Excerpt for Keeping On Keeping On---30---Hue, Danang, Vietnam; Pandaw River Cruise---Halong Bay; Red Song and Black Rivers, North Vietnam by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Keeping On Keeping On---30-Hue. Danang, Vietnam; Pandaw River Cruise---Halong Bay; Red, Song and Black Rivers, North Vietnam

By Michael E. Farquhar

Published by Michael E. Farquhar at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 Michael E. Farquhar










In 2004 I compiled a book entitled “I Remember It Well”, comprised of letters home, travel essays and extracts from my diaries covering a twenty month period, following the completion of my university studies, from 1965-1967, during which time I hitchhiked, youth-hosteled and worked my way throughout most of Western Europe. I concluded that document by noting that over the intervening years I continued to travel abroad and indicated that I was planning a five week trip to Australia in November 2004. I did take that trip, preceded the year before by a trip to Morocco and Egypt.

During these trips I began to write periodic travelogues which I e-mailed home to members of my family and a few friends, reflecting my impressions of the people and the sites that I experienced in the various places that I visited. By 2006 I had fallen into the pleasant practise of usually taking one major trip abroad every year and I began seriously and regularly to write travelogues of my day-to-day activities and impressions of the diverse locales that I had visited. In addition, during the past decade, I also traveled extensively in the United States of America taking shorter mini trips.

I have retained copies of those travelogues, covering my travels abroad during the period 2006-2018, and have incorporated into them numerous photographs which I took with my point and shoot camera during those trips. This series of books, “Keeping On Keeping On”, demonstrates that, if you are comfortably retired and in good health, there is nothing to stop you from keeping on keeping on traveling until you can no longer keep on. traveling, which is something I hope to continue to do for quite some time.

I have often been asked what stands out in terms of the most memorable places I have visited. Over the years it has become increasingly clear to me that what scenes are most etched in my travel memories are the natural beauty and unspoilt wildlife in so many parts of the world. Amongst my favourites are Antarctica, Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the Iguassu Falls in Argentina and Brazil, the desert near Wadi Rhum in Jordan, the Ngorongoro and the Serengeti National Parks in Tanzania, the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, the Joshua Tree National Park in California and the Acadia National Park in Maine, U.S.A..

I would like to extend a particular note of thanks to my many travel companions over the past many years, most particularly brother Robin and sister-in-law Fran and friends Bert, Doug, David, Scott and Hoan. Their companionship on these many exciting adventures has only served to make my travels that much more enjoyable

Michael (Mike) E. Farquhar

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

August, 2018



This mini book is one in a series of thirty mini books recounting my travel adventures over the period 2006-2018. They describe, with photographs, my personal travels, to such diverse places as Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, China, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, European River Cruises, an African Safari in Kenya and Tanzania and mini trips in various parts of the United States. The series covers the following individual trips.
































Hue Vietnam, June 2, 2018

Here I am back in Vietnam for the third time.  I flew from Ottawa to Toronto and then to Seoul, South Korea with Air Canada and then a further four hour flight with Asiana Airlines to Hanoi, Vietnam (love those south-east Asian airplanes, excellent service, bright spotless interiors).  All the airports in this part of the world seem to be nearly new, massive and offering outstanding and readily available customer service.   

I stayed overnight in Hanoi at a small airport hotel, Haap Transit Hotel, that I discovered online and only a five minute drive from the airport.  It was off the main road, along a narrow windy road, hidden behind ramshackle old buildings for the most part.  It turned out to be a gem, especially at $35 U.S./night

I had a huge very quiet room with brand new ac, shower, bathroom, tv, etc.  The price included internet, hot breakfast and transfers to and from the airport.  The young people managing it were very nice although they spoke little English.  This was one of my best travel discoveries yet.

This morning, after an hour delay owing to a torrential rain storm, I took the short flight down the coast from Hanoi to Hue where I was met by my Vietnamese friend Hoan and his now nine year old son Hai in a small car he had rented for the duration of my stay.  When I first met Hoan, Hai was just one year old.  It was wonderful to see them and exchange big warm hugs.  It's over 95 degrees (35 C) here so the afternoon was best spent relaxing in my air-conditioned hotel room after all the travel.

