Vietnam and Cambodia - Land of the Dragon

Vietnam and Cambodia - Land of the Dragon

"I can't say what made me fall in love with Vietnam (and Cambodia), that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like in London. They say whatever you're looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that's the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the  could be forgiven for thinking there was no war." These were the words of Thomas Fowler from the film, "The Quiet American," which so accurately sums up Vietnam. It is a land that captures the very essence of your soul and takes you on an unforgettable journey through the land of the dragon.

Ancient mythology tells us that the people of Vietnam are descendants of the Dragon Lord Long Qun and the Immortal Fairy u CA?. They produced 100 children, 50 of whom lived with their mother in the mountains and the other 50, with their father in the sea. So steeped in mythology is the land of Vietnam that each area is shrouded in some story of the mythological formation.

Vietnam and Cambodia - Land of the Dragon

Landing in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam and home to about 3.7 million people and 1.2 million motorbikes, is like landing in the heart of a giant mosquito that never sleeps. Endless streams of bikes pass you by each day, with many families of 4 heading off on their daily chores. Farmers from surrounding areas meet at the "morning market at 03h00 and by 07h00 have cleared up and gone. At night, entire streets are transformed into night markets which trade until late in the evening. Unlike its sister city, Saigon, Hanoi has narrow streets and still retains some of its old city charms. The old quarter, often known as the "36 streets," dates back over 2000 years. The area was once home to numerous craft guilds which created work areas. When the streets were eventually named, each street was named after the craft sold along that street and so today, if you need shoes, you head for Hang Guay, and for jewelry, Hang Bac.

Leaving the bustle of the city behind and traveling northwards towards the sea, highway 5 takes you to a World Heritage site, and the tail of the "descending dragon." Halong Bay is an endless canvas of 1969 limestone islands, 989 of which have been named. Many of these islands are home to numerous caves, some of which can be visited on foot and others in the pleasant tranquility of a kayak.

According to local legend, Halong Bay was created by a family of dragons, sent by the gods to help protect the Vietnamese from Chinese invaders. The dragons spat out pears and jade stones which soon turned to a myriad of islands protecting the people from the invaders. Today, these very same islands provide a safe home to many small floating villages, the inhabitants of whom survive off the 200 species of fish and 450 different species of mollusks that the waters provide.

Far south of Halong Bay is the picturesque small historical town of Hoi An, where the "The Quiet American," was partially filmed. Between the 15th to 19th centuries the town served as one of South-East Asia's most important trading ports for spices and silk and today is still a trader paradise. Cars are banned and the narrow cobbled streets are lined with old buildings, temples, pagoda's and endless shops selling hand made trousers for $15, evening dresses for $25 and three-piece suits for $40. In the heart of the town is the Ving Hung Hotel, which served as the dressing room for Michael Caine during filming. Today, tourists jostle to book into the same room which overlooks the narrow bustling lantern-lit streets below, which come alive during the festival of the full moon.

From the quiet tranquility of Hoi An, a short flight takes you in the belly of the dragon, Saigon or the modern day, H" Ch Minh City. Inhabited by 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes it pulsates 24 hours a day. Traveling through the vast tarred streets with towering modern hotels and malls, it is hard to believe that the city started out as a small fishing village in an area that was originally swampland, but when heading out into the neighboring areas the tranquility of forgotten days soon prevails. Endless rice paddies line the myriad of roads that spread out from the city. Framers work the land,

harvesting rice in the blazing heat. Old carts are pulled by weary horses. Rubber trees are methodically planted in rows, their sticky sap slowly seeping into wooden bowls for collection.

Driving back in time, one arrives at the area of Cu Chi, whose 121km hand-dug underground tunnels became famous as a battleground of the Vietnam War. The forested area is littered with B52 bomb craters and the endless spattering of gunfire can be heard from the firing range. Some of the tunnels are open to tourists to experience for a brief period, what life in the tunnels must have been like. In the blistering heat of the day, 7 of us descended into the dark abyss below us. The tunnels are narrow, dark, airless and in places slope down and narrow so one has to belly crawl. 40m was all it took for me to realize that as a non-sufferer of claustrophobia, another 20m would surely have converted me. Lack of air. Stifling heat. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing from American troops, the Viet Cong would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Malaria and sickness were rampant and accounted for the second largest cause of death after battle wounds.

As horrendous as life in the passages probably been, it is the pictures of the war weapons and traps set by the Viet Cong for the Americans that will stay in my memory for an actual existence time, yet as one neighborhood direct stated, when your lifestyle is enduring an onslaught, you will do all in your capacity to secure it.

South of Saigon lies the feet and arms of the mythical serpent, whose hooks spread out to shape the monstrous breadth of the Mekong Delta. The region, otherwise called Nine Waterway Winged serpent Delta, depletes a territory of more than 790 000 km2. The Mekong is the twelfth longest stream on the planet, and runs right from the Tibetan Level through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, into Vietnam lastly into the south china ocean.

With such territory of water, it isn't amazing to find that the inhabitants of the Mekong zone are stream individuals. Where Hanoi's lanes wake up with early morning markets, the tributaries of the Mekong eject into a jabbering washtub as several vessels explore the tight channels loaded down with hands of bananas, grapefruit, jackfruit, spinach, fish and each sort of vegetable possible. The exchange happens under the shade of Vietnamese caps while lodging and eatery proprietors on the shoreline holler guidelines over the water of their every day need. Around 20 minutes up the Mekong we headed along a restricted tributary to experience life upstream. Local people swim about in the waters getting fish. Kids cycle and play along restricted walkways evading chickens and mutts. Moms sit at the waters edge washing garments while the men potter about fixing their pontoons. Ranchers live on mix fish and rice ranches, creating a normal of $35 per month, while little privately-owned companies endure making rice cakes, rice paper, and strong rice wine.

Leaving the harmony and serenity of the Mekong, our next stop was neighboring Cambodia, lying at the back of the mythical serpent. Like Vietnam, the historical backdrop of Cambodia is damaged with outside attacks, universal political mediation, and inner clashes. The apex of Cambodia's history emerged amid the rulership of the Khymer Rulers between around 800 - 1400AD. It was amid this period that Khmer lords constructed the broadest grouping of religious sanctuaries on the planet - the Angkor sanctuary complex - and many encompassing sanctuaries.

At that point in 1431, the Thais pillaged the zone and the complex of Angkor was surrendered. For just about 200 years the powers of nature attacked the sanctuaries. Fig trees took up habitation on sanctuary dividers and gradually immersed the structures. Greenery enhanced the complicated carvings and flying roots streamed to the floor.

Today, the complex of sanctuaries is a World Legacy site. A considerable lot of the Hindu statues have been evacuated and supplanted with figures of Buddha and various remodels are in progress. Time appears to have stood leaving an engraving of persona. I lost my heart to the sanctuaries of Cambodia.


I can't state what made me experience passionate feelings for Vietnam and Cambodia. Maybe it was the consistently grinning appearances of the general population, the sheer straightforwardness of life or the immense green rice handle; the smell of the downpour or the hints of youngsters sprinkling about kicking a homemade soccer ball. Maybe it was the energy with which merchants deal over costs or the extraordinary regard appeared by kids to their older folks. Whatever the reason, they left a permanent engraving on my heart and a longing to return, in my spirit.

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