Chan May, Vietnam

Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
Trip End Apr 30, 2007

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

World Cruise
Tuesday, March 13
Chan May, Vietnam  7am-7pm
Excursion: Da Nang and Hoi An, 8 hours bus & walking, $99 each

This port is apparently not often used for luxury cruise ships. The pier is a sharp contrast to the three-level upscale shopping mall that was the cruise terminal in Hong Kong.

We were awakened at 7am, on arrival, by enthusiastic local music and dancing (our balcony was on the pier side).

There were vendors set up on the pier, and you can see that that was pretty much it.


We had to submit immigration forms as we left the ship. Whenever we need immigration forms the ship pre-prints all but the signatures, and gives them to us a day or so before we dock. Here the immigration officials stamped the forms, then collected them when we returned to the ship. Good thing we held on to them during the excursion!

We took a clean, new bus from the port towards Da Nang via the Lucky Elephant pass over the mountains. This tour was described as having a bus ride of 1 1/2 hours each way to Da Nang, but the actual ride was more like 45 minutes. That's because a new road and tunnel through the mountain was built by the Japanese from 2000 through 2005, and cut traffic dramatically on the scenic mountain road that we took to Da Nang. The tour information was compiled prior to the new road. We've found that quite often the tour information is 1-2 years old, and things have changed.

We have forsworn all tours with bus rides of 1 1/2 hrs or more to get somewhere, but in this case we had no choice. All the tours involved long bus rides, and the tour director strongly urged all guests who wanted to disembark to take one of the tours, since there was nothing, I mean nothing, nearby.

Our tour guide, a native Vietnamese in her late 20s, is Mi (pronounced Me). She is ambitious and diligent, but, IMHO, lacks curiosity. She told us exactly what she was supposed to, but otherwise didn't seem to know much. For example, rice was growing all around us, and one of the guests asked how you get rice from the grass that we saw. She had no idea, claiming that she's a city girl. She also said a Canadian on an earlier tour had asked her the same thing, and made a joke that the guests are trying to turn her into a country girl, but she's a city girl. To be generous, I'm assuming her failure to find out is a lack of curiosity. She also seldom smiled. I've noticed that almost all the other guides we've had were naturally friendly, smiling and making small jokes. They seemed happy. Mi did not seem happy, she seemed hard-working.

She told me privately when we happened to be walking together that her mother was a school principal, and was ousted in 1975 for some political failing. She sounded bitter and fearful, saying that they weren't supposed to talk about that type of thing.

Our guide and most of the local people were very tiny, under 5 feet and small-boned. Mi said that the economy has improved in Da Nang dramatically in the past 20 years. Prior to that, there wasn't enough food, which is the reason her people are so small. Young people today, she said, are our (the cruise guests') size.

The local people make about $60 US a month when working for the government. They make $500 US a month when working for a foreign company. The only free medical care is for children from 1 to 6 years old. There is no free education, and primary school costs $30 US per month (this doesn't sound right, but we couldn't get clarification), so many children, especially in the countryside, don't ever go to school.

Our guide's accent was very strong, and she was so difficult to understand that John and I sat separately on the bus so I could see her face when she talked. (I had to be able to move around to see past the high seat backs and the people in front of us.) That was the only way I could understand her. Many guests mentioned that they gave up, and couldn't understand anything she said. She first started learning English at age 12.

An aside: having finished Eats, Shoots and Leaves I am painfully aware of my punctuation, and choose to believe that I am purposefully taking liberties with punctuation for the sake of literary emphasis.  You can believe whatever you like.
We had a photo stop at the site of ancient Cham ruins.

Mi said that the Cham people immigrated to Vietnam from China during a Chinese civil war. She was so vague that I actually looked up the Wikipedia reference:

"The Cham people are an ethnic group living in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Speaking the Cham language, they are considered to be descendants of the kingdom of Champa. Cambodia has the largest concentration of Chams, estimated between half a million and one million. In Vietnam, their population of approximately 100,000 is centered on the cities of Phan Rang and Phan Thiet in central Vietnam, with Cham communities also found in Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang. Cham people form the core of the Muslim communities in both Cambodia and Vietnam. Approximately 4,000 Cham also live in Thailand.

"The Chams are considered to be of Malay ethnic stock. Their language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group in the Austronesian language family and is thus similar to Malay and Indonesian.

