July 4: a morning tour of Hanoi by rickshaw was a visual and olfactory experience! We toured the city’s Old Quarter aboard bicycle rickshaws called cyclos. In this part of town we found each colorful street devoted to a particular craft or ware. We were pedaled amongst the quaint French buildings along Shoe Street, Silk Street and Banner Street (to name just a few), and ended at historic Hoan Kiem Lake, the social center of Hanoi, where we were transferred by bus to Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (a small and unimpressive experience).
After a very hot and humid morning we enjoyed lunch and a rest in our beautiful Sofitel Metropole Hotel. Michelle, George, Tom and I braved the hussle and bustle walking to the Old Quarter shop and find a local bar for a beer. Apparently, the locals prefer to have their little shops (first floor store front of their homes) over office work. Many shop owners make just enough to get by. Their social life includes coffee, lunch and tea breaks with friends sitting on little chairs in a circle right on the sidewalk to visit. This set-up adds to the challenge of walking the sidewalk and streets—not to mention dodging the huge volume of cars and motor bikes dashing around you. Slightly scary on your first outing!
Leaving Laos went smoothly. Our flight was 45 minutes…we were instructed to taxi off to the right of runway 11 R. This was the opposite side of the airport where our briefing directed us last evening. There were 4-5 commercial airlines awaiting our touch down, waiting for clearance to take the runway. While that made us feel a little important—the tides changed because we ended up holding for 45 minutes before we were escorted to the assigned parking position!! Thank God for air-conditioning — 113 degrees!! This was our record length for a taxi hold. Two of our comrades were assigned holding patterns before cleared to land…either way we all burned extra jet fuel today. Busy airport!
July 3, afternoon Tom and I visited the “Maison Centrale” (Central House, a traditional euphemism to denote prisons in France). The people call it Hoa Lo Prison (by it’s location) the French colonialists built it in 1896 to hold thousands of Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. August 1964 – March 1973 part of the prision was used for captured American pilots who were shot down in North Vietnam. John McCain spent time in this prison in 1967….it is interesting to see photos and read the Vietnam “slant” on the how the US POWs were given the “best possible living conditions”. American refer to this prison as the “Hanoi Hilton”.
Late July 3–Michelle and George arrived in Hanoi to spend a week with us. We are thrilled to have them join us on this amazing journey!
First evening is Luang Prabang we visited the “evening market” to bargain and make a few small purchases.
Diann joined a few of our traveling comrades to give morning offerings for the Buddhist monks. A daily 0530 routine: monks from the 5 monasteries, walked around town to gather donated food for the day (two meals: breakfast and lunch). Our resort prepared the sticky rice, we contributed a handful of rice to each monk’s pot. Several of them are very young.
The afternoon cruise on the Mekong River: Tom & I boarded the long narrow boat for a peaceful 3 1/2 hour river tour. The “Cave”, containing multiple Buddha statues, was interesting end point up river.
0730 transfer to airport, another flying day. After a smooth take-off, little traffic, we were quickly cleared to 26,000 then 29,000. Just for curiosity we plugged in our Milwaukee airport (MWC)… 7,251 NM away! Of course that would be the great circle route—which is not our journey’s plan.
Todays flight path also took us right over Vientiane, Laos where our good friend, Richard, spent a few years of his flying career.
Approaching Luang Prabang the clouds are closing in as the terrain rises in the “up country” of Laos.
0730….loaded in our Tuk Tuk (motorbike rickshaw) we were off visit three Buddhist temples: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. The breeze while riding in the Tuk Tuk in the shade was lovely but once in the sun (almost no breeze) we melted in the 90 degree temperature and 85% humidity. Along our way we witnessed a walking funeral procession with Buddhist monks attending.
Our tour guide, Ket, not only shared volumes of knowledge but did so with very well spoken English. The 12th century Hindu-built temple was constructed with sandstone by volunteers. After Jayavarman VII convertd to Mayana Buddhism the Temple became a Buddhist Temple. The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. Only 3 of the 5 lotus shaped towers remain. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats. Angkor Wat is the 7th wonder of the world
Angkor Thom has five entrance gates, one at each ordinal compass point andthe Victory Gate in the east wall. Each of the gates is topped by the face of Avalokitesvara. The woman sculptured faces are on all four sides of the towering structures..
Ta Prohm. Built during the time of king Jayavarman VII and is best known as the temple where trees have been left intertwined with the stonework, much as it was uncovered from the jungle. It might be considered in a state of disrepair but there is a strange beauty in the marvelous strangler fig trees which provide a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork. This is one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat and the Bayon because of the beautiful combinations of wood and stone. Black and white film photographers especially love this site because of this and most of the stunning postcard shots of Angkor’s trees come from here; pop culture fans, on the other hand, may recognise a few scenes from Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider.
Another flight day, up early…bags ready and off to the airport. 3 hours flight time today.
The holding was necessary because of ground work (closed taxiway & section of apron). Airplanes landing needed a long taxi to position and take-off traffic required a long back taxi on the runway to take-off. The four Air Journey planes were part of stack up…..and only one runway.
One day tour for the highlights of Singapore: tour guide transported us to the largest display of orchards in the world! Then an hour floating boat tour.
Singapore Marina Bay water front offered a unique view of the city. We boarded the Bumboat (battery operated) which decreases polution of motor boats on the Singapore river. In 2008 the government created a new method of providing drinking water: a “Marina Barrage” to hold the conservation of recycled rainwater. Currently, Singapore has a water supply agreement with Malaysia which ends 2060. Fresh water is a valued and limited commodity which drives the government research for plausable solutions.
Singapore Flyer: each capsule holds 28 people with full capacity of 784 total. A full circuit is completed in 32 minutes and gives amazing views of the city.
Our Buddhist Temple visit in China Town…was most colorful and a peaceful conclusion of touring on this very hot and humid day.