We are only going to one port in Vietnam – Nha Trang. And there were only two tours offered by the ship – one to see the countryside and one more in the city. Since we have spent weeks in the Vietnamese countryside, we opted for the city tour.
The sail in was pretty. It was a bit hazy in the early morning so all the small islands we passed didn’t show up clearly in my pictures. By the time we arrived at the dock, it was clear and sunny. We did not dock near the downtown area, but here is what it looked like with the early morning light shining on it.
One of the great things about arriving early was seeing all the fishing boats coming in. Here is an example of one. They tend to be very colorful – bright blues and reds. Also, you can see the Vietnamese flag with the Communist symbol. Also there are two brown woven baskets turned upside down near the front on top of the nets. These are used to paddle from the shore back out to the boat when it is in the harbor. Here is how it looks with one man, one basket, and one oar. I had never seen anything like this before. Also there are a lot of wooden boats here. We saw lots of them.
Our tour began with a bus ride into downtown Nha Trang with a population of about 550,000. We went to an embroidery shop. On past cruises, we had seen several of these shops with the main purpose of selling their works. And in fairness, they are beautiful. However, we were surprised at the high quality of this particular shop. We saw a demonstration and then were free to walk around and watch the ladies stitching. Some work alone, others work together on a fabric. The pattern is first drawn on, and then stitched. It truly is incredible. The stitches they take are so tiny and the thread so fine. The finished products look the same on both the front and the back.
Before getting back on the bus, we walked across the very busy street, dodging the typical mode of transportation – motorcycles! The city of Nha Trang is built around the water. Years ago this city was a sleepy little fishing village. But in the past few years, due to government and private investments, it has been transformed into a thriving beachside resort town with a gorgeous beach promenade several miles long, now attracting both local and international visitors. I wish I had had the time to stick my toe in the ocean there – actually the South China Sea! It was a beautiful beach area and we wanted to get a glimpse of it.
Our guide was a young Vietnamese girl who wanted very much to please all of us. She kept asking if we understood what she said. And we all did since her English was very good. Another wonderful phrase she used was “My happiness is yours.” She also told us about Bird Nest soup – a Vietnamese soup you often see on a menu. It is made (at least here) from the actual bird nests of swallows (the bird.) It is a great delicacy and what the Vietnamese people want from this soup is the actual saliva of the swallow. This bird uses its saliva to make its nest. Our table mates ordered it off the ship in one of our southeast Asian ports and it cost $50 for each bowl. They had no idea!
Our next stop was the Long son Pagoda which was founded in the late 19th century and has been rebuilt several times. It is now home to fewer than 10 monks. Behind it sits the white Buddha on a lotus blossom. The entrance and roofs are decorated with mosaic dragons made of glass and ceramic tile. The attention to detail is beautiful here. We did see a few monks here and learned that monks wear yellow to worship, gray when they are in their private rooms, and brown when they are outside.
We stopped in the elaborate pagoda temple. This is the main alter. An older man rang a gong and even let one of our group ring it once. This temple pays tribute to the lives and tragic deaths of the monks who so dramatically set themselves on fire as a protest against the Vietnam War. It is a somber reminder of the tragedies of Vietnam which ended with the reunification of the country just 30 years ago.
This Pagoda is marked by the huge white Buddha statue that sits behind it and was built in 1963. We had the option of walking the 208 steps to see it up close. And after walking many more and steeper steps to see the Great Buddha in Lantau just days before, this was a piece of cake! Along the way, we passed a reclining Buddha and were encouraged to rub its elbow for good luck! Climbing to the top and being at the base of this incredible statue was well worth the walk. As we walked around behind it, you could see out over the city. And then if you happened to walk down a few steps, you saw rows and rows of these crypts. No one had mentioned them to us. After circling the entire Buddha, we walked back down the steps. The sky had grown darker as we were there, and I captured this one final look at the Buddha before leaving with the dark sky making it stand out even more.
We drove through parts of the city that were not so new and much more local. Here is a typical scene that we saw. I’m always amazed at the massive wires that are all so intertwined and run along the sides and across the roads. I don’t know how they would begin to try to repair one – or find the one that needed to be repaired!
