Around the World in 69 Days - Fall 2007 travel blog

foggy coast

Cham Tower

another view

Long Son Pagoda

close up

hauling coal

fishing boat

fruit vendor

resort area

silk embroidery


No reminiscing today; we've never been to Viet Nam before. Our generation was scarred by what went on here. Classmates died or had their lives changed forever by the war. For a long time just hearing the name Viet Nam, left an unpleasant feeling and we had no desire to visit. In retrospect it is clear that the war was an attempt by the Vietnamese to finally run their own country after years of domination by foreign powers, the French for the longest period. To be fair the fact that they were affiliated with our Russian and Chinese enemies did complicate things. After the US withdrawal, the southern part of the country suffered for years getting reeducated. The Khmer Rouge also came in from Cambodia and added to the chaos and misery. Judging by our visit to Nha Trang, it was as if the war with America never happened. Friendly faces and waves greeted us wherever we went. Of course, most of the local folks that we saw zipping around on motorcycles had been born long after our war ended.

We saw very few private cars here. But in a relatively poor country with mild weather, locally produced bikes that sell for about $400 are a good choice. We did wonder why almost every female riding on one wore a mask across her face. Some also wore the long gloves Miss America might wear with her evening gown. It made us think of the women who wear burkas. Mr. Vanh told us that the current fashion is: the paler your skin, the more attractive you are.

Since none of the motorcyles had wind shields, they also could help keep the road grit and bugs off your teeth. Temps were in the 80's and it was very humid. While we were baring as much skin as we could get away with, the girls were all bundled up and even the men wore long pants and long sleeved shirts. We sweated profusely, while they looked totally comfortable. Our guide told us that the way to cross a street that is full of motorcycles was to slowly wade out into the street. Riders would notice and start to swerve around us. But any fast moves could be deadly. We followed his advice to the letter.

Nha Trang is one of the smaller towns we've visited - about 50,000 people - so it had no docking facilities for monstrosities like the Sapphire Princess. We used the ship's life boats to tender in to the dock. The main street runs parallel to the shore and every turn revealed more beautiful beach. Actually the whole country of Viet Nam is one long S-shaped beach. Nha Trang had a few small hotels and some nicer ones under construction. If you want to buy some cheap beach front property and wait for the boom to hit, Nha Trang looked like a safe bet. Our guide could have been a representative from the local chamber of commerce. He ponted out all the great restauants and encouraged us to come back soon for a much. much longer vist.

Because Nha Trang was small, we saw a great deal in a short amount of time. The local market was an eye opener as always, with dried fish and unknown vegetables and fruits.

Nearby all manner of lifestuff and tourist sovenirs mingled in organized chaos. This was our first encounter of this trip with more aggressive vendors. The knocked on the bus windows before we even came to a stop and waves post cards and wood carvings in our faces as we walked. If you even stopped to look at a stall, the vendors leaped up and started quoting prices. If you tried to walk away, they would grab you gently by the arm to herd you back toward their shop. Touching is disconcerting to the western shopper, but they were simply highly motivated to make the sale. We were told to bargain, but the even the beginning prices were low, low, low. What a shame that suitcase wieght restrictions will keep us from making the most of our visit here.

Then we stopped at Cham Tower, first erected 800 years ago.

The complex was still in active use as a worship area, but it looked like nothing much had been done to the place in the years since it was built.

Long Son Pagoda was in much better shape and the incense hung in the humid air.

A short walk past a fishing village resulted in a symphony of shutter clicking as we saw life the way it must have been here since forever.

The last stop was at a silk embroidery factory.

We were met by legions of slim young Vietnamese women, wearing the tradtional long silk dress with split sides over silky white pants. It was easy to understand why US soldiers fell for these beauties head over heels. In the factory they were rendering complex paintings worthy of any museum wall with embroidery thread. The pictures were so detailed, two or three girls would work together, their heads entertwined over the background material. For the amount of labor involved, these goreous pieces were a bargain. Too bad those walls at home are already full...

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