Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Phu Quoc, Viet Nam

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton

By the time I arrive on the island of Phu Quoc, I had traveled for a few weeks and covered a lot of interesting sites. Phu Quoc island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and closer to Cambodia than Viet Nam, It is not a very well-known destination outside of Viet Nam.

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The sky was blue and it was hot. There was a beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, clean water to swim in, a book about the Viet Nam War that I wanted to read and a beachfront restaurant and bar.

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Though there were things I wanted to see on this island, I suddenly had no pressing need to go anywhere.

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I mustered up the energy to walk down the beach and explore my surroundings. I was in the tourist area.

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There were many hotels. In fact, I got lost on the way back and had to ask which one was mine, There were a lot of tourists but I did not hear any American English. The non-English speaking Vietnamese waiters would say things like “‘wunderbar or nostrovia when appropriate. They were used to throngs of German and Russian tourists.

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Beds were set up along the beach competing for cheap massages, manicures, pedicures, threading, (hair removal – which hurts by the way).

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It was really funny to do that on the beach.

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There was definitely a separation of tourists and locals on this resort beach. In a few years I fear it will run the risk of being another “anywhere beach.”

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Five star resorts do a really good job of separating you from the culture of a country. There were all kinds of resorts in all price ranges on this beach which gave it a funky quirky atmosphere.

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Further south on the island there are quiet beaches with local fishermen, white sand, kids , crabs and shells that are easy to get to by boat.

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The hotel I stayed at was La Veranda. It  is a French colonial style hotel on the beach. A lot of the staff doesn’t speak English but they are so charming and helpful. The front office deals most efficiently with the language barrier. It’s nice to stay at a hotel that gives jobs to the local people .

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I think it is the staff which makes La Veranda so wonderful. From the moment I arrived Lian was making sure all my requests had been taken care of.

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I had the best morning yoga classes on the beach and best massage of a vacation ever with Tham from the spa.(going to yoga 7am)

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Definitely book him advance when you go.

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The manager is always visible talking to guests, getting feedback and making sure everyone is having the best experience there. The level of care at La Veranda is amazing.

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Watching the sunset on Phu Quoc, I can really feel the miracle of a day. I am grateful that I lived these days on a beautiful beach.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An, Viet Nam

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been” – Diane Arbus

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam.

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It was a commercial district for Japanese and Chinese traders in the sixteenth century and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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Colorful guildhalls, founded by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly as a testament to the town’s trading roots.

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The Japanese Bridge was originally constructed to connect the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter – separated by a small stream of water – as a symbolic gesture of peace.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine)

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Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture.

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There is a plethora of tailors and cobblers to choose from.

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It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food. (Mango Rooms – yes everything has mango, White Rose dumplings at Cafe De Lys – only one Hoi An family has the recipe, and thus a monopoly on their production– rose-shaped shrimp dumplings topped with fried garlic and onions.)

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Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, the Nam Hai all-villa resort, sprawls on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Hoi An has a lantern festival every full moon.

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All the lights are extinguished and the town is lit with lanterns.

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You can buy water candles from children on the river and make a wish and set them afloat. Incense is burned everywhere for the dead ancestors.

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Hoi An is a photographer’s city.

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You respond to a face of an old woman under her triangle hat walking to sell her fruit or the way the light hits the old Chinese buildings or the lanterns lighting up the city at night.

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You move on to your next destination and your photographs become a testimony that you were there.

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I have to truly thank Ms. Anh Mai (Jina) from Trails of Indochina for helping me plan this trip. You have no idea how many emails I have sent her.  I do a lot of pre research about what cities i want to visit and made many changes  (including countries) till we got it right. Many people take cruises through Viet Nam but after going I would recommend doing it on land because you miss a lot. Jina never made me feel like I was a bother and always answered my questions politely and offered her own suggestions. Once in Viet Nam and Cambodia everything was taken care of beautifully. It is my first time traveling with this company and I was very impressed. I will definitely use them again and highly recommend JIna and Trails of Indochina for Southeast Asia. anh.m@trailsofindochinagroup.com

Fly safe,
JAZ

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Having ideas is like getting fishing net; you must cast it. The broader you cast it, the greater your likelihood of achieving more!” Israelmore Ayivor

For the fishermen in Viet Nam, fishing has been a way of life for generations.

