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From: PuddleGlum12/10/2018 5:51:49 PM
   of 23934
Posted Nov. 21:
Yesterday in Hanoi. Walked around the big lake, visited ancient capital, and saw a 1500 year old temple. Saw a bicycle with a cage on the back. In the cage was a pitiful puppy, starved for food, starved for affection. I quickly realized the fate of that poor puppy. I looked at my wife and asked “is that puppy going to be someone’s dinner?” She nodded sadly, “that’s how they do around here “.

Also on Nov. 21:
We’ve been fortunate with weather so far this trip. We’ve seen very little rain. Encountered fog most of Day 2 in Ha Giang, which limited our visibility but had some magical effects on the mountains. We missed a deadly tropical storm in Nha Trang area by 4 days. The forecast for Ninh Binh is cool today but otherwise good. For this we are thankful. The south, middle, and north parts of this country have substantially different weather patterns that are nearly impossible to plan around if you try to do a tour like ours. TBTG!

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To: PuddleGlum who wrote (23841)12/10/2018 6:10:55 PM
From: Joe Btfsplk
   of 23934
A picture from fifty years ago or more still haunts me.

It showed a smiling Chinese woman at market selling dogs with their lips crudely sewn shut.

But I'm lucky to have been born where better alternatives - and practices - exist.

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To: Joe Btfsplk who wrote (23842)12/10/2018 8:43:32 PM
From: PuddleGlum
   of 23934
But I'm lucky to have been born where better alternatives - and practices - exist.

I always try to consider where people are coming from. If our society advances from this point (big IF), just imagine what people 50 years from now will say about us and our practices?

50 years ago my dad told me that if a stray dog or cat wandered onto our property I should shoot it. He was quite serious.

This photo was taken a few weeks ago. Have you ever wondered where our term "hog tied" comes from? The people living where this photo was taken have very hard lives. Survival is always a challenge. I saw one couple who hiked several miles through rocky, mountainous terrain just to get water, because they had no well, and springs are few and far between.

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From: PuddleGlum12/12/2018 12:19:57 AM
1 Recommendation   of 23934
From Nov. 22:

Some observations about religious practices in Vietnam... Buddhism is the dominant religion. Ancestor worship is common. Cao Dai is a relatively new religion (est. 1926) that attempts to synthesize the major religions. Cham religion is still practiced by a few, and Christianity (mainly Catholicism) is second after Buddhism. One church we attended in Saigon was vibrant, with standing room only at 7:00 am mass, attended by many young people. In fact, that church was more lively than any I’ve seen in California. The road from Saigon to Mui Ne had many Protestant churches, some apparently constructed in the last decade or two. Phong Nha had more churches than temples (by a score of about 7 to 0), 99% catholic according to our guide. Ninh Binh also has many churches, but I’m not sure how well attended they are. Nha Trang and Da Nang have new large Buddhist pagodas, and we saw temples under construction in most parts of the country. In Ha Giang I saw neither church nor temple, though the mountains themselves made me feel like I was in God’s temple.

Also from Nov. 22:
A few social observations: most people we’ve met are very poor. $5 is a lot of money to them. We asked a hotel receptionist what she thought of the Starbucks down the street, and she replied that she couldn’t afford to try it. They work extremely hard just to survive, 12 hour days or even more. They tend to be very cooperative with each other, recognizing that each person is simply trying to make it through the day. As one person put it, the luxury of the wealthy is that they can plan for tomorrow. The poor have only today.

The words “nice” and “kind” and “gentle” were created for many of the people here. At church in Saigon one woman noticed that we were having difficulty following along in the prayer book so she came over and gently set us straight, not once but 3 times, on two consecutive days! When we went to speak with her after mass she grabbed my wife’s hand and spoke softly with her for a little while, I didn’t follow the conversation but her sincerity and tenderness were obvious. My wife refers to one woman we met as “the little angel”. There are several people we will be truly sad to leave behind. The unsophisticated gentleness we’ve often seen is delightful.

In both north and south I see that Americans are well received. Parents always want their children to learn English before any other language. Chinese are often viewed with suspicion, at best, partly because they’re buying up a lot of land and seemingly taking over, and partly because Chinese tourists are perceived as loud and obnoxious (which I have witnessed often, not only here but in California as well).

Speechless in Trang An Grottoes:

Trang An at the end of the day when the boats (and owners) are at rest:

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From: PuddleGlum12/13/2018 6:56:39 PM
2 Recommendations   of 23934
A few SI quirks limit my choice of photos to those less than 2.0 or 2.1 MB in size (which includes some beautiful panoramas), and disallow all videos.

Posted Nov. 23:

Each place we visited yesterday in Ninh Binh merits a story. Wow, WoW, and WOW! My greatest regret about yesterday is that I couldn’t use all my cameras at once. We first went to Lying Dragon Mountain, followed by Bai Dinh Temple, and ended with Trang An (route #1).

Lying Dragon mountain is visible from Tam Coc. It consists of a few shrines and stone dragons, and a whole lot of steps to climb. The view from the top is... well, you decide from the photos here.

