For this post, the pictures will (mainly) speak for themselves.
HaLong Bay is about 4 hours by bus north of Hanoi.
We climbed over 100 steps (I lost count) to an opening that gave us this wonderful vantage point.
The elephant ride in Thailand was tame, compared to our cyclo excursion through Hanoi’s old quarter. Imagine 22 of us oldies but goodies being pedaled through narrow crowded, crooked streets. Actually, you don’t have to imagine, because through the magic of digital photography, we captured this thrilling adventure for you.
One of my Pennsylvania buddies was right in front of me, so I was able to get a couple of shots of her, and she returned the favor.
I wasn’t looking behind me, so didn’t see how close the car and motorbike were to my fearless driver.
Mike was following close behind.
It actually was a great way to see the city. I could check out the shops for later purchases. Hmmm, which sister or cousin will be getting something from the “Toxic Shop”? Or would a propaganda poster make a better “prize”?
One more shot to make sure you got the full effect of Hanoi streets, then we will move on to other highlights.
You can’t visit Hanoi without paying your respects to Ho Chi Minh.
This French colonial governor’s mansion was very briefly Ho Chi Minh’s home until he was able to settle into something more to his taste.
This house on stilts was where Ho Chi Minh preferred to live.
On to the Temple of Literature, which was beautifully decorated for New Year. Like many Americans, they are not in a big rush to take down their decorations, giving the Temple an even more festive look.
Turtles are VERY important to the Vietnamese. Unfortunately, I was in the “happy” room when our guide was explaining the significance of these turtle sculptures, so I missed that part, but I know it had to do with education. Google it, if you want specifics–or you can just enjoy the photos.
We have an early morning tomorrow, so that’s all for today. Hugs to all and a big hello to all Sue’s co-workers. Glad you are following along!
We spent our last morning in Cambodia cruising to the Tonle Sap Lake. During the dry season, the tributaries leading to the lake drop to a depth between 3 and 5 feet, but during the rainy season, the area floods, with the water level rising to between 24 and 30 feet, which explains why the houses are on stilts.
The children were all very cute and friendly, waving from the banks.
These tykes were too close to the river for MY comfort level.
It was slow going, getting to the lake, because we were quite a bit larger than the average Cambodian (an understatement), weighing the boat down in the already shallow passageway. That gave us plenty of time to take in the sights.
As usual, our excellent guide took good care of us, bringing along more snacks than we could eat. I’ve developed a very strong attachment to mangosteens, which are rightfully known as “the queen of fruits”.
Tonle Sap Lake was quite beautiful. I particularly liked the floating restaurants.
On the way back, Man tossed fruit and snacks to the kids. This little boy was delighted with his catch.
Time to move — to another country and another climate. North Vietnam is quite a bit cooler than the other three countries we visited, as you might guess from our wardrobe.
And now a preview of coming attractions…tune in again for the Hanoi version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”.
I’m so glad we arrived in Bangkok a few days before the Road Scholar tour started. Doing so gave us an opportunity to adjust to the time difference (although if truth be told, I STILL haven’t completely switched over to Asia time) and to slowly savor this magnificent city. Bangkok is amazingly affordable, so the extra days didn’t increase the cost of the trip by much. Four nights at the Bangkok Loft Hotel, for example, cost $175 TOTAL, and that included airport pick up, plus great breakfasts. The Loft was an excellent choice–within walking distance of the SkyTrain, just two stops from the river. It was quiet, clean, very comfortable, with all the amenities that are important to us: firm mattress, good water pressure, plenty of hot water, free wi-fi, perfect temperature control, excellent free breakfast, and helpful, friendly English speaking staff. Thank you, Trip Advisor!
Before leaving home, I had gotten $250 worth of Bhat from our bank. Had we steered clear of the resort hotels (lunch at the Mandarin Oriental, drinks at the SkyBar, dinner at the Shangra-La), that amount would have been more than enough for our transportation, entrance fees to attractions and food during our stay.
The hotel chosen by Road Scholar, the Majestic Grande was also quite lovely, in the business section of town.
Thursday night, we met our fellow travelers. The group is composed of 5 Canadians, 8 from Washington state, 2 from California, 2 from NY, 3 from PA, and the two of us from NJ. As with other Road Scholar Trips we’ve taken, the women outnumber the men, 14 to 8. I love making new female friends! In fact, one of the reasons we keep choosing Road Scholar is it seems to attract interesting, friendly, curious travelers who are fun to be with. Mike and I are looking forward to getting to know everyone better over the next few days.
Friday was an action packed day, with visits to Wat Po and the Grand Palace, followed by lunch at the Supatra River House. After a lecture on Buddhism by Jim Lehman, we returned to the hotel. By then, all we wanted was some cold water and some cold air on our sweaty bodies!
Here are some visual highlights from Wat Po.
The Reclining Buddha is enormous–150 feet long by 50 feet high.
Do you think these qualify as “Happy Feet”?
The Wat Po grounds are filled with gold Buddhas, temple guards, and interesting statues. This temple guard is clearly Chinese.
But what about him? To me, he looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne.
Our return to the Grand Palace was a different experience. We traveled by bus, which gave us a chance to get a different glimpse of the city. Road Scholar provides ear pieces, so that we can easily hear the guide. What a godsend in these crowded sites! Mike and I were glad that we had been able to spend time on our own, and leisurely wander the grounds; having a second go-round with a guide allowed us to see things a little more deeply, and catch some of what was missed the first time. For example, the gallery surrounding the religious section of the Grand Palace is painted with scenes from the Ramayama, and the yellow “paint” in the scenes is liquid gold.
My blog is lagging behind our activities, but I need to end this so I can get myself together for the start of our day. More to come!
Question: What do you do with your defective porcelain?
Answer: If you are Chinese, and it is the 1800’s, you use it as ballast in your cargo ships; however if you are Siamese, you realize it makes ideal building materials for your next temple.
Although Wat Arun is called the Temple of the Dawn, supposedly it is best viewed at sunset, when the light makes all of the porcelain glow, and the temple slowly turns into a silhouette against the crimson sky. Mike and I had another location in mind for our sunset hours, so we visited in the morning. The view from across the river was spectacular enough for us, even without a dramatic sky.
If you are game enough to climb the steep steps (check out the relationship between that guy’s leg and the step behind him to get a feel for it), you are rewarded with a spectacular view.
Oh wait–those weren’t the steep steps, these are the steep steps, and someone thoughtfully left a bottle on one of them to provide scale. They are SHALLOW, steep steps, not designed for big western feet!
Going up was like climbing a ladder; coming down was a bit harder, but the view was so worth it.
On the top left, you can see the rooftops of the Grand Palace.
The view looking up was pretty great too. Erawan, the elephant that the Hindu god Indra rides, is standing on the ledge above us. (Don’t see Indra, though).
The grounds surrounding the temple, normally lovely, are even more so, because they are being decorated for Chinese New Year with red lanterns everywhere. Can you see the two Yakshas guarding the entrance? These spirit “monsters” were at the grand palace and also had green and white faces.
I’ll end this post with a question:
What do Thais have in common with the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis (New Zealanders), Indians, Japanese and South Africans? This is a hard one. The answer will be in the next post.