Saturday, March 26, 2011

Langkawi to Pangkor

March 26, 2011—Our trip from Langkawi to Penang went fairly well. We left Rebak Marina around 11 o’clock on March 22 and motored just a few miles to the Fjord anchorage. We dropped the hook in the small bay and were thrilled to see that we had it all to ourselves.

We took the time in the afternoon to just relax and made our last weather checks. We decided to leave at 6 a.m. in order to have enough time to make it to Pangkor before dark. We pulled the anchor and discovered that the wash down pump was not working so Steve and I had to clean the chain by hand as it came up, and it was not fun because there was heavy mud on it. It was still dark when we left, but the moon gave us enough light to see by, and we had to dodge only a few fishing boats.

We motored most of the way; however, in the afternoon the wind picked up enough that we were making very good time. We had one heavy rain for about 20 minutes, but we had no high winds associated with it. As we approached the entrance to the channel at Penang, the waves had built and were rolling by us just off the beam. It was making the ride a bit uncomfortable; however, when we got in the lee of the island, the waves calmed right down, the current pushed us nicely along, and the ride through the channel was quite enjoyable. Our only stressful moment was when we had four ferries all crossing the channel at the same time but from four directions.

We entered Jerejak Anchorage at about 5 p.m. and looked for our anchorage spot. We saw a fishing net in front of us, so we turned and went further south to drop our anchor. After getting the anchor down and everything secure on the bow, we looked up and saw the same net coming at the boat. It was a drift net so it was moving with the current. It was too late for us to pull our anchor so the net went on both sides of our boat. We tried pulling it from one side to the other; however, the net was deep, and we could not budge it. We decided to give up and hoped that the owner would see what had happened and come out.

He did see, and he did come out with two men, and he was not happy. He started yelling at us about his net and told us to pull the anchor. Steve responded that if we did we would tear his net. The owner then was yelling at us for not seeing the net, so Steve told him that we anchored in a designated anchorage and the net drifted onto us. After much grumbling and posturing, they took one end and pulled it across our bow so that we were free. We agreed to move to the side of the anchorage so we pulled the anchor and moved.

The holding was good, and the anchor set well when I was backing down with the engine in reverse. Just when we finished, the throttle cable broke. This meant disassembling the pedestal to get at the cable. It was an hour before dark, so Steve started right in on the project. Once we had the top off, we could see that the set screw holding the cable in place had come out, so all we had to do was replace the screw. This was, of course, more difficult that it sounds. Steve had to remove a small center section of the pedestal, and the screws were tough to get loose. Then he had to remove a long bolt that was very hard to get a grip on. Working together we were able to get the set screw in and began to reassemble the whole thing. Just when we thought we were there, the bolt dropped out of the hole. Luckily, Steve had a replacement bolt, so we kept working and finished the job just as it got dark.

We slept well that night and woke at 6:30 to leave. We needed more light to leave this anchorage because a bridge is being constructed, and the waterway is filled with barges and other ships. Steve did a quick download of email and weather only to learn that his brother had passed away that morning. Steve was able to call his mom to get the details, and she asked if he could come home so we told her that we would leave as soon as we could get a flight.

We decided that we would continue to Pangkor and leave from there. The weather was nice, but the current was not being helpful. We spent most of the day in calm seas but had another major rain shower, again with no wind. The fishing boats were out in force, so we played “dodge the fleet” for most of the day. About mid-afternoon the wind picked up just enough to increase our speed so that we were able to make it through the channel and into the marina by 7 p.m.
We were greeted at the dock by James and his crew, who got us all tied up. Glen and Marilyn from sv Tin Soldier were there as well. They are putting the boat on the hard and going back to Canada in a few days. We had a quick reunion and then called it a night.

