||March 16, 2006
by Barbara Mizer
Editor’s Note: Barbara and Corky Mizer, and Chuck and Christina Beck,
brother-in-law and sister (of Barbara) recently traveled to the Far East.
Barbara Mizer kept a daily diary of their travels which we found to be a
fascinating account. We share that with our readers in this week’s edition.
by Barbara Mizer
Arrived in Tokyo about 40
minutes ahead of schedule. Taxi waiting for us and took us 1 ½ hours to get to
the hotel. Traffic is a mess. Checked into the Sofitel Hotel on the 22nd floor
with a beautiful view of the city. To sleep about 9 p.m. and up at 3:00 a.m.
Market in Tokyo
Our first day in Tokyo
and we took the subway to the fish market, Ginza, and electric city in Akabana.
Had tea at a coffee house on the four corners in Ginza. Ate Japanese soup at a
little restaurant in the Akabana area. Great day but exhausting. To bed at
about 5:00 p.m. for a little nap but never got up. Awoke at 3:00 a.m. Up for
Spoke with the front desk
and found out how to get to Hakone, a small health spa in the southern outskirts
of Tokyo. Took a one and one half hour train ride to a station where the train
separated and only the front of the train went to Hakone. Once at Halkone
station policeman called a friend who spoke English and they directed us to the
correct train to get up the mountain. Took a train to a finnicula, to a
cablecar, to the top where there were Sulfur hot springs and the most
magnificent view of Mt. Fuji. Ate lunch up top of the mountain. Took another
cablecar to Lake Aska where we walked into town. While up by the hot spring we
ate black eggs which are supposed to bring health. When we got back we ordered
room service and went to bed by 8:00 p.m..
Temple in Asakusa
Got up at 6:00 a.m. and
had breakfast at the hotel. Met a woman and English daughter who told us to go
to Asakusa to see the Shintu temple. Huge Temple with about five buildings.
Outdoor shopping. Had lunch at a Sushi bar which had a conveyer belt serving
the various Sushi. Went to the Shinjuku section of Tokyo and then back to the
hotel to meet Chuckie and Chrissie. They arrived at the hotel at about 7:30
p.m. Called for room service and then to bed.
Went to Ginza with Chuck
and Chris and walked around. Needed to be back to the hotel by 11:30 p.m. for
our flight to Taipei and then on to Hong Kong. The flight was about 5 hrs long
and exhausting. Arrived at the airport and picked up in a four passenger
Mercedes which could not fit all the luggage. We rode with suitcases under our
feet and on our laps. Arrived at the Ritz Carlton only to see an incredibly lit
up city. Went to bed without eating.
Got up at about 6:30 a.m. and had a sumptuous breakfast including conch soup and
dim sum. Met Simon for a trip on the Star ferry to Kowloon. Open ferry and for
$.65 U.S. dollars you can get to Kowloon. Look back to see a beautiful view of
Hong Kong. Took the Star ferry back to the hotel and the boys had reflexology
for ¾ hour. Got dressed up and went to the Peninsula Hotel for a party. Wow
what a party. We danced our feet off. They had three live bands, fireworks,
confetti, drinks, food and much merriment. We left to go home at 1:30 a.m.
Got up at 9:00 a.m. Had breakfast at the hotel and then off to the cablecar up
to Victoria Peak. Gorgeous views of the city. Took a one hour walk around the
peak. Took a taxi to Stanley market and negotiated for 8 scarves for $100. HK
(that's about 12.50 US) . Back to the hotel and then met Simon at 5:30 to go to
Sien Hong for outdoor eatery. Picked out our own fish. Had lobster, shrimp,
crawfish, and grouper. What a feast. Took the half-hour taxi ride back home.
Everyone fell asleep in the cab. Pick up at 6:45 a.m. for Luang Prabang.
Arrived at the airport about a half hour after we boarded a seven passenger
van. Met by Joe Ku, guest service manager from the Ritz Carlton. He ran us from
one counter to another. He was great. Tried to get through the first security
check with the larger bag full of the camera equipment and was told that the bag
was too large. Joe Ku said not to worry and ran back to the counter and got a
special tag for the luggage. Off on our way through security when we were
stopped again. Security noticed the Epi-Pen in our luggage and wanted to know
if we had an injury. I showed them the prescription and they sent a note to the
airline that we were carrying it.
Buddha in Pak Ou Cave
We were given a pass to go to the airline lounge of Cathay Pacific where we ate
Dim Sum and had great coffee. The lounge was by Gate 2 and our flight departed
from Gate 44. Left the airline lounge about 25 minutes prior to boarding and
took a train to the other side of the airport only to be told that the gate was
changed to Gate 2 (where we started from). Now we find out that we are no
longer on Bangkok Airlines but Hong Kong and our seat assignments are not for
the 747. We are told that we have to sit upstairs and the lift is broken in the
plane so our food service may be delayed. Who cares as long as the flight is
safe. Watch a movie with Chrissie and arrived in Bangkok about 2 hours later.
Check in at our next flight, another Bangkok Airline, and the flight is delayed
about ¾ hour. We boarded a bus to a prop plane for another two hour plane
Looking out of the plane as we traversed the Laos countryside was amazing.
