A Travellerspoint blog

A TALE OF TWO CAPITALS

BANG PA-IN & AYUTTHAYA

sunny 32 °C

BANG PA-IN
Built as the summer residences by King Persart Thong in the 17th century. It served as a sometimes capital during wars (of which there were 27) between Thailand and Burma. The site fell into disrepair and was rebuilt in the early 1900's by king Chulalongkon. It is still used today when the king entertains foreign royalty and dignitaries ( Queen Elizabeth II stayed here). Today it is a site of beauty in a park like setting. We arrived early and wandered through the peaceful grounds in this idyllic location until the tour busses arrived. Luckily, at that point, we were on our way out.
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look how they shaped these bushes
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AYUTTHAYA
75 km from Bangkok, it was the last capital before it was moved to the present area. It was a flourishing and proserous capital for 417 years. The ruins coincide with the later buildings in Angkor,although these buildings were made entirely of brick. We noticed a remarkable similarity in stlyle but not scale between here and Angkor.

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Posted by keithandhelen 23:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

WE GOT TO THAILAND

BUSTLING BANGKOK

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After heading out of Cambodia at 8 AM in a smart, new taxi with a suped up engine
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we prayed to Buddhas for our safe journey.
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We arrived at the border at 10:15 AM and then stood in a queue for almost 4 hours, we finally got permission to enter Thailand. A word of advice for future travellers "Don't cross the border on a Sunday". Entering another taxi driven by Mario Andretti, we passed everything on the road and were never intimidated by oncoming traffic. Helen had her eyes closed again. By 6 PM we checked into our hotel in Bangkok--a beautiful place, right on the river side, reccommended by Jim and Sheila.
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Thinking we left the crowds behind in Angkor we headed out to have a peaceful time at the Royal Palace.
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The Grand Palace was established in 1782 and covers an area of 218,000 square metres. The first monument visible as you walk through the gates
is made of an amazing 550 kilos of solid gold.
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The splendor of these spectacular buildings speak for themselves. Just imagine these walls also used to be covered with jewels rather than the cut glass of today.
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Tomorrow we travel to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand.

Posted by keithandhelen 04:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

SIEM REAP AND THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR

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On the way to Siem Reap.

Early in the morning we began our 6 ½ hour trip on our luxurious air-conditioned bus. For $13 we had the trip, a conductor, water and snacks, and even got picked up at our hotel.
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Along the way we passed some small villages, separated by lush rice paddies and ponds full of lotus flowers.
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Another common sight in the villages were temples with grand entrances off the main road.
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All over Cambodia are little rest areas with hammocks. You just pull over and jump in one. I guess if you buy a drink, the owner would be happy.
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We arrived in the late afternoon and wandered through the town ending up at the night market. We were surprised to see the huge number of tourists from all over the world wandering the streets.
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THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR

This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and the reason we came to Siem Reap. Building began in the 9th century and continued until the 13th century. In the 19th century, European explorers stumbled upon the overgrown remains in the dense jungle. Covering an area of 24 square miles, this fully operating city continued to grow until the people moved the capital because of raiders from neighbouring countries. We toured the sites on a tuk tuk and the following pictures are representative of the many different WAT (temples) that we visited.

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TOMORROW, WE ARE OFF TO BANGKOK

Posted by keithandhelen 01:34 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

PHNOM PENH

A City Of Contrasts

sunny 34 °C

We have been here a few days now and are feeling quite comfortable. Once again we have been very happy with our hotel. The room, the pool, and the staff are excellent, as well as the price. Best of all, the location seems to be on the edge of the action. We have been to a number of markets and have walked everywhere---our feet are now getting tired and the tuc-tucs are proving to be cheap. easy, and fun. We are dying to use our bargaining skills, but most things are so cheap it is hard to argue people from $2 to $l. Yes, the American dollar is one of the official currencies and even the ATMs spew them out. In fact, everything is priced in dollars.

We wondered what we were coming to as this alley led to the entrance of the hotel.
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The surprise as we entered the hotel
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This is truly a city of contrasts. Old, new. Oppulent, poor. Happy, somber. The sights here start at the river front. The over the top Royal Palace dominates the landscape and life of this part of the city. A truly magnificent setting of enormous size.

Front entrance to the Palace
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A Monk with his laptop walks by
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Another entrance
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INSIDE THE WALLS OF THE PALACE THAT ARE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC INCLUDING THE GROUNDS OF THE SILVER PAGODA.
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The Silver Pagoda so named because of the silver floor and contains a 4 foot high emerald buddha and life sized statue made of solid gold, adorned with over 2000 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats. The floor is covered 5300 silver tiles, each weighing 1.25 kilos. There was obviously a lot of security in this building and no pictures allowed.
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On the other side is the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Beginning in 1975, they came to power and ordered the evacuation of Phnom Penh and sent everyone back to the country. It is hard to imagine this busy, vibrant city being totally empty. Families were broken up and the mass killings started, starting with anyone who reeked in any way of being a professional. This period of history still colour life today and is constantly discussed at every opportunity.