About 7:30 p.m. Hoan picked me up at my hotel, a wonderful renovated hotel by the river celebrating its 117th anniversary.  Hoan had just finished playing in a soccer game (unbelievable in this heat) and arrived on his scooter.  Much to my delight I was going to get my exhilarating scooter ride after all through the chaotic Hue rush hour traffic.   I have no idea how they manage to wend their way through the cacophony (not exactly a symphony) of moving pieces coming at you from every direction but I love it as long as I'm not driving.

We arrived at Hoan's in laws' home (they were out of town) and I renewed acquaintances with Hoan's wife and now five year old daughter Ngoc.  I gave the children the gifts that I had brought with me and they seemed to be a hit.

Hoan's wife and Daughter Ngoc, Hue, Vietnam Hoan’s Son Hai, Hue, Vietnam

About 15 minutes later Hoan and I went across the small residential street (where there was a home adjoining a small convenience store) to join about ten young guys, early 20s to 30s, who were sitting on the side of the road on tiny chairs at a table with a cooler filled with beer on ice and cooked pieces of duck, bread and a spicy beef mixture.   The boys are from the neighbourhood and get together every week or two.  They delayed the gathering until we arrived.  Clearly, they all knew I was coming to the neighbourhood and that was a unique and novel experience for them to meet a foreigner socially.

Mike, Hoan and Neighbours, Hue, Vietnam Hoan's Neighbours, Hue, Vietnam

At around 10:00 p.m. Hoan drove me back to the hotel marking the end of my first day back in Vietnam.   All the travel will probably catch up with me tomorrow but it's worth it to renew an eight year friendship and meet other locals in their own daily environment.

Danang, Vietnam, June 5, 2018

The next day I met up mid-morning with Hoan and his family for a cold drink and then spent the rest of the day quietly nursing the effects of long travel, strange food, maybe questionable ice, bad sleep and the heat.  Someone forgot to tell me I'm not 26 anymore.  The following day, after gingerly eating toast, yoghurt and a banana, I had morning tea with Hoan and his two kids.

I then walked across the historic 117 year old Truong Tien Bridge (designed by Eiffel) which spans the Perfume River just in front of my hotel.  The bridge then leads you to a large very chaotic market where a foreigner like me is an easy prey, especially as this is the low season and tourists are not in abundance.  Fortunately, I'm not much of a shopper so I wandered around a bit and then exited unscathed.  The more challenging task, however, was simply to get across the street without being splattered by the scooters and the occasional cars coming at you from every direction.  (Since arriving in Danang Hoan decided to take my hand to make sure I made it across the street safely...much appreciated.)

Hue, Vietnam

I've toured Hue before as it has great historical significance being the capital from 1802 to 1945 with a grand and impressive Citadel as the ancient centre of the Nguyen Dynasty.  It's the most Royalist of Vietnam's cities and one of many World Heritage Sites in Vietnam..

Midday on Monday Hoan picked me up for the less than two hour drive to Danang, a booming beach front city that is both modern and traditional and apparently Vietnam's most livable city.  To get there you pass through the 6.28 km Hai Van tunnel which is very impressive but also claustrophobic.  En route we saw many oyster farms, rice paddies and water buffalo before reaching the tunnel through the mountains.

Exiting the tunnel, one gets a great view of the huge sweep of the bay that embraces Danang.   Luxury hotels, condos and office towers are sprouting up everywhere as the city is fast becoming one of Vietnam's major beach holiday destinations for both foreign tourists and Vietnamese alike, but primarily the latter during the summer months    Our hotel room overlooks the entire bay with its lovely sandy beaches.

