We set out at 7.30 this morning hoping to see the biggest Buddha in Asia (according to a random commenter on TravelFish). It was pretty big but I don't know if it is the biggest, there is one in Thailand that is about the same size I think. Having said that, it was incredibly beautiful and in the most amazing tropical forest setting. You take a cable car from the base of Ta Cu mountain and you are suspended above the forest many many meters high. The canopy is a tangle of trees and vines which drape over the vegetation like a massive, lush, green blanket. This is almost the best part aside from the Buddha and makes the 180,000vnd ticket more than worthwhile. Then you set off up the mountainside where stone steps guide you past a beautiful pagoda and up into a clearing where the reclining Buddha rests serenely amongst the trees; a stark, white contrast to the deep green of the trees and moss and the deep browns and greys of the stone and rock surrounding it. There are a lot of stairs leading up the mountain to the statue! 300 - 500 metres of steps at least.
We found some more stairs (382 to be precise) before we reached Ta Cu mountain which lead to a statue of Mary. It seems that the main religions practiced here are Buddhism and Catholicism and it is interesting, to me at least, that the art and the visible act of worship is very similar. The statues are like shrines and offerings of incense are laid before them. In the two places visited today, the sculptures are painted white and are very simple but beautiful in form and expressions. The Buddhist statues often have offerings of food as well which is an aspect of the faith that I do not understand well. One of the statues today had a dragon offering created out of vegetables and fruit which was stunningly intricate.
By the time we had finished with all our touristy stuff it was 3pm and we still had 40+ km to get to a nha nghi so off we went. John was really looking forward to the stretch of coast running to Phan Thiet so we took a detour to reach the Ta Cu Mountain and looped around the top on highway 1 and back down on the northern side of the mountain towards the coast and through some national park. We could have continued along the main road to Phan Thiet (our goal for the day) and cut out a big chunk but would have missed the coast. The road was quite hilly and after all the stairs, the hills felt like mountains (I have mentioned that we aren't super cyclists right?) but we were immediately put at ease by the meandering countryside and friendly waves from people as we cycled past. About 2km from the coast we stopped in a cafe with a brilliant view of dragon fruit 'trees' and sand dunes. We had a coffee watching some children climb up a tree to pick logan berries from its branches. One little one with a broken arm left no doubt to its origins with his bravery at the very top of the tree.
The last 22km was along the coast and I am so glad that we went the extra kms to see it. We did stop at a resort along the way to see if we could stay the night because it looked totally awesome with a moat and what looked like a jungle gym but unfortunately it was closed for rennovations. This is a shame because from where we were cycling, the beaches looked spectacular and comparatively clean. We will definitely be back!
Not sure about Phan Thiet yet because it was pretty late when we arrived but so far so good. We need to stay an extra day so that we can get John's bike fixed (the tray on the back snapped and duct tape is not doing its job) which suits me fine because tomorrow night I want to see the red sand dunes!
Xox speak soon!