Star Date: February 2007
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Hello. Hmong hill tribe)
"Change is the
one constant in life."
The town of Quy Nhon was a surprisingly delightful stop along the coast as we headed south. Miles of beachfront provided hours of walking along the surf. The municipal end of the bay was a buzz of activity as locals talked, laughed and played soccer on the shore. Needing to do some work on the internet we stopped into a 5 star hotel and had access to free wireless. There we met a wide array of businessmen from all over, even an Italian man from Arizona whose grandfather was John Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine. His wife had died of cancer, he had prostate cancer and he had lost most of his money in none other than Enron stocks. He was stressed out and busily making his fortune back, unfortunately at the expense of his health. Such a smart guy but he just didn't seem to think he was worth the time or effort to get healthy again. People are interesting. An earthquake in Taiwan broke the telecommunication cable to Asia and the internet was virtually out for 4 days, costing businesses millions of dollars and showing us how we all enjoy and depend on this remarkable means of global communication.
A scenic drive in a public bus brought us to Nha Trang. Resembling Waikiki in the 70's, it is a mecca for local tourists and foreigners alike. We had a quiet New Year's Eve as it started raining about 10pm and we skipped the outdoor stage and entertainment along the beach. Indoor bars with the smoke and loud music rarely draw us in. The following day was glorious sunshine and we felt we were starting the New Year back home in Hawaii. We hiked for miles down the Nha Trang Beach, over the bridge, through narrow alleyways and ended up at the Po Nagar Cham Towers. On a small hill overlooking the Cai River we were impressed at the restoration effort begun back in 1935. Still used by Buddhist worshippers praying and lighting incense, each inner temple was cloudy with smoke, as it has been for centuries. We continued on to the Long Son Pagoda, with a new friend from England we had met at the temple. Presided over by a 44 ft high sitting Buddha, this temple was also a working temple, with followers chanting and gongs and drums resonating. Julie joined us as we took her to our favorite haunts: buying fruit in the market, stopping for a refreshing coconut, having a plate of Com Chay or strict vegetarian Buddha food as it is referred to here, followed by a dish of our favorite street food, bananas in leaves roasted over coals, topped with a rich, hot coconut tapioca cream. Stopping to watch the night time action in the large town square, followed by a refreshing walk down the beach led us in a 5 mile, 12 hour circle back to our hotel. A full day. Spending a week in Nha Trang we once again became regulars at certain stalls. It was a curious interaction with the lady at the banana desert stall. We were tempted by the smells from her fire the first day and when we went looking for her the following night she had moved her operation to a more prominent evening location around the corner. We walked up with our usual "Xin chao, glad to find you" and she refused to serve us. Not easily deterred we sat down and told her we had lots of time. She finally begrudgingly helped us. A tough nut to crack, the challenge was on. We talked to her daughter and smiling neighbors and kept trying to get her to smile. Finally she started laughing at Joseph's antics. Hiding a mouthful of crooked teeth possibly she was embarrassed to smile. Who knows? Once she warmed up we became good friends and she proudly welcomed us to sit down and enjoy her scrumptious concoction every night for over a week. Never give up on Oscar the Grouches - maybe they just need us to share our smiles with them.
Joseph hit the 'metsia' with our room in Nha Trang. New Years Day everyone cleared out of town and headed back to work or further down the road. All the rooms were free and we simply moved to the 5th floor of the next door hotel. It was a penthouse type room with its own large plant filled patio, over looking the ocean. Waves crashing and breezes blowing drowned out the city noises and all this for only $7 a night. Try that in Waikiki! We ran into our friend from Turkey who we had first met in Hanoi, and again in Hoi An. He is riding his bicycle through Vietnam, following years of bike trips through India, Africa, and the Middle East to name a few. Adventures galore as he peddles down the highways and byways. We are sure we will meet him again as we are all lured, like with the sirens of The Odyssey, by the open road.
Following the coast we then headed up into the south central highlands. A rich growing area for all of southern Vietnam, almost every hill has been carved into a garden terrace, growing virtually any vegetable one could imagine. The first thing we noticed in Dalat, the honeymoon capital of the south for newlyweds, was that it was Cold! A former hill station for the French, the almost 5000 ft elevation was used to escape the sweltering summer heat of Saigon. The crisp winter days and bright blue skies were a welcome backdrop for exploring the shores of the lake and the raucous, colorful market, where local fruits and vegetables of every description were practically given away. Having layered on all the clothes from our suitcases and still shivering, we paused over breakfast the second morning and swore we could hear the distant pounding surf of the warm coast. Not wanting to spend another cold night we packed up and were, before we knew it, buzzing along on the back of motorcycles. A public bus down, down the winding mountainous road kept us busy peeling off layers until were at the pleasant breezy climate of the ocean side in the winter.
Exploring the coast south towards Saigon we spent a couple of days in Mui Ne (a recognizance mission for my Mom's visit in February) then "eenie, meanie, mynie, mo, catch a tiger by the toe" jumped off the public bus at the road to Ho Coc Beach. After Mui Ne we didn't meet a single tourist for the rest of the week, as all tourists followed busy Highway 1 instead. Ho Coc had been 'redecorated' by a typhoon one month earlier and we had the place to ourselves. Staying in a second story "view with a room" we were lulled to sleep by the waves only 25 feet from our door. We spent the evening with a Swedish woman and her friend learning about expat life in Vietnam. An engineer in Brunei for 15 years and now Saigon for 16 years she was a wealth of knowledge. They were escaping the noise and pollution of the city with a weekend fishing trip by the seaside. We were guided back to our small hotel by a bright bonfire on the beach and were invited to stop in at the campsite of a local family. Like moths to flames... The next morning our secluded beach was stormed by car and van loads of Saigon residents out enjoying their Sunday at the beach. We got caught up in the excitement and watched as the locals played and squealed and played some more. Beaches dotting the coastline, we literally just pointed to the map and once again jumped off the bus. Long Hai was a strange local beach/military resort town that grew on us after a couple of days. Just us and the locals hanging out at the temples overlooking the beach or walking along the shore. Asked why we were there we simply replied, "Because this is the real Vietnam."
And so it goes.........................................................Next the busyness of Saigon and marooned on the beach of Mui Ne. Hope you are making the best of 2007. We have enjoyed hearing from you, as always it is a treat to get an email from afar, even a few lines. Until then embrace the changes in your life and smile while you're at it . Take care.
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
$1.00US = 16,000 VND
Air Asia: Check out www.airasia.com for great sales on air tickets within Asia. During their recent annual sale we booked 16 free tickets for $25 tax each; for future travel to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, etc. Buy a cheap ticket into Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur from home, then connect to your Asian destination for next to nothing! Voila, you are there!
Nha Trang: Stand at the front of the Blue Star Hotel -turn right towards the beach and turn right again on the ocean front road. 1st right- walk down the little alley and look up to your left. You will see the 5th floor rooftop patio. Great hotel and view from up there.