Hoan on the Beach---Danang, Vietnam Dried Squid and a Beer---Danang, Vietnam

There are lots of people on the beach late afternoon and early morning.  We took a stroll along the beach and then just sat enjoying a cold beer and watching the rainy storm clouds move in.  We just made it to a restaurant across from the beach and beside our hotel before the rains came.  There are dozens of open air fresh seafood restaurants all along the bay displaying all variety of live seafood in salt water containers.  You just pick out what you want and what amount and they cook it immediately.  Hoan loves these places and ordered a large serving dish of sweet button clams and a dish of large barbecued shrimp along with huge bowls of delicious seafood broth and rice soup.

Served at no charge was a small dish of about twenty warm hard boiled quail eggs which were really good and had a slightly more delicate taste than chicken eggs.  We had beer with dinner and I learned so much about the Vietnamese and how they remain incredibly steeped in their centuries' old family culture.  The mother of the eldest son has the most influence and then the eldest son followed by his eldest son.  Hoan's mother named his eldest son without consultation with either Hoan or his wife and such traditions show few signs of changing anytime soon.

After dinner we settled into our room, watched Britain's Got Talent (two Vietnamese acrobats were in the finals) and then we called it a day.

Hoan at Seafood Restaurant---Danang, Vietnam Fresh Crab---Danang, Vietnam

Danang, Vietnam, June 8, 2018

The weather so far has been quite comfortable as there has been mostly cloud cover but no rain, keeping the heat down.  We tried out the very large pool, which was filled with little Vietnamese children laughing and giggling like kids the world over.  At noon we visited a hole in the wall tiny family "restaurant" (using the word advisedly), next door to our luxury hotel tower.  We had rice, a soup broth to wash it down and I had barbecued bits of pork and Hoan had a huge dish of squid and who knows what else.  He suffered worse post meal consequences than I did but was able to polish off a big dinner later!

Over lunch we chatted some more about Vietnamese family traditions and historic cultural spiritual practises that appear to be as strong and dominant today as they were centuries ago and such deep held beliefs may never can only respect such deeply held family and cultural traditions.

All along the beach there are dozens and dozens of huge seafood restaurants serving all types of very fresh seafood.  Prices can get quite high if one is not careful to keep track of the quantities ordered.  The restaurants not on the beach side of the road are far more modest, cheaper and every bit as good.

There are lots of people on the beach late afternoon and early morning.  We took a stroll along the beach and then just sat enjoying a cold beer and watching the rainy storms clouds move in.  We just made it to a restaurant across from the beach and beside our hotel before the rains came.  There are dozens of open air fresh seafood restaurants all along the bay displaying all variety of live seafood in salt water containers.  You just pick out what you want and what amount and they cook it immediately.  Hoan loves these places and ordered a large serving dish of sweet button clams and a dish of large barbecued shrimp along with huge bowls of delicious seafood broth and rice soup.

Served at no charge was a small dish of about twenty warm hard boiled quail eggs which were really good and had a slightly more delicate taste than chicken eggs.  We had beer with dinner and I learned so much about the Vietnamese and how incredibly they remain steeped in their centuries' old family culture.  The mother of the eldest son has the most influence and then the eldest son followed by his eldest son.  Hoan's mother named his eldest son without consultation with either Hoan or his wife and such traditions show few signs of ever changing anytime soon.

Lunch at Local Eatery---Danang, Vietnam Hoan at Local Eatery---Danang,Vietnam

After dinner we settled into our room, watched Britain's Got Talent (two Vietnamese acrobats were in the finals) and then we called it a day.

The next morning was sunny, so early in the morning we went across the street to the long beautiful beach bordering the East Sea and had a wonderful swim in the warm calm waters which get choppier in the afternoon when the wind comes up.  I treated Hoan to a parasail ride (something I had done myself in Malaysia decades ago) and he really enjoyed it and immediately sent back pictures I had taken with his phone camera to several members of his family.

At the moment there are noisy protests in Hanoi concerning land that some official leased to China for 100 years.  It will be interesting to see if the government overturns the deal given the vociferous protests. Currently Vietnam has considerable animosity towards China, including over disputed islands in the South China Sea (Vietnam is adamant about calling it the East Sea).

