A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: RogerLaHaye

DAYS 14 - 16

Down the coast

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DAY 14
After an early breakfast - or in my case a cup of tea – we drove down the coast to our next destination, Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is a large bay with thousands of islands. Most of these are chalk stacks and none are inhabited.
We were to take an overnight cruise around the islands on an old boat restored from the 1900’s.
It was delightful, with a couple of stop offs to climb to the top of one of the stacks and a visit to a pearl farm.
In the evening I sat outside watching a film entitles Indo-chine. It was a dramatisation of the collapse of French colonial rule. It started off very promisingly with what appeared to be some historically accurate portrayals of French rule, rubber plantations and the lives of the subjugated locals. It then shifted towards being a love story between a French officer and a local girl who had been adopted and raised by a French lady plantation owner. The five of us who were still braving the cold started to grow restless. About 45 minutes into this sub plot the officer was arrested and dragged off to prison, leaving the girl with the rebels. The next scene opened with a reference to the girl having been in prison for ten years. We all looked at each other, agreed that we had indeed all lost the plot and, as one, headed back to our cabins.

DAY 15
After breakfast we disembarked and were met once again by our guide and our driver. There followed a leisurely drive to the airport stopping along the way to visit a couple of large craft shops where many of the articles are made by people invalided by Agent Orange. These are mostly adults who as children were exposed to the substance during and after the war. It is apparently a large problem for which, like thalidomide, there is no cure.
Our last stop of the day was however at a temple off the beaten track and not on our itinerary. We arrived in a small village to find a typical old temple with Hindu, Bhuddist and Animist features. However at 3 o’clock in the afternoon there were a number of local people in the temple watching a middle aged woman in a white outfit, accompanied by a three musicians, singing whilst in an obvious trance. It was perhaps the most spiritual moment we have encountered in our trip. For once there were no other visitors and it was a genuine ceremony, not one put on for tourists. A truly special moment.
The next stop was to be Hue City, the original capital of Vietnam which contains one of the largest Walled City’s in Vietnam. Within this is sited a vast walled compound which was the Secret City of the Emperors who ruled Vietnam in the 1800’s.

DAY 16
Our local guide for this part of he trip turned out to be a fully qualified archaeologist. We couldn’t have wished for better. His explanations of the ruins of the Walled City really did bring it back to life. This was useful as the Walled City was a refuge of the Viet cong and was flattened by USA bombing. The site is therefore in the process of being completely rebuilt.
For those who remember he war, this is near the 59th parallel, the line that separated North and south Vietnam during he long and bitter war against first the French and then the USA.
The complex itself turned out to be really interesting and where rebuilding had taken place it had been completed to a high standard allowing us to get an idea of how rich and skilful that society had been. The ways just which the king was protected from assassination was also very practical, with a long line of courtiers between the King and whoever was seeking an audience. The courtiers would pass the visitors words along the line till it reached the King. “Send three and four pence we’re going to a dance”......:)

Posted by RogerLaHaye 06:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 13

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We woke up in Hanoi, a city that was impressed upon my consciousness in the early 70's as the USA's Vietnam war grew closer to an end.

This visit has been a total learning experience in terms of why that war happened, what preceded it and why Ho Chi Minh is held in such huge reverence by the people of the North.

Sadly, most things in Hanoi are closed on Mondays so we couldn't see inside his mausoleum, nor could we visit various other places. We did however visit various temples, shrines and places of worship which revealed the complexity of religions that all met here in the north and crossed over or blended into one another. Confucious is certainly well represented as is Hinduism and Buddhism. A regular religious melting plot!

In the afternoon we visited the main art gallery which had collections of ancient artifacts, Buddha's and other religious artifical to. It also housed an extensive art collection much of which was depicting various aspects of the wars for independence, firstly against the French in the 40's and 50s and then the USA. There were many other paintings though from throughout the 20 century. And the quality of much of the art was such that if that gallery was in London it would be full everyday.

Our day ended with a visit to a traditional puppet show, in which the puppets were all in a large water filled pool on the stage. Quite how it was done we couldn't work out but when the puppeteers emerged at the end their top halves were dry!

This evening was spent at the hotel, having dinner and then packing for our drive tomorrow down the coast to our mini cruise.

Posted by RogerLaHaye 07:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 12

A jumbo day

28 °C
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Our last day in Laos started with a trip to the elephant sanctuary. We were given the chance to ride on the elephants bare neck. Christine took a few seconds to decide that it wasn't for her and so it was down to me to keep the side up for Britain.

