Get your visa and go… to Ninh Thuan, Vietnam

Part 5: Hang Rai

Hang Rai, located within the premise of Nui Chua National Park, is an ancient coral range exposed above the water after millions of years of topographical movements. The area is not large, about 1000 square kilometers, divided into 2 distinct ranges – 1 much higher than sea level, with ragged coral spikes, and 1 approximately the sea level, smoother, covered in mold. Sometimes during high tides, which coincide with sunset or dawn, the lower part will turn into a low cliff, creating a magical waterfall in the middle of the ocean glowing in the scarlet mist.

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The higher, more ragged coral floor

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And closed up

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Climbing down the rocks, that’s the lower, smoother coral floor

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Versus what you usually see on Google rotfl

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Or this awesome view…

Until recently, this spot was still unknown to tourists and locals, and the only way to explore its magnificence was to go through a granite mountain range. With the provincial road opened a few years ago, getting to Hang Rai became much easier and the location turned into a hot spot for wedding photos. When we stopped at the parking lot, I could immediately see the makeup room for brides. I really admire those brides-to-be who, on their 10-cm heels and 1-km long dresses, could climb boulders, stomp spiky corals, and balance on slippery mold. I, in my shorts and flip-flops, couldn’t reach that far.

Visiting Hang Rai is best in the early morning in a clear day, before the sun goes up. At that time, you’ll witness the glorious rays brightening the usually black and gloomy rocks. If you are an adventurous soul and have plenty of time, take it slow to explore every inch of this location, and you’ll capture National-Geographic-cover views.

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When we got there, it was already about 9 in the morning. The sun had been up in the cloudy sky for hours by then. A couple was taking their wedding photos there, a few teenagers struggling to climb over the rocks, a father holding his daughter trying to reach as far as he could. For a famous destination to backpackers, having only this many people present was depressing.

“Your mom seems tired.” – Huy said as he climbed the rocks next to me while my aunt and mom waited for us on a wooden bench on the shore.

“She’s lucky to still be alive now and healthy enough to travel.” – I replied.

“I know this doctor who can help her, if you want me to take you there. She cures you the traditional way, not the quick dirty one as modern doctors do. I only trust organic, natural cures now. Western medicines only cure the symptoms and leave tons of side effects. My dad had gout. He took bunches of pills to ease his pain quickly. Those pills destroyed his liver.”

I was surprised Huy opened up so suddenly. He must be utterly disgusted of the modern medical treatment to burst out a series of complaints like that. I actually shared his view – Western medicines only cure the symptoms and leave tons of side effects, but I also believed, as stated in Life of Pi, “In the end, God didn’t save him, Western medicine did”. We probably didn’t evolve thousands of years to concentrate the curing effects of herbs into convenient chemicals and medication just so we could go back to chewing leaves and roots again.

In order to get to the lower, smoother range, I had to climb over slippery rocks submerged in water. The group of teenagers already passed me and Huy, yelling and screaming whenever one of them slipped.

“Here, step on that rock over there. It’s safer.” – From time to time, Huy would shout out guides like that.

“It’s ok. I’ll just stop and take pictures from here. It’s a bit too slippery.” – I shook my head. My flip flop strap might break any time now.

There was a time, just a few months ago, when I wouldn’t stop at anything for the perfect shot as seen on Google Images. There was a time, just last year actually, when I would risk getting drowned just because climbing these slippery rocks was so much fun in itself. There was a time, not so long ago, when I felt like a kid. I just didn’t feel that way anymore.

Huy took 2 photos for me, and we returned. Rain started drizzling down like flakes of dust. The rainy season was still haunting this province.

“It would be gloomy and rainy like this until the 23rd of October of the lunar year, so 4 days from now.” – Huy told us as we got back in the car just before the heavy rain started pouring down. – “I hope the rain goes away soon. This is way too much water for our liking.”

I smiled. It was indeed a miracle how humans learned to adapt to their surroundings. When some people became accustomed to arid climate and blazing sun, a bit of clouds and humidity turned out to be disastrous for them. (Update 1 month later, as of Dec 14, 2016 though: the whole South Central Vietnam is currently heavily flooded. The 23rd of October superstition simply didn’t work in this crazy year.)

“Next stop will be Vinh Hy bay. You’ll love it.”

After half a day, we were finally on route to our major stop.

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