Hoan Parasailing---Danang, Vietnams)

In the afternoon we drove down the coast for about half an hour to Hoi An, a world Heritage Site and the most visited Vietnamese tourist site.  The drive down was astonishing because on both the beach side and the business side of the road we passed the most extraordinary number of international luxury resorts I had ever seen.  Not only that but the number of new hotel, condominium and villa developments under construction or in the planning stage was absolutely staggering.  

On the roadside opposite the beach side, a former massive U. S. military base, that seemed to stretch for well over 2 km. (1.2 miles), was in the early stages of a massive redevelopment.  There probably are at least $50 billion of projects under way or close to it between Danang and Hoi An... about a 30 minute drive in good traffic.  Where the masses of well to do people will come from is anyone's guess.  Currently, the principal visitors, especially at this time of year, are Vietnamese and other South-East Asians.  To me it is absolutely mind boggling the pace at which the country is changing.  I'm glad I first visited it eight years ago before this extraordinary wave of economic development started.

Hoi An is a World Heritage Site with an extraordinarily well preserved historic district of multi shaped mustard coloured buildings which today are restaurants, leather shops, souvenir shops and smaller accommodations.  It was a major trading centre in its earlier heyday in the 16th and 17th century.  It's principal landmark is the Japanese Covered Bridge, an 18th century wooden bridge with intricate carvings and everyone's favourite photo opportunity.

When I was here eight years ago it was the late fall when there were mostly western visitors.  At the time it was very peaceful with a colourful riverside market and not too many tourists.  Today in June it is the south-east Asian holiday season and I was amongst only a handful of Westerners as the historic district was absolutely packed with Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese tourists on summer family vacation.  It was hot and muggy and one could scarcely walk along the charming streets because of the swarm of humanity.  I can only wonder what will happen to this iconic Vietnamese historic district when the thousands of hotel rooms under construction or development are occupied in the next five years!

The pace of economic development in Vietnam over the past eight years continues to astound me.

Hoan---Hoi An, Vietnam Mike at Japanese Covered Bridge---Hoi An, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, June 10, 2018

Early Thursday morning I said goodbye to Hoan as he drove back to Hue for his son’s ninth birthday. Now on my own I had to get a grip and cross the busy street alone to get to the beach…walk slowly but never stop and the scooters and cars will somehow avoid hitting you…and it worked and I had a wonderful swim in the warm water.  I then crossed back across the street to enjoy the swimming pool for many young Vietnamese families on holidays with the fathers doing all the care taking of the children...a really nice scene.

Friday morning I had an early flight to Hanoi where I was met by the Pandaw cruise representative and we were joined eventually by two Australian couples, a few years younger than me.  We then started out on the four hour bus trip to Halong Bay where we would board our boat.  We had a pit stop half way there in a super deluxe rest stop where we left our minivan, joined the rest of the group, had lunch, checked out beautiful hand made crafts of every description and drove the rest of the way in a large bus.

Our Route---North Vietnam Our Ship, RV Angkor Pandaw My Stateroom, RV Angkor Pandaw

We are sixteen people of whom all but me, a Canadian lady living in England and four Swiss are Australians.  As to be expected the Aussies are very warm, friendly and exceedingly well travelled.  On arrival I couldn't believe Halong Bay.  In just eight years it had become a burgeoning mega tourist mecca...over ten million domestic and foreign visitors annually with modern infrastructure to go with highways, hotels, casinos, etc.  Fortunately, we are not just doing the day boat trip of the inner part of the Bay, which gives you no real sense of the beauty of this area.  To appreciate the natural magnificence of this place you have to sail much further away from the big city and stay on board ship overnight.

After a vicious thunder, lightening and rain storm shortly after setting sail in the late afternoon we anchored in calm waters for the night surrounded by the unique limestone monolith rock formations sprouting up all around us.  

