Friday, April 16, 2010

From Rooftops to Ruins and Rice Fields to Rivers...

Nha Trang and Hoi An Rock!!

We stayed for one night and two days in Nha Trang and though the beach there was beautiful, we didn't actually spend too much time lazing about in the sun. We rocked up at about lunchtime and found ourselves a place to stay. Six bucks over budget but who’s going to quibble with a roof top terrace and sea view! We made the most of it too, enjoying the last of the evening light with a few Saigon beers and even waking up at dawn for the sunrise (not a great one but we felt we’d got our money’s worth at least).

Apart from that we went to check out Po Ngar, where an ancient Cham Temple sits atop a hill overlooking the port filled with brightly coloured blue and red fishing boats. There were some local girls doing traditional dancing while their friends stood to the sides, giggling at all the tourists taking their pictures. On my way into one of the shrines I got cornered by a lady who was gesticulating wildly at me. Turned out my dress wasn’t decent enough and I was revealing too much shoulder, so she directed me to a stand to take a smock style wraparound tunic before I could enter. Despite the people and music outside, inside it was absolutely quiet and offered cool respite from the heat. A teeny tiny room, the walls blackened from years of incense smoke there was a stone table with a phallic piece of marble set on top of it, shiny from years of touch. This is something called a linga,andyoni and together they represent the male/female genitalia so this is the place to come and pray for children and fertility.

The next day we got back on a motorbike to explore further north of the city and drove along some very nice coast roads, past beaches littered with fishing debris and hundreds of the Vietnamese-style, round fishing boats laying upside down, their recently tarred bottoms left to dry in the sun. They are funny these little boats. Perfectly circular and made from reeds you can’t imagine they are at all practical but when you see them on the water, the fisherman waggling the one big oar from side to side, they really can move.

About 12ish we came to a port just as all the boats were offloading their catch and spent an hour wandering around, slipping about in fish muck and generally getting in the way while watching the locals go about the daily business of selling, sorting and cleaning their catch. There was one entire room a foot deep in prawns with a family of four sorting them into sizes, a man with a giant hook doing brisk trade slinging enormous ice blocks into crushing machines to keep everything cool, other men on their boats fixing up rigging and lights, bells ringing, horns beeping, trucks trying to reverse but being blocked by baskets and baskets of slippery looking squid. It was fantastic. A bit further on we went to the Bo Ai waterfalls. Here there are three falls spread over about 2-3km and you have to clamber over rocks and through pools, to get to the top. We had a well-deserved swim in the top pool before making our way back down and returning to Nha Trang for the sleeper bus to Hoi An.

A super chilled out town, you could spend days wandering around the narrow roads of the old town of Hoi An, with its pretty yellow buildings that blend traditional and colonial architecture, its many cafes and boutiques and its many, many, many tailors. There is also a beautiful stretch of beach, rice fields filled with buffalo and ancient tombs and endless rivers and greenery. In short, it’s pretty awesome.

We also went out to My Son about 50km out of town. The Vietnamese answer to Angkor Watt (though on a much smaller scale), these are the ruins of an ancient Cham Hindu temple complex, dating from 4th to the 14th century. Some are just clusters of red brick poking out from the overgrown grass but many are almost intact though very weather worn and with several statues placed inside the buildings for conservation. Here there were more small dark chambers filled with linga and various other statuettes and carvings honoring Hindu deities in their different forms. We were there right at midday and it was blisteringly hot, which was exhausting but meant there was hardly anyone around and made for a much more reverential atmosphere.

On the way back we wanted to take in China Beach, the famous R&R spot for American GIs. A huge stretch of sandy white beach and rolling waves, the bit we went to by Danang was a construction site for several kilometers, evidence of as Vietnam’s entry into the luxury resorts and 5-star hotel rat race – if you build them, they will come! A stop at a riverside cafĂ© for a beer and some nem was the perfect end to a lovely day.

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