Eagles, Otters, Bears and Whales in Sitka

In this little town of Sitka with a population of 8,000, we took a boat to explore the wildlife in the sea.  Luckily, our boat only had 20 people, so we could run back and forth to both sides to not miss any of the action.  Aboard for a three hour tour across the water, we are off to see what critters live in the Alaskan wilderness.  We were in for quite a day because there’s a lot to see here!DSC04146

Continue reading “Eagles, Otters, Bears and Whales in Sitka”

Riding in Cars with Boys

If you want to step back into the automobile past, you need to go to Cuba. Havana is literally a rolling car museum with Oldsmobiles, Chevys, Fords, and Buicks that most car buffs in the US would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own, and they are used by Cubans as every day vehicles. It’s amazing to see a lineup of the vintage cars, waiting at an interection for the light to change, like it’s no big deal.

 

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Waiting for the light…

Continue reading “Riding in Cars with Boys”

Monument Valley – Valley of the Rocks

We’ve traveled north into Utah to Navajo territory to the Colorado plateau, characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 feet above the valley floor.  The Navajos called this place the Valley of the Rocks.  This rugged beauty may be familiar to you since it has been featured by Hollywood in so many westerns clear back to the days of silent movies. This is what people think of when they think of the great American West.

Through the bus window

The director, John Ford,  filmed so many of the most famous westerns here with Hollywood greats like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.  Stagecoach, Easy Rider, Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Wild Wild West, the Lone Ranger, just to name a few, all were filmed here. 

We hopped into these open air tour vehicles to make our way around the valley floor.   Bumpy, winding, and dusty, but none of that mattered when you were looking at these amazing formations carved by wind, rain, and erosion over time. 

Tour Bus
Sentinal Butte

We need a horse out here…

The three sisters

I see a family…what do you see?

God’s earth certainly is a strange and wonderful place. 

Hanoi

We are finally at our last stop…another big city with lots of motor scooter traffic, and modern buildings.  What an amazing month it has been seeing so many sights and scenes that have been new experiences for us. What an incredible world that  we live in.  

Here are a few parting shots from our last city in Vietnam.  I’m so glad you could travel with us on this amazing trip! 

With the French having occupied Vietnam for almost 100 years, if you squint, you can see remnants of their influence in the old buildings in the French quarter.   

In the French quarters
 

Vietnam greatly discourages the buying of cars.  An $800 motor scooter has a $1000 tax. An automobile has a $300% tax on top of the sales price.  No wonder there are so many scooters! 

The shopping district
 

They seem to carry everything possible on their bikes and scooters…

  
  
  
We visited a sight of a noodle factory, where they were drying noodles outside. We had Vienamese Pho, their popular noodle soup, at every stop.  

Collecting the noodle mats
  
Noodles, drying in the sun
 

A day at the faire

We also attended a water puppet show, where the puppeteers stand waist high in water, telling stories of the life of the rice farmers.  The puppeteers are artists, making $1200/month, considerably more money than most in Vietnam.

A water puppet show
  

A moment of thankfulness
  
With Dang, our wonderful tour guide through Vietnam
 

Ha Long Bay

The bad news is it’s an overcast day in Ha Long Bay. The good news is we are cruising down this beautiful bay on a day with weather that is only 82 degrees. This is the coolest day we have had, the first day when it’s been below 95 degrees and everyone is thrilled to have cooler weather!

This place needs little explanation. There is a serene peacefulness in floating down these waters and appreciating the beauty of this place.  There are over 2000 islands in Ha Long Bay.  It has become such a popular place to visit that boats for touring have gone from 400 to 1000 in the last few years.   

Ha Long Bay tour boats
 

At one point, we stopped to go into a limestone cave discovered by a fisherman.  Full of stalactites and stalagmites, one’s imagination can go wild with images you see in there.  We spent five hours on the waters with a fabulous lunch prepared and eaten on our boat.  It was one of those times when you really get to appreciate how lovely the world is that God made in which we live.  

