Tuesday, November 27, 2012

From Hue South to Nha Trang, with a few stops. . .

Written from Nha Trang, 11/27/2012, where the weather is fine and fair and quite hot in the afternoon.

The great adventurers all seemed to chronicle their journeys by "a day's travel", that is, they might say something like "the edge of the world lies there, just one day's travel past. . .and there they would give the name of some godforsaken place they'd been.  It's a universal unit of measure that works as well for Englishmen with their dog sleds heading for the South Pole or Italians slogging across Asia looking for silk.  It is a measure that eludes me on this trip.  Depending on the vagaries of the surface of the road, the curiosity of the rider, the attractiveness of the scenery, the misery of the weather and the functioning of a small motorbike, somewhere between 200 kilometers (120 miles) and 400 kilometers (a whole lot of miles!!) you come to the point of calling it a day's travel and you find a hotel.  Not terribly precise.

However, taking all those variables together, you find that we've had pretty good traveling, but we haven't gotten all that far, so "a day's travel" has shrunk a bit.

By and large the road has been in pretty good shape. . .with a minor exception or two.  I've managed to keep my attention on traveling a good part of the time, but some little side roads and boat moorages just demand to be seen, so I've no doubt cut down the progress a little that way.  The bike has run like a sweetheart, can't blame anything on her and the weather has cooperated wonderfully. This is the end of November, but we are south of Hai Van Pass now, so well into the warm and sunny South.  In fact, it's been hot enough in the afternoons to burn the backs of my hands and my ankles when I rode without socks and gloves.  It's nice to ride without socks so you can readily enter pagodas or people's houses. . .with socks on it's a good deal more bother.  However, the bike makes me pick my feet up and my pants legs hike up a bit and without socks or really good sun screen. . .voila. . .cooked ankles on the western side!  The gloves just look funny.  They were originally knitted for the use of people who unload fish for a living. . .white cotton, inclined to ravel out. . .especially where I cut the finger tips off so I can handle the horn and switches and such.   Dorky basically, but they keep the sun off and I'll wear them hereafter.  Promise..  So it must be the scenery that's held us back.

As far as scenery goes, I started right off by getting dessert before dinner when I left Hue.  There was a good excuse. . .I had one last photo to deliver 10 km down the island from Thuan An.  Then of course it made no sense to back track to Hue, 20 km when it's only another forty-some back to the highway a long ways south of the City.  I just added on the 12 km to get to the island and the 11 km to get back to the highway, so really, the 41 km length of the island was all distance made good on the course.  Don't check my math, we made it one way or another.  The island is a little slow, I admit, it isn't highway cruising, poking down the narrow island lane (I still think it's fun to call it Hwy 49B, even if it's only 12' wide), but it IS one of my favorite rides and it made a wonderful start for the day.  There was a problem of course, dropping off one photo I ended up with four more to take back later. . .an old man (handsome old dog, if a bit wrinkly), a beautiful young lady, and the umbrella seller and her daughter, back asking pretty please for an update.  I originally took their photographs in the midst of an afternoon rainstorm while I bought an umbrella from the front porch shop mom runs.  As I consider the matter, I may be the only itinerant portrait photographer in all of Viet Nam.  H'mm.  I lose fifty cents on each portrait, but make it up on the volume. . .
I'll have to go back to deliver it.

Once you leave the island, you're still 11 wonderful kilometers from the highway, so enjoy it.  The mountain runs almost clear to the water along this stretch and the little road winds along and up and down the flank of the hillside above the narrow strip of coastal farmland, so you get some quick uphill and down climbs and some excellent curves, fun riding with wonderful views on a sunny day.
On the mainland hillside above the Inland Sea, there are 11 km to run
Down this sort of road. . .

