Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hoi An, Vietnam

 The Pilgrimage Village provided a car and driver for our 3 hour drive to the Nam Hi resort on the Cha Dai Beach fronting the South China Sea. During the war GI’s took R&R here and called it China Beach.

The trip went through several sea side and inlet fishing villages, then up a mountain pass along switch back roads before dropping down into Danang. Apparently there was a new tunnel through the mountain but we took the more scenic option and were rewarded in kind with spectacular visas of the sea crashing against steep cliffs and panoramic views of the coastline.

Finally as we near the resort, we arrive at a beach area and I hop out of the car to take a photo of Mother Buddha.
Our stay at the Nam Hai was wonderful. Our villa slopped from back to front with our bed in the middle, looking straight out to an unobstructed view of the beach, ocean, and mountains. Behind the bed is a day bed and bathtub finished in eggshell lacquer. However, with an outdoor shower surrounded by a privacy wall, the tub was forgotten as the chance to shower naked outdoors had much appeal to me. Also included were a flat screen TV, and iPod sound dock with Bose sound system station which we used frequently. At night, silk curtains were drawn around the bed and the shades pulled while two large candles provided enough light for excursions during the night.

Golf carts are used to whisk guests around and also included were free limo transfers to the airport, a personal butler, free mini bar, free breakfast, and free evening cocktails and canap├ęs. Using them all, helped to allay the high cost per night.

I took part in a yoga class in the early morning twice taught by a yoga master from Nepal. But before yoga class, we arose early to view the sun rise.
Twice we venture out of the resort to Hoi An, one of the must see places in Vietnam. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries it was the primary port and trading post in Vietnam particularly of ceramics from China. It is now an UNESCO World Heritage place It is now a quaint auto free village filled with shops and great restaurants. Lots of art and Judith bought a real nice piece to replace one of our prints in the living room. My favorite restaurant was the Mango Rooms which featured a cocktail of Mango juice, rum, and vodka.

One of the amazing sights was seeing the school children get out of school and flock to the shaved ice shop.
Here is a photo of me in a museum showing a model of an ancient ship.
From the quiet atmosphere of Hoi An, we fly into Ho Chi Minh City, a city of enterprise and activity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hue, Vietnam

We flew to Hue (pronounced Hway) from Hanoi into a very small airport and were picked up by hostess and driver to the Pilgrimage Village. The resort is outside the city and offers large villas, a friendly and efficient staff, and free van rides into town. The breakfast restaurant offered good food and balcony tables along side a large swimming pool. We used the outside tables and enjoyed the morning sun before it got hot. After the rainy and moderate temperatures of Hanoi and Halong Bay, Hue was a sharp contrast as normal temperatures during the afternoon were well into the 90’s, making shaded head wear a tourist necessity. Our evening meals were in the comfort of air conditioning at the more elaborate restaurant.

After getting organized and enjoying the resort, the next day we have arranged for a driver and English guide to tour the Citadel, Vietnam’s version of Beijing’s Imperial City.
Emperor Gia Long started construction in 1804 to house the royal family and household. There are three walled enclosures, the Exterior Enclosure or Citadel; the Yellow Enclosure; and within that; at the center is the Purple City where the emperor actually lived. A French military architect constructed it and the French, years later, destroyed it. A lot of it has been restored and work continues to this day. The most interesting thing about the day was hearing the English speaking guide give us a history lesson of the Vietnam War and how the Citadel fit into the war.

We asked him many questions and he shared much with us some candid observations among the most revealing was that the present government is very corrupt and he thinks Ho Chi Minh would encourage another revolution to replace the present government. One can see that he feels a sense of betrayal. It is his conversation with us that prompted me to review some of the important moments in the war.

This is a temple inside the Imperial City.

A bit of history--

The NVA (North Vietnam Army) attack began early on Jan.31, 1968 and by 0800, North Vietnamese troops raised the red and blue Viet Cong banner with its gold star over the Citadel flag tower. It was quite a shock to the allies. It was not until Feb. 24th, that the US Marines had finally prevailed and had retaken the Citadel and NVA flag.