Limestone cave
 

Tom and Donna at Ha Long Bay

Fighting cocks – a famous rock formation in Ha Long Bay
  
Ha Long Bay
  
Ha Long Bay on a sunny day
 

Hue and the Forbidden City

 Visiting the ancient capital of Hue is certainly stepping back in time.  The Imperial Palace is located here, the former home of the Vietnamese royal families from 1804 until the mid 1900’s.  A moat surrounded the  fortress compound where 13 Vietnamese kings over five dynasties ruled. Many of these kings had wives, consorts, and concubines, one had 104 wives and 163 children. Once the women entered the palace, they never were allowed to leave or have visitors until the king died. Like the Forbidden City in Bejing, in some respects, it became a prison for many who entered.  If you were a male, the only way you could live behind these palace walls was if you were a eunuch. 

Entrance to the citadel
  
Hall of Supreme Harmony
 
Line them up in a row, but this long hallway was the sleeping quarters for all the concubines.  
Sleeping quarters for the concubines
  
Musicians playing in the palace
 

We can’t imagine what it was like to live in this palace wearing their fancy costumes. We were struggling to walk around the complex in the 98 degree heat plus humidity. We were definitely all melting and exhausted from the heat!

By late afternoon, we toured the city via cyclo rickshaw.  A seat right up front peddled by a cyclist from behind tours you through the main part of town and mixes you right in with the hundreds of thousands of motor scooters and cars. Sometimes you definitely felt like you were on a Disney E-ticket ride hoping there would be no collisions!  My favorite part was going through the farmers market…watching locals bargain for fresh fish and produce.  This was great fun and only cost about $8 for an hour ride. 

Ready for our cyclo tour through the city.

We also stopped by another handicraft business along the way, a marble factory.  This artist is carving an elephant, which will take him six days a week, eight hours a day for 2 months.  He makes $300 per month.  The girls then polish the marble eight hours a day for ten days until it shines. They make $200 per month. The factory makes everything from small beaded bracelets and jewelry boxes to large carvings that would flank the finest hotels in the world.   It is amazing what the hand of man can do.  

Talented craftsman starting to carve his marble – he can see his subject in the marble
   
Ten days of polishing til it shines
 

You name a subject, they can carve it!

The Fisherman’s Village and more…Hoi An

We headed up the Thu Bon river to the fisherman’s village. This place is just so picturesque.  Just taking photos of people going about their everyday lives is a beautiful postcard.

A fisherman casting his net
A fisherman casting his net

The fishing village is an area where all of the people have nets out in the water near their houses. They raise and lower their nets below the water, 4-5 times in 24 hours, hoping to catch fish. It takes over an hour to lower them down, and most of their fishing is done during the night hours. They fish to feed their families. If they catch more, they sell the fish, to buy rice, fruits, and vegetables. It’s not commercial fishing…it’s a way to live. There were nets all along the shoreline.

Checking the nets
Checking the nets.
This spoke raises and lowers the nets into the water.
This spoke raises and lowers the nets into the water.
Climbing under the nets to move the fish to the center hole to catch them, hoping a bird doesn't swoop down and get it first.
Climbing under the nets to move the fish to the center hole to catch them, hoping a bird doesn’t swoop down and get it first.

We went to the Kim Bong village which is the center hub for wood carving and boat making.  Skilled craftsmen have worked at this for over 40 years making $350 per month.

Hand carving wood.
Hand carving wood.
On the river.
On the river.
The farmer's market.
The farmer’s market.

A noontime trip to the Traque Organic Village showed is one of the largest organic farms in Hoi An, and provided us with cooking class with fresh ingredients along with a fabulous lunch.  We really enjoyed Hoi An.  It’s charming and quaint and it’s full of life.  It also has $10 massages, $1.25 bahn mi sandwiches, $2 taxi cab fares, and pants for $3-5.  There’s a lot to like here!!

