One fulfilling part of traveling is the host of random folks you meet in different bars, restaurants, and destinations. United in our thirst for travel, but almost always in a different spot in our journey. Same same, but different, as they say around here. Some are simply on vacation for a couple of weeks, some for a couple of months, others have settled and set up shop permanently, and yet some have remained nomads for years. There is always a pearl of wisdom to be had from these fellow travelers; a laugh to be shared. One of our wandering compatriots gave us a recommendation that led to a fun motorbike adventure, and one big lady.
After the slow rhythm of Hoi An, we adventured north to the growing metropolis of Da Nang. Sounds of construction echo throughout the city, only drowned out by the rhythm of the waves crashing against the sand. Being a larger city, it was time to take to the motorbike once again and see what we could find. After a long chat with a traveler turned resident (now living in Da Nang 7 years!) named Sandy, he suggested we check out the local banyan tree on our way out to see the Lady Buddha. When you get to the Y, head down the path to the left that goes down.” Seemed simple to follow, but once we got on the road, I am not certain we actually went the way he recommended. Armed with Google maps and a motorbike we took to the peninsula.
Following a winding path to the top of the mountain in the center of the peninsula we found no path to the left that went down, but that was ok. We had downloaded the map and I could trace our progress along the back roads of the island. Stopping at several spots along the way we were blown away by the fantastic views. Wide expanding vistas out into the ocean, and breathtaking views of the city. As we ventured down, things got a little interesting and the mantra “think thin”, was often uttered. We wound our way down the mountain and followed the sign to the banyan tree. At the dead-end road there were a couple carts selling drinks and a group of tourists.
The banyan tree was over 800 years old. The tree had been used as a base of operations during two of the Vietnamese resistance wars against both France and America. Whenever we have been in the presence of ancient architecture or ancient establishments you can feel the history. How many hands have felt this tree? How many people have hunkered under this tree for safety? Buried in the forest against a hillside, each branch of the tree shot out and then down into the ground to form a new trunk. This network of trunks created a canopy of cover all from the same tree. An attraction we wished we could have to our own, but like many things, it was shared with several other people, all looking for that one picture that could capture what can’t be captured in one single photo. As you walked along the path through the tree it would seem you were walking through 20 trees, each unique yet the same. Same same, but different.
As we left and headed towards the Lady Buddha a little boy who had probably said “Hello” to us 3-4 times approached us with his mother. They wanted a picture with us. Still not sure why, but this would be one of many random photos grabbed with strangers in our travels. Maybe we are the token white Americans (asks my inner cynic)? Still trying to figure that one out. But in the meantime, we have decided to join in the fun and grab a photo with them as well. How many strangers will we capture? Remains to be seen.
We navigated our way back around the peninsula and arrived at the Lady Buddha pagoda. Sitting at 220 feet tall and 110 feet in diameter, it is the largest statue in Vietnam. For a little perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall and a lot of that is the base, not necessarily the actual statue of Lady Liberty. From the city of Da Nang you can see Lady Buddha across the bay, looking out over the sea; an aura of calm permeating from her gaze. There were innumerable tourist groups all arriving by bus in 15-minute intervals pouring out in droves. Our motorbike parking which was donation only seemed a lot more relaxed. No schedule, no guide, just us exploring the area and seeing what we could see. Taking in the Lady Buddha and her cohorts.
As we coasted back into Da Nang we cheers’d to Sandy (Or should we say Yo! The Vietnamese cheers). Thanks for the recommendation. We formed our own trip as usual, but the words of a stranger urged us on.