Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

SE Asia Travels

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Before we went to SE Asia we needed to look at the map to see where we were going. We also needed to look at a map several times when we were there. This was an area of the world where we did not know our geography. So—-in case you may be in the same boat, this is a map of our travels.

We flew to Hanoi, Vietnam first.  While there we traveled overland to Halong Bay.  We then flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia via Vientiane, Laos.  While in Phnom Penh we traveled by bus to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.  Next we flew back to Vientiane, Laos to do our MCC work and then flew to Luang Prabang, Laos.  Lastly, we flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  (Purple lines are flights and yellow lines are land travel.)

ThailandVietnamLaosandCambodia map

travel map

Ha Long Bay

Thursday, February 5th, 2015
the Bay

the Bay

We joined a small tour to Ha Long Bay for 3 days and 2 nights spending the first night on the boat and the second night in a hotel on the Cat Ma Island. There were 15 of us from U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, and us. The rest of the group were in their 20’s but we had a good time together.  It was a 4 hour bus ride from Hanoi to Ha Long. It was the first we had been out of the city; it was nice to see some countryside.

Ha Long Bay means “descending dragon bay.” There is a legend about dragons defending the Vietnamese against invaders. The dragons spit out jewels which formed the many islands.
Part of Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage Site. Our room on the boat was very adequate and the meals were great.

The limestone formations are beautiful—even in the clouds and the mist. We stopped and visited the largest cave (Hang Sung Sot) on one of the islands.

The second day we climbed to the top of Titop Mountain – 420 steps. It was worth the energy as we had a 360 degree view of the area. Most of the group headed back to shore. Another couple and us left the main boat for a smaller boat (junk) and travelled to a less touristy area. We docked and cycled about 30 minutes to a small village, climbing a steep hill, riding through a shady path, and past rice fields. Visited a rural home where we saw the simple house and kitchen and visited the pigs and chickens. The wife was making rice wine. We left our bikes and hiked about 1 ½ hours through the tropical forest climbing some very steep paths on a circular route. We then rode bikes back to the boat. The boat took us to another area where we kayaked about 1 1/2hr to very quiet, peaceful lagoons.

We returned to our junk and headed for Cat Ba Island. We passed by a large floating village. We spent the night in a large hotel on the island. The following day we took the junk back through the bay to the larger boat and returned to Ha Long Wharf and on to Hanoi.

A Day in Hanoi

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
entry gate to Temple of Literature

entry gate to Temple of Literature

Our trip to Ha Long Bay was delayed one day so we got to spend another “tourist day” in Hanoi. We visited The Citadel and the Temple of Literature.

The Citadel is built on the site of an ancient Palace. It was both the residence and workplace of kings and royal families from 1009-1789. Many ruins are presently being dug and restored. When we entered we saw a special bonsai display. Included in the Citadel area were also bunkers and command rooms for the American/Vietnam War.

After a nice Vietnamese buffet lunch we went to the Temple of Literature which is the oldest university in Vietnam dating back to 1070 and is dedicated to Confucius. Much of the ancient architecture is preserved as well as stone stelae with more than 1000 names of graduates of the royal exams. You may notice that dragons and turtles are very important in Vietnamese culture. When we visited the Temple, a ceremony was being held for graduates of a Masters of Business Administration program in Thailand.

On our bus ride back to the house, we saw a wonderful open-air barber shop!

Our Work in Hanoi

Friday, January 30th, 2015

We are in Hanoi to work in the MCC office doing the same thing we did in East Africa a year ago, archiving old MCC files.  However, in East Africa we were familiar with both the geographic area and most of the programs and most documents were in English. We have never been in this part of Southeast Asia; so the culture is new, we don’t know much about MCC programs here, and most documents are not in English. There has been much learning.

We are staying with the MCC Country Reps while here. They live in a 4-storey narrow house in a row of taller houses. We have about a five minute walk to the office through unbelievable streets. We begin by passing a wall blackboard where community messages are written, past a small shop where people are always sitting drinking tea, then walking through an open cemented courtyard area where in the mornings the older people play volleyball and in the afternoons children play various games. Then it is through a tunnel path where Ron needs to make sure he bends his head if he doesn’t want to get bonked by the cement rafters. We walk through another alleyway where in the morning tables are set up with a small eating stand. Motorcycles are often passing us. (It appears that most people have a motorcycle. There are always ramps up steps or up to front doors so that the cycle can be rolled in.)

By now we are on the “main” street of this community. The street is about the width of a one lane road. Small shops selling everything line the street on both sides. Most have open store fronts. On the edges of the road sit vendors selling everything else that can’t be found in the shops! On what is left of the road, people are walking amidst motorcycles travelling both directions and sometimes a car tries to get through. We are learning to walk slowly and steadily as close to the vendors as possible trying not to be afraid of the motorcycles beeping behind us and the ones coming towards us! On this street one can find vegetables, fruit, meat (including live chickens), fish, tofu, small restaurants, household goods, clothes, a nail shop, and even a dentist with two chairs in front of big windows. “Street food” is very inexpensive and very good so several times we have eaten out at night.

We turn down a small alley and arrive at the office, which is also a 4-storey building. When we arrive we remove our shoes and put on slippers. Our working space is on the third floor though we found files on all four floors and had to carry them to our work area. Much of the material which we do not want to keep is burned. Ron even destroyed an old computer disk. Some material needs to be photocopied or scanned. The rest we put in boxes to be sent back to the head office in Akron, PA.

The MCC staff has been very friendly and helpful. We have lunch together every day. We are becoming more proficient with chopsticks! The cook is wonderful! We have had delicious meals. Most are accompanied with fresh garlic. We have managed to eat several cloves with a meal but the others will eat a head of garlic with their food. Fruit completes the meal—mangoes or apples (which are more of a cross between an apple, pear, and peach). We have also had dragon fruit which is very good and hard to describe. The Rep is teaching the cook to make cookies and cake.


Sunday, January 25th, 2015


We have only been in Hanoi half a week but have already begun to feel at home amidst the traffic and new sights and sounds. Hanoi has a population of between 2.5 million and 6.5 million depending on how wide an area one includes.

We worked in the MCC office Wednesday – Friday and then spent Saturday roaming a small part of the city—mainly what is called the “Old Quarter.” We enjoyed a cup of “egg coffee” which is coffee with beaten egg and sweetened condensed milk. Delicious. We visited a shop of handicrafts from the Mekong Delta. They displayed beautiful quilts and some unique bicycles made from bamboo. Along another street were many shops with bright red decorations for the coming Tet (New Year) holiday.

We enjoyed a break along a lake eating a chocolate croissant and a citron tart. There was an exercise course beside the lake which was in use. We attended a Water Puppet show where all the puppets “swam” in the water and were manipulated from behind. The show was accompanied by traditional musicians.

The traffic is crowded with many, many motorcycles who sometimes—and sometimes not—follow stop lights. They weave through cars, buses, and people quite gracefully. When we walk we need to watch all directions but just keep moving. We watched at one large traffic circle as cars and motorcycles were streaming in all directions. A bridal couple stood calmly in the midst of all having their photos taken!

We had supper at a small street restaurant and watched the cook roll small sheets of dough around meat and greens. We then dipped these rolls in a sweet vinegar sauce and ate them. Yum!