Vietnam Motorbike Tour: food for the soul?

I mentioned that Day 8 was exhausting. My travel companions thought they deserved the beer more than Toan, or driver.

Then there was a Thanksgiving on Day 9. I asked for chicken. This is what I got. I told Toan I thought they should have allowed the poor bird live long enough to grow a little fatter. Notice the little bit of wilted parsley for decoration. 

I did indeed eat most of the chicken with chopsticks.

Vietnam Motorbike Tour – Day 8

Day 8I had told my guide that I wanted to take photos of a wedding if possible – we had passed several – and we finally found a couple standing outside their tent posing for pictures. So of course we stopped and turned around. I quickly handed over my helmet, ran my fingers through my hair and attempted to look less like a raving lunatic than I appeared before accosting the bridal party.  All i wanted to do was take a photo but their photographer and the party encouraged me to join them – I did not look at the photo for a few days, too afraid to! The bride looked lovely though.

I loved the detail on her dress so much I cut off her Husband!

We also visited a Wooden Catholic Church in Kontum where I was quite surprised to see so many people gathered for service- until I realized it was Sunday. This particular church was built for the ethnic minority in the area who are devout Catholics. The Christian influence is mainly Catholic and the followers here have a very strong connection to the church without harbouring expectations unlike in other areas.This was according to my guide. The number of churches along our route continued to astonish me.

This was taken at the entrance. The hymns – or I assume they were – were enchanting and harmonious.

A stop at Sea Lake was a lovely surprise. It is crater filled with fresh water that remains quite clean due to government intervention to keep it so. I spent about 20 minutes enjoying the views despite how many people were also taking in the scenery. One older man sitting on the stairs was singing karaoke on a portable system – I never did figure out if he was just hanging out or perhaps hoping to collect money from other music enthusiasts, or perhaps be paid to stop – he was not very good. As I was heading bank to where the bike was I heard a voice behind me that I ignored. The man was calling out hello but his English was so poor I was unaware it was a English! He finally got close to me to say a very sharp hello. He probably thought I was purposely ignoring him. I guess in a way I was. His friend then started to translate – I think his English was worse. Lots of handshaking. They insisted I take their photos – this has happened more than once, not with me, just the people I meet. I wonder what they expect me to do with pictures of complete strangers. Of course I post them!

I have only met one man who does not smoke; that is my driver. He quit when he got married.

Caught relaxing at Sea Lake.
Most of the trip so far had been full of the verdant greens of coffee bushes, banana trees, pepper vines, saffron and rubber plantations, along with crops that are primarily sold locally. Once we hit a higher elevation and a slightly cooler climate we started to see vast acres of Green tea. There are two ways to pick tea – some of this I knew from doing research about tea many years ago so it was rather interesting to discover some things do not change. However, there is a gender split in the methods and that affects price, and, to my limited expertise, taste. Men use machines. Women handpick the top leaves. The quality is better as they do not bruise the leaves. They are very fast too – they have to be if they want to earn enough for their time. I watched two women pick for about 15 minutes, they were probably at least 30 feet apart, at separate rows, before crossing sides. Fortunately one woman was willing to slow down slightly to answer some of my silly questions. She even asked if I wanted to try – I demurred, thinking I could easily ruin her day.

I have no idea if the tea pickers appreciated the Buddhist Temple behind them – I know I did! It was gorgeous and nobody was around! I just hope I have the correct name – the Chua Bửu Minh pagoda appears to sit in the middle of the tea plantation. It was such a peaceful place with all the greenery on the outside and the beauty of the space within. I probably spent far more time than was expected visiting the temple despite having said they provide a lot of interest to me. I rarely say seen one Temple, seen them all.

Relaxing. Seemed to be the theme of the day in between all the riding. I have no idea why there is a child with a raised finger.

Dinner was quite an event. We ate at a popular place for birthday parties – young and old. Very loud, very flash, lots of cheers, good food. This seems like a good time to talk about table etiquette. As in China, people share dishes, especially hotpot. They have absolutely no qualms about throwing whatever bones, cans, bottles, unfinished bits and pieces of food, onto the floor. Yes, the actual floor of an indoor space. Some places have small plastic-lined garbage cans for the detritus, although I was learning to not count on it! I still stuck to using a plate or napkin – preferably both.

These are the highlights of Day 8, there was so much more we saw and did that I became quite dizzy with everything!

Vietnam Motorbike Tour: Day Seven

This day we covered a lot of area that was significant to the war, and the eventual outcome, that should never have gotten so out of control in the first place. The Vietnamese people suffered a great deal and, in my opinion, are still working on rebuilding the country – economically, physically and probably psychologically. It was not easy to visit some of the areas simply because I still do not fully understand what happened despite studying about it and being old enough to remember hearing about the war. I think I mentioned I had teachers who avoided the draft in the U.S. by moving to Canada.