Cooking class
Cooking class

 

Hoi An – A Shoppers Paradise

We flew to Dan Nang this morning. It’s a short drive to the charming city of Hoi An.  This beautifully preserved little seaport village dating back to the 1500-1900s keeps its old world charm, banning cars and only allowing bicycles and bike-rickshaws on its streets.  Walking the streets is like stepping back in time. This location was prime in the first century because of its proximity to three rivers converging, with Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese all coming together here over its history. 

If you love shopping, this is the place to be!!  Over ten million people in Vietnam make their living in the handicrafts industry and you’ll find a lot of the items here. There are also lots of great restaurants in the district, and over 160 tailors in Hoi An.  You can come in, get measured, and get a suit, shirt, or silk dress custom made and delivered to your hotel the next day!!   I definitely should have packed less so I could buy more!  

At China Beach, on the way to Hoi An.
Hoi An …with one of the many tailor shops

Street Vendors
  
Gongs and lanterns…two popular handicrafts
  
The Chinese temple…a gathering place for the Chinese
  
Inside the Chinese temple …incense coils
  
At the Japanese Bridge
  
Bargaining for elephant pants. Apparently there is a big quality difference between the three dollar ones and the five dollar ones.
 
A vendor at the farmers’ market
 
More shops across the river.
  
Streets in Hoi An
 

Ho Chi Minh, Viet Nam 

It only takes a second to realize that we are back in a very big city. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, was once the former capital, which was later moved to Hanoi. With a population of 9 million people, it is a constant swirl of traffic, with over 5 million scooters, with about a 30-to-1 ratio of motor scooters to cars.

Scooter City – waiting for the light to turn…

The biggest obstacle is trying to cross the street. There seems to be no end to the constant flow of vehicles racing by.  Our tour guide says just walk into the traffic like you’re a 90 year old person, don’t go backwards, don’t run, and all the scooters will just magically go around you.  So far, so good.  None of us has gotten run over yet.

In 1859, France colonized and occupied this country for almost 100 years, and evidence of that is everywhere.  Many of their buildings are European in style.  I didn’t expect this.

The Opera House - built by the French.
The Opera House – built by the French.
City Hall
City Hall
Notre Dame and the Virgin Mary - 90% of the materials were imported from France.
Notre Dame and the Virgin Mary – 90% of the materials were imported from France.

Vietnam is a country known for their handicrafts, employing hundreds of thousands of people. Ho Chi Minh is specifcally known for their lacquerware, and we visited the Minh Phuong Lacquerware Factory.  Wood is sanded, painted, embellished with mother of pearl, eggshells, filled, painted, and then lacquered with 18 layers.  It’s a process completely done by hand.

Adding eggshell designs to painted wood
Adding eggshell designs to painted wood
Hand polishing the wood befor lacquer application
Hand polishing the wood befor lacquer application.  They squat like this all day long.
Hand painting a chest of drawers
Hand painting a chest of drawers
A finished set of drawers - beautiful!
A finished set of drawers – beautiful!

We went to one of the marketplaces to get the flavor of the local life.

Shopping for groceries
Shopping for groceries
Ben Thanh Market - You can get lost in there!
Ben Thanh Market – You can shop til you drop in there!
Making cookies
Making cookies on the street.

Although we heard a lot about journalists who stayed in various hotels, ate at certain restaurants, reported on the war from this or that location, but much of that all seems to be in the past.  The reminders of the Vietnam war are far behind them.  A new generation carrys on…the median age of the population now is 30 years old.

Tom chose to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, a 75 mile network of narrow tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong to hide during the war.  Our tour guide’s father was on the side of North Viet Nam and actually fought and lived several years in these tunnels.  Some Viet Cong were in the tunnels for longer than ten years.  How strange life is that now, his son gives tours of the tunnels to Americans.

Dang explains the Cu Chi tunnel system.
Dang explains the Cu Chi tunnel system.
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Hiding from the Americans

A final shot from our time in Ho Chi Minh City…it’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?

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Motor scooters everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City.