Sitting on an elephants neck and balancing yourself by placing your hands on the top of their head all seems quite easy. Gripping with your thighs it can't surely be that different to riding a horse? Hmmmm....elephants it turns out have a very funny gait, quite uneven and at times erratic. Having ploded along for 100 yds the mahmout who was sitting behind me asked if I would lke to go i the river. In for a penny in for a soaking, so I accepted his kind offer. Now elephants are clever but they are also obstinate creatures. If an elephant doesn't wish to go in the direction that you want, then there is little you can do. My elephant clearly did not want to go down to the river but after 10 minutes of the mahout pleading, urging and heel digging, we lumbered in. My immediate concern was that the water would come up and cover my shoes but we stayed dry. The elephant waded across the river to a sand bank in the middle, at which point the mahout asked for my camera and jumped off. The next 15 minutes were spent with the elephant wandering across the sandbank and the mahout walking alongside taking photos.

The elephant was obviously used to this and lumbered on casually across the sand bank until we entered the water again, whereupon the mahout jumped back on and we returned to shore.

Arriving back at the sanctuary I found that our guide had arranged for us to go upriver to an elephant sanctuary that had seats on the elephants. We arrived and hopped on. Christine and I were getting a bit of the old Raj feeling when the elephant driver jumped off and asked me to sit on the elephants neck while he wandered around taking a few oictures and generally relaxing.

So it appears that in the space of a morning I have gone from elephant novice to apprentice mahout. Not such a bad idea for a career change as it happens.....

After lunch it was all hands to the deck as we headed off to get airport for our next destination- Hanoi.

Posted by RogerLaHaye 08:47 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

DAY 11

Messing abaht on the river

sunny 30 °C
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Today was a day spent messing about on the river – and what a wonderful day it was.

Taking a tourist multi seater boat – but just for us and our guide – we were swept upriver at a sedate speed. Now don’t get me wrong, these are no luxury cruisers. No, they actually remind me of a good old Grand Union Canal barge – just one that’s been hollowed out, filled with rows of seats (two each side of a central aisle) and covered with an old awning left over from someone’s garden party.

However none of that mattered as we sailed - or chugged – up river in search of a sacred cave. Firstly, the Laos scenery is stunning, with rolling hills (possibly almost small mountains) covered in dense lush vegetation.
Secondly there were the various different uses of the river banks, for crops, cattle or fishing. And thirdly the simple idyllic feeling of being on the water in such a glorious day.

The Bhudda caves (there were actually two) were amazing. People have been coming to the caves with individual Buddha’s for decades and adding them to the collection. There are Buddha’s of all shapes, sizes and colours although mostly gold or drake brown or black. A prayer to the Buddha and an offering of some incense and a flower theoretically gets you his blessing. The lower cave is more of a vast opening in the cliff walk into which sunlight floods. The upper cave is completely in darkness and a torch is required to go round. In this cave the stillness of the buddha seemed palpable. Mind you they were managing to film a scene for a TV drama in the entrance to the lower cave and that does take away a bit of the reverence.

The journey back saw us stopping at a silk farm to see how silk is made – and of course to spend money on the items produced by the local village from the silk. That is mostly scarves....an awful lot of scarves......

Posted by RogerLaHaye 07:36 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Day 4

A Quiet One

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Day 4 started out badly as unfortunately the partying next door had reached new heights during the night. I wouldn’t have minded if they had invited me!

We consequently spent a fairly quiet day walking around the streets opposite the hotel. This turned out to be the jewellery area. The jewellery shop owners came mostly from India in the 18th and 19th centuries and much of the jewellery had the look of that area. However there were also some fantastic pieces that were very oriental and the quality of the stones looked amazing. Of course I know nothing about stones so they might just use a lot of fairy liquid on them.....

Around the back streets were some beautiful buildings from the 19 century, many of which were houses. One however was not and that was the Jim Thompson Library. It was a beautiful building full of wonderfully bound books and they were still manually indexed! Jim Thompson was an American business man who built up considerable wealth in Thailand in the mid 1940s and 50s and then mysteriously disappeared in 1967 whilst visiting the countryside. Wikipedia has a couple of articles on him and he may well have been one of the last great colonials. He obviously spent a great deal of time in Bangkok and had bequeathed his library to the Thai people.

Posted by RogerLaHaye 06:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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