Where did we visit? Ea Drang, where the Americans, North, and South, Vietnam battled for the territory with the U.S. losing. This was very significant for the North. (I am not going into all the political names and acronyms). I could not find much more to tell – my search kept coming up with video games. 

I am pretty sure farmers would love to be given permission to use the abandoned airstrip for planting crops.

Phoenix Airfield and Charley Hill. I was asked to find the flag on the hill, it is there – although all I could really see was a tiny red flag, so I am only assuming the yellow star was on it – planted at the top to show that, once again, the territory does not belong to the Americans despite their attempts to prove otherwise. (Alright, I am get the a little political) Phoenix Airfield is now a National Heritage site – I immediately recognized it as an airfield but not its significance. I felt I had entered a dead zone, it was that quiet. No signs, no visitors, just an airstrip with grass growing through the cracks and farmland planted right up to the edge. There is such little land farmers utilize whatever space they can – except this strip of land. It is never to be used for anything other than as a reminder of what was fought for. Not a concept everyone follows – some intrepid soul had spread out tarot roots (I think that is what they were) to dry in the sun. I can understand the appeal – flat, hot, spacious. I was rather surprised there were not coffee and rice spread out. 

Look up, look way up! Or perhaps pull out a magnifying glass.

We stopped to view two anti-aircraft tanks (I will admit I am not positive both were) that had been attacked, you can clearly see the strafing on #377 as well as where larger shells punctured the walls – one appears to have gone clear through the machine. Once again I was provided with so much information I found myself forgetting a lot. There were so many countries providing military equipment to both sides (North and South) I was getting quite confused. Russians, Chinese, Americans to name just a few ‘interested parties’. 
Please ignore the date – issues with my camera again.

I was grateful to head away from all these reminders of what man does to mankind although not too smitten with what we do the land.

As already mentioned although there is very little land for farming or cultivation the people manage to produce enough for a variety of needs and economics. One such product is rubber, or latex as my guide kept calling it. The procedure reminded me of collecting the sap from maple trees to make maple syrup. It takes a lot of sap, rubber or maple, to turn into a saleable product. The difference between was the sheer volume of rubber trees I saw – rows upon rows standing like a soldiers frozen in place. The slow running down of the white sap taking its time. The rubber plantations take up over 900,000 hectares of land here – that is nearly half of Prince Edward Island, the smallest province in Canada (where I was born). 

The scoring on the bark helps with keeping the angle right for the sun. The seasons determine which side of the tree the rubber will be collected from

The black pepper farms also take a lot of time to produce, three years before any peppercorns are ready for harvest. This means a major risk for anyone investing in black pepper if there is any sign of a disease (fungus?) that attacks the young plants and seeps into the soil. It seems there is nothing that can be done to stop the killing off of plants once they have the fungus and whole crops are devastated. Most peppercorn plantations are really just family operations including the one we visited. According to my guide the vines were showing signs of disease, he estimated they would not last a year but were mature enough to harvest. My guide’s cousin had a new peppercorn farm for only two years – they lost the plants. The price of black peppercorns has also dropped due to a glut on the market. 40% of the peppercorn world market comes from Vietnam. These farms cover 100,000 hectares of land. However, very smart farmers here, they rarely put all their eggs in one basket and plant crops in between. I admit I was becoming quite befuddled with all the crops, figures, and what grows best where. However, saffron and coffee plants are popular for their high prices.

Once harvested they are spread out on tarps to dry in the sun.

Although I refrained from taking photos we also stopped for coffee and lunch. This was a long day, with fewer places to really rest at. 

Wedding Wednesdays: Vietnam 

How could I resist taking photos of weddings while on my trip through Vietnam! There were quite a few along the way. The peacock flower arrangement was quite lovely in a garish way. By about 1:00pm everything is thrown into the back of a truck to be stowed away until the next wedding. Tables, chairs, all tableware, bunting, peacocks, whatever is needed for a wedding seems to fit in one decent sized cargo size truck – often with only a canvas top to protect t everything from the elements. 

The photo of the wedding party was the real thing; I just happened to drive past, asked my driver to turn the bike around, jumped off up the road a bit, removed my helmet, attempted to tame my hair and walked down the road to ask if I could take a picture. Most weddings seem to be held in the morning in Vietnam with October being a popular month. No idea why, it does still rain a lot.

I was somehow asked to pose with the bride and groom, maybe as a reminder to enjoy the good years while they can! Lots of handshaking as I attempted to leave to run down to my waiting chariot!

