Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Vietnam (iii): Mountains, Bombs, Kings

On one my weekends in Da Nang I took a drive out into the countryside to the neighboring mountains and went through a traditional village. Departing Da Nang made for a dramatic transition from a dense urban sprawl to sparse farming villages. The drive wove steadily up a valley inland along a river under an overcast sky and intermittent drizzles. After a couple of hours I stopped by the river to cross a rickety, rain-slicked suspension foot-bridge to reach a historic village home to an indigenous ethnic group called the Co Tu.

I wandered about the village and met curious mutts, was shown blast craters leftover from the Vietnam War and a bell made from an old bomb casing (on which the US Marines serial number is still visible), and was served a traditional Vietnamese meal. It was a pretty sobering thing to see the relics and lasting impact of the war as still a reality for these people. I also met a man that was the former king of the Co Tu. He put on his traditional garb and played a number of instruments to demonstrate traditional Co Tu music. He also showed me the dragon emblazoned coffin he's already hand-carved for himself, his old Soviet-era war medals, and a portrait painted of him with Stalin. He was a badass old dude.

I also made my way to the famous Marble Mountains just aside Da Nang. The Marble Mountains are a series of large rock formations jutting starkly upward from a flat coastal plain, each one named after one of the five elements. They were shelters for resistance fighters during the war; snipers held positions at their peaks and a network of caves provided safe havens. They're now filled with Buddhist carvings, statues, and pagodas. At this point they're mostly a tourist attraction with villages of shops surrounding the base of the mountains and hawkers crawling over every inch of their paths. Nevertheless, making my way to the top of Thuy Son (Water Mountain) was still enjoyable. Somehow there are no signs directing toward the carved stairs to the highest point on Thuy Son. It took a lot of wandering and climbing to dead ends before I got to the peak. At around midday the peak was a bad place to be. The sun burned out all the moisture in my body like a microwave, but I lingered to take some photos and enjoy the solitude as Da Nang shimmered against the mountains 30km in the distance. 

Most of my free time in Da Nang was spent eating and I'm OK with that. The same was also more or less true of Hong Kong. I did get to see some cool stuff though. I'd love to go back and see more of Vietnam.