Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hanging Around Ha Tien for a day or three. . .

Written from Ha Tien, which is about as close to Cambodia as you can get without falling in.  November 30, 2013.  Weather fine, pleasant breeze, scattered to broken overcast late in the day.  Nice place here by the sea.

I came back from the island with a major case of indecision on my hands, and not all of it mine.  The  archaeologist had been contemplating rejoining me for a delta tour after her serious work elsewhere, and I have been very interested in getting to Phnom Penh in time for another conference, and the timing had some interesting problems. . .so, needing to catch up on a lot of writing and sorting of photographs, I got off the boat from the Island and trekked straight back to the hotel here in Ha Tien, re-established my internet connection and settled in to work.  Now the indecision is over, the archaeologist is heading north, the paper is off to the editors, I'm heading west and tomorrow morning will be time to go.  So before we get all involved with crossing borders and trying to remember how to say "toilet" in Khmer, I think I'd best tell you at least a little about Ha Tien.

Ha Tien has largely re-made itself since 2005 when first I passed this way.  Then you rattled into town on the tag end of QL80 across, no kidding, an old US Army pontoon bridge.  The racket even a little motorbike makes on such a bridge is amazing, banging and clanging loose connections from pontoon to roadway segment and back again. . .I'd love to hear a tank or 5-ton truck go across.  But that's all gone now, there's a lovely new high rise concrete bridge across the river (which makes it a lot easier for the boats to come and go to Phu Quoc, among other things.  In 2008 they were rebuilding the ratty old waterfront, driving sheet pile and casting concrete seawalls and so on, even building a new fish market.  I expected it would turn out to be a Fisherman's Terminal sort of place, but that wasn't the plan. . .Fish in the fish market, certainly, but they come in from the fishing port upriver a couple of kilometers, so all those fish ride up past town in a boat and switch to a truck to come back to the market.  Oh well, it makes for a clean and pleasant smelling promenade.  Unlike a number of other towns in Viet Nam that have remade their waterfront in the past few years (and if they have a waterfront, they've probably remade it), I never knew Ha Tien well enough to be sad about whatever it is that's gone, I can just enjoy their efforts at a pretty riverfront walk and a new hotel and restaurant zone surrounding the new markets.  Markets, as in separate new buildings for the fish market, the dry goods market, and the meat and vegetable market.  We're still on the edge of the delta here and the superabundance of food in the markets is astounding, but more, the brand new, brightly colored market buildings surrounded by the brand new, brightly colored hotels. . .makes for a brand new brightly colored sort of town.  That's fine, down the 2nd street back from the water and far enough to be well past the new tourist zone, you can still find my favorite little hotel here. The young people who run the place have two more kids now (three total, all girls and cute as bugs ears) and they're still some of the sweetest people I've met.  The rooms are clean and bright, the fans and internet connections work, the hot water. . .well, you don't really need hot water much this far south.  There's even a tiny desk with its own tiny chair.  So the paper got written (and so did a few more articles for the website, keep your eyes on for the next week or two).

Besides the fishing boat harbor, the boat yard, the wide expanse of river, the splendid inexpensive street food, the corny movies on the hotel's TV downstairs. . .besides all that, Ha Tien has two interesting Buddhist temples.  One is the highest on a mountainside I've ever climbed the steps to. . .but not otherwise too stunning.  The other is absolutely stunning, gorgeous, done by a real artist of an architect, built by master craftsmen, and maintained and gardened by loving hands.  I didn't understand more than a little bit of what I was told, but there are 21 people in residence, 13 kids (some just six or seven I think), six nuns and 2 priests.  Maybe.  Anyway, not to worry about how many of what category, the kids were too cute with their almost shaved heads (they leave a ponytail off to one side in front on the novices, the grown ups shave their heads completely) and the nun who showed me around was very nice, but the stunning architecture, statuary and air of the place was unbelievable, without doubt the finest religious building and grounds I've ever seen.  And, naturally, my photos don't begin to do it justice.  To begin with, the light was too bright for the camera to take in all the range of brightness, so I have washed out highlights or blank shadows. . ,take your pick.  Still, if you can never come here to see it yourself, you can get some notion from them.

I'm to cross over into Cambodia later this morning so must go now.  Here are just a few photos.
There are three separate windows framing this Quan Am. . .after you've passed through the main area of the sanctuary.  I've seen nothing like it anywhere in Viet Nam.  The photo doesn't begin. . .

Novice going by in a hurry

Or, if you prefer quiet serenity. . .

Well. . .as I said, it doesn't begin to do justice to the building.  Never mind.  and I don't seem to have anything good at all from the entrance and exterior. . .h'mm.  I'll make time to go back by on my way to the border.

Look closely at the rowing position. . .port side oar is way aft of starboard.  WHY?  They're all like that here.

A really pretty little "Thailand boat", still near Ha Tien

Looking upriver from the top steps of the tall temple. . .can't believe I made it to the top.  No, I won't tell you how often I stopped. . .

Ha Tien from way up across the river.