Make sure that you check out the “Details, Part I” article before you get into this one.
We are now in Day 8, 29 October 2018. Before we leave Siem Reap, we will visit the JWOC Community Center. The full name is Journeys Within Our Community to experience the slogan of “Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow.” The focus of this non-profit organization is on education at all levels. JWOC is sponsored by the Collette Foundation (remember that we are working with Collette on the entire trip) and William and Lulu O’Connell. To get a more complete picture of the activities and accomplishments of this organization, see https://www.jwoc.info
From there, we go to the Siem Reap airport and fly for about 90 minutes north to Luang Prabang in north central Laos. The name of this city, according to Wikipedia, means Royal Buddha Image. This is neither the capital of this land-locked country (Vientiane) nor the largest city (55,000). We will see the Mekong River once again. This river rises in southeastern Qinghai province of China, flows through the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province (called “Lancang Jiang”), then forms part of the international border between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos (called “Mènam Khong”), and also between Laos and Thailand (called “Mae Nam Khong”). When I led a group to Thailand a few years ago, we spent several days in Chiang Rai (the Golden Triangle) and we crossed the Mekong one morning to spend several hours in Myanmar. That same afternoon, we traveled down the Mekong a few miles and visited a settlement in Laos. The river flows through Laos, then into Cambodia (called “Mékôngk”), and finally through Vietnam where it empties into the South China Sea. Its total length is 2700 miles and is the 7th longest in Asia. It is surprising that most of the great rivers in Asia rise in the same general area (Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Irriwaddy, Brahmaputra, and Indus).
The city of Luang Prabang was the capital of the kingdom of Laos until the Pathet Lao takeover in 1975, when it was moved to Vientiane. The Laotian Civil War was fought between Communist Pathet Lao (who were supported by the Communist North Vietnamese) and the Royal Lao Government from 1953-75.
If you are interested in a more comprehensive history of Laos, click on history. This is from Lonely Planet and is the fairest version that I could find. Note the time frame that corresponds with the French and American involvement in Indo China. Laos was a distinct part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Laos was made officially neutral after the 1954 Accords. American air power bombed the trail (initially no wider than a single track for a bicycle pushed by a “volunteer” or a big box carried between two men or women supported by a pole on their shoulders.)
Take a look at following website to get a feel for the city and its culture. http://tourismluangprabang.org One of our destinations on 30 October is Wat Sen (Temple of 100,000 Treasures). Built in 1718 and restored in 1957 (the 2500th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha).
We will also visit Wat Visun . This was founded in 1512.
We will travel to Kuang Si waterfalls. I dare anyone to go swimming here! Kuang Si
After a chance to see the area in a vista from Mount Phousi, we will experience the Night Market. Here, you can find beautiful fabrics, ceramics, food of all kinds, trinkets (if you buy an elephant, make sure the trunk is pointed up!), and all kinds of artwork. Our guide can direct us to the most reliable vendors, who come not only from the immediate area but from the hill tribes. Click here to see a short description of Lao Sung (Upland Lao).
Don’t eat too much because we are scheduled for a dinner that evening.
On Wednesday, 31 October, we get an opportunity to travel on the Mekong River. Our first landing is Wat Xieng Thong (translated as Golden City Temple, remembering that “Wat” is Lao for “temple.”) Dating to 1560, it was placed there by the ruling king who considered the location where the Nam Khan River meets the Mekong as ideal because it was the home of two water spirits called nagas (in the form of large snakes) and they guarded the river. Our prime purpose of visiting this temple is to see the famous colored glass mosaic of the Tree of Life which was added in 1960. According to Buddhist tradition, the Bo (sometimes seen as Bodhi) tree is a Ficus religiosa under which the Buddha sat when he attained Enlightenment. In the Christian Book of Genesis, the tree of life is described in Chapter 2, verse 9 as being planted with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. It is also seen as the symbol of a fresh start on life and a symbol of immortality. Compare the Laotian version at Xieng Thong with that of Gustav Klimt, painted in 1905.
Our next stop is at the villages of Ban Xieng Maen and Ban Chan to get a sense of the rural way of life. This is why I enjoy working with Collette as that company is dedicated to getting its clients out of the protective bubble and more fully immersed in local culture.