The next morning Steve began a search for flights home. Since it was short notice, he had to work at it, but we did manage to book one that worked. We spent the day getting things out to be packed to go home and preparing the boat. The sv Spirit of Sobraon with Gary and Wendy aboard are also here, and they told us there would be a pot luck on the dock at 7 p.m. so I decided to make spaghetti and garlic bread. At 7:30 Tin Soldier had been pulled out and was on the hard, so the crew from the marina joined us, as well as couples from some of the other boats on the hard. There was plenty of food, and everyone seemed to have a good time. We called it quits at 10 o’clock and returned to the boat.

It rained most of the night and into the morning so we just stayed below and worked on chores. It is quite hot so it doesn’t take much effort before one is sweating and hot. We have to pace ourselves with frequent breaks, but we managed to get things done. We will leave tomorrow night from Kuala Lumpur and be in Albuquerque in the afternoon on March 28. We will have two weeks at home before we return to Malaysia and continue down the coast.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leaving Langkawi

March 21, 2011—We have spent the past week preparing the boat to leave Langkawi. I did all the laundry from our trip and cleaned the boat, while Steve checked the systems to make sure that we were ready to go. Yesterday we spent the day in Kuah buying provisions, sailing guides, plumbing, etc. We also met sv September for one last lunch, and last night we enjoyed dinner with Melinda and Dave on sv Sassoon, who just returned from Australia yesterday.

It is quite hot here now so the air-conditioner has really helped. We worked slowly for most of the day, but in the afternoon we usually went to the pool for an hour or so to cool off and discuss the sailing situation in the Red Sea with other cruisers. Several boats from the Indonesia Rally have changed plans and will be heading to South Africa instead, either this year or next.

We will move down to Pangkor where we will say goodbye to Tin Soldier as they are returning to Canada for awhile. Then we will take several days move down the Melacca Strait and return to Danga Bay so that we can have some canvas work done.

The weather has been unsettled with rain squalls and some thunderstorms; however, it looks pretty good for the next few days. We will keep our fingers crossed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the AngkorTemples

March 16, 2011—We left the Silver River Hotel in Phnom Penh, thanking the staff for a wonderful stay. They were so helpful and the facility was very nice. We loaded our bags in the minivan and drove to the central bus station. Our bus to Siem Reap was there so we transferred our bags and climbed on board. The bus left on time, and we headed northwest to Siem Reap. We had read that the road was excellent, but I think excellent is an operative word. They are in the process of improving the road; however, it was a two-lane road that was quite rough. We stopped after two hours for a bathroom stop, and we stopped one more time for a quick lunch. The trip took us seven hours, and by the time we arrived, we were more than happy to be there.

As soon as our bus pulled into the parking lot, the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers came over to it, holding signs up stating their fees. Women also came running over with food or other items to sell. It was a bit overwhelming. The bus company asked us to wait in the bus while the local Cambodians got off the bus, and then they took our bags and assigned us to a tuk-tuk driver. He drove us to the Frangapini Hotel and carried our bags inside. We were checked in and shown to our room, which was quite nice. After we put our things away, we cooled off for awhile, and then we went downstairs to take a swim in the pool. It felt so good to be in the cool water. We went back to the room and got dressed for dinner at the hotel.

We got up the next morning and got ready for a day of touring. Va, our driver, picked us up at 9 a.m., and we drove out to the temples. We stopped to pay our and $40 fee for the day and receive our picture identification card. We decided to see the major temples started with the South Gate of Angkor Thom and then Central Angkor Tom (late 12th century).

From there we continued on to Bayon (late 12th century), Phimeanakas (late 10th century), Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King (both late 12th century), and, finally, Taprohm (mid-12th century).

By now it was 12:30 and hot, so we decided to stop by the lake for a nice lunch. While we were eating we met a father, a Canadian, with his daughter who lives in Oregon. We enjoyed talking with them for a few minutes. After lunch Va advised us to see Angkor Wat because most people take a break until four o’clock, but first we stopped at Banteay Kdei (early 13th century).

After walking through Banteay Kdei, he dropped us off at the bridge that crosses the largest moat we have ever seen that surrounds Angkor Wat. This wat was constructed in the mid-12th century by Suryavarman II in the form of a massive “temple-mountain” dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and it served as his state temple. The reliefs on the walls of the long hallways were spectacular, and most were still in very good shape.