Two surprising facts I learned about Vietnam are that after Brazil it is the world's second largest exporter of coffee and, after being an importer of rice barely twenty-five years ago, after Thailand and India it is the world's third largest exporter of rice.  Physically only about 1600 km. (1000 miles) in length it is home to a population of over ninety million people.  Almost the entire country is blessed with extremely productive lands for a large variety of fruit and vegetable crops and, of course, rice with two and even three crops a year.

After the usual welcome aboard cocktail, crew introductions and life jacket drills, we sat down for a pleasant dinner and then early to bed.  Sunday morning I got up about 6:45 a.m. in beautiful calm sheltered waters with a pleasant breeze and for the moment lovely temperatures.  After a nice breakfast the boat headed out further into Halong Bay amongst the hundreds of pointy rock formations or small islands.

Along the way we passed many tiny floating fishing villages, individual small fishing boats and the occasional tourist boat.  The scene is wonderfully tranquil, unspoilt and beautiful and continues to be amongst my top four or five most favourite natural beauty spots in the world.

Mid-morning we took the boat's small tender and went ashore where we then took electric golf-type vehicles along a narrow road (only scooters and electric carts on this part of Cat Ba Island for about ten minutes to Viet Hai Village with its 300 people, modern school, clean basic medical facility and new accommodations for overnighters.  By this time it had become hot and very humid and I was leaking like a sieve.  

The village has been through difficult times, including a major flood, and is dependent on agriculture, fishing and, increasingly in the future, tourism.  The people were very friendly and the children always smiling.  We enjoyed their offerings of lychee nuts which were in their peak season for just another week.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Children in Viet Hai Village, Vietnam Lychee Nut Pickers, Viet Hai Village, Vietnam

Mid-afternoon we tied up to a floating fishing house, one of perhaps hundreds scattered throughout the vastness of Halong Bay, which has been in the same family for some 300 years.  There the family has a large fish farming facility for oysters and various species of fish, most notably catfish.  The owner sells the fish to a visiting middleman as needed but he and his family rarely leave their floating house and fish hatchery. We cruised on a little further to a tiny beach where we had our cocktail hour on the beach and our bartender Dang sang a song for us.  I took the lead when it came to going in swimming and the water was beautiful...very warm and salty. We were joined by several day tour boats including a couple of very raucous party boats.  

Then the boat “Nicole” pulled up to shore loaded with several very attractive Vietnamese women of different ages.  They proceeded to do a series of quite provocative exercises and then after a wardrobe change they appeared on deck in red bikinis.  Our young crew members especially were mesmerised. 

The ladies then spent nearly an hour doing a professional photo shoot on the deck, on the gangplank and on the beach.  Even our crew director couldn't believe what good fortune we had experiencing this unplanned free entertainment.  Back on board ship it was time to shower and relax before dinner.

The Group on the Beach on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam Dang Our Bartender, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Party Boat at the Beach on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam Party Boat at the Beach on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

The Models at Cat Ba Beach, Vietnam The Models at Cat Ba Beach, Vietnam

Our Bartender Deng at Cat Ba Beach, Vietnam Our Boat Anchored at Cat Ba Beach, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam, June 14, 2018

On Sunday, after visiting a beautiful limestone rocky cave formation which was a centre for kayaking and where one Vietnamese lady rowed six of us at a time in a flat wooden boat all around the waters, we sailed to Hai Phong.  This is a very large industrial city with a huge narrow port that stretches for miles.  Hai Phong is also known for being the target of a massive American B52 bombing campaign during the Vietnam War which destroyed much of the city.  Today the port city is flourishing.

Monday night we were anchored in a narrow waterway prior to entering the river system.  Just as we were finishing dinner we were hit by a massive monsoon-like storm with thunder and lightening all around, torrential rains like I have never experienced before and constant hurricane force winds that went on for at least half an hour.  This storm was even worse than the one the night before but the ship itself was very solidly anchored and didn't move.  During the days though there is mostly sunshine and temperatures around 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) with very high humidity.

