Vietnam by Sherri McEwen

Hanoi 

Scenes around where I stayed in the Old Quarter.

Butcher shop directly across the narrow alley from my hotel -- from 5 a.m. top 7 p.m. The alley was a bustling vibrant market.

Butcher shop directly across the narrow alley from my hotel -- from 5 a.m. top 7 p.m. The alley was a bustling vibrant market.

Not sure if these were large worms or small eels ... either way, wasn't trying them.

Not sure if these were large worms or small eels ... either way, wasn't trying them.

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Small crabs similar to those on the West Coast but eaten cooked and whole. 

Small crabs similar to those on the West Coast but eaten cooked and whole. 

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Curbside ear cleaning ... 

Curbside ear cleaning ... 

Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House

Burning an offering. 

Burning an offering. 

Vietnam National Musuem of History with exhibits daring back to 300 b.c.   The building was from 1825 during French colonial times and was the École Française d’Extrême Orient. 

Vietnam National Musuem of History with exhibits daring back to 300 b.c.   The building was from 1825 during French colonial times and was the École Française d’Extrême Orient. 

Rising Sun Bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake. 

Rising Sun Bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake. 

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Dinner and a large beer less than $6 Canadian! 

Dinner and a large beer less than $6 Canadian! 

Vietnam by Sherri McEwen

Bai Tu Long Bay 

After trekking, time to relax on a cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay -- further east and more remote than the touristy Halong Bay.  

Three days sailing in emerald waters amongst the rugged outcrops of limestone rock called 'karsts'.

According to legend, an immense dragon descended to Hạ Long Bay (meaning ‘’Descending Dragon’’) millions years ago, dropping numerous eggs. The eggs hatched forming thousands of rocks and islands. The tail of the dragon extended far out to sea, forming Bạch Long Vĩ island (meaning "The Tail of the White Dragon"). As she returned to heaven, she said good bye to her offspring at the Bái Tử Long Bay (means "The dragon parts the offspring").

Van ride to the boat cruise. 

Van ride to the boat cruise. 

Masthead of the Dragon Legend. 

Masthead of the Dragon Legend. 

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Hot tub on deck.

Hot tub on deck.

View from my room! 

View from my room! 

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Exploring the karsts. 

Exploring the karsts. 

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Just when I thought I was lost ... there's the Dragon Legend! 

Just when I thought I was lost ... there's the Dragon Legend! 

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Squid fishing off the back deck! 

Squid fishing off the back deck! 

Breakfast! 

Breakfast! 

Local fisher. 

Local fisher. 

Hanging out with the Captain while he practices the win win - 2 string banjo like instrument.

Hanging out with the Captain while he practices the win win - 2 string banjo like instrument.

First mate -- waters are shallow (10 meters), no sonar!

First mate -- waters are shallow (10 meters), no sonar!

Floating village. 

Floating village. 

Transportation around the village. 

Transportation around the village. 

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Fish net. 

Fish net. 

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Pearl farm. 

Pearl farm. 

Seeding oysters. 

Seeding oysters. 

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Caves on one of the islands. 

Caves on one of the islands. 

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Last dinner onboard - chef's food art! 

Last dinner onboard - chef's food art! 

Carved carrots! 

Carved carrots! 

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Water puppet theatre. 

Water puppet theatre. 

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Vietnam by Sherri McEwen

 Sapa

Off to Northern Vietnam, near the China border, to trek through the mountains and valleys to visit and stay in local ethnic villages of the Hmong, Dao, Giay, and Tay.   Also where Vietnam's highest peak, Mt Fansipan, is located at about 3200 meters.   

Simplest way to reach Sapa is by overnight train which was an adventure of its own!

Looking for my car ... There are a number of privately owned cars that are all pulled together by a couple of engines.  The process of getting to the train included hundreds of passengers stepping over a number of tracks in the railyard - while the engine was backing up to hook onto the cars - people carting luggage darting between and after the engine while it was in motion. 

Looking for my car ... There are a number of privately owned cars that are all pulled together by a couple of engines.  The process of getting to the train included hundreds of passengers stepping over a number of tracks in the railyard - while the engine was backing up to hook onto the cars - people carting luggage darting between and after the engine while it was in motion. 