We finished walking through Angkor Wat around 3:30 so we asked Va to drive us back to town. We stopped at a few shops, the Central Market, and the ATM. We then returned to our hotel and agreed to meet him at 9 o’clock in the morning for another day of sightseeing. We were both pretty hot and tired so we just returned to our room to cool off and relax.

We got a good night sleep and met Va at 9 o’clock for our second day of sightseeing. We drove out about 10 miles to Chong Khneas, a floating village at the edge of the lake closest to Siem Reap. Houses, the school, the medical clinic, shops—everything is floating in this village. Today the government representative was announcing a shot clinic for the children under five.

We watched people moving up and down the river in different styles of boats, most of which had engines. They use car engines, and the propeller shaft in the back must have been eight feet long. Also, the prop sits just below the water because there is a plant that grows in the water, and the prop would get fouled if it was set any deeper. We are at the end of the dry season, which means that the water level is pretty low, and we actually got stuck in the mud at one point.

The tour was very interesting and better than we had expected. When we returned to the shore and stepped off the boat, three hard-sell girls who had plates with Siem Reap written on them and our pictures in the centers. One of them had taken a picture of each of us when we arrived, but we had no idea why. Now we know. We really didn’t want them; however, we decided to buy them. They wanted $3 each so we offered two for $5. The oldest girl gave me the biggest smile and rejected my offer—she held fast. They were so enjoyable that we actually enjoyed being separated from our money.

Our next stop was the Silk Worm Farm. We thought this would be an interesting tour since we had been look at silk products. A guide met us when we approached and welcomed us. We began the tour at the mulberry tree grove where they harvest leaves to feed the silk worms.
Inside a building we were shown the cocoons that lines ringed shallow baskets. When the worm is mature, they kill them by putting the baskets in the sun or by boiling them. Next they remove the worm (and sometimes fry them and eat them) and then separate the silk thread from the cocoon. Once the thread is gently pulled from the cocoon, the spinning begins.

We learned the difference between raw silk and fine silk. We were also shown how they bleach and then dye the silk, mostly using natural plants to achieve the colors but sometimes using dyes. After that the thread is wound onto spools. Our last stop on the tour took us to the weaving building where women were weaving several different patterns in different colors. It was so interesting and informative, and we now have a better appreciation for this beautiful material.

It was now almost one o’clock so we stopped for lunch, followed by a stop at the bakery for our breakfast. Lastly, we enjoyed a one-hour massage for $15 each. We returned to our hotel tired but quite relaxed. We have to pack tonight for our flight back to Langkawi in the morning.

We have been gone for five weeks, and we are ready to get back, but we have enjoyed our time in Southeast Asia, and the countries we have visited have been well worth the time and effort. Monday morning Va came to pick us up at 6:15. We drove to the airport, watching a spectacular sun rise as we went, and unloaded our bags. Va did such a good job for us that we were sad to say our goodbyes. Our flight out of Siem Reap was delayed; however, we made it to Kuala Lumpur in time to catch our flight to Langkawi.

We are back on the boat and are preparing to leave on Monday, weather permitting.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

March 10, 2011—Our bus trip to Phnom Penh started out on a little rocky. The front desk at our hotel told us to be down at 6:30 a.m. for our taxi ride to the bus. We decided that it was safer to be there earlier so we went at 6:10. We checked out and waited for our taxi, but about ten minutes later we found out that they had not called the taxi, so they took us outside and hailed a taxi for us. The driver took us to the pick-up point and dropped us off. Unfortunately, he dropped us at another bus stop, but we didn’t know it at the time. When we showed our receipt for the Phnom Penh-Sorya Transport Company to the guy at the bus, he said that he didn’t know the company but offered to sell us tickets on his bus. We started to, but then Steve refused. We started to walk away when a local told us that the place we wanted was just down the street. We thanked her and walked that direction. Everything was closed so we were a bit confused until another local guided us to the right spot. Neither of these two people asked us for a thing, which was really nice. We were finally at the right spot so the man gave us our tickets, and we climbed in the van. We were now sure that the guy back down the street knew exactly where we needed to be—amazing.

