Our SouthEast Asia Trip

link to YouTube video of our slides:
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Message 1
We made it here in 1 piece but a bit sore from 24+ hours of air travel. It is nice to get off the plane and see a guide with our name on a board to collect us and whisk us away. Our hotel in Saigon was near the river and in the heart of the downtown district. Yesterday we crawled through the Cu Chi tunnels at the end of the old Ho Chi Minh Trail near the border of Cambodia. Today we flew to Da Nang and drove along China Beach to Hoi Ann. Hoi Ann is an older city that has been preserved well. Everyone has been very friendly --
Tomorrow we will drive north to Hue and tour the old city center.
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Saigon has 9 million people and everyone seems to have a moped. It is even a challenge to cross the streets sometimes.  It is a nice change of pace to be out of the city now.

Message 2

Hi from Hanoi
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The last few days have been busy. We toured from Hoi An to DaNang along China Beach. Then over a mountain pass to Hue. Hue was the site of the Imperial Palace and we spent time in the old city seeing the Kings palaces. Our hotel was an old French Mansion, right across from he Imperial City on the Perfume River. Then we took a boat ride to see sever5al of the imperial tombs.

An hour flight got us to to Hanoi and immediately drove 3 hrs to Halong Bay. Had our own private junk to sail through the most amazing limestone formations and we ended up on a large island with a national park, Cat Ba. Our hotel here was basic but our room was on the 12th floor and we had a great view of the bay. IN the morning I took a hike with our guide in the national park to the top of the islands tallest peak.. In the US, this hike would have been rated "scary", really steep, lots of exposure and slick footing. All of this with an  approaching thunderstorm. But the views were great from the top.

Today we took the hydrofoil to Haiphong and then drove 2 hrs to Hanoi. Driving around here is exhausting, even as a passenger. Kind of like a full contact sport. Not enough roads and the few roads that exist have way too many little motor scooters zipping around, in a chaotic fashion seeming to follow NO traffic laws.. As a former NY cab driver I dont think I am brave enough to drive around here.

So far, each hotel has cable TV with CNN and ESPN as well as some level of internet service. Even as we drive through the small villages, people have satellite dishes on the roof. Our guides all have had some college and speak English well. They are very computer literate and know about facebook and twitter. EVERYONE has a cell phone. We have seen 4 people riding on a motor scooter built for 2 with a person using the cell phone , sometimes even the driver is talking on the cell phone. and they all seem to have smart phones!Today, Bette was able to connect to the hotel WIFI with her Kindle and download a book from Amazon. Did not take more than 30 seconds.

We have not met many other travelers. It is off season (hot!!!) and the world economy is affecting tourism still. The few that we meet are mostly young back packers from Europe. The good thing is nothing has been very crowded.

Prices are reasonable. You can get meals for $4 or less. Beer is only about $1.50 and bottled water is under a $1. We have seen signs for massages for $3. An hour cyclo ride is only a dollar or two. Gas is about $3.50 per gallon.

Several area that we have visited are rapidly developing into future world class resorts: Hoi An (China Beach) and Cat Ba Island (they are building a massive resort on the island).

Tomorrow we tour Hanoi and then have  a day on our own to wander the streets of Hanoi before heading to Laos. I have a feeling internet access will not be readily available in Laos.

It has been very nice to get off the plane and see someone holding a sign with our names saying--follow us!!

I have taken about 1 zillion pictures so be prepared...........................

Until next time --

Message 3

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Answering some questions:
What you haven't spoken about at all is what kind of "legacy" we've left there.  Any vestiges of the war that are obvious.  What about the people, do they mention it?  Or have they just moved on?

The question people ask me is, "Have I been here before?", as I am the correct age to have been here '68-'73. In the south the guides wanted to take us to the war museum, tunnels, etc. They made a point of mentioning that they think people supported Ho Chi Minh because almost everyone was living in poverty kind of like a serf, giving most of their money to the landlord who owned the land they were farming. ALso the country has a long history of occupation" the Chinese, then the French.The history suggested they wanted out from all of this as opposed to believing in an ideology of socialism/communism.
Most people are young and were born after the war. There seems to be little after effects in attitude about the war and Americans. But remember, we have been dealing with people who are in the tourist business and they are working for tips. In the north, the attitude seems more business like. Many less people seem to know english. ALso, the money from the government seems to go more to the north in that the roads seem better. This year is the 1,000 year anniversary of Hanoi--it is a big deal here. The country was settled from north to south. So Saigon is only about 300 years old.

What about their religious life - do you see many temples, monks, etc?
The predominant religion is Buddhist and there are some temples but very little signs of active religious observance. In the Hue area, the center of the French occupation, there were several churches. People seem to be free to worship as they please. The rules about moving about and setting up a business have loosened alot. There are many forms of capitalism and little businesses everywhere that people own. The big business and investments are a combination of government owned with outside investments, mostly Japanese.