THE KILLING FIELDS
This was a very sad and difficult site to visit. The site was treated like a shrine and was treated with respect by all.
On the edge of the city one of these fields was set. It must be remembered that hundreds of these were set up around the country. At the one we visited it was estimated that 20,000 were killed, but that does not count the children.

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There are many others that have not been exhumed and this site is only one of about 40 mass graves on these grounds. It is estimated that each site has about 450 bodies in it.
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Every year after the rains bone fragments are washed to the surface. Anything that was uncovered was treated with respect.
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This mass grave was specifically for women and children. The tree behind with the memorial bracelets was used to murder babies. cambodia_014.jpg

The memorial on the site stands tall and impressive. On examining closer you discover it contains thousands of human skulls and bones.
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THE GENOCIDE MUSEUM
A secondary school in the middle of the city was converted to this place where prisoners were detained, interrogated, tortured, and killed. About 12,000 men, women, and children died there between 1975 and 1978.

The School Turned Prison
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Much of this site had these displays of men, women and children who were inmates of this prison and who never left alive.
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SCENES FROM AROUND THE TOWN

The Independence Monument
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In the Market
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This truck had all these loads and 12 people scattered on it
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The art deco ceiling of the central market was built by the French in 1935.
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A stroll down the river front
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These orchids grow out of the trunk of a very large tree
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NEXT STOP----SIEM REAP AND ANGKOR WAT

Posted by keithandhelen 05:30 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

ENTERING CAMBODIA ON THE MEKONG

sunny 38 °C

The Mekong River was our home for the next 7 hours as we travelled on our way to Phnom Penh. This is one of our most anticipated days though with our experience with boats so far we were a bit apprehensive. The Mekong has been a major factor in the history and culture of the area. We all remember images of the Viet Nam war showing American soldiers slogging through the rice paddies and swamps, helmets camouflaged with bright green foliage. We found this plant floating in bunches the whole way up the river.

Starting in the Himalayas, it travels 4500 km through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam where it splits into the many tributaries that form the Mekong delta where we were yesterday.

We were impressed that the Mekong is such a massive working river. People of all classes occupy it’s banks. The river itself is home to a myriad of activity generated by people living on it. We saw it all; boats of all sizes and function, industry of many types including logging and brick making, farming-both modern and traditional and people fishing, washing and doing ordinary household chores make up the river community.

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Blocking our view until we reached the Cambodian border

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going to get the Cambodian Visa---nice, welcoming walkway

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a place to pray while getting your visa at the border

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poor farmers house

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one of many Pagodas on the river banks

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all the houses on the river bank are on stilts

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families live and work on their sampams

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entering Phnom Penh harbour-----finally

Posted by keithandhelen 05:48 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Travelling the Mekong Delta on the way to Chau Doc

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Leaving HCM, we drive through a combination of city buildings, local residential areas, and then the vibrant green of the rice fields, for an hour and a half before reaching the Mekong delta. We board a boat with great relief that it was much better than the last one. We were 50 km from the sea and from what we saw, this was a busy, working area.

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We stopped at a small island that specialized in growing fruit where we were served some of the local crop and entertained by traditional music.
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Back on the boat we went deeper into the delta and visited another island with a coconut factory. Walking a little further through the jungle we met our donkey cart and raced down the bumpy road to a honey farm where we had a refreshing cup of tea amongst the flowers.
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From here we boarded a sampam and went down a narrow channel before getting off at another smaller island were we had lunch prior to returning to our base and then continuing our journey.
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The appetizer--a whole fried fish

ON THE ROAD TO CHAU DOC--THE END OF THE LINE IN VIET NAM
We drove for about 4 hours along the banks of the Mekong. What surprised us was the fact that the towns never ended, just running into each other. Viet Nam has a big population and this is proof of it. Along the road we passed at least five memorials and very large and beautiful cemetaries that were dedicated exclusively to the Viet Cong. Crossing the Mekong at one wide point was done by ferry. The ferries just run when they are full and the docking procedure is the same as any other vessel in Viet Nam---just run as fast as you can onto the shore and then let everyone pile off, cars included.

Mekong Ferry
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Not long after klunking off the ferry------
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Some motorcycles passed us by
anyone for garlic?
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ENTERING CHAU DOC
Late in the afternoon we entered Chau Doc and settled down for the night. We were informed that our transport to the fast ferry to Phnom Phem would arrive at 7 the next morning so we bedded early and eagerly anticipated the coming dawn.
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CAMBODIA, HERE WE COME!

