Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nha Trang(Vietnamese)

Nha Trang
The city of Nha Trang is becoming more popular with the tourists in recent years. Yet, with a population of 300,000, Nha Trang still retains its small town atmosphere. This resort town is well known for its miles of beach and the friendliness of its people. The city is flanked by nearly ten kilometers of prime beach where the water is warm year round. The average temperature in Nha Trang is 26 C. Nha Trang also has the lowest level of humidity in all of Vietnam. Today, Nha Trang ranks among the top of all beaches in Vietnam. Nha Trang is 1,287 km south of Hanoi, 624 km south of Hue and 442 km from Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon). Nha Trang has several famous islands. Most notable are Hon Tre, Hon Yen, Hon Rua and the Spratly islands.

The name Nha trang is a Vietnamese pronunciation of a Cham word Eatran or Yjatan. Ea or Yja means river, and tran means reed. According to the locals, there once were a lot of reeds along Ngoc Hoi river. The river winds its way through the town. Ngoc Hoi was later renamed Nha Trang river.

Another theory of the origin of Nha Trang's name has a more amusing twist. Long ago, in this part of the country, all the houses were made out of the reeds and mud gathered from Ngoc Hoi river. The only house that was made out of bricks were the house belonging to Dr. Yersin, a French immunologist who made his home here. The house itself was painted prominently white and could be seen by vessels coming from far away. Once there was a foreign vessel passing by. The captain asked his translator where he was. The translator not knowing where they were blurted out Nha` tra('ng or white house in Vietnamese. The captain duly noted on his chart Nha Trang. Because most foreign languages do not make use of tones, the captain's name for this part of the country stuck.

On the way to Nha Trang
From Saigon going northeast on highway 1 to Nha Trang, the road is extremely bouncy. The trip will take between 9-10 hours. On the way, the two major cities are Phan Rang and Phan Thiet. Both cities are small in size, however, Phan Thiet is very famous for its nuoc mam - fish sauce industry.
The next famous site before reaching Nha Trang is Cana beach. This stretch of beautiful white sand is a beautiful beach with a few restaurants; it is a popular rest area for travellers coming from the South.
There are many Thanh Long (Green Dragon fruit) orchards along the highway leading to Nha-Trang. This fruit is known to grow only in this region and has become popular only in recent years.

Nha Trang City Beach
Upon arriving to Nha Trang, most tourists will pass through downtown. Beyond the rows of businesses and homes will be Nha Trang beach. Tran Phu Boulevard is Nha Trang most famous thoroughfare. It runs the length of the beach with several major hotels located within a few steps from the beach. Unlike most major city in Vietnam where the primary mode of transportation is the motorbike, many people of Nha Trang still walk or use the bicycle as their means of getting around. This adds to the tranquillity of the town. There is very little pollution or noise from motor vehicles.
On any given day, between 5:00 am to 8:00 am Nha Trang beach is filled with local people taking in the fresh sea breeze, socializing, playing soccer, badminton or practicing Tai chi. Most people in Nha Trang fear being darken by the sun. For this reason, the window between 5-8 am (where sunlight is less intense) is peaked with activities. Another reason is that many go to the ocean for a morning swim, to exercise and to listen to daily news (from the many conspicuously placed loud speakers on electrical poles). In Nha Trang, going to the beach is a family affair. One often see generations of families going to the beach together. However, by 8:00 am the beach is magically emptied of all the hustle and bustle of earlier activities to once again return to silence and serenity.
Hon Chong
Chong has two meanings in the Vietnamese language. The first is to stack. The second is husband. Hon Chong is located on a stretch of rocky mass of land famous for the thousands of smooth rocks stacking on one another. There are two clusters of such rocks in the area called Hon Chong. The first is further out in the ocean and the second is located near an islet called Sat Thon. The cluster in the ocean is most impressive since there are large boulders stacking on one another seemingly out-of-balance, yet remaining stable.

There is a boulder as large as a small hill supporting another boulder as large as a small house at its peak. On the side facing the shore, there is an imprint of a large hand with five fingers clearly outlined. The locals call this rock Hon Chong or the Husband.
The cluster with the name Hon Vo or the Wife is not far away. The rocks in Hon Vo cluster are as large as those in Hon Chong, but the they are closer together. A somewhat romantic person explained that this name came about because the rocks here snuggle against one another.

Thap Ba (Po Nagar Cham Towers)
The Po Nagar towers once stood at the entrance of Cai river, where the river meets the ocean. The towers stood in isolation on a rock foundation, but over many years the towers and the land it stands on became part of the land mass as the river changed its flows.
Today, the tower is north of the river and the rock formation it stood on became known as nui Cu Lao or Mount Cu Lao. The town of Vinh Phuoc at the base of the mountain was once a fishing village, known as Xom Chai and Xom Bong.
Po Nagar towers complex was built between the 7th and 12th century. The most beautiful towers were built in the year 813 and 817. Most were destroyed and only four towers are still standing. Each tower is a shrine to a different

Thap Ba (Po Nagar Cham Towers)
One tower is the shrine to Xiva, one of three most powerful deities in Hinduism. One tower is dedicated to Ganexa, the son of Xiva. This deity has a human body and an elephant head. Po Nagar is the tallest tower, also known as Thap Ba (Tower of the Lady). Po Nagar or Uma is the wife of Xiva the supreme. Po Nagar towers stands 23m in height and was built around 817.
Bricks were used in the building of Po Nagar. The four-sided structure is topped by a pyramid with a statue of the four armed Xiva riding Nandin the enchanted ox at the apex. The exterior of the tower is covered by intricate rock carvings of dancers, people rowing boats, grinding rice or hunting with bows and arrows.
The interior is airy and cool. An alter made of granite is placed at the base of the statue of Po Nagar. Po Nagar is a goddess with ten arms. She is also the goddess credited for her help with teaching people how to farm. Her statue was originally made out of hard incense wood. The statue was removed by the French in 1946. A new statue with more Vietnamese features is its replacement. The Po Nagar towers complex is an example of Chams architecture and art at its height.