Finally back to the highway, you might get to stop and wait for the train to arrive.  Here we use the "train is about due now so I'm closing the barrier" method of preventing squished motorbikes and buffalo carts.  It was a short wait for me this time, but some of the people seemed a little over eager to get going. . .they might have been waiting a while.  After you make the left turn onto the highway headed south, you only have 30 or 40 km to run and you come to probably the prettiest little bay on Hwy 1. . .Lang Co  (watch me carefully here and see what I have to say about Dai Lanh in a day or two).  I've stopped and photographed every sort of angle to the bay and the simple fact is it's just a small body of water behind an ocean barrier sand bar with mountains at each end.  You can't really take a picture of it.  I mean. . .I guess. . .that nothing I've done has done it justice.  You top over the last bit of the low pass before the bay and get a first view.  A little closer the bay takes shape, a large oval of flat water (and very shallow. . .think clams and crabs. . .yes).  Then, closer still and down at the pool's own level you catch the reflection of the mountains and the sky and all the time you keep rolling, past the restaurants strung out along the bay, their dining decks built on spindly legs over the water, and then you're into the town and unless you slip off onto a back road the bay is lost to sight.  And in town, if you don't turn uphill into a hotel-resort's entry drive, you won't catch sight of the sea.  (They don't run you off if you DO go look, and I'm sure they'd rent you a lovely beachside room if you asked, even if you arrive on a dirty motorbike.)  This time there was a bus blocking the really lovely view from above the bridge out of town, so I just kept on going over the mountain to the South and stopped a few miles away to see if that gave the right perspective.  Nope.  You'll just have to go see it yourselves.  Worse news yet. . .it was too early in the day to stop for lunch, so no fresh shrimp or clams or crab for me. . .I rode right by some of the best open air seafood restaurants on the whole  route.  Darn.
Climbing up Hai Van Pass and looking back at Lang Co.  A feast of fine things!

And then there was the glorious climb up over Hai Van Pass, the great divider!  It stands at the far southern end of the mountain range that bounds the river of frigid air flowing through the Himalayas from out of central China all winter.  To the north of the pass is cold and dreary three full months of the year as that cold northwest wind rolls down the Red River valley and spreads out over the delta. . .lifting the warm moist air from the South China Sea up and holding it there, dripping and drizzling through the northern Winter.  Beyond the pass lie Da Nang, Hoi An and all the sunny south land, bright and beautiful through that same winter.  There's a tunnel now that runs for a long ways under the mountains and carries all the heavy traffic away from the steep and winding road up the pass.  Nowadays only fuel tankers (not allowed in the tunnel), tourist buses (wouldn't want to miss the views or the souvenir sellers at the summit) and the motorbikes use the old road. I don't know why we don't get to go through the tunnel, but I wouldn't trade the pass for a dark and dismal tunnel anyway.  So, what used to be a death-defying challenge to the murderous pig trucks and their kin is now a (mostly) fabulous climb up the side of the mountain with the sea spread out below you and views north and south that go on forever as you double back and forth over and over again gaining altitude. (He said "mostly". . .there are still the tankers and they behave about like any other truck.  . .and the tourist buses have a wide reputation for eating motorbikes for supper. . .but COMPARED. . .it's lovely now.)

Even on a sunny day there will probably be a little cloud layer right in the summit and you'll have a few minutes of cold and damp before the long sweet run down the far side, into the south.  This early in the year it was still nice and warm on the northern slopes, so I didn't have the winter time thrill of stopping halfway down the mountain to take off rain pants and sweaters and extra layers.

All of this mind you was before lunch!

And then there was Da Nang.  At least I didn't get lost trying to get through the city this time.  It's gotten a lot easier with the new direct-exit from downtown that runs along the rail line South (a dandy hint you're headed the right general direction . .right next to the RR to Saigon? What was your question?)  You only have to be looking in the right place once to see the excellent highway sign and the rest is easy.  I guess the flip side of that is that you only have to miss one sign and continue on forever on the wrong road.  H'mm.  Anyway, by contrast, the first half dozen times I tried to get through Da Nang I managed to wind up lost and asking directions every time.    Don't ask, I don't know.  Cities just do that to me.  Da Nang is a big, fine, modern city with famous beaches, the old American Air Force and Navy bases (now turned generally to better or other uses), a brand new beautiful suspension bridge that puzzles me a little. . .it lifts you up over the river mouth and the southern part of downtown, but I haven't figured out how to get up on it or what it connects to what.  No doubt it's not just for looks though.  Or maybe it is. . .it's lovely.  But I've never wanted to spend the night or explore much beyond the river mouth harbor.  Cities do that to me as well.  And so we rolled on through the day.