Thick dense jungle and mountains. Finally arrived in Luang Prabang in 89 degree
temperature. Met by Seng Phone. We were not sure of his name. Taken to the
hotel through a very primitive village. What a chance for pictures. Got to the
room and then quickly out again to see the town market. Hundreds of handmade
goods and food vendors.
We bought silk scarves for $5.00 each, and bedspread and pillow shams for
$100.00, two lanterns, and a table runner for $25.00. We were in a buying
frenzy. After walking the market we stopped and had dinner at 3 Nagas where we
almost fell asleep at the table. Back to the hotel around 8:30 and to bed for a
good night's sleep.
Up at 7:00 a.m. and met for breakfast at 8:15 a.m. Had noodle soup and fried
noodles. Very tasty.
Century Temple, Luang Prabang
Met Seng Phone at 9:15 a.m. and started out for the 15th century Buddha Temple.
Saw peaceful Buddha, and teaching Buddha and all kinds of Buddha depending on
how the arms are positioned. The temple is protected by UNESCO since the city is
a Heritage site. At the temple there was a brass Buddha that will help you pass
exams or other things in life so long as you can pick it up and lift it over
your head. Chrissie and I couldn't even pick it up off the ground. The monks
that are novices (under the age of 20) have 10 precepts that they must follow.
Once they become a monk then they have 250 precepts that they must follow. The
monks are taken care of by the people who come everyday and offer them food.
They believe that the offerings they make on this earth will hold for them in
From the temple we got on a boat for a two hour ride first to the rice whiskey
village ( Xang Hai village) where we drank rice whiskey and saw both scorpions
and snakes fermenting in whiskey. The village was loaded with chickens and
roosters. Again the villagers were selling silk goods, jewelry and all kinds of
hand made objects. We bought a bunch (another buying frenzy). From there we
continued our boat trip to a restaurant on the opposite side of the river from
the cave of 1000 Buddha (Park Ou Caves) On the beach were a woman and child in
traditional dress. These people were the Hmong people. Ate all kinds of
vegetables and rice again among the chickens. Continued across the river and
climbed up both the upper and lower caves to see the Buddhas. Back into the
boat for our journey back to Luang where we stopped at a rice paper making and
silk weaving village (Xangkhong). Bought more things. Walked through the
village and back to the van. Back to the hotel and out for dinner at the hotel.
Up and at breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and out to feed the monks at 6:15 a.m. Drove to
the city and Seng Phone had brought a huge basket full of hot sticky rice. The
women sat on straw mats and the men stood. Seng placed some silk scarves across
our bodies and the monks started to arrive. 150 to 200 in total. We would
reach into the bowls we had and would take out a little of the sticky rice and
put into the monks baskets they carried. Since one of the monk's precepts is
that they cannot touch women we had to be careful with putting the sticky rice
into the basket without getting too close. It was like the I Love Lucy Show
when Ethel and Lucy were on the candy line. The monks came so fast and the rice
was so hot the we had burnt fingers before we were done. There was no way we
could keep up with the number of monks. After a wonderful spiritual morning we
went to the local food market to see where the restaurants and locals buy their
food. We saw all kinds of vegetables and foreign type items such as bats,
maggots in bamboo, bugs, water buffalo skin, ears, noses, intestines etc. There
were little birds in cages, ducks, and rats. Everything the locals would eat.
We had a great time trying to figure out what it was and would you eat it.
From the market we returned to the hotel, finished packing and took a 1 hour and
15 minute ride to Kaungsi. Beautiful multi-level falls in a turquoise color.
At the base of the falls were some enclosures that contained some small black
bears and a beautiful tiger. Allegedly they were rescue animals. While on the
drive to the falls we passed many rice paddies and saw the locals tend the
rice. Using the water buffalo as the beast of burden they had a plow like
implement they would use to turn up the rice.
Floating Market, Mekong River
Drove back to the airport to take a 2:40 p.m. flight on Lao Air to Vientiane.
Took a small plane to Vientiane and arrived to 90 degree weather. Our new guide
Phan was waiting for us and took us and our tons of luggage to the hotel, Settha
Palace. Beautiful French Colonial Hotel. Unpacked, showered and off to the
town to eat at a restaurant called Kualao where we would see Lao dancing.
Arrived at the restaurant to be
told it was a prix fixed meal and we ate, had wine, beer and saw very Siamese
influenced dancing all for 27.00 for the four of us. We then walked to another
hotel where we ate ice cream. To bed at about 9:30 p.m. since we are meeting
our guide at 9:00
a.m. for a tour of the town.
Met Phan at 9:00 after a great breakfast at the hotel. Drove to Vat Siskat to
see the temple from the 15th century. The temple was surrounded by 1000 Buddhas
from all over the country. There was a pile of Buddha that were beheaded or had
their arms cut off or eyes plucked by the Thai peoples during the Siamese war.
Even though they were also Buddhists they found it okay to maim the Laos Buddhas.
From there we went to Vat Prakeo and toured that temple. Phan then took us to a
Laos woodworking shop where we spent some time purchasing some wood articles.
We bought chopsticks made from black and white ebony, salad fork and spoon made
from rose wood, Wooded business card holders, a balau burl fruit bowl, an
azalea burl large bowl, a black and white ebony jewelry box and two shoehorns.