Cau Da
Vietnam's first active Oceanographic Institute was built in 1922 at Cau Da (Rock Bridge). The ocean in Nha Trang is quite deep. Here the water is approximately 200 m deep. Beyond 100 km, the depth drops to 2000 m. The Oceanographic Institute was built to study the diverse marine life in this area.
The Institute still has samples of sea creatures of this area. Although the institute does not have the modern equipments and facilities to be considered in the same caliber as most western aquariums, it still maintains a fair sample in smaller aquariums. In all, 23 good size aquariums are on display. The institute also has a vast collection of dead samples on display.

Hon Yen Hon Yen is most famous for Yen Sao which is the name of the nest of Salangane or swifts. The locals harvest the bird nests (considered a delicacy) used in soups. These nests are processed and exported to Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The birds build their nest high on the walls of the cave on the islands. To access the nests, harvesters must climb on ladders fashioned from bamboo. Because the caves must remain dark lest the birds are scared off, many climbers fall to their death every year trying to harvest the nests.

The bird nest comes in two types, white and red nests. The nest are fashioned by the Salangane that make their homes in caves. The nest are made out of the birds saliva. Usually, a typical bird creates one nest a year during springtime using both parents saliva. Because there is such a demand for their nest (thought to have medicinal qualities), the locals began to remove the nest several times a year causing the birds to have to continue producing the nests.

The red variety of nests are a result of the birds having to create so much saliva for the new nests that they cough up blood along with their saliva causing the nest to take on the red color of their blood. This variety of nest costs their weight in gold or more in the retail market of Hong Kong or Taiwan.
About the pictures
This a shot of mount Tra Vinh, with a sitting buddha statue from Long Son temple at its base. The buddha is 45 feet high, is on top of a hill and can be seen from pratically anywhere in the city.
We stopped for a brief moment on a bridge for me to take this picture of fishing boats in Phan Thiet, the capital of fish sauce of Vietnam.
Cana has a few cute little beaches with white sand. We later stopped at a factory producing glass from the sand in Cam Ranh Bay, supposedly containing a very high percentage of silica. Engineers there are all russian.
When ripe, this Thanh Long fruit is about the size of a big grapefruit. It's white, mushy inside and has small black seeds. You peel it like peeling a banana. A tree is about 5 feet high and produces only 1 or 2 fruits at a time.
One cannot possibly sleep late in Nha Trang. PA systems along the beach blast out sound at 6 in the morning. By then, the beach is already full of people.
Nha Trang city beach is not a clean beach and it drops off rather sharply but the water is clear and warm. Doc Let (60 km north) and Dai Lanh (86 km north) are much better beaches for swimming.
Picture of Hon Chong, favorite rock for young lovers in Nha Trang to scribble their names on.
Another shot of Nha Trang city from Thap Ba (Cham towers). Half of the pictures in this series are taken from this location.
Relics from Cham civilization. When we were there last summer, the Cham towers were undergoing renovation. There are other pockets of Cham civilization remnants in Nha Trang and Phan Rang.
A view of Cau Bong (Bong bridge) from Thap Ba. There is large concentration of fishing boats around the bridge and the fishing village here is very prosperous. The best seafood restaurant is not found here nor at the beach. It is Quán Gió, about 20km north of Nha Trang.
Talking about food (my favorite topic), you can never guess that Nha Trang is famous for grilled meat balls, locally called Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa. You roll pork meat balls, star fruit, green banana, lettuce, fried rolls of rice paper and other ingredients together in wet rice paper and dip into a delicious shrimp paste, a trademark of nem nuong in Nha Trang. The other dish you don't want to miss is bò La.c Ca?nh, basically steak cubes grilled on your table, rolled up with lá mo+. in rice paper.
As the influx of foreign tourists increases, the number of beggars has also swelled, causing nuisance. If you want to give money, hand it out on the way out, not when you first arrive, otherwise you'll have unpleasant escorts during your visit.
There are several "models" wearing some kind of Cham traditional dresses that will pose for you, at 50 cents a pop. This particular one is a native of Nha-Trang and very pleasant. She gets paid about $40 a month by Thap Ba tourist authority, standing around 8 hrs a day, 7 days a week. In comparison, a hotel clerk in Nha Trang earns about $30 a month.
Picture of Cau Da (rock bridge), surrounded by ponds, aquariums and restaurants. I got the impression people come here more for fresh seafood than sea life learning.
Picture of tortoises in one of a pond at Cau Da. As apparent in this picture, water in Nha-Trang is very clear. But don't get taken by tour operators who peddle scuba diving and snorkelling trips, there isn't much coral life that one can see around here.
Picture of a grotto off the coast where Swift birds come to build their nest. According to our guide, the grottos are leased to companies who pay large amount of money for the right to harvest the birds' nests. Some grottos have nearby station with guards watching around the clock.

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