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Vietnam

Nha Trang: Buddhas, Waterfalls, and Tết


View 2020 on mrb430's travel map.

After a week or so of trying to be adventurous travelers in Vietnam - you know sightseeing, eating street food, walking the streets - we've settled into our normal routine of not doing much and just hanging out. Back to that "it's life not vacation" mantra! Because truly, at the end of the day, I feel like Nha Trang is really just more enjoyable as a beach town and if you don't ask it to be more than that, you won't be disappointed. And, spending a month in a beach town isn't all bad! Especially when beach chairs and an umbrella are $6.
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It took a few days by the pool, some country music, and some good cocktails at a rooftop bar (eight American-style cocktails for $35), but we've got our groove back.
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It isn't place to move and that's sort of disappointing but we're excited to keep searching out "home" in Asia.

BUDDHAS AND TEMPLES

When we first arrived we were going out for walks in the morning and we walked out to Chùa Long Sơn, a buddhist temple. We can see the 24 meter tall white concrete Buddha from our apartment so it was an obvious destination. As a bonus, there is also a reclining Buddha and a nice temple.
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Walking around is definitely an adventure here and not for the faint of heart. We've pretty much given it up except on the beach walk and in the tourist zone. The reality its that nobody walks anywhere here, except tourists. As a result, the sidewalks are filled with parked motor scooters, things for sale, tables, and food stalls. It is not a walk-friendly city (more on that in a minute). But if you get out you do get to see other temples and occasionally a really pretty sight like a courtyard filled with orchids.
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And as it's Tết, the sidewalks are filled with huge potted flowers and flowering trees for sale that are an integral part of household celebrations.
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One thing you don't see, as a visitor, is many real signs that you're in a communist country other than the ubiquitous hammer and sickle flags and the communist-style concrete architecture. There are other subtle things like the morning and evening broadcasts of the news over loud speakers throughout the city, which we assume include patriotic announcements and music, and the plethora of what appear to be government and party buildings. But really, it's not at all a thing as a tourist.

So about the walking thing. Anything you read about Vietnam will mention the motor scooters.
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What they don't really get across is that there are literally no traffic signals or stop signs. Traffic just "flows". Crossing the street consists of walking into traffic, keeping a steady pace so the scooters and cars can avoid you, and hoping for the best. It's total chaos. But as with everything, time breeds familiarity and if we still aren't comfortable with it, we can navigate it. The craziest thing we saw was a railroad crossing near the temple. You have to check out this video to see the reality of it all.

The other crazy thing about scooters is how many people ride on one. It is totally normal to see a family of four on a scooter together. (Not the best capture from video but can you make out the family in the bottom left?)
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One kid up front, the driver, second kid wedged in between the driver and the other parent on the back. I've wondered whether there is an inherent incentive not to have more than two kids as that's all they can fit on the scooter. And kids don't wear helmets. It's insane. The parents all do but maybe one in a hundred kids has a helmet.

WATERFALLS

From our balcony we see the hills surrounding Nha Trang and we wanted to get into them as there are supposed to be an assortment of waterfalls to see. Many have been taken over by tourist infrastructure with everything from gondolas to restaurants to spas. But luckily one day while lazing on the beach, we were approached by Lac and invited to take a tour with him. A local from Nha Trang, his wife has a sidewalk coffee cafe around the corner from us, he knew of an off the beaten path waterfall and included a visit to the market to buy our lunch, stops at local " craft villages", and a BBQ lunch at the falls.

