Vietnam & Cambodia Tour with NVK.                                         By Jayant Doshi(from 1st February 2012 till 17th...
space and just two rooms. His simple living could be viewed through the glass windows. It is rareto see a man who gave his...
wonderful stone, graphite and marble statues and sculptures. By lunch time we reached our cruise                          ...
wrapped in warm clothes. Hanoi is north part of Vietnam and our flight took us to Hue in central                          ...
and appropriate treatment was given promptly. To our sigh of relief we learnt that it was justdislocated elbow and no seri...
bed with numerous floors, several deviated alley like a cobweb over 200 km long with its places ofboarding, accommodation,...
shopping – an opportunity few would let go at any time. We stopped at the site of former USEmbassy where photography was n...
done was just amazing. The river delta is crowded with hundreds of river boats trying to sell theirfruits, vegetables and ...
course they must have witnessed thousands of deaths in the course of the construction. AngkorVat has the largest, best pre...
expressed their desire to join such a group infuture. Our cook, who rarely got an opportunityto cook, got his chance and s...
but it was worth the wait. Some of the rides were challenging and frightening but the thrill we gotout of it was worth it....
Vietnam & cambodia   photos
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  1. 1. Vietnam & Cambodia Tour with NVK. By Jayant Doshi(from 1st February 2012 till 17th February 2012.) This was only the second overseas trip organised by Navjivan Vadil Kendra (NVK). We left home early in the morning to go to the airport. The airline computer had problems, and the flight was delayed by two hours but the flight made up one hour to our destination in Kuala Lumpur. There was a mix up at the two building terminal and we were waiting at the wrong gate but in the end we all boarded our flight to Hanoi and reached our hotel at lunch time. At dinner time introductions were made. Our group of 35 was international – four from Canada, three from India and rest fromLondon – so introductions were a good way to start our trip. Four were non-Gujarati and as suchwe had to use a mixture of Gujarati, Hindi and English in our conversations and announcements.NVK aim to help the lonely and the aged, andthese trips give an opportunity to those peopleto travel knowing that help will be at handand they will not be alone.We started our tour next morning by startingwith the sightseeing tour of the city of Hanoi.Vietnam with a very old culture and historywas cursed by fighting – initially civil war andthen with USA – for many decades and thecountry was divided into two till its unificationin 1990’s. Hanoi, capital of the North tillunification, but now capital of the unitedcountry, has a long past which can be seen inits monuments and historical pagodas, itsnarrow streets and lakes give it a distinctive charm. Vietnam was a French colony for long timeand the war of independence left its scars on the people and the country. But for centuries therehas been animosity with its northern neighbour China, while there is a large Chinese people livingin the country, and the culture of the country has lot of Chinese influence, the wars of the past andthe animosity generated have still lingering effects in the country. During the day we visited the Temple of Literature boasting its Vietnamese architecture and its thousand year history. One Pillar Pagoda also has a history of thousand years but was destroyed during the war with the French, and rebuilt recently. Our next visit was to the stilt house where Ho Chi Minh used to live. Ho Chi Minh, leader of the North who ultimately won and united the country, was a man of simplicity who refused to live in palatial buildings. His house epitomized this simplicity where he lived in a small house with limited
  2. 2. space and just two rooms. His simple living could be viewed through the glass windows. It is rareto see a man who gave his life for the country,followed his principles to the end. Our next visitwas to a temple and a lake with a small isletwith a tortoise pagoda. While driving throughwe saw colonial structures such as OperaHouse and St Josephs Cathedral. After thelake we walked through the old city withnarrow alleyways called “36 streets” – eachstreet specialised in similar products and thestreet was named after that product. We alsovisited the History Museum with its fascinatingexhibition of long Vietnam History. NorthVietnam is known for its water puppet showand we enjoyed the amazing show for an hour.It was so fascinating to see a puppet show with life like puppets doing their show in water with novisible sign of any human hands doing the movements. Puppetry is an art in itself, but the water puppet show was enchanting. No wonder it is an art which has not been copied elsewhere – perhaps because it is not so easy to perform. Vietnam has gone through years and decades of conflict and war. China has for