We continue on our Mekong river cruise to Pak Ou Caves. We will probably be riding in boats similar to these: This is a very relaxing journey as we watch fishermen, saffron-robed monks in their open boats, and water buffalo. Along the way we will learn about the local rice wine called “lao lao” that traditionally has little reptilian critters in each bottle. Good luck getting this through customs!
The caves have been associated with river spirits for the last 500 years. They contain many Buddha images that seem to be everywhere. Make sure that you look at the limestone karsts overlooking the town of Pak Ou.
Our final stop prior to our hotel return will be at Ban Xang Khong and Ban Xieng Lek. The villagers there (just outside Luang Prabang and close to the airport) specialize in manufacturing and selling silk products and Saa paper (very durable paper made from the bark of the Saa tree, a type of mulberry). Look at the number of weaving looms in private homes, even though we will probably be aimed in the direction of the large shops. The silk is all from Laos. Although we are scheduled to get breakfast and lunch this day, dinner is on your own.
On 1 November, we have the very early morning experience of offering alms to hundreds of monks. This is a time-honored tradition, even though they are probably not part of a 501(c)(3) corporation. We then go to the airport and fly to Hanoi, landing at Noi Bai International Airport. You will be on your own here the remainder of the day, once we check in to the Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi for three nights. Located near the city’s central business district, this five-star hotel is close to the Old Quarter.
This capital city has grown very quickly so that the 2014 estimated population is 3.3 million. Please be careful as the vehicle traffic seems to be totally unrelated to traffic laws. Originally called Thang Long (Rising Dragon), it was the capital of Vietnam until 1802, when the Nguyen dynasty transferred the capital to Hue. It was not until 1831 that it was renamed Ha Noi (Between Two Rivers). Because the ruling French wanted to increase trade with China and because of the rich mineral resources, Hanoi remained the administrative center even during the Japanese occupation (1940-45).
Damaged during the war with the United States, the city survived and celebrated its 1000th anniversary in October 2010. Today, Hanoi is an industrial and agricultural center as well as a communications center. Because small ocean-going vessels can sail to Hanoi on the Red River, this benefits the commerce.
We will tour the city in cyclos, an experience you will not forget. We will also see a Water Puppet Show in the evening after our dinner.
On 3 November, we travel northwest for 55 kilometers to Ky Son, home of Moon Garden Homestay, an attempt to preserve the architecture and culture of Vietnamese villages. Prepare for a culinary demonstration before we go to Mia Pagoda. We will also see two locally-built temples before we return to Hanoi.
4 November is a trip to Haiphong Harbor area where we will board a luxury junk for an overnight cruise.
Our deluxe cabins will be 134.5 square feet and we will have four meals aboard as we marvel at the limestone islands that are in Ha Long Bay.
We disembark the next morning, go to Hanoi airport. From there, we fly to Hue where we check in to Pilgrimage Village Hue for one night. [http://www.pilgrimagevillage.com] Live out of your suitcase for one night.
Hue is the cultural, religious and historical heart of Vietnam and was the imperial capital from 1802 until 1945 when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated. The city suffered greatly during the TET offensive in 1968 and much has been done to restore the historical landmarks. As our hotel/spa is on the outskirts of the city, there is a complementary shuttle bus to take you to and from the city center. On 6 November, we will board a boat on the Perfume River on 6 November to visit Thien Mu Pagoda. Then we on continue on the river to the Imperial Citadel.
Hopefully, we can see the Hue Chapel that was so damaged in the TET offensive.
We disembark from the river boat and ride to the 21-kilometer long Hai Van Pass. Make sure you check out the 9-minute video contained in this URL. We will stop in Lang Co, a fishing village, after about 1 ½ hours drive from Hue. We continue to Hoi An for another 1 ½ hours and check in to Almanity Hoi An Resort and Spa for three nights.
We wake on 7 November to experience what one reviewer said: “Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.” [This was taken from Lonely Planet website.] Because our hotel is 700 meters from Hoi An Historical Museum and one kilometer from the Ancient Town and the Central Market, we will be in the “thick of things.”