"Records of the Champa kingdom go as far back as 2nd century CE China. At its height in the 9th century, the kingdom controlled the lands between Hue, in central Annam, to the Mekong Delta in Cochinchina. Its prosperity came from maritime trade in sandalwood and slaves and probably included piracy.

"The first religion of the Champa was a form of Shaivite Hinduism, brought by sea from India. As Arab merchants stopped along the Vietnam coast en route to China, Islam began to influence the civilization, and Hinduism became associated with the upper classes.

"The exact date that Islam came to Champa is unknown, but grave markers dating to the 11th century have been found. It is generally assumed that Islam came to Indo-China before its arrival in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

"The Vietnamese Chams live mainly in coastal and Mekong Delta provinces. They have two distinct religious communities, Muslim or Cham Bani constitute about 80%-85% of the Cham, and Hindu or Balamon, who constitute about 15%-20% of the Cham. While they share a common language and history, there is no intermarriage between the groups. A small number of the Cham also follow Mahayana Buddhism. In Cambodia, the Chams are 90% Muslim, as are the Utsuls of Hainan. The isolation of Cham Muslims in central Vietnam resulted in an increased syncretism with Buddhism until recent restoration of contacts with other global Muslim communities in Vietnamese cities, but Islam is now seeing a renaissance, with new mosques being built.

"Malaysia has some Cham immigrants and the link between the Chams and the Malaysian state of Kelantan is an old one. The Malaysian constitution recognizes the Cham rights to Malaysian citizenship and their Bumiputra status, and the Cham communities in Malaysia and along the Mekong River in Vietnam continue to have strong interactions.

"Between the rise of the Khmer Empire around 800 and Vietnam's territorial push to the south, the Champa kingdom began to diminish. In 1471 it suffered a massive defeat by the Vietnamese, in which 120,000 people were either captured or killed, and the kingdom was reduced to a small enclave near Nha Trang. Between 1607 and 1676 the Champa king converted to Islam, and during this period Islam became a dominant feature of Cham society. Further expansion by the Vietnamese in 1720 resulted in the annexation of the Champa kingdom and its persecution by the Vietnamese king, Minh Mạng. As a consequence, the last Champa Muslim king, Pô Chien, decided to gather his people (those on the mainland) and migrate south to Cambodia, while those along the coastline migrated to Trengganu (Malaysia). A tiny group fled northward to the Chinese island of Hainan where they are known today as the Utsuls. The area of Cambodia where the king and the mainlanders settled is still known as Kompong Cham, where they scattered in communities across the Mekong River. Not all the Champa Muslims migrated with the king. A few groups stayed behind in Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Phan Rí, and Phan Thiết provinces of central Vietnam.

"During the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Chams of that country suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated."

Mi said it's easy to tell Cham from Vietnamese: Cham have darker skin and their eyes are different. Mi is Vietnamese and proud of it.

Cham statue from Cham Museum in Danang, Vietnam Cham statue from Cham Museum in Danang, Vietnam

This picture is from Wikipedia. I just wanted to see if I could bring it into this blog, and as you can see, voila! I took a very similar one but discarded it because the quality was poor. (I'll bet you thought, from the quality of some of my pictures, that I just indiscriminately include every shot, but no...I discard the worst of them unless the content is important to our story).

Anyway, back to our story. Our next stop was the Cham Museum in Da Nang. The building is yellow stucco, which is how you know it was a French building. It was built in 1915, and is open to the elements except that there are metal shutters which, I guess, are closed only for typhoons. Everything in the museum is sculpture that can withstand the elements.

The museum is charming and rather primitive. It has an extensive collection of Cham artifacts from four periods: My Son, Tra Kieu, Don Duong, and Thap Mam. Mi didn't tell us anything about this, and there wasn't much information on the placards for each exhibit.


The heads are missing from many Cham sculptures due to the US bombing.

We drove past this monument to dead soldiers. Mi said they lost 2 million people in the war.

I had a very difficult time during this visit to Viet Nam. I was feeling sad, despondent, weepy. Don't know if those were my own feelings, connected to Bob's experiences, feelings from another guest, or feelings from the place itself.  I think they may have been from the place itself. I remember having similar experiences in the past when I visited battlefields in the US. I think these feelings that I pick up might be the quantum holograms described by Dr. Edgar Mitchell (the former astronaut), similar to what I pick up in ancient cathedrals.