For most tourists on this route the next stop is always Hoi An, and most of them love the place.  Well. . .years ago there would have been no hesitation about stopping in Hoi An.  The first two years I visited I wrote rave reviews each time, it was a magical place then, though already the change was starting.  One Tet Night (Vietnamese New Year, and easily the most important holiday of the year) I spent in a funny little hotel there, just a few blocks from the town pier, the river, and the wonderful market.  I spent that new year's eve wandering up and down the candle lit streets, watching a fleet of paper boats, at least a thousand of them, carry their single-candle cargoes drifting across the harbor. . .gentle people offering me fruit and candy from the sidewalk altars by their front doors, later sitting in a peaceful little hotel with people from China, Australia, Europe and Viet Nam, all of us talking about  home and other new years and the interesting things we'd seen.  It was a marvelous night and I'll remember it well for years.  But too much has changed in Hoi An these days.  They've torn down  a grand shipyard to make room for a hotel, but haven't built the hotel yet.  They've torn out whole old neighborhoods out along the beach and are building condominiums as well as hotels.  My old gentle hotel in the old quarter has gone upscale  It's a multi star sort of place now and didn't have room for me anyway last time I was there.  Grumble Gripe Complain.  The old architecture is still there around town, the old Japanese, Chinese and French buildings from ages ago are protected by their UNESCO World Heritage status, and so is the French Patisserie and the French restaurant across the street.  Still there, sort of. . .but they had to do something to serve all the new tourists from the new hotels, and the upstairs billiards bar with its superb really FRENCH baguettes. . .is now air conditioned seating for the restaurant downstairs.  Sigh.  Hoi An. I miss you.

So we carried on into the evening to Quang Ngai.  I've never stayed there before.  Heck, I've never been into the town.  When the highway was rebuilt, before my time, they ran it just west of town so there's no inconvenience at all, you drive right on pas on your way somewhere else.  I'd never seen the place and had no memory of passing it, though I've been there many times.  Well.  To begin with I blew it about the river.  I mean, a river shows on the map, flowing by the city and on into the sea not too far away.  I was expecting a river.  You know, water, boats, docks, that sort of thing.  I got sand.  Oh, there's a little water going by, enough to float a good sized fleet of little sand loading pumps that are moored in what little water there is.  They have small diesel powered centrifugal pumps on deck and a discharge pipe goose-necked up to pump directly into the hold of a sand barge.  And there are sand barges, ugly steel things (okay, they have a nice curve to their rudders and their bows turn up rather nicely, but still, rusty, steel, square boxes. . .with pretty ends I guess).  But they haul sand I'm sure.  Nothing was working when I went by, so I've nothing to report in that regard.

Quang Ngai itself, on the other hand, was quite a surprise.  It's a Province Capital, sort of like a super County Seat in America. . .with government offices and the businesses that follow along.  It's lively and modern and full of fun people doing interesting things, full of bright shops selling any sort of thing you might want, including a lot of high end luxury goods.  A really flat flat screen TV is ideal in a small Vietnamese home. . .takes up almost no space and er, keeps the kids busy?  Oh. Well anyway, there were not two or three but a great many shops filled with them (have you ever seen thirty soccer games going at once and all of them at least 32" across??
Quang Ngai at Night--the light just turned green!

What a sight!  I ended up with a very nice hotel room and a good supper from a rice-dinner shop, the sort where you get a plate full of rice and then get to point at goodies in the sidewalk stand to top it off (pork, chicken, fried fish, dried fish with chile, duck eggs, morning glory greens, lots of goodies). . .for a dollar or sometimes two.  Oh.  And che.  Not just one che seller that I had to hunt for, but che being sold everywhere. . .good che, all the right flavors, including "just fruit", with and without coconut milk and toasted coconut.  By the time you'd walked two blocks you realized it was going to be serious hard work making up your mind about dessert.  Dear me.

