Thursday, March 10, 2016

Cruising Asia: Nha Trang

One of the pleasant surprises that came as a result of Bob and I cruising by ourselves, was the opportunity to connect with other people, learn from their experiences, and create new friendships.  Our cruise on the Volendam forced us to do just that.  While I will admit, there were many times we opted not to dine at a table with a bunch of "strangers" and engage in the same business-dinner-like small talk over and over again, we did benefit from the associations we made and learned much about life and the world around us.  I mentioned two couples that we formed a friendship with on our tour of Halong Bay.  I have to share a story about Tom and Diane. Perhaps a day or two after meeting them, Bob and I happened to be kissing in an empty elevator on our way to our room one evening, when to our surprise, the doors opened to find Tom awaiting our elevator.  He made some snide comment about our romantic encounter and we all chuckled and went our separate ways.  Well, the next evening, we found an official-looking Holland America envelope delivered to our cabin.  We opened it, read the letter and burst into laughter!  Here is what it said:

Tom & Diane, Bob & Sharon, Tom and Bev
Thank you, Tom and Diane, for the gift of friendship and laughter!  When we wanted to enjoy dinner with "family", they always made room for us at their table.

I have to explain that our visit to Vietnam took place during "Tet", their most important celebration of the year.  Tet is a week-long New Year holiday, celebrating the arrival of spring based on the Chinese calendar,  As a result of the holiday, many of the markets and other sites were closed.  Because the Vietnamese people honor their ancestors during this week as tradition dictates, most of their temples and sacred places were absolutely overrun with people!  But a big part of Tet celebrations are the beautiful flowers placed everywhere.  A pot of yellow mums adorns every household and the result is a very cheerful ambiance.  It was interesting to be a part of this unique celebration, even if it made site-seeing a bit of a challenge!

We found ourselves in Nha Trang, Vietnam on Monday, February 8.  The waters surrounding to port were filled with colorful touring and fishing boats.  A cable car stretched across the bay leading to an island amusement park.  After leaving port, we hired a driver and headed into the modern city for the day.  

Our first stop was at Thap Ba Po Nagar Cham Towers.  The towers are a complex of temples erected around 781 AD, by the Cham people who ruled central and southern Vietnam for 13 centuries. They were contemporaries of, and opponents at war with the Khmer people who built Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  So it is not surprising that these towers reminded me of the temples of Seim Reap.  It was too crowded to get deep within most of the towers, where the locals would pay tribute to their Gods, but the powerful scent of incense lingered around the complex where women were demonstrating their pottery and weaving skills.  It was a festive environment and the sound of music filled the air.

We left the towers and began driving toward the greatly revered Long Son Pagoda.  In this city full of motor scooters, navigating the small alleyways in our van became a real challenge for our driver!  We had started halfway down a narrow street when suddenly, reason unknown, the scooters in front of us were all directed to turn around.  We were completely stuck in scooter traffic!

Following scooters down narrow road to temple.

Looking out the rear window of our van.

And suddenly, the traffic in front us of changes direction!
Finally, the scooters proceed past us and a brief break in traffic lets us move forward and up a hill to a big Buddha statue.  We decided not to fight the crowds to make our way down to the pagoda, but just took in the scenes from atop the hill.

In the heart of town we visited the Nha Trang Cathedral, which was built by the French in 1933. I had wondered why much of Vietnam's architecture has a European flair to it and discovered it is due to the predominance of French missionaries who came to Vietnam in the mid 1600's and ruled over much of the south.

We decided from here, we would just walk around and explore the city on our own.  It is easy to see why Nha Trang is a popular Asian Tourist destination.  Now that the sun was shining, everything seemed a little more clean and bright. Luckily, Bob didn't get arrested for reaching into a police vehicle to put the official hat upon his head so I could take his photo! 

We saw a treehouse across the street and decided to investigate.  It marked the location of Nha Trang XQ Historical Village, where the art of cotton thread embroidery was being showcased and sold.  It was a very creatively designed shop, and the products were amazing!

But the real draw to Nha Trang is the beautiful white sand beach which spans the entire shoreline of this stylish international resort city.  We spent a bit of the afternoon just laying beside the ocean and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our pale winter skin.

Awwww, yeah!  This was what we needed!


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