After leaving Da Nang we drove along the coast towards Hoi An.


This is obviously a poor country. We saw rice fields everywhere, and lots of vacant or undeveloped scrub land. The tsunami came through this area and removed 85% of the roofs, some of which have not been repaired because the people don't have the money.

Our first stop in the city of Hoi An was a bathroom in a local hotel, the Hoi An Hotel. Thank goodness, because it was now 11:30, and we'd left the ship at 7:45. I don't know why we hadn't had a bathroom break earlier. John thinks maybe we could have gone when we stopped at the ruins for the Kodak moment, but that was a filthy-looking truck stop, and I don't think Mi suggested we go there.

  The toilets were western-style, so I'm not including a photo. There was even paper. It was interesting that the mens' and womens' stalls were all together in the same bathroom--you can't see it clearly in the photo, but 3 stalls said "ladies" and two said "gentlemen". Then we shared the sinks.

The town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, unchanged for centuries.  We went on a fascinating walking tour of the town. Of course, the ubiquitous trishaw was available for hire if any of the guests wanted respite from the 1 1/2 hours of walking in the hot, humid weather.

Some guests on our tour complained about the heat and humidity. It's been less than a week since we complained about the bitter cold in Shanghai. There's just no pleasing some people. Vietnam is at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the hot season. There are only two seasons. It was definitely hot, but the local people were not walking around in it like we were. And it is their custom to nap during the middle of the day.

This is what the town looks like, presumably unchanged for centuries, except for the plethora of motorcycles. They have two kinds of motorcycles in this area: Chinese, which sell for around $500US, and Japanese, which sell for around $3,000 US. There were many more Chinese motorcycles.

The highlight of our walking tour was the local market. This market is not for tourists, it is the real local market. Mi said that the Vietnamese women visit the market twice a day, in the morning and again in the late afternoon. She said they eat five times a day: at 5am (they wake up early because of the heat), lunch, tea, dinner, and late night supper.


In the middle of our market tour, we stopped at the Hoi An Museum.

  Our guide wasn't much help in understanding what we were looking at. There were five large ancient iron or brass bells, some furniture, and some photos and plaques on the walls.

The Vietnamese girls all wear protective covers when they ride motorcycles or bicycles. This is to keep their skin light as a sign of beauty. There are miles and  miles of beautiful beaches, and the girls go to the beach early in the morning or late in the evening, so the sun doesn't darken their skin. These face covers velco in the back.

We continued through the market:

Next we went into a local craft market which is located in an ancient merchant house, differentiated from the general open-air market by being inside, and by presenting the sale items as being created by hand by artists-in-residence. I doubt that. Anyway, the round gold things on the sign are "eyes" which are above the doorway of all the traditional buildings, one representing ying and the other yang.

Inside, the crafts were the regional specialties.

And here's evidence that this really is a local market:

We were given cold drinks inside the ancient merchant house: bottled water, which we chose, or local soft drinks. We finished up our water after we left the house and were walking through town. A very old local woman indicated she wanted John's empty water bottle; I interpreted and told John he should give her the bottle, assuming she would recycle it and make money. Later on the bus a couple told us to break our empty water bottles because the locals refill them and sell them for new. 

Next was the Phuoc Kien Temple, built in honor of Thien Hau, Goddess of the Sea.


The inside smelled delightful because of the burning incense cones above our heads. Believers pay to have the cones hung from the ceiling with a blessing or request written on the yellow card attached to the cone. A cone burns for about a month and costs, if I remember right, about $5. Mi quickly added that we would not be able to buy a cone ourselves since there was no more room for new cones. I don't think that's the truth--I'm pretty sure they don't want to desecrate their temple with tourists' cones. 

Another brief walk in the hot sun brought us to the next attraction.

This is an "traditional merchant house". It has been continuously inhabited for eight generations.



As you would hope, the daughters and nieces of the traditional merchant were selling: in this case, embroidered tableclothes and napkins ($30 for a large cotton tablecloth and 12 luncheon napkins) downstairs and silk robes and more tableclothes upstairs. There were a couple of standing embroidery stands to the side, and the girls said the work was done by their sisters, who were at lunch when we arrived, so we didn't see them working. I think the work was really handwork, and I doubt it was done at those embroidery stands. The cotton fabric was very poor quality. The embroidery was lovely. The guests went a little crazy shopping among the tableclothes because it was so cheap, but in the end I don't think many bought.