 Are there many homeless and do they approach you for a handout everywhere - or is everyone seemingly getting by? 
Most people in the city seem to be LOWER middle class-meaning they have a place to live, a job, a TV,  and of course, a motor scooter. Not much begging that we have seen.

Are you enjoying the food?  How spicy is it? We tend to be kind of conservative in what we eat-lots of fried rice, noodles and vegetables. Easy to avoid some of the real spicy stuff that they place in front of us. And we have passed on the chance to enjoy frog and duck embryos!

Are there any obvious problems with drug abuse?
None that we have seen.

This morning I wandered just around the block of our hotel in Hanoi. Just doing a 1 block circuit was almost overwhelming. The traffic is crazy. I have a pretty good sense of direction and the streets are not square. It was not easy finding the hotel just going around the block!

Off to tour the city and later on see a performance of the water puppets.


Message 4
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Hi from the Million Elephant Kingdom
This is a VERY amazing place. Very different from Vietnam. Laos has only 5 million people compared to the 90 million in Vietna. The average wage here is less than $1,000/yr. No traffic, hardly any scooters to dodge. Luang Prabang is a city that has retained much of its historical cultural sites, look and feel. It was the original capital city with 100's of Wats (temples). They really take Buddhism seriously here. It is part of everyday life. Our hotel was right in the heart of the city. At 4 am, I thought we were under attack but it turned out to just be the temple next door beating the wakeup drums for the novice monks. We went out to the streets and joined the locals as they offered alms  (rice) to the monks at 5:30 am. They do this everyday.
The city is a peninsula with The Mekong River on one side and the xxx-forget the name river on the other side. We took a slow boat about 2 hours upriver visiting several villages along the way to a cave shrine.
Laos was a monarchy until about the 1600's. Siam and Laos had a big war and Laos lost and it became part of Siam (Thailand). When the French came into the area , 1890's, they told Siam to give them the Laos land east of the Mekong or they would invade. The French then reinstalled the Laos Monarchy. Until the Japanese took the land during WWII. The French reoccupied after the war but after the battle at Diem Bien Phu in Vietnam, the French pretty much left indochina and the monarchy had full control until 1975. Then the pathet Lao (Communist party) took the country and re-educated the King. It now operates as the People Democratic Republic, but not very democratic as it is a one part system (communist party). But, the people seem to do what they want and over the last 20 years, all policies are becoming more liberal and entrepreneurial. Tourism has also become more prevalent since the late '80's. But still, there are NOT many tourists compared tp the other southeast asian countries.
Luang Prabang is a fragile place and it is hard to think of it remaining the same as tourism increases. Also, eco-tourism is really starting to take off with hiking trips as well as kayaking the Mekong.
Had a great dinner last night in a french restaurant.

This morning we had a flight to Vientiane, the capital city. A brief tour of the city revealed some fabulous stuppas and a quite, unhurried city for a large capital. Ventiane is in the lowlands compared to the mountainious region around Luang Prabang. Tonight we have dinner and a cultural show!!
Tomorrow we finally head to Cambodia and Angor Wat.
Until next time


Message 5

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Laos is still suffering from the constant bombing from '64-''73. According to the stats, more bombs were dropped on this country than what was used on Europe during WWII. The problem now is LOTS of unexploded ordinance.  IN spite of all of that, the people are incredibly friendly. Tourism is a major source of income but NOT many visit from the US. In fact, only 40,000 visited last year . More come from Europe and lots from Asia, especially Thailand.
In VIENTIANE we were treated to a beautiful dance show. The hand movements of the dancer was incredible. I got some video of her movements but I dont know if it will show just how graceful she was.
The minority populations in Laos seem to be treated as an equal  part of the country compared to in Vietnam where they are looked down upon.
I have lost count of the number of Wats and Stupas we have seen. Every village has several. As we traveled from the mountainous region to the lowlands it got even greener with ride paddies everywhere. The Mekong River defines the border for much of the country on the west between China, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia before emptying into the  Vietnam delta  Later today we start our tour of Cambodia and Angkor Waht.

I have taken about 2 zillion pictures of course!!
UNtil next time..............

Message 6

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We are staying in Siem Reap, a town just outside of the Angkor Wat complex. The town has been built to accommodate the tourists during the last 10 years. We spent the afternoon exploring Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the complex from about 2 pm to sunset. It is enormous. It dates from the 10th century, built by the Khmer people, who are probably originally from northern India. The temples were built as Hindu Temples and this area, at its peak was one of the largest cities in the world. For its age and considering how poorly it has been guarded through constant wars and extreme poverty, it is still an amazing site with much intact and many bas-relief sculptures covering the walls depicting Hindu legends. Our guide is very knowledgeable and has been explaining many of the legends to us.

