Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Heading Toward Cambodia

Last Vietnamese Stop: Hong Ngu
Green grocer?
Our fifth day of cruising took us across the border from Vietnam into Cambodia. We had one more village to visit before leaving Vietnam. The island village of Hong Ngu is not accustomed to tourists so our visit is special for them and us.
In fact, prior to the arrival of the Mekong Princess six months ago, the village had only seen one western visitor! You can imagine the looks I get in many places being so tall and blonde. People –especially the children – like to touch our white skin or hold hands.
She is the leader of this temple.

Our first stop was at the local temple, which is dedicated to another religion founded in Vietnam, Hoa Hao (pronounced wah how). It was founded in 1939 as a reform of Theravada Buddhism. It simplifies Buddhist doctrine and rituals and focusses on peasant farmers practicing in their homes with aid to the poor replacing the funding of elaborate pagodas. 

Thinh is explaining the religion to us.

We were not allowed in the temple.
The Hoa Hao sect is a faith that started in 1939 in the village of Hoa Hao. This is a Buddhist breakaway sect emphasizing simplicity and discourages the building of temples and ritual worship. There are about 1.5 million followers today. We did not see anything that would stand out as Hoa Hao like the Cao Dai temple we visited the day before.

From here, we walked through the village of Hong Ngu which is a lovely community. It looks much more prosperous than the villages near the water. The homes are larger and very neat and tidy. Most of them are on stilts fto protect them from the wet season floods.
The people seemed very healthy and happy. With it being the Tet holiday, people were visiting different homes. I felt a little strange coming into their homes on a holiday, but they seemed happy to have us and wanted to be in the pictures. Here are some random shots from around the village:


Preparing for the event of the day: The Cock Fight.
It is illegal, but everyone does it!

Checking lottery tickets!
We were invited into several of the homes, which are up on stilts. This is due to flood waters and it is cooler up there in the breeze. Plus they have the open-air first floor for shade and storage.
Since we were visiting the village on the official holiday, we were also treated to Tet holiday treats and tea. Our guides were very careful where they allowed us to indulge in local foods and drinks. Our host family had prepared a number of traditional treats and tea for us to try.

Take a break and cool off!

I was especially interested in the one home we visited as they weave the traditional checkered Khmer scarves that are exported to Cambodia. This area is home to a large number of weavers and embroiderers. I purchased a couple of their scarves.
And the family had prepared holiday treats for us to try. It was so nice to experience some of their traditions first hand. I guess the crowd at the airport was worth being here during the holiday.

The typical Khmer scarf worn by the Cambodians, but
woven here in Vietnam. Fine threads in traditional colors.

A demonstration on how to wear one.

And the family invited us to share their holiday treats!

These were good  - like sponge cake, but crispy outside.
Of course, protocol is that you remove your shoes before
entering a home or temple or any private space.

Back on the Mekong Princess, we had a relaxing afternoon as we continued to cruise toward Phenom Pehn, Cambodia. We will have to say goodbye to our wonderful Vietnamese guide, Thinh, before we cross the border into Cambodia where we will pick up a new guide.  Executive Chef Duk Da gave a fruit carving demonstration while we were cruising toward Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Later we watched a moving movie, “The Killing Fields”, in preparation for a visit to the Killing Fields in Cambodia.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vietnam Markets

I just love going to the markets around the world. I am not a shopper and unless I am buying fresh produce for our meals, I just look around. The markets are so colorful, filled with music and conversations and have some absolutely disgusting things! I don't have any more to say so I will let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy a walk through the market.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Nearing the Vietnam-Cambodian Border

Long Xuyen: Last Full Day in Vietnam
Day 4 of cruising took us to the bustling riverside market town of Long Xuyen. Long Xuyen is the capital of An Giang province and has a population of about 100,000. After a nice breakfast, we boarded our sampan and went into Long Xuyen City to visit a crocodile farm.
The Mekong River is no longer overrun by crocodiles as they have been gathered up and put in farms. By farm raising crocodiles, they are preserving the species and at the same time saving villages as there are no longer wild crocodiles to eat the villagers! Think of it as a safety thing. So they say! It looks like big business to me.
There are several areas of the farm where they separate various age groups and stop them from eating each other. As the crocs grow, they are moved to larger areas with others their same size.
The females are in a large area where they can lay their eggs without them being destroyed. The eggs are collected and moved to an incubator-like area.
People teasing the crocs with meat! They really snap their
jaws when they jump for a catch of the meat! Ouch!