It was now 6:40, and our bus was supposed to leave at 6:45 so we were a bit stressed. We tried to relax when the driver told Steve that the bus would wait. We finally got everyone picked up and drove to the bus, where we all piled on and took off. We were pleased to see that this bus was much nicer than the last one. The drive to get out of Saigon took us almost an hour because of the horrible traffic. Also, at one point a power line had come down so our bus had to cross traffic to the left lane and VERY slowly creep under another part of the power line. A little further down the road, we could hear the overhead power lines scraping against the bus. It was all a little unnerving.

The rest of the Vietnam drive was through the usual countryside filled with beautiful, green rice paddies for mile after mile. When we reached the border, we stopped and had to take our luggage in to be scanned. Our guide had collected all the passports in order to expedite the process at the border so we stood in line to wait until they called our names, and then we picked up our passports, gave them back to our guide, and got back on the bus. We drove a few hundred yards to the Cambodian processing center and again got out of the bus, without luggage this time. We went into the center and had a seat. We had also paid our guide $50 for our visas for Cambodia so he took care of everything. All we had to do was sign the visa application and then pass through Immigration and Customs. It was all very well coordinated and took very little time, and it was the first time in Vietnam that we felt we got what we paid for.

A few minutes later we stopped for a quick lunch; however, Steve and I were short on cash. Thankfully, we had eaten something for breakfast so we could wait. The last part of the drive took about three hours. At one point we had to cross the Mekong River on a ferry. The driver took the bus down an uneven road and pulled it onto the ferry, along with two other large tour buses and a truck. One family in the truck beside us had so many people crowded in that we took a picture.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh the bus pulled into the central bus station, which was a pretty busy place. We grabbed our bags and began to walk. It didn’t take five seconds before a taxi driver asked if we needed a ride so we told him no and said that we already had one. He actually followed us to see if we did. At one point we thought that we had lost him, but he then appeared from another side. We just kept walking until we found an ATM where we got some money, and we were surprised that it was U.S. currency. There was a hamburger place next door so we went in to eat lunch.

We finished lunch and grabbed a remorque-moto, which is a trailer hitched to a motorcycle, and went to the Silver River Hotel¸ where we checked in and went up to our room. The room was small but very nice, and we again have a balcony that will be great in the afternoons. We took a break and then went down to schedule our bus to Siem Reap on Friday.

Today we left with our guide Mr. Thay for a day of sightseeing in his Tuk-Tuk. Our first stop was at the Royal Palace. The grounds were beautiful with flowering trees and shrubs, and the buildings were spectacular. Unfortunately, we were limited to just two areas, but it was well worth the time to walk around and to see all the artifacts from the royal families.

After the Royal Palace Mr. Thay drove us to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly known as Security Prison 21. This facility was Tuol Svay Prey High School before it was transformed into a security prison by the Khmer Rouge where political prisoners were interrogated and tortured. We walked through the cells and through rooms filled with photographs of the many prisoners who were tortured and murdered. It was a very moving experience, and everyone there was very somber. We are pleased that they have created a museum to memorialize the victims.

After the museum we felt that we needed a break so we asked Mr. Thay to take us to a restaurant for lunch, where we enjoyed a sandwich and a Caesar salad. Next we drove through Phnom Penh and headed for the Killing Fields. The drive provided us with a great view of the people and how they live and work in Cambodia. We love riding in the Tuk-Tuks because we can see all around us, which is not the case in a taxi. It was about 10 miles so we just relaxed and enjoyed the view. The best part of the ride was when a man on a motorscooter passed us with two pigs strapped on the back of his cycle--and Steve got the picture.