centuries considered Vietnam and neighbouring countries as its domain and has fought many wars to subjugate these countries. This animosity and bad feelings run deep in the minds of the people. Vietnam language used Chinese alphabets but now they use Roman alphabets. Also in education English and French are learnt but not Chinese even thoughthe culture and traditions of the people are a lot influenced by Chinese culture and traditions.Vietnam was a French colony for many years, and after winning its independence after longstruggle, it got itself into conflict with communist and opposing factions. Then USA got involved inthis conflict resulting in years of bombardment, torture, killings and ultimately victory forcommunists one party government, in day to day life it is adopting capitalist and democratic waysof life, and economically it is making great progressNext morning we had a long drive to Ho LongBay, one of the rare natural wonders of thisearth. The bay has almost 1600 limestonekorsts and islets which rise out of the waters ofthe bay to heights of up to 100 meters and thenumerous caves and grottos spread throughoutthe bay. Looking at the bay, it seemed as iflittle mountains had popped out of the ocean. Ithas become the most important tourist sites inVietnam and has been listed by the UNESCOas World Heritage Site. We left early fromHanoi but the three hour journey became afeast of singing, jokes and laughter. Thediverse group of members, from various continents and of various age range, had mixed with eachother within a short space of time. On the way to Ho Long Bay we stopped at a huge store selling
  3. 3. wonderful stone, graphite and marble statues and sculptures. By lunch time we reached our cruise ship which took us round islets, through gapes in these little mountains in the ocean. We took small boats and visited floating fishing village. We saw how real pearls are found and how cultured pearls are made. We saw the typical village house and the school. All these buildings are built on water. The option of swimming in the sea was offered but no one volunteered as it was cold water. I dropped the idea also. We watched DVD showing the breadth and the length of Ho Long bay and its fascination which is bringing millions of tourists to this country. Our cruise ship was anchored in the bay surrounded by many cruise ships with their lights glistening and reflection in thewater making the scene beautiful.Next morning we had an early start after a light breakfast. We proceeded to Tai Chi with its mazeof mysterious caves. It was a steep climb to the caves but really worth the visit. The caves ranquite deep inside with hundreds of stalactitesprotruding from the ceiling of the caves. Thecaves were lighted in different colour lightswhich made them more attractive. It was awonderful walk and one could spend lot of timeexploring different paths leading into othercaves from here. After a brunch the cruise shiptook us to our motor boat. I took the opportunityto drive the motor boat for a while. We droveback to Hanoi stopping for a Chinese stylelunch which everyone enjoyed. Later westopped at a pottery village but it wasdisappointing as there was nothing to see, andthe walk was so slippery that fear of injury was worrying. We reached the hotel and beganpreparations for a very early start next morning.With a population of 87 million Vietnam has over 20 million motor bikes and one does not have to go far to verify these figures. Roads are jam packed with motor bikes and crossing the roads is a nightmare. When traffic lights go green it appears as if flood gates have been opened and water gushes out. Motor bikes do not stop for the pedestrian but instead wind round the person and carry on driving, and the pedestrian also know this so carry on crossing the road disregarding the motor bikes. All the foot paths are taken over by motor bikes which are parked in rows after rows. We woke up at 3.00 a.m and reached the airport by 4.30 but flight was delayed byalmost two hours because of fog. It had been pretty cloudy and cold in Hanoi and members were
  4. 4. wrapped in warm clothes. Hanoi is north part of Vietnam and our flight took us to Hue in central Vietnam. Compared to Hanoi, Hue is a much smaller city, one time Royal capital of Vietnam, and much nicer houses and beautiful layout of the roads and parks. The river runs through the city. Compared to Hanoi there was hardly any congestion in this lovely city. On arrival we start our sightseeing and visit the Imperial Tomb of Tu Doc built by the longest serving Emperor of Vietnam. He used the site as a retreat for meditation, reading and theatre performances. Our next visit to the Imperial Tomb was on a hill side and represented one of the last monumental tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. Built in 1931 it represents a mixture of European and Vietnamese architecture. Atthe heart of the old Imperial city is the Imperial Citadel, modelled on the forbidden city of Peking,and surrounded by moat. Most of the buildings have been