Thursday, March 31, 2011

In an around Buon Ma Thout - Central Highlands

We left Nha Trang, stopping at a fishing village where the wind was too strong for the fleet to go out, but the women had managed to catch a few fish in their nets close to shore. They spread them out on the sidewalk for the other women to haggle over who got what. It was from tiny ports like this that the boat people left in 1975; the boats are tiny and it's 600 km. to the Philippines. It is estimated that about 1,000,000 made it to safety, though rarely all the way that far (they got to Thailand or were picked up by other boats like the one from Medecins sans Frontière). It is also estimated that at least as many died trying. This is a beautiful site and will probably disappear fairly soon in the name of tourist development. You can see vast spreads of land along the coast that have been cleared for hotel resorts.


We drove through some very interesting countryside as we entered the mountains: bananas, sugar cane, corn, rubber trees, teak, and coffee. There were more and more traditional houses. This is where many of the ethnic minorities live. We picked up a local guide, an obligation, but a nice one, and proceeded to a M'nong village for lunch, an elephant ride through the Lak lake (an unnecessary attraction as far as I am concerned, especially when our elephant ducked in the deeper water and our seat was not high enough). The ride ended with a walk through the village. This is enlightening; the people still live in their long houses on stilts. The houses have one window if there is a woman and then a window for each girl. Closed windows mean "unavailable", open windows mean "ready to marry"; most windows are shut. There are animals all over: hens with their chicks close behind; sows with their piglets; cows, sometimes with a calf; dogs all over the place. The disturbing thing is that, although the kids go to school, like all Vietnamese children, they are expected to continue to live in their villages. They have satellite TV and school, so they can see modern living standards, but are expected to remain where they are, with a hose outside for a shower and toilet in the woods behind the village. It seemed to me like walking through an exhibit in a national park.

Buon Ma Thout is a nice town, with clean, wide streets. On waking up we had another surprise -- sunshine! The museum of ethnic music and crafts was closed but we stopped to look at the new building, and admire the big camphor trees in the garden in front of the Bao Dai's house. He was the last king of Vietnam, who lived in exile in France and died in the late 1990s. It was so wonderful to stroll through this park in the sun and warmth.


We then headed for the waterfalls at Dray Sap and that was a short hike, but it was so good to be out of the bus and walking, no one complained. 

We returned to the city for lunch and a visit to a modern pagoda. There's a public school next to the pagoda and the kids were out on recess, so we stopped to say hello. They wanted our autographs. It was amusing. They were all screaming "hello", but you can't go any further in a discussion. We ended with a visit to the local market. I felt very confined and not comfortable at all. Once we got through the poultry section, I had to leave fast.
We are now in Saigon, on route to the Mekong delta.

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