Posted by keithandhelen 05:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

HO CHI MINH CITY

sunny 38 °C

After a smooth flight from Da Nang, and an easy taxi ride into the heart of Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City we settled into our Hotel. Everything so far is way different from all our expectations. HCM is a modern, vibrant, busy city of 10 million people and 6 million honking motorcycles. It was love at first sight. The influence of the French colonial period is everywhere--from the wide tree lined streets to the spectacular post office designed by Eiffel. Our hotel room is palatial with a wrap-around balcony on our corner room, facing the street.

Here is our room
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How is the food? Look at the breakfast buffet.
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The Lobby
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Here is the view accross the street at night.
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Typical of a lot of the city is the contrast between the old and new. The skyscrapers are headquarters of Vietnamese and International corporations. Notice the old and new in the following pictures.
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Tall, skinny buildings are commonly referred to as a rocket house and are very typical to Viet Nam. We have seen them everywhere we have been, with the part facing the road often very ornate.
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AROUND HCM (SAIGON)

Walking around the city is amazing as the sights are ever-changing with every corner you turn. We have become a fan of the modern shopping plazas as they are great places to cool off on our treks. The heat is approaching unbearable at times and the bottles of water we drink seem to evaporate as fast as they are poured down our throats. We also went to many museums, they all seemed to have the same theme of celebrating independence through musty pictures and dusty relics. We hope these pictures will give a sense of the sights one sees as you wander the heart of the city. (No pagoda shots here though there are lots around)

The Opera House from 2 sides. Built in 1899, it was headquarters of the South Viet Nam National Assembly 1956 before being returned to its original purpose.
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Notre Dame Cathedral. Built in 1880. The statue in front, Holy Mary Queen of Peace, was brought to Viet Nam in1959 from Rome in hope she would bring peace to the war torn country.
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The Post Office. Built in 1891 and designed by Eiffel, it is still used today. The interior has not changed and the beautiful high vaulted ceilings help keep the building cool. To keep up with the times, the phone booths have all been converted to ATM's.
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Going to the market. Built by the French in 1914.
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People's Committee Building. Built by the French in 1908, it was modeled on the Paris City Hall. In 1945 people gathered outside this building to establish the provisional administrative committee of South Viet Nam. In recognition of his role in overthrowing the French, a statue of Ho Chi Minh was placed in the square leading up to the building.
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Tree Lined Streets with wide sidewalks. These are great to stroll along, except when they are being used by motorcycles avoiding the traffic, instead of pedestrians.
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Typical style of billboards and posters throughout Viet Nam. Revolutionary Struggle 1930 - 1954 from the Revolutionary Museum.
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This one was in a coffee shop with a happy worker, happy professional, and happy student. We added the happy tourist.
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Tomorrow we go on our way towards the Cambodian border through the Mekong Delta.

Posted by keithandhelen 23:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

A Trip to Hoi An

sunny 34 °C

After saying goodbye to Hue, we hit the road for the 4 hour trip to Hoi An. Our driver decided to honk at every other vehicle on the road, but no one could say he wasn't careful. An interesting drive as the cities soon turn to countryside and the lushness of the surroundings was a welcome change from the hustle, bustle and harshness of the city scapes. We were now crossing from the former North Viet Nam to the South. Every town had a Viet Cong memorial and along side a huge cemetery. Suddenly we started to cross the mountains that ran near the coast. On top of the hghest pass and with a strategic view of all the other lands below, was the remains of the old Check Point Charlie.
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Along the road we passed shrimp farms and here where the water was deeper there were pearl oyster farms. Of course, Helen now has some new jewellery as she never seems to have enough.
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Further down the coast we reached Da Nang, the city were the Viet Nam war started. Right on the coast we stopped at China Beach-----the point of the first US Marine landings. Remember the TV show China Beach.

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ARRIVING IN HOI AN

After 4 hours of stopping and starting at our driver's favorite souvenir stalls, we finally arrive at our hotel where, as usual, the staff is lined up to welcome us. We must be very important! Our room was of average size but the beds were decorated with towel swans and covered in rose petals. It took us ages to clean the bed before we could get in it.
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Hoi An is situated right on a river and was an important trading port from the 16th to 18th century with traders coming from China. Japan, and Europe. These have all influenced the architecture and cultural heritage. The area by the river is full of hustling, bustling streets and is obviously still the trading centre. Helen's great great uncle, Captain John Pye, was an early silk trader in this area. Helen has a large silk shawl passed on to her - maybe he got it here. To go with the shawl, Helen had a silk blouse or two and a kimono made.
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SOME SIGHTS FROM AROUND THE TOWN.

