinking coconuts are young. Need older ones for candy, say five weeks old.

Old coconut shredded shell fibers are made into mattresses to hold soil.

Old Meat is then ground and pressed to squeeze first coconut milk and then oil. Once fully pressed, use that mush for fertilizer.

Milk, malt, and sugar are boiled and stirred. Fire fueled by coconut shells. After 45 minutes it can be mixed with durian, chocolate, mango, or peanuts. Pour into a mold. Wrap in Rice paper. One lady can wrap about 20,000 pieces a day.

Python skin handbags $233 and wallets $196. I am told that is insanely cheap. Apparently they have a python farm here.

Coconut wood for house frame lasts five years. Coconut leaves last about three years as a roof.

Conical hats. They consist of 16 rings of bamboo with long leaves sewn on. The leaves are dried and flattened with an iron. Once done, treat with oil. Oil varies. Lacquer glue, coconut oil etc. Sometimes weave, sew, or glue flowers designs or similar on the outside or inside.

Alternatively woven bamboo.

Another horse cart ride. This time driver sits to one side. Kinda strange.

Roosters grown here used for cock fights and gambling.

Island wealth bolstered by a new bridge, allowing them to easily export goods and get materials for building.

Water coconut palm fruit looks like a mace ball ready to fall on you. Only eat the meat at the very center of one shard.  Tastes a like coconut.

Those plants also help stop erosion

Guava seeds are bad for you if you don't chew them up fully.

Longan. Carefully peel or they squirt you. There’s a giant pit in center. Not much edible meat.

Rowboat ride.

Fish and prawn and fresh water fish grow in the canals. Once upon a time crocodiles did too.

The row boat doesn't have broad front.

Crocodiles are farmed for their skin, but wild crocodile protected.

There are wild rhinoceros on public land, but there are very few left.

Alcoves on the side have nets for fishing. There are few enough fish that any caught are just for eating.

The men's bathroom had pictures of attractive women above each urinal. One had a tape measure out and the look of "Oh my. It's so big" on her face. Three were expressing how small it was. The last had a pair of scissors.

At its widest, the river is 3kn. Depth of 18 to 20m.

 

Vinhtrang Pagoda

Built in 18490

After each renovation they add a statue in front.

Manayana buddhism.

Monks don’t eat meat by religious rule.

The temple is known for traditional medicine.

It’s a mix of many architectural styles: Cambodian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and European.

A temple must me licensed to teach.

Monks must be licensed to teach by the government so they don't spread propaganda.

 

Ha Noi

 

Ha Noi airport baggage claim has got some velocity to it.

Has Red River delta in North. It floods in rainy season.  King moved the capital from there in 1010.

Name mean city inside the river.

The mosaic lining the wall along Yen Pho road commemorates the 1000 birthday of the city.

There’s 7 million people and 3.5 million motorbikes.

The government limited each family to two kids. Working for government can get you a third kid. Folks favored boys, which led to unbalanced population results.

Occupied by china about 1000 years.

Although they use an adopted Latin alphabet now, original names and meanings of places are still from Chinese, not Vietnamese.  Ha Noi is an example of this.

The west lake is called Took Back Lake.

Required military service for men is two years. Women can volunteer.

 

Tran Quoc Pagoda

One of the oldest pagodas in Ha Noi.

Of course it was dedicated to Buddha. Pagodas are only dedicated to Buddha.

It was placed on the west side of the city to protect against evil spirits from China.

People buy fake money as an offering, called sufferings. They then burn it to give it to ancestors who have passed away.

Probably fuels the celestial Monopoly game.

The pagoda used to be on an island. Now it has a land bridge.

Monks here wear brown colors. High ranking monks wear orange.

Buddhism came through China, so it is different from Myanmar or Cambodia, which got theirs through India.

Attendance to temple is not compulsory.

You generally pray to Buddha three times, once at each statue: left for past, right for future, and center for present.

On the first day of the lunar month, people usually come here to pray.

The ceiling is blackened from all the incense and offerings burned to Buddha. Now they burn incense outside instead.

