A Travelogue

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon

An entry to the tunnel, but of course there were no handy stairs back then

The kitchen area.  our guide Mr. Young is taking out some manioc, which was heated in the fire.  Tasted bland, but with the addition of some dukkah (finely chopped nuts and spices) it was okay.

Wow!  I only saw one jackfruit on a tree yesterday.  Looks like they grow in huge clumps.

Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon

A diagram showing the 3 levels of tunnels used by the Viet Cong to hide in during the Vietnam war.

"The openings were made to Vietnamese size.  American soldiers, big like water buffalo, could not get in," explained the guide.  this young woman was able to fit, but no one else in the group was slender enough to make it.  Even if the hips went it, a Western man's shoulders would be too wide.  Like water buffalo, LOL.

One of the traps to catch unwary soldiers - sharpened bamboo spikes, often tipped with something to cause infection.  Their aim wasn't to kill the soldier since a wounded soldier would require the aid of two companions to carry him out, thus disabling 3 soldiers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

One of several brick making kilns we saw on the river.  The green stuff floating in the water is water hyacinths.  there are lots and lots of them and sadly, they aren't edible or the people would have an endless supply of vegetables.

It's hard to see but the river is behind Hans. We're having lunch at the Mekong Lodge, a resort on one of the islands.  It was another fabulous lunch, as you can see below.
There's a jackfruit growing on the tree behind Hans - it's yellowish and just to the right of his glasses, but there are some green leaves in front of it.  better photo below.

This is fried river fish.  Isn't that an interesting way to present it?  The 14 year old waitress showed us how to pull the meat down either side away from the spine.  Very easy and quite taste.  We had circles of rice paper that first had to be moistened to be made pliable, then you add a little fish, a slice of cucumber, tomato, mint leaves and a few white noodles.  wrap it all up in the thin and very sticky rice paper, and eat.  Yummy.

I wanted a photo of the jackfruit growing on the tree.  while I was in the WC, Hans put his glasses on the fruit so you can see the scale.

Many of the boats had these piercing eyes painted on the stern.


A unique tea cosy.  the tiny teapot sits inside a coconut, which has a lid.  It stays nice and hot until it's time to drink the tea.  We stopped and had delicious Jasmine tea and coconut candy on one of the islands.

This mama hen has some tiny little chicks, but you have to look closely to see them.

Hans and Mr. Young having tea in the oldest house in the Mekong Delta.  It was owned by a wealthy Chinese family and now is a tea house where we had tiny finger bananas, jackfruit, pineapple and mango.  Unfortunately, Hans' stomach couldn't tolerate all the fruit and he had a miserable drive back to Saigon with frequent stops in some primitive bathrooms.


This lady is using the rice husks as fuel to heat the aluminum pan in front of her.  She's making transparent rice paper which is used to make spring rolls.

Here you can see one of the finished rice sheets, which she'll dape over the basket on the left.  You can see the previous one hanging there.  Later they're transferred to a large, flat basket and put in the sun to dry.

Another well loved rice product.  Rice alcohol!  Hans is enjoying a free sample and behind him is the still where they make it.  The finished product drips through the blue funnel, into a bottle and down your throat.

Here they're puffing the rice.  The black stuff in the bottom of the pan is sand, which has been 'cooked' until it's black and very hot.  The entire rice kernel, still in its husk, goes in here.  As it comes into contact with the hot black sand, it pops like popcorn and turns into the puffy white product you see.  Then it's poured into a sieve and the sand falls back into the pan.  then they mix it with sugar or some other substance and press it into those disgusting rice cakes with which all dieters are familiar.

Mekong Delta

The floating market in the Mekong Delta

The bamboo poles show what the boat is selling.  It's an easy form of advertising.  If you want bananas, you go to the boat that has a clump of bananas attached to the pole.

This is the prow of our boat.  There were just the two of us, our guide and the boat driver who took us around the islands and through some of the canals in the Mekong Delta.

Clever elephants

There are vendors close to the elephants and you can buy a bunch of bananas to feed them.  The elephants have been trained to take the bunch from you, daintily eat one banana and then after you've left, give the bunch back to the vendor to sell to the next tourist.

Snakes and other food

"Do they have snakes here?" I asked.

"Maybe in the rice paddies, but if so, not for long.  If there are snakes, the family is eating well.  During the time of Chinese rule, 2 million vietnamese people starved.  During that time, they discovered that almost everything is edible.

Apparently it tastes like chicken.  Thin, ropelike chicken.

Too big for a hammock

"What are all those hammocks doing there?" I asked our guide, Mr. Young.

"The roadside cafes all have them.  People like to relax when they have their coffee."

He didn't explain how you could drink your coffee lying down, but in any case, I noticed that many of the hammocks were fastened to saplings.  I don't think the Westerners could lie in them without their butts touching the ground.  Or bending the poor saplings.

Cemeteries and Rice paddies

"They are preparing the soil for the next crop," said Mr. Young, pointing to the bare land waiting to be seeded with rice.

"Looks like they're already ready for the next crop," whispered Hans, glancing at the cemetery that lay just beside the rice paddy.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bustling Saigon

I think I'm going to like it here.

