Nha Trang

Keeping with the theme, the rains came hard as I got into the beach resort town of Nha Trang; luckily they lasted under an hour. The only thing hot and humid Nha Trang has in common with the cool and breezy mountain town of Dalat, from which I’d just arrived, is the visible tourist infrastructure, catering to both foreign and domestic crowds. The beach-front promenade stretches for a few kilometers, palm-frond parasols sprinkled throughout, and gives way to a large plaza in the middle where locals congregate at sunset.

I heard mixed things about the development boom here; evidently investment in tourism comes to a head with bureaucracy on a regular basis. A large concrete tower construction project was halted halfway through when the government polled its constituents on the matter. Its remains, coupled with other high-rise hotels under construction, give the area the feeling of a half-built club med. On the opposite end of the spectrum, recently a nearly mile-long cable-car system opened to connect the mainland to the nearby Vinpearl resort island that features luxury hotels and amusement park.

I got a closer look at the 49 meter tall cable car towers on a SCUBA trip, as our dive boat maneuvered between them and the enormous cargo ships docked at the port. The dive was better than that in Cambodia, as there was more healthy coral and more fish to see. Elaborately decorated hermit crabs, a large, sleepy moray eel and the sight of an inch-wide jellyfish being eaten by a slightly larger fish were highlights. All in all, a good outing, worth staying the extra day.

On the outskirts of town I visited the Po Nagar Towers of the Cham empire. Built between the 7th and 12th centuries, the site has had religious significance for everyone from the Hindus to the Buddhists since even before the towers were build. The original structures were wooden, but were destroyed by the Javanese in the year 774. They were subsequently rebuilt out of stone and brick. The towers range in size, and were built at different times, but each one is tall (the north tower about 28 meters) and looking even bigger from the inside, the scant available light disappearing quickly up its chimney-like, sooted pyramidal interior. Inside each tower is an altar with statues and the occasional lingam, dedicated to various Hindu gods.

Perhaps the highlight of my stay in Nha Trang was the gallery of local photographer Long Thanh, whose prolific work showcasing his country are stunning. He insists on shooting black and white film to this day and develops each print in the back, using materials he has sent to him from abroad. Though I wanted to, I didn’t purchase a print, partly because I couldn’t decide on one. D’oh. Thankfully, I hear there’s a gallery with his work in San Francisco.

I think it was somewhere in Nha Trang that I realized that I’d grown not only accustomed to cafe sua da, but somewhat addicted to it. I never thought I’d like my coffee sweet, let alone over-sweetened with condensed milk. This has perhaps fueled my recent edginess. I’ve grown a bit impatient, feeling like I’ve not enough time left to travel, leaving me feeling rushed. Or perhaps I’m on edge because of the country; it’s loud and crowded, from the crammed streets to the internet cafes overflowing with kids playing ddr and mmorpg video games, yelling at each other. Though I’ve met very friendly people in Vietnam, I’ve also dealt with people who have clear contempt for foreigners. This is the first place I’ve been looked at as if I’m a vampire from another planet when I’ve tried to use my phrasebook, and it’s happened more than once, leaving me pretty jaded. How hard is it to smile, people? I haven’t quite put my finger on it, but perhaps I should stop saying I’m from the US when asked.

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