On the fourth day of our trip we decided we would leave Ho Chi Minh City. We got online, booked a flight and within a couple of hours were on a flight to Nha Trang. Just that quick! We had decided ahead of time that we were not forcing any timeline…we wanted to enjoy the country at our leisure and not be hemmed-in by itineraries. We had a rough estimate of what we wanted to do and see…but really flew by the seat of our pants, as the wind blew… As we boarded the plane, I just laughed; Greg and I were the only Americans and/or caucasians on the entire flight. These are little commuter flights and are filled with businessmen or those going to work in other parts of the country. It was interesting, and a little frustrating sitting on a flight hearing only Vietnamese. I wanted to know the language. That’s just a personality trait of mine…I want to learn ALL languages as we travel the globe. Our flight attendants went over the safety drills, seats belts, flotation devices, non-smoking flight etc, etc…..at least I THINK that’s what she was saying…..all in Vietnamese. It was fabulous as much as frustrating. This is the kind of thing that the hubster and I LOVE.
The flight to the little beach town of Nha Trang was short. We were off the plane and heading to our hotel in no time. We met a great Canadian couple in the airport and decided to share a cab into town. We were sort of like moths to a flame, being that we were the only four non-vietnamese in the airport. During our cab ride we talked of all of our travel within Vietnam and other areas of the world. We picked their brains on some of the other areas we will be traveling; more in SE Asia, India, places in Europe, etc and just like that we were on the South China Sea checking into our hotel. I had, in my minds-eye, envisioned what Nha Trang would look like….I was even more pleasantly surprised. It’s a wonderful little beach town. Lots of shops and places to eat., with great night life. Out of the hustle of HCMC. Very laid back and slow paced…except, as you guessed…the scooter population!! On the main roads these things were everywhere (again) We checked in, dropped our bags in our room, and were on the beach within minutes. I sat with awe and wonder staring out at this massive body of water. Another ocean/sea new to our eyes in a whole other part of the world. We LOVE that! It was breathtakingly beautiful! The beach is always, and always has been, my happy place. I’m drawn to it. I crave salt water….this place did not disappoint. White, powdered sugar beach, clean water…the energy from the sea is amazing to me. This is where I could’ve stayed the rest of the trip and been completely content….but ya knooooow that didn’t happen!
We noticed right away the amount of people working out. All along the beach paths there were exercise equipment. Human-powered elipticals, stationary bikes, weight machines….and all day, every day FILLED with people. There were also classes outdoors. Yoga, tai chi, dance classes (similar to Zumba) happening all the time. And of course, walkers and runners along the paths. We were amazed that at any given time there were people filling these areas. All day and night. We loved this health-conscious society.
On our second day here, we decided (hubs decided) that we should rent scooters! Wait!! Say what?!! Yes, he said, “let’s rent scooters!” Ummmm….? Now… we own our own scooters back here in the slow-ness of driving in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho…but scootering in Vietnam, I wasn’t too sure. I mean, it was just a feat to cross the road on foot, but to actually get in on the action…I wasn’t easily convinced. But of course, the adventure seeker in me won the battle and we went down to our lobby and rented A scooter. I was not going to try and do this on my own. Back seat it was going to be. We paid our $3 american (yes…$3) and took off down the street. I found it incredible that they gave no instruction, and didn’t have us fill out page after page of waivers. We simply asked for one scooter, paid 63525,00 dong ($3 US) put on helmets and off we drove. We cruised some side streets to get our bearings before heading onto their main drag. This was such a test of trust…trusting my husband and trusting these gazzilion Vietnamese scooter drivers…all while I donned our Go Pro. Who’s got skills now?! We cruised around for a while and decided to go back to the hotel for our map (smart idea!) and some ideas of places we wanted to visit. Greg was an excellent driver as I played navigator in my best ” navigation system voice” (which lasted about 2 minutes as I felt the need to watch traffic, man the Go Pro AND read the map was more important than being a Nav voice-double) Our first stop Po Nagar Cham Tower or Ponagar Temple. Ponagar sits high on a hill overlooking the Cái River. It’s stunning and we loved the historical richness of this area.
