Vietnam & Cambodia travel blog

The word for today is exuberant! We got to experience true Vietnamese life by traveling on the back of a motor scooter. I sat behind our guide Khanh and Steven sat behind the other driver who's command of English was “ you ok?” and thumbs up. Getting out of the city was a bit nerve wracking with car and scooter traffic coming at us from all directions. The goal seems to be to find a route between moving obstacles, no matter how narrow, and don't stop no matter what. I got comfortable relatively quickly and riding through the countryside was fabulous. I could not quite relax on the highways and would jump every time a large truck would honk and drive past us so close that I could reach out and touch it. I also understand why most people wear a mask, the car fumes are powerful and noxious. It is hard to imagine that they actually offer any real protection. Fortunately, we traveled on side roads as much as possible.

The ride gave me a lot of time to think. What is it about visiting third world countries that I like so much? Maybe the jungle, the living much of your life outside and part of a community, the creative ways people live and find joy, the slow pace, the paring down of what is important the living in nature. I have been thinking about the saying " airing your dirty laundry in public". Almost every home has their clean laundry handing in their front yard, on clothes lines, over fences, or, if they have more clothes, on hangers on clothes racks. All their meager belongings, including underware are displayed humblely for all to see. So unlike our culture with a focus on what we have and what others have, what we want our neighbors to know about us and what we don't.

Our first stop was at a fishing village on a huge lagoon. Solo fisherman in wooden boats casting and dredging their nets have been fishing the same way for hundreds of years. The only two improvements are the addition of metal arches over part of the boat to protect the fisherman from the sun , and that they no longer live on their boats. The weather was brutally hot and humid and it is easy to imagine how grueling this job is. The lagoon and fishing boats were picturesque but the narrow muddy shore was strewn with plastic and paper garbage as is much of the country.

We zipped through mountains roads and every so often my driver would raise his fist and let out a “whoop”. Lots of fun! Winding dirt roads took us to our lunch spot, another uniquely Vietnamese experience. A rocky, shallow waterfall with a series of rough plank structures for groups to sit on surrounding a pool of clear,crisp water to swim in. Food, beer and karaoke are offered. This is where local group of families and friends come to chill on the weekend. The sky was blue, the breeze and the wood awnings made the temperature perfect. The spot was so peaceful ( once I was able to tune out the loud Asian pop music) . I loved being the only tourists. A group of questionable drunk young men invited me to join them for a beer, which I accepted, and food ( which I could not recognize and later learned was frog), which I declined. Our enthusiastic conversation consisted of clinking beer cans, cheering, and “okay”,”okay”.

I had asked for shrimp, which turned out to be a plate of little shrimp, half the width of my pinky. They had clearly been caught by the shrimping fishermen we had passed down the road. They were tasty, but after I took off the head and attempted to take off the shell there wasn't anything left. I think locals just eat the whole thing. Our guide decided that Steven should sing Karaoke. Before Steven had realized what was going to happen he told Khanh that his favorite song was Higher Love by Steve Winwood. Without warning the music istarted playing and our guide is sitting next to Steven holding a microphone in front of him encouraging him to sing. Those of you who know how Steven feels about singing, can imagine the scene. Please check out the picture included. As you look at it imagine me cracking up uncontrollably in the background! After more time to relax and a few beers, we were off again.

In 20 minutes we reached Hai Van Pass, a winding, hair pin turn pass with beautiful views of the coast. The top of the pass was about 20 degrees colder and covered in white fog so thick we could barely see the road or the large trucks coming up from behind, or coming around the curve in the opposite direction. Exhilarating!?!

The last 1 1/2 hours of the trip was not particularly interesting or exciting. We rode through Da Nang, a not particularly attractive port city trying to be a beachfront city. Finally, hot and tired, we arrived at Hoi An. Our guide told us to wait 5 minutes, he would be right back. We checked in. Our luggage which was sent by van was not there. Our guide seemed to have disappeared. Our contact information was in our luggage. Getting a little concerned and trying to figure out our options, we decided to wait a bit longer before panicking. Then we see our two motorcycle drivers pull up with out luggage strapped to their bikes.

I had been looking forward to Hoi An with its old city that is declared a Unesco World Heritage Site featuring a confluence of different architectures in well preserved buildings lining winding cobblestone streets. Disappointingly, it is over run with tourists and every building is either a restaurant, or tourist shop. It is quite beautiful and festive at night with the town lit by strings of colorful lanterns,

The next day we walked around the town a bit. But within a few hours had enough of the crowds, shops and heat an humidity. We hung out at the hotel and waited for our flight in the afternoon to Siem Reap.

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