We negotiated with the shop owner and got a 15% discount and then had to pay
$150.00 for shipping. Since our weight limit was 32 kilos we had Phan bring to
the shopkeeper some of the items we already purchased so we didn't have to carry
them. Lunch back at the hotel.
Phan picked us up at 1:00 p.m. We went to the Patouxai Monument, the Arc de
Triomphe of Laos where we climbed to the top to get a view of the city. We then
returned to another temple; this one built for the Queen so it catered to
women. Women would come here if the wanted to get married, have babies, be
successful in business, etc. While we were there there was a monk praying with
various individuals praying with him. We saw a man praying with the monk and
they were attached to each other by a cotton thread. The thread continued past
the monk and out the window where it was attached to his new vehicle. We found
out that they were praying so that he would not get involved in an accident with
his new vehicle. Outside this temple was one of the original pillars of the
city marking the spot where the city of Vientiane was founded.
Later we went to the banks of the Mekong river where we had a beer and
watched the Sunset. A new mama dog was begging at the table so for a dollar
Corky bought her a meal. The waiter seemed to know that the dog would like
pork. We bought her some rice but she wanted nothing to do with it. Back to the
hotel for dinner which lasted more than 2 hrs. To bed for our 4 a.m. wake up
Cobra Snake in Rice Whiskey
Wake up call at 4:00 a.m. and out to the airport at 5:00 a.m. Corky not
feeling well so we packed him up with Super Imodium. Took Lao Air to Siem Reap
and met at the airport by our guide Saroeun. Arrive at the Grand Hotel D'Angkor
and were thrilled with the elegance of the hotel. We went to the dining room
and had the incredible brunch. After lunch up to the room for a rest since
Saroeun is to pick us up at 3:00 p.m.
Saroeun arrived on time and we drove to the ticket office of Angkor Wat where we
had our pictures taken for our three day pass. We then went to the first Angkor
settlement which dated back to 875 AD, the pre Angkor period. This was when the
religion followed by the kins was Hindu. The temples were made from bricks. We
then decided to see the sunset over the mountain of Phnom Bakheng. We had to
climb this steep hill of loose sand and rocks to get to a mountain top and climb
four flights of very, very narrow steps to the top. There were hordes of people
once we got to the top that we were afraid would either not get down or be
thrown off the mountain by pushy tourists. We watched the sunset but decided to
leave before the sun actually set so we wouldn't be trampled. Back to the hotel
in enough time to shower, change our clothes and go to an enormous buffet dinner
to see traditional dancing. Fabulous costumes and story telling dances. Ate
Cambodian food, Chinese food and some duck. Dinner was topped off by ice
cream. To bed at 10:00 pm. since we have a 4:45 wake up call to go see the
sunrise over the Angkor temple.
Up at 4:45 and picked up by Saroeun at 5:30 a.m. Corky has a sore throat so he
opted to stay back at the hotel. Chuckie didn't sleep so he is very tired.
Chrissie and Barbara
feel great. Drove to Angkor Wat (Angkor means city and Wat is the name for a
across the moat and sat on the walls outside the temple until just before the
sun was to start to rise. Then Saroeum said we needed to walk to the left side
of the temple to see the sunrise over the temple and see the five spires. The
water lilies were open and the reflection of Angkor in the pond was great.
After the sun rose we headed back to the hotel to shower and go for breakfast.
Corky feeling a little better.
Hogs To Market
Met for breakfast at 8:45 and then met Saroeun at 9:30 to head out to explore
Angkor Wat. The temple dates back to the 11th century and was built initially
as a Buddhist Temple and then taken over by the Charm who destroyed all of the
Buddhas and then during the reign of Jaravarmon was converted back to a Buddhist
temple that kept a lot of the Hindu deities. The temple is surrounded by a moat,
wall, courtyard and passageway where the monks would walk and pray. As we
entered Angkor from the west ( it is the only temple built facing west since it
was built as a funeral temple) and crossed
the moat we saw several wedding parties taking pictures. Both the men and the
women were dressed in traditional Cambodian costumes and would change several
times to take wedding pictures. We climbed up the five tiers to the top of the
Angkor temple as Saroeun told us story after story of either Hindu mythology or
history in relief. There were Chinese soldiers depicted, the Khmer peoples,
Naga, lions, elephants, snakes, the Gods, and various others, both real and
mystical. It was more information than any of us could handle. We returned to
that hotel and had only a half hour to get cleaned up and then depart for our 14
minute helicopter ride over the Angkor temples. Corky and Chuckie were armed
with their cameras and I had the movie camera. We took Saroeun with us since he
had never been up in a helicopter to see Angkor Wat.
The views of Angkor Wat from the sky were magnificent.
We all decided not to return to the hotel but to continue our tour to Angkor
Thom, Phnom Bakeng, Phimeanakas, Banteay Prei, the Elephant terrace, the terrace
of the Leper King, the Victory Gate and the area where the Royal Palace had been
built. By the last half hour we were praying that our van was very near so we
could go back to the hotel. The reason the statue was called the Leper King was
because some of his fingers and toes were missing. There was a inscription
found on the statue that proved that idea to be wrong. We returned to the hotel
at about 5:00 p.m. and needed to be at dinner at 6:00 p.m. because we were going
to the 7:15 concert at the childrens hospital where Dr. Beatocello would be
performing a Bach concert on his cello. He told the story of the children of
Cambodia who are plagued by Tuberculosis, Dengue Fever and other viruses that in
the Western countries can easily be defeated. His concert was a plea for both
money and blood donations. It was very moving since he showed films of the work
he does in his hospital. He is a Swiss citizen who has devoted his life to
saving the children of Cambodia. After the concert we went back to the hotel for
our 8:00 morning wake up.
