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Vietnam (Racso, Nov 2010)

VIETNAM

 1st part “THE BEGININGS”.

                                          (November 2010- RACSO-)

The Vietnamese Adventure was from last 20th November to 8th December. The plane took off from Barajas Airport with five friends and me to Hanoi Airport transferring in Moscow Airport. The plane departure at ten thirty a.m. and arrived at Hanoi Airport at seven thirty a.m. the following day. Once there, we took another plane to Khan Tho in the south of Vietnam, where the Mekong´s Delta is located                

                                     .

At first sight from the plane, Khan Tho Airport appeared to be in the middle of the rainforest. There was only one runway to land and to take off and near it there was a small structure still in construction which looked as the Terminal building. Surrounding the airport were the rainforest and the rice fields.

 An old bus took us from the run way to the Terminal site and during this short journey we felt transported to the films of the 60s we had seen. There were people working in the construction of the road to get the landing and taking off runway ready, and building an extension to the Terminal site, without any kind of safety anywhere and with such old machines and trucks that caught our attention. When we got to the small Terminal site we asked to a member of the Airport Staff how we could get to the city. Then we arranged the price for the taxi.

 

During the journey, the Vietnamese way of driving with no respect for the traffic signs and the huge amount of motorbikes crowding the road, impressed us. At first sight seemed to be a chaotic place, and definitely it was. At the same time, we were checking the guide book to look up a hotel. Finally, we chose a hotel located between the center and the Mekong River, which was described by the book guide as cozy, clean and with a bathroom inside the room per $15 the double room.

 

We quickly left the baggage in the hotel and arranged with the hotel owner the Mekong´s Delta trip for the next three days. Then we went for a walk around the center of the city and along the river bank.  After the walk we had dinner in a cool restaurant, in its first floor, with an impressive view of the river while the night was falling. We enjoyed some Tiger Beer that is not Vietnamese but Thai beer and ordered our first Vietnamese meal: Spring Rolls, fry rice with chicken, steam rice with pork, fried snake, fried noodles with beef, fried squids and some dragon fruit and catfish-eyes fruit. It was a delicious dinner. As we were tired, we went to the hotel to rest, because at half past five a.m. we had to be prepared to go on a Mekong´s Delta trip.

 

 

A guide was waiting for us outside the hotel. He came with us to the jetty where we met another guide. Both guides distributed us into two boats. The day was breaking while the boats were sailing slowly along the river. We were absolutely delighted with the views, taking photos of the houses over the river where the poorest people live.

 

The bridges in construction, the ships transporting soil, the ships dredging the deep ground of the river, the ferries across the river taking people and motorbikes from one side to the other, the hundreds of boats like us with tourist or fishing or carrying things amazed us. After more than an hour we arrived at the river boats market, where the boats are the shops, and where it is possible to buy all kind of fruits, fresh fish, clothes, as well as, have breakfast or lunch with all kind of Vietnamese food.

 

After that, we went to a small jetty to disembark and visit a noodle factory. Of course it is totally different from our occidental idea of what a factory should be like: we saw the workers dressed in shorts and sandals, touching the noodles with their bare hands, no safety measures, no cleaning services, people sleeping on the floor among the machines and the sacks with the rice but all this was very interesting because of the hand labor. The machines are used to smash the rice which is put into a blue sack, where they pour water from the Mekong River for the rice to absorb it to get the dough so as to make the noodles. After sometime they remove the sacks and press them in order to eliminate the waste water that is poured into the river again. When the dough is ready, they knead it in thin crepes to cook them with steam. Once they are cooked, they are taken outside in the field and laid on long tables to dry. When they are dry, they are put one on another,   using another machine to cut them into very thin stripes or noodles. All the process is surprisingly fast.

 

 

When the visit to the factory finished, we came back to the boats and went back to the Mekong´s Delta. This area of the delta is plenty of small islands communicated by little boats and small bridges made of wood. These bridges can only be used by pedestrians or motorbikes. We had lunch in a restaurant close to the river in one of the islands, later we went for a walk along a pedestrian path close to rice fields and the farmer’s houses, and finally we went back to the hotel when the daylight was fading.

 Approaching the jetty in Khan Tho city a heavy rain surprised us on the little boats. As the day was so sunny, early in the morning, we had left the raincoats in the hotel. We tried to protect from the rain under the scarce shelter in the middle of the boat, but it was useless, in ten minutes we got so wet that appeared that we had all fallen down into the river, with our mobile phones, cameras and all kind of stuff. My mobile phone died although it resuscitated four days later when it got dry. It was one of the funniest moments of the trip!

                       

The following day, we took the boat again and went to the Coco Temple. It occupies a whole island. It was constructed at the beginnings of last century by a rich Vietnamese man, who studied in Paris. He created the Coco religion, based on peace, coco’s (they only could feed with this fruit) and related with Taoism and Buddhism. The most important moment for this religion was during the Indochina’s war, when the leader thought that he could stop the war in eight days only with his mind capacity. He locked in a world-ball constructed in the temple during eight days and its nights in solitary confinement but he couldn´t stop the war, so the followers left him and their believes in his religion.

 We also visited the river channels, where the Vietcong supplies their army. As we were advised the day before to avoid the heavy rain during the trip on the boat, we arrived at the jetty in Khan Tho one hour earlier, so the heavy rain accompanied us from the jetty to the hotel.

The next day we went to the country, because we wanted to sleep in huts in the rainforest. We went by car and during the journey we visited a Pagoda, a brick factory, an incense factory, a tofu factory, a zoo and a bonsai garden. It´s amazing to see how simple is the way they manufacture the goods using basic machines and labor force.