destroyed by the recent war, but what isleft gives and impressive insight into the life of that dynasty. The whole Citadel has spaciouscourtyards and lotus ponds. Our visit alsoincluded a museum.After lunch many opted for an afternoon sleep,while twelve members of the group went to seetwo tombs built for recent kings. One, just 80years old, is built with ceramics imported fromFrance. The intricate design created bybreaking the ceramics into small pieces is veryimpressive and will be a sight to see for yearsto come. This tomb is built in a small area andas such it is steep climb to reach the top. Theother tomb is built on much larger grounds andas such it s spread out and involves lot ofwalking. The King and Queens actually lived in this monument and the king was buried here afterhis death. However, because of fear of Chinese coming and stealing the body, the tomb was builtin such a way that no one knew actually location of the body when it was buried.Our drive from Hue to Hoi An next morning was scenic, passing some lovely beaches and small towns. The coach drive had become lot of joy for all as singing and jokes kept everyone engrossed. Also various snacks coming out of bags kept all mouths busy with chewing. Hoi An is a lovely small town on the beach with lots of tourists visiting this place. It has a very long beach, and with booming tourism, hotels have cropped up all along the beach and in the town. It has nice bungalows, buildings that are well maintained and a pleasant town to see. We visited a marble factory and saw how sculptures are made. During our visit to the factory, and seeing all the beautiful statutes and sculptures spread over a large area, one ofour group members slipped on the steps, fell and dislocated his elbow. He was taken to hospital
  5. 5. and appropriate treatment was given promptly. To our sigh of relief we learnt that it was justdislocated elbow and no serious damage was done. The member joined us back by the evening,and rest of the tour.Next morning after breakfast we left to take aflight from Danang to Saigon or Ho Chi MinhCity as it is now called by the presentcommunist government. After unification of thecountry, the communists from the North tookcontrol of the united country and changedname of the city to Ho Chi Minh in honour oftheir hero. South Vietnamese still prefer to callit Saigon. On the way to the airport we stoppedat a museum which stores the best collection ofCham dynasty artefacts. Cham dynasty lastedfor over 1000 years and the museum recordsthe glories of that period. Saigon is a buzzingcity with a large population, with modern buildings cropping up with a booming economy side byside with colonial buildings built by the French during the rule, and the traditional Vietnamese andChinese life style and buildings. Motor bikes are seen in plenty on the roads, and one can see young people riding motorbikes with mobiles and rushing around in a hurry. Like every major city in the world Saigon also has a China town though they prefer to call it Cholon. Even though the Chinese have played a major role in the economy of the country over centuries, the locals seem to try to forget that and that is why they do not call this as China town. We visited one of the most active 19th century Pagodas later in the day. It was so encouraging that the time keeping in the group was remarkable and in the morning everyone was in the coach at a specified timeand we never had to wait for anyone. However, going to an Indian restaurant meant that time forsightseeing was reduced accordingly. And getting two heavy meals did not suit everyone. Fewalways skipped dinner every day. But there does not seem a simpler solution though this needs tobe considered on future trips. While threemeals took considerable time, it was the bestpart of the holiday when members of the groupgot a chance to mingle, mix and exchangeacquaintances. I am sure lots of friendshipshave been built on this trip.Americans fought long war with communistsfrom North Vietnam and with Viet Cong inSouth Vietnam who supported and fought forNorth Vietnam. It was their guerrilla fightingtactics which ultimately led to huge casualtiesfor the Americans and their final withdrawal.Viet Cong built intricate web of tunnels, calledCu Chu Tunnels very near Siagon, and which the Americans never managed to find. This is anunique project of architecture as an underground system of tunnel deeply located in the ground