Up early and to breakfast at 8:00 am. Great breakfast. Met Sarouen and took the
one hour drive to Batrey Srei the Pink sandstone temple. From there we went to
the Jungle Temple with trees growing over the temple. It was incredible to see
the way the temples were when they were initially discovered.
Back to the hotel to have lunch and then leave at 4 p.m. for the airport.
Arrived at the airport to board the Viet Nam airlines plane for the two hour
flight to Hanoi. Thank God we had business class tickets because this was truly
a cattle car full of Asian tour groups. The trip was long and we had a non
descript fish for dinner. Landed in Hanoi about 8:30 p.m. and was greeted by
Quan who brought us two bouquets of beautiful roses. Drove about ¾ hour to the
hotel Sofitel Metropole. Went to bed. The hotel is very beautiful, very
Ate breakfast at about 8:00 a.m. and then met Quan for the city tour. Drove to
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, a typical Communist square building with the hammer and
sickle insignia. Quan talking about Ho Chi Minh when we realized we were being
watched and our conversation was being monitored. Quan concerned said he could
lose his job. From there we walked to the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh
houses located in the park. There were Buddha trees and a one pillar pagoda
where Quan prayed. We then traveled to the Tran Quoc pagoda when Corky
announced no more temples or pagodas. Went to the Catholic Church square where
we boarded our aluminum wheelchairs for our rickshaw ride. We rode in and out
of traffic to tin street followed by shoe street followed by toy street etc.,
etc. We rode in and out of head-on traffic for about a half-hour when we
stopped at a traditional house where the men bought us some beautiful beads.
This was our 125th purchase. From there Quan took us to a traditional
Vietnamese buffet restaurant. Food not great! Quan picked us up again and we
went to another pagoda on Lake of the Restored Sword. Taken to a silk store
where Barbara and Chrissie bought silk blouses (size large) and then to the
water puppet show. Fun show with puppets in rice fields disguised as dragons,
fish and birds. Bought luggage and then back to the hotel. Had a great
dinner at the hotel French restaurant consisting of lobster, shrimp, tuna and
foie gras. Quickly ate because we had to pack for our trip to Sapa. Picked up
at the hotel at about 8:30 and left with only an overnight bag plus camera
equipment and the cosmetics bag. Arrived at the station and things looked very
dismal, the train looked like it belonged in a junk yard. Very scary. Barbara
and Corky looking for a Hertz rent a car. Finally crossed many train tracks
found the Victoria train which was much better. Climbed on board to our cabin
and realized the four of us were sharing a coffin for four. Barbara and
Chrissie up in the top bunks and Corky and Chuckie on the bottom. We entered
the state room and laughed for 20 minutes. Chrissie and Barbara changed into
their night clothes while laying in their bunks.
Arrived at Sapa at about 7:00 a.m. with little sleep. Put on the same clothes,
no shower, no teeth brushing. (Quan either) Took our first trip up the mountain
in a huge cloud. Ate breakfast at pretty Swiss chalet hotel and then Chrissie
and Barbara had our first Vietnamese massage. First we hiked up a huge hill and
arrived at the spa. We tried to explain to them that we wanted showers. After
ten minutes of charades they finally understood. We were put in a large shower
area where we shared one shower. Amazingly, half way through the shower the
water turned bright yellow. Oh well, onward to the massage. The foot
reflexology was pure torture. Used their cold feet to do some of the massage.
Finally done and went back to hotel to rest. Chuckie going in for his massage
but we didn't tell him it was Chinese torture.
Quan picked us up at the hotel at about 2:00 p.m. for our first trek. Down to
Cat Cat falls. The first part of the hike was all downhill but we knew we would
have to hike back up. We walked a total of six km. through villages of Hmong and
Red Zao mountain minorities (as the Vietnamese called them) Walked through
many, many farms with many, many chickens. All of us held our breaths but won't
matter because by now we all have bird flu. Returned to our hotel after
excusing Bevis (our new name for Quan) for the day and ate "starters" for dinner
by the heaters. Great night! To bed early.
Quan picked us up at 9:00 a.m. had a new local guide with him by the name of
Tang. Cute kid and spoke English. Took the drive down the mountain but found
ourselves in the clouds again so told Quan to turn around and head up hill. The
sun was shining brightly. Went to Taipin Village to see the house of the Red
Zao. On the way we stopped to take pictures of a 74 year old woman with one
tooth in her upper denture which hung over her lower lip. The house of the Red
Zao was made of wood and tin with a dirt floor. It had one large room which was
the main room and then a children's play room which contained a mass of
children. There was a small bedroom in which there was a raised platform with
a mat. We found out that 11 adults, 4 children and 12 dogs (mom and 11 pups)
lived in the house. The one raised platform was where the 11 adults sleep under
a mosquito repellant net given to them by UNICEF. As we entered the house the
men began to set up a table where they intended to serve us soup and lunch.