The US Marines found a harrowing house to house, bobby trap infested ordeal as they swept through every inch of the city. Armor and air strikes were very limited to do conditions and to keep casualties down. Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures. Also, since it was monsoon season, it was virtually impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support. But as the intensity of the battle increased, the policy was eliminated. The communist forces were constantly using snipers, hidden inside buildings or in small holes, and prepared makeshift machine gun bunkers.

Communist forces suffered heavy losses in this battle, losing 5,133 men at Hue; about 3,000 more were estimated to be killed outside of the city. Basically its whole attack force was wiped out. Approximately 2,800 people killed by the NVA and VC simply because they were pro-allied. Mass graves of executed and other atrocities were unearthed. American losses were only 142.

What the NVA did win were the minds of Americans as the battle was carried on news casts every night. The carnage of the battle turned off many Americans. People watched the blood and napalm as they ate their dinner and from 1968 forward, public opinion only became more vocal against the war especially the young generation doing the fighting and dying. Rock culture permeated into the military to a large degree causing discipline and drug problems. The draft in America was immensely unpopular with many college age men leaving for Canada or getting out of the duty on claims of being a drug addict or homosexual.

Not all Americans were against the war, but the Battle of Hue was the turning point. Public opinion forced President Nixon to sue for peace 3 years later, after the treaty was broken and Americans had left, two more years later the war was over.

Our second day at Hue we took the van into town and hired a Tiger Dragon boat for a cruise up and down the Perfume River to observe river life and reaching the Thien Mu Pagoda before turning back.

Young boy shampooing his hair.

We reached the pagoda and saw the students coming out of classes.
  At the pagoda was the car that monk Thich Queng Duc used to drive to the spot in Saigon where he set himself on fire to protest the brutality South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem had the backing of right wing Catholics in American, especially anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, plus the Vatican, and was responsible for trying to oppress the majority Buddhists by denying them equal rights and killed many Buddhists. It was in every respect, a religious war. When Duc self immolated himself, President Kennedy started to withdraw support for Diem. Diem was assassinated 3 weeks before Kennedy on November 1, 1963.

The pagoda is often called the symbol of Hue and is the oldest religious structure in Vietnam, with construction started in 1601, with the bell tower built in 1864.

Upon arriving back to our villa, we enjoyed the spa and massages. I also practiced yoga there two mornings to start the day. This photo shows the entrance to the spa.

The next day we hired a car to drive us 3 hours through Danang to the World Heritage Site of Hoi An where we stayed at the nearby Nam Hai, the best luxury resort in Vietnam. Before leaving I took this photo.


Saturday, June 12, 2010


 I have given a lot of thought about fairness recently. It has to do with how much I enjoy my life now since I retired and re-married, compared to the struggles life presented me before.

Not that life before, was under constant stress or devoid of the good feelings I have more frequently now. But, the idea keeps creeping into my thoughts that that somehow I have earned every bit of my good feelings now present, by successfully, for the most part, working through my past tribulations, and it is only fair that I am receiving the benefits now.
Fair? How does fairness work? Let’s not get carried away here, David. Let’s look at this.
 Equality, justice, and social change all have their roots in our perceptions of fairness, and the very ability to perceive fairness is itself rooted in the behavior of our animal ancestors. It arises early in childhood, when it is echoed in the familiar cry of “That’s not fair.”

Sportsmanship, fair play, the Golden Rule, hard work is rewarded, charity towards others is returned in kind; these are all deeply steeped in our culture. I endorse these concepts and think I live by them, however imperfectly at times. I am a person that studies rules and insist that they be followed, and not violated because they would benefit me or my friends. And I could never be a politician.
But living in the world has taught me that fairness has no bearing on what happens to people. Disasters happen, greedy people succeed, stupid people are rewarded for their stupidity, loved ones are lost in wars that should never have taken place, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
 Religion tries to mediate by promises of an afterlife where good deeds are rewarded, but I don’t buy it. The idea there is a personal god that interferes in human activities has lead people to unknowingly support unimaginable evils. Given the powers and traits that a supreme being is supposed to possess, I find such a figment to be lacking fairness. And how can I accept a deity that doesn’t live up to my standards of fairness?