Halong Bay, Vietnam Halong Bay, Vietnam

Tuesday morning one of our tour guides gave a very good presentation on the Vietnam War and the boat people.  In the afternoon we entered the Kinh Thay River and sailed to the agricultural village of Thanh Ha.  We were probably one of the few tourist groups to visit the village of 2000 people, which happened to be the home village of one of our tour guides.  It was bereft of any thing touristy which was wonderful and the people were incredibly friendly with big warm welcoming smiles.

Fruit Carving on Boat, Vietnam Thanh Ha, Vietnam Thanh Ha, Vietnam

Lychees, Thanh Ha, Vietnam Thanh Ha, Vietnam Thanh Ha, Vietnam

Along with some local families we watched a water puppet show, a unique Vietnamese art form and one of which I had seen eight years ago. Adjacent to the little outdoor stage was a huge pond crammed with magnificent blooming lotus plants. The people in he countryside are known to be much more friendly and relaxed than those in the city and this certainly was the case in this village…the people were as warm and friendly as any I have met in my travels and they were not trying to sell us anything.

Thanh Ha, Vietnam River Crossing Ferry, Kinh Thay River, Vietnam

The tour itself moves at a very relaxed pace.  All the Aussies on the tour have taken a Pandaw river cruise before and most have taken several.  Everybody is extraordinarily well travelled.  One or two of the passengers are more than a little chatty but all very nice.  I must confess that I take periodic breaks from the ongoing chat and retreat to my air conditioned cabin for a period of time to recharge my socialising skills (I've since observed that one or two others are doing the same).  The crew is very nice and attentive but also relaxed while the meals are quite acceptable but I would not say always memorable (the twice daily soup is always good).  On the occasional evening they might show a movie but because the chairs are not very comfortable and the room is not overly cool, I don't think they get many takers.  Most of us are ready to put our feet up in bed by 8:30 p.m. or so even though we have no TV or radio.

Wednesday morning we pulled up anchor and sailed up the Lok River for four hours before merging into the Red River, the largest river in North Vietnam, which flows into China.  All morning there has been a lovely cooling breeze on deck as we pass numerous ships of every size and shape hauling sand, gravel, used steel and agricultural goods.   Most of the operators live on board ship and all extend a friendly wave as we pass by.

On either side fertile agricultural lands abound and we catch glimpses of farmers in their conical hats working their crops.   Almost every small community in the north seems to have its own catholic church, from the French colonial days here, and apparently they are well attended. 

Late afternoon dozens of new high rise apartments and condominiums appeared on the horizon as we approached the outskirts of Hanoi.  The boat pulled into a river bank and the crew quickly assembled a portable gangplank.  We climbed up the bank and then a long staircase and we were in the village of Bat Trang, population 3000, more developed and prosperous than the village we visited yesterday.  This village has a very long tradition of ceramics' production and we saw shop after shop where a myriad of ceramics was being produced...each place being its own small production facility.

Bat Trang Village, Ceramics Production, Vietnam Bat Trang Village, Ceramics Shop, Vietnam

In addition, the village boasts a very large ceramics' market which probably is kept busy with Western tourists during the winter months.  We sixteen visitors were the only ones meandering through the dozens of pottery shops at the time though and very few bought anything.  We returned to our boat but not before a group of spirited young Vietnamese boys performed an impressive drum show and lion dance on the river bank just above where our boat was tied up.  We returned to the boat, left our shoes to be dusted off, were given an ice cold face cloth, a squirt of hand sanitizer and a refreshing cold juice drink...the traditional welcome back to the boat routine.

Drummers, Bat Trang Vietnam Lion Dance, Bat Trang, Vietnam

We disembarked early Thursday morning, climbed the river bank and boarded a tour bus to visit the Confucius Temple of Literature, dating back a thousand years.  Until about 150 years ago it was the site of the north's greatest university.   Today's students who hope to graduate visit the site and get a group photo taken in their academic gowns in the hope that such a visit will result in successful grades.  When we were there many students of all ages were burning incense and praying for good marks.

