February 22, 2016 - Fun in the sun in Vietnam

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FYI, here is a you tube video about the Clipper experience in Vietnam. CLIPPER RACE CREW DISCOVER DA NANG VIETNAM http://youtu.be/fbQ-_fwrl-k

Having spent Saturday resting, writing and reflecting, we were ready for action on Sunday. Judith and I elected to hire a private guide and driver to take us to My Son UNESCO heritage site and Hoi An, ancient sea port and active merchant district.

Our guide, Quan, from DaNang, was knowledgeable and answered all our questions. He has a masters degree in history from the university in DaNang and is passionate about his city and the region. He is proud of the great strides in economic development and lifestyle that DaNang has seen, and at the same time fears for its future. There are still strong cultural divisions between north and south. While the government is "communist", it is run by a powerful elite and there is much corruption. From the north, drugs are infiltrating the city of DaNang changing the social landscape. Still, DaNang, population 1.1 million, is a safe city with much to explore as a visitor.

Quang, our driver, negotiated traffic expertly, manning the horn conservatively. It was surprising never-the-less to find ourselves weaving from lane to lane. While traffic flows in both directions on most streets and lanes are marked, they are mostly disregarded. Cars and motorbikes push their way in and out of traffic in a constant flowing dance of vehicles. Despite the apparent traffic chaos, I've not seen a accident. Somehow it works. Still, it's alarming to see very young children squeezed between parents on a scooter that's weaving its way through traffic - a common site. The population of Vietnam is young, more than half under 30 and most families with 3-4 children (fewer in the cities, more in the rural areas). There is a wide variety of education opportunities for citizens, and typically a bank loan is needed for college or university. IT is the main field of study. Apparently, Vietnamese are crazy for technology.

 Quan points out the mystery of the absence of mortar in this 1000 year old archeological wonder. 

Quan points out the mystery of the absence of mortar in this 1000 year old archeological wonder. 

Judith and I went back in time to My Son - site of ancient Hindi temples built by the Champa people (originally from Burma) in the years 600-1200 and then forgotten. They were discovered and unburied by the French in the 1800's. Now there are very few Champa people living in Vietnam - mainly in the south in 2 small communities. They are taught in the Champa language and are distrustful of Vietnamese, their historic conquerers. One community continues its Hindi traditions and the other is Islamic. Most of the rest of the country is secular, though traditions around remembrance of ancestors persist. Families generally live as multigenerational units, to support healthy aging, as the public health system is very basic, requiring fees for most services. We learned many more interesting facts about the UNESCO site and Vietnam, which I won't bore you with here.

 My Son means mountain peak. It's in the distance. 

My Son means mountain peak. It's in the distance. 

In the afternoon we had a lunch on Hoi An and were given a tour of some of the buildings of particular historic significance. We visited the home of a family that had inhabited the abode for 7 generations. Being central on the coastal of Vietnam, Hoi An was an important nautical trading post for all of Asia and Europe at one time. Separated by the covered "Japanese" Bridge, there had been a Japanese merchant community on one side of the river and a Chinese community on the other. When navigation up the Han River became too difficult for the ever larger merchant ships, the port lost its favour as a preferred port. Never-the-less, in continues to thrive as a shopping destination.

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We visited a beautiful Buddhist "meeting hall", which happened to be very busy as it was the day of the first full moon in the Chinese New Year - an important day of prayer. Our guide was not impressed by the show of devotion, viewing it as a money grab by the temple (patrons pay for intense sticks, candles, prayers on heir behalf and predictions of he future). 

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Many top notch tailors can be found who will kit you out in a complete wardrobe in no time. Just get measured and wait for it to be delivered to your hotel in a day or two! We saw beautiful fashions and gorgeous silk fabrics on display. The ancient city is strung everywhere with lanterns - apparently an enchanting site in the evenings. Alas, Judith and I had to return with our guides to DaNang before dinner hour. But Hoi An is a place I would like to visit again.

That evening, Judith and I elected to stay in, both suffering signs of Traveller's Tummy - we suspect an earlier lunch at the hotel. Thus we missed the crew dinner (offered for free to Clipper crew by a restaurant on the beach).