illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

perpetual motion

1. stream of trafficOur predominant impression after three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia is of a ceaseless moving stream. These snapshots convey a mere hint of the motion and sound of the torrent of vehicles in the larger cities. It speeds up and slows down, but rarely comes to a full stop.2. traffic-rush hour

Vehicles turning at intersections somehow manage to weave past each other like plaits in a braid. As pedestrians, we learned to let the cars go by, then step into the stream of motorcycles and walk slowly forward. 3. traffic- after darkMotorcycle drivers eddy and surge around you. It’s quite hair-raising, but we’ve never felt such an adrenaline-enhanced sense of accomplishment after crossing a street. And it’s the same after dark.                                                                                                    

Motorcycle and scooter drivers beep their horns nearly incessantly in the streets; I think, to make other drivers and pedestrians aware that they are nearby. The  ratio of motorcycles and scooters to cars is about 20:1. The ratio of motorcycles and scooters to pedestrians is the same or even more skewed. In fact, motorcycles and scooters often drive on sidewalks, without beeping: they come in both directions. And we also saw motorcycles and scooters driving on the wrong side of the street, making their way slowly and carefully against traffic. Cars, motor cycles and scooters are apparently permitted to make U-turns wherever they please. Traffic chaos is the standard MO; so everyone’s a superb defensive driver.

We saw few trucks in Saigon, most deliveries are accomplished by piling huge sacks, or stacks of boxes on motorcycles—or motorcycle trailers. We saw several women balancing the traditional shoulder-yoke with a heavy basket on each end, riding as passengers on scooters. And it’s not at all unusual to see a family of four all squeezed together on a single scooter. Or a father and mother with a single standing child sandwiched between them.5. durian vendor-a

4. sidewalk parking

Motorcycle/scooter parking and/or businesses occupy much of the sidewalk. Getting around on foot involves navigating an obstacle course. Just as the motor scooters sometimes ride on the sidewalk, pedestrians are sometimes forced into the streets.

These first images are from Hoh Chi Minh City which many refer to, still, as Saigon. We began our journey in Hanoi, which is where we first learned the technique of allowing vehicles to flow past us. 6. rickshaw view of Old MarketStreets are narrower in Hanoi —at least in the Old French Quarter. Our group enjoyed an excursion by rickshaw one afternoon, a different perspective on crowded sidewalks.

7. trishaws in Tan ChauWe rode “tri-shaws” in Tan Chau, a small Vietnamese village in the Mekong Delta, where we visited a silk-making workshop and a rattan-mat workshop. Getting into a tri-shaw is a little like getting into a kayak, you stand on a box and set your bottom in first, then swing your legs up. The seats are higher and much smaller than the Hanoi rickshaws, there’s no awning and the driver pedals in front of the passenger, not from behind. The streets were barely paved; there were no sidewalks.8. alternative transportation-Ankor Ban, Cambodia

It wasn’t hard to avoid traffic walking through Angkor Ban, a small Cambodian village, also on the Mekong River. People rode motorcycles and scooters, but for really big loads, they used pony carts and ox carts.

9. bus window blurWe saw much of the countryside by bus, giving us a good overview of both Vietnam and Cambodia. But the well-tended farms, rice paddies, fields of corn, stands of cashew, papaya and rubber trees flashed past awfully fast.

We spent one night in Ha Long Bay on one of the luxury junks in this photo before our seven-day Mekong River cruise. 10. Ha Long Bay anchorage

Motorized tenders took us out to the junk and to visit the Sung Sot Cave.

To visit the floating fishing villages, sheltered among the hundreds of remarkable mountain islands of the bay for five or six generations, we traveled four-passengers-per-basket boat. As shown in the photo, passengers had to wear the yellow life jackets; the oarsman did not.11. basket boats in Halong Bay

Our river boat awaited at Kampong Cham, Cambodia; whence our captain skillfully piloted us from village to village along the ceaseless flow of the Mekong River, until we reached the outskirts of HCMC.

12. re-boarding the ship


One comment on “perpetual motion

  1. Pat
    January 12, 2014

    Diana, what a wonderful trip! Loved the river photos and cant wait to hear more about this adventure! Pat

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This entry was posted on January 12, 2014 by in Cambodia, Travel, Vietnam and tagged .
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