The train ride to Lao Cai was about 8.5 hours and overnight.  The different companies offered sleeper cars of varying quality.  I chose the Fansipan line and was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into a 4 bert car.  Clean sheets, pillows, blankets, snacks and water and flip flops.  As I sat there I was hoping my car would stay empty except for myself ... the prospect of three bunk mates possibly being male made me a bit nervous.    You can purchase all the bunks in your car to avoid sharing the car but if the train is full, the companies will override your purchase and sell the bunks to other travelers anyway.   In time a honeymooning Belgian couple and Vietnamese man joined the car - he on the bunk over me which wasn't so great as he seemed to have a particularly active bladder, or something, all night long and frequently stepped on me while getting in/out of his bunk.  Forget the notion of being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic clacking of the wheels on the tracks - the train groaned and jerked to a fitful start then would unexpectedly lurch violently or bounce me up from the bunk such that I braced myself so as not to get pitched onto the floor.  Heaven forbid you should need to use the washroom -- the lurching and bouncing had a definite effect on the 'aim' of fellow passengers.  Arrived bleary-eyed in Lai Cai about 5:30 a.m. and then a half hour bus ride through the mountains to Sapa, my trekking starting point where I met Gom, my guide.   Gom was from a local ethnic minority called 'Hmong', looked like she was 14 but was a 23 year old mother of one.  Breakfast and then we headed out to trek "off the main paths" to visit a number of villages in the surrounding mountains and valleys - me in hiking boots and Gom in flip flops.

The train ride to Lao Cai was about 8.5 hours and overnight.  The different companies offered sleeper cars of varying quality.  I chose the Fansipan line and was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into a 4 bert car.  Clean sheets, pillows, blankets, snacks and water and flip flops.  As I sat there I was hoping my car would stay empty except for myself ... the prospect of three bunk mates possibly being male made me a bit nervous.  

You can purchase all the bunks in your car to avoid sharing the car but if the train is full, the companies will override your purchase and sell the bunks to other travelers anyway. 

In time a honeymooning Belgian couple and Vietnamese man joined the car - he on the bunk over me which wasn't so great as he seemed to have a particularly active bladder, or something, all night long and frequently stepped on me while getting in/out of his bunk.

Forget the notion of being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic clacking of the wheels on the tracks - the train groaned and jerked to a fitful start then would unexpectedly lurch violently or bounce me up from the bunk such that I braced myself so as not to get pitched onto the floor.  Heaven forbid you should need to use the washroom -- the lurching and bouncing had a definite effect on the 'aim' of fellow passengers.

Arrived bleary-eyed in Lai Cai about 5:30 a.m. and then a half hour bus ride through the mountains to Sapa, my trekking starting point where I met Gom, my guide.   Gom was from a local ethnic minority called 'Hmong', looked like she was 14 but was a 23 year old mother of one.  Breakfast and then we headed out to trek "off the main paths" to visit a number of villages in the surrounding mountains and valleys - me in hiking boots and Gom in flip flops.

House construction on the way out of Sapa - workers were barefoot! 

House construction on the way out of Sapa - workers were barefoot! 

Hmong woman with handmade basket for carrying food/firewood/goods.

Hmong woman with handmade basket for carrying food/firewood/goods.

Pig-on-a-stick -- still not convinced to change my vegetarian ways. 

Pig-on-a-stick -- still not convinced to change my vegetarian ways. 

Of course -- Vietnamese pot belly pigs! 

Of course -- Vietnamese pot belly pigs! 

Water buffalo grazing along the rice paddy terraces -- can be unpredictably cranky. 

Water buffalo grazing along the rice paddy terraces -- can be unpredictably cranky. 

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Momma water buffalo and baby. 

Momma water buffalo and baby. 

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Hmong woman who had followed us for 2 hours with the hope that she might sell some of her handcrafts.  Same age as myself and she was helping me down some more difficult paths! 

Hmong woman who had followed us for 2 hours with the hope that she might sell some of her handcrafts.  Same age as myself and she was helping me down some more difficult paths! 

We stopped for lunch at Gom's brother's home where her daughter was staying. 

We stopped for lunch at Gom's brother's home where her daughter was staying. 

Gom's sister-in-law preparing our lunch. 

