Discovering Indochina–Nha Trang, Vietnam

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We left Hội An on a bus, heading to the train station in Da Nang. On the way we passed by the Marble Mountains. On the road are several places that carve marble statues. We stopped at one.

Here is a larger than life sized marble Buddha, with lions on each side. Behind are the Marble Mountains.

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The place we stopped at was filled with statues, many that are Chinese in design, like the Laughing Buddha (Ho Tai) and the Chinese lions shown below. Ho Tai is also known in China as Budai and is traditionally depicted as a fat bald man wearing a robe and wearing or otherwise carrying prayer beads. He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack, being poor but content. His name means "Cloth Sack.” He is often depicted entertaining or being followed by adoring children. According to legend he had candies in his sack that he would give to the children. His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of contentment. He is usually identified with (or as an incarnation of) Maitreya, the “Future Buddha,” so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which the Maitreya Buddha is depicted in East Asia.

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Here are the Three Immortals, Fu Lu Shou. Fu, holding a baby, symbolizing good fortune; Lu, with the winged hat and other symbols of high office, evoking prosperity, and Shou with a staff and a peach, standing for long life. These figures are used in Chinese culture to denote the three attributes of a good life. Statues of these three gods are found in nearly every Chinese home and many Chinese-owned shops on small altars with a glass of water, an orange or other auspicious offerings.

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The grounds were filled with statues, many were larger than life size.

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Some were abstract, like the seated woman below. Next to her is a monkey.

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Here is an abstract romantic sculpture. When I looked at these, I wondered where one would put them? In a big room? As a feature in an elaborately decorated yard?

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A row of female statues.

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Inside the shop there are many smaller carved figures.

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Outside, in the back, was the work area. This woman is polishing a statue.

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These two men are rough cutting a figure.

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This figure is propped up for more work.

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They ship internationally, so they have good ability to crate up a statue for shipment.

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This elephant is near the gate into the work area. You can see that the workers use it to hold their jackets and gear.

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As we drove towards Da Nang, we saw these hangars, remnants of the US air base that was here during the war. I think this was the biggest US air base in Vietnam.

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Nha Trang

After a long train ride from Da Nang, we got to our hotel in Nha Trang. We got in late, so went to bed.

Nha Trang is a city of about 300,000 that is well known for its pristine beaches and excellent scuba diving and is fast becoming a popular destination for international tourists and backpackers. Nha Trang Bay is widely considered as among the world’s most beautiful bays. Like other places we have visited, there is a long history here. In the days of the Champa kings, Na Trang was called Kauthara, which was the southern capital of the Champa empire. There is an ancient Champa temple site in the city, with temples that are much better preserved than were those in Mỹ Sơn.

This is the hotel in which we stayed, Saigon Hotel, Nha Trang.

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The next morning we went out to get breakfast. Here is a view of the street. 

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Art on the wall of the restaurant. Pretty contemporary.

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A few men eat breakfast on the streetside. They are sitting on short stools, at a low table.

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Close to the hotel was this camera store, with signs in both Vietnamese and Russian. Quite a few Russians must visit here. We saw more signs in Russian. One was at a jewelry shop. Inside was a man who sure looked Russian to me. He was physically big and intimidating. He was talking and it looked like he was used to people listening when he talked. I have heard that some of the Russians who have money to travel to places like this are Russian gangsters. This guy sure looked like it to me. 

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There are many massage parlors. This one offers “The Blind Massage.” Does the masseuse wear a blindfold? Or is it the customer?

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Snorkeling Trip

Our big activity for today was a swim in the ocean. We got on a chartered boat.

 

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And went cruising. We see above us the Vinpearl Cable Car. It is a 3311 meters long (about two miles) gondola lift, which links Bamboo Island (also known as Hon Tre Island, to use its Vietnamese name) with Nha Trang. It is the world’s longest over-water gondola lift. People enjoy the trip to the island. It has a big five-star resort, a water slide park, an amusement park, swimming, restaurants, and shopping.  We were told that a ride on the gondola lift is expensive. 

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A ferry passes by, loaded with trucks.