We arrived at the Killings Fields of Choeung Ek. Rising above the 129 mass graves is a beautiful white stupa or religious monument that serves as a memorial to the some 17,000 men, women, and children who were killed here. Encased inside the stupa are almost 9,000 human skulls found during excavations in 1980. It was overwhelming.

From the stupa we walked through the fields where large craters remain from the excavations. Every now and then we could see pieces of clothing or bone coming through the dirt. It is so hard to fathom what happened here, and we left feeling sad.

We returned to Phnom Penh and made a quick stop at the Russian Market, which is much like the Central Market. We picked up a few items, including some “Panasonic” batteries. We did not want to pack our recharger for batteries, so we figured that we would just buy them along the way. Well, we bought eight batteries yesterday, and when Steve used them today, four batteries were good for about 10 pictures—then nothing. Thankfully, we have the small camera that we can charge, but we are still going to buy a lot of “Panasonic” batteries for the next two days.

We were tired and hot, so we had Mr. Thai take us back to our hotel. We thanked him and shook his hand, and then we paid him his fee plus a tip because he was an excellent driver and a very nice man.
Now it was time to cool off since it had become quite warm in the afternoon. We relaxed in the room for awhile and then left to walk to the river. On the way we passed the National Museum, which is spectacular building. Unfortunately, it was closing in 30 minutes, so we continued on to the river where there is a very nice river walk.

Tonight we will pack up so that we will be ready to leave early tomorrow for Siem Reap—another glorious bus ride. This ride will be with the same company as the last bus trip, so it should be fine. Also, it will give us a chance to see more of the Cambodian countryside.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saigon, Vietnam

March 8, 2011—Ngoc Huyen, our tailor, delivered our clothes to our hotel at 12:30 and showed us all the items. They were all very nicely done so we thanked her and paid her the balance. We ate some lunch and then waited for our driver, who picked us up at 3 o’clock. We had to drive back to Da Nang, which took about 30 minutes. Da Nang is an international airport, and we saw a new airport being built adjacent to the old one.

We checked in for our flight and had to wait about an hour before we could board our flight. The plastic seats in the boarding area were not exactly comfortable, but it was, as always, interesting to watch all the people. The boarding attendant called our flight so we gave her our ticket and boarded a bus, which then transported us to our plane. The plane was a nice new Airbus 330. We boarded the plane and got comfortable in our seats with plenty of leg room this time.

We took off on time and headed south to Saigon. We were on the right side of the plane, and we could see a very large and very dark thundercloud off to our right. The pilot was making a slight turn to the left in order to go around the thunderhead. As we traveled along, we enjoyed an absolutely stunning sunset behind the dark clouds. Along the way we also saw lightening in the clouds, which made me wonder if this leg of our trip through Vietnam would also have an element of excitement. Alas, nothing happened, and we landed safely at the Ho Chi Ming City airport.

We had asked our hotel, the Blue Diamond, to send a car to pick us up, but when we exited the baggage claim area, no one was there with a sign for us. We found the hotel number and called them, but they just suggested that we get a cab. We had read that the taxis here were difficult to deal with, but we walked up to the taxi warden and told him where we needed to go. He signaled a taxi for us and off we drove—at the slowest pace imaginable. Usually these taxis are flying by, and here we are in the slowest one I have ever seen. Later we discussed that we had read something about the traffic being so congested that they now meter on time instead of distance, which might have been why he was driving so slowly.

We finally arrived at the Blue Diamond Hotel so we paid the taxi driver, who tried to get more money from us, but we held firm on the meter price. We checked in, and they informed us that they were overbooked so we would be put in the VIP suite for the evening and then moved to our reserved room the next day. Wow! Now things were looking up. The room was on the top floor and very spacious. We quickly changed clothes and headed out to dinner as it was now 8:30 p.m., and we had not eaten any dinner. We walked around the block but saw nothing that caught our interest so we decided to return to the hotel and just order room service instead. We ordered sea bass and baby-back ribs and waited for about 30 minutes. Finally, our food arrived, and we sat down to eat it. Unfortunately, the food had cooled off, but the bass and the ribs were excellent. We relaxed for the rest of the evening in our luxurious surroundings.

