Before I knew it, my Tet holiday was coming to an end. After just over two weeks of adventure it was time to make my way back to Can Tho, by way of Da Nang.
In case you aren’t familiar with Vietnamese geography, Da Nang is the biggest city in central Vietnam, and one of the four biggest cities in the country. It is also Vietnam’s fastest developing city, with a handful of skyscrapers and lots of trendy restaurants and hotels. It’s only about 40 minutes from Hoi An by bus, but it might as well be a world away in terms of atmosphere.
In any case, I set out on foot for the public bus that would take me to Da Nang. I was told at the hostel it would be around d200,000 ($10) which was way more than I wanted to pay – my four hour ride from Hue had cost less! I was also told that the bus picked up nearby, but at a different location than I had been dropped off at. Hoi An being a small town, I decided to walk, figuring it must be nearby. Nope.
Almost an hour later I found the bus station, dripping in sweat and more than a little disgruntled. But I suppose my efforts paid off, since the bus I found turned out to be the public bus, which was only d30,000 ($1.50). The ride was quiet and comfortable, and after showing my hostel address to the attendant I made it off at the correct stop. Once again I found myself walking to a new hostel, but this time the directions were right, it was only five minutes.
After dropping my things off I decided to make the most of my day by exploring the city on foot. I slowly made my way along the riverside, towards the Cham Museum. I had read that this was a museum not to be missed, but I think the guidebooks oversold it. Or perhaps I should have done the audio tour. In any case, I enjoyed walking through remnants of Vietnam’s past, especially since the relics showed ties to Hinduism that I had not seen in Vietnam before. You can see similar sculptures and images all over Cambodia and Thailand’s temples, but Vietnam has a stronger Chinese influence, and so I was unaware of the shared history. I spent maybe an hour walking through the museum remembering bits and pieces of Indian art history from my time on Pac Rim, and was able to recognize several key stories and characters. I even found my favorite Hindu deity – Nandi the bull, mount of Shiva.
Once I finished up at the museum I found a bus stop and rode to the “marble mountains” on the city’s outskirts. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was a bit surprised to see a handful of small mountains rising from a very populated city. It was an interesting mix of nature and civilization. The bus attendant on my way out had spent much of the 20 minute ride trying to have a conversation with me through her bits of English, my minuscule Vietnamese, and a lot of gesturing. All of this in between people running to catch the bus, which never actually came to a complete stop. She was super friendly, and told me that if I came back to the bus stop at the right time, she would be on again and wouldn’t charge me for a round trip ticket. Her timeframe left me with about two hours to explore the mountains.
The most visited mountain contains a series of pagodas, and is free to visitors. I slowly made my way up to the top, pausing to take in my surroundings at each turn.
The view from the top was beautiful, and I’m not sure how I worked this out, but I managed to get there right at sunset, and except for a few monks I was the only one there. It was amazingly peaceful, and I took some time to reflect once again on where I was, how lucky I have been to have these experiences, and how amazing the past year has been. I’m not really one for spiritual experiences, but sitting on the top of that mountain and watching the sun go down was an absolute highlight of my trip, and a note I would happily end on.
Not wanting to climb down the mountain in the dark, I left the pagoda and walked toward the bus stop, pausing along the way to snap a few photos of a nearby temple. I wanted to share this picture in particular, since I’ve gotten comments before on similar scenes. You will notice that there is a swastika front and center on the temple gates. The first time I saw this I was shocked and appalled, but the symbol’s history is widely misunderstood. Contrary to popular knowledge, the swastika is a symbol that dates back over ten thousand years. In Sanskrit, it means “it is” or “well being,” and it appears in images related to many world religions, including Christianity and Hinduism. It is especially significant in buddhism, and is a symbol of prosperity. If you’re interested in the history of this symbol, and why a marker of peace was perverted into one of mass murder, you can read up on it here and here. And if you find yourself in Asia, don’t be surprised if you see it everywhere. Once I learned of the symbol’s history, I was able to take in the beauty that often surrounds it on temples and other places of worship.
But back to my trip – I had made it to the bus station a bit too early and was picked up by a new bus, which meant I had to pay for fare again. This was a bit of a bummer, but then again, $2.50 isn’t too much of a hardship, especially when on vacation. I made my way back to the city center and back to my hostel. I found a delicious pho restaurant for dinner and wandered around looking for a bit of dessert. Lucky me, I stumbled into a convenience store selling imported goodies from the US and Europe. I bought a few treats to bring back to my friends in Can Tho and walked down to the riverside to enjoy a mini hagen daz ice cream – quite a treat!
I watched people coming and going, looked at the lights on the bridges, and enjoyed the last night of my trip. Over the past two weeks I had learned a lot – traveling alone gives you a lot of time to reflect, and also sheds light on your own preferences. Even though I’ve had a lot of experience traveling, I learned so much this trip about what I do and don’t like to do, just by being the sole decision-maker. I also walked away with the knowledge that I can handle myself well, and am now more confident in many ways. For all of you reading, I would encourage traveling solo at least once in your life, as it gave me a sense of perspective and accomplishment I don’t think I could have gained elsewhere.
As I finished my ice cream and prepared to return to the hostel, I knew that this trip was something I’d never forget. I walked through town thinking about all of the possibilities the future holds, how many more places there were to see in the world, in Asia, or even just in Vietnam. This adventure was over, and I was already waiting for the next one to start.