Here Be Dragons

Travelling in China and Vietnam one cannot miss a beast of myth the countries share. Dragons lurk above, rear up from fountains, wind along stairwells. Dragons control rainfall, typhoons and floods. They symbolize power and good luck. In ancient China the dragon symbolized the sovereignty of the emperor. Images of dragon decoration in architecture, furnishings, monuments, musical instruments, tools or war and clothing were common. Look closely at the number of claws when visiting royal palaces – five claws were for the sole use of Emperors. The dragon is one of the twelve symbols in the Chinese and the Vietnamese zodiac. Dragons in Vietnam generally have similar symbolism to China. They bring rain to feed the fields, but can also cause destruction through typhoons and floods. A dragon symbolizes power, intelligence and luck and symbolized supreme power to the King. The country of Vietnam is shaped like a dragon.

Here be dragons. Major equipment issues and a resulting blogger breakdown resulted in a few having little information. However, these choices are more for how artists perceived the dragons of imagination.

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Ba Then Hau Temple, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam 
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Temple built and dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh, Vinh Loc, Long Duc village
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I never could decide if this dragon looked shocked after biting its tongue or that mere mortals have dared to cross the steps.
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However, it is a wonderful carving that catches the breath 
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vehicle used in funeral procession for deceased followers of Caodaism; Tay Ninh, Vietnam
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Now this a dragon! Dragon Bridge, opened to traffic 2013 on the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang, Vietnam
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Dragons adorn the corners this quiet Buddhist temple’s eaves
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Made out of chipped pottery, these dragons look a little friendly; Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam
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Jade dragon at the Confucius Temple, Nanjing China
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Vietnam: Hoi An

My ten day trip ended in Hoi An where I met with my daughter who had arrived there the previous day. Unfortunately, she was not happy with my choice of hotel and let me know it every s i n g l e day. We were there for FIVE days! This was a major reminder as to why I travel solo – I was beginning to doubt the upcoming four day trip we had booked would happen. So much so that by the second day I was in Hoi An I cancelled my driver and was looking into flights back to China or even home to Canada – always follow up on consequences once stated. My daughter was shocked enough to ask me to try to reverse that decision. I mulled over it, told her some concessions were necessary, then contacted my lovely guide. The trip was on, my daughter and I agreed to only spend some of the time together – Hoi An was looking friendlier.

I liked that although our hotel was not within the immediate vicinity of Old Town it was close enough to withstand the heat and humidity that I found it was only just bearable. Each day I left with my hat, umbrella and a full bottle or two of water as well as a granola bar. When my daughter asked if I needed anything from home I asked for more granola bars. She threw in a pair of sandals she had travelled in the previous year – to replace the pair stolen from me in Saigon – because she knew how much my knees would suffer if I only had flip flops. These ended up being my main footwear for the remainder of my travels except when my sturdier walking shoes were necessary. It is these actions that remind me my daughter is basically a good person. We just have to take each other in small doses.

We visited Old Town a few times. This is definitely what draws tourists. The area has a quaint, lazy bustle feel to it during the daytime with many opportunities to visit small, local museums, a couple of old courtyard homes and of course the 18th century, Japanese wooden bridge that sits at one end of the old town. This a favourite spot for photos – nearly impossible to get one without a complete stranger staring out from one section or an entrance. I do not think I growled at everyone to get out of my way for the shot above. Depending on the time and disposition of the ‘guards’ posted at each end there is a fee, or no fee. When we were caught in a downpour everyone nearby huddled at an entrance to avoid paying to go further along.

as we widened our walks behind the main walkways we stumbled across this wonderful house sitting rather forlorn, a beautiful remnant of French influence with enough of an Asian twist to have both of us exclaim in delight, “I want this!” We remained for a few minutes of adoration and dreams. It really was close enough to the heavily visited Old Town to seriously consider for anyone with the money and time to turn it into a boutique hotel.

Evening brought a different vibe. This is when the area becomes very crowded, vendors are out in full force, a wonderful market with all sorts of delicious food and fabulous goods open their stalls and everyone is in a great mood. We ate too much. We joined many others posing with stunning lanterns – my daughter was quite swift at ducking in, angling for a shot, then bowing out with one of her winning smiles. Red lanterns are strung above, beautifully crafted lanterns in all sorts of designs and patterns are lit up to entice buyers, lanterns to drop in the river as prayers to dearly departed, or the gods, are sold left, right and centre. I am quite sure this is not great for the environment. It did cross my mind there are most likely people who drag the soggy remnants out at the end of the nightly revelling. Happy, easy revelling. People may have been a little drunk but never belligerent. A place for families, single people, couples, old and young.