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Now they send their children to school in the hopes that they will have a better life. Fishing is not an easy life. Fishermen set their nets at night and return home to sell their fish to wholesalers at the market in the morning.

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They don’t worry about illness, or government fishing regulations.They worry about catching enough fish to feed their families all year round.

All fishermen are very superstitious and in Viet Nam it is the same. The boats have eyes in front of them – to see for their safety and to scare away the evil spirits. There are different eyes in different parts of the country. In the South the eyes are rounder than in the North.(boat in the Mekong Delta)

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The boats in the dock with eyes watch for the safety of the smaller fishing boats.

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The fishermen go to fortune tellers to find out what days are good for them to go out and catch many fish. Lucky numbers are 1, 5, 7 and 9. You can spend a lot of money to have the number nine painted on your boat.

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The fishermen use all kinds of tools to catch fish. Fishing nets, fishing camps (traps) and instruments made from bamboo to raise and lower large nets are some of the ways to catch fish.  I tried a few of the different methods.

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They are hard work. It is probably even harder when you’ve lost your foot on a landmine as a child.

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We sailed to a bamboo construction that was operated with your  arms and legs like gym equipment.

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It raises a very large fishing net that had been set during the night. it was heavy.  I needed help but the fishermen do it alone. (that was so cool to make  that come up)

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Then you go out to the net and retrieve the fish.

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The hat is not decorative. It is so the fish don’t fall on your head.

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The round bamboo basket boats with tar or varnish to waterproof them will catch your eye as soon as you reach the Viet Nam coast. It is truly a remarkable boat -cheap and resistant to various water hazards.

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We took it to go through the underwater palm forest filled with water coconuts that boats can’t go through. It’s a good area to find crabs.

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The Viet Cong hid here during the war. Hoi An is in central Viet Nam between the North and the South.

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The river is life to a fishermen – always there, always changing. As the rivers become more polluted, there are less fish and their income is always unstable.

Spending the morning with the fishermen in Hoi An for me was a very special thing to do. Being on the river is incredibly beautiful and it made me appreciate how much the fishermen of the world do for us – especially when I was eating the fresh catch of the day. (squid and prawns)

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Thanks to the fishermen and everyone from Hoi An Agritravel for a very interesting and delicious morning. Special thanks to Mr Nguyen Phuc Tan for his wonderful stories and expertise in teaching me about the Vietnamese fishermen.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Driving From Hue to Hoi An, Viet Nam

Driving From Hue To Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me as is ever so on the road.”Jack Kerouac

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American bunker with bullet holes near Da Nang

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China Beach, Da Nang

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American hangars in Da Nang

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Vietnamese coffee

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

 

Where Are The Kings Of Hue? (Viet Nam)

Where are the Kings of Hue? (Viet Nam)

“And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie, that kings for such a tomb would wish to die”  John Milton

Between 1802 and 1945 Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty which had thirteen kings.  Huế was the national capital until 1945 when the last king abdicated and the new capital was Saigon in the south.

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The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citadel and royal quarters that once existed on the site.

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In the early nineteenth century the first King Gia Long wished to build a replica of the Forbidden City of Beijing.

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The King decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel of his “Forbidden City”along the east side nearest the Perfume River.

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The “Purple Forbidden City,” was where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire. The occupants were many concubines, wives, eunuchs and children.

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The ruins of the Imperial City are both old and more recent.

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In 1968 the Viet Cong launched an attack on the city of Hue. It was the Tet Offensive and the largest and bloodiest military action of the war up until that point. The fighting went on for a month and the Viet Cong massacred many people. This resulted in the destruction of the city by U.S. forces. The Viet Cong hid in the Imperial City fighting the US until they died from lack of supplies.

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Though the city was in ruins, long before the US bombed it, there was a lot of war damage to the historic buildings and many were reduced to rubble.

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Even so, the remaining buildings are enough to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.

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The Nguyen Dynasty lives on in Hue if only through the Tombs of the Kings. The best and the worst of the line are commemorated through their imposing tombs, scattered through the hills of Hue.

Only seven of the thirteen kings have tombs in Hue. Each tomb began construction during each kings lifetime, and was completed after his death with a stone inscribed with the dead king’s biography. A few of the actual bodies have never been found and their tombs remain intact. All the tombs are equipped with statues and monuments in perfect “Phong Thuy” (Feng Shui) harmony to create a natural setting, in the architecture of which the king’s philosophical tendencies are often reflected.

