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Our Week in Vietnam, Part 1

Hey everyone, sorry it’s been a while. We’ve been active but it hasn’t reflected in my blog. We had a long weekend in Kanchanaburi that I should have written about. Oh, well, what’s past is past. Let’s get to our trip to Vietnam.

So we planned a 6-day trip to Vietnam, starting in Central Vietnam and ending in the south. We had accommodations for the first two nights but left the second two open depending on what we liked about the few cities we’d visit and then we had two nights in Ho Chi Minh City.

Day One

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Lido Homestay. Hoi An, Vietnam

Flying in to Da Nang International Airport on midday Sunday, we wanted to go straight to the beach (more to get it out of the way than anything [I don’t really like beaches]). Our AirBnb scheduled us a private car to drive us the 30 minutes or so to the beaches outside Hoi An. Getting there, we were welcomed to the cutest little bungalow by the sweetest host I’ve ever met. The name was Lido Homestay and it was a one minute walk from the beach and incredibly affordable. After settling in, we headed to the beach. After lunch and a bit of time on the beach, we headed back to the homestay, had a shower then called a taxi to go to Hoi An Ancient Town.

As soon as we were dropped off, we fell in love with Hoi An. The old town is a beautiful blend of Southeast Asian and foreign architecture that was a major port from the 15th to 19th centuries. A large portion of the old town does not allow cars at certain times so it’s an incredibly enjoyable stroll through the city. Especially at night. Because of lanterns. Paper lanterns. Everywhere. Every. Where. I also found a Dr Pepper, so there’s that.

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Two-Day Tour

So we’re usually not the type to book fancy tours, especially not ones that cover multiple days. We travel at our own pace and spontaneity and don’t want anybody messing with that. That said, sometimes it’s just too difficult to figure out the logistics and a tour is the best option. This was us when I was trying to figure out how to fit in all the history in Central Vietnam (especially Vietnam War stuff). The traveling between locations was difficult enough. So we found and booked a two-day historical tour of Hue and the surrounding areas. It was a group tour that could have been as large as ten people but somehow it ended up being just Halie and I. Private tour for the win.

We were picked up early on our second day in Hoi An. We had a multiple-hour drive ahead of us through the mountains towards Hue. Our tour guide, Key, informed us we’d be taking the long route there up and over the mountains along the sea and then lagoon. Sounds good to us. And the sights were incredible:

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After the breathtaking drive through the mountain, our first stop was the tomb of the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Khai Dinh.  He was a hated king that forced 10,000 people to build his tomb. During the construction, around half of the workers died! Unfortunately, his tomb is still an impressive sight to behold. I’ll add an album at the end of the blog that’ll have many more photos.

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Leaving the Emperor where he lies, we visited a serene pagoda on the edge of the Perfume River then took a short cruise down to the entrance of the Imperial City, which was the nation’s capitol and the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1045. Most of the city was destroyed during American bombing in the Vietnam War but the buildings that still stand and the bit of reconstruction that has been completed shows the splendor (and excess) of the Nguyen emperors.

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Back to the hotel, Halie and I indulged in a spa package (treat yo’ self). Then the tour guide picked us back up for dinner.

Day two was another early pick up by the tour guide because we had to head even farther north towards the old border between North and South Vietnam and the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ). We were first brought to an out of the way museum about the residual horrors leftover from the war, mainly in the form of land mines. Since the end of the war, unexploded bombs and landmines have caused more than 100,000 injuries and fatalities. But there are numerous organizations working their butts off locating and dismantling the bombs. We then headed towards the actual border, the Ben Hai River, that divided north and south and experiences the brunt of the violence.

After walking around the area and across the river, we then headed even farther north to see the Vinh Moc Tunnels. I first learned about these tunnels watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. For 6 years, the villagers in this area lived in tunnels while the insistent bombing from American planes made it impossible to be at the ground level. As America build better bombs that would penetrate deeper, the villages kept digging deeper. By the third level, they were 30 meters deep (almost 100 feet). Not a single villager died and even 17 children were born during these 6 years!!

Okay,  realized this blog is getting kinda long so I’m going to cut it off here. Link to Part 2 of our trip to Vietnam.

Here’s more photos from the days I’ve spoken of so far.

