In search of attractive coastlines in old Indochina, we become disillusioned with the roughness of Nha Trang's bathing area. And it is in the feminine and exotic work of the Hon Khoi salt flats that we find a more pleasant Vietnam.
Our determination to enjoy the still little-known Vietnamese coast was far from pioneering. Even in the fictional sphere, memorable examples occurred to us. In one of the most iconic scenes of “Apocalypse Now”, captain and special operations veteran Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) becomes aware of the crazy intentions of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and, under countless helicopters, fighter jets and a rain of shells from shells and other explosive devices, asks him: “Are you crazy? Damn it! Doesn't it seem a little risky for fun?” To which the lunatic Kilgore replies: “If I say it's safe to surf this beach, it's because it's safe to surf this beach! I'm not afraid to surf this beach, I'm going to surf this whole place!”. The scene proceeds to a sequence of military eccentricity. Kilgore drops the megaphone he used to make his commands heard, strips off his shirt, picks up a radio transmitter, and orders a napalm bombardment of the enemy's forest. It ends, thus, with the attack that had almost killed the unfortunate soldiers who, by his order, surfed the small waves in the surrounding delta.
The names Francis Ford Coppola gave to the river that Willard then ascends in search of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and those of several other places he portrayed in the Philippines were fictitious. But that didn't turn out to be the case in Nha Trang, a city in southern Vietnam that hosted one of the most important American military bases during the war and which we had decided to visit also with the purpose of taking even a single day's rest from the bath.
We arrived at dawn from a long night journey from Hoi An, more than 500 km to the north. guest houses from the bus company that had brought us and we slept with no time to wake up.
Around 1:XNUMX pm, we woke up already well recharged, had a robust breakfast and went out to take a look at the seafront that delimited the city to the East. On the outskirts of the South China Sea, we skirt the large Concert Hall building. At the top, the red and star-yellow flag of Vietnam flies, and straight ahead a battalion of soldiers in old-fashioned green troop uniforms.
The combination of these visions once again brings us back to the imagination of the nation's wartime times and leaves little doubt as to the unexpected and sacrificed triumph of the former north. Vietcong. Above all, we needed some more peace and quiet. We crossed the last marginal road and a coconut forest considerable to the municipal environment in which it found itself. On the other side, we come across a sand with more than 6 km in length.
It's still mid-afternoon, the tropical sun burning as it almost always does in the dry season in southern Vietnam. The conditions were right for a flood of bathers, but as was to be expected in such a demure Asia, only a few Western outsiders were subjected to the slow torture of ultraviolet radiation.
Around them, veritable swarms of masseuses, seafood vendors, hammocks, handicrafts, pirated CD's and DVD's, protected from the big star to their fingertips, did what they could to torment his rest. Even lying far from the logistical center of the beach, we soon attracted attention and were included in the list of targets.
For more than an hour, we relaxed as much as we could, approached every three minutes by commercial proposals that were quite objectionable. Until a front of dense clouds takes us away from the sun and, little by little, some young bathers from Vietnam and other parts of Asia flock to the beach, satisfied that they can have fun without staining their sacred skin.
We use the rest of the day to reorganize the trip from Nha Trang to the south.
The next morning, we start by visiting the main archaeological heritage of the region, some towers known as Po Nagar built between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries in honor of the Hindu goddess of the Cham kingdom, but which were eventually adapted to the Buddhist faith that, however, would conquer the people's preference viet. We lingered long enough to appreciate the historic sumptuousness of the place and the fluvial scenery formed by the river Cai, right next door.
By that time, we had already rented a motor scooter and determined that we would head to Doc Let's beach. Several publications dedicated to travel claimed to be the loveliest in Vietnam.
We advanced along roads full of craters, in a computer game reality that forced us to dodge over and over again other motorbikes overloaded with passengers, objects and animals. We also dodged carts and ox carts, dogs, ducks, pigs and even bamboo falling from a truck.
In Doc Let, again with our feet refreshed in the South China Sea, we confirmed the strong turquoise blue that we had read and a sand so white and reflective that it “blinded” our eyes. We also noticed that the Vietnamese had replaced part of the coconut forest with a species of juvenile cypress which, according to our cultural standards, gave the beach a certain tropic-funerary look.
We take a few swims and swims and, for a good half-hour, rest our legs battered by the trip. But it's still 8 am and we're pretty much the only Westerners in Doc Let. We have been targeted again and again by sellers, now for cloths and fresh fruit. We soon lost patience.
We return to the motorbike pointing to some salt pans that we had passed before. When we arrive, dozens of workers walk along the overhanging walkways in harmonious rows, each loaded with two baskets filled with salt that they balance, in Vietnamese fashion, on a pole over their shoulder.
We approach with subtlety. As we take a closer look at the scene, we realize they are women. They have the body and face covered to protect them from erosion combined with the sun and salt. We watch them put up with the hard work with stoicism – as often happens to Vietnamese, rather than their husbands, when it comes to heavy tasks. On one occasion or another, they removed the masks from their faces to show effortful smiles and let out any remark or question that was imperceptible to us.
On our way back to Nha Trang, we found out that these were the Hon Khoi salt pans in charge of “salting” a good part of Vietnam. Its workers from the commune of Ninh Hai got up every day at three in the morning and cycled 4 km to get to work there. From 4 to 9 in the morning, they repeated round trips, loaded with 20 kg of salt, thus increasing the countless piles already formed.
From 9 am, the sun turned the salt pans into a real furnace that, like them, we could no longer withstand. From that time onwards, the trucks that distributed the raw material throughout the country arrived. We didn't wait for the first one. We got back on the scooter and faced the painful return to Nha Trang with a well-seasoned Vietnamese lunch in mind.