Our stop at Central Market, one of Vietnam’s best, will tickle all of your senses. Take a look at the series of photos here. Because you are reading this before we even begin our journey in October (I hope!), I want you to compare the markets we visit: look at the way the goods are displayed, how the vendors approach you the potential buyer, what kinds of goods are presented, the cleanliness, chaos, location in the town, and compare prices if there are similar items. This market is known for its tailors, particularly of the vibrant colors of Vietnamese silk products. They are located on the east side in the large shed-type buildings.
Here is the place to buy saffron and cinnamon (and if you are health-conscious, you know the value of these spices). Remember that the most expensive items are near the entrance, so seek out the best buys. Here is where our guide can be a God-send.
This market is located on the banks of the Thu Bon River and begins operations around 7AM with the fishermen dropping off their nightly catch. Those of you with me in Sicily will remember the fish market we visited. As the day progresses, the smells increase (which is probably why we are going there right after breakfast). Our guide will be pointing out relevant items and we will see them again at our lunch.
When I was looking at a detailed map of Hoi An, I took note of the colorful names of the hotels: Vinh Hung Emerald Resort, Green Heaven Hoi An Resort & Spa, Long Life Riverfront Hotel, Bonsai Hotel, Villa Orchid Garden Riverside, Frangipani Village Resort, Flower Garden Homestay, Tea Garden Homestay, Serene Hotel, Vinh Hung Library Hotel, Long Life Hotel, Lucky House Hotel, and the list goes on.
Hands On! When was the last time you made a lantern? Those of you who were with me in Thailand will remember launching the night lanterns in Chiang Rai with Jenny. The Hoi An variety appear to be hanging ones or possibly the ones that are floated on the river after lighting them afire. We might want to bring some home as treasures and memory aids.
The three Southeast Asia countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have varying climates. The predominant weather in the fall is the Southwest Monsoon. I selected our travel time of 22 October to 10 November because the temperature begins to moderate downward and the rainfall decreases. However, November is a very wet month for Hoi An, so be prepared for some wetness while we are here.
On our walking tour of the Old Town (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we will see the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall. This is one of several halls here and here is a URL describing the various halls. [http://hoian-tourism.com/what-to-see/assembly-halls/phuc-kien-assembly-hall] We will also see a famous Japanese covered bridge, which is the symbol of Hoi An. In Vietnamese, it is called “Cau Nhat Ban” and is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Hoi An.
First constructed in the 1590s by the resident Japanese community to connect them with the Chinese quarters, it has been rebuilt several times and because it is in an earthquake zone, it is solidly built. Look for the pair of monkeys on one side and the pair of dogs on the other.
We complete our busy day with a boat trip on the Thu Bon River. Then you are on your own to explore this fascinating town at your leisure.
After breakfast on 8 November, we head 39 kilometers west to the UNESCO World Heritage Center of My Son. Rather than give you a synopsis, I am attaching an interesting website [https://www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com/my-son-vietnam-day-trip-hoi-an-unesco/]. As this site is mostly ruins, remember that the Champa-controlled area was along the Vietnamese coast. It existed from about the second century AD until it was absorbed by the Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang in 1832. The architecture is reminiscent of some of the Cambodian structures we will have already seen. My Son has a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist influence. Here is a map of the various world cultures around 800AD.
There are 40 Japanese tombs in Hoi An. These are of traders who died there in the 17th century. They are preserved by local people in Cam Chau Commune. Attempts to find living Japanese relatives have not been successful. One tomb is for Tani Yajirobei, who died in 1647, and his records include the oldest and clearest information relating to his life, including a love affair with a local woman. The Japanese had maintained a business community in Hoi An to promote regional trade in the central and southern parts of Viet Nam in the 17th century, primarily for silk and ceramics. Tani’s stele is being maintained by a farmer in the middle of his rice field.
I know that you have not had enough to eat in our Southeast Asian journey. Our next stop is at Tra Que Herb Village. It is from here that the people of Hoi An find the unique spices for their cuisine. The farmers fertilize their crops with an algae found only in a lagoon nearby, making the herbs and vegetables safer to eat. And you will get the chance to sample as well. You might be tempted to luxuriate with a foot bath/massage. This is before a dinner in Hoi An.
After breakfast on 9 November, we will have some time to further explore Hoi An on our own, but have your bags packed because we will fly to Ho Chi Minh City in the afternoon, checking back into the New World Saigon Hotel for a single night, in preparation for our trans-Pacific flight on 10 November.