It was first built in 554. It then expanded over the years.

Some monks are buried on the grounds based on rank, but they ran out of space.

Pagodas used to be built at the foot of mountains where it is peaceful, keeps the real world and temptations away from monks. But normal people couldn't pray.

Near here is where Senator McCain was shot down in the Vietnam War.

 

Temple of Literature

This was the country’s first university, founded in 1070. Expanded by later kings.

After Vietnam gained independence from China, the King built this place and dedicated it to Confucianism.

The main gate is only open during festival days when the king and queen make offerings.

The five Vietnamese elements are iron, wood, soil, fire, and water. This is slightly different from the Chinese elements, and I did get clarification from the guide that he meant iron, not metal generally, and soil, not earth generally.

The place is set up in accordance with the principles of Feng Shui.

Stelas: Upright stones with teachings on the backs of stone turtles. There are 82 stelas here.

You could attend the school if you were from right family or passed the test. If you were admitted, then after 3 years, you must pass a test to become Doctor of Philosophy. Those who didn't became teachers, civil servants, doctors, and the like. There weren't that many who passed the test.

Vietnamese sacred animals are dragon, phoenix, turtle, and unicorn/kirin.

Now a days, kids come and make offerings here so they can pass exams and to give thanks for passing exams.

Top academic awards are administered here.

It has statues of Confucius and his four top disciples.

High steps force you to step high and bend down, so that you automatically bow to show respect.

As you may know, here the dragon is friendly. It brings the rain, but it cannot fly.

A stork like flaming bird stands on the turtle. Its bamboo like legs symbolize the service of man.

Wooden puppets showcase daily life. More than 80% of the population were farmers.

Behind temple are the dormitories.

Statues of three kings: one built the temple, one founded the school, and one erected stelas.

The youngest student was 16. The oldest was 72.

A large bell was used for the temple, and a large drum was used to signal classes.  Drums are still used in schools today.

 Text book carrier.

Text book carrier.

The drum is called the thunder drum.

They would carve writings in bone, bamboo, stone, and leather. OK, they’d really just write on the leather.

Text book carriers were wooden cases with mini books. Paper books.

 

One Pillar Pagoda

Until 1991, Vietnam got financial aid from USSR and China. When USSR collapsed Vietnam opened for foreign investment and the economy improved greatly.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum - He was 79 years old when he died. Had no family. Considered father of the country. It was built where he declared independence for Vietnam.

The pagoda is practically right behind it.

You still see the sickle and hammer for farmer and labor denoting the labor party.

The pagoda is in the shape of a lotus flower.

It was built by the king to give thanks for having a son.

It was built in 1049. Although the French destroyed it like a kid kicking in a sand castle, it was rebuilt in 1956.

The original pillar was timber, but now they use concrete.

 

Embroidery

This particular embroidery factory is used as a way to support amputees and those with disabilities, giving them jobs and income.

Like with paintings the background is laid first and then the details are sewn over top.

Pricing in Vietnam is scary. A drink might be listed as 25,000 dong, but then you convert to dollars and that's just over a buck.

I’m very tired of Kleenex being supplied to dry my hands with.

 

Lacquer again

Egg shell may be burned to give different colors.

They also use mother of pearl or abalone.

The lacquer layers applied after the egg/abalone/whatever are applied are to bring the thickness of the lacquer to that of the egg or mother of pearl.

The painting here is done with a brush, not fingers like in Myanmar.

 

Temple of the Jade Mountain

Tortoise Tower is in the middle if the lake. You can see it from the temple.

Sunside Bridge connects the temple’s island with the shore. As you may have guessed, the bridge is so named because it faces east.

The place was made to honor a general in the 13th century who defeated the Mongols. He fought the Mongols in mountains when they couldn't move their horses. He fought them at the beach when they put stakes under water and forced the Mongols to come out out at low tide.

Every year at New Year they have a bonsai tree contest.

 

Cyclo Tour

The cyclo is a bicycle converted to a trike. It’s got a front seat for a passenger while the cyclist pedals behind.