Gom's sister-in-law preparing our lunch. 

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Boys playing in the rice paddies -- planting time in the mountains, where they get one crop a year (central Vietnam has 2 crops and southern Vietnam has 3), was still a couple of weeks away.

Boys playing in the rice paddies -- planting time in the mountains, where they get one crop a year (central Vietnam has 2 crops and southern Vietnam has 3), was still a couple of weeks away.

Well deserved beer at the end of the day. 

Well deserved beer at the end of the day. 

Home stay at Ta Van village -- making spring rolls (the odd shaped ones are the results of my efforts). 

Home stay at Ta Van village -- making spring rolls (the odd shaped ones are the results of my efforts). 

Feast!  Later, the widow that owned the home I was staying at, brought out a small bottle with "happy water" (a kind of rice wine), and we tossed back shots to 'Mot, Hai, Bo, Yo!" (Cheers!)

Feast!  Later, the widow that owned the home I was staying at, brought out a small bottle with "happy water" (a kind of rice wine), and we tossed back shots to 'Mot, Hai, Bo, Yo!" (Cheers!)

Mr Meo warming his 14 year old bones. 

Mr Meo warming his 14 year old bones. 

My cozy bed for the night. 

My cozy bed for the night. 

Walked into the village before breakfast -- kids at the kindergarten.  In this area, education was free until high school which the cost of attending exceeded the abilities of almost all of the ethnic peoples to pay. 

Walked into the village before breakfast -- kids at the kindergarten.  In this area, education was free until high school which the cost of attending exceeded the abilities of almost all of the ethnic peoples to pay. 

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Selection of meats in a roadside stall. 

Selection of meats in a roadside stall. 

Preparing breakfast with meat purchased at the morning's market - Mr Meo enjoying the trimmings.

Preparing breakfast with meat purchased at the morning's market - Mr Meo enjoying the trimmings.

The women are the hardest working I have seen - their days start at 5 a.m. and go to 10 p.m.  - household chores and hard physical work outside.  

The women are the hardest working I have seen - their days start at 5 a.m. and go to 10 p.m.  - household chores and hard physical work outside.  

Young boy not at school, babysitting his siblings while his mother went to the bamboo forest to get firewood. 

Young boy not at school, babysitting his siblings while his mother went to the bamboo forest to get firewood. 

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Indigo plants -- important for the Hmong.  Leaves are collected, allowed to ferment then oxidize into a paste or powder that can be stored but is not water soluble.  Later mixed with rice wine or other liquids then boiled in a vat into which cloth is immersed the hung to dry.  The cloth will be immersed and dried a number of times to deepen the color until it can even look black.  The cloth is made from hemp, grown and harvested.  The women then strip off 'threads' from the stalks that are later woven into cloth. 

Indigo plants -- important for the Hmong.  Leaves are collected, allowed to ferment then oxidize into a paste or powder that can be stored but is not water soluble.  Later mixed with rice wine or other liquids then boiled in a vat into which cloth is immersed the hung to dry.  The cloth will be immersed and dried a number of times to deepen the color until it can even look black.

The cloth is made from hemp, grown and harvested.  The women then strip off 'threads' from the stalks that are later woven into cloth. 

Dyed cloth drying. 

Dyed cloth drying. 

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Rest stop at a waterfall. 

Rest stop at a waterfall. 

Rice mill ... the 'ladle' would fill and tip, on the other end, it would pound into a large wooden bowl of rice. 

Rice mill ... the 'ladle' would fill and tip, on the other end, it would pound into a large wooden bowl of rice. 

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Rice terraces ... a couple of weeks from planting time. 

Rice terraces ... a couple of weeks from planting time. 

Heading off to hoe fields to plant corn. 

Heading off to hoe fields to plant corn. 

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Irrigation through channels of halved bamboo stalks.   while walking between the rice terraces, Gom matter-of-factor said "Oh, a snake."     I gave a little shriek (maybe not so little)  -- black, a couple of inches thick, head going into a rice paddy on one side, tail still on the other side of the path.  Gom told me not to worry, it was a good snake, only would bite and not kill you.   Hmmm.  Ker, another guide, later told me of when her husband had been bitten by a green snake and his foot immediately ballooned and he could not walk.  He was carried to a village with a traditional Doctor (hospitals would not know what anti-venom to use).  The traditional Doctor would perform rituals and provide homeopathic medicines -- for a fee -- and sent her husband home.  The family worked in round-the-clock shifts elevating and moving the swollen leg and one month later her husband was able to walk again. 