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A waterside resort, with the mountains behind.

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Here we are onboard our boat.

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On the backside of Bamboo Island there is a small city, with many fish farm pens floating in the water. Much fish is farm-raised in these pens.

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As we pass a small island near the bigger island, I see a man with a pole, fishing.

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Here is another boat of tourists, going on the same trip as we are. This is what our boat looks like, too.

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As we get near to our swimming spot, Quan, our Gecko Travels guide, checks things out. 

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We drop anchor and people don their bathing suits and snorkels and climb down the ladder into the ocean.

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The boat next to us has a lot of swimmers. Most of the people on the boat are now in the water.

That group includes an American man about my age, along with his two adult sons. We met him at the Da Nang train station. He had been in the Vietnamese war. When he got back to the USA he worked with veterans groups, helping those who had been damaged during the war. He said that those with just physical wounds were the easiest to help; those with mental wounds were much more difficult. He said that he came back to Vietnam to apologize to the Vietnamese people. We saw him, on another occasion, stop and have some words with what looked like a disabled Vietnamese war veteran. Both sons of the American ex-serviceman served in the US military as well. Both had been, I think, in Iraq. One was still in the Army, a captain in Intelligence. He was on leave after returning from Iraq. After this trip was over, he and his unit were going to Afghanistan. He seemed pretty committed to what he was doing.

I thought that it was interesting that the father was here to apologize for his war, and the two sons had volunteered to serve in these wars.

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Now I am suited up and have a snorkel.

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Swimming in the water. It felt good.

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I used the snorkel and mask to look at the bottom. It was only about 10 feet deep here, and there was much interesting sea life below. I had never used a snorkel before, and I was doing something wrong, and kept sucking water into the breathing hose. Because of this, I cut my swim short and came on out of the water. I am glad that I went in, though.

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Others in the group enjoyed the water. Do you see the beer cans on the hands of the girls?

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Soon there ensued diving from the top of the boat. What fun!

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When we all got out of the water, the crew served us a nice meal. They had cooked this while we played in the water.

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After the meal, some of the girls got pedicures, part of the services offered on the boat! One guy got a pedicure, too.

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Here is a group photo from the boat trip, everyone except Carol and me.

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We cruised back, and returned to the dock. We had a break for the rest of the afternoon. Tonight we are going to a fish restaurant that is for locals, not tourists. I look forward to this. Every place we have eaten at so far was for tourists, and my sense is that the best of the Vietnamese food would be found in places where the local people eat. 

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Phong Luu Restaurant

Here we are. We took two taxis, full of people, to get here. This is the Phong Luu New restaurant. The beach is on the other side of the road.

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There are buckets full of sea food. The way it works here is that you tell them what you want, after looking at today’s selection. Then they cook it up for you.

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Want some fresh squid?

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How about some shrimp? It’s fresh!

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Or some small local crabs?

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They sat us down at a low plastic table next to the street. We had beer and other drinks while we waited for the food.

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Then they started serving us dishes. I have no idea what these are, some kind of sea food and veggies, served in some kind of shell (I think it is a shell, anyway).

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Crab anyone?

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We all dig in. Some things, like these small crabs, are kind of difficult to eat. You break the shell apart with your hands, and pick out the meat from the crab body.

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We did get some prawns. I like how they are served in a plate of greens.

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Nearby there was a group of men playing dominoes. One of our group went over to watch the game. He was welcomed by the men.

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The last thing that was served was a whole fish. It was wrapped in aluminum foil for cooking, then unwrapped when it was served. It was hot and fresh and very good. Carol said it was the best fish she had ever had.

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Here is what was left of the fish.

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Our table after the meal was over. Yum! We had such a good meal. The best so far on this trip.

We then went back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

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The next day started out clear and bright. On our way to our next adventure we passed by one of the many beautiful local beaches. With the beach umbrellas and lounges, this looks like a pleasant place to while away a few hours at the beach.

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Cho Dam Market

Our morning trip took us to a local market, the Cho Dam Market. This was a big place, mostly covered. Since fish is such a major part of the local diet, this was a big item in the market, here mainly as dried fish.

