Loving Life!

(Mom and Steve in Cat Tien National Park)

Oh my, I can’t believe it’s been two months since I’ve updated my blog…so much has happened I don’t know where to begin.

(Umbrellas in Luang Prabang)

(Procession of Monks)

For starters, after the Christmas/New Years holiday life in Vietnam becomes somewhat hectic as everyone begins to prepare for Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, which is the most revered holiday – synonymous with rolling New Years, 4th of July, Christmas and Thanksgiving all into one big celebration!

(Family in Laos)

In addition to the large influx of persons coming to Hanoi to do their Tet shopping, work becomes an intense quagmire. Since everything comes to a screeching halt as the holiday draws near, organizations tend to cram as many meetings, projects, and deadlines as possible into a tight timeframe.

(Girl in Hmong Village)

(Hmong Village)

Despite the intensity leading up to the break, David and I took advantage of this week-long celebration and headed to the hills of Luang Prabang, Laos, a notable UNESCO World Heritage Site.

(Amy in Hmong Village)

(GIrl in Hmong Village)

(Boy in Hmong Village)

This lovely, quaint town is situated along the banks of the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers; and has an incredibly relaxed vibe.

(Weaving in Laos)

And in truly one of those small world scenarios, I miraculously met up with an old friend from high school, Tim Landon, who happened to be in Luang Prabang on holiday! It was lovely to see him and to meet his gorgeous family!

(Tim Landon with friends and family)

We spent our days exploring the Buddhist temples and monasteries, hiking to Wat Chom Si, which affords beautiful views of the city below, shopping at the night market (loving the food stalls), and watching the procession of monks receiving their daily alms.

(Amy and David at Utopia Restaurant)

We also signed up for a three-day biking-hiking-kayaking tour. The first day was rather intense as we cycled 54 kms straight up and down steep mountains, followed by a 3-hour hike uphill to our homestay destination in a Hmong village.

(Riverweed from Muong Ngoi)

(On the way to Muong Ngoi)

I am truly at my happiest when I’m exploring life in the village. I marvel at people’s daily tasks of gathering water, collecting firewood, tending to fields, washing clothes, caring for livestock, and raising a family. It truly puts things into perspective and makes me realize how fortunate I am.

(Amy and David at our homestay)

While hiking through the mountains, I admired the beauty of the vistas. Yet the highlight of the trek was kayaking along the Nam Khan River.


(Stopping along the banks of the river)

Paddling across the water was incredibly peaceful. The riverbanks were teeming with wildlife, and the scenery was breathtaking. We even pulled our kayaks ashore at the Elephant Park Project and hopped aboard the back of an Asian elephant to tour around the countryside.

(Elephant Village)

We also paddled our way across the Mekong River to Pak Ou caves, which houses over 4000 miniature Buddhist sculptures. The caves themselves were a bit anti-climatic, but the joy was in the journey!

(Sleepy town of Muong Ngoi)

Yet, the highlight of our entire trip was Muong Ngoi, a gorgeous sleepy town only accessible by boat. After the chaos of Hanoi, going to a place with no roads, no cars and no motorbikes is incredibly refreshing!

(Kuang Si Falls)

(Admiring the view)

Throughout our stay in Laos, I kept thinking about our involvement in the Vietnam War and the absurdity of Laos being more heavily bombed than Vietnam.

(Mom and Steve in Hanoi – Truc Bach Lake)

(Mom and Steve on the way to Cat Tien)

Muong Ngoi lies directly in the path of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was heavily bombed during the war. As a result, locals lived in nearby caves to avoid the falling bombs; and to this day, posters warning of undetonated bombs (and how to handle them) appear in most villages.

(On Safari)

(Crocodile Lake)

On our last day, David and I went to Kuang Si Falls – a lovely place to chill out and collect our thoughts of our magnificent holiday.

(Hmong in Sapa)

Two days after we returned from Laos, Mom and Steve arrived in Hanoi.

(Sapa – Headache remedy)

I can’t begin to describe how elated I am to have them here. Perhaps it’s the comfort that only a mother can provide that fills me with so much happiness.

(Hiking in Sapa)

(Villages along the way)

Mom and Steve are already half way through their trip…and having a remarkable time.

