Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog


The bus leaving Dalat was full to the gills, but the ride itself passed without incident or folly. Supposedly each bus is supposedly each bus leg is suppose to include one or two stops at either a beach or a waterfall or some such attraction. So far all we have stopped atis overpriced restaurants and unpleasant toilets. Its okay, though, no one on board seems particularly eager to make these trips longer than they have to be and we count ourselves of that sentiment.

We perform the same escape trip in the beachside city of Na Trang, grabbing our bags at the first 'must see' hotel and making a bee-line for the place we'd like to stay. Of course, the place we'd like to stay is unlocatable (is this a word?), but we find a place to our liking soon enough. Our plans for Na Trang are few and meeger. We will only spend one night and two days here. One hope is that we meet up with a friend of ours we met in Khao Lak who has been travelling from the North southwards for the past two weeks. Matthieu has left us an email and we make plans to meet him at 7pm for dinner and drinks.

In the mean time we settle into Na Trang by taking a stroll down to the beach and soaking our feet, for a few minutes anyway, in the South China Sea. The beach, and the town, seem nicer than the reports that we had received. It is clean and quiet enough, although spend ten minutes on the beach, and you'll know what a deer feels like in November (or whenever deer hunting season is). The beach peddlers are sure friendly, but competition is fierce and memories short. "Do you want a foot massage? No? If I come back in 25 seconds will you want one?" Same, same, but still the beach is nice if you keep moving and act like you're not hungry or thirsty or in need of bodily contact.

We meet our friend Matthieu for a happy hour drink and a game of pool. He has been enjoying his travels as we have ours and we spend some time exchanging info on our respective experiences. We also make a new friend as a fourth joins our pool game to make it straight doubles. Peter Fear is an ex-pat theater director turned novelist who has no nationalistic tendencies and is in Vietnam working on the great existential mid-life crisis novel. He makes for good company, however, and before we know it the four of us are enjoying Indian food down the road while digesting various opinions on world politics and Samuel Beckett. It is nice to meet an old friend and make a new one in a single night and it is one a.m. before we return to our hotel.

Our bus out of Na Trang doesn't leave until 7pm, so we have the day to relax on the beach where we have a cold swim, read our books, and have some first class and authentic steamed crabs and snails. The weather is overcast, but we spend a few hours lounging before we motivate to rent a bike and take a short tour around the city and across the harbor to some of the Cham temples located there. This is our first adventure in self-propelled transportation and being "within" the traffic that we so often are thrilled by from the sidewalk it is a trial by fire adventure. Look into yourself, find a quiet zenful place, and start peddling.

Na Trang is no Ho Chi Minh City, but that doesn't mean that a motorbike won't come screaming out of an alley without looking or stopping right in front of you. Mandy can tell you how close said motorbike came to wiping me off the planet. For me it was a flash and an instant and there I was - still peddling and the moment gone behind me.

It was great to simple get out of the beach front streets, though, and see a little behind the scenes of Na Trang. On our short ride we got a strong whiff of everyday life with the bustle of the commercial streets and the peddle over the harbor where we saw young teenagers fishing from a shared row boat, and the larger boats coming with full loads and those leaving with empty nets. Vietnam has a pulse like nowhere else. There is so much construction everywhere and so much always being done. People coming, going, and weaving in and out of eachother in a commotion that is synergistic and hypnotic. Being part of that on a bicycle was new experience and they seemed pleased with you that you were giving it a shot, but not so giving that they would slow down for your sake.

So we weaved our way to the Cham Temples, built in the 12th century of red earth bricks. Not as impressive as some of the ruins or temples we've seen, but different of course, and worth the ride. We were also surprised by a young troupe of girls performing traditional Vietnamese dance on the temple square. They were very good and made both Mandy and I think longingly of our nieces dance recitals back home. All the girls wore bright new costumes and all the parents stood around the edge; proud and cameras ready. We also thought of how our sisters would react if Liv, Julia, or Alivia were to put a burning paper-mache temple atop their head and spin around while it flamed and smoked. Maybe not.

So it was this recital that capped our stay in Na Trang and although it was a short stay, we saw a little bit and got our money's worth. Off we biked, back through the streets, over the harbor, past the beach, and soon onto a waiting bus headed North.

We'll skip the 12 hour overnight bus trip. Needless to say it took 12 hours.

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