  6. 6. bed with numerous floors, several deviated alley like a cobweb over 200 km long with its places ofboarding, accommodation, meeting and fighting. The underground system indicated the will of determination, wisdom and pride of Cu Chi people as the symbol of the Vietnamese people’s revolutionary heroism. Viet Cong used these tunnels to attach American troops and their supporters and then disappear in these tunnels. Stretching over 200 km this incredible underground network of tunnels, dug by hand and connected to command posts, hospitals, shelters and weapon factories is amazing reflection of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Vietnam people. Tunnels are so small that one has to crawl to go through them. Of course some of them have been modified so that the tourists can have a look at them. Thereare booby traps of all sorts that would trap anyone no matter how careful or clever the person is.The traps would capture rather than kill, and the idea was that any soldier who came to rescuewould also become a target and be killed with the trapped person. Even the cooking food elaborateprecautions were taken to spread the smoke insuch a way that no one would notice it andtime for cooking was synchronised with thehabits of local population. Dried leaves thatwould not burn would be used to build thesetraps and underground cooking places. Ourvisit to these tunnels was the most fascinatingof the day and the whole trip.After lunch we visited the Reunification Palacewhich housed the president of South Vietnambefore tanks attacked it in 1975 and broughtdownfall of the South Vietnam Government.The palace has been preserved in its originalstate. Our visit to War Remnants Museum waseye opening and horrifying in places. It houses relics and reminders of the two long wars fought bythe Vietnamese against the French and then the Americans. The museum has photos of atrocities committed during those wars and photos of victims of the orange bomb that gave shivers when seen by visitors. The orange bomb had long lasting effects, and even now people suffer from after effects. Photos depicted how organs were damaged or lost by the effects of the bomb. We stopped by the President residence with 100 rooms and took some photos followed by a visit to a factory making lacquer furniture and art pictures. We were shown the process of making these and our members took advantage of the opportunity to do some purchases. Our next stop was at Notre Dame Cathedralbuilt in the 19th century and the largest Post Office in the country. The Post Office building is aFrench style building. Inside the huge post office it was more of a market for tourists and only littlespace was occupied for postal work. Our members naturally spent time browsing and doing
  7. 7. shopping – an opportunity few would let go at any time. We stopped at the site of former USEmbassy where photography was notallowed. We visited the Ban Thanh Marketwhich is the central market of Saigon. It is alively place. The market are provides for allrequisites of daily life for the common citizenof the city.Next morning we went to Mekong River, tooka boat ride to see the amazing floatingmarket of Saigon. Thousands of people liveon houses built in the river on stilts, andhave television, electricity and other modernconveniences. Even wedding within thefloating community takes place on the river inboats and when boats are decorated and the wedding ceremonies and festivities take place withother boat community members take part. We passed through by-waters and canals of Mekongdelta and visited local workshops that produced puffed rice, cocoanut candy and other localdelicacies. We saw how some of these items were made and got a chance to taste them and buythem also. We had packed lunch and opportunity to try many exotic fruits on the way. The wholeday passed on the boat and visiting all these places. Normally we had either early wake up or late night and as such rarely got a chance to walk around. But today we got a chance to walk around the market at night. One person was doing different sort of massage on the street, A man lying on the footpath with shirt removed, and the person would take small glass bowl, light a match in front of the bowl and immediately press it on the upper arms and upper chest. We stopped to watch out of curiosity and before I knew he made me sit on a chair, pushed my shirt sleeves and pressed four bowls on my upper arms. By lightingmatch stick he was creating vacuum and when pressed on the skin the bowl stuck, and itappeared that my body was trying to suck the bowl inside. It became painful. He soon removed thebowls. But the burnt marks of the bowl remained on my arms for a few days. Duriyan is a fruitsimilar to Jack fruit but is known for its nauseating smell. One of our group members was verykeen on eating it. A few others agreed though most refused. I had never tried it so I went for it also.As a lover of all fruits I ate it but was not veryimpressed by it.We had early wake up next morning and lefthotel by 7.00 a.m. to see the most amazingand biggest floating market where fruits andvegetables are sold in wholesale and retail.Small boats selling in retail weave their waybetween large boats doing wholesalebusiness. We got an opportunity to tastepineapples which were cut in our presence.Cutting the pineapple without wasting much ofthe fruit is an art and the way it was being
