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Has This Monkey Lost His Marbles?

Final Day in Da Nang

rain 85 °F

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Da Nang as seen from Monkey Mountain, aka the Son Tra Peninsula

Due to squeezing in both My Son and Hoi An on "Scooterback" day two in Da Nang, I had an extra day of sightseeing. I'd asked around the locals I'd met and they recommended Monkey Mountain and the Marble Mountains. Both are within easy taxi distance for travelers staying in Da Nang. Since any sightseeing outside in Vietnam's summer means sweating, I asked the hotel about keeping my room until 6 pm or so. My flight for Ho Chi Minh City did not leave until 740 pm, and they said I could have it for the equivalent of $7 US. Deal done, I would have a place to shower, though as it turned out, it wouldn't be because I was hot and sticky!

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The Buddhist sanctuary atop Monkey Mountain

Monkey Mountain no longer has monkeys, I was told, but it does have a massive statue of Buddha overlooking the city from a hilltop. There are several shrines there, and it was thronged with worshippers on a Sunday morning. There is a great view looking back down at the city below. There is also a row of white statues of various divinities mounted on animals such as goats, horses, bulls -- you name it. The Son Tra peninsula, which apparently got its nickname Monkey Mountain by U.S. troops when they garrisoned it, would be a great place for a scooter ride. I was offered to drive one, but honestly, the drivers are simply too crazy here for me. I didn't want to spend my last few days in Vietnam in a hospital! It is very scenic, though, with wide curves of alternating beach and rocky shore overlooked by green hills thick with tropical vegetation.

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Gorgeous scenery and winding roads may tempt the novice scooter driver, but I resisted...!

Lunch was next and I finally got around to the trying rice noodle soup. It is a staple of Vietnam -- their hamburger, so to speak. It was very good, actually. Like all the other restaurants, they were happy to accommodate my chopstick deficiency with forks and spoons. Other diners piled in what looked like fresh mint leaves and bean sprouts, but I thought I'd leave well enough alone. No use trying to play chef and spoil the pot! The real reason I hadn't tried the rice noodle soup yet was because one "soup joint" looks just like another. No menus, little plastic stools to sit on, and run by unhappy looking ladies. Okay, maybe the last part is an exaggeration. Truly, everyone has been very happy to do their best to communicate with a traveler who essentially couldn't speak a word of Vietnamese.

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One of the caves in the Marble Mountains with Buddhist shrines visited by the locals

The Marble Mountains are along the shore in the opposite direction from Monkey Mountain. It takes about 10 minutes to get their by car (or scooter). They are called the marble mountains because that is where many of the local craftsmen quarry their stone. Although impressive to look at, "mountain" is an exaggeration. They are several hundred feet high peaks that jut up suddenly from the surrounding area. Think of them as land-based karsts -- like the island versions in Ha Long Bay. Stone steps have been carved up their steep slopes. The steps climb to various pagodas that have been built up there, along with scenic overlooks and a few caves. Inside the caves are Buddhist shrines, though one had a distinctly Cham figure carved onto a block of stone. I have asked everyone in both Taiwan and Vietnam how you tell the difference between a Buddhist and Taoist temple, and haven't gotten a satisfactory answer. Obviously, if it has a statue of a big-bellied, happy Buddha seated cross-legged, you can safely guess it is Buddhist. However, there are other divinities in the Buddhist faith and that is where the line starts to blur for me. I'm beginning to get the hang of identifying a Confucian temple, though I wouldn't bet my paycheck on the guess.

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One of the flower-shrouded pagodas atop the Marble Mountains

It was fun to climb around and enjoy the different views and check out the various shrines and pagodas. The caves were often surprising in their size and nooks and crannies that opened up into a tiny temple with statue and offerings. I heard the high pitched squeaks of bats and finally spotted a cluster of them on the ceiling of one cave. Since these mountains were where the source of the stone for many of the souvenir statues you see around, the area atop the Mountains was well-stocked in stands selling all kinds of goodies, and cold drinks for weary climbers, as well. There we're quite a few other Westerners checking out the sights, too. It is always fun to listen in on their conversations to try to identify their nationality by the sound of their language. I heard French, Italians, Brits, and Americans. I still have difficulty distinguishing local Vietnamese tourists from Chinese or Japanese ones. The Vietnamese language has a very staccato sound. It is not sing-song like some Asian ones, or melodious like Italian or French. It has a kind if "ping-bong-bing-pong" sound. I don't mean that to ridicule the language. For example, I always say German sounds like "schleeben-schlieben-schluben" ring to it. I've always wished I could pick up languages easily. I admire those who can. Until then, I guess I will have to settle with doing imitations of how they sound...!

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My next stop: The beaches of Da Nang

I looked at my watch and it was still early. I'd done pretty much everything in Da Nang except for one last sight. Most people who know anything about Da Nang will connect it with the television show "China Beach," or if they're history buffs they'll know the U.S. Military had a rest and recreation base there. The beach was one place I hadn't hit, yet, and it was what the city was best known for -- in America, at least. I didn't really feel like swimming, but a stroll along the beach would be a nice way to wrap up my time in Central Vietnam.

Now, those who have been reading my blog faithfully might notice the lack of mention of rain. I have had very little rain on my trip, so far. Most days were bright and sunny (and hot, of course). This morning it had dawned overcast and pretty much remained that way all morning and into the afternoon. Some darker clouds floated overhead from time to time, but I'd seen no downpours. So, I felt safe leaving the poncho where it has been all trip -- in the bottom of the backpack. The beach isn't far from my hotel -- maybe a 20 minute walk. As I walked along the beach I checked out the fishermens' nets drying in their boats. I watched two men carry one out to sea about 30 yards, then one walked parallel to the shore, stretching it fully out. The two then headed shore to see what they could catch. I was curious, too, but that was when the first heavy drops began to fall. Within minutes, the sky had opened up. I walked quickly to the shelter of a palm tree, but they're really not much help blocking heavy rain.

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Ignore those thunderheads at your own risk, Forrest...!

As I sat there getting soaked, I wanted to quote Forrest Gump, "One day it started raining and didn't quit for four months!" About that time was when I realized this shower wasn't going to pass. My dilemma fully hit me, then. My shoes, camera bag, wallet -- everything -- was getting soaked. By the time I got to the hotel, I was thoroughly drenched. Thank god I had kept the room for the afternoon! Can you imagine how awful sitting in the airport and plane would have been, soaking wet? As it was, I had to repack my bag to accommodate some dripping wet items. I had seen the beach, though, along with other choice sights from Central Vietnam. It was time to head south and wrap up my trip in Ho Chi Minh City, the former "Saigon", and teeming metropolis of this country.

Posted by world_wide_mike 09:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beach monkey mountain vietnam china marble

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