Banteay Srei

Banteay  Srei is a smaller temple, built of pink sandstone. While it is  somewhat remote it’s still worth a visit.  It  was built by Hindu priests to honor Shiva – the Hindu God of Destruction.  As we walked through the complex we saw many statues of Shiva’s consort, Parvati, Krishna, the Monkey God, and many others.  There are ornate carvings of apsaras (celestial dancing girls) and devadas (dancers)




Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom


Angkor Wat

For this alone the entire trip would have been worth it.  I cannot say it better than the introduction found in the Eyewitness Travel guide Vietnam and Angkor Wat:  “The ancient capital of the great Khmer Empire, Angkor is beyond doubt, one of the most magnificent wonders of the world and a site of immense archeological significance .  Located in dense jungle on the hot and torpid plains of western Cambodia, its awe-inspiring temples transport visitors into an enchanting and mysterious world of brooding grandeur and past glory.”

Our first stop is at Angkor Wat. The term “Angkor Wat” literally means “The city which is a temple” and it is the largest religious monument and temple in the world.  You can’t grasp its size until you stand before it, waiting for sunrise, and while it was a cloudy day (the Rainy Season) but as night gave way to dawn, the complex spreads out before us.

We spent a good portion of the day marveling at the   5-towered temple representing the 5 sacred mountains with Mount Meru in the center. The bas reliefs on its walls representing the history of the Khmer people, while the carvings of the Apsaras (celestial dancing girls) with their sensual smiles are not to be missed.








Rice.  And more rice.  And still more rice.  Rice paddies are everywhere.  No wonder it is one of the top exports from Vietnam.  It comes in all color and there are literally 100′s of varieties.  When I was a kid, I thought  that Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice was the only variety, but then I learned that there was another – Minute Rice.  Who knew?

It’s fascinating to learn the methods used to plant rice and how it is so dependent on the weather – too much rain, and the newly sown rice will just float away.  Too little and it won’t germinate and grow.  It looks like back-breaking work, being out in  the fields all day.  Just about all of the work is done by hand, although every once in a while we saw  a water buffalo or two but I’m not sure if they were helping or eating up the profits.

Vietnam used to be one of the poorest nations in the world, but this started to change in the 1990′s and early 2000.  The credit goes to the leadership of Vietnam realizing that  collective farming  was not working and economic reform was needed.  Once Again the Free Market Economy Triumphs!.





How Long is that Bay?

No. No.  It should be: “Ha Long is that bay.  “Ha Long” means “Descending Dragon’ and derives from a legend involving a dragon that descended from the Heavens to free the Vietnamese people from their oppressors.  This bay covers over 580 square miles and has over 1600 islands.  There is a magical feeling when sailing around and between these islets – quiet, misty, unpopulated.  Despite the number of luxury vessels (called “junks”) that ply these waters, I can why its been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Not too many travel companies include this stop, and even fewer offer an overnight on one of these junks.  This is one reason we chose AMA Waterways.




Who was that Masked Woman?

“Black is Beautiful

White is Wonderful,

Grey is Nice Too”,

A sign in my cousin’s woman’s clothing store in the 1960′s

In Vietnam, people think that White is Beautiful.  When I first saw young women wearing facemasks while working, motorbiking, or just walking down the street, I thought: Ah! Just like China and Japan where people protect themselves from air pollution.  I was wrong.

In Vietnamese culture, pale, fair skin is considered beautiful.  The “whiter” you are, the more beautiful you are.  This also is one reason that women wear those conical hats while out in the fields.  It keeps the sun off their faces.  Even in the hottest time of the year they will wear gloves to cover their hands and arms – all in the name of beauty

In Vietnam, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder – No different than most other places around the world.



The Temple of Literature




How many universities can claim to be almost 1,000 years old?  But this university, built to honor of Confucius, and set within 5 magnificent courtyards, served as a school of higher learning for over 7 centuries.   The reflecting pool, the                                                         statuary ,  the bonsai trees, makes this place one that should definitely be on everyone’s “checklist” when visiting Hanoi.