  8. 8. done was just amazing. The river delta is crowded with hundreds of river boats trying to sell theirfruits, vegetables and other trinkets and lots of tourists in their boats watching this fascinating way of marketing. Today was our last day in Vietnam and it had been fascinating visit with such variations in things to see. It was 4.00 a.m. wake up so that we could fly to Siam Reap the city of Cambodia surrounded by thousands of temples, and the centre of tourist attraction. From the airport we proceeded to visit the temple ruins. First we visited Prasat Kravan with five brick towers which were built in 921 A.D. for Hindu worship and are notable for the bas-reliefs cut into the bricks on the interior walls. Next temple, Ta Prohm is popular amongst touristsas much of the surrounding forest has not been cleared and the place is as it was found byEuropean explorers. Ta Kep was built by a Hindu Emperor (968 to 1001 A.D.) and is built entirelyfrom sandstone and dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The central tower is 50 metres high andsurrounded by four lower towers. We visited a few temples which are dedicated to Shiva andVishnu.Cambodia had Hindu culture and influence andthese temples numbering over a thousand werebuilt mostly in the 12th century or before. Eachtemple was built over acres and acres of land,and some of the temples were huge in size inwidth and depth. Later when Buddhism came tothe country some of these temples had Hindustatutes removed and replaced with Buddhastatutes. Because of conflicts and spread offorests, these temples were unknown to thelocal population until a French man found theirexistence between 1908 and 1910. Since thenthey have become a big tourist attraction, and preserved as World Heritage Site. The temples are inruins though some of the carvings and statutes are still intact and in good condition. We saw some temple ruins where up to 400 year old trees have grown on top of the temples, weakening the solid rock walls of the temples or knocking them. Trees have grown in the rocks and then very thick roots have pierced through rocks and found their way to the ground. The sight of these roots and the huge area of roots are amazing. Rocks used in building the temples weight in tonnes, and to pierce through those rocks and to displace them and break them is a wonder of nature. Some members of the group decided to stay over to see the sunset for which Angkor Wat is famous. We spent long time in Angkor Vatwhich has the world famous temples. Size of each temple is huge and built from huge rocks. Itmust have taken years to build those temples, using thousands and thousands of workers, and of
  9. 9. course they must have witnessed thousands of deaths in the course of the construction. AngkorVat has the largest, best preserved and mostreligiously significant of the temples. The sheer scaleand size of the temples are impressive and thebeautifully proportioned layout is impressive and theartistic carvings on the walls are amazing. The wallsare carved with at least 1700 apsaras, and outerwalls have the depiction of Hindu mythology stories –including the story of churning of the ocean. It coversan area of over 10 square km. It has a moatsurrounding the complex, statutes of demons andgods carrying naga, elephants, leper kings. Just tostudy and see the temple in detail one will need lotmore than a few hours – more like it will need a fewdays.After two days of seeing temples it was getting toomuch. There was lot of walking and lot of climbingand many in the group decided just to sit rather thansee same sort of temples in dilapidated state.However those who are keen in knowing about thehistory and have keen interest in the sculptures thisplace needs lot more time to do that. Next morning few members went early to see the sun rise. Ifelt lazy and skipped both the sunset and the sunrise. I regretted my decision but it was too latefor that.For once we had a normal 9.00 a.m. start but because of the habit of getting ready early all themembers were in the lobby long before our time. The group had decided to do some charity whileon the trip. We bought 400 note books, 200 pencils and 200 pencil sharpners. We visited a localschool and presented those items to the poor children of the school and it was pleasure to seesmiles on those children for whom these gifts meant a lot. Siam Reap is in the south of Cambodia. A lake 150 km long runs from Siam Reap to the north of the country. Our next visit was to the amazing floating village on the lake. Over 200,000 people live on the lake on floating houses which are moved like ships as and when required. Each village has about 350 families. People live on fish and snakes which are in abundance around the lake. The snakes also kill lot of people besides providing food for the same people who escape from their bites. The lake swells with water during monsoons. Villagers move their houses on weather conditions. Even the school is floating. Laterwe visited an art factory run by dumb and deaf people but making some wonderful artistic giftitems. We saw these artistic items being made from wood, stone and other materials. This wasfollowed by a visit to a gem store where ladies in the group had a field day shopping while menfolk watched helplessly.We were reaching end of our tour. Four members of the group were parting from this point. We hadspecial dinner where farewells were said and lot of singing and speeches ended the final day inCambodia. Most members expressed their pleasure at the planning and execution of the trip and