Chrissie ran from house yelling "no, no" "no soup for me" not me." We had
already been exposed to more chickens than hairs on our head and this was for
sure a terrible disease waiting to happen. Corky's quick thinking made the
excuse that we were in a hurry and could not stay even though we thought their
gesture was wonderful. This was a very, very poor family willing to share with
us, the foreigners. There were children all over the place with runny noses and
coughing. Again we were concerned. Out came the saniwipes.
We returned to Sapa and stopped at the Silver Waterfall where we climbed up to a
bridge. In Sapa we went to the rock garden where we attended a cultural show
where we enjoyed dancers, singers and traditional instruments being played. On
the way down we saw numerous Chinese and Vietnamese herbs and Corky stopped to
buy a bottle of rice whiskey which contained a cobra snake bitting the head of a
scorpion. We arrived back at the hotel, said goodbye to Tang and sat in front of
the fireplace to have our "starter" dinner. The boys finished off the night with
3 scoops of ice cream covered in chocolate syrup. The girls had noodle soup.
Up early to have breakfast and start the drive down the mountain to board the
Victoria Express back to Hanoi. Pretty morning so on the way down the hill we
stopped to take pictures of people, places and things. Gorgeous farmlands and
rice fields covering the mountains. Finally arrived in town of Laocai where we
boarded the train. We had a stateroom where we could sit or the dining room was
open to also sit. We were on the train for the next 10 hours since we are not
to arrive in Hanoi until 8:30 p.m.. Chrissie and Barbara went to the dinning
room ordered virgin Bloody Marys and here we sat. We convinced Francois, our
greeter, to find us a deck of cards and after lunch the four of us played 30+
hands of rummy. By the time we arrived in Hanoi we were ready to kill anyone and
anything. Met at the train by our trusty driver and taken to the hotel where
we proceeded to go to bed. We were exhausted from just sitting on the train all
Up early, had breakfast at the hotel and then met by Quan for our adventure to
the perfume pagoda. We drove about two hours through the countryside to get to
a small town to begin the row boat trip on the Yen river. The entire drive
through the small villages was amazing. We saw people carrying all kinds of
things on bicycles or motorbikes. Everything from full grown trees to lead
pipes to baskets pilled higher then the drivers to live pigs tied upside down on
the back fender. We passed by many shops advertising Ticht Cao which we found
out later was dog to eat. Many shops had pens of dogs in front to sell for
food. We found out that kidnapping dogs is a big business in Viet Nam so if you
have a dog as a pet you have to protect it from kidnappers who will steal the
dogs to sell to eat.
We all walked to the edge of the river to find these steel rowboats which sat
just inches out of the water. Chrissie and Chuckie in one and Barbara, Corky,
and Quan in the other. Each of the boats had a woman rower. We found out that
the job of rowing was exclusively that of the women in the town and the families
would take turns in a kind of lottery system. They got paid to do this by the
government and the one day tips from the tourists were probably equal to a
month's pay in the rice field. We traveled up the river the two boats side by
side with our rowers chatting between themselves. We were on the river about
one hour before we reached the Huong Tich mountain where we were to hike up to
the top for a magnificent view of the valley. Rather than hike up, the new
cable car was running, so we hopped it and went to the top. The view from the
top was pretty cloudy but from the cable car it was pretty. On the way down the
mountain we stopped at the perfume pagoda, this is the destination for
Vietnamese Buddhist pilgrims during
Buddhist festival times. The pagoda was built in the 10th century but had been
destroyed many times during the numerous civil wars. The last restoration was
about 1989. We toured the grounds and heard a loud crying sound which we
decided to explore and found the oldest monk of the monastery sitting outside on
a rocker. We found out that he was 104 years old and according to the young
Vietnamese he was crazy. We approached and when he saw Chrissie and Barbara his
eyes lit up and he began to smile. He took our hands to hold them close since
he probably could not see well. He was hard of hearing and keep calling out
"hallo" which we learned meant "where are your from". It was a great experience
to meet him. Of course, the men got pictures. We then boarded our rowboats
again to be taken back to the village. Corky found a comfortable way to lay in
the boat. The women rowers laughed at him and called him a pregnant woman
because of his belly. When we got out of the boats the women tried to hold us up
for more of a tip but Quan intervened. This was just part of their culture
because they weren't angry at us, they just wanted to get as much as they
could. They smiled and grined at us when we left and waved goodbye. Arrived
back at the hotel during rush hour and laughed all the way since were in mad
traffic which defies explanation. Motorbikes everywhere even driving on the
sidewalks. That night we got cleaned up and Quan took us to Le Tokien
restaurant which Paradissa arranged for us. Great restaurant of Vietnamese
food. Driver and Quan waited for us and then drove us back to the hotel where
we had to pack again for the overnight trip to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay Junk
Picked up by Quan at 8:30 a.m. for our three hour drive to Halong Bay and the
overnight on the Junk. The drive was nice again going through small towns until
we stopped at our pre-designated pit stop which was advertised as a "disabled
persons handicraft factory. We entered only to see children who did not seem
disabled sitting without speaking doing hand embroidery. We had a salesperson
following us not allowing us to talk with the children or take pictures. I
questioned the salesman about the age of the children and his response was they
were all over 18 years old. "No chance." I again questioned him and he said
that the Vietnamese people look very young. He then challenged me to guess the
age of a child that was no older then 10. When I guessed 10-12 years old he
laughed at me and saw that the child was older then 18. This was the worst
example of child labor I have ever seen. This guy would not leave us alone for
one minute. In fact Chrissie said they even followed her into the bathroom. It
was an eye opening experience. I couldn't identify one disabled child in the
place. The children did not look happy and were working eight hrs per day six
days per week. They did not go to school.