So where does that leave me? How do I justify feeling so blessed now?

I believe there are no answers as there are no answers to many things it life or what happens when someone’s life ends. Just accept the things that brought me here and know that everything counts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Every tourist to Vietnam should include an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay. From Hanoi, the trip is about 3 hours, but once out of the city, the highway is reasonably free of traffic. We hired a driver to avoid being stuck in a van subject to a schedule of when to leave and return.

Along the way, I am fascinated by the new Vietnamese houses along the road.

In many of these houses, the bottom floor serves as either a shop or a garage with the living done further up. Almost all are 3 stories high. The newer ones are usually quite attractive with wooden doors and attractively trimmed with colorful paint. The number of new houses I saw along the way is evident that economic development is doing well within the country.

When ever one travels along a tourist route, it is almost certain that the driver will stop where a WC can be used if desired and shop for silk and other items indigenous to the country. We are very wary of spending money for items that are very attractive, because we are always concerned about how to transport anything back in our suit cases. Nevertheless, Judith bought some coffee table/serving dishes for future gift giving and I bought an embroidered panel that I am still wondering how to display it. Some of the embroidering was simply breathe taking and is a big cottage industry judging from the number of young people engaged in producing some very high quality work.

The signs told us the proceeds are used to fund orphanages.

We welcomed reaching out destination and had some time to stretch and drink a diet Coke, which are plentiful throughout Vietnam. We quickly see that there will be only 3 other people on our boat. Our large cabin is at the front of the boat and affords ultimate privacy with lounge chairs on our private balcony.

There are more people traveling as staff than passengers for a Thursday overnight stay, but the crew said the boat is booked full for the weekend.
We lunch on board after getting settled in our cabin. The galley is well appointed and the food is delicious. In the evening the French captain comes to every table to chat temporarily leaving his young Vietnamese girl friend. He spoke English very well with just a trace of French accent, helping to add an exotic favor to our conversation and the boat’s atmosphere.

We discover that the five star Emeraude is modeled in the tradition of the single wheel steamboat of the colonial era. The original Emeraude was one of the flotillas owned by the Roque family who left Bordeaux in 1858 in search of fame and fortune. The fleet cruised along Indochina waterways and Halong Bay in the olden days. The original Emeraude sank in the Bay in 1937. Using advanced techniques, French architects painstakingly modeled the new vessel from old photos and drawings found at the Paris' Maritime Museum.

Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site (and one of the 1000 things to see before you die) so capitalistic competition has come here with several newer and more attractive boats visible on the waters.
But the Emeraude has its own grand style and a well trained staff. We would recommend this cruise ship to anyone.

The boat is geared to act as a cruise ship with a list of activities, including an excursion to a cave, kayaking, swimming off the rear of the boat, the making of spring rolls, and showing the movie “Indochine” in the evening. As we have been through a number of limestone caves in the past, we choose to have massages while the other 3 passengers went through the cave.

I am making a spring roll here after watching the head chef making a couple of them. Mine were not as pretty, but just as tasty. This is something to try at home, if you can find the thin rice wrappings.
The chef also demonstrated how to make a rose by pealing a tomato and how to make a turkey from a tomato. The turkey is on the left. Making a rose is really pretty easy but I might need a refresher course on the turkey.

Sitting on a private balcony, cruising through Halong Bay with a refreshing drink on hand, has to be a tourist’s dream.

Here are some of my better photos.

The ships anchored in a cove at night.
This was a majestic, mystical experience. How lucky I am to be living my life like this.

Back to Hanoi the next morning and on to Hue the next day.