Friday, March 9, 2012

I'd best catch up, we're in Nha Trang Now

Cham Tower near Quy Nhon

The Kids at the ChamTowers

Balancing on the rim of a basket boat

Quy Nhon in the background

Approaching Dai Lanh, Fabulous Island

Inner Harbor and Dai Lanh Town

Lotus flowers really are that color

15 km more or less south of Quy Nhon

The town below the temple

The pagoda's library, through a carved shutter.

Moonrise over Nha Trang Bay
Holy Cow.  I just figured out captions!!!

3-09-2012  Written from the fourth floor sea-view balcony room of the $15/night hotel.. .in Nha Trang, which must be the premier long-time Vietnamese Beach Resort.  Weather is dandy, quite hot at mid day, but cooling now that the sun has set. . .just hot.  A breeze from the bay, music from something down by the beach, a dramatic moon trying to come out from behind a pillar of cumulus cloud--migosh, just a minute, I have to try to get that. . .switched lenses to the new low light f1.8 50mm and set the iso at "really fast" and. . .think we got something useable.  Anyway, yesterday was a fabulous ride through pretty country on excellent roadways. . .followed by today's riding which was even more gorgeous countryside, but some at least on pretty nasty road.  You know, the sort that eats motorbikes and spits out spokes. . .chuckholes you could camp in, complete with lake shore.  However, there was lots of perfectly nice road too, so not to complain.

Yesterday's ride was through a mostly agricultural countryside, endless acres of rice fields, interrupted here and there by a hill or a sand dune. There were people harvesting rice, drying golden green rice on the shoulders of the road, bags of rice moving in every possible conveyance (bicycles to 20 ton trucks, whatever. . .) Todays ride was much the same with the addition of some magnificent sea scapes.   But I'm getting way ahead of myself.

Why do you suppose Cham temples were all built on the tops of the highesr hills around?  The number of loads of bricks that had to be lugged up there before you could even start the first layer is staggering.  The things are nearly solid brick, and they're BIG.  I should probably do some research before I write this sort of thing, but here goes with what I think I know off the top of my head.  The Champa empire was much more Indian than Chinese, and extended across what is now Central Viet Nam from 800 to  1000 years ago.  Their religious practices were almost entirely Indian, and their towers are religious structures, though most of the statuary and religious fixtures have long since been removed to museums. . .or just plain removed.  The towers stand prominently on hill tops, built of fired red bricks, assembled without any mortar, to very close tolerances.  Many of them that had lasted through the centuries were damaged or destroyed in the American war when the Vietnamese took shelter among them (or were thought to have) .  Bricks don't do well with airstrikes and artillery.  Of those that survived, most now have been partially restored to one extent or another.  The modern brickwork is generally very good, and there are many photographs from the early 20th century. . .so the restorations are worthwhile.  As you approach Quy Nhon southbound on Hwy 1 you see one isolated tower on a hill with very poor access (basically you'd have to drive through rice paddy to get to the foot of the hill. . .not good).  Soon after though you see a group of them on a hilltop off to your left.  The turnoff to Quy Nhon is  signposted well, just before a bridge (which you need to cross to get to Quy Nhon).  However, to get to the towers, you need to turn hard left JUST BEFORE the bridge and follow along with the river on your right.  The road is very narrow and well peopled, so go slowly.  Don't drive into the army post (its gate is normally closed anyway) but make the left turn in front of it.  The entrance to the towers is just a ways up the hill, and not too obvious.  It's just a motorbike bridge across a deep ditch, through an open gate and up to a visitor's welcoming sort of structure.  If you've gotten this far you'll spot it.  Pay your 30,000 dong, park your bike and start huffing and puffing up the hill.  It's getting to be quite a bit steeper the last couple of years, but I can still make it to the top.  There's almost always a small welcoming committee, but this year I was there on a national holiday. . .so the kids were out of school and I had a handfull.  All of them were really sweet and friendly and beginning on the "Hello, I Am A Student, What's You Name? Where You From?  My Name (fill in the blank at high volume and ten times at least). 

They walked me up the hill, voluntarily posed in strategic places, Hurrayed at the photos. . .and walked me back down again.  I got them to pose with  the motorbike just before I left. . .midst many "Hen Gap Lai's" and "See You Again's" (a bilingual sort of farewell).

Trying to ride into Quy Nhon I was grabbed by the nose by a whiff of charcoaling meat. . .which turned out to be a somewhat expensive (nearly $4.50) but incredibly good lunch.  The charcoaled meat was served with a plate of greens and sliced veggies and some crunchy fried things to be rolled up in moistened rice paper and dipped in a peppery sauce.  There was a little bowl of really good soup and a bottle of the local mineral water. . .you should have been there, I didn't finish it all!

So I was later into Quy Nhon than I'd  intended.  I talked to a road crew at the end of the new beachfront hotel strip and heard that I'd be at least 3 hours to my intended overnight stop.  It was 3:30.  Dark falls about 6:15.  Quy Nhon is full of good hotels.  I stayed.  Almost didn't.  National Holiday, school's out, kid's are free to go to the beach, h'mm.  But I found a perfectly nice room a couple of blocks off the beach and settled in.  It was my usual routine, checking out the fishing harbor and writing up my diary while sipping mineral water and iced tea and listening to quiet jazz in a shady waterfront coffeeshop.  You really should have been there.

So quickly then, from Quy Nhon to Nha Trang is not a hard day's run, 205 km's with some drop dead gorgeous seascape material en route.  You leave Quy Nhon by the back door, the new (five years old now I think) coast road and you run along cliff tops, winding through the curves, puzzling over five thousand fish farm sorts of buoy arrangements and probably 500 anchored boats tending them. . .you pass villages down impossibly narrow (even for motorbikes) streets that dive off the cliffs into tightly packed houses, shops and schools down just above the water's edge.  Since my last trip past, they've built (or at least finished) a new hilltop temple, with a very imposing concrete and sparkles Quan Am looking out over the red brick roof tops.  I stopped for a better look and met. . .more cute kids.  This gang had a juvenile delinquent, the "big boy" (physically a lot taller and fatter than his friends).  At one point he pushed one of the smaller girls into me from behind and then tried to make out that she'd pushed me herself.  He stood there pointing at her, she stood there on the edge of tears, visibly frightened and saying "sorry, sorry, sorry" while still pointing at him.  I scowled at him and all the rest of the kids bopped him on the head.  Took care of that nicely.  Really, they were all perfectly sweet. . .the delinquent just needs an occasional bopping to keep him honest.

So that's the way it was, a good day, rotten road in places, a good lunch in one of my favorite little towns, Dai Lanh (probably the prettiest place on the Vietnamese coast. . .or if it's number 2 then number one must be stunning). There were nice stops for Red Cow and mineral water, an early arrival in Nha Trang, but again, a little marginally late to keep pushing, so inventory of the river-mouth fishing boat harbor and the passenger boat terminal at the other end of town, another even nicer hotel (the music down the street was a local song and dance troupe, really quite good, with too large a budget for amplifiers, but they've finished and we're down to just light traffic noise. . .and that will be gone shortly.  It's ten o'clock, past my bed time even here.

I'll put some photos with this in the morning.  Good night.