We worried that it would be hotter and more humid as we headed further south but the city feels good.  Yes, it's pretty hot but nothing like the heat we experienced in Hue!  Our first day of sightseeing is behind us, now we're showered and relaxing until the cool of the evening when we'll head to the market to see what we can see.

Military Museum

Does anyone know what that word is:  indefectible?
We toured the war museum which is quite inflammatory against the Americans.  We toured the war museum in Ottawa and I don't recall it showing so many pictures of atrocities being committed against the allied forces.

We also saw the Reunification Palace, which is now used mostly for conventions and such.  A lovely building with some beautiful meeting rooms.

Lunch in Saigon

Our appetizers, garnished with an exotic pineapple bird which was hollowed out and had a small candle lighting it up from the inside.

Vegetable soup served in a coconut.  Very original, and you don't have to wash the bowl, you can just chuck it.

Inside this thin crepe was shrimp and pork fried rice.  The little chicken on top is made from 2 eggs.

We had a plate of grilled sea bass, garnished with this little fisherman who had a small fish carved from carrot at the end of his fishing pole.


It's just an hour's flight from Hue to Saigon and we were both delighted when we arrived to discover that it's not as humid here as it was in Hanoi and Hue.  In fact, it's only about 35 here today and I can't believe I'm saying this, but it doesn't feel bad.  The lower humidity makes all the difference in the world.  It's still really hot but I no longer want to die.

Driving along the main road in downtown Saigon (Ho  Chi Minh city).  8 million people here, and all of them have scooters.

The inside of the Notre  Dame Cathedral in Saigon, built in 1880 by the French when they ruled Vietnam.

Notre Dame Cathedral, with a statue of the Virgin Mary who had an irreverant bird perched on her head.

Notre Dame Cathedral

The historic post office.  Looks a lot like an old fashioned train station inside, with a beautiful barrel ceiling.  Also built in 1880 by the French.

An ATM in the post office.  Each ATM is in its own cubicle, which is air conditioned.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

group of preschoolers who were also at the Imperial City. The little gal in the front center just didn't want to squat down.

The King's residence and one of the pavilions, both recently refurbished. They were damanged during WWII and during the American war. I found this phrasing odd, as we've always thought of it as the Vietnam war, but of course here it's the other way around.

the Citadel. Home of the emperors when they ruled Vietnam, prior to french domination from the mid 1800's to 1954.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


At the Cham Museum in Da Nang, we ran into the Spanish couple who had been with us on the overnight boat trip to Halang Bay a couple of days ago.

Then at the Emperor's Tomb, we ran into the French couple who were on the same boat with us and the  Spaniards.  Hue is a city of 400,000 and while all the tourists visit the same sites, just a few minutes delay or a slightly different route would mean we'd have missed each other.

It was a delightful coincidence to run into 4 of the 9 people we know in Vietnam.

Emperor's tomb in Hue

The emperor was quite short, and so all his soldiers and attendants had to be shorter.  Hans said if he had been a short emperor, he would have liked his soldiers to be big, hefty men so they could actually protect him.

 Heading up to the tomb of one of the Emperors.  There were more stairs before we got to this point.  I'm holding a fan, and Hans also has one.  Not that they help much when it's 40 degrees outside with high humidity.

A pagoda at the Buddhist monastery

A fancy water taxi.  We took a 30 minute boat ride on a similar, but smaller boat, that took us from the monatery close to our hotel.

One of many huge lotus blooms (fake) on the river.  In this photo you can see one of the government buildings in behind.  they are always in this yellow colour so are easy to recognize.

The Asia Hotel where we are staying tonight had this welcome sign in front. 
The room is very nice, but nothing works right. 
There's a beautiful waterfall shower but there's also a hand-held shower which turned on without my knowledge and I drenched the floor. 
Then we put our water into the fridge, only to discover it doesn't work.  Called downstairs and a 14 year old came to fix it.  He cleaned the filter in the back and said it would work in 5 minutes.  It didn't so we called back.  He arrived with a new fridge,and it doesn't fit in the cavity.  so it's now sitting underneath the desk, which means there's no place for the chair. Turns out it wasn't the fridge after all, but the plug that wasn't working. 
Hans' reading light doesn't work but it's okay since his Kindle Fire is backlit.
And the air conditioner is barely keeping up.

A bunch of the dragon water taxis waiting for tourists.

40 fees&*#ing degrees C

It was so hot and humid today that when we got to the hotel, I had to take off my wedding ring because I'm puffed up like a blowfish.

An ornate palanquin in the Cham museum in Da Nang.  The Cham are one of the 54 minorities in Vietnam and are believed to have come from India in the 2nd century.

On the scenic drive to Hue.   This used to be the only road but now there's a 6 km tunnel so the windy ocean road is used mainly by tourists. 

They call this elephant Jennifer Lopez

Viewpoint on the road to Hue

Our first course at lunch today.  those are spring rolls sticking up on the peacock's back.  Most of it is made from carrots, with the body a pineapple.  Lunch was great, but the restaurant was open so no air conditioning and it was unbelievably hot and stifling, even with the fan aimed right at us.

At the Buddhist monastery in Hue