One more from Vietnam: Thiên Mu Pagoda

One more place we visited in Vietnam was the Thiên Mu Pagoda.

At first, not realizing where we were, it seemed like another chance to see some bonsai trees and carvings and stuff…

But then we came to this… the car driven by Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation in 1963.

I first learned about that terrifying day a few years ago:

But somehow in my head the movie sort of started with him in the street dousing himself with gasoline. Thinking of driving yourself to your death, of having breakfast that day, brushing your teeth, simply being alive all morning… and the day before… yikes.

One night in Hanoi

So much to see… and not enough time.

We had about 12 hours in Hanoi. It seemed like a nice city… we had the best of the trip’s several massages,

a reasonably good American style BBQ meal,

a swanky cocktail,

a moment to consider the Rolex store in a Communist country,

a good night’s sleep,

and a good breakfast including New Zealand butter.

Less fun was farewells with the Provs, who carried on their trip for a few more weeks. It was great to see them, and it will be too long till we see them next.


Traveling with Prov in Vietnam was the chance to be seen with a celebrity. It happened a lot… people would stare and comment, and often they’d want to touch his skin and take selfies with him. Sometimes people would call out Obama! Obama!

It always seemed friendly, but I think he was more comfortable than I would have been.

Backwards and in heels

The ubiquity of motor scooters in Vietnam means that women often use them to get to work. But office attire isn’t exactly suitable for a lot of scooter seats, and especially for the pillion rider.

We saw this startling scenario fairly often… scooters dodging through traffic, female passengers completely relaxed and engrossed by the phone. Side-saddle.

You can buy anything if you know where to look

At the end of the cruise we took a bus to Hanoi. Midway, we stopped for a rest break at this workshop. We considered grabbing a few disabled people to pack home (way cheaper than in town since you get them right at the workshop where they’re produced).

But instead we got a silk embroidery wall hanging…

Our boat, the Silversea Cruise

There’s the boat we stayed on for two nights in Ha Long Bay, the Silversea Cruise. We were ‘upgraded’ to this boat after choosing another one. All the details of what amenities you get for what price are highly specified , but somewhat opaque to the average punter like me.

The basic deal is you can do one night or two. I opted for two, but in reality one would have been enough. Same basic itinerary each day. The boat holds 40 guests, but we had about 25 on board.

Inside was fine… about like you might expect: cabin small, food beautiful to look at and pretty good to eat, staff a bit smarmy. We saw a few roaches in the bath, probably unavoidable in that climate, but unwelcome.

Prov and I got to take a turn driving, that was fun.

There are no pictures for proof, but I did catch a squid 🦑 (I’m adding the emoji because it was auto-suggested, which is its own kind of awesome) during the evening fishing activities. It was only a couple inches long.

Ha Long Bay Cruise

If you’re in that part of Vietnam, you gotta see Ha Long Bay. It’s recognized as a unique natural attraction by UNESCO. What makes it so special is the population of tourist boats that cruise around. There are thousands of them, or hundreds anyways!

But like all Earth’s special places, Ha Long Bay is under threat. You see, it can actually be difficult to observe the boats due to the nearly 2,000 steep rocky islands that also occupy this sacred place.

The Vietnamese government is doing what it can to allow the boats and the pesky islands to coexist. They’ve even turned a few of them into tourist attractions… you can go ashore and explore caves,

climb up steps to get a better view of the endangered boats,

learn about pearls,

and even buy souvenirs from a floating market!

I’ll make another post focused on our particular boat, but for now just keep all the endangered boats in your thoughts and hope someone figures out how to control all those islands!

Communist Propaganda

  • Mostly, Vietnam seemed like other developing countries I’ve been to, which isn’t actually all that many.
    • Things seemed grubby and chaotic, and I didn’t understand how things could work, but they basically did.
      People really want our money, which makes sense because they obviously need more than they have. Still, nobody stole anything or menaced us.
  • But one thing stood out for me, since this was the first real People’s Republic I’ve been to… the propaganda billboards displayed around town. They were caricatures of themselves, as if they’d named their intelligence officers Boris and Natasha.
  • Hai Van Pass

    After Marble Mountain we continued north passing through Da Nang, and then climbing the famous Hai Van pass. The name means something about clouds and the sea, and sho nuff it was completely pea soup up there. Some haunting old military buildings speak to the pass’s past. We made a quick pass through a souvenir gift stalls and visited the squat toilets, and then back in the van.

    On the way down we got behind a truck full of jet fuel, which slowed us down even more. There was no passing lane in the pass.

    The Hai Van pass is just absolutely on the tourist agenda, not to be passed up. But on a cloudy day like we had, I could have taken a pass on the pass. I was worried we’d have to do it all over on the way home, but my fears didn’t come to pass: we took the new tunnel instead.

    Tube Houses

    For reasons to do with French taxation practices, scarce land, and national preference, it’s quite common in Vietnam to build a really tall narrow house.

    The Road to Da Nang

    Some shots from the early morning trip to Da Nang airport. The rice paddies and vegetable farms are all super-neat and quite lovely. The Buddha looks on…

    There is a LOT of unfinished building all up and down this central Vietnam coast. Some of the sites appear active, but most look like they’re just sitting there.

    It’s all about the Ho Chi Minhs

    I bought this wallet in a New Plymouth thrift store over Christmas… what a great find to help anticipate the upcoming trip!

    I’ve had more compliments on it than maybe anything I’ve ever owned… and that was in NZ. In Vietnam this wallet was a veritable rock star. Shopkeepers and waitresses would call their coworkers to take a look. Ha ha ha is very funny !!! Where you buy??? (Sorry for the possibly offensive use of dialect. But in this case I intend to illustrate that while it would not be possible for us to have a meaningful conversation using language, this silly secondhand plastic wallet really did bring us together.)

    Into every life a little rain must fall*

    Suddenly, it started to rain! Hard!

    Even the rickshaw guys took refuge.

    Within minutes, the poncho vendors appeared. And it works, the micro-economy works efficiently. Yay!

    But we are seasoned travelers because we had already bought ponchos in a Bali downpour– and left them behind. So we knew how to ride out the storm…

    * the post title is actually a quote from Longfellow, but to me it’s the slogan of a mortuary in LA that advertised on bus benches when I was in high school.

    Marble Mountain

    Halfway between Da Nang and Hoi An you pass through a stretch of road lined with shops selling carved marble stuff from little trinkets like we bought to giant Buddhas suitable for a town square.

    Turns out there’s a quarry nearby. And you can tour it.

    After riding up in the fun external elevator, you wander around a bunch twisty little (trails and) passageways, all alike. There are pagodas and carvings and views…

    The view from Seawatch Point is a-changing.

    Some of the carvings depict important cultural icons. Can you make out the symbology of this bench?

    The boys climbed up into a cave and couldn’t find the girls on the other side, so the visit got truncated a bit. But we still had time to exit through the gift shop.

    Foot fetish

    It started out innocently enough with some cool manhole covers. Now it’s become a ReavesCarter-Providence vacation tradition.

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