Walking further through town, we crossed a Japanese covered bridge. There was a pig statue on one end and a dog statue on the other, representing the first and last year of construction, and I think Mi said it was a total of three years, but it makes no sense now that I'm writing this, so I don't quite get what this bridge is about. It was undoubtedly built by Japanese, and it has a little temple inside. And it was a welcome respite from the heat.

Just walking down the street left me awestruck, that we are here in this exotic town.

As we head back to our bus, we need Mi to help us across the street. The traffic comes barrelling along, there are no stop lights, and apparently no rules. She would courageously move into traffic, a few feet at a time, holding aloft our "bus No. 9" sign, and we would trail along behind her as she held the buses, motorcycles, and bikes at bay.

We took a brief bus ride to a "famous local restaurant".  It was truly beautiful inside, and the food was fabulous. We sat in a roofed but open-sided room on a lagoon and there was a brisk breeze that kept flies away and cooled us down.

There was a local preparation of a noodle bowl, which I, of course, tried:


Plus a buffet with a combination of exotic oriental foods and regular oriental foods.

After lunch we strolled around the restaurant grounds:

Our last stop was the marble mountain. There are only three sources of marble today: Italy, Cambodia (?), and Vietnam. Vietnam has five marble mountains, and we stopped at the one where the local people are still allowed to use the marble to make stuff.

There is a cave in the mountain that wasn't included in our tour, probably because it's level of difficulty was significantly higher than all the rest of the tour. Anyway, I bought a ticket for $1 US to enter, after another guest whom I'd met in the laundry room advised me that I'd really like it.

It was very dark and there were marble workers inside--some young woman shouldered large bags of marble dust? and carried them inside. Anyway, it was hard to see the stairs that were carved out of the marble. One of the ship's representatives came inside with me (I think he was sent to make sure I was safe) and helped me up the stairs in the darkness. He is younger than I, and I think he could see better, although not much.

Inside was an alter, of course,   and the most amazing sight--you could see right up through the mountain to the outside.    

In the area around the mountain are shops. The ship specifically told us they don't endorse any of the merchants anywhere on any of the tours. I'm sure they were especially thinking of these marble merchants, because the large statues are in the thousands of dollars, US.  Nevertheless, one of the couples on our bus spent $2,400 US for two marble urns that they think are worth $10,000 US. Wonder what they'll find was shipped to them when they get home?  Also, I noticed that this marble looks different than Italian marble--I'm wondering if this marble is a lesser quality than Italian.

We stayed at the marble mountain for about 45 minutes.

We drove just outside the tourist area and stopped to take a photo of the mountain. There was a huge marble Buddha visible on the mountain just before we stopped. I am disappointed that we couldn't get it's photo. Anyway, here is what I could get, hazy as it is:

We were stopped at a petrol station, and here's the pump:   It sells for about $1 US per liter. Very few cars, mostly motorcycles, hence the really tiny tank, I guess.

After that excitement, we drove back to the ship using the other, newer road with the long tunnel through the mountain. Along the coast there is all this land that looks like this:

This photo doesn't do justice, but I'm trying to show you that the water was full of small fishing boats. The locals, according to Mi, fish a lot and eat a lot of fish. She said that there are two new resorts in the area, and more are planned, so some local entrepreneurs are changing from fishing to growing turf for the hotels.

This is the best I could do to show you their round bamboo boats. These are used for fishing a little further out, when the waves are higher, apparently. They look like nothing so much as the round nested baskets in my kitchen, the ones I've used for years and years.  These were everywhere, along the roadside, on the beach, next to homes and apartments. But we only saw them from the bus, so I never got a decent photo. They are about 8 feet in diameter.

There is only one track for the train. Mi said you could get to Da Nang via the first, scenic road we took, and it will take about an hour. You can use the new tunnel road and it will take 1/2 an hour. Or you can use the train, and it will take between 5 hours and forever, because there is only one track.

What a gorgeous land:

I do wonder why we stopped at this port instead of Saigon (Ho Chi Ming City). I'm guessing that the repeaters need new ports, and had already been to Saigon.
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