And here I watched a battle royal between two Thai lightweight fighters.  They were a small part of the goldfish shop, sitting in a row on the shelf with a poker card between each jar and its neighbor.  I admired them long enough the proprietor arranged a proper display. . .selected two jars for complimentary colored fins and placed them on a stool top at eye level for me.  Wow.

Short summary:  as a boat watching stop, give Quang Ngai a miss.  If you want to watch people, on the other hand or shop for flat screen TV's or gold necklaces or chandeliers (no kidding), have at it, and the accommodations are excellent in all regards.  Put it on your list.  Photograph the sand barges for me please, I didn't do it. (ugly. . .they're ugly. . .I have my standards).

That was Saturday all day.  Sunday morning we were up and around in good time and on the road.  I was flexible in my mind. . .there were a number of possibilities for a destination for the night, not including the destination we finally reached. . .but that's part of the fun.  I'd thought we might get to Tuy Hoa and was pleased with that idea, it's another of those places I've been by any number of times without bothering to spend any time or look around.  From the map it was pretty obviously a fishing port of some significance and might have a boatyard. . .so a worthwhile destination.  Didn't get there.  To begin with we slowed down considerably around Quy nhon.  The road into Quy Nhon from the highway is another pleasant little side road, though a lot busier than the Island.  One of its largest pleasures is the row of little open air restaurants grilling pork and chicken on open fires on the shoulder of the road about halfway into town.  Chemical warfare.  No one who passes that way at lunch time goes away hungry!  On my first stop there I resisted almost all the way past the whole string of them, but caved in in time for the last one.  Very good in memory (and two cute kids to try to photograph). . .and it's still that good today.  There's a knack to eating this particular sort of thing. . .not all that hard to do poorly, but if you act helpless you can get the lady next door to show you. . .and then keep you supplied as you go.  Basically you're served a plate of meat cut into little slices or chunks (depending on which meat you chose).  Then there are the accessory items. . .a plate of the rice paper wrappers we make "spring rolls" out of, a plate of crunchy fried noodles wrapped in fried "spring roll" papers, a plate of herbs, leaves and grasses. . .er. . .you know what I mean. . .a large variety of flavors, all of them green except the shredded carrot.  The short version:  crush up the crunchy fried noodle things onto the dampened rice paper.  Add meat.  Delicately pick out precisely the right blend of all the greens.  Roll tightly.  Dip in sweet (and hot if you can stand it) sauce, and eat.  Repeat until you run out of something vital.  Wash down with mineral water if you're not drinking beer that time of day.  Try to get a photo of the kids. . .and get back on the road.

Quy Nhon is another place that has really changed a great deal in my time.  I'm not so bitter about it here as I am at Hoi An.  In short, what the City has done is bulldoze a dreadful waterfront slum neighborhood, a stinking unsanitary fishermen's and boat builder's shantytown really, and built a beautiful waterfront park that stretches the whole width of the city's sea front.  It's quite nice.  If you'd never seen the life in the shantytown or watched the men launching large fishing vessels down the beach at low tide on their temporary trolley, you'd just love the place.  It's a beautiful bay and makes a fine sandy bathing beach, and the investment has run into town like a river, building five star hotels (and lesser hotels too, thank goodness) and good seafood restaurants and. . .but the boat builders have gone somewhere else entirely and I haven't found them again.  The shanty town, goshawful as it was, was fascinating and the people were lovely.  It was there that I met a grandma at her own funeral. . .I just stopped to listen to the strange funeral music for a while, a screaming oboe helped out by a 2-string fiddle (which can have quite a nice sound) and a battery of percussion devices, gong, drum and wood whacking device that makes a funny "Tok, Tok, Tok" sort of sound when you whack it.  Anyway,a gentleman I assume was her eldest son, a fishing skipper, took me by the arm and into the small front room of the house where Grandma's coffin was lying, with her farewell altar all laid out at its feet, with her portrait and her fruit and wine and incense burning.  She had been a fine looking old woman, and well loved no doubt.  Then they fed me tea and an orange and sent me on my way.  But really, it's a very lovely waterfront park now.  I just hope all the people found their way to new and better homes.