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Posted by on November 1, 2017 in Life, travel

 

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In Preparation of Thailand

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If you follow me on any social media platforms, you might have seen the big news. Halie and I are moving to Bangkok this summer!! I’m really excited to move to a new country and experience a different culture and be immersed in a different language. But to prepare myself for this, I wanted to conduct a literary crash course in all things Thai. I wanted to tell you about a few books I read (titles are links to Amazon):

A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

51-twjc45jl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Of course I had to start with history. While looking for a book to begin I realized that there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to Thai history written in English. Plenty of travel books, not much history. But this one had good reviews so I decided to begin my literary journey here. And what a journey.

Thailand’s history is a rollercoaster ride of monarchy and democracy and military coups. Thailand is unique in being the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by a Western power. They were left as a buffer between French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and the British Empire in South Asia (India and Burma). During World War II, Thailand tried to stay neutral but with pressure from Japan (and subsequent invasion), they allowed free passage for Japanese soldiers and declared war against the United States and the UK. But by the end of the war, Thailand had emerged as an ally of the United States.

While the Cold War raged around the globe, the United States saw Thailand as the bulwark of “democracy” amongst all the communist nations of Southeast Asia. Because of this, the United States funded the Thai military and police. This caused political instability, military coups and the weakening of the monarchy’s power for decades well into the 1980s. Although Thai politics began to be more stable by the constitution of 1997, there has still continued to be political unrest and military coups. The most recent military coup was in 2014 and Thailand is still run by the military junta.

Theravada Buddhism by Diana & Richard St. Ruth

51uskueijul-_sx321_bo1204203200_I decided next to move from history to religion. 95% of Thailand’s citizens practice Theravada Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that began in Sri Lanka and spread throughout Southeast Asia. This short guide explained the beginnings of Buddhism, the division of Theravada from other sects and the practices of the religion. I believe this has been very helpful in understanding some of the cultural practices of Thailand. Their interactions with their monarch, the temples and shrines everywhere and their relationships with each other can be explained in the context of Theravada Buddhist practices. The only issue I have with Buddhism is all the numbers! The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Threefold Discipline, the Seven Purifications… It just gets to be a little too much counting for me!

Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

51qamujhwql-_sx322_bo1204203200_Published in the 1950s, this fascinating book follows minor nobility through major transformations of Thailand. Told through the point of view of a girl (and later woman) named Phloi, we follow her life during four different kings of Thailand, spanning the years 1890-1946. We get to see Thailand become a part of the global political world and part of the modern world. The end of the absolute monarchy and the introduction of the first constitution in 1932 is seen through the eyes of the citizens of Bangkok. We see, through Phloi’s experiences, when Japanese soldiers start marching through the streets during World War II and the different reactions of people depending on their place in Thai politics. The story ends with Phloi’s death at about the same time as her fourth king, Ananda Mahidol.

I would love for there to be a sequel, maybe titled One Reign, that follows a character similar to Phloi during the next king’s tenure. Bhumibol Adulyadej began his reign in 1946 and at the time of his death in October of last year, was the longest serving head of state (70 years). He was a much loved king that was a sign of stability for the citizens of Thailand during the tumultuous politics of the Cold War and into current events.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

51wmtw359wlSo I didn’t talk about every book I read but I wanted to end my literary research (for now) and my blog with a modern Thai book. This debut book published in 2005 is a collection of seven stories. They are all set in modern-day Thailand, some in Bangkok and some in the Thai countryside. Most of the stories have young children as the protagonist and they all beautifully depict a different side of life in Thailand.

“Farangs,” the name of the first short story and the word for foreigners, gives us a picture of the interactions between tourist and Thai. “Sightseeing,” the fourth story, is a gut-wrenching example of the difficulties of growing up, especially with an aging and sickly family member. “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place” is a hilarious and touching story of an American father who becomes handicapped and forced to move to Thailand to live with his son and Thai daughter-in-law. As you an tell from the title, he’s not too excited to be there. “Priscilla the Cambodian” gives us a short look into the life of Southeast Asian refugees that are forced to live in Thailand. Really, all the stories are well worth reading. I’m excited to see what Lapcharoensap publishes in the future.

 

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