Sunday, May 19, 2019


I am fortunate to have visited Japan several times and posted twice before (October, 2010, and September, 2016) about certain trips. However often one might tour, though, this country always features something new and different--or a fresh look at a timeless bit of history and tradition. Our trip began with a visit that never grows tiresome: the Meiji Jingu Shrine, an impressive complex sited on nearly one square mile of beautifully maintained grounds. The shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his empress.

Brewers throughout Japan offer sake barrels every year to the enshrined deities at the Shrine. The sake is used in ceremonies and rituals. 

Approaching the Torii shrine gate, one of the largest in Japan, and constructed from a 1,500 year old cypress.

Our something new this trip was a visit to the Suntory Hakushu Distillery in Kobuchizawa. The trip involves more than a two-hour train ride from Shinjuku station in Tokyo, followed by a brief cab ride to the distillery. This is a pleasant day trip for those who want a break from the bustle of Tokyo, and are also whiskey aficionados. 

The guided tour is conducted at a leisurely pace, and the guides speak some English

A very nice tasting is held at the conclusion of the tour.

                          Discounted products in the bar, where we did linger, followed by a                                                                pleasant nap on the train back to Tokyo!

The Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan's war dead, is controversial. Many of those recognized are viewed as war criminals by other countries.

The Tokyo Skytree is a relatively new addition to the skyline. Views--on a clear day--are spectacular, and plenty of time can be whiled away in this complex given the connected shopping mall replete with a variety of restaurants

The Sensoji Temple is one of my favorites. The temple itself, with impressive gates, is spectacular, as is the multi-storied pagoda. But the line of busy stalls that line the entryway lend an air of frivolity that is rarely seen in a temple complex.

A statue of the famed dog, Hachiko, is sited outside of Shibuya station. 
 Hachiko would meet his master daily when he returned from work. After the master passed away, Hachiko continued to faithfully traipse to the station every day for nine years and meet the same train!

                  Another great trip--and already looking forward to my next Japan adventure!!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Mihn City, still commonly referred to as Saigon, is an energetic, rapid-fire, metropolis that never seems to sleep. Comparisons with Hanoi are inevitable, and they both share an evident love affair with the motorbike. Southerners claim that they are more friendly and open than northerners, which is difficult to judge during the course of a two-week trip. One thing for sure: a great time can be had in both places!

What is known as District 1 is home to most of the major tourist attractions. One gripping exhibit, however, is in District 3: The War Remnants Museum. The several intense exhibits are told from the perspective of the Vietnamese, and those which depict the effects of Agent Orange on citizens are heart-wrenching.

Captured American fighter planes

A re-creation of the infamous tiger cages, used to imprison men. The cages were of dimensions that made it impossible to stand, and those who survived were left with muscles so atrophied that they walked in a crab-like position.

Notre Dame Cathedral was erected by the French in 1880. Today, Vietnam has the fifth-largest number of Christian adherents in Asia.

The French Colonial Ho Chi Minh People's Committee (City Hall), housed in the former Hotel de Ville de Saigon

The colonial-style theater was built in 1899 as an opera house. It served as a national assembly hall during the Vietnam War, but is again a theater

My homage to novelist Graham Greene at the bar in the Continental Hotel, which featured prominently in his classic The Quiet American

The City Hall is beautiful in the evening

The city is wonderfully illuminated at night

But of course--a bustling central market

The Cao Dai temple is interesting because the religion is a blend of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam. 

A much larger temple complex may be found in Tay Ninh, and the religion is known for its colorful temples and processions

The Cu Chi Tunnels showcase how the Viet Cong used an extensive tunnel network to frustrate the American military. The tunnels capitalized on the small stature of the Vietnamese as shown by the tunnel entrance above. Once a soldier clambered down the ladder, a camouflaged wooden board would be lifted into place to completely conceal the entrance. 

Not ideal for an American standing over 6'2". 

Saigon is known for its street food

An embryonic duck, which tastes amazingly like a fine liver pate

Sharing food is commonplace

Snail shells stuffed with ground snail and pork were a true delicacy

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cham Museum, Hai Van Pass, and Hue

Danang, just north of the Marble Mountains, hugs the shores of the Han River and is a city quickly being transformed into a major tourist destination in no small part due to its stunning beaches. One popular attractions is the Cham Museum, originally founded by the French in 1919. On display are a variety of artifacts from the Kingdom of Champa, which was the dominant force in this region of Vietnam for over 1,000 years. The influence of Indian culture is apparent.

The city celebrates the bridges that span the river and are illuminated at night. Most noteworthy is the Dragon Bridge:

Hai Van Pass offers spectacular views of the East Sea and Truong Son Mountain Range, after a winding drive that includes several hair-pin turns. An army lookout at the peak shows plenty of scarring from shelling during the Vietnam conflict. 


                           Lang Co Beach is a beautiful stop on the drive between Danang to Hue:


On the shores of the Perfume River, Hue is an amazing complex. From within these walls, thirteen emperors ruled between 1802 and 1945. Although badly damaged during several conflicts, particularly the Vietnam War, restoration is in process and it is not difficult to imagine its former grandeur. The amazing complex spreads along three miles of waterfront. 


                       Restored Hall in the Forbidden Purple City. Several such hallways connected the      Imperial Family's palaces.

A short boat ride along the Perfume River takes one to the Thien Mu Pagoda, constructed in 1601, and the Tombs of the Emperors. I visited the impressive tombs of Khai Dihn and Tu Duc, although there are others in the area. 

Thien Mu Pagoda

A visit to Hue was one of the highlights of the trip. The sheer immensity of the Citadel complex was a surprise, and the number of noteworthy attractions in the area is a reward for any tourist. A don't miss visit!!