Beaches, mountains and rural Nam


Beaches, mountains and rural Nam
Da Nang & the road to Hue

By Jerry Wadian
Contributing Writer

Da Nang (also spelled Danang, like Vietnam is also spelled Viet Nam) is a city with over 4 million people. It has one of the best deep-water harbors in Asia and rivaled Long Binh as the biggest U.S. base in the country during the war. It was the location of China Beach of TV fame, although no trace of the hospital complex exists today.

The beaches at Da Nang are among the finest in the world. I have been at many of the beaches in Florida, and Professor McComb has been   to many in California; we both agreed, Danang has them all beat.

Some of the beachfront is now in private or corporate hands. Greg Norman – “the Great White Shark” of professional golf – has a walled-in estate complete with golf course.

However, large expanses of beach are open to the public. With restaurants and cold drinks close by, one can spend a peaceful afternoon, day, or week lapping up the sunshine and camaraderie of the many Westerners on the beaches.

With the bay extending for miles, you can see a wide variety of fishing craft, from reed boats to ocean-going vessels.

Da Nang is also a reminder of the adage that 90 percent of the people live on 10 percent of the land.

Vietnam is very long, but very narrow. The Mekong Delta in the southern end of the country is one big rice bowl. In the rest of the country, most of the people live near the coast because Nam is one long mountain chain covered with double- and triple-canopy jungle.

All around Da Nang we saw mountains. Some, like Marble Mountain – named for the marble mined out of it, stick up like solo fingers from a flat plain. Others are part of the chain that separates coast from the interior.

To drive out of Da Nang, you have gone over these mountains of over 3000 .0feet on a two-lane highway. 

The view is spectacular, and our guide had the driver stop along the way so we could get some dramatic views of Danang Harbor.

Equally spectacular was some of the traffic going up and down the mountain “road.” 

There is an alternate route that just recently opened. It uses a four-mile-long tunnel cut through one of the mountains. It does cut off hours of time from the trip, but at the cost of the magnificent vistas.

We did take the tunnel on the way back to Danang so we could fly to Hanoi. Going through the tunnel, I couldn’t help but recall my reading on the battle of Dienbienphu, the battle that ended French colonial rule.

The French were ensconced in a valley, confident that their artillery could silence anything the Viet Minh (as the Vietnamese army was called then) could bring to the battlefield. 

Using nothing but ropes and pulleys, the Viet Minh hauled one-ton howitzers up the sides of the mountains to revetments dug into, and sometimes through, the mountain. All they had to do was roll the gun out, shoot, and roll it back in. The French could never silence the extensive artillery barrage that rained down on them, and their commander of artillery committed suicide over his underestimation of the Vietnamese.

Once over the mountains, we were back into a visual era that I could identify without ever having been there. We were in a rural Vietnam that looked like the one I remembered in Long Khanh province some 43 years ago.

There were little fishing villages, isolated homes, small rice paddies, and other little villages. Some villages were doing okay, but some were dirt poor. The same was true for the houses; some looked like there was a level of prosperity, and others wouldn’t make a good shack. 

In the paddies, which are small compared to those in southern Vietnam, there is a little machinery starting to do some of the work. However, the ubiquitous water buffalo is still the “tractor” of Vietnam. Every farmer has one of these one-ton relatives of the Cape buffalo – which many big-game hunters claim is the most dangerous game of all.

The Vietnamese version is more placid and thrives on the wetlands and mud baths. They seem gentle; even small children can lead one around with the rope coming from its nose ring. 

However, if the buffalo is unattended, heed our guide’s warning and be very careful! Buffalo can have an attitude, and as my platoon found out one day during my first trip to Vietnam, an M-60 machine gun will not stop one these beasts!

Every so often, we would stop and photograph a rice paddy, water buffalo, or small fishing village, making it enjoyable trip, that was not only visually rewarding, but also a peek into a part of Vietnam that is little changed in the past century.

Next: Hue: the heart and of Vietnam


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