July in Vietnam: By the River in Hoi An

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My next stop was Hoi An. Its name sounds a lot like “River Bank” in Cantonese and true enough, a big feature is the river than runs through it.

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It’s an incredibly atmospheric town, as you can see from the riverside pictures.

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With its junks and shophouses lining the banks, I found this a far more peaceful version of Singapore’s riverside.

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There were plenty of cute little boats with little eyes painted on the hull to help navigate the river.

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And there were plenty of “fishermen” casting their nets, not really for the fish…

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… but really for the tourists to get a picture and for them to get a tip.

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Despite how touristy this town was, there was definitely a lot of charisma and charm to it, from which Singapore ought learn.

Towards the end of the day, the light lent a soft veil over the buildings.

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And as the light faded, the buildings, despite being restored, started to take on a slightly shabby look as they aged with the light.

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They started looking almost like ochre postcards of the olden days in Singapore.

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Only to come back to life when the lights came on in the dark.

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Hoi An, what a charmer.

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March in Laos: Up the Mekong

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Siamesecat and I took a trip up the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves, famous for its retired Buddha statues. We took one of these wooden boats and put-putted slowly up the river.

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On the muddy banks grew the occasional pair of majestic banyans, roots entwined in a charming embrace.

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We passed by typical idyllic scenes of daily life, here appearing to be quite authentic and not a show for the tourists.

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Ours was the true blue experience as we pulled up alongside a petrol shop-boat to top up the fuel tank.

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We stopped at a flight of cement stairs leading up to a little village that specialised in local whisky.

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Glutinous rice whisky (lao lao) of all sorts of interesting flavours was laid out for sale.

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There was the usual scorpion one for virility…

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… and snake too for the same. There was also the less common centipede which was so big we wondered how it got stuffed into the bottle.

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They gave out samples of the regular version. We tried out shots of the mild stuff that was quite pleasing as it was sweet and light, then progressed on to the full strength (40%) stuff that was smooth but not quite worth lugging around the country, especially considering the makeshift distillery it was made in.

We were somewhat taken aback when the villagers proudly showed us their distillery shack. This setup is it: three barrels, a wood stove and a bunch of earthenware jars. We soon moved swiftly on.

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Spirits of another sort awaited us at the Pak Ou Caves where old Buddha statues were deconsecrated and put out to pasture. It was behind an amazing cliff face, looking rather like it came out from a movie set.

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Inside were Buddha images in various stages of age and wear. Some didn’t look quite that old and others, well, had seen far better times.

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There really were hundred and hundreds of these images. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a count.

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There were statues in every nook and corner of the cave, all of them crowding even to the edges of the rock shelves. I think that was the most Buddha images I’ve ever seen in one place. Crazy stuff.

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