The Bricks Factory we visited was in a very humble and simple building, as the machines they used to manufacture the bricks. In the area where it is located, there are several factories like that one. They obtain the mud to make the bricks from the Mekong River. This mud is stored in a place outdoors and it is used to fill the funnels of the machines. In this process, the mud goes out through a mould located at the end of the machine leaving a long brick on the platform. When it goes out, the mud has been pressed so much that the waste water is left in the process. This platform has a gadget. It is similar to a guillotine made of wires in one side, which is used to cut the long brick into several pieces of the same size. This process is repeated again and again.

 

Once the pushcarts where they stored the bricks are full, they take them outdoors and put them on the platforms for the bricks to get dry. Two days later, they take the bricks again and put them in big ovens constructed with other bricks, where they are cooked. The peel-rice is what they use to feed the fire of these ovens. After filling the oven with the bricks to cook, the hole at the entrance is wall up for five days until the bricks are cooked. Then when the bricks are ready, they pull down the wall and prepare the bricks to be freighted.

The Tofu Factory was even simpler than the bricks one. Tofu is made of soya beans. When the beans are smashed in the mortars they produce a kind of milk which is used to make the tofu. The factory had two big rooms. One was used to store the beans and the tofu, and the other was the kitchen where the soya milk is cooked. To cook it, they use pans where the oil is warmed on stoves. Once the oil is hot enough, the soya-milk is poured in the pan making a thin layer of cream which is taken and put to dry on a wire that is above the stoves along the kitchen. The soya-peels are used to fire the stoves. When the layers of cream are dry, they are twisted one with others forming something similar to a fritter, what is stored and ready to be transported.

 

The Coco Candy´s Factory was another factory we visited in the same journey. At first sight, it was a great surprise for us to see the main room of the factory plenty of women sitting at   long tables, papering the candies. We knew it is usual that women work in Vietnam factories, but the huge number of them in the room impressed us.

Next to this big room there was another where the candies were made. They use the coco´s juice as the main raw material. This juice is mixed with molasses and with dye, in different colors, and then it is cooked in big pots. When it is prepared, the mass is left to cool until it can be manipulated. Once it is ready to be papered, they take the mass of three different colors and put one on the other in molds, as a long candy stripe. There is one woman in each table to cut the stripe in small pieces while the other women, sitting around the table, paper them.

 

A press machine it is used to smash the coco until the juice is taken. Everything is reusable. First of all the shells are stored to get dry. Then, they are used, on the one hand to make fire to boil the mixture in big pots, and on the other hand to feed the pigs of a farm placed near the factory. 

 

The Incense factory was one of the most interesting visits for me. As simple and humble as the rest of the factories but very intriguing because the incense is very used in this country for the Buddhism religion. Both at home and in the Pagodas, the incense is the starring. The Buddhism Vietnamese buried their dead relatives in the gardens of the houses in small temples, and every day they burn incense in member of them, like in the Pagodas when they are praying. They light incense in honor of the dead people they loved.

 

The incense is made using the leaves of the incense-tree. The factory is surrounded by these trees. When the leaves are yield, they are put in a mortar where are crushed. When it is formed a dense mass of leaves it is put in the funnel of a machine similar to a mincer. The mass of leaves is pressed through a hole where a thin stick it is placed so that the incense mass can impregnate it. The incense mass could be perfumed with different smells and dyed. Then they are taken outside and put on platforms to get dry.

 

 

 

 

The bonsai garden is a beautiful minimalist forest where the trees draw the attention of the visitors in their small pots and with wires surrounding the branches. They use Asian ancient techniques to create the bonsais as art trees, and the whole place evokes a peaceful atmosphere.

 

 

Once finished the visits, we went to Ho Chi Minh City, before called Saigon, by car. The guide, called Manh, who stayed with us for all this days, left us in one of the main avenues of Saigon. As his sister was working in a travel agency close to where we were left and as we needed to choose a hotel for the staying, we met her and she advised us to book the Orient Hotel that was very close. We were very sad when we said goodbye to Manh because we had had a very good time together.

It was around 6 p.m. when we arrived in Saigon. If Khan Tho was a chaotic city, Saigon which has over 8.5 million people living there and 4.5 million motorcycles registered driving in it streets, is even more chaotic, so it became an oppressive place. Trying to cross the streets was like an adventure, because the roads were absolutely covered with vehicles, therefore we watched how the Vietnamese people crossed and we began walking at a steady pace like them, because the vehicles didn´t stop, they overrun ahead and behind us until we got to the other side of the street. The first time trying to get the hotel was scaring; after repeating the same action several times we got used to it and we did it naturally.

 Once we got to the hotel, we left the baggage and met at the reception to have a walk around the neighborhood and to look for a restaurant to have dinner. While we were having dinner we planned the visits for the following day.

We stayed in Saigon for three days. During this time we were able to visit the main important monuments of the city as the City Town Hall, the Postal Office, the Train Station, the Continental Hotel, the Ho Chi Minh Square, the old City Jail, the old National Parliament, the Notre dame Catholic Cathedral and the War Museum. These buildings singularize the French architecture of the 19 century when Vietnam was a French colony. These stately buildings contrast with the simplicity of the Vietnamese constructions.

Apart from these few monumental places, the city is in general is a crowded combination of flats and houses surrounded by narrow streets full of people and motorcycles. The clatter is following you everywhere and the driving chaos is amazing, every driver fights for each piece of road. 

 

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