We finally arrived at the city of Halong. The city is starting to become a
tourist resort built by foreign investors. We got to the dock and were met by
some porters who disappeared with our luggage. We entered the boarding area and
saw about 50 junks of all sizes and dimensions. We laughed about which boat was
ours and saw a junk that was 34 meters long (about 110 feet long) and joked
about it being ours. Barbara noticed that the luggage they brought on that boat
was theirs so . . . this was, in fact, the boat.
We were escorted on board and found that the junk for the four of us had 10
staterooms from which we could choose. This was our private junk for the
overnight in Halong Bay. There were actually more crew than the four of us.
Our Captain was Mr. Coo and he was the one that maneuvered the boat out of the
harbor. Our journey began out of the town harbor and into the green waters of
Halong Bay .
The weather was misty and overcast and gave the look of Halong Bay a mystic
appearance. On the way out we had lunch which consisted of seafood ; shrimp,
crayfish, fish, noodles, cabbage etc. etc. We arrived in Halong and took the
sampan to Sung Sot cave. It was huge and well run compared to many of the
other Vietnamese sights we visited. The country has no respect for natural
wonders and there is garbage everywhere. However, this cave was run by the
French and there were trash cans for people to discard their trash and the areas
were cordoned off with ropes. It was beautiful. From here we boarded the sampan
again and traveled to Titov beach where we hiked up the mountain. This was
crazy. The hike was on a 70 degree angle and very dangerous. On the way up
there were incredible vistas of the bay. We hiked down and returned to the boat
where Corky showered for dinner. We traveled to a secluded bay where there were
three other boats, and anchored for the night. We had dinner consisting of
seafood (too much) and a bottle of cognac and wine. Needless to say we all
retired early since breakfast was being served at 7:30.
When Corky climbed into the bunk it creaked like it was about to break. Barbara
and Chrissie did not sleep well since the bunks were small.
Got up at 6:00 a.m. and thought we would shower, however, no water. Waited
until 7:00 a.m. and then showered and washed our hair. No dryers or
electricity. Up on the deck for breakfast. Out in the bay saw the little
sampan 7-11 boats with little babies crawling all over the boat. Little ones not
even three years old were standing on the edge of the boat rowing it. We were
amazed. They would come up to the boat selling everything from sanitary napkins
to vegetables to Oreo cookies (we had bought a box the day before and ate them
that night). The women manning the boat were not only watching the babies but
were also cooking on a hot charcoal grill and selling goods. It was amazing.
After breakfast we got into the sampan to travel through some large under the
rock tunnels. Back to the boat for the trip back to Halong City. We saw various
islands on the way such as Dog Island, Two Cocks Fighting Island, Mother God
Island etc. The sail back was fabulous. Lunch was served on the boat as we
sailed. Arrived at Halong City after lunch about noon and then started our trip
back to Hanoi.
We arrived at the cultural center where traditional Vietnamese dancing,
singing and musical instruments were played.
Got up and had breakfast at the hotel. Met Quan and traveled the hour to the
airport. Dropped off at the airport for our 12:40 flight to Hue. Since flying
business class we were invited to the executive lounge. About 20 minutes before
boarding an announcement was made that our flight was delayed until 3:00 P.M.
We were disappointed and ate lunch consisting of noodles in the lounge. It
starts to rain in Hanoi and were glad we are leaving. We board the plane and
have an uneventful hour flight to Hue. We are again met at the airport this
time by Anh, our new guide. We are packed into the van and driven to Hue where
we visit the Thienmu Pagoda, the pagoda of the Heavenly Women on the Perfume
River. After touring the pagoda we boarded a boat on the Perfume River and
motored up river to the Saigon Morin
Hotel where we were upgraded to a large suite. We quickly changed for dinner
and were taken to a surprise dinner at the Royal Park restaurant where we
became ancient kings and queens for the night. We were dressed in the
traditional costumes and paraded around with an entourage of people. Our
pictures were taken and we were escorted to a private room where we dined and
were serenaded with music. There were three singers and three musicians. The
musicians played the two string guitar called the Dan Nhi, the 36 string
instrument called the Tam Thap Luc, the one string instrument called the Dam
Barr. The food was pre set and not the best but the evening was incredible. We
laughed and laughed about how ridiculous we looked in our costumes. Anh waited
for us and was there as we left the restaurant. We were taken back to the hotel
and had to pack for our early morning drive to Hoi An.
