Vietnam: Mar.2017(b)

River Cave 3.

"My Son (pronounced Mee Sun) is the site of Vietnam's most extensive ruins from the Champa dynasties (4th to 13th centuries). Moat of the temples were dedicated to Cham kings associated with deities, particularly Shiva."

"The Viet Cong used My Son as a base during the American War and American bombing destroyed many of the most important monuments."

The Old Town in Hoi An is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, with more than 800 historic buildings preserved pretty much as they looked at the beginning of the 1800's - the whole town was destroyed at the end of the 1700's in a Vietnamese revolution called the Tay Son rebellion. The Champa Kingdom controlled much of this area from the 2nd to 14th centuries and made it into a major port. The historic buildings were mostly trading houses built by Japanese and Chinese traders in later years. The Chinese who settled here identified themselves by their Chinese province of origin and built assembly halls like the one here for social gatherings, meetings and celebrations.

The American War destroyed most of the country's traditional religious life and beliefs. Now, about 70% of the Vietnamese follow Vietnamese folk religions or are non-religious or atheists. Buddhists and Christians make up the rest. This is in contrast to before the American war, when 70-90% of the population were Buddhist and many of the rest Christian. Many of the temples that now still exist are dedicated to ancestors.

The temples are filled with walls and columns covered with elaborate wood carvings...

... dragons are everywhere...

... and there's lots and lots of incense.

We travelled north to Hue (pronounced Way). Like most of the parts of Vietnam that we've seen, there's lots of water.

Fish is a big part of the Vietnamese diet, an all through town there are fishermen in the rivers, moats, streams and ponds.

Hue was the capital of the country for a long period, and there's an huge palace surrounded by two big moats...

... plus lots of smaller waterways, lakes and ponds.

Also like most of Vietnam, there are lots of scooters. Crossing the street is fairly easy - look for a little break and then head across. The scooters steer around you like a river moves around boulders.

Monk in the market.

John lost a tooth filling and had it replaced in a modern, private dental clinic for about $20.

Buddha being sheltered from the rain by a Naga, a multi-headed king cobra.

In Hue there is a memorial to a Buddhist monk set himself on fire in 1963. "This was the car he drove to a busy intersection in Saigon. "The self-immolation was done in protest to the South Vietnamese Diem regime’s pro-Catholic policies and discriminatory Buddhist laws. In particular this was a response to the banning of the Buddhist flag, just 2 days after Diem had held a very public ceremony displaying crosses; earlier in his rule he had dedicated Vietnam to Jesus and the Catholic Church. The growing resentment of Buddhists under Diem was one of the underlying issues of South Vietnam, and eventually led to a coup to put in place a leader who would not alienate Buddhists, who made up 70-90% of Vietnam’s population."

We were captured by a group of students one day who were on a scavenger hunt and needed to find foreigners who would say "Happy Birthday H.U.C.E". (Hue University College of Education) in Vietnamese (the letters were in French, thank goodness...). The one phrase we knew in Vietnamese was 'Happy New Year', which got us halfway there...

Then, there are the flowers...

... and flowers ...

... and flowers, everywhere!

Sugar cane juice made to order is one of the cheapest and tastiest drinks available.

A little ways outside of Hue is a pagoda (temple) where a well-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh trained. The surrounding jungle is full of singing insects - the volume is astonishing.

Balcony View 1: We moved up to a village called Phong Nha (a 4-hr bus ride NW of Hue) where there are lots of gigantic caves (part of the Tu Lan cave system). We’re staying in a homestay a couple of km out of town on the river. They lend out free bikes here so we’re out exploring a lot. Here’s a photo off our balcony. These hills are everywhere, and there are lots of little boats on the river - some scooping up river weeds to feed fish in personal little fish farms, some carrying tourists to caves, some fishing…)

Balcony View 2.

Balcony View 3.

The region around Phong Nha village is full of gigantic caves. We went on a one-day cave exploring trek where we hiked across grazing fields to a dry cave called Rat Cave, then hiked over a rugged, slippery, muddy little mountain to another cave. Here we climbed up to the cave entrance, walked in about 50 meters, climbed down a 15m ladder, then waded into an underground river and swam out the cave exit (no pictures of that one). these are Roxanne's tour-issued army boots (lots of blisters...).

This is one of the fields we hiked across. Most fields had lots of water buffalo and cows grazing in them.

The dry cave we explored was called Rat Cave.

Cave pearls from Rat Cave. "Cave pearls are formed by a concretion of calcium salts that form concentric layers around a nucleus."

A different day, we took one of these blue boats into a spectacular river cave called Phong Nha cave.

River Cave 1: some of these photos were taken from the boat, which could be paddled in a few hundred meters into the cave. On the way out, we were dropped near the entrance so could walk the last hundred meters out.

River Cave 2.

Cow story.