This morning we decided walk to the bank to exchange some money because we need U.S. dollars at the Cambodian border; however, the bank would not give us U.S. dollars. Next we went to the post office to mail a postcard, and we were amazed to see the post office filled with souvenirs for tourists to buy. Across the street was the Notre Dame Cathedral. We walked over to look at the cathedral but did not go inside. We have read that the government is taking a more relaxed position on religion in the country.

Our next stop was the Independence Palace. Formerly South Vietnam’s Presidential Palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975, when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of the tank is now parked on the lawn outside. The building has been restored; however, everything else is original vintage 1960s—the furnishings, the radios, the phones, the kitchen, etc. There were many photos, and also the requisite educational film. We left about 2 minutes into the showing.

We returned to our hotel to move our things to our new room; however, it was not ready. They said it would be just a few minutes so we decided to cool off and relax for a bit. At one o’clock we gave up and went down stairs. We asked when our room would be ready and if was a deluxe room, which we had booked. The young lady said that since we had the VIP room last night, we would get only a superior. We took issue with this as they had overbooked their rooms and upgraded us without our asking. We said that we expected a deluxe room, and the young lady said that she would speak to the manager.

We left to have some lunch and walked around the block several times before deciding on a restaurant. We noticed that several shops had generators outside their doors, and while we were having lunch, we found out why—the power went out. It took just 15 minutes before the restaurant was stuffy and hot.

Afterward we walked to the Ben Thanh Market to look for some souvenirs as we are always the tourists. The market was filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, clothing, and, of course, the usual souvenir trinkets. It was a huge market, and we could only stay for a short while before the shop keepers got to be too much. Steve said that this market was not any different than any of the other markets we have been to—too much stuff and most it is made in China.

We retreated to our hotel and finally got into our new room. It was quite hot this afternoon, and we are trying to pace ourselves in order to get to Cambodia. Steve still has a cold, and my foot is still on the mend. We decided to go to dinner at the Barbeque Garden Restaurant so we walked the three blocks to find it without any problems. We ordered our skewers of meat, and then we cooked the skewers on the grill at our table. It was really delicious, and the place had a very nice atmosphere.

We decided to stay just one day in Saigon. Obviously, we could spend many days here; however, we need to finish up the travels so tomorrow we leave by bus for Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hoi An, Vietnam

March 6, 2011—Our bus trip to Hoi An began at 8:15 on Saturday, March 5. The bus arrived on time, and we loaded our bags and climbed aboard. The bus looked fairly good on the outside, but the inside was well worn, and the seats were very close together, which left very little leg room for Steve. We moved to about four different seats trying to find a good one for the four-hour drive. We finally settled in about three rows from the back on the left side.

It then took us another hour to pick up all the passengers who were scattered in about five hotels. Riding in the full-size bus down the narrow streets with cars and motorcycles everywhere was quite interesting. Finally, an hour later we were on our way with a completely full bus. There was an assortment of nationalities on board—Australian, German, French, and Russian. The air-conditioning system was not working, but it was a cool and overcast day, so opening the windows worked fine and the rain made everything look so clean and very green.

About two hours into the trip, the driver made a right turn, and we entered a small town. Now this is where things get interesting. Our bus suddenly swerved hard to the left, and a young Australian lady sitting on the high back seat let loose with an expletive. Ahead of us we saw trees approaching the front windshield of the bus, and then we came to a stop. The young lady told us that when we swerved to the left, a truck in the oncoming lane was headed right for us. At that time, someone said that we had hit a pedestrian. There was an EMT with the Australian group, so he ran out to see if he could help. The local man was carried across the street, and the EMT examined him. When he returned to the bus, the EMT said that he appeared to have a broken ankle. Someone loaded him up and drove him to the hospital. We think that the bus just missed hitting him but did hit his foot.

