Nha Trang, Vietnam

I was first in Nha Trang fifteen years ago as part of a one month tour, but tourism was not as developed as it is now. Currently there are five direct flights a week to Moscow and Russians make up the majority of tourists  staying in the many new hotels.  Today, I took a privately organized small group tour with http://www.nhatrangrivertour.com/look-who-loves-us.htm.   They provide a variety of excellent local tours.  This countryside tour gave us a fascinating insight into the lives of everyday people.  Just a few kilometers from Nha Trang’s port is the picturesque countryside dotted with palm trees, fruit orchards and irrigated rice paddies.  We drove through miles of flat rice fields to a rural village to interact with the local people. Farming and cottage industries are their primary source of income.  The first stop was an embroidery factory.  It can take up to a year to produce one of the fine pieces of embroidery and they can be very expensive.  We then went to the home of one family who weave mats from sedge rushes which grow abundantly in the surrounding area. Two people working together will weave just four mats in a day, which will be taken to the local market and traded for food and other essentials.  They produce beach mats which they sell to holiday-makers who enjoy the many miles of fine beaches along the shore.  We then stopped to view a large white Buddha statue, recently constructed with the aid of private and government donations.  A typical food from rice  is rice paper made from rice steamed, processed into pieces, dried in the sun on bamboo brackets and then cut into rice noodles or squares for making spring rolls. The assembly line process at a local rice paper factory, while described as modern, was decidedly Dickensian with no thought to  workplace health and safety as the pictures below show. We then went to the conical hat making village. This is manual work done by women.  I still have a hat bought 15 years ago and it is still in good condition so I did not buy one.  The demand for these hats has dropped considerably because of a mandatory requirement for wearing helmets while riding a motorcycle, the principle mode of transportation in Vietnam. The conical hats are now mainly worn by farmers and tourists.  The next stop was the Pagoda Orphanage with over 120 abandoned, orphaned or street children. They range from several months to 15 years. The children are taken care of by a group of Buddhist nuns and volunteers. Their goal is to provide the children with a safe and caring environment. Being a private organization, the orphanage is trying to provide its children food, shelter, health and education. The nuns and volunteers at the orphanage have devoted their lives to helping the orphans.  Most of us brought school supplies to donate to the orphanage and others made cash donations.  We then visited a typical old Vietnamese country house with an ancestors’ shrine and  a kitchen. We snacked on  fruit and green tea.  We then had  a delicious lunch is at a riverside restaurant. Afterwards we traveled down the Cai River by boat to observe the life along the Nha Trang waterway and see the large fishing boats in the harbour. Lastly we visited the Ponagar Temple built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site upon which Hindus had worshipped for 500 years. It is an outstanding example of Cham architecture. Only four spires remain but they are thee focus for a devout Buddhist community.  The main tower is dedicated to Po Ino Nagar, the Shiva’s only known female incarnation.  The hillside on which it sits offers panoramic views of the harbour.  We had a quick visit to the large Dam Market where I bought some of my favourite fruit not available in Canada, and then we returned to the ship where there was a market set up on the pier. Shopping is the cheapest here of all of our Asia stops but you still have to need what they have to offer!  Our next port is Singapore.

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