(Dense fog)

First, we went to Cat TIen National Park (which I had never heard of prior to my mom bringing it to my attention). My parents are MAJOR birdwatchers, so their activities are always centered on nature and bird watching, which is an extremely difficult feat in Vietnam, where all birds are caged, eaten or killed. So I was pleasantly surprised to ‘discover’ this little gem.

(Mayday and crew hiking)

(Children in Sapa)

The park bills itself as a birders paradise, yet the birds have learned not to come within eye level of humans. One can hear a cacophony of birdcalls but they remain high up in the trees, making their viewing difficult.

(More children in Sapa)

(Dolls for sale)

The park’s ecosystem is quite varied; made up of seasonally flooded grassland, swamp forest, dense evergreens and deciduous forest. And the hiking trails are lovely. Yet, man continues to destroy this natural habitat. Sadly, poachers just killed the LAST Javan rhinoceros! They took the horn and left the carcass, leaving yet another species extinct in Vietnam.

(Ethnic tribes in Sapa)

(Sapa Hill Tribes)

There’s absolutely no environmental consciousness in this country, which is incredibly troubling. We take clean air for granted; yet, it only takes a few days of walking around the streets of Hanoi before one’s eyes begin to burn from the pollution! Not to mention, noise pollution as the constant buzz of wailing horns fill the air.

(Crowds for the Lunar Festival)

As populations continue to grow, and as demands for food, energy, and water increase, I don’t see how Vietnam can sustain its current, destructible ways. Unfortunately, it will take a dire crisis for this country to recognize that humans are not on this planet to dominate and destroy all resources at its fingertips. Conservation efforts need to get underway, and environmental policies need to address pollution, recycling, deforestation, water quality, air quality and sanitation.

(View from the Ecolodge in Sapa)

(View from Victoria Hotel in Sapa)

To change the subject, after Cat Tien we took the overnight Train to Sapa, a lovely town nestled high in the Tonkinese Alps near the Chinese border!

(Sapa in the clouds)

Despite its touristy reputation, Sapa boasts lovely views of steeply terraced rice fields and local hill tribe villages. However, we had dense fog during our stay, and only caught glimpses of the verdant hills below.

(Bac Ha Market)

(The crew at Bac Ha Market)

Eight ethnic groups inhabit the Lao Cai province, each identifiable by the headdress and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women.

(Buffalo for sale)

(Puppies for sale…although these aren’t pets)

(Hanging out at the market)

We spent three full days in Sapa, trekking to a local Lunar festival, hiking Hamrong Mountain, exploring Bac Ha market, and gazing across the Vietnam/Chinese border crossing.

(Hiking through more villages)

In short, we all had an amazing time!

(Gorgeous scenery)

Mom and Steve will be returning to Hanoi today after spending four days in yet another National Park, Cuc Phuong; and will be flying to Siem Reap next week to see the legendary Angkor Wat.

(At the Chinese Border)

On the work front, I’m FINALLY making progress on Health Information Systems initiatives. After working with the Ministry of Health for over a year, we finally received approval to move forward with our regional workshop, “Health Information Systems and Technology: Systems Design, Standards & Interoperability.”

(Mom, Amy and Steve in front of peach blossoms)

Strengthening national health information systems (HIS) improves evidence-based decision-making, informs health policy and planning, enhances monitoring of public health, and can better address the continuity of care of individuals.

Mom in Bat Trang
(Mom at the ceramic village)

It’s been a huge, multi-sector undertaking, bringing together persons from 25 different departments within the Ministry, donors, universities, hospitals, IT staff, clinic managers, representatives from 9 countries in the region, and technical experts from around the world.

Amy and David in Luang Prabang
(Amy and David)

Meanwhile, now that we have approval there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done prior to the April 4 – 7 event. I will definitely keep you posted.

Much love to all,

1 comment to Loving Life!

  • Dear Amy Gottlieb,

    This is a friendly follow-up to our first message to you (May 2010), to warmly invite you again to list your blog on our Expat Women Blog Directory (http://www.expatwomen.com/expatblog/). Blogs like yours are excellent sources of information for relocating expats, so we would love to include it with our other 1,700+ self-listed blogs.

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