Before we left for our drive to Hoi An we made a stop at the Citadel which was a
three walled city that dated back to the 11th century. It not only housed the
Forbidden City but also housed three million people. (150 of which were the
Emperor's concubines). The temperature was in the upper 80's and the group was
fading fast. We learned that the Emperor's entrance to the city was in the
center while the Mandarins entered on both sides (the military mandarins on the
left and the civil mandarins on the right) The women entered with the animals
because they were considered dirty. The concubines were housed in the city and
brought to the Emperor by the Eunuch. The Emperor had anywhere from 150-200
concubines at any one time. From there we drove to the Mausoleum of Tu Duc one
of the oldest Emperor's in Viet Nam . The area was greatly renovated except for
the Library which escaped the many wars. The buildings were decorated using
mosaics of glass. There were also many trees and areas for gardens. It was
incredibly hot. We were very anxious to get back to the van and air
We started our journey to Hoi An and had to drive through three passes. These
were in the mountains that bordered the ocean. We had incredible vistas of the
ocean, Da Nang, and the China Sea and Beach. We stopped many times to take
pictures. Anh had us stop at a beachfront restaurant for lunch and all of us
were concerned about the food. We ate Phu, noodles and bread. After lunch we
decided to get ice cream and walk on the beach. On the way back from the beach
Corky slipped and fell. He hit his head on a pipe and cut his temple area
open. The blood was gushing out and we created quite a scene. Thank God
Chrissie the nurse was with us. She quickly assessed the situatioin and said it
was superficial. Corky embarrassed because of the to-do. Barbara almost looses
control. We got him ice and took him back to the van. Corky admits he has a
headache. We continue to travel to Hoi An and the area is becoming more resort
like. We stop at a marble making factory where we watched excellent craftsmen
make marble figurines. We were impressed with the marble and green ebony stone.
All of the marble and other stones were taken from Marble mountain right in the
area. We almost purchased some marble pieces but were able to get out of the
shop with our wallets intact. We arrive at the hotel, the most beautiful one in
Hoi An, and are given the honeymoon suites which are on the beachfront It is
just like being in Hawaii.
That night we decided to stay home and eat at the hotel. We went to the beach
bar, downed three Tequila shooters each , and then had dinner. We ate outside
and then went to bed. Anh to pick us up for city tour at 9:00 a.m.
We got up early and Chrissie and Barbara made arrangements to eat on the patios
outside our rooms. While enjoying breakfast the staff came by the beach to comb
the beachfront using their Water Buffalo. We then got dressed and met Anh who
took us to a factory where tablecloths, silk garments, silk paintings and other
items were made. Here we spent a good deal of money. We bought 10 tablecloths,
a pajama outfit for Jack, 3 suits, 3 shirts, 2 dresses and a Japanese top. All
made of silk. We were there at 11:00 a.m. and they promised they would have
the garments at the hotel by 9:00 a.m. the next day. After 2 ½ hours in the
shop we left for our city tour. Totally exhausted.
Anh took us walking to see the Chinese bridge, the French colonial home, the
temple of the Sea Goddess, and another pagoda. Ate about 1:30. Anh returned us
to our hotel where we had lunch and changed since we were going bicycle riding
in Hoi An to see the vegetable gardens and experience the local life. We each
had our own bikes and initially it was easy since we rode on non-crowded roads.
We visited the vegetable gardens where Barbara helped a woman plant some rice
and we gave pointers to the locals on what they needed to do. Those that
understood us just humored us and were glad when we had left. These small
farmers were working so hard but each of them had a smile on their face and were
thrilled to see us. As we rode through the farm areas everyone we passed would
yell out hello. Anh then lead us on our bikes into the town were we tangled
with the local people and we lost. Barbara drove into a hat stand and her fall
was broken by crashing into an older lady. After Barbara gained control, the
older lady laughed. We are sure she was laughing at the stupid Americans riding
in a city where only the most fearless ride. On the last road Barbara again
lost control and this time rode another old lady off the street. Everyone
laughed and we returned to our hotel to again have dinner outside. Anh asked if
we wanted to tour the next morning and he received a resounding no since all of
us wanted to enjoy the beach.
We lounged around and were still in bed when the dresses and suits we had made
were delivered. After trying them on some alterations needed to be made and
again they said it would be returned before we left. That was only two hours
from when initially delivered.
We had breakfast and then the clothes were returned all altered. We finished
packing and Anh appeared to take us to the airport for our flight to Hanoi.
Needless to say our 3:00 flight was delayed since we were flying Viet Nam
airlines. This time it was only a thirty minute delay. Arrived at the airport
and were met by Sam our new guide in Hanoi. He transported us the supposed
twenty minute ride to the Sheraton which turned out to be an hour because of
all the traffic. What we first noticed about Saigon was that it was cleaner
than Hanoi, had more cars, had less horn honking, and the people looked
happier. Arriving at the hotel, Corky upgraded our room to a three bedroom
presidential suite. We all walked in and couldn't believe the magnificent room.
We went to the concierge and made reservations to have dinner at their best
restaurant, the Signature. We were specially treated and ate on the patio
overlooking the entire city. From there we went to the 23rd floor to see a band
called Saint O who was advertised as a Canadian/American Band. We thought they
could be great but they had the volume turned down so low that they sounded
flat. We were disappointed but had a great night anyway. We returned to the
room and to bed about 10:00 p.m.
