Tuesday, November 13, 2007—Nha Trang, Viet Nam
The tenders take us into Nha Trang, Viet Nam for our 9:30 a.m. tour. The area is beautiful. According to our information from the ship, this is where there are lots of resorts and beach areas that are becoming a popular tourist destination. Green hills rise up from the shore line around the bay. Gondolas move across a cable stretched over the bay to an island on the other side.
If there are five star hotels here, we are not going to see them today. We do pass a nice beach but the water looks a bit green and muddy. There was a storm that passed through a few days before our arrival—a typhoon. According to the news reports, parts of Viet Nam flooded but we see no obvious indication of that here.
Our first stop is at a private (Catholic, I think) pre-school. The kids are ages 3-5. The threes sit in little chairs in a semi-circle and sing for us. Next we see the fours. Another song and some costumes. The fives however offer us a full program of traditional song and dance and costume. They are full of energy and seem truly pleased to be able to perform for us. As we watch, I notice the kids seem to be anticipating something. Then, on a signal from their teacher, they rush to us with lively chatter and hug us. I am not the only one in tears. It is a touching moment. Now I miss my grandkids.
We learn that the school costs $10/week if we understand our guide correctly. We are having difficulty with his English.
Vendors swarm the bus hawking their postcards, purses, shirts, and paintings. Everything as usual, is negotiable and much is “one dollah!”
The next stop is a farmer’s market in a little farm town. As we travel, we see acres of rice paddies. They surround the homes here. Like in China, every bit of acreage is used. One paddy is full of ducks. A farmer is raising them for food but our guide implies that it is a problem here because the ducks eat the rice plants and the duck farmers don’t always contain their livestock.
The farmers market is under a huge pavilion in the center of the town and is “open air.” There are various levels of cement platforms. Vendors spread their wares on the raised platforms and sit in the middle of what they are selling—vegetables, fish, poultry, rice noodles. The place reeks of fish smells and I don’t know what else. Rotting vegetables, maybe. Flies are everywhere. I take a picture of a cleaned chicken or duck like you would find in one of our supermarkets without the plastic wrap. Flies are swarming all over it. We don’t stop but make our way through and out to fresh air.
The street vendors pursue us again and we realize they have just been following the bus on their motor scooters. Our guide mentions there are 80 million people in Viet Nam and 60 million motor scooters. Next month they will be required to wear helmets because of the increasing number of fatalities from accidents. There are few cars, some trucks on the road and I marvel at how nice our buses are all things considered.
A Buddhist temple is next. We aren’t certain that’s what it is and I have to ask passengers from another bus to confirm that. It is not as ornate as those we’ve seen in other countries. In the courtyard, women are weaving samples of sleeping mats. There are children there selling the samples for. . .yep, “one dollah.” I hand out the candy I’ve collected from my pillow at night to the kids I see. As we head inside, I wonder why they aren’t in school. I could ask but I probably wouldn’t be able to understand the answer.
The temple is nothing remarkable.
As we pull up in front of a farmhouse, I am amazed that we will be invading this little place like we did in China. This home is even smaller. There are three rooms across the front of the house which look more like three niches set into one large room. There are three sets of doors that all open out making the whole house exposed to the outdoors. Many of the houses we passed have been like that.
The lady of the house greets us at the end of the short walkway. She nods and smiles. Her yard is full of green tropical plants. Some are flowering. We approach the first room which is set up like a shrine with the picture of a man in the middle of a table full of candles and statues. Our guide explains that her husband died three months ago. Are we taking advantage of a widow or is this a way for her to survive? I hope the latter and I pray the tour company pays her well.
The second room appears to be a dining area. There is a cabinet with china in it and a small table and chairs. A young boy, perhaps nine or ten, sits impatiently in a chair in the third room watching the stream of visitors pass by. At the end of the three rooms, are two cubicles that are sleeping areas. I see a wooden platform in one with a sleeping mat in a similar pattern to the sample I bought. The other has a hammock and smaller bed.
A small room in the back is the “kitchen.” It doesn’t resemble anything I’m familiar with but has some pots and pans hanging on the wall. We are told the “bathroom” is behind the house but there is a bottleneck because one of the walkways is blocked by a barking dog no one wants to pass near. I turn and exit the way I came. Bob shows me a picture of the traditional bathroom. It looks like a porcelain bowl on the floor. He says there’s a brush next to it to keep it clean.
On our way out, the vendors get a little more aggressive grabbing our arm to stop us as they shove their wares at us and insist we buy. I notice there are police or security guards who are making sure they don’t board the bus. As we pull away, I watch the eager salespeople run for their scooters and fall in line next to us. I wonder how they will stay on these narrow roads with the buses.
There is a “Kodak picture spot” along the way. A half dozen women and a farmer with some water buffalo are waiting on us to stop and take pictures. The ladies try to sell us rice stalks but our guide has already picked up some pieces for us to examine. We take pictures of the farmer and his team as well as the women wading almost knee-high in the rice paddy.
Our last stop is a nice open air restaurant that is next to some body of water—an inlet or river. We are served a plate of fruit including the delicious Dragon Fruit. The meat is white with tiny dark seeds and tastes a bit like a kiwi with more of an apple texture. I wonder what it looks like before it is cut? The coconut milk is supposed to be a treat but I’ve had better. It is served right in the coconut which has had the outer shell removed. The coconuts are very light in color and the meat inside is soft rather than hard like others I’ve had. It is not as sweet either. There is a group of musicians that supplies some beautiful soft music as we eat.
The toilets are tolerable.
We wind our way through another onslaught of vendors to board the bus. At the dock where the tenders pick up, there are numerous stalls of all sorts of merchandise. Most of them are selling freshwater pearls if you can believe they are real. There are lots of lacquered articles and many knock-offs. We buy three lacquer boxes and a “Coach” bag to help us get our souvenirs home. After some negotiating, the bag is reduced from $17 to $12 US. The temperature is climbing and we decide to head for the air conditioned ship.