CRAFT "VILLAGES"
So the idea of a village is different near the city. It's really impossible to tell where the city ends and a village begins. But even in the city there are small areas with entries and signs and flags denoting the entry to a specific "village". The first we stopped at, women were making rice paper. Really fascinating. They use the rice husks to burn for fuel, prepare the tapioca and rice mixture in huge vats, make the rice paper over the fire, and then lay them out to dry. Yep, right on the street. Yum! Seriously though, they were tasty.
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At the next one, women were weaving traditional sleeping mats. Beautiful but I can't imagine sleeping on one - not too comfy!
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THE MARKET
Chợ Đầm Market is a huge indoor/outdoor market selling everything under the sun. The food section, as always with market like this, is a sight to behold. Here, it was the fresh seafood that was stunning. The shrimp are alive and wiggling, their little "feet" going a mile a minute. And you can't ignore that the chicken still have their feet here! We bought chicken, prawns, and lobster for lunch!
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THE WATERFALL
The drive to the waterfall was both beautiful and unsettling. The rice fields and forest were beautiful but so much land is being "slashed and burned" to clearcut for bananas and mangos. It's really sad to see these open scars in the otherwise green and lush forest. Ah progress. But let's focus on the beautiful - it's what we try to do.
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The waterfall itself wasn't that impressive and after the waterfalls in Baja the water clarity and litter was a bit of a let down but it was a fun hike, a nice place to relax and swim, and a great picnic spot. Lac was a great chef!
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As a side note, the Vietnamese đồng is one of the least valuable currencies in the world. One dollar is 23,000 đồng. So spending a million đồng isn't that hard. Our tour, all in, was 1.16M đồng each ($100 total). You get used to it. My method is: divide by two, take off four digits, and subtract a bit! One benefit is there are no coins! Score!

Lunar New Year and Tết Nguyên Đán

Tét is the most important Vietnamese holiday. It is a combination of the Lunar New Year and the celebration that follows and reminds us a lot of how the US goes all out for Christmas with decorations and lights everywhere.
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The biggest symbol is the yellow flower of the Mai tree, a relative of the Apricot.
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So much so that there are cutouts of it pasted all over and even fake ones added to other shrubs and trees. Those red envelopes symbolize the money gifts given within a family but every tree everywhere has them, not just in homes.
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The celebration begins about a week before the actual New Year. In the week before, Vietnamese people clean up their kitchen and prepare food to offer in the farewell ceremony for the Kitchen Gods. As I understand it, it is said that Kitchen God’s task is to report to the King of Heaven about the family’s affairs throughout the year and to wish for a lucky and prosperous new year. In Nha Trang, many, many businesses do this, too, including our hotel and the bank next door. Some even have monks in to do a blessing. No idea what they do will all the food afterwards.
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Then it's New Year's and there is a huge fireworks show and concerts. The beach and streets are packed with people having fun - just like the 4th of July!
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And now, in Tết (the week after New Years), it seems like people are out in the streets just trying to make as much noise as possible using firecrackers, drums, bells, gongs, and anything they can think of to ward off evil spirits. This morning, beginning at 8:00 AM, a group of Lion Dancers (Lan) started up in the street below us. The Lan is an animal between a lion and a dragon, and is the symbol of strength in the Vietnamese culture that is used to scare away evil spirits.
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So a word about the Vietnamese people. Everyone says the Vietnamese are so very friendly. While we haven't found them unfriendly, we also wouldn't say they are over the top welcoming. Of course, we spend most of our time in the "tourist zone" where I'm sure it gets a little tiring to always be friendly to foreigners. Especially when most of them are Russians and Chinese - two peoples that are not well-liked by the Vietnamese for all kinds of historical and modern reasons. Usually, once they realize we're American, they become friendlier. Amazing but true. There aren't a lot of fluent English-speakers but most people have enough to communicate a little. When we get out of the tourist zone, people just seem to wonder why we're there and it feels kinda like they wish we'd just go back ha! I suppose if you lived here and they saw you day after day things would change but the language barrier is a significant hurdle and its seems most Westerners kind of stick together in a few places.

SCUBA DIVING

Scott did his first dive here!
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The dive company was very good though there were only two divers on the boat with a ton of snorkelers. The diving is nice but nothing special. Having Roatan, one of the best dive sites in the world, as your first experience gives other places a pretty high bar to live up to! But he enjoyed being in the water and rediscovering his skills and he's excited to do more as we travel on.

WHAT'S NEXT!

We booked travel to Bangkok for after the Super Bowl - we do have out priorities! We found a good sports bar here that either plays in real time or rebroadcasts the games so we've been following the playoffs! GO CHIEFS!! We will be watching the Super Bowl along with you, albeit at 6:30 am Monday morning. After Bangkok we're planning a side trip to Angkor Wat, the Hindu temple complex in Cambodia that is the largest religious monument in the world and so-called "8th Wonder of the World". Then it's on to the Thai and Malaysian islands for more scuba diving. You can check out our notional map here.

Posted by mrb430 21:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Good Morning From Vietnam!