Below are some dried squid.

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Many packages of different dried fish products. The orange things in the bags behind the squid are small dried shrimp. If you want, you can eat them by the handfuls.

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A man and his granddaughter (I think) are selling some kind of bread.

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This lady is selling red meat.

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This is what it looked like inside the market.

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More red meat.

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Veggies too, of course.

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Fresh fish, too. This is a long one! What kind of fish is that?

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Small fish. I wonder if they are spiny, since the woman is wearing gloves to handle them.

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How about some baby squid today?

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Some kind of tuna? What kind of fish has this kind of tail and sharp fins along their back?

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It is always a good time for a nap.

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In another section of the market there were housewares, like these white porcelain dishes.

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A shop just for joss sticks (incense).

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Clothes, too. Here are brightly colored shawls.

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And women’s dresses and robes.

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A tee shirt shop. Here is featured an ‘Uncle Ho’ tee.

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This is a classic-looking Vietnamese maiden with swans.

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Long Son Pagoda

After the market, we went to one of the famous spots in Nha Trang, the Long Son Pagoda. At this pagoda, you will see a 79 ft. tall white Buddha. The pagoda was established in 1963, but was built on the site of Nha Trang’s first pagoda, to honor the monks and nuns who died demonstrating against the Diem government.

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Long Son Pagoda was erected on another hill in 1886, but in 1900, after a large cyclone, the temple was destroyed and had to be moved from that hill to its current location, on top of this hill.

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One monk honored here is the one who burned himself to death in 1963, Thich Quang Duc, whose self-immolation in Saigon was filmed and viewed all over the world.

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Surrounding the giant Buddha are rows of little crypts. This is a mausoleum.

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In them are ashes. It is auspicious to have one’s ancestor’s ashes on the holy grounds of a place like this.

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This crypt was broken into. I wonder why? Was it just vandalism?

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Nearby the crypts were two boys, playing in a shady spot.

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An altar near the giant Buddha.

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A bit down the stairs is this bell tower. There are about 190 stairs down the hill.

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This bell is big,  1,010 kg.

The bronze bell, when struck by the wooden post (to the right of the bell in the photo below) can be heard for miles.

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The view from the hill on which the Long son Pagoda sits; a great place to view the surrounding city.

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Poor old ladies sit on the steps offering small snacks for sale.

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Midway down from the Long Son Pagoda is this “Sleeping Buddha.” The Buddha in this reclining posture indicates enlightenment. The Buddha is 17 meters long and 5 meters high.

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The Buddha’s peaceful face. There are bas-relief faces carved on the wall behind the Buddha.  They depict the 49 disciples of the Buddha.

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There was a woman here with three boys, I think a mother and her kids. She was showing her sons how to be respectful and to worship the Buddha.

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Down the stairs from the giant Buddha is the main part of the Long Son Pagoda. We found it a wonderful place to visit and in which to soak in the spiritual presence.

In the photo below, you can see the giant Buddha that tops the hill in the background.

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I think this is the headquarters of Khanh Hoa Buddhist Church.

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The main figure, in back, is a bronze Buddha in sitting posture, 1.6 meters high, weighing 700  kg . The Buddha’s hand position indicates that he is giving an explanation of the Dharma. The Buddha is teaching.

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Here is the main temple. In front is a large mosaic depicting two beasts, I am not sure what kind.

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Po Nagar Towers

Po Nagar was built by the Champa, the same people that built the temple complex at Mỹ Sơn. These towers are in much better condition though, I think mainly because they were not bombed by the US.

Walking up the stairs to Po Nagar.

 

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Po Nagar was founded sometime before 781 AD and located in the medieval Cham principality of Kauthara, near modern Nha Trang in Vietnam. It is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with the Hindu goddesses Bhagavati and Mahishasuramardini (Durga), and who in Vietnamese is called Thiên Y Thánh Mâu. Yan Po Nagar, according to legend was the founder of the Cham nation.

The brick work on these towers is ornate and exquisite. It is great what remains after more than 1000 years! Especially since no conventional mortar was used. They still do no know what held the bricks together. 