However, I've documented the boats in Quy Nhon to the point nobody wants to talk about it any more so I contented myself with a quick visit to the fish market pier, which seems to be finished now. . .though the new container port and pier nearby is still growing as we speak.  That's been a long project, going on three years now and it's still not clear just how it will be configured.  No doubt they have it figured out and it's not my project anyway.
Okay, just one Quy Nhon harbor photo this trip. . .

The new road along the cliffs and seaside leaving Quy Nhon is still one of the best buys on this tour.  There's no excuse in the world for going straight back to the main highway with its traffic, noise and complete lack of seascapes.  So, simply continue down the new waterfront promenade on toward the South.  It's a little odd that there isn't any good signage, so if you carry on right to the end of the waterfront drive you'll have to double back a little bit, but there's only one place the road can be, so keep looking up toward the hillside and shortly you'll find the start where the road climbs steeply out of town.  The views ahead and behind just keep getting better as you go.
South of Quy Nhon

There's a major bridge where the entirely new segment of road meets an older segment and you veer off to the left.  Coincidentally, there's a lot of shrimp farming going on all around there and inshore fishing from small vessels.  The sailing boats are gone of course, but their motorized descendants are sweet lined double enders about 25' long. . .but there are also some really lovely little double ended rowing boats, the composite style of basket and wood boat that was once typical of the area.  They are still often woven from the split bamboo and waterproofed with buffalo dung and tree resin. . .I know, it sounds odd, but it's true and it works quite well, it just took me a while to figure it out and then I found all the French authors had written about it years ago.  Anyway, there's a new and modern variation.  The wooden upper structure is done the same as it's always been but the body of the boat is made from blue plastic barrels!  Segments are cut from the barrels to suit the shape of the boat, riveted together (like the shell of an armadillo) and married to the wooden upper works.  It works, and no buffalo dung!
So sweet! And she's made from old oil barrels. . .
And here's her older (traditional basket made) sister. . .a little bigger too.  Row with your feet!
Fifty years ago these would have carried sails, not a diesel.  They're still lovely, just deafening now.

As the day continued I assumed we'd make Tuy Hoa for the night and started to plan it that way.  Then the road went all to heck (I said there was one exception).  This was an unusual sort of road condition.  By and large the surface was still fine, mostly good pavement.  The problem was scattered potholes that were terribly deep and sometimes clustered together in gangs and sometimes quite large.  For a motorbike the risk was to actually hit one.  One was all it would have taken to wreck a bike moving at any speed, so there was no choice but to slow to a speed that allowed detection and avoidance.  The trucks felt they could skip the worst of them by weaving in and out and playing chicken on the highway but a few tried to carry on as though tires were immortal.  One didn't make it.  I came on the wreck I think some time after it happened, and without a full investigation I can't give you the details, but essentially a mid-sized freighter caught a big hole with one front wheel, which pulled him to the left somewhat and no doubt initiated rotation around his long axis.  The timing to the next hole must have been such that the springs of the truck had recovered from the initial rotation and reversed it, so that the second hole came at a perfect time to increase the rate of roll and the rest was history. . .even the big trucks should slow down for some chuck holes on this road.