Our next stop was the Nha Trang Harbor and the Xom Bong Bridge which goes across the water where the river and sea meet. This shallow harbor is where brightly painted blue and red fishing boats are moored – similar to the ones we saw when we sailed in to our dock.
A short walk took us to one of the major highlights of Nha Trang – the Po Nagar Cham Towers – one of the few remaining testaments to the ancient Cham civilization. These were built between the 7th and 12th centuries and today both Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists come to Po Nagar to pray and make offerings according to their beliefs. The complex consisted of eight towers – the “newest” from the 12th century. Only four spires remain today but they are the focus of the Buddhist community. These columns line the entrance where you used to have to climb very steep steps with offerings in hand to get to the actual Towers. Recently the government made a more accessible stairway to the top – and the one we took!
Here is an example of several of the Towers – very elaborate and ornate stonework. And the next picture is a close up of the detail in the design on one of them. Some are quite large, and some are small. Here are a couple of the larger ones. In some you could go inside and see where the offerings are made – after taking off your shoes. You also had to have long pants, now shorts to be able to enter these sacred shrines. Here is a picture of the inside of one of these. As you can see, they are elaborate inside as well as outside. They are very small and narrow and a bit dark as you enter. They had dancers and musicians, as well as little craft markets in this complex – and great views of the town below. It was a very interesting place to visit.
Our next stop was a huge local market place with everything you would ever want to buy in many different stalls. While I didn’t buy the food or spices, it was great to walk by them and just smell the wonderful fragrances. We did buy some Vietnamese bamboo hats because the florist on board the ship said he would be making flower arrangements with them. I’m hoping to make my own with the hats we bought when I get home.
That was the end of the tour and we made our way back to the ship through the town, passing again along the water front with the sea and beautifully groomed trees and shrubs. We also went by the Trap Tham Hong Tower – a memorial with a very unique look. I’ll have to Google it when I get home to understand its significance, but it was an interesting picture!
A couple of other interesting facts about Nha Trong we learned from our guide – in this town of 550,000 people, there is only one grocery store. Everyone shops the local markets. The reason you see the young girls wearing masks or scarves around their faces outside is because they don’t want their skin to get dark with the sun. The more natural and pale their skin, the more desirable they are to a potential husband. It is amazing how in our culture, the desire to have a nicely tanned body is a plus in a wedding dress! The fun of travel to learn these cultural differences!
The most striking fact, however, was when our guide told us there are about 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, and they all live in harmony respecting one another. There is no discrimination. How refreshing!!
And a final few quick facts I want to have in my journal for my own records so I don’t forget – and what our travel guide on the ship told us in her talk about Vietnam: the eastern dragons are seen in lots of the artwork here and are part of the mythology as well. They fly but have no wings. The outfits that the Vietnamese women wear are called Ao Dai – their traditional garb. They wear pants with a long top that is split up the side fairly high. The purpose of the long split is to accommodate riding motorcycles – their most common mode of transportation.
We did and saw a lot in our four hour tour, but it was a very hot day and we were worn out by the time we got back to the ship. There was a shuttle bus that went into the town, but as much as we would have enjoyed a great Thai lunch, we passed. We preferred a long, cold shower to any food!
This town and surrounding area is a destination for beaches and resorts for the most part. Where we are docked, you can take a cable car or ferry to the nearby island where the resort Vin Pearl is located – a very popular resort area here. As a visitor, you can have a “resort day” here for about $25. But in addition to the resort aspect, I found it was a destination that also offered many other great things to see and do – and a lot of history here as well. As always, more time would have been even better! I think I say that about almost every port!
On the dock by our ship, the local vendors set up many stalls with all kinds of local items to sell. One of the things we bought for our three grandsons were little bottles with snakes embalmed inside that is supposed to be very medicinal. We just thought they’d like the idea of snakes in bottles – such a little boy thing! We are hoping they won’t open them!
Before the ship left, there was a local show on the ship that was very good. The dancers were good and the costumes were interesting. But I liked the unusual instruments the most with their unique sounds.
It was a great day and we enjoyed it very much. We skipped the evening show and had an early night.