Here's a run down of my itinerary from my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.
Day One: Hanoi, Vietnam
A big city with little people. In Vietnam small is considered good.
Ho Chi Minh is also revered. His Mausoleum Square was the only place on the trip that didn't have mopeds zipping through it.
While in Vietnam I tried my hand at making incense.
Day Two: Halong Bay
First we stopped at the Phu Dong village. On the way we saw a family preparing a rice nursery field, and then we boarded a tender which took us to our boat and accommodations for the night, The Ginger, on Halong Bay.
Day Three: More Halong Bay
I started the morning with some Tai Chi on the boat and then did a hike on Cat Ba Island. On the way back I caught some men at work.
Next, I had a fabulous lunch back on the boat and ended the day with a kayak around the bay. The sky was pretty overcast when I was there and unfortunately, the water wasn't very clean.
What you're looking at above is a dead fish and a teddy bear.
(Photo credit for the two photos above: Henrike Quarch)
Day Four: Back to Hanoi
The next day we took the tender to shore, rode a bus back to Hanoi and then after lunch took a cyclo ride through the Old Quarter to the "Hanoi Hilton" - where Senator John McCain was imprisoned.
The "Hanoi Hilton" aside, the cyclo ride was by far the craziest part of the day's travels. It was poetry in motion how the cyclo driver was able to navigate the traffic - which never seems to stop.
Day Five: Historic Hue
On day five we flew to Hue and visited The Hue Citadel. Later that night we visited the traditional Mandarin home of Vinh Tu and readied for another day of travel.
Day 6: Royal Tombs and the Perfume River
On day six we walked through the Valley of the Kings, took a Dragon Boat up the Perfume River and visited royal tombs.
Then we took a long bus ride along the coast of Hoi An and ended up at the Nam Hai Resort - heaven on earth. In the evening, we dined in town and visited a tailor known for its ability to knock out any outfit in 24 hours. I had a few favorite clothing items replicated and was astonished with the results.
Day 7: Ancient Hoi An
On day 7 we walked through Old Town and then took a local ferry to Cam Kim Island where we hiked among many tombs.
The Vietnamese live with death. It's very much a part of life for the people there. There are so many elaborate tombs in the countryside that it's affecting property development.
There is also a custom where people are buried for three years and then after three years the body is dug up, the bones cleaned, and put in a box. That box is then buried. The whole process is done in the early morning before the sun comes out and now families can pay a person to perform this ritual.
In fact, one of the local guides in my trip had to excuse himself, as he said, "To go dig up his aunt."
At the end of our hike we arrived at the beach.
In the evening, I took a cooking class at the Morning Glory Restaurant in Hoi An where I learned to cook among other dishes, banh xeo, a crepe-like pancake stuffed with shrimp and veggies. After, I headed to bed because the next morning we left early for Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Day 8: Travel to Siem Reap
On day 8, we took a plane out of Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City and then another flight from there to Siem Reap. We started around 5am and finally arrived in Cambodia around noon. In the afternoon we began our tours of temples with a blessing by a Buddhist monk.
Day 9: the Countryside and Ta Prohm
On Day 9, we took a shuttle to a village built on stilts about an hour outside Siem Reap. The stilts protect the houses from seasonal flooding. The poverty here was great and the very young population special to meet.
After lunch in a local house we went back to Siem Reap and took a shuttle to Ta Prohm, a temple.
Oh the food! Not very spicy but full of greens and spices. Cambodian food has more Indian influence and can be a bit spicier than Vietnamese food, but you don't encounter too much heat in either cuisine.
There were, of course, spring rolls, and pho (pronounced "fuh") and all sorts of fish. In both Vietnam and Cambodia, dairy is rare. The people get most of their calcium from fish and what they call morning glory (aka spinach). Here's a pic of how they transport white fish in Cambodia.
The real revelation for me, though, was the fruit. What glorious fruit! From the Queen of Fruits, the Mangosteen to the Star Fruit (Cambola) to the Durian
Durian is the fruit famous for it's bad smell. The brown piece you see in it is the seed. Against my olfactory judgment I took a bite of it. It actually tasted pretty good. I'd describe the taste as close to an onion cheese. I know that's not what you expect out of your fruit, but I was surprised how creamy and digestible it was. My Cambodian guide declared it his favorite thing to eat.
Day 10: Sunrise at Angkor Watt
On my final day, I woke early and took in the sunrise at Angkor Watt. Angkor means Cambodian and Watt refers to a Buddhist temple. Then I headed home to San Francisco. Overall, I found Vietnam to be be changing rapidly and Cambodia, in particular, a very moving place.