We timed the visit to stay for sunset and the colors as they changed on the Wat walls was beautiful.

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Cambodia, as the previous countries we have visited, has been scared by constant occupation, war and poverty. The Khymer culture was defeated when the Kingdom of Siam occupied the entire south east asia region in the 1500's. It was part of Siam until the French and British moved into the area and divided the area in the late 1800's, INdia and Burma going to the Brits and Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the French as IndoChina. Siam became Thailand, as a buffer between the 2 colonial giants. WWI saw the Japanese occupy the area but after the war, the French moved back in until the early 70's. About 1975 the Khymer Rouge communists (Pol Pot) staged a civil war and ruled the country for about 15 years with a brutal history of re-educating and killing almost 2 million people. Our guide was telling us during this time his mother, father, brother and sister all died. He is the only family survivor from the civil war and subsequent starvation that so many experienced. it is very sad that the entire rest of the world stood by and did virtually nothing during this time. (No oil here so we have no interests).

We have traveled in the past to Thailand and there is a distinct history, culture and  architecture there. We have noticed throughout SouthEast Asia, the history and architecture and even culture gets kind of muddled due to constant outside occupation and war. Thailand did not experience the same fate and it is the most prosperous country in the region (but they are having there own political problems now).

Cambodia is very poor, with the average income about $2,000/yr. Not as many cars or scooters as Vietnam. We are in a tourist area so people here have jobs. According to our guide, 90% of people work in agriculture, cannot afford medical care  but most seem to get at least some education and can read/write.
The language and writing is different in all three countries we have visited.
People here continue the tradition of being very friendly to us. The civil war (Pol Pot) is more on their mind than the bombing we did along the Ho ChiMinh trail on their border. The political situation here seems pretty open. Our guide says there are elections and at least 10 political parties. The locals are informed of the world news through the internet and CNN on Satellite TV.  I have not noticed clothing looking much different than what I wear. The food is similar to the other countries we have visited but with some distinct spices. Here they do not give us chop sticks while in Vietnam that was all you got unless you asked for a fork.

Today we explore more areas of Angkor Wat and end the day with a dinner and cultural show. Having this private guide service is really spoiling us. We do not have to make any decision, just follow them. They even check us into the hotels and wait in line at the airport for us!!! I can get real used to this treatment.

Stomach wise we have stayed healthy, bottled water and beer works to cure all. Bette picked up a nasty respiratory infection but seems to be recovering after a week of coughing and sneezing. The local pharmacy in Hanoi gave us meds that we kind of recognized.

Until next time


Message 7

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We have seen MANY Wats now and each one has something spectacular. Hard to believe that anything survives considering that this land has been through.
Last night we saw a performance of the Apsara traditional dance. Another one with the crazy finger movements. I read the brochure and it seems that they start stretching fingers and expanding joint connections when they are very young. Some of the video I have is unbelievable of what the fingers do.

This evening we toured a floating village in the largest Cambodian Lake. The poverty and filth takes your breathe away that people can live like this. Once you get outside of the tourist areas, you see how poor the country is.
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We are now in the airport starting the LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way home. Scotty please just beam us up!!!!

Tonight we are in Bangkok then tomorrow early we fly to Tokyo and then another flight to Seattle and then Denver. About 24+ hours.

Until we are home---signing off.


Final Message 



Some more  impressions from our travels through Southeast Asia.