We mainly took it easy for the five days in Hoi An. I had a pedicure. My daughter had her hair coloured and cut. We even made it to the beach. I walked – 40 minutes of insanity in the heat. My daughter sent me a message to say she was taking a TA I and would meet me. I was nearly there by the time she showed up. We seemed to have hit a time when a storm was brewing. This meant absolutely no swimming. However, all the many, many ocean facing restaurants and bars had great seating for viewing the waves, sand and anyone silly enough to get too close to the water. (The two photos show just how close I came to being swept off my feet by an exuberant wave) Dare to sit down and a lifeguard was immediately there to chase you away. Our day wandered into lunch, some cocktails (I drank water), reading and relaxing. The storm did not arrive.

It was soon our last night, time to pack our bags before heading out on a four day Motorbike Tour into my guide’s home country. He had rather happily cancelled a trip from Hanoi, in the north, to Hoi An when I had first suggested a second tour. His home is about a 30 minute drive to the country – he had time to go home for a few days before our tour. I was looking forward to discovering more of this wonderful, diverse, beautiful, small country.

Paradise Cave: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005, and have now taken over in popularity the better known Phong Nha Caves that are announced by a huge sign on one of the hills outside the town of Phong Nha. The latter caves can only be reached by boat then walking to the caves so we opted for Paradise. Which was just as well as we discovered later, which also explained why Paradise seemed to be suddenly getting crowded at one point, the Phong Nha Caves were closed due to high water. It took four years for experts to fully explore over the next four years before opening to the public –  31 km long, the largest dry cave in the world, we only explored the ‘easier’, monstrously large, dry section. 100 metres at its highest point and up to 150 metres wide. The boardwalk inside this section of the cave, once down the steep, steep stairs, is an impressive one and 1/4km long that provides many wonderful views of the various formations one would expect in a cave. The more intrepid can choose to stop at – before or after – one of the more challenging sections for dark caving (no thank you), wading in water through a cave, rafting, (I think that is what they meant when our guides were telling us about the activities) and cave climbing. There is also the very carefully protected cave in which only 300, carefully vetted, visitors per year are allowed to explore. This particular cave, Hang Son Doong, could fit an entire Manhattan city block insid and takes a week to explore! Like I said, we chose paradise (need I suggest, over Hell?)


These reminded me of ancient blades melded together over time.


My only fear was having one of these fall on us!

Readers may note I say we versus me, I was on a four day motorcycle tour with my youngest daughter. She ended up not being a happy camper during the significantly long uphill, switchback trek to the mouth of the cave. (Rather than tell me she was hungover she just complained – most likely because I would not have felt a bit sorry for her. The blisters on her feet however were another issue) It took me 45 minutes to an hour to the mouth, she took longer.

There were maybe 3-4 places with coloured lights; my preference would be none. (In and around Guilin, China, also known for its caves, lighting is a garish art form

Once there we had to climb down a short set of steps, enter the somewhat narrow mouth to the cave, adjust our eyes, then be wowed by the spectacular, disorienting view, in the eerie darkness. Plus the stairs. The steep stairs. Wooden, vertigo inducing stairs. I had a few moments when I did not think my equilibrium would balance on time to go forward or back. Fortunately my brain and feet worked in unison and I sallied forth. My daughter was somewhere behind me taking pictures and finally enjoying herself despite the muttering of ‘I’ve seen caves, why am I here’ that were audible enough for me to hear until I was further away – I never did remind her that sound carries. I focussed on being awed by the natural, internal world. White walls, cathedral surmounting ceiling, a couple of degrees cooler than outside, naturally formed, marbled statues that outclass even the most perfect of all statues – which is of course up to debate. I was happy to note this cave is tastefully lit, just enough light to not trip over your feet. We were also there, until as noted, more visitors were arriving, when it was relatively quiet. At one point it felt as though we were the sole inhabitants of a lost underworld. 

