"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list!" In October, I spent two weeks on a Trafalgar tour to Southeast Asia, where we visited Vietnam and Cambodia, with stops in Seoul, Korea, and Shanghai, China.
Hanoi, Vietnam, has a population of more than 9 million people; and over 5 million motor bikes. In Hanoi, we visited the Hoa Lo prison that housed John McCain during the Vietnam war. "Hanoi Hilton" was the prison nickname used by American GIs. Part of the prison is now a museum, and the rest has been made into apartments and shops.
Vietnam has the biggest rubber tree plantations in Southeast Asia. Rice crops are grown three times a year in fresh water, and pineapple grows best in salt water. Other common crops are papaya, coconut, grapes, kiwi, bananas and strawberries. Vietnam is also the producer of Akoya cultured pearls. Many pearl and oyster farms are located along Halong Bay in northern Vietnam.
On a wooden boat, we visited Halong Bay, Vietnam, the home of many floating fishing villages. The one village we saw included a floating school, grocery store, fish markets and floating family households.
Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, is the second largest city in Vietnam, with over 8 million people living there. The city was deserted ... empty ... after the war. With borrowed money from other countries, they were able to rebuild. Today, Vietnam has far surpassed the U.S. with the construction of beautiful buildings, bridges and parks. A huge new bridge, built eight years ago, is named the "Golden Gate Bridge." Disneyland is planning to build a theme park in Ho Chi Minh in the future.
A flight from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap, Cambodia, brought us to another world, and to another big city with a population of more than 1 million inhabitants. Most of the people speak English in Cambodia. Starting in third grade, students are taught English one hour per week.
Of great interest in Siem Reap was touring the Angkor Wat temple, built in the first half of the 12th century on 400 acres. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple complex, and is the largest religious monument in the world. The carved hallways were built out of huge stones, hauled in by elephants.
Our tour group comprised of 10 people: two from Australia, four from Canada and four from the U.S. One young guy, 20-year-old Jose, was the life of the party. His passion was eating, and he had recently won a lobster-eating contest in his home town. His hope was to eat snake meat while in Vietnam. So one noon, our tour guide arranged for such a meal at a local restaurant. The live snake was brought to the table. The head was removed, and as part of a ritual, Jose was required to drink the blood from the snake's liver. From there, the snake was taken to the kitchen to be prepared. When served, the meat had been ground like our hamburger and cooked with crushed peanuts and chili peppers. The meal cost Jose $50, and we could all sample some ... but not me! The same restaurant also served pig-ear salad and stir-fried frogs.
The last morning of our stay in Siem Reap, we heard fireworks. The hotel employee told us they were set off to honor someone who had just died, or for a funeral. "Quiet Village" is the name of their cemeteries ... no one ever argues in a cemetery!
Vietnam and Cambodia were very interesting and beautiful countries to visit, but it was extremely hot and humid while we were there. I had lots of bad hair days!
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until they come home and rest their head on their old, familiar pillow! "To travel is to live."