Vietnam-  The economy is booming, lots of private enterprise going on since about 1987 when the communist party loosened economic restrictions. Still no freedom of speech or real democracy as only the Communist party is recognized. The country is growing rapidly in population and the roads cannot handle the motor scooters that everyone seems to have. The traffic is awful in Saigon with 9 million people. Even in the countryside, on main roads, it is hard to travel much over 30 mph. In the south our guide mentioned how difficult it was during the hard times caused when the communists first took the south in 1975 and "reeducated" many. In central Vietnam, Hoi An still has much of its old city intact. A great deal of Chinese influence is seen in the old buildings. China Beach is a booming beach district with luxury resorts starting to take root in the area. I would not be surprised to see this area  become one of the new "it" places to take a beach vacation. As we drove from Hoi An to Hue through Danang, the weather changes as you cross the central mountain ranges that separate north and south Vietnam. Hue was the home of the Vietnam Emperors  during the 1700/1800's. They lived in an "Imperial City" called the Citadel, similar to the Beijing "Forbidden City". Much of it has been saved and restored. We then flew to Haiphong, the Gulf of Tonkin and Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a geologic wonder that is amazing to see. Towering limestone formations dot the bay. The 3 hour drive to Hanoi was tortuous, fighting the traffic. Hanoi is almost as large as Saigon with traffic just as bad, with even narrower streets. Hanoi still has its old town district with a maze of tiny streets impossible to navigate filled with 1000's of shops. You cannot even walk on the sidewalks as almost every square inch of pavement has some kind of street vendor, setting up shop. We travelled by cyclo(bicycle carriage) through the old district. People mostly seem to be above the poverty level; they have a small place to live, a job, TV and a motor scooter. Most seem to have access to an education but health care is not very good. People are free to move around the country and live and work where they want. They seem to honor the tradition of Buddhism but I really did not sense that most are practicing buddhists. It is clear as you learn more about the country and talk with people that the country has suffered from its long history of invasion and occupation, first the Chinese, then the French and finally the US. The culture and architecture has a confused mix of Chinese and French influences. At the present time, people seemed positive about the US and its people and very suspicious of China.
Laos-A country that is not really in the 21st Century yet. Very poor but it does have a budding free enterprise system controlled by a communist government. Buddhist culture is evident everywhere. The people here really live the traditions and it does influence their lives. Most boys train as monks for a year or two. Every town has at least one Buddhist temple. When we drove through Luang Prabang, the lack of traffic was pleasant and dominated by tuk-tuks (the three wheeled scooters found all over Bangkok). The town is physically beautiful, dominated by the surrounding hillsides and the Mekong River.  There is still an old world charm to the place with its slow, gentle pace. Every morning, at 6 am, the town's 300 novice monks walk the streets as local residents offer alms (sticky rice). Bette and I joined the towns people one morning and gave our offerings to the young monks. We visited countless ornate temples and motored down the Mekong to visit several villages. Laos is one of the poorest countries of the world with most people living on less than $2,000/year. But we still found internet access many places. While most villages have no electricity they still have TV's running off of car batteries. Education is available but health care is mostly provided through the local pharmacy where people can buy meds of varying quality and effectiveness based on what the pharmacist thinks you need. Along the eastern border where the Ho-Chi Minh trail was located, there was extensive bombing. The unexploded ordinance is still a big problem.. People were very friendly and not intrusive in trying to sell us things in the streets. We spent one night in the capital, Vientiane. Had a chance to see the largest Stupa in the country and be entertained by some local dancers.
Cambodia-We stayed in Siem Reap, the town just outside of Angkor Wat. The hey day of the Angkor culture was about 1000 to 1500 until Siam (now Thailand)  took over much of the region until the French controlled it in the late 1800's. Again, one of the worlds poorest places with most living in poverty. At least around Siem Reap, most have jobs due to the tourist industry. Angkor Wat should be on everyones must see list. An amazing collection of well preserved structures over 1,000 years old. It gives a fascinating glimpse into what the culture most have been like during the Angkor Kingdom. We also traveled by boat to the nearby floating city. The living conditions for the 1,000's who live on the water and millions who live around the lake are incredibly unsanitary and basic services are nonexistent. In 1975 the communists took over and Pol Pot's regime instituted policies that resulted in 2 million people dying. This has affected virtually every family in the country.  The Vietnamese invaded in the late 1980's to remove the communists, now the  country has settled into something that kind of looks like multiparty democracy except for the fact that the man in charge had been in his position for 30 years! 
 It is amazing how these 3 countries people and historical sites are all recovering, in various degrees, after literally constant  turmoil, invasion and occupation. 

We had 6 different guides and they were all local people of the region we were visiting, well educated and a great source of information. Our hotels were excellent considering where we were. Mostly we had internet access and CNN/ESPN on the TV  and it was easy to find ATM money machines and bottled water. The food, after awhile, gets kind of monotonous due to the fact you really cannot just wander around and try little out of the way places. You eat in tourist type places that all serve similar local set meals. In Luang Prabang we found a great French restaurant! It was rather arduous getting to southeast Asia. It takes about 24+ hours to get to Saigon and it seems like they are giving you less legroom on planes these days. Other than the traffic in Vietnam, it was easy flying from city to city once we were in Southeast Asia.
I took about 2,000 pictures and many minutes of video. I have a 2 minute sampler of some pictures posted at the following YouTube location(not the highest quality resolution to keep the file size small)

We, of course, would love to share more of our stories, experiences and DVD show of pictures with you. If you would like to see or hear more, just lure us over to your place with some cheap (or even better,  moderate) priced red wine!!

It snowed 3" the other day on Conifer Mtn so I did some advance scouting. It looks like the next few days have no tropical storms sneaking up on Crystal River, FL and no snow storms predicted for Conifer, CO this weekend so we have started packing and plan on pulling up anchor and sailing away this weekend. Hopefully we will gently dock back at our Crystal River mooring early next week.

Until our next trip-----PEACE!!!!!!!!!!!