Irrigation through channels of halved bamboo stalks. 

while walking between the rice terraces, Gom matter-of-factor said "Oh, a snake."   

I gave a little shriek (maybe not so little)  -- black, a couple of inches thick, head going into a rice paddy on one side, tail still on the other side of the path.  Gom told me not to worry, it was a good snake, only would bite and not kill you.   Hmmm.

Ker, another guide, later told me of when her husband had been bitten by a green snake and his foot immediately ballooned and he could not walk.  He was carried to a village with a traditional Doctor (hospitals would not know what anti-venom to use).  The traditional Doctor would perform rituals and provide homeopathic medicines -- for a fee -- and sent her husband home.  The family worked in round-the-clock shifts elevating and moving the swollen leg and one month later her husband was able to walk again. 

Water buffalo in the right side of a fence ... they can be unpredictable and charge. 

Water buffalo in the right side of a fence ... they can be unpredictable and charge. 

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Ker, doing traditional Hmong embroidery for a belt, would take about 1.5 years to complete.

Ker, doing traditional Hmong embroidery for a belt, would take about 1.5 years to complete.

Gom's cousin preparing dinner.

Gom's cousin preparing dinner.

My lodging for the night. 

My lodging for the night. 

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Beehive

Beehive

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Preparing her fields to plant corn. 

Preparing her fields to plant corn. 

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Rush hour. 

Rush hour. 

Trekking done ... scooter ride back to Sapa.

Trekking done ... scooter ride back to Sapa.

Vietnam by Sherri McEwen

Hanoi 

Established as a city 1,000 years ago, inhabited since about 300 b.c. and first named Thang Long, or Soaring Dragon, by the Emperor of the day as he had seen a dragon rising from the river.  Nowadays, it is the capital of Vietnam, almost 8 million in the area, and a vibrant organized chaos of commerce and daily life.

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel took about 40 minutes and the route was lined with people cooking on sidewalk braziers -- immense pots of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and various types of meat on skewers -- people squatting or seated on low stools with bowl and chopsticks and cups of tea at hand.

The hotel was in the Old Quarter where every street block has a different name that reflects the goods that were originally sold there more than 1,000 years ago ... some streets today still have shops that represent the name - silk, jewelry, cotton. 

The taxi stopped at a narrow unlit alley with no hotel that I could see -- the driver spoke no English so when he opened the door and motioned me to get out, I stayed put and kept pointing at the scrap of paper in my hand with the hotel address and then looking quizzically around me.  No luck, he clearly was not a fan of charades.

Out of the dark alley appeared a young man in a uniform with the name of the hotel printed on it and who knew my name!  He took my suitcase, I grabbed my backpack and followed him up the alley that was lined with garbage, unfamiliar smells and not a person in sight (by now it was 11 p.m.).  My mind was going over why I had thought this was a good choice for a hotel and how I could improve my research skills.

Arrived at the Hanoi Serene Hotel, light spilling onto the street and up a few stairs to the warmest welcoming smiles and a cup of tea.  Checked into a lovely room with a bottle of wine, plate of bananas and dragon fruit, and, oddly enough I thought, earplugs by the bedside as it was wonderfully quiet outside, not a scooter or voice to be heard.

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Wide awake at 4 a.m. -- not because of jet lag -- roosters, multiple roosters, in the city, sounded like they were perched outside my room, crowing incessantly and, as I peered out the window wondering whether they were within choking proximity, the people that lived in the houses along the alley, were up and about, off on scooters, opening their storefronts and setting out their goods ... the street was a bustling food market by day!  Hmm, earplugs by the bedside ...

Preparing chicken for the day's market. 

Preparing chicken for the day's market. 

First challenge to exploring Hanoi was crossing streets ... red lights meant some traffic stopped ... and some didn't ... pedestrians clearly had no right of way whether there happened to be a walk signal or not.