Although called a dry cave there was water on many of the surfaces. I did wonder where it came from.
This was like time had suddenly stood still in mid bubble.

Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of huge spaces unless taken from above, and, although I took a few pictures from the top of the stairs’ the feel for the space – I never felt I was literally under millions of tons of rock, well not until now – cannot be depicted unless perhaps a drone (heaven forbid) were to be used. I hope I managed, with help from my daughter who has a much better eye for photo ops than I, to find enough shots for others to enjoy. 

This was the end for us although my daughter thought the sleeping guard gave us the opportunity to slip over the guardrail. I did read later that it is possible to explore further with a guide. The fact a guide is necessary made me happy to turn back.

Wedding Wednesday

I managed to get a few of these two who did appear to newly wed. Or just about to be.
Someone needs to tell her it is supposed to be a happy day!
It seems that my daughter said yes to the dress recently. She found it at a pop up wedding dress sale. Upon receiving one exclamation from a friend s explained it something along these lines: I could not help it, it fell off the hangar and leapt into my heart. Although I may have the exact wording wrong it certainly describes just how important the selection of a wedding dress can be. I remember when her younger sister and I were dress shopping, now over nine years ago, we both thought we would no be overtaken by emotion simply because we were not wired that way. Then she came out wearing one dress in particular and I had tears. She was s little teary also. As it turned out she did not buy that dress after deciding it would only suit one venue, which had been knocked out of the running. So, like her older sister now, we headed for a trunk sale and found the perfect dress, one that she had first found, tried on, and fallen head over heels in love with. Except it was the first dress and who buys the first one?

I never could decide if this was just a photo shoot with models or an actual wedding shoot.

For now I only have pictures because I am in China, my daughter is in Ontario, and I go home to British Columbia. A dress shopping date in Toronto was set for January that we will still keep. After all, there are accessories, and i still need a dress. Or, although not Chinese, perhaps my daughter can have two dresses! Her sister did, one for the wedding and dinner, then a fun little purple dress for heading out for a night of dancing.

Try as I could I was not able to capture her white sneakers.

Meanwhile, I did find some interesting dresses on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam and Yangshuo, China. I hope to add more next Wednesday!

Vietnam: Photos I Wanted to Include (the first 14 days)

One of the challenges with keeping a blog that include pictures is deciding which ones to use. Which ones will appeal, which ones appeal to me, and of course can I recall why I took a specific photo in the first place. Another challenge for me is trying to keep them straight! Using my iPhone was challenging enough, adding my Canon PowerShot SX120 nearly did me in on the technical end of things. Perhaps it will be noted how old the camera is; too bad I have not mastered how to use it. There was a manual, and instructions could be found online – my problem is that, like my sandals that were stolen, the camera came into my hands via my mother. She read the manual, she also looked everything up before and after making the purchase. I did not. I am still attempting to either delete the dates completely or change to match the here and now – unsuccessfully. Which means my nifty little gadget for downloading photos from the card to my iPad has been doing so based on incorrect dates. The result is a mess. Therefore, before I delete anything (to make room, get rid of duplicates and start over) I thought I would share some favourites in a few loose themes over the days, plus captions when I can recall where I was. Some of these will be repeats. (I believe I already explained trying to keep track became nearly impossible for me) I am shuddering at picking up my last two weeks – four days were another bike trip!

Capturing the Scene (or trying to)

It is worth mentioning again that the scene behind me, garbage piled up, rat scurrying, seedy area, made this one more stunning.

Still laughing, this fellow continued to help.
After washing away the unwanted bits and pieces of fish. The day begins early.

Truly capturing the shades of green in a photo evaded me every time.
The hovel with the shrine.

The People 

Toan, slickers, sandals and dragon fruit. I coveted his blade. Two varieties of this delectable fruit – white or red, both delicious.
This was a typical sight at the market. The strangest item on a bike was a full size sofa!

I declined the invitation to join these guys, far too much swilling of beer.
This group of picnickers was not any less sedate. On my return two of the women were drunkenly serenading each other. The BBQ is a favourite in some parts of Vietnam – most westerners would be horrified by it.
The harvest. Some sort of shellfish.

I believe this was raising the gate at the railway tracks to let everyone through.
Making noodles – not fully automated means there is work.
Dalat train – solely a tourist attraction now. Train enthusiasts will appreciate the design of the tracks as well as the history.