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A stele dated 781 CE indicates that the Cham King Satyavarman regained power in the area of "Ha-Ra Bridge" (Nha Trang), and that he restored the devastated temple (so the original Hindu temples here were built before 781). Other stelae indicate that the temple had contained a mukhalinga (a lingam with the face of Siva) decorated with jewelry and resembling an angel’s head. Per inscriptions on one of the stele, foreign robbers, perhaps from Java, "men living on food more horrible than cadavers, frightful, completely black and gaunt, dreadful and evil as death" had arrived in ships, had stolen the jewelry and had broken the lingam. Though the king had chased the robbers out to sea, the treasure had been lost forever. The stelae also indicate that the king restored the lingam in 784 CE.

Some restoration work has been done on these towers. This can be seen on the top of the one closest to us.

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Inside the first temple is a lingam, in the ancient Jatalinga style. Behind it is what looks like an ancient goddess, decorated with ornate cloths, (electric) candles and a gold bowl.

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An elderly Vietnamese woman leaves the temple. It is still well used by locals and visitors for worship.

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Here is the decoration on the top of the main temple tower.

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A front view that shows both these towers.

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Above the door of the main tower is this bas-relief. It is the Goddess Yan Po Naga, goddess as Mahishasuramardini: it depicts the four-armed goddess holding a hatchet, a lotus and a club, and standing on a buffalo. This sculpture belongs to the Tra Kieu style of Cham art from the end of the 10th century or the beginning of the 11th century CE.

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Inside is another lingam and decorations.

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All together there are five remaining temples in this complex. Here is one in the back row.

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Inside is this goddess figure. The sculpture looks modern to me. It is elaborately dressed. The decorations look much more akin to contemporary Buddhist altar decorations that you see in Vietnam now. The worship I witnessed in these temples also looked like that at Buddhist temples.

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In the rear of the site there is a museum showing some of the ancient pieces that were in the temples when reconstruction began.

This is the central idol from the big temple, a 1.2 m tall stone statue of the goddess Yan Po Nagar sitting cross-legged, dressed only in a skirt, with ten hands holding various symbolic items. She is said to be the founder of the Cham nation. She is identified with Durga. According to legend, she originated from Khanh Hoa province, in a peasant family in the mountains of Dai An. Spirits assisted her when she sailed on a drifting piece of sandalwood to China, where she married a Chinese crown prince, the son of the Emperor of China, with whom she had 2 children, and then became Queen of Champa. When she returned to Champa to visit her family, the Prince refused to let her go, but she flung the sandalwood into the ocean, disappeared with her children and reappeared at Nha Trang to her family. When the Chinese prince tried to follow her back to Nha Trang, she was furious, and turned him and his fleet into stone.

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Here is a photo of the site before any restoration work had been done.

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This is a jatalinga, with a hairpiece styled like (so they say) Siva.

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Outside the museum there is a small garden, with this melodious two part fountain.

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Thap Ba Hot Spring Center

The last thing on our agenda today was to go to the mud baths. These natural hot mud baths are a famous local attraction.

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The entryway is attractive.

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We paid our fees, put most of our clothes into lockers, and put on rented bathing suits. Then to the showers and the mud baths.

Here is an empty tub of mud, just waiting. The consistency is like thick mud soup.

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Below, Carol, with Judy, one of our travelling companions on the Gecko tour, and myself, soaking in the hot mud.

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After the mud bath and another shower we go to the hot mineral water bath. This is not shown. Shown below is the shower spray before the mineral bath.

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A big group showers before their mud bath.

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They have tubs for pretty big groups. Apparently mud baths here are a social experience.

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After the hot mineral baths, there is a refreshing waterfall where you can cool off, and clean the minerals and salt off your body.

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Then there are two swimming pools–this one, warm, and another, not so warm. A little more time in this water felt nice.

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As we left, I noticed this water flowing from the mud baths. Pretty muddy. I wonder where it goes?

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We had fun in our two days in Nha Trang. Now it is over, and we are to board a night train to Saigon. This is the last stop in Vietnam on this tour.

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