  10. 10. expressed their desire to join such a group infuture. Our cook, who rarely got an opportunityto cook, got his chance and showed us howgood a cook he is. Everyone enjoyed the lastdinner in Cambodia.For once, to the liking of everyone, next morningwe had a late start. We left the hotel at 10.30and took a flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.Malaysia is comparatively a developed countryand the city of Kuala Lumpur reflected this inits tall buildings, immaculate roads andtransport system and a very modern city assuch. For the first time in our journey wearrived in Kuala Lumpur with heavy rains. We went for dinner and then to our hotel. The room, forthe first time in this trip, were pathetic. Some rooms had cockroaches, some had no lights, waterbasins were blocked, taps not working and generally rooms were filthy.Next we started at 8.30 and first visited the Batu caves which have properly made 272 steps toclimb to the top to enter the caves. Many decided not to try to climb those though many of the group did venture to the top. The caves have many Hindu temples, and statutes of Hindu deities. On the ground level there are huge statutes of Vishnu and Hanuman – almost height of 3 or 4 story building. The caves had many temples and statutes, and decorated with colourful lighting. The caves, unfortunately, were filthy and little was being done to keep the place of worship clean. After completing the caves we reached Genting Highlands – a resort and a maze of restaurants, hotels, and internal and external rides for the fun and pleasure of the young and the old. We were supposed to be staying overnight in Genting Highland butthere was some mix up in communication between the tour manager and the travel agents. Thewhole complex is huge and is built on top of a mountain surrounded by thick forest. We reach theresort by a cable car, and the ride on the cable car is scenic. It crosses valleys with thick growth oftrees.On reaching Genting Highland the guideshowed the complexity of the whole resort, andasked everyone to remember a few high pointsso we do not get lost. For a complicated placelike this it was surprising that neither theguide nor the manager thought it right to staywith the elderly and least mobile members ofthe group in case of need or to makes surethey do not get lost. We had our lunch. Lunchwas delicious. After lunch many decided towalk around and rest but some decided to trysome of the rides. We tried all the difficult onesand the rides were enthralling. We spent longtime in queues and very little to take the ride
  11. 11. but it was worth the wait. Some of the rides were challenging and frightening but the thrill we gotout of it was worth it. Today was our last day of the tour. We did some sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur. We visited the National Memorial Palace where the present king lives. We saw many buildings with lot of British influence in the architecture. After lunch we saw the national Mosque, a marvellous piece of modern architecture and colour. Islam being the national religion the mosque is built right next to the impressive Parliament buildings. We than went to Putrajay a new ecological city being built near the capital city, and planned to be the future centre of governance in the country. We saw Prime Minister’s office building and other governmentdepartments. The city still in its infancy has lot of greenery, and very quiet and peaceful place towork.It was time for our departure. We had vacated our hotels in the morning. We had some passengersflying to India and Singapore and their flights were earlier. But all passengers had to be droppedtogether. Flight for London was at mid night but we had to go to the airport with others. We hadalmost seven hours to kill at the airport. We first bought tea and coffee from the balance of the kittymoney. Later inside the airport after security wemanaged to find a section with many relaxingreclining chairs and we took over the area.Nearby we had electric massage chairs. Some ofthe passengers were left over with local currencyand we used that to take advantage ofmassage. Our time passed well and before weknew it we were called for boarding. Our tourwas over and we boarded the flight for a long twelve hour flight back home. When the flights are late at night it is important to give consideration to this in planning the trip. The group had scattered. Four left us in Cambodia to proceed to London via Singapore. Two extended their stay in Kuala Lumpur. Four extended their holiday by going to Singapore and Bali. Two went on to Singapore to spend some time with their family. The rest reached London early next morning and went to their respective homes taking with them memories of an enjoyable and memorable trip. (website