Friday, November 14, 2014

Last day - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We are sitting in the San Francisco airport, waiting for our flight to Phoenix, so I am going post my last post of the trip.  Dean is trying to sleep as we just came off a 12 hour plane ride from Hong Cong.

On our last day in Vietnam we did a cruise on the Mekong River on a small paddle boat.  We drove to Cai Be, a small village surrounded by fruit orchards and home to a floating market.  The boats anchor on the river and put up a flag pole with the merchandise that they are selling.  For example, we saw a sweet potato on a mast.  

On the way to the river we walked thru some of the shops and watched the locals make rice paper, prepare fruit for selling, and 'pop' rice for some delicious rice cakes.

Vietnam is a leading producer of coffee so our guide stopped and bought everyone coffee.  Dean and don't drink real coffee so we enjoyed some hammock time.  The owner of the coffee shop also raised fighting chickens and he put on a little demonstration of training these fighting cocks.

We stopped at the garden restaurant of Ba Kiet, an old house built in 1924, and had a delightful lunch before returning to the city.  Once in the city we had one last adventure - a motorbike ride back to the hotel.  We rode on the back of some motor scooters thru the traffic for about 30 minutes.  It was quite a hoot!  We could not take our cameras on that adventure - you will have to take my word that it was fun!
That night we had a farewell dinner with the group.  There was 16 travelers in the group, a main guide and 4 country guides and everyone got along really well.  Good trip.  
I will go on OAT trips again!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

On November 11, we flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Siagon.  This is the countries largest city of 9 million people and 6 million motorbikes.  The traffic is unbelievable!  We did a city tour in the afternoon passing the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Old post office.  Outside of the church there was a girl selling rice paper pizzas and they were very good!

The next day we visited the Cho Chi Tunnels - a 125 mile long underground maze where thousands of fighters and villagers hid and fought during the Vietnam War.  The Viet Cong built this vast network of tunnels in and around the district of Cho Chi, north of Siagon, and worked continually over 25 years to expand the multi-level network.  The tunnels, which included mess halls, meeting rooms, medical facilities, small factories, and vast ammunition stores, allowed the Viet Cong to control large areas near Siagon.  Our guide showed us an entrance, about 2' x 2' and we crawled down to a small operating room and back out another equally small exit.  

On the way to the tunnels we stopped at a rice paper making establishment and I tried my had at making rice paper.  I hate to say this but I was a miserable failure!

That evening we went to a traditional water puppet show.  It was entertaining.  The puppeteers controlled their puppets with long sticks under the water.

After the puppet show we took a cyclo-rickshaw ride thru the streets of Ho Chi Minh City that was pretty thrilling, and ended our evening with a cooking class at a culinary institute.  We learned how to make chicken with ginger in a clay pot.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

This is the day that everyone has been waiting for.  We left early to avoid the rush of tourists.  Angkor, a holy city, sprawls across an area of roughly 96 square miles and was built in 800-1200 AD. Entering thru the East gate of Angkor Wat, the large temple built in 1113 - 1150, we crossed the moat which is 570 feet wide and walked around the temple into the alcoves.  During our walk we were treated by the appearance of a monkey.  The temple is three stores high and 210 meters by 80 meters.  It is one of the oldest and largest temple in the world.  There are tourist from all over the world here.  Vuthy, our guide, pointed out a lot of interesting carvings on the walls.  We walked to the second level and then a few of us walked to the top level which had some Buddhas in the center.

We were given some time for exploring and photos.  It is so impressive. We walked across the moat and met back with the group.  We went to another temple, Ta Prohm, which is overgrown with trees.  It is the most photographed temple since the movie, "Tomb Raider" was filmed there in 2000.  This temple has been left the way the French found it in the mid 1800s, covered by a dense jungle of trees and roots.  It was the most crowded temple with lots of tourist jockeying for photos.

After this Tempe we had a family hosted meal.  There are many families living in the temple grounds.  Our family was the Neeks and there 14 year old daughter was our hostess.  They served us a wonderful meal.  

In the afternoon we passed through the South gate of Angkor Thom, the capital city of Khmer rulers.  We saw monkeys again on the way in.  Bayon had 48 gold plated towers.  Then we stopped once more at the West entrance of Angkor Wat for sunset.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We took the day off from the tours and did our own thing.  Siem Reap is a very tourist town with more hotel rooms than family homes.  We walked to the river that splits the town into East and West sides.  The West is the touristy area and the East is locals.  We walked along the river to the market.  There was a shop close to the market that had a fish tank in it so we had our feet massaged by fish.  At first it was very ticklish but after awhile it felt great.  We stayed in for about 30 minutes.  

We went to the local market which was very crowded, especially in the food section.  People over here shop everyday for the food they are going to eat that day.  Always fresh veggies and fruit.

We took a remok (Cambodian version of a Tuk-Tuk)) back to the hotel where we went for a swim and had a massage.  In the afternoon the entire group went for a cruise on Tonle Sap Lake to look at a floating village.  After cruising around for awhile, we stopped at a floating wedding in the village.  Our group took up a collection for the bride and groom so we were treated royally.

After the wedding we went on carts pulled by water buffaloes.  It was fun but dusty and bumpy.

Tomorrow Angkor Wat!