The place was an entertainment venue with a restaurant and shops. You could buy food for the crocs and hang a piece of chicken on a fishing pole line. When it is dangled over the heads of the animals, they try to snatch it off. It proved to be entertaining to some.

I am not looking forward to the crocodiles in the northern
part of Australia. The beaches are not safe there.
The place has become a big business with the sale of crocodile shoes, purses, belts, etc. and for food. I am not sure I agree with the sale of these items, but I do like the fact that they are not a great threat to man on the river.  I guess it is like farming any other animal.
Sorry PETA friends. Eating crocodile is better than being eating by one! Australia could take a lesson here! Their saltwater crocs are a real problem and restrict swimming in many places.  

We were invited into this home as we walked to the temple.
After exploring the town and market, we stopped at the Cao Dai temple, where we learned about Caodaism, one of Vietnam’s fascinating religions. It is a popular 20th century movement that was conceived as a way to stop the infighting among the different religious sects and help reunite the country following the end of the French colonial regime.
The precious yellow apricot blossom tree.

These house were across the river from our sidewalk.
As we walked from the Crocodile Farm through the village, we were able to see the normal activities of the villagers. Of course, they are just as curious about us as we are about them!
Girls are the same everywhere.
A curious little cutie!


The Cao Dai Great Temple is a most interesting place. From the outside it looks somewhat strange, combining the lines of a French baroque church with pagoda-like steeples. Inside is a different story! Graham Greene described it as “a Walt Disney fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in technicolour.” Greene took the faith very seriously and even considered converting to Cao Daism.
Cao Daism is a belief in Divine Agents or patron saints whose spirits come to believers through séances in the temple. These Divine Agents include Jesus Christ, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Moses, St. John the Baptist, Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare, Rene Descartes, La Fontaine and Louis Pasteur. It is said that contemporaries from the 20th century were also contacted. These include Vladimir Lenin, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill.
In the vestibule of the temple, there is a mural that depicts the three guiding spirits of the Cao Dai faith: poets, profits and revolutionaries. This unusual faith is a synthesis of Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist and Christian beliefs with a hint of Islam thrown in to good measure!

The organizational structure is similar to the Roman Catholic religion with cardinals, bishops, archbishops, and a pope (although there is no pope at this time). The sect was founded by Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant, in the 1920’s. It was an early attempt to form a Universal Religion.
The Great Temple was very colorful inside. There are two rows of dragon-coiled pillars down the length of the nave to support a vaulted ceiling. The ceiling is dotted with clouds and inlaid with flying dragons. The lotus, a symbol of purity, grace the windows, which also contain a Cao Dai eye set in a triangle, just like the one on the US dollar bill. The tiled floor is lined with small pillows for the worshippers.

Cao Dai worshippers wear white, but the priests wear red (Confucianism), blue (Taoism) and yellow (Buddhism). The inner sanctuary is separated from the main temple by three curtains, one of each color.

The inner sanctuary sits on an octagonal base with 12 steps. It is enclosed by eight pillar dragons with a flying dragon in the ceiling. The dragon represents the force of intellect. Only the high priests are allowed to approach the table in the center during what is described as an emotionally moving service.

It was a most interesting place. When there is a service, women must enter through the door on the left and men through the door on the right. The visitors may watch from the balcony and photos are allowed during the service. I

f you walk around the temple before or after a service, women are to walk clockwise and men counterclockwise! There are four services a day. There was no service while we were there – only the caretaker.

Unfortunately, the religion nearly disappeared during the war since the Cao Dai followers refused to support the Vietcong. The pope fled to Cambodia and the Vietcong took the land and temple and disbanded the religion. Starting in 1985, many of the temples were returned to the Cao Dai followers and today there are several millions of them. The religion is very strong in the Mekong Delta region. There are now about 1,000 Cao Dai temples modeled after the Great Temple in the southern part of Vietnam.

More views of life on the Mekong River as we travel back to the Mekong Princess for dinner and a good night's sleep after a very busy but enjoyable day. That Cocktail Lounge is looking very inviting right now - after a nice soak in the tub!
Like our holiday lights, the boats are all decked out with
flowers and food for the Tet holiday.
The Vietnamese are required by law to fly the Communist
flag on all holidays. There is punishment if you don't do it.
Dad is doing the laundry!
Check out the garages.
Not sure why these dwellings don't just fall over into the river.
OH! How I hate walking these planks to get to the sampan!

Fish or shrimp farming.