The respective tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh reflect the absolute extremes of tomb design. Tu Duc’s tomb is expansive and poetically beautiful in its layout.

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Khai Dinh’s is done in a more monumental style – crafted of concrete, the grayness outside broken on the inside with pieces of broken glass and porcelain.

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Khai Dinh is said to have intended for his tomb to be built at the top of a long series of stairs, so courtiers would have to exert extra effort to pay respect to his memory.

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His tomb took 11 years to complete.

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His enduring unpopularity is due in part to his heavy taxation on peasants to finance the construction of this edifice.

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Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hué is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city’s 19th century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. The second half of Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket takes place primarily in and around the bombed-out ruins of the city of Huế.

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It is a very Buddhist city with many monasteries and vegetarian restaurants. The food in Hue which is in central Viet Nam is spicier than the north and south.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, world-famous Zen master originates from Huế.

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Hue was declared “ a master of urban poetry” and a Unesco site in 1981 due to its history and cultural heritage.

My guide in Hue and Hoi An was Mr. Ngo Duc Huan. Huan had a huge amount of information about the Kings of Hue. I hope I retained some of it. Huan was fun, knowledgeable and kind.  My time in Central Viet Nam was definitely better because of him and I learned a lot. Thank you so much for the wonderful time I had in those cities.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn

JAZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

“Now without the bombs and gun shots, people can have a better sleep.“ from someone in the Mekong Delta.

The Mekong River has its origins in the mountains of Tibet, and it traverses six countries and 4500 km before spilling out into the Mekong Delta region of Viet Nam.

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After the rainy season, the water is brown from the silt that has been washed into it upstream.

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During the dry season the river becomes blue-green in color. There are many boats of different sizes and shapes traveling in all directions, including cargo boats, fishing boats, ferries, tourist boats and house boats.

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Everything happens on the river including the floating market of Cai Bei.

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All along the river, small huts are perched precariously on stilts so that the water at high tide does no more than wet the floor.

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Some are in good shape, but most are ramshackle, and one wonders how they manage to survive.

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During the Viet Nam War there was there was fighting there between the Viet Cong and the US Navy boats. After the war the Khmer Rouge attacked Viet Nam to reclaim the Delta area. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and later downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

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The Mekong Delta is called the Rice Bowl of Viet Nam because most of the countries rice production comes from the Delta. They also have most of the country’s fisheries.

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The towns along the river are fun to explore by foot or bicycle.

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You will find French colonial architecture and delicious fruits and vegetables.

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The Mekong Lodge is an interesting place to stay on the Delta.

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It is reachable by boat and a good location for exploring the nearby villages and floating market. They are socially and environmentally responsible using eco-friendly materials for the bungalows, solar energy, rainwater, local ingredients and local employees. There is not a lot of English but it adds to the charm. Hand motions are the universal language and I am fluent in them.

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I had a great foot massage in a bamboo chair outside of my room overlooking beautiful gardens and fruit orchards of longan, rambutan, mango, durian trees and flowers. http://mekonglodge.com

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Another option are local guesthouses where you can stay with a lovely family on the Mekong.

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I spent some time at Muoi Huong Tourist Garden (070 3859992) with their lovely family and highly recommend it for a wonderful local experience. (Binh Hoa Phuoc Island, Long Ho District, Vinh Long, Viet Nam).

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I had a chance to talk to people in the Mekong Delta. What I noticed throughout Vietnam was some of the nicest friendliest people I met came from the Mekong Delta.

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There is an interconnectedness that all Vietnamese have with past generations that we do not have. Every home has an altar to their ancestors with photos and their favorite things on it. The smell of incense used for prayer permeates the country (not so good for me because I am allergic to it). But I love the idea of it – how the smoke rises up to connect them with their ancestors.

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They worship at communal houses.

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They work hard. They are underpaid and they do not complain.

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They have been helped by the efforts, work and suffering of previous generations and ancestors.

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Now they are part of the present, with each other, working toward a future when others will pray and thank them.

Special thanks to my tour guide in Saigon and the Mekong Delta Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thanh. Thanh is smart, funny, intuitive, helpful and very knowledgeable about everything related to Viet Nam. I had the best time exploring the Delta with him and highly recommend him as a tour guide.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