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Entries in Vietnam (81)


Bodhisattvas at Chua Tay Phuong (from the Archive)

The Tay Phuong Pagoda, first established in the 8th century it is said, is located about 30 kilometers west of Hanoi in Ha Tay province. The pagoda was completely rebuilt in 1632, and many of the structures on the site are from this period.  Lots of beautiful and meaningful things here. I was most taken by the incredibly realistic statues of bodhisattvas. I would love to have met these guys. [NOTE: More about the history of Buddhism in Vietnam can be found here].

Suspension Bridge at Ta Bhing

On the road to the Song Thanh Nature Reserve in Quang Nam province, Vietnam (see Song Thanh N.R. and Rattan Workshop), there is a cool suspension bridge at the entrance to Ta Bhing commune.  Although the video clip is really about the bridge, it's hard to ignore the denuded slopes in the background and the color of the water in the river.  


Rush Hour

This is what morning rush hour traffic looks like in Hanoi. A veritable river of bicycles and motorcycles. Packed together, the handlebars only inches apart, but miraculously never touching.  It's like there is a thin forcefield around each vehicle that repels foreign objects.  See Going to Dinner in Hanoi for a view of nighttime traffic from the back of a motorcycle. 


Thanh Hoa's Dragon

The entrance to Thanh Hoa cave at Thay Pagoda in Vietnam (see Thay Pagoda) is guarded by a scary stone dragon. The founder of Thay Pagoda, Tu Dao Hanh, meditated for long periods in this cave and he is reported to have died here as well. Just so you know. [NOTE: The green eyes are a nice touch...].


View from Thay Pagoda


Of all the wonderful things to experience at Thay Pagoda (see Thay Pagoda), the most sublime of all may be the view from the summit looking back to Hanoi. The karst formations appear magically from the surrounding ricefields. [NOTE: Thay Pagoda, also known as Thien Phuc (Heavenly Blessing), is dedicated to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama]. 


Guardian of Tay Phuong

The main entrance to the first hall at Tay Phuong pagoda (see Main Hall at Tay Phuong and Bodhisattvas at Chua Tay Phuong) contains this imposing fellow.  A calm countenance, but with the sword, armor, and painted lips, clearly not someone you want to mess with. [NOTE: I was told that the beautiful bell to the right dates from the 8th century]. 


Street Vendors

It seems I always take photos of street vendors during my trips to Vietnam. The beautiful colors. The grace of balancing two loaded baskets on a shoulder pole. The smiles.  The cacophony of sounds.  The traffic (see Scenes from the Old Quarter). Here are a few of my favorites:



Gridlock on Highway 1A

Heading north on Highway 1A, we got trapped in a huge traffic jam.  About 40 km outside of Hanoi, the traffic slowed down to a crawl - and then stopped completely. Several drivers noticed that the three lanes on the other side of the highway, i.e. the southbound lanes, were open and started crossing over the divider to get around the congestion. Our driver did the same.  A stampede ensued. This strategy, of course, only works until you encounter the traffic coming from the other direction. Which happened quite quickly (see above).  Six lanes of traffic heading south encounter six lanes of traffic heading north.  With no way to back up.  Things started to pile up pretty fast.

Our driver saw this happening and drove through a field to get off the highway.  We took the back roads through a bunch of small villages (the scenic route) to get to Hanoi.  We heard on the radio as we were arriving that the traffic on Highway 1A was still backed up 20 kilometers in each direction. [NOTE: Before bailing out of this mess, I noticed that one of the gridlocked cars was decorated with flowers and streamers and that there was a young woman in a wedding dress sitting in the back seat. Sigh].  


Forests of Vietnam II

The forests of Vietnam are a curious mix of the sublime and the simple.  In spite of the deforestation rate and the chronic loss of primary forest each year (see Forests of Vietnam), the total area of forest cover in Vietnam has reportedly increased over the past two decades (but go here for a different assessment). This is largely due to reforestation activities and the creation of single-species plantations. The species most commonly planted in these plantations is Acacia mangium (shown above). You will drive by thousands of hectares of Acacia mangium as you travel through Vietnam.

This species propagates well, grows fast, protects the soil, and fixes nitrogen. There are a lot of reasons for planting it. Still, from an ecological standpoint, replacing some of the most biodiversity-rich forests in Southeast Asia with a single species of tree from northeastern Australia has its problems.  


Forests of Vietnam

Vietnam has the second highest rate of deforestation of any country in the world. Over the past 50 years, the area of primary forest in this country has declined from 45% to less than 15%.  This is what the outside and inside of the last 15% looks like. It was a privilege to spend the last two weeks working in these forests. May they be conserved and used wisely. [NOTE: Nigeria, apparently, has the world's highest rate of deforestation].

The beautiful understory plants are Licuala palms (see Harvesting Licuala). Both images are from Song Thanh Nature Reserve.