This part isn’t all in the correct order, but it works.
Leaving Da Lat on the bus we head over a great twisty mountain pass (highway 723) on the way to Nha Trang. Buses belch black smoke as they over- take small motorcycles hauling from one to four people and all types of product over the mountain.
There are road hazards everywhere. At times, the corners are full with buses over-taking buses. Another bus comes toward us. The motorcycles cling precariously to the side of the mountain road, a mere millimeters from the side of the bus. All of this on a tight, what is meant to be, two lane road. Several people gasp at times when it all looks impossible, but we make it, with sighs of relief for the tiny baby being held to his Mom’s chest with Dad at the helm and the little sibling standing in the front holding on to the bars.
The views of the jungle are beautiful and we sit and wonder what this was like being a soldier here 50 years ago.
Nha Trang. The city of Russians and Chinese. They are everywhere and the Russians are large people. We see some on the beach where they are in tiny bathing suits. Some that probably weigh over 300 pounds. The men are much larger with equally tiny suits. Some things you just can’t unsee.
Our hostel, upscale for US$15.00, is a 5 minute walk from a very beautiful beach. It is a very busy area with restaurants, stores and street vendors everywhere.
Walking down to the beach, we pass a man and stop to talk. He is a snowbird from Nova Scotia and tells us of life in Nha Trang. He and his wife rent a cute apartment near the beach for US$400/month. They have been here for over 10 years. He invited us up to his 5th floor apartment and his wife returns from her swim at a pool at a nearby resort. They are moving next year to an area that doesn’t have so much new growth and construction going on.
After a visit we head down to the Alley Bar and meet the owner, a Greek born in Australia and now living here.
He married a Vietnamese woman and now owns and runs this very cool bar and lives in the attached building. While we are chatting about our next ride he mentions that his Dad lives on one of the Greek Isles we will be visiting. We find the village on the map and make plans to stop when there. It will be our last island before heading to Turkey.
The bar is a haven for expats, mainly Aussies, and, with the liberal laws toward recreational marijuana use, full of smokers rolling their next joint while sipping a beer. The food is superb and inexpensive so we eat there a couple times.
Hanging out a bit, we hear a real motorcycle pull up, a DRZ400. The two guys are running a big bike tour company and putting together a camping ride down the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. Looks like a good ride for sure. They will help riders get their Vietnamese drivers license. http://www.bigboybikesvu.com.
The beach is beautiful, reminding me of Waikiki Beach with the crescent beach and the volcano at the end of the curve. The beach is full of the previous mentioned persons but some that are also able to wear the tiny bikinis with portions of the fabric being stuffed where it shouldn’t go. It seems everyone is proud of their bare arsses no matter the size.
The trip up the coast was on a night sleeper bus, leaving at 1900PM and arriving in Hoi An at 0630AM in the morning. We bounce, stop and go throughout the night, but thanks to the Valium we bought for pennies at the local pharmacy, we were able to get some sleep.
We are greeted at our hostel by the nicest hostess we have ever had. Her name is Daisy. She was just a fantastic person. The room in our hostel was perfect overlooking the pool and dining area.
Breakfast was included for US$7/per night for both of us.
Hoi An was a beautiful town with a peaceful river that splits the town into equally beautiful sides with colorful paper lanterns everywhere, including the foot bridge that connects both sides of town.
We took off on bicycles to look around town and visited several old homes that have remained in the same family for several generations. The weather was perfect while we were there. Inside these homes, already several feet above the river, we’re marks on the walls showing flood stages during monsoon season. Some of the water marks were up to 12 feet above the floor, some 20 feet above the river. At this stage the entire town would have been under water and boats (there were pictures of boats during the flood on the wall), would have been the only way around. They just fix and rebuild, almost yearly, and carry on. There was also a wonderful market with all types of food, as seems to be normal at the riverfront that we visited.
It’s always a navigational miracle to make it through the narrow pathways made by the vendors squatting beside their baskets of fruits, vegetables and animal parts while dodging motorcycles, bicycles and walkers.
We read in a travel book that the evening hours are not to be missed in Hoi An. That was an understatement. The town really changes at sunset. The market area shuts down and the small riverfront restaurants and businesses light up with thousands of multi-colored lanterns. The riverbanks become street food seating areas, small motorless dragon boats are poled up and down the river with couples and families. Lanterns and lights reflect off the river on both sides as people let little paper square illuminated “boats” set sail in the river, adding to the twinkling colors.
We sit along the riverbank and sample some local cuisine, not quite sure what we ate, but it was…OK. Finishing our meal we walked across the bridge and found a beer vendor ($0.50 for a can of beer) and wander amongst vendors and have a vegetable and fish pizza with a rice crust like a crepe. Melanie can’t do it and seeks out some fresh made strawberry ice cream rolls.
A little later, a musical show happens on a stage by the river.
We move on up the coast a bit and stay at Da Nang, a place of heavy fighting early in the war which became an area for R and R for the American military known as China Beach. Robin Williams famous “Good Morning Vietnam” was about this area.
Just 4 kms south of us is a group of 5 monolithic mountains, the Marble Mountains. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire), and Tho (earth). All of the mountains have cave entrances, tunnels and Buddhist statues and temples.
The mountains were very close to the American Air base and China Beach. The Vietcong had a hidden hospital in one of the caves, unknown to the Americans.
The caves are enormous and are filled with stone carvings throughout. The area is well known for generations of stone carvers. The caves are full of carvings, many carved directly into the stone walls.
In the first cave you enter it is based off now and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. There are beautiful large carvings of Buddha on the entry level as you walk through a tunnel leading to a large cavern, probably 50 meters high in areas. Following the tunnel down you see carvings of your descent into pain and “Hell”. Coming back to the main level you climb a seriously steep staircase back and forth almost straight up into the lighted opening in the top, and “Heaven”, and a fantastic view and a smiling Buddha.
The rest of the mountain is equally impressive leading to the last cave, which has two carved Buddhist temples in it. They are all lit with red and greens lights. It was full of people praying and lighting incense.
Directly above you are two “eyes” looking down into the cave. When we were in Bulgaria we saw a similar sight in a cave, the “Eyes of God”. We wonder if this is the “Eyes of Buddha”.
We hang out for a couple days meeting people, exploring town and hanging out on the beach.