Friday, July 15, 2011

Dang! I'm in Danang!

Leaving Hue and driving south, we came upon a part of Vietnam that is breathtakingly beautiful.  It is also the scene of some of the most bitter fighting from the war.  How to reconcile the gorgeousness of the scenery with the brutality that took place there?

First we stopped at a beautiful beach where the locals were having a festival, complete with a huge boat race with 10-man teams rowing for glory in the South China Sea.
Local festival at China Beach

The crowd of locals cheer their favorite rowing team on

Enjoying the festival

       Our bus meandered through the Truong Son mountain range, at some point passing the infamous 17th parallel which once divided North and South Vietnam.  The scenery was breathtaking - with mountain on one side of the bus and sweeping vistas down to the South China Sea on the other side.  I have to say, however, that the trepidation we were feeling at the way our bus driver was careening around the hairpin curves almost spoiled the pleasure we felt at looking at the view!  As a matter of fact, I think I had my eyes closed a good deal of the time as I was certain that we were going to kill ourselves or another motorist as we passed vehicles in what were clearly 'no passing' zones, barreling around turns with complete disregard for what might be coming around the bend.
Looking down at what was once "South Vietnam" from atop the mountain pass

Old border post

      But we did make it safely into Danang city where we had lunch on China Beach, feasting on lobster, clams,  and shrimp fresh out of the South China Sea.  BTW, if anyone has been paying attention to the news, Vietnam and China have been having some tense disputes about international waters, with China encroaching upon what Vietnam considers to be their territory in the South China Sea.  As a matter of fact, in Vietnam it isn't known as the South China Sea, but as the East Sea.  China named the sea according to its geography (since it is south of them), but Vietnam named it with as it orients to their coastline, thus the "East Sea".  There have been naval maneuvers and some sabre rattling going on from both countries as this dispute heats up, and several of the Vietnamese I've spoken to have mentioned the perceived threat from China.  Of course Vietnam, with its history of being invaded by China in ancient times, and Japan and France in more recent times (not to mention our war with them), have reason to feel vulnerable when it comes to its borders.

I am a connoisseur of fine beaches and this one rates a "9" - no crowds, glistening white sand, clear water, beautiful backdrop... all it's missing is some waves so I can go boogie boarding. 

The Vietnamese fishermen aptly call these "basket boats"

That's a 13 story tall "Lady Buddha" statue in the background

Our restaurant in a fishing village near Danang

How could this have once been the scene of a terrible war?

     Anyway, after lunch and playing on the beautiful beach for a while we visited a Cao Dai temple/church.  Cao Dai is a uniquely Vietnamese syncretistic religion established about 100 years ago which combines aspects of Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Islam (thus the "syncretistic" description).  It's really quite cool and John Lennon-esque as the church we visited had the images of Jesus, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Buddha and Muhammad at the altar.  As one Cao Dai follower explains, "God has founded Cao Dai, in order to bring harmony to different religions. And the principle of Cao Dai is that religions are not different and if we take enough time to study deep --deeply enough in each religion, we would see that they have one same principal, if not identical principal."  I found it very interesting but the priests we met there couldn't speak English so I'll have to do some more research to really understand Cao Dai.

Muhammad, Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, and Lau Tzu

Cao Dai priests

       Because the French were in Vietnam for so long, Catholicism is also a big religious presence in the country and we went to visit a Catholic cathedral which unfortunately was closed.  Then to the Cham Museum which houses sculpture from the 5th-15th century Cham culture, which was matriarchal and combines aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism.  As we left Danang we had lots more beach scenery to our east and dramatic marble mountains to the west to enjoy on our way to Hoi An.