This is pretty slow.

And the cyclists smoke while pedaling.  Possibly why they are so slow.

People are walking faster than us.

Damn it little old lady with all your groceries.  Why are you so fast?

Sure, it's kind of a cool way to see the streets if you want a way to rest your feet and avoid shopping. If those are your goals.

A vendor saw me prepping the cash to pay our guys and is now walking beside me trying sell stuff.

Replace the bicycle with a moped and make the passenger car a two seater, then this might work

The guy for my sister's cart has stopped cycling. He's just walking it. He's back on after a block.

I am amusing myself by imagining various friends' reactions if they were trapped in one of these.

Well, there's a pug.

Cut off again. I want to grab one of these brooms, stick the handle in the spokes of one of the passing mopeds, and scream “cyclocarts rule!” At least I would reclaim a small measure of dignity.

Passing some other cyclocartists, I could only laugh at the looks of misery the passengers wore.

 

Ha Long Bay

So our tour package includes a two day, one night cruise of the bay.

The shuttle bus from our hotel was a bit late. In other news the cruise picks everyone up at their hotels, which is pretty keen.

My sister has a slippery butt. Also the bus seat covers reduce friction.

Our guide for this part has a sense of humor. She tried to convince us that the bus was going to China instead and then threatened to throw people in the sea if they weren't smiling.

It’s a four hour drive to the bay. Definitely do this as a two or three day thing.

"After drinking happy water you have to go to the happy room." - Guide

Guide says the law limits the time you can drive in one sitting to two hours, so we'll be taking a thirty minute break halfway.

Ha Long Bay means “descending dragon bay”. Named for a myth that a dragon family descended from heaven to live here.

There’s supposedly 1969 islands.

 Imagine them all as pirate ships.

Imagine them all as pirate ships.

The speed limit on the highway is 40kph, so people can stop more easily for folks crossing the road.

Disney Characters and Jerry of Tom & Jerry line the streets on the way to the pier.

The guide didn't know the geological processes that form the islands. Disappointed.

Regulations demand we wear life jackets, which only come sized for children or giants.

No Internet.  Broken promises.

Sung Sot is the largest cave in Ha Long Bay. The name means “surprising cave”.

All caves were discovered by the French round about 1911.

This cave has three chambers. 

 A happy rock pointing to a happy hole.

A happy rock pointing to a happy hole.

Our guide has a fixation.  She described one of the chambers as the happy chamber and, in her spritely voice, pointed out the “happy rock” and asked everyone what it looked like. "Index finger." "Really? But it’s growing to the happy hole."

She kept asking if we saw various shapes in the rocks. I asked her if she saw the fire extinguisher.  Not able to find it, she eventually handed me her laser pointer so I could show her where. I promptly highlighted the actual fire extinguisher. She laughed and then proceeded to play the same joke on everyone else.

The ceiling was mostly cleared, but some stalagmites are reforming. These are apparently called baby dragons.

We also got to go hiking and swimming on the beach of Ti Top Island.

Ti Top Island is named for a Russian that was traveling with Ho Chi Minh. He was also the second guy in space. Our guide said they discovered the island in 1962. I'm not sure how that works since that island is basically right across from the island with the cave, which the French discovered in 1911.

Hike means ~400 steps to a covered view point.

That beach is totally artificial.

Yup. That was a jellyfish.  Ow.

After dinner, the tables got Tan Gram like puzzles.  First to finish got free beers.  I totes won, and amusingly none of us at the table drank beer.

I then did the impossible chicken puzzle. That took a while though.

The deck reminds me of my school's floor in places, all bowing up from moisture.

Kayaking is wet.

Kayaking through a short tunnel into a sheer walled laguna is wet and awesome.

Hang Luon is the name of the cave/tunnel or the laguna. Not sure which.

Spring roll cooking lesson begins with a 15 minute presentation on carving beets into birds.

Not much to that lesson. It was only slightly more advanced than cheese and crackers. Mmmmm cheese and crackers…

 

Well, that was pretty much it. After that the only thing left was the head on home.