We're back!


View 2020 & 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

It's taken us awhile to get the travel mojo back after our month in the US but we're back and excited for the year to come!

A brief catching up is likely in order.

DECEMBER WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

We landed in DC on December 4th and moved into our AirBnB in Alexandria. To say it was a shock to our systems would be a major understatement. Our two weeks were "blessed" with cloudy days, rain, and cold. I suppose we had a few karmic dues to pay for all the sun but still... We made the best of it hanging out in our apartment in front of the fire, catching up on Netflix, enjoying our roof deck, and drinking our share of Bloody Marys...
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...in between catching up with friends (apologies for those of you missing from the pics!)...
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...and celebrating some serious life milestones with the girls as Courtney graduated from Nursing School and Morgan from Law School.
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Then it was off to Colorado to be with my parents for the holidays. We had a lot of good times and thankfully some sun!
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Courtney came out to visit and my nephew, Jean and his girlfriend, came out, too. We also got to spend some good times with my niece Kalyn who has moved to Denver.
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It was a good visit and we enjoyed seeing everyone!

OUR FIRST TRIP ACROSS THE PACIFIC

We decided to break up the 22+ hour flight into segments and so glad we did! We flew from Denver to LA and spent the night before catching our flight to Tokyo.

NARITA, JAPAN
We spent two nights in Narita Town, Japan. It's a 14 hour flight from LA to the main airport in Narita outside Tokyo. I guess I have to mention that we actually flew into Haneda. Yep, I screwed that up. Luckily, Japan being the easy and efficient place it is, there was a direct bus between the two that took and hour and cost about $10. Say it with me, "double check when there are two airports serving a city!" In any case, we made it to Narita Town, the small town outside Narita airport, and checked into our hotel without any other issues.

Narita Town is a really cool little place. We had a day to explore and were happy to find it had a large Buddhist temple complex and garden to explore. It was quite crowded with Japanese tourists visiting the temple to make their yearly offerings for good fortune in the coming year. We felt lucky to have happened on it at this time to see the cultural activities and share it with them. We were among only a handful of Westerners in the whole town.
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I highly recommend this town as a stop over. The pedestrian street is packed with restaurants and coffee shops and the park is beautiful and free!

Quirky things about Japan:

  1. The toilet seats in even the smallest restaurant and at the park were heated!
  2. About 40% of the population are wearing surgical masks and they come in all colors and styles. Makes you feel like your in the movie Contagion!
  3. Everyone follows the rules and there are instructions for everything. It's super easy and organized!
  4. You need instructions to use the toilet as they have about 10 functions other than flushing waste!
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AND FINALLY, VIETNAM - OUR 20TH COUNTRY TOGETHER

As you may recall if you read regularly, our plan was (yep, was) to move to Vietnam and stay here for the foreseeable future using it as a launching point for SE Asian travels. Those plans have changed.

NHA TRANG: COMPLETE CHAOS - WITH A BEACH
Nha Trang, where we chose to land, is billed as a "smaller" city that is less chaotic and more beach oriented. I suppose this is true if you're comparing it to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, but it is a pretty big and sprawling city nonetheless. It does have a beautiful beach and a really nice park along most of it...and the thousands of Russian and Chinese tourists seem to really like it!
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It took us about a week to get our feet under us, both from the 12 hour time change and the severe environment shock. This isn't Kansas, Toto. We've found a few places to hang out, found street vendors with food we like (Báhn Mì!), and are generally getting a feel for the place. Maybe we were unwise to embark on Vietnam for our first SE Asian experience since it isn't as developed to Western standards as other countries like Thailand. Or, maybe we shouldn't make big plans based on research alone. Or maybe if we were 65 year old men looking for a young wife or just wanted a few weeks at the beach, Nha Trang would be our spot. Okay, maybe all of those things! But alas...we went back to the drawing board and are re-planning our year. Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia here we come! We're gonna explore and search out somewhere that actually fits our requirements. So stay tuned as we figure all this out. So thankful we have the luxury of time and the willingness to admit when we're wrong!

It's not all bad, though. There is a lot to see and do and, well, there is the beach and the pool!
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Stay tuned for a post on how we're filling out our time here before heading to Bangkok.

Posted by mrb430 03:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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