So we didn't get to Tuy Hoa.  A little less than an hour before dark we were 30 km north of the city and driving through a small town with several small hotels.  It was a no brainer.  Riding in the dark on a road populated with truck-eating chuckholes was not a good bet.  The road, of course, might have gotten better, but what the heck, nobody was waiting for me in Tuy Hoa.  We stopped in Chi Thanh.  This is a little embarassing, I thought we'd been making better time than that would indicate, so I picked the next little town off the map and wrote up the diary as if that is where we were.  Wrong. And I wasn't very impressed.  There was no scenery really (though a quick ride out of town away from the highway showed the prospect of a small hill and valley countryside beyond. . .) and the services and amenities were. . .well. . .lacking.  I suppose there was at least one of anything you REALLY needed, so we didn't starve.  Oh come on, by walking a ways in the dark I found a delightful little che stand that would (and did) make both pure fruit che as well as a sweet dessert, cold and nice.  And there was a young man selling banh bao, steamed bun filled with pork and half of a hard boiled egg. . .so it was really one of my favorite suppers and not all that far to walk.  In a small town (heck, in many larger towns), walk in the street, the sidewalks can be dangerous in the dark. . .think missing sewer covers for example.  So I wrote an unflattering diary entry about the wrong town and went to bed half grumpy when the wifi wouldn't work well (wifi in a dinky town in the middle of nowhere in Viet Nam. . .in a Five Dollar Hotel?? good grief).

The bike loved the place though, the young men in the bike shop across from the hotel swarmed all over her, replaced the droopy left turn signal, tightened a few things that were hay wire and replaced the missing muffler nuts that were causing the odd rattling vibration in mid-second gear. . .for $2.25 USD at the current exchange rate.

And when I tried to leave in the  morning the front desk couple took me firmly in hand and showed me a faded photo-mural on one wall of the reception. . .a weird and beautiful rocky headland with surf breaking on it. . .an extraordinary formation really, columnar basalt all twisted and distorted. . .and large.   It was only 15 km from town down what turned out to be another really wonderful countryside road through small villages.  Ganh Da Dia it's called.  Da means Stone I know, maybe I can find a translation for the rest.  Probably something like "Magnificent Headland" or something similar. . .it even shows on my road atlas with the red star symbol for "point of interest".  Indeed.
Ganh Da Dia, near Chi Thanh
And the road to get there. . .

So we actually left Chi Thanh, having hiked around Ganh Da Dia a bit (hot already in the sunshine!) at 9:30.  Made Tuy Hoa easily before 10:30, so we'd have made it last night. . .and missed the Magnificent Stone Headland (that's not a final translation, but will do for now).  Tuy Hoa is a nice modern town these days, with a minor river mouth fishing port and a ship and boat yard out on the isolated southern bank of the river (I don't know how you get there, not the way I tried anyway).  We moved on.

This whole stretch of coast is mostly "quietly pretty", with occasional bursts of "really nice".  So we come to the cliff-side road that leads into Dai Lanh.  This is the narrowest little string bean of a town.  It's bounded on the uphill side by. . .er. . .the hill, which is pretty steep.  At the foot of the hill is the railroad and beyond the railroad a narrow bit of land to try to thread the highway through and still have room for some town before you come to the long gorgeous white sand beach that fills the bay.  The beach must be about 2 km long, a gentle arc, well sheltered by the headlands at each end, and the bay filled with fishing boats.  It's changed too of course in my time.  There's a new modern fishing boat pier jutting out from the shore at the northern end of town, a fine addition for the boat crews, who can land their catch directly into the trucks now rather than ferrying it ashore in their basket boats. . .a huge improvement no doubt.
The new fishing boat pier at Dai Lanh and the beach to the South.

It's cut the beach in two of course and displaced a few waterfront shanties, but by and large probably a fine thing.  And now there are four hotels, two on the waterfront (understated, old fashioned places, quite nice looking), one on the far side of the railroad tracks at the south end of town (the only one I've stayed at, perfectly nice, all on the ground floor, with a dense garden of bonsai and garden sculptures) and finally the tall skinny one squeezed in by the bridge at the north end of town, between the creek, the road and the railroad.  I've always eaten lunch in Dai Lanh when I pass through if it's anywhere near lunch time.  There are a number of candidates offering noodles, rice and seafood of one sort or another.  I've always eaten in one particular spot, shady, back a ways from the road, fans aimed at the tourists, and good fresh fish or squid to be counted on.  Squid this time, and two bottles of sparkly mineral water.  Very fine, although the price keeps going up.  Odd about that!