River Life

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A motorcycle ferry

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Japanese covered bridge. Built in 1593 to link the Japanese and Chinese quarters

Street Life

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The streets are lined with silk lanterns

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It seems as if every block has a spectacular Pagoda/Temple

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noodles drying on the street - at least we think they are noodles

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strolling down the street on a Sunday afternoon

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Quang Dong Temple built in 1786 by Chinese Merchants to honor the Goddess of the Sea

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A common sight in the Temples are collection boxes for different causes

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After a hard day Helen celebrates with an iced coffee.

A VISIT TO 'MY SON' (pronounced Me Son)

My Son is an ancient site, first dating back to the second century and continuing to the thirteenth. This, though much smaller, has been compared in significance to Angkor Wat. Unfortunately we can only see a small portion as much of Me Son was almost completely destroyed by American bombing in the Vietnamese War. This was built by the Cham people who were a mix of Malasian and Javanese. Their descendants are still alive and well in the area today.

Most of the structures were from the 10th century.

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Standing in front of the Library
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This is all that is left after the bombing. of a 34M high building. The bombing ceased after a French archaeologist appealed directly to the US government.
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Watch out Ho Chi Minh City, we are coming tomorrow.

Posted by keithandhelen 01:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hey, hey, we are in Hue.

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Even though Hue is only a one hour flight south of Ha Noi, you know you have reached somewhere different. You are not quite sure what that is but there is definitely a different feeling in the air. The drive from the airport was more relaxed except for our driver who talked non stop. trying to glean every bit of information about us in the short trip to the hotel. Yes, for the most part, the streets were wider and seemed less busy. There are no big buildings except for very high-end hotels. Then it hit me, there are far less people on the streets and far more pesky tuc tuc drivers. The Perfume River runs through the center of the city, with a beautiful park running on either side of the bank.
One thing is constant---

MOTORCYCLES
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Our first adventure here was to cross the bridge on the Perfume River on our way to the Citadel. On our way we came accross a vendor selling Viet Nam War memorabilia---canteens, USA dog tags, and Viet Cong, USA, and South Vietnam medals.

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The Citadel is a walled city with three parts-Civic, Imperial, and the Forbidden City where only the Emperor and his family were allowed.
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Gates of the Walled City

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City Walls

Hot and tired we were glad to give in to the pesky Tuk Tuk drivers and have them pedal us around the city.
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SIGHTS IN THE OLD AND FORBIDDEN CITY
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Ancient Kung Fu School

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Antiquities Museum

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Remnants of the War

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Entrance to the Emperor's Palace in the Forbidden City

A DAY SPENT CRUISING AND EXPLORING HUE

The day started with a walk to the dragon ship dock. This boat was not part of the Carnival Cruise Line, but what do you expect for $8.00 which also included lunch. The boat was missing a few items like a gangplank, which became more and more important as we had to leap off and on again a number of times. The docking procedure was fairly simple. Head for the shore at full speed and run straight into the bank. At that point the passengers were asked to disembark. The engine only needed to be fixed once. It rained off and on all day and luckily the rain never got through the cracked windows. In spite of this, we had a great day and saw many amazing sights. Also nobody drowned.
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Sites we visited in the day included:

A military Mandarin's home built in early 1800. Typical of the time, it was made completely of wood with no nails.
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Thien Mu Pagoda---built in 1601. On the grounds were statues of the ten kings of hell that guarded the statue of Buddha.
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Tomb of Minh Mang. The best preserved royal tomb built in 1840. The grounds include lakes and streams and numerous buildings.
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Tomb of Khai Dinh
This is the last emperor to be buried in a royal tomb at Hue. Built in the 1920's, it combines French and Vietnamese architectural styles. The tomb is very flamboyant and ornate, reflecting his character.
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TOMORROW WE TAKE A ROAD TRIP TO OUR NEXT STOP - HOI AN

Posted by keithandhelen 08:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Ha Noi: Around the Town

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We've spent a lot of time walking all around the city. Here are some sights of daily life in Ha Noi. But before we start, WE NEED AN ELECTRICIAN!
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Our hotel is at the corner of the bamboo pole street.
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Everything comes to you - Buy flowers
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Buy fruit
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Buy a hat
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There is lots to do
Sit by the lake,
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Find a pagoda,
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Go to the market,
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But be sure to keep off the sidewalks, they are for motorcycles.
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Go to a water puppet show
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Be careful the 'HANOI HILTON' is here.
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A memorial to the political prisoners of the French colonial period
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Tomorrow, we fly to Hue.

Posted by keithandhelen 06:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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