Few people have heard of Song Cau in the Phu Yen province in eastern Vietnam but that’s far from the same as saying the area has nothing to offer. Xuan Dai Bay with its gorgeous sceneries is a must visit.
So what’s so special about it?
“The landscape and scenery is outstanding and unlike anything you’ve seen before – unless you’ve been to paradise that is.”
In the bay, there is a small fishing village calledGanh Đo or “Red Reef”, known for fishing and famous for its fish sauce. In fact, so well-known that the locals are able to lead a comfortable life in an otherwise poor province. However, Ganh Do is so much more than fishing and fish sauce. The landscape and scenery is outstanding and unlike anything you’ve seen before – unless you’ve been to paradise that is.
How did Red Reef get its name?
If you’re wondering how Red Reef got its name it’s due to the many reddish – brown reefs scattered around the area.
Red Reef Beach
Aside from it’s unique beauty and quaint atmosphere, another appealing feature is the Red Reef beach. It has very smooth sand and mild waves, it’s flat, clean, and with shallow waters; even at 50 meters from the beach, the water is only waist deep.
In the morning, the life in Red Reef is tranquil and gentle. The fishermen, out catching squids, paddle slowly along the shore. Early risers are out and about in the relaxing environment, breathing the fresh air and swimming in the cool water.
Meet the friendly fishermen
“It’s so rare that foreign tourists come to visit their place that being invited in for food and accommodation without even asking for it, is highly likely.”
Red reef is an accommodating destination for those who’d like to explore Vietnamese life far away from the tourist circuits. The local fishermen are very kind and friendly here – far beyond what you’d expect. It’s so rare that foreign tourists come to visit their place that being invited in for food and accommodation without even asking for it, is highly likely. They have no other reason than wanting to talk to you and because of their extraordinary hospitality.
Don’t forget the surrounding area
If you’re not already packing your bags to go see this gem, this should convince you. Red Reef has a special terrain. Not only does it have the before mentioned dream of a beach but mountains and rice fields can be found in the area as well so there are landscapes to please anyone. It’s not often you have so much beauty and variety packed into one place.
When you have the chance, set foot on these lands. You will instantly feel the rustic charm of both the landscape and the people here.
This is a series about various observations and reflections I’ve had while staying in Ubud, Bali for a month.
How we got to go to the full moon ceremony aka Bulan Purnama
We (Amy and I) noticed that the hostess and the rest of the staffregularly wentto the nearby Pura Puseh temple in Ubud and since the staff has been so overly friendly and forthcoming towards us with everything else we thought we’d ask them if they could take us. We thought about going to the temple ourselves to see but I’m glad we didn’t because it would have been like sending two elephants into a porcelain house – we’d stick out like two sore disrespectful thumbs.
“At this point we didn’t know what kind of experience to expect and honestly I just thought it would be a standard Sunday ceremony.”
They suggested we go a few Sundays later (yes, you guessed it – they said yes) and without thinking further about it we smiled, said thanks and started to look forward. At this point we didn’t know what kind of experience to expect and honestly I just thought it would be a standard Sunday ceremony. We would later find out that this was actually a bi-annual event called Bulan Purnama, a full moon ceremony that lasted for four days!
Full moon ceremony preparations
After visiting countless temples around South East Asia you’ve become used to certain requirements to clothes (long pants, cover your shoulders etc.) but for this ceremony the requirements to clothes were even more strict. Two bags of clothes were kindly handed over to us from the staff prior to the ceremony. One bag for me and one bag for Amy.
Amy’s bag contained:
Sarong – A sort of skirt to wear as the lower part of the dress
Corset – In earlier days the women went topless.
White shirt – In our group we all wore the same style shirt and I think it represents caste/family/relationship.
Selandang – A colourful piece of cloth tied around the white shirt as a belt.
My bag contained:
Large colourful sarong – Used as inner sarong and only the front part could be seen
Small white sarong – Used as outer sarong to create a two-layer effect
Selandang – same as for the women
Udeng – A special type of white hat worn by all men.
With these clothes, we felt significantly more prepared. It was also at this point we realized the grandeur of the ceremony. They didn’t do this every weekend. Since the women had all set up their hair and the men were wearing hats literally no one was wearing helmets. It seemed the whole region was heading for the temple.