Now the police arrived, and all the passengers got off the bus. A few of us walked across the street to use the restroom, and then we waited. About an hour later, the police were finished so we got back onto the bus and resumed our trip. I swear that not five minutes had passed when, once again, the driver swerved the wheel. The young lady in the back told us that a car in the on-coming lane was passing, and our driver had to swerve to give the car room. At this point I was hoping that our life insurance premiums were up to date. Everyone on the bus was now a bit edgy.

We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant where we had just 30 minutes so Steve and I ate an ice cream and a small baguette—what a nutritious meal. We were back on the road, and now the bus was climbing a two-lane mountain road. We were approaching a hair-pin turn, and Steve and I looked up at the road above us. We saw a medium-size truck that was transporting pigs coming down toward the turn. At that point another truck of about the same size passed the transport truck, which meant that right at the hair-pin in the curve, there were three of us spread across two lanes. There was complete silence on the bus as we all held our breaths. Everyone made it through the turn, but now I had truly had enough. Unfortunately, we really didn’t have any options so we just hung on and prayed.

We passed through Da Nang, which was the area of China Beach during the war. We were amazed at the number of five-star resorts that are built or are being built all along this stretch. We arrived at Hoi An around 1:30, and as soon as the bus stopped, we got off and caught a taxi to our hotel to check in and eat a decent meal. We have a large corner room with a balcony, and we enjoyed the afternoon sitting on the balcony. Steve told me that he thought he was getting a cold and didn’t feel well, so we ordered a pizza to be delivered to the room and just took it easy. My foot was still sore so the rest helped it feel better.

This morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then left on a motor scooter that we had rented. The drive through the streets was challenging but not nearly as bad as in Hanoi or Hue. We drove down to the Central Market and parked on the sidewalk. A woman was sitting in front of her shop and asked us to look at her designs. We agreed, and the next thing we knew, I had bought a pants outfit and Steve had bought a shirt. When we were done, we walked around for awhile, and we stopped to see a temple since we had not seen one in Vietnam.

Next we decided to drive out to the beach to have lunch. We found a lovely restaurant right on the beach where we enjoyed a meal of prawns and cold beer. There was a cool breeze coming in from the water, and it was so relaxing and beautiful.

It is interesting here because people use round boats, actually large baskets sealed with tar, to fish. One man brought in jellyfish and was cleaning them.

We decided to drive a little further out of town to enjoy the country side. Hoi An is a lovely town on the shores of the South China Sea. The area seems to be handling growth much better than the other cities we have visited, and we really liked it here.

We returned to the hotel for awhile and then went back to the tailor shop to check on our order. We tried on our clothes and they needed only minor adjustments. Steve was so pleased with his shirt that he ordered two more. She promised to deliver the clothes to us tomorrow before we fly to Saigon in the afternoon.

We are glad that we stopped here in Hoi An.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hue, Vietnam

March 4, 2011—Our train boarded on time, and we found our berth in Car 7, Berths 19 and 20. We were traveling in “hard sleeper,” which meant six berths, three on each side. Our berth mates were three Vietnamese women, but, luckily, our berths were on the bottom so it was easy for me to get in and out. We put our bags away and waited to leave. Since there were only bunks in the berth, we had to lie down all the time. Our train left Hanoi at 7 p.m.; unfortunately, it was too dark to see any of the countryside.

We went to tried to go to sleep early, since there was nothing to do, but our berth mates were having too much fun talking until late in the evening. Our sleep was marginal that night, and at 6 a.m. our ladies decided that it was time to get up, so we had no real choice in the matter.

We decided to go to the Dining Car for some coffee. We had to go through about five cars, but the reward was a place for us to sit down for awhile. We ordered coffee, Vietnamese coffee that is made from a syrup, and enjoyed the very green and lush countryside. It had rained the night before so everything looked nice and clean.