–Po Nagar is a Cham temple tower founded sometime before 781 and located in the medieval principality ofKauthara, near modern Nha Trang in Vietnam. It is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with the Hindu goddesses Bhagavati and Mahishasuramardini, and who in Vietnamese is called Thiên Y Thánh Mâu.
The towers are still actively used today by Vietnamese buddhists and we observed quietly as we saw men and women entering these temples for worship. I knew already that when visiting and entering these temples women and men need to be dressed appropriately. Skirts or dresses for women and no tank tops and when entering, you must remove your shoes. Because I had been in such a fury over the scooter ride, my mind completely left me as far as my dress. I had packed sun dresses with wraps to cover my shoulders for just these types of visits. Luckily when we arrived at Po Nagar there was a place to get a robe so that I could go inside. We waited our turn, outside, as worshipers went in, burning incense and having their time of worship.
Our next place to visit was Long Sơn Pagoda. This is another buddhist temple that was actually heavily damaged during the Vietnam war and was restored around 1971. We entered here seeing worshippers wandering around and children that attend a school here. The main building was incredibly ornate inside and out. And we watched again as worshippers entered and exited. As we exited we were handed incense to burn and ask for “wishes to be granted.” We then took the hike up to visit the Sleeping Buddha.
It was a very cerimonial place. We watched as the people would walk, pray and rub the elbow of the Sleeping Buddha. Also burning incense while petitioning for their needs. Afterwards we hiked up 152 steps to the main buddha statue.
He was huge and sitting atop a mountain. He is 24 meters tall with a 7 meter lotus blossom. He can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and can be seen as you enter the city by train.
The rest of the day we enjoyed eating at some great restaurants around the city
and found the prices amazing!! Our lunches were usually around $7 US total and would consist of two dishes, water and a beer each. Dinners were a bit more at around $14 total, which consisted of an appetizer (fresh spring rolls) 4 beers (2 each) rice and our main dishes which was usually some sort of stir fried veggies with shrimp or beef. I know others that we met that ate on a way lesser budget, however. For us Americans we thought dinners for $14 total including tip was pretty incredible!
We also made a pact with one another for massages. We wanted to have some sort of massage everyday while we were in Vietnam. In 18 days we made it for 13 days of massages. We missed a couple days during travel, arriving at our destinations and having to scope out the best massage places, and one day that I just felt crummy coming down with a little cold. It was amazing! We had massages like we’ve never had in the states and some pretty funny stories along with them, on occasion (of course, because everything has a story with the hubs and I it seems) Some of them being pretty suspenseful as we were… walked on, while our massage therapist hung from bars over the top of us, to being flipped upside down and hung in a backbend during one. The adventures kept piling up!!
On our last day in Nha Trang we decided to SPLURGE and head out to a spa for the entire day. It was my birthday so this is how we decided to celebrate. We spent 7 hours being pampered starting with a 30-minute mud bath. Then were whisked off to soak in hot and cold mineral baths for about an hour. These areas were full of waterfalls and views of the entire city. We were then taken to a hot herbal bath for 30-minutes, where we soaked in a tub full of the best smelling herbs you could imagine, while eating a delicious array of local fruits. Just when we thought we were melting away, they came to get us for 90-minute massages. Side-by-side we laid being massaged into butter….when finished, we wrapped in robes and they served us a delicious lunch and fruit smoothies. Then it was back to enjoy roaming the grounds and soaking in a myriad of different hot and cold mineral baths, waterfalls, and hydrotherapies. It was an unforgettable birthday!
The rest of our stay in this incredible beach city was spent getting up to watch the sunrise, laying on the beach and playing in the South China Sea.
PS: The scooter riding ranked right up there on my list of…oh…sky diving…on my adventure scale. It was THAT adrenal packed! We got some great Go Pro video!!