And so, in three days' travel we pulled into Nha Trang.  I'm beginning to think that the appearance of a motorbike with a young man trying to lead you to a hotel is simply not a bad thing.  I am inclined to reject that sort of help as a matter of course, but this is now the third time I've given in and had a look and been very pleased.  I've always stayed in the same hotel three blocks off the beach in Nha Trang and I've always been recognized and treated very well. . .so I really had no interest in the young man's offering, no matter that his sister runs the front desk.  He insisted and I couldn't really deny him without a certain amount of rudeness, so went to look.  H'mm.  Nice room.  Half a block from the beach.  Nice big window (a grill, no glass) Ten dollars a night (twice the price of Chi Thanh, but this is Nha Trang for goodness sake).  But I said "maybe" and rode over to my normal place.  Nobody knew me (a first) and the room was up 4 flights of stairs (nothing available on the elevator side) AND there was no view out the small window.  Good enough, I took the new place and have been very pleased indeed.

So what can you say about Nha Trang?  It's well known from Moscow to London and Buenos Aires and Sydney and New York and Delhi. . .It has to be the premier seaside resort in Viet Nam, which means it's probably the nicest and least expensive big resort city in the world.  I'm sure you can find a hotel here for stateside prices if you want, but my $10 per night sort of place is much more common, and thoroughly likable.  The beach runs for at least 3 km in a straight line, and all of it is groomed to perfection every night, raked clean and smooth for the morning swimmers.  The whole 3 km is beautifully landscaped with every sort of bush and tree, and most of them trimmed and tidy as can be.  The town has every possible service on offer and anything you might want or need to buy.  You can (and perhaps should) scuba dive and snorkel in crystal clear blue water (not all beach towns have water like this. . .no big rivers dump silt anywhere near here!!).  You can go on a "Booze Cruise" and come back sunburned and surrounded by drunks if you want, some of them really cute and not terribly over dressed. . .not that I would do such a thing when there are boats to be dealing with.

Nha Trang has a river mouth harbor fringed with rocky reefs and crossed by a really pretty little bridge that made a wonderful place to photograph the fishing fleet coming and going.  The fish market used to occupy a long low building along the waterfront on the north bank of the river just inside the bridge, and there used to be an informal fish market on a sandbar right under the bridge.  And now. . .oh dear. . .the sandbar has been dredged away, the fish market has been razed and replaced with. . .yet more waterfront park.  There are still several hundred boats stuffed into the river mouth, though now they lie in tidy ranks along the new esplanade, and the joyful buying and selling in the sunrise is over. . .or rather moved.  All this happened two years ago and it's taken me this long to figure out where all the action has gone. . .down the coast to the southern river mouth (no  reefs, incidentally) to the new fish market, all clean and modern and up to date, with easy access for the trucks to the sorting and icing shed, easy access to the ice house for the boats (no more delivering ice in desperately overloaded small boats, it comes in small trucks right alongside), altogether a major improvement for the fishermen, the fishwives and the truckers. . .but it's not the same eh?  And what are the tourists supposed to photograph in the mornings now?  They'll not be wandering around the new fish market I think. . .it's not quite that sort of place.

And that brings us to today.  Other people are loading bikes and moving on already, it's nearly 9:00 in the morning (I've been writing since 05:00 except for a quick run to the street for a very good omelette (two eggs, tomatoes, cucumber and cilantro with a crispy baguette on the side. . .with sweet iced milky coffee for. . .er. . .a dollar and a quarter.  Across the parking lot in a bricks and mortar place pretty young tourists were having the ten dollar version on white linen.  I can do without the linen and crystal for now.  I'll add a few photos and leave you.  There's still a lot of country to see this trip.


  1. Ken, when you get way down south, I really really want to read about and maybe see pictures of you stretched out in a hammock in the shade, deep in a food coma from gorging on long-ans, rambutan and mangosteens. I won't be really impressed unless the coma lasts at least eight hours !! That will say something about how inexpensive the feasting was, how available the ingredients are and how often you think of your less fortunate friends "back in the world".