Students at Confucius Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam Students at Confucius Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam

Only a couple of our group visited the revered Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, grounds and his house.  I had visited them a few years ago so several us escaped the heat and the crowds and had a cool drink in a nearby cafe.  We then visited what remains of the Hanoi Hilton, Hoa Lo Prison, infamous from the Vietnam War and prior to that the brutal French colonial period.  Fortunately, the unspeakable torture that took place in it was much more gently depicted here than I had seen previously in other Vietnamese prisons.

In the afternoon about one-half of the group went on a walking excursion in Old Hanoi.  I stayed on the boat having had my fill of heat and humidity and welcoming a bit of a break.

Hoa Binh, Vietnam June 18, 2018

Friday morning the boat tied up beside a riverside sand and gravel pit where we disembarked and climbed up a sandy pathway to find a small tour bus waiting for us.  We then drove along a narrow windy road through cornfields until we reached a decent secondary road.  Deep in the rural countryside we reached a small village where we visited the Thay pagoda nestled by a small lake.  The monk who resided at this pagoda one thousand years ago founded the Vietnamese water puppet theatre and a theatre still can be seen on the lake today.

Driving on to another village we visited the Tay Phuong pagoda.  Similar to the first pagoda it was filled with a variety of Buddha figures of differing sizes, incense and several altars loaded with various offerings.  The one difference with this pagoda was that you had to climb 237 steps to reach it.  All but three of our group attempted the climb and everyone made it...quite impressive for a group of seniors.

Our Boat Tied up By a Gravel Pit, Near Hanoi, Vietnam Tay Phuong Pagoda, Near Hanoi, Vietnam

In the afternoon we drove to the Ly Nhan community and visited a blacksmith village and a nearby furniture carpentry village.  In the blacksmith village all the homes seemed to have some rudimentary blacksmithing operation going on where large meat and vegetable chopping knives were being made by hand.  We spent some time with one fourth generation family where husband and wife and son and daughter in law all did the hot physical labour with the hot coals to heat, hammer, shape and file the raw iron and steel into knives for cleavers to sell for special orders to a middleman to then sell in the city shops.  

Blacksmith Workshop, Ly Nhan, Vietnam Carpentry Workshop, Ly Nhan, Vietnam

It was unbelievably hard back breaking work totally dependent on family team work.  The grandfather had been doing the same work in the same place since he was thirteen years old.  However, they hope their grandchildren will move to the city eventually and not carry on the family business, which was both physically and health-wise almost intolerable.  It was financially rewarding though as they had just built a beautiful new large family home on the premises. 

Nearby, we saw similar industriousness in the carpentry village where very heavy intricately carved furniture pieces were being made by the same families for generations.  We saw some headboards beautifully inlaid with mother of pearl.  We anchored overnight in mid-stream near Viet Tri.

Ly Nhan, Vietnam Ly Nhan, Vietnam

Saturday morning the small tour bus picked us up and drove us to the Hung Lo Temple near Tien Du where we were treated to some traditional Vietnamese folk singing by a group of young Vietnamese children.  From there we visited Gia Thanh village and a family home where they hand make the iconic conical Vietnamese hats.  All the ladies in the family and close friends helped out, including the elderly who used it as a very social occasion.  At this home, all stages of the hat making were undertaken rather than each stage being undertaken at a different venue as was usually the case.  It's really quite a complicated process. We each received a conical hat as a gift.

What was nice about the village visits was that primarily only these occasional small Pandaw tours visit them so there were never any signs of commercialism or tourism.  Once again the people were very open and friendly.  Over the next few hours we sailed on the Red River, then the Lo River, back on the Red River then onto the Black River.  In all we apparently have been on seven different rivers, although it's difficult to know where one river ends and another begins.

Mike and Performers Near Tien Du, Vietnam Market in Gia Thanh Village, Vietnam

Boys in Gia Thanh Village, Vietnam Girls in Gia Thanh Village, Vietnam

Making Conical Hats; Mike, Gia Thanh Village, Vietnam

On Sunday morning we visited the ancient village of Duong Lam, a UNESCO recognized village, and shared some 40% alcohol proof rice wine offered by the owner of a 400 year old house.  The three shots of rice wine finished off my digestive system so I stayed very quiet for the rest of the day, apart from a quick tour of the ship's galley, engine room and crew's quarters.  We anchored overnight in Hoa Binh, our final destination, which is a city surrounded by craggy hills and the site of a major battle with the French in the early 1950s.   