Lying Dragon Mountain as seen from Tam Coc:

Upper and lower peaks of Lying Dragon Mountain:

Another view from the top (I posted this one or one like it before, but I don't get tired of it):

More from Nov. 23:Bai Dinh is the most magnificent temple complex I’ve ever seen, home to a 32 foot tall bronze Buddha and the largest pagoda in Vietnam. After Lying Dragon Mountain I was tired of climbing steps, but there are many more steps here than at the mountain! This place is a must see! We didn’t have time (or energy) to visit the original 900 year old temple further back in the mountain, but what we saw was fabulous.

Ten thousand Buddhas at Bai Dinh:

Multi-armed Buddha at Bai Dinh:

One of many sets of steps at Bai Dinh:

Also from Nov. 23:
Trang An Grottoes is my favorite place in Ninh Binh. You’re given a choice of 3 tour routes, 2 of which take you by the movie set for King Kong: Skull Island, and one which bypasses the movie set in favor of passage through 9 caves. I’m not a big movie buff and I love caves, so the choice was easy. Trang An Grottoes is head and shoulders above Tam Coc! The water was still and clear, the mountains were higher, we saw flowers and wildlife everywhere. It was a photographer’s dream! And ever so relaxing! The only downside is that we spent 2 1/2 hours on a hard bench in a boat, and my tailbone still hurts a good 12 hours later.

(you've already seen a lot from Trang An, so only one more at this time):

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From: PuddleGlum12/13/2018 7:25:09 PM
1 Recommendation   of 23934
From Nov. 24:
We returned to Saigon late yesterday after an uneventful flight from Hanoi. Not surprisingly the weather is hot and sticky. Not surprisingly it’s raining. Not surprisingly our tour operator arranged for our transfer from airport to hotel, just as he had done so professionally many times before. After having our baggage tickets checked I telephoned our new driver and found that his English was quite good. He asked which pole number we were at. Huh? I don’t see any pole numbers, not even any poles, so I handed the phone to my wife and she started talking away with him in Vietnamese. We almost reached the curb when I noticed a man and woman holding signs with our names. Huh? Who’s on the phone? Honey!!! Look left! Somehow she navigated the surprise on the left with the person on the phone and hung up, only to begin an excited, fast paced conversation with the couple who had been holding the signs. I couldn’t pick up enough of the conversation to figure out whether our driver had been formally changed or if we were being hijacked. The new driver claimed to be the older brother of our first tour guide, but there was no physical resemblance, and the age difference between the two did not support this claim. After several minutes things calmed down and we discovered that our first driver, when at home, goes by the same name as our first tour guide, but we know him by his given name, hence our confusion. To summarize, our new driver is the older brother of the driver who was with us for the first week of our trip after leaving Saigon 3 weeks ago (he also picked us up at the airport when we first arrived in Saigon)! If you have trouble following the preceding explanation, just trust us, we sympathize!

Upon arrival at our hotel, the same one we stayed in during our first week in Saigon, the doorman/parking director/security person gave us a big smile (he’s always there, early morning, midday, late night, when doesn’t this guy work?) and greeting, then we walked to the front desk and saw 4 other faces (bell boy and other hotel staff) with warm smiles happy to see us. Kind of like coming home again!

More from Nov. 24:

Informal. That’s a good word to describe how things work in this country. During our trip to Ha Giang we went to the tower that marks the northernmost point in Vietnam. Far from the base of the tower I saw a barrier beyond which only motorbikes were allowed. Those in autos had to park this side of the barrier and then make the long walk uphill to the tower. Our driver waved to the guy manning the barrier and, surprise, up went the barrier! Turns out our driver and the barrier controller are friends. How convenient!

This morning as we left the hotel for church (5:00 am, remember?) it was raining and we needed an umbrella. Mr. doorman/parking director/security person to the rescue! He handed us his umbrella, meaning that any guests entering or leaving the hotel for the next hour would not have the luxury of staying dry between their car and the hotel. Convenient again (for us, anyway).

Of course there are more such instances. I like informality!

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From: PuddleGlum12/14/2018 8:51:27 PM
   of 23934
Posted Nov. 25:
Sitting in a coffee shop in Saigon with one of our new friends, while outside rages the worst storm to hit Saigon in 10 or 20 years. Everything’s cool for us!
"Pro-life" (??!) pickup on the streets of Saigon:

Also Nov. 25:
Journey from Ha Giang town to Ma Pi Leng. Finally catching up to one of our special days from a week ago. These mountains are hard granite, with very little water for living. Here you will often see large boulders and sharp, deep canyons, reminiscent of Tolkien’s description of the Misty Mountains. In some places you will see lush vegetation, where somehow the plants have managed to hide the forbidding rocky soil on which they grow. We were fortunate to have good weather for most of the day. As we wound our way up to Ma Pi Leng pass on the dangerously narrow road with steep drop off to our right we were too distracted to notice the high steep mountain on our left that threatened to bend over upon us, until we reached the top where the hazards of our just-completed journey were more apparent. As dusk approached we stopped by a monument that served as a memorial to those who died during the construction of the dangerous road. The intermittent fog filled valleys that we knew were deep, but looking down over the edge of the road all we could see was endless fog beneath us, with no sign of a bottom. Dusk turned the large boulders into goblins, and the strangely shaped peaks into the rock-throwing giants of Tolkien’s Misty Mountains, and the only thing lacking from Bilbo’s journey was thunder and lightning.
Misty Mountains:

More from Nov. 25:
At the end of our first day in the “Misty Mountains” we found our Rivendell in Dong Van at Hmong Homestay.

