Vietnam and Cambodia Adventure

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By Cheri Emahiser • December 28, 2018

My appreciation of the lovely people of Vietnam and Cambodia began on the first day of our tour. I observed the delightful children and particularly their hard-working mothers. As we cycled by, we could expect their kids to run the side of the road greeting us excitedly with waving hands and calls of “hello, hello.” We happily called “xin chao” in response.

Vietnamese girl on her bike and Cambodian children at their kindergarten.

On the narrow-paved country road where we started our bike tour, we stopped for a moment to mingle with children exiting the gates of a school yard. A dear boy of maybe ten years of age greeted me with “Hello,” and asked my name. Smiling sweetly, he said, “Welcome to Vietnam.” His words gave me immense joy. Celebratory graduates in Hanoi were gorgeous in their gowns and red and blue robes.

New college graduates. Pretty dresses are worn under their gowns.

More than half of the graduates will not find work in their field of study. Will many of them resort to selling merchandize in Old Town Hanoi?

Cameras were flashing everywhere!
Vegetables, fruit and shoes for sale in Old Town Hanoi
5 Hats, flowers, and balancing acts in Old Town Hanoi.

Perhaps one of the college graduates could offer tours of Ba Dinh Square, a wide open green space in the middle of densely packed Hanoi? It’s home to the mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh’s body is usually on display. When we visited his embalmed body was in Moscow receiving annual attention by the Russian team responsible for preserving Vladimir Lenin’s youthful glow.

Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi is home to the Presidential Palace and other important buildings. The blades of grass represent the fallen soldiers. Ho Chi Minh's modest home is in the square. Everyone including dogs needed coats in November in Hanoi.

A young woman might lead a tour through Khải Định’s mausoleum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The flamboyant Khải Định was the 12th and last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, reigning from 1916 to 1925. Our guide talked of the flashy rhinestones, embroidered ensembles and dresses he wore. It’s said his wives and concubines did not interest him.

The king, his concrete mausoleum with gorgeous interior tiles.

Maybe a former student will take a job selling tickets to Saigon’s War Museum where the visual depictions of the horrors of war and America’s legacy of widespread human suffering and devastation are graphically revealed.

Tank and helicopter outside the War Museum in Saigon.

Hopefully women with college degrees won’t end up laboring in the gardens near our cooking class. Women working there have only four days off per year.

Cooking class was fun and the food tasty.
Beautifully carved fresh vegetables were too pretty to eat.

Might a graduate spend her days repeatedly shoveling sand into a cement mixer? One morning biking to a small village I noticed a tiny woman doing just that while wearing a blue flowered hat and matching scarf to shield her face from the sun. Typically, women wear the conical straw hat called non la.

At work gardening, mixing cement, sorting pearl. A Cambodian woman reaping rice.

Perhaps employment could involve arranging lunch on a beautiful beach complete with tablecloths and umbrellas for tour guests. After lunch, our guide led our group of kayakers on a trip through the waters of Ha Long Bay where monkeys leaped from branch to branch on the densely treed shore line.

A picnic lunch on a remote beach was wonderful.
Women on Ha Long Bay selling their wares. Paddling a boat with your feet through the Tran An Grottoes in Ninh Binh Province brings in income. In Ca Ran, the most famous floating market of the Mekong Delta, women sell produce from boats.
Young girl alone on her boat navigating the waters near Cambodia' s biggest lake - Tonie Sap Lake.

I watched in wonder as Cambodian women loaded hefty blocks of wet red clay onto a conveyer belt connected to a rudimentary brick-making machine. Lifting the bricks from the belt and placing them into a cart, they somehow pushed them to a storage site, to await transport to a nearby kiln. Village jobs are scarce and making bricks eight hours a day, six days a week allows these women to earn wages while remaining with their families.

Bricks are stacked again in carts and hauled to the kiln for drying.
A graduate could find herself selling fish or vegetables at Can Tho one of the largest markets in Southern Vietnam.

Women train for two years in Hoi An before working an eight and one-half hour a day embroidering. Sitting on hard metal stools they sew 6 days per week until their career ends at around age forty. Compromised vision makes fine, precise sewing impossible.

Making art with an embroidery needle.
Cambodian women raise vegetables, cows and chickens to feed their families. Some sell their chicken and vegetables at the local market.
Cambodian nuns dressed in white. Baskets being made and sold for $4.00 each.

Many days we cycled by small villages adjoining rice paddies dotted with water buffalo and stopped at outdoor markets with their pungent smells of burning wood and savory food cooking. Cycling through the wide-open countryside we heard dogs barking and voices devoid of any tonal quality blaring karaoke from distant houses.

Tending the water buffalo.
Stilted home near Tonie Sap Lake is on dry land for part of the year. Homes on stilts keep snakes and other creatures out at night and improve circulation. Homes sit on the banks of the Me Kong Delta and float on Ha Long Bay. Disney type park being built near Ha Long Bay.
Stalactites and stalagmites in the caves of Ha Long Bay.

On our 15-day tour our expert guides expeditiously transported and transitioned our group of 18 from city to city on boats, kayaks, taxies, ferries, busses, transport boats, planes and bicycles. With our wonderful German, Australian and Canadian traveling companions we enjoyed not only delicious meals and lovely hotels, but an adventure of sights, sounds, smells and activities beyond what any of us could have ever imagined. The trip was one of best travel experiences of my life; I will never forget the warmth, hospitality and even forgiveness we experienced throughout our journey from the remarkable men, children, and hard-working women of Vietnam and Cambodia.

A bit of an uphill climb on this ride.

Cheri Emahiser, Author. December 2018

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