We returned to our car to find that the ladies had put up the two middle bunks, so it was possible for us to sit, almost. One of the women picked up their plastic coffee cups, so we were happy to see that they were conscious of trash, but that came to an end when she dropped them out the window. That was disappointing because we knew there were trash bins on the train. Then the oldest woman started asking us question such as where we had come from and where we were going. When we answered her, she gave us a hard time about our pronunciation and continued to do so throughout our conversation. We just kept smiling and even gave them “Albuquerque” to pronounce, which was quite interesting. If we had it to do over again, we would not take this train.

We arrived in Hue at 8 a.m. and found a taxi to the Romance Hotel. It is a new hotel, and the room was very nice. Yen, the front office manager, welcomed us and gave us tour information. We booked a tour of the DMZ for the next day, and then we went to the room so that I could rest my foot.

In the afternoon we walked around the block looking for a place to have lunch, and we found a small, local restaurant that served hamburgers. After lunch, my foot was becoming sore so we headed back. We relaxed during the afternoon and then ate dinner at the hotel restaurant on the top floor. Our server was the most delightful young woman named Pha. Her English was quite good, and she was very happy to talk with us. The next morning she was back at work so we chatted again during breakfast.

When we booked our tour of the DMZ, we decided to take a private tour, mainly because of my foot. The public tour could have included up to 50 people and would last 12 hours. I couldn’t see climbing up and down the bus steps all day long. Our driver Tien picked us up at 8:30, and we began our two-hour drive to the DMZ. We drove through small towns and a country side full of rice paddies. When we arrived at Dong Ha, our guide Mr. Tahm joined us. He is 57 years old so he was 15 in 1968, and he shared some stories about the area with us.

On our way to the tunnels, we stopped at a monument to the couriers during the war. There was also a statue dedicated to the women in the south waiting for their husbands to come home.
We drove to the Hien Luong Bridge on the Ben Hai River. This bridge divided the north and south from 1954 to 1956, when reunification was to take place. This did not happen and, for a number of reasons, America was eventually drawn into the war after the withdrawal of the French.

Our next stop was the Vinh Moc Tunnels. We had to drive quite a distance on a dirt road through the country side. Mr. Tahm took us to the museum on the site, and then we walked to one of the entrances. The tunnel went down about 36 to 40 feet. We saw alcoves off the main tunnel where families lived. The alcoves were about 5 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. There was a maternity alcove about the same size. There was also a hospital, a nursery, and a kindergarten. The tunnels were on the shore of the Gulf of Tonkin so they had fresh air coming from the sea that funneled through the tunnels. We went down to the second level, which was about 47 feet. The tunnels were dark but illuminated by lights every now and then. The tour was very interesting; however, I was happy when we exited the tunnels.

After the tunnels, our tour seemed to fall apart. Mr. Tahm and our driver drove us by the beach on the Gulf of Tonkin and then back to Dong Ha where we ate lunch at a nice restaurant. After that Mr. Tahm said that he needed to leave, and our driver would take us back to Hue. Tien drove us back by another road so at least we had a chance to see new scenery. We did get caught in traffic when we came upon a traffic accident. Tien just drove past the backed-up trucks until he pulled up right at the wreck. Then it was only a few minutes before we were able to squeeze on the side of the road to get past the wreck.

We returned to Hue around 3:15 and Tien dropped us off at our hotel. We were very disappointed in our tour and regretted booking the private tour. We felt that Mr. Tahm and Tien were rushing us through so that they would be done early. We continue to learn as we go.

Today we went out on our own and walked across the river to the Citadel, which houses the Forbidden Purple City. The construction started in1805 under the reign of Emperor Gia Long and was completed in 1832 under the reign of Emperor Ming Mang. We saw a model in the palace that showed the complete layout. It was square in shape, was almost 7 miles in circumference, and included around 140 buildings. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and looking at the remnants of different buildings, some in better shape than others. This was well worth our time.
We walked back over the river and ended up eating lunch at the Hot Tuna Restaurant, which was just average. My foot was beginning to ache so we returned to our room. Later we enjoyed dinner at Little Italy Restaurant where we had ravioli and lasagna.
We leave in the morning on the bus to Hoi An. It is supposed to be a 4- to 5-hour bus ride—we shall see.