Also from Nov. 25:
Catch up, from our second day in Ha Giang. Visited Lùng Cu and finished the day in Yen Minh. Lùng Cu is a tower marking the northernmost point in Vietnam.
Lung Cu tower:

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To: PuddleGlum who wrote (23847)12/14/2018 8:55:05 PM
From: PuddleGlum
   of 23934
Posted Nov. 26:
The highlight of our third day in Ha Giang was the visit to our guide’s house. We traveled alongside a river about 5 km from the Chinese border, and eventually stopped just off the main road. The trail to his village was unsuitable for driving an suv, so we got out of the car and my wife sat behind our guide on the motorbike and they took off for the village. 15 or 20 minutes later he came back for me. We rode uphill, through mud, rocks, trying to avoid buffalo pies along the way. All the while I had my GoPro running. Eventually we got to his house, a two room building where he lives with his parents, 2 siblings, wife, and two children. The view from his home was stunning as is so much of Ha Giang. We enjoyed steamed corn from their field, roasted corn as well, and sweet potatoes, also from their field. Oh, I mustn’t forget to mention the “happy water”, hard liquor made from... corn, of course. We sat, ate, and visited for an hour or two, very much like family. You could say these people are poor, but in a setting like this I had to re-evaluate my definition of “poor”. Maybe “rich” in a different way than I’m used to thinking!

Oh, lest I forget an interesting part of this story... as we left the house our guide first took my wife on his motorbike back to the main road. I began walking, to make up some time. About 200 yards from the house I came to a fork in the road. Hmmm... I didn’t recall seeing a fork on the way up! Well, one fork went down, and the other went up . I knew that most of the ride had been uphill from the main road. But was that 95% up, or 100% up? Clearly the odds favored the left fork going down, but I wondered, just a little, as I started down the left fork. Just then two young Hmong boys came walking from the village and took the right fork. I called to them and asked in Vietnamese which way to Quan Ba. They didn’t speak Vietnamese, and they probably had never seen a white guy before. Eventually they understood that I was going to Quan Ba, and they pointed down the left fork. Whew! Relieved of that little nagging doubt! Then the boys started laughing. Hmmm... laughing at seeing a white guy? Or at playing a neat little joke on a white guy? I continued down the left fork, and finally thought to pull out my GoPro and iPhone to review the footage from the ride uphill, and from this determined without a doubt that the left fork was the right fork (you might think now that I’m confused?). After walking a couple of minutes I noticed a small herd of unattended buffaloes heading my direction on the narrow path. Oops. They’re docile creatures, until they’re frightened. I swallowed hard, took the hard right side of the path, and then to my great relief our guide arrived on scene and I was saved from the terrible beasties. Happy ending!

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To: PuddleGlum who wrote (23848)12/14/2018 9:13:30 PM
From: PuddleGlum
2 Recommendations   of 23934
Posted Nov. 26:
Good morning VIETNAM! And goodbye. My journey to Vietnam was a lifetime in 28 days. I won’t return home whole, because I can’t help but leave a part of myself here. Let this be a warning to anyone who might come here unaware of the risks. If you don’t steel your heart before you arrive, the people here will steal it away from you, and you won’t even put up any resistance.

Last night just before midnight our room telephone rang. The young man at the front desk heard that we were leaving in the morning, and wanted to say his goodbyes.

This morning we dashed out the front door to go to church (5:00 am, remember?), only to discover that it was raining lightly. Without any exchange of words the doorman/parking coordinator/security person handed me his umbrella, which we quickly accepted. Arriving at church I looked for the destitute young woman we had seen at the gate during our first 2 days in Saigon almost a month ago. She wasn’t there, perhaps due to the weather, perhaps she will never be seen again. We entered the church, and during mass the same woman who had helped us find the right page in the prayer book during our first days here again gave us some assistance. I clasped her hands and quietly said goodbye.

Yesterday we met with “5” and his wife, who came here from 2 hours away to see us one last time, and we met with a handful of others who became precious to us during our stay. I had my last “one more coconut”, brought by another dear friend from almost two hours away. Not to mention the fresh "mit" (jackfruit) that was back on the menu, also brought from two hours away.

This morning we say farewell to “the little angel” and her friend. Then we’re off to the airport. God willing we’ll be safely back home soon.

We arrived home on Nov. 27, safe and sound.

Posted on Nov. 28:

Soooo hungry... must be lunchtime. Sooooo sleepy... must be 3:00 am

And THAT, my dear friends, is the END of the story... I hope.

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From: SmoothSail12/22/2018 5:04:29 AM
1 Recommendation   of 23934
Lordy mercy. Try to keep you eyes dry through this:

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