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Cover Story March 16, 2006


 

  by Barbara Mizer

 

Halong Bay

 

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

 

12/26/05

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 Fish Market in Tokyo 

 

12/27/05

 

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 the day.

 

12/28/05

 

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..

 

 

  

 Shintu Temple in Asakusa

 

12/29/05

 

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.

 

Hong Kong

  

12/30/05

 

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.

 

12/31/05

 

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. totally exhausted. 

 

01/01/06

 

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.

 

01/02/06

 

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 ride. 

 

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.

 

01/03/06

 

Up at 7:00 a.m. and met for breakfast at 8:15 a.m.  Had noodle soup and fried noodles.  Very tasty. 

 

  15th 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 the afterlife. 

 

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.

 

01/04/06

 

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.

 

O1/05/06

 

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 call.

 

Cobra Snake in Rice Whiskey

 

01/06/05

 

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.

 

01/07/06

 

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 monastery).  Walked 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.

 

Fruit Statuary

 

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.

 

  Vietnamese Hats

 

1/08/06

 

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 boutique.

 

1/09/06

 

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.

 

1/10/06

 

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. 

 

01/11/06

 

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.

 

01/12/06

 

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 day.

 

01/13/06

 

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

 

01/14/06

 

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.

 

01/15/06

 

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. 

 

Saigon Market

 

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.

 

01/16/06

 

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.

 

01/17/06

 

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 conditioning.

 

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.

 

01/18/06

 

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. 

 

01/19/06

 

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.  

 

01/20/06

 

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 the pan.

 

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. 

 

01/21/06

 

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 Schnapps .

 

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.

 

01/22/06 

 

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 airlines.

 

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 claims.

 

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.

 

In 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,
at home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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