First challenge to exploring Hanoi was crossing streets ... red lights meant some traffic stopped ... and some didn't ... pedestrians clearly had no right of way whether there happened to be a walk signal or not.

Music store

Music store

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Street sellers ... often live in boarding rooms with other women in the city, get up at 4 a.m. to buy goods to sell, then selling each day from 7 a.m. often until 7 p.m., return to their village after 2 weeks with about $20 to support their families and work their fields for a few days before returning to the city for another cycle of street selling.

Street sellers ... often live in boarding rooms with other women in the city, get up at 4 a.m. to buy goods to sell, then selling each day from 7 a.m. often until 7 p.m., return to their village after 2 weeks with about $20 to support their families and work their fields for a few days before returning to the city for another cycle of street selling.

The Old Quarter is filled with 'shop houses', Buddhist temples and pagodas.  The shop houses are tall and narrow (3 to 6 stories high), built to avoid space footprint and hence lower taxes.  At one time, one family would live in the house with their business storefront -- nowadays, multiple families might live in each building.

Temple  - most Vietnamese practice Buddhism and Confucianism

Temple  - most Vietnamese practice Buddhism and Confucianism

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Kittens for sale, meowing ... I just wanted to take them all home with me. 

Kittens for sale, meowing ... I just wanted to take them all home with me. 

Park gardener

Park gardener

Supreme Court -- built by the French in colonial times .. many Vietnamese political prisoners went from here to the prison across the street.

Supreme Court -- built by the French in colonial times .. many Vietnamese political prisoners went from here to the prison across the street.

Me with new recruits to the Vietnamese police, outside the original gates of Hoa Lo Prison (literally translated as 'fiery furnace').  Named Maison Centrale (Central House) by the French and called the 'Hanoi Hilton' by American prisoners of war.

Me with new recruits to the Vietnamese police, outside the original gates of Hoa Lo Prison (literally translated as 'fiery furnace').  Named Maison Centrale (Central House) by the French and called the 'Hanoi Hilton' by American prisoners of war.

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Most of the original prison has been destroyed but enough remains to give you a sense of the horrendous conditions, especially suffered by the political prisoners. 

Re-creation of how some political prisoners spent their days -- one foot shackled, in the middle at the far end, up 3 stairs, you can see the squat toilet.  

Re-creation of how some political prisoners spent their days -- one foot shackled, in the middle at the far end, up 3 stairs, you can see the squat toilet.  

Part of the sewer system that some prisoners escaped through  

Part of the sewer system that some prisoners escaped through  

One of two guillotines used at the prison.  There were photos on the wall of some executions that were just too graphic to post

One of two guillotines used at the prison.  There were photos on the wall of some executions that were just too graphic to post

Strolled around Hoan Kiem Lake, one of dozens dotted throughout Hanoi.  It is home to some endangered large soft shell turtles which, if spotted, was considered auspicious.  Give the murkiness of the water, I thought it would have been quite miraculous to see one. 

Small pagoda in the lake

Small pagoda in the lake

During the late afternoon and evening, couples strolled along the lit paths surrounding the lake and elders practiced Tai Chi

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Rising Sun Bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple, built in the 18th century. 

Rising Sun Bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple, built in the 18th century. 

Posts guarding the entrance to the Temple. 

Posts guarding the entrance to the Temple. 

Street seller

Street seller

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Lake with a tiny island .. old woman and her cat and chickens lived on it. 

Lake with a tiny island .. old woman and her cat and chickens lived on it. 

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At the entrance to a restaurant ... still not convincing me to change my vegetarian ways! 

At the entrance to a restaurant ... still not convincing me to change my vegetarian ways! 

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Entrance to the Temple of Literature - founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, site of Vietnam's first university built in 1076. 

Entrance to the Temple of Literature - founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, site of Vietnam's first university built in 1076. 

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The Well of Heavenly Clarity - popular with graduating students , visited for good luck.

The Well of Heavenly Clarity - popular with graduating students , visited for good luck.

Stellae - in 1484 the Emperor ordered them erected to record the names, places of birth, and achievements of exceptional scholars.   82 of the original 116 remain.

Stellae - in 1484 the Emperor ordered them erected to record the names, places of birth, and achievements of exceptional scholars.   82 of the original 116 remain.

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Graduating students. 

Graduating students. 

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