Traveling adventurously is a recipe of diverse cultures and history, exotic landscapes, and meeting genuine friendly people. Sandra and I found all these ingredients on our Vietnam and Cambodia trip in January. I wasn’t sure why we chose these countries other than we were open to a new experience. St. Andrew folks are like that, ready to explore and take on new challenges.
Our first stop was Hanoi heading straight to the heart of the big city in the old central district. This place takes you back about 50 years but look out, there are 11 million people in town and most of them are gliding around on a scooter. We stayed near a big catholic church, St. Joseph, built by the colonial French in 1886. Surprised to see a catholic church in a mostly non religious communist country but we found out Vietnam has 4 million practicing Catholics. Lots of Buddhists too. Tolerance and acceptance was a good choice by the communist government.
The first morning at 5:30 am I walked by the church with Mass overflowing into the exterior patios. It was another opportunity to say “Welcome to Vietnam”. Right after Mass, everyone cleared out on a scooter or small taxi and off they went into the streets of Hanoi. Thus starts a new day with 5 million people on the move in the congested area of the central district many covered in protective clothing from head to toe or at least wearing a mask. They ride those scooters in forceful unison down every available path including sidewalks and markets. Hey, it does avoid traffic gridlock. If you want to cross the street, boldly walk right into the traffic, keep a steady pace, don’t stop or turn back. The scooters will dance around you and no one misses a beat. Your heart rate, however, starts to beat like crazy. Sandra said “where is everyone going?”. Who knows but they sure were determined to get there.
Vietnam has exotic landscapes throughout the countryside away from the main cities of Hanoi and Saigon. Ha Long Bay is a natural wonderland of over 1900 carved islands of kartz limestone. We stayed on a small boat to cruise through the islands and explore a massive cave on one island. The best part was meeting new folks from all over the world. Hoi An is another treasure on the Pacific coast and is known as the city of lanterns. It rained here which only added more color and beauty. This is the place were you get your new suits, shirts and dresses custom made. Everything is bargain rates in Vietnam so bring me the Tailor!
In both Vietnam and Cambodia it was good to feel safe. We could access about everything and were treated with respect and kindness. Most everyone just carried on with their day. The people really liked us tourists and were proud to show off their country. I can’t remember anyone complaining and getting upset even with so many people moving this way and that way. Sometimes things moved so fast I had to stop and sit down just to get my bearings. A perfect time to pull out the phone and start clicking more photos.
Cambodia offered a slower pace but still the movement was constant. We really liked exploring the temple complex of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom at Siem Reap. Built during the 12th century, the Buddhist and Hindu temples and carvings have stood the test of time. The forces of nature and even Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge haven’t brought it down. (although much restoration is on-going). We were free to climb all over it and our guide filled in the significant details of the temples. I’d recommend a good pair of shoes and lots of water.
We really liked the genuine people of these countries who were friendly and hard working and seemed to be content and happy. It appeared to me that the Buddha and Hindu teachings and the principals of karma were the undercurrents of their culture. Christianity - Catholicism is growing and tolerated by the governments and the Mass attendance we saw was overflowing. We visited several ancient Buddha pagados and Hindu temples where folks came to pray and light incense. In pagodas one prays to give up worldly goods and at the temples you can ask for help in all matters such as obtaining material goods. I just lit some incense and asked to keep up with Sandra and the guide.
Lord, let me witness this dance of the adventurous travel. Help me tear down the barriers of fear preventing movement into the unknown crosswalks of life. I pray to keep moving and be alive with energy gathered from the holy spirit.