Da Nang Me!

Da Nang is going to be the Miami Beach of Vietnam, maybe of SE Asia.  Everywhere you looked were cranes in the sky: companies building hotels.  And given the year-round warmth, the crystal clear bath-warm water, the sawdust-fine sands…it’s no wonder everybody wants to build a vacation wonderland here.  Apparently foreigners can own homes and condos but you can’t purchase land. Otherwise it’d be a no-brainer to get in now.  The infrastructure is growing and the streets are clean, relative to other developing countries we’ve visited.

In addition to the beach though there are other wonders here. Our first excursion was to the “Marble Mountains”, a religious site carved into and around caves created millennia ago by receding icebergs.  We were floored by the Big Cave temple and the labyrinth of passages one could follow through the rocks to discover hidden alters.  Courtney even braved a climb down through a hole only 4 feet wide into a cave with Buddhist relics. We agreed that this was one of the most impressive sites we’d seen in Asia so far, an unexpected surprise.

The entrance to the Marge Mountains. One look at that and we knew we were in for an incredible experience. 

Inside one of the caves. The Buddha behind us was carved out of stone inside the cave.  And it was at least 20 feet above us!

The Lady Buddha that overlooks Da Nang shouldn’t be missed either.  She’s only a decade old but she stands tall over stunning views of the city. It says something that the city erected a female god to protect it.  When speaking with some locals, they even said that in Vietnam, it’s the women who work more often than the men do.

Quite a majestic lady

Her gaze reaches to Hoi An, a decidedly touristy but simply lovely, quaint town a mere 25 minutes by cab from Da Nang.  This is where you go to have clothing tailor made for peanuts.  But we loved Hoi An for the romantically lit Old City with its ornate foot bridges and Venice-like gondolas. Of course there was the  myriad market vendors peddling anything and everything from ice cream to T shirts to worthless trinkets as well.  We spent two evenings in Hoi An, one with Courtney’s friend Kristyn who is also traveling Asia, and a second alone.

Everyone kept telling us Hoi An was the city of lanterns. We didn’t understand why until we got there. These beautiful lights are strung across the entire town!  

Date night 🙂

Originally we were only going to stay for a few days but we ended stayin for two extra days in DaNang so Courtney could recover a bit from getting a crappy cold.  Which meant Edward was forced to play two days of golf at the very nice resort courses in town.  Oh darn.  Both days he had a blast playing with locals who spoke great english – one playing companion even drove him back to the hotel and they chatted about the political mess in America.

Speaking of political messes, one unnerving moment was when our first hotel in Da Nang asked to surrender our passports while staying with them.  They said they had to take them to the local police station and register us.  Apparently the law is that anyone sleeping anywhere other than their own home must register.  We politely informed them we would not give up our passports and they’d have to use photocopies.  It was a little tense.   They looked genuinely worried about using photocopies, but we were firm.  In the end they relented.   And our second hotel made no such demand.   Huh.

We’re supposed to hit Hue and Hanoi next, but because we extended DaNang we decided we were done with Vietnam.  However that left us with almost an extra week of time before we needed to be anywhere.  Where could we jump to next before heading back to Thailand?  Why not China?  Why not, indeed!!


America: The Evil Empire

After a slight detour off-track, we finally landed in Vietnam, with a couple weeks to explore the country.  Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon.  One of the things we did to prep for our trip was to get pre-approved visas for as many countries as possible.  Vietnam was one of those countries, especially after speaking with friends who said doing the visa on arrival in Vietnam was slightly difficult.  Apparently it made no difference to the Border Patrol.  We were herded to an area along with all other visitors, where they barked two words at us: “papers” and “move”.  The application required us to not only provide our own personal information, but information on our family members, where they all lived, and our religious affiliation.  Then we were told to relinquish our passports with these forms to them and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  After about an hour they called our names and made us pay for our  visas again. So we double-paid for our visas.  Welcome to communist Vietnam!

One of the great things about this trip is that for many of the cities we visited, someone knew someone who had been there and were able to provide us with lots of valuable information.  This was one of those cities.  We booked ourselves an incredible apartment for our stay that was nicer than our places back home!  Not only that, but we had a list of restaurants and food to eat that could have kept us occupied for a couple weeks.  So we had a great place to sleep and great food to eat.  Our first night there we had a killer sushi dinner, and one of the other nights we had take away from an adorable little cafe.  We wished we’d had more time there so we could continue working our way thru all the recommended food places.

For the first time, we felt an anti-American presence in our travels.  During our stay we visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.  Both told the story of what it was like to be in Vietnam during the war and fight for your country.  The tunnels are admittedly impressive: hundreds of miles of three-level deep tunnels where the North Vietnamese Army launched gorilla-warfare during the conflict.  But the video at the end of the tour not only applauded the efforts of the people to be “War Hero American Killers” but also propagated the illusion that war was fun – soldiers and villagers hanging out playing cards, laughing, having fun and casually killing Americans in their spare time.  We were not surprised that they spoke highly of killing the enemy (Americans) – after all, we do the same thing back in the States for our war heroes – but the accompanying  propaganda we encountered was mind-blowing.  One story extolling the Reunification of the Country was about authorities transferring thousands of children from small towns to go live in “communities where they are happy and play and are loved by all”.  Wonder how their parents felt about that.  And of course the glorification and glamorization of the war as if it was a fun thing to go do on a Saturday night.

Courtney pretending she went down into the tunnels…

Edward actually at the end of going thru the tunnels!!

The visit after the tunnels to the War Remnants museum was incredibly difficult.  Throughout this trip we have not shied away from visits to historical sites of war and death – the Hiroshima war museum, the Killing Fields in Cambodia – but this was almost to the next level.  You walk into the outer area of the museum and they have a half dozen American fighter planes on display that had been shot down or discarded.  Then off to the side they have a jail cell set up that you can walk thru.  There in graphic detail were descriptions of the types of torture the South Vietnamese (with the help of their American partners, of course) perpetrated on the North, as well as displays of items used to carry out the torture and photos of the people who were tortured.  That was too much for us and we left without seeing the rest of the museum.

The guillotine – one of the many torture/killing artifacts we saw at the War Remnants Museum

By chance, we happened to be there during their Memorial weekend and Reunification celebrations (aka: “winning the war against America”).  Our first night there we walked around and watched all the celebrations, until we realized they were celebrating their version of winning the war, and that maybe being American made us a little conspicuous.  Nothing happened, just a general sense of slight unease.

Of course, quietly interwoven throughout all this anti-American/Westernism were Starbucks, KFC and Adidas.    Taken altogether Ho Chi Minh City appears to still be fighting the Americans (and French), albeit non-violently.

We might have stayed longer simply because we wanted to keep eating, but we had already booked our plane tickets to our next stop.  So off we go to DaNang!!