The photo in the middle of the street is Old Town walking street in Hoi An. I saw a number of couples making the best of things despite the rain. 

Also one possible Bridal fashion shoot – where, once again, rather than be unhappy about the rain the cameraman had the ‘bride’ welcoming it. I missed that shot.

Vietnam Motorbike Tour: Day 6

Day 6

As with many of the previous days we had to contend with many considerably sized bovine. These lumbering beasts are not anything like our domesticated, dainty milk cows at home! We seemed to leave with the cows and arrive at our next destination when the cows came home. Also the bats were a good indication of when it was time to find shelter – the mosquitoes were out in full zing. On this day we not only had cattle to deal with, we were going to visit elephants.

Often I was not told, nor did I ask, where we were going as I wanted it to be somewhat of an adventure. So when I was told we would be seeing elephants my worry radar was doing overtime. Of course I have heard about how illtreated these magnificent beasts are in Southeast Asia. I was certainly not prepared to ride one! To be honest I also do not ride horses – I am rather uncomfortable around large animals. Although the elephants did have riding chairs there was never any pressure to jump aboard. I was warned to not get too close when taking photo. Considering the size of them I did not more than the one warning – that is why a zoom lens is such a wonderful invention. 

We also arrived just as the morning was starting, including a wheelbarrow full of delights for each elephant. I was not about to interrupt an elephant’s breakfast to say smile please. As fast as the bamboo could be cut, with bananas and other delectables added, the largest elephant was munching away. He was not gobbling but he was intent on finishing. My first thought, beyond the astonishing size, was they looked quite healthy. Which actually makes sense when one takes the time to think about it – these animals provide the livelihood for the men (I only saw men) who keep them. They invest time and money into them. Yes, they offer rides, I saw two foreigners being slowly guided along a trail on the back of one elephant. However, the keepers seem to know many visitors prefer to appreciate the animals from a distance. I suspect many of the guides provide a small amount of money although I did not see any pass through hands. I did ask why some of the older, or I assumed from the size of the tusk on a couple, had only one full tusk – I was never provided with a satisfactory answer despite my persistence. Begrudgingly I was told perhaps it was to prevent injuries to other elephants or to people, or to make the elephants weaker – two tusks are better than one whe. It comes to knocking trees or people down. As seems necessary on this trip I made up my mind to enjoy my time, all the while keeping my distance. 

I also had to be aware of the cattle, as I said, they are not small although they do seem quite docile. These were ambling along the road, heading to the water to enjoy the cuttings a farmer/fisherman was making along the banks of the lake as well as grazing on what was missed. Although barely 8:00am the area was becoming a bustling way station for cows, elephants, farm vehicles and Motorbike guides with passengers and one lone fisherman casting his net. He never seemed to catch anything other than water weeds – perhaps that was his intention all along as the other man seemed quite happy with everything. 

Another highlight was the stop at an abandoned, nearly destroyed, Catholic Church across a bridge in an area that has had major problems with flooding. Which brings us to how was the church destroyed? Some say it was from the river overflowing, others say during the war, and one story says it was Buddhists unhappy with Madame Nhu’s – sister-inlaw to president Ngo Dinh Diem, who had the church built, Probs lay sometime in the 1940’s, in an effort to convert the centre of Vietnam to Catholicism – statement about a well respected Buddhist monk’s 1963 self-immolation in protest to severe restrictions against Buddhists, “I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbecue show,…”. She also offered to bring along some mustard for the next time. Angered by this Buddhist monks destroyed her church, leaving only the very front of the church, and nave, relatively intact as a warning. This makes the most sense to me. The church was not built that close to the riverbank. Not that it’s destruction stopped believers in the Catholic faith – as I stood in the quiet of the roofless have I could hear chanting. On a hill opposite us there is a new church, the voices of Sunday worship were falling on us.

The whole day I was also entranced by the tens of thousands of butterflies – butter yellow, pale yellow, white delights dancing all around us as we drove through the countryside, along dirt roads, through the hills and into valleys. They just made the day joyous. Stopping at an out of way local cocoa tree farm was also delightful – I had never seen a cocoa bean, such a surprise to be able to eat the white covering. Nothing goes to waste. The husk is used for fertilizer or to feed animals and any leftover beans are saved to plant more trees. Who could ask for more, coffee beans and cocoa beans – pretty close to heaven.

Oops, managed to get my photos of the cocoa plant backwards but that is fine, everything goes in a circle.

Of course we also stopped for lunch.  Chicken and rice, soup, with slightly pickled onions. This was a step above some of the roadside eateries. Tasty!

Expenses: 175,000VND = 9.65CAD