Duong Lam Village, Vietnam

Duong Lam Village, Vietnam Duong Lam Village, Vietnam

Storage Pots, Duong Lam Village, Vietnam Wedding Couple, Duong La Village, Vietnam

The next morning and the start of our last full day on board our boat, I skipped our excursion to the largest dam in south-east Asia. Sitting on the deck of the boat with only the occasional crew member around it was very peaceful with a cooling breeze blowing and the put-put sound of a small boat's outboard motor nearby.  This more remote part of north Vietnam hasn't yet really been opened up fully to tourism but with the calm river waters, where the kids were swimming when we dropped anchor last night, and the surrounding hills it would appear to have the potential.

Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam

Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam

Seoul, South Korea, June 20, 2018

Our last night on board ship the crew let loose with some rhythmic Khmer dancing with most of the passengers joining in.  I'm sure it's always a bit of a relief for the crew when a tour comes to an end.  After dinner a group of costumed Muong dancers and musicians entertained us on board ship with their traditional music and dance.

There are about three million Muong in Vietnam and they are an indigenous people who have very much kept to their own ways and language, fighting with the French and later with the Viet Cong based on their own self interest.  The music was quite beautiful, especially that played by a young man on a simple bamboo flute.  We also participated in a couple of traditions including drinking collectively rice wine through three foot long straws.  One is reminded very much of other First Nations and Aboriginals around the world.

The Crew Entertaining Us, Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam

Muong Village Entertainers, Vietnam

Muong Village Entertainers, Vietnam

The following morning we disembarked from the boat for the last time...always emotional saying goodbye to the crew...and we headed into the mountains to visit the nearby Muong hill tribe's village of 200 people.  The scenery was great and the village houses unique...on stilts, usually one very large room and a thatched banana leaf roof.  The lady villagers pursued us wanting to rent us a room or sell us some trinket or fabric.  Most of them only speak their own language and some, sadly, have borne kids within and between relatives.  We visited one family who had a severely disabled ten year old son, a consequence of relations within the extended family.  Pandaw Tours chose this family to visit as a means to assist them with additional funds to help their child.

Muong Village, Vietnam

Muong Villagers, Vietnam

We then climbed a steep hill in 38C (100F) heat to visit the local museum that our host, a wealthy prominent Muong, had painstakingly assembled over the past forty years to preserve his people's heritage.   He now needs an archivist to preserve professionally his efforts.  

Our last event in the village was a multi course huge and heavy traditional lunch with a lot of meat and fish.  The Vietnamese seem to like a large midday meal and the Aussies seem to have no problem eating rather large meals…just a soup usually does me just fine.  This was perhaps the most interesting and certainly unique of all the twelve villages we visited on this trip. 

We then headed out for the three hour drive to Hanoi and a few of us said our goodbyes and were dropped off at the international airport terminal.  I then had an eight hour wait for my flight but one couldn't check in and access the business lounge until three hours before a flight. ..not amused.  My flight left at 11:30 p.m. and landed at 5:30 a.m. (clock advanced two hours) in dense fog in Seoul, South Korea. 

My flight to Toronto wasn't to leave for twelve hours so after several mis-directions, some unhelpful locals...and some helpful...I got myself to a well hidden airport hotel, took a sleeping pill and collapsed for a few hours.  I now have enough strength for the thirteen hour flight to Toronto.  I think the entire return flight, including connecting times consumes about thirty-six hours in real time.

Despite the heat and humidity and uncomfortable stomach the trip was great but perhaps my two lasting impressions are just how friendly the people are and at what a break neck speed the country is being transformed economically...and under a communist government.   Without a doubt Vietnam is the current Asian Economic Tiger, fast leaving behind the developing world.

Near Hoa Binh, Vietnam


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