Okay, so I couldn’t help use at least one reference to Apocalypse Now. I’ve got it out of the way, and I can go forward with the titles…
I can’t even say why this is titled as such, other than the fact that despite my careful budgeting for a massage every day, I have been unable to indulge since Hoi An. It seems my little slip at the top of the waterfall in Bach Ma gave me a good deep bruise on my back, and today, just when I was thinking about braving the torture (it hurts so good) of a massage, I go and get a nice sunburn. I know, mom, I should have known better. I guess I just don’t do enough snorkeling to realize how much white pasty flesh you expose when you’re looking down at all the cute fish. And I’m sure the sand volleyball sessions didn’t help either. Anyway, I’m about to leave Nha Trang, the self titled massage capital of Vietnam, without sampling some of the expertise. The vendors tend not to take no for an answer, and I had to turn down a pedicure and foot massage as well. So, I leave the Tiger Balm experience behind me as I head to the blessed coolness of Da Lat, where I hope to spend most of my remaining time. Somehow the idea of Saigon (oops, sorry – Ho Chi Minh City) being a very hot, very large, and very crowded city just doesn’t appeal to me after the smaller cities.
I’ve now been on the "tourist open tour route" for a few days, and I’m already missing the daily contact I had with the Vietnamese in Hanoi and Hue. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying…. I arrived from Hoi An yesterday after the right-of-passage overnight bus trip, bleary eyed and in need of a shower and sleep. This bus trip, unlike the overnight from Hanoi to Hue, did not have people laying down in the aisle. Instead, we had luggage packed all the way up to the front. It made getting in and out a bit difficult, and some crazy people with window seats (who shall remain nameless) actually used the window as an exit at some stops.
After my morning refresher, I rented a moto to cruise around Nha Trang, and found plenty of development. I counted 6 new hotels being built on the main drag, and these are all huge multi-national type of hotels. At the current end of the beach front road, there is a golf course and resort being built that will rival anything in developed countries. It will be interesting to see what this place looks like in 5 years.
I then went to a few sites, a Cham temple and a Buddhist temple. The Buddhist temple has this huge white Buddha on top of a hill, and you can see it from almo st the whole city. This Buddha is to honor all the monks who self-immolated themselves during the 60s and 70s to protest then President Diem’s intolerance of Buddhism. Seems that he felt religion got in the way of patriotism. Sounds familiar? The only reason I’m mentioning this is because of an interesting experience. As I walk in, I’m accosted by the usual post card and trinket kids, but at least they wore nametags and seemed "official". Then, as I started the climb up, I’m handed a bundle of incense. I tell the girl that I don’t want it, and she says to take it and pay when I come back if I use it. Sure, OK. So on the way back I’m reading a bunch of collected wisdom from Buddhist texts, such as the goodness of virtue, do not get angry, respect your elders, etc., and I’m thinking that regardless of what is True, they should be nice guys. Well, I get back to the bottom and low and behold, I still have my incense. So I give it back to the girl, and while keeping this post rated PG, she told me where I could go and what I could do to myself because I didn’t buy a 20,000 dong bundle of incense. Kind of blew my feeling of peace and oneness with the world!
One other ever present thing in Vietnam that accompanies the traveler is the wonderfully cheesy music. There must be an official "Tourist Music Standard," because everywhere I go I either hear 60s & 70s folk or instrumental Muzak favorites such as Yesterday, The Girl from Ipanema, and some Christmas tune. The Christmas theme also carries over to the street vendors, who seem to love the monochromatic electronic tones found in cheap trinkets, and of course they’re all Christmas tunes. Just kind of bizarre walking down the beach at night seeing the popcorn vendor dole out bags of popcorn to the tune of Silver Bells.
For one of my cooking classes, the owner deftly changed the CD when we sat down and we were entertained for 3 hours to John Denver, The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, Bob Dylan, and even a special Captain and Tennille tune. Needless to say, I was humming along but my 20-something companions were a bit lost except for Olivia.
Then today topped it off. After lunch, the the crew of the boat that was taking us around the bay put together a very rag-tag band and proceeded to bless us with very bad music, but it was live! They went around and asked where everyone was from, and then did a song from that country. The Canadian was peeved when they said it was the "same same" as the US, but not near as peeved as the Kiwis when told they were the "same same" as Aussies. The best of the day was when the two guys from Sweden challenged them to sing a song from their country, and because of the bad sound system, they couldn’t understand that the band has one song with a bunch of la la las that they use for obnoxious tourists from small countries. The rest of us understood, but because they thought the song was really Swedish and were trying to figure out what song it was, they missed the point completely!
So that’s it from Nha Trang, as I only have one more night to avoid the party scene that permeates this place. And at the risk of sounding like a smug stick-in-the-mud, I don’t understand why people travel to places like Vietnam and then just want to hang out with people from their own country, eat food from their own country, and dance to music from their own country, with the only concession being that they drink the local beer because it is so much cheaper than the imports. Just can’t seem to complete a post without some ranting about something!