We were picked up at 8:30 to take the three hour drive to Cai Be where we are
to board a boat to take a cruise on the Mekong Delta (Vinh Long) to see the
floating market. On the way we saw many sights including some caged monkeys,
caged Cobras and caged porcupines. The village people looked like they were very
poor but happy. As we started to cross one of the arms of the river we saw the
floating market with its boats filled with all kinds of goods to sell. In order
to let the merchants know what is being sold on the boat the good is hiked up on
a pole like a flag. Most of these merchants live on their boats and treat the
river with no respect. Everything is thrown into the Delta including human
waste. We stopped at a traditional French Colonial house and at a shop that was
making sugar candy, popped rice, and rice paper. Chrissie tried her hand at
rice paper making and the pancake looked more like a rolled taco. After she was
done the skillet had to be cleaned because much of the rice dough was left on
For lunch we stopped at a small restaurant where a grilled fish was made along
with shrimp, soup, noodles and fruit. The meal was actually delicious.
We spent about two hours on the delta after which we returned to our van for the
three hour journey back. It was a long trip and Chuckie snoozed . I saw a cow
being transported by bicycle.
When we got back to the hotel we had reservations at a French restaurant which
we proceeded to cancel and we decided to eat sushi in our lounge. While there
we found out that the reason the band had their volume down so low was because
we were occupying the Presidential Suite and they did not want us disturbed.
When we told management we were at the lounge they laughed. We told management
that the band could crank up the music and it would not disturb us. We then went
back to the room and ordered more sushi and food.
Sam picked us up in the morning for the city tour of Hanoi. We went to Notre
Dame Cathedral, The Post Office, The Reunification Palace, the U.S. Embassy
which is now the U.S. Consulate. We were impressed with the post office which
looked like an old train station with its high ceilings. There were public
desks at the post office and we saw a very old man translating letters for
people from Vietnamese to English so that grandparents could communicate with
grandchildren in the United States. The reunification Palace was very
unimpressive and hot. The Cathedral was plain except for the Neon lights that
surrounded some of the statues. We opted to go back to the hotel for lunch where
we ate at the Café which had a great buffet including Sushi. After lunch Corky
had a massage where Barbara and Chrissie went for an afternoon of beauty. They
were referred to Armani Salon where they had hair coloring, deluxe hair washing
and scalp massage, facial and pedicure all for $34.00 for both of them. They
were so ecstatic that they went to the Parkson Department store and had their
makeup applied professionally. They felt like ladies of the night but their men
thought they looked great. That evening everyone got dressed up for their night
on the dinner cruise. It was a fun night with dancing , music and beautiful
sights. While on board we were treated like royalty since Paradissa made the
reservations and told them we were special. We met the owner of the boat's
daughter, Madeline from Austria, and she sat with us to share some Austrian
We left the boat and returned to the hotel to the 23rd floor. The place was
packed with many fathers and daughters or granddaughters dancing or cooing. The
band was great. Chuckie told the band that it was because of us that they were
told to turn the music down. We told them if anyone complained to refer them to
us. Stayed listening to music and dancing until about 1:00 a.m.
Our last day on vacation. We opted to brave Saigon on our own. We had
breakfast about 9:30 a.m. and then headed out to find shot glasses. Walked to
the market and entered thinking this might be the place to get the glasses. Big
mistake. All we saw were the same things we had seen at other markets such as
hats, vegetables, hair goods, fresh fish, dried fish, meats, New Years goods
etc. The market had very narrow aisles which had to accommodate buyers,
merchants and suppliers on motorbikes. You had to have eyes in the back of
your head to avoid injury. From there we walked to the flower show street and
sat down to have beer. Corky ordered up 4 wheelchairs (rickshaws) and we
departed for the weekly flower show. There were gorgeous orchids everywhere.
From there we walked to Diamond Plaza to see what had been set up in preparation
for the Chinese New Year. We even participated in making rice packages wrapped
in banana leaves for charity. It was about 4 o'clock and we started back to the
hotel. Arrived at the hotel and showered, packed and went to the lounge to have
Sushi. From there we went to the Palazzo Club to gamble. Barbara, Chrissie and
Chuckie played slot machines while Corky played electronic Blackjack with a
computer. We had a net gain in winnings of $40.00. returned to the room,
watched a little of Spiderman and then left for the airport. Went to check into
our JAL flight to Tokyo and found it was cancelled. We were rebooked on Viet Nam
Fight to Tokyo uneventful. Everyone slept except for Barbara. Arrived in Tokyo
only to find the entire airport in a shambles because of numerous cancelled
flights. After three hours we finally got boarding passes for Chuckie and
Chrissie and then said goodbye at the JAL executive lounge. Corky and Barbara
back to Los Angeles while Chrissie and Chuckie on to New York. Until next year
. . .
About the Author:
Barbara Mizer -
besides being the wife of
Corky Mizer, owner of Corky’s Pest Control, is herself a successful business
woman being a practicing attorney specializing in Consumer Law, representing
individuals. This includes personal injury, insurance law and disability
Born and raised in New York, she received her undergraduate degree in Liberal
Arts from Brooklyn College. She majored in Speech and Theatre Arts, having the
opportunity of acting, singing and dancing and developing a passion for the arts
that continues to this day. She and Corky are strong supporters of the arts.
1975 she moved to San Diego, graduated from the Western State School of Law, and
married Corky Mizer in 1983. She and Corky are frequent world travelers, the
worldwide adventures have been chronicled in The Paper on several occasions and
we are likely to carry more of her travel journals in the future.
Corky and Barbara Mizer,