“With these clothes, we felt significantly more prepared. It was also at this point we realized the grandeur of the ceremony.”
Arriving at Pura Puseh (the temple)
As we approached the temple of Pura Puseh in the middle of Ubud we saw hundreds of locals dressed in local attire and a nearby field had been turned into a parking lot to accomodate all the motorbikes rolling up.
If you’ve been in a similar situation you’ll know that it can be very overwhelming to be so suddenly and deeply submerged into foreign culture. You don’t know where to go and what to do – and more importantly: you don’t know what not to do.
To give an example, you are supposed to go by a small fountain next to the entrance and sprinkle yourself with holy water before you enter the temple. It’s easy to miss a detail like that so you’ve got to pay close attention to avoid showing disrespect.
“Anyone who’s been in similar situations knows that it can be very overwhelming to be so suddenly and deeply submergedinto foreign culture“
The Full moon ceremony commences
The ceremony starts in the morning but doesn’t end till around 10pm because of the many waves of people having to go through the full ceremony. It takes about 1 hour for a ceremony but two parallel ceremonies happen simultaneously – one in the outer temple and one in the inner.
Add to this, the fact that the full moon ceremony (Bulan Purnama) runs for four days straight! That’s a lot of people!
We performed two rituals – first in the outer temple and second in the inner temple. Before each ritual a flower bowl with incense sticks was prepared for every person.
“Add to this, the fact that the full moon ceremony (Bulan Purnama) runs for four days straight! That’s a lot of people!”
Outer temple ritual
The outer temple ritual consisted of 5 steps as follows:
Step1: Hold your hands over the incense to “catch” the incense smoke and afterwards pray with your (empty) hands in front of your face. I didn’t get the full details but I’m assuming the “catching” of smoke is a way of cleansing.
Step2: Repeat the same procedure but this time you’re holding a yellow flower while you pray. The yellow flower is then put behind your ear.
Step3: Repeat the same procedure but this time with a small bucket of flowers
Step4: Repeat the same procedure but this time with two flowers, a red and a yellow. Once again, you put them behind your ears afterwards.
Step5: This is the same as step1.
My guess is that step 1 and 5 is cleansing before and after the ritual while step 2, 3, and 4 each represents praying to one of the three primary gods in Hinduism:
Brahma, who creates the universe
Vishnu, who preserves the universe
Shiva, who destroys the universe
To make sure everyone follows the same pace, a man with a small bell sets the pace. Each step is performed as long as the bell is ringing.
“Step 1 and 5 is cleansing before and after the ritual while step 2, 3, and 4 each represents praying to one of the three primary gods in Hinduism:“
After the ritual, everyone proceeded to the inner temple, bringing with them flowers and offerings.
Inner Temple Ritual
Inside was a completely new set-up of Gamelan musicians. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this ceremony, the outer ceremony had about 20 Gamelan musicians while theinner ceremony had closer to 50 musicians.
The first part of the second ritual is the same as the entire first ritual. However, after this is done there is an addendum.
“To give you an idea of the sheer size of this ceremony, the outer ceremony had about 20 Gamelan musicians while the inner ceremony had closer to 50.”
All the offerings are carried to the offer site and while the offering ritual is being performed ladies walk around with holy water (it had a very smoky smell and taste to it) and a second ritual is performed by each person individually:
Step 1-3 is done 3 times
Step1: They give you holy water in your hands and you wash your face. This is done 3 times.
Step2: They give you holy water in your hands and you drink. This is done 3 times.
Step3: They give you holy water in your hands and you put it over your head. This is done 3 times.
Step4: Rice is put on your neck and your forehead. It sticks to your body as you are wet from the washing.
Finally, after this step, the ceremony is over and everyone proceeds to the exit. Next group comes in and the ritual is repeated for the next group
After the full moon ceremony
Although most people have the whole weekend and monday off there are still things to do and a large chunk of the ceremony goers head straight home. The majority though, sticks around and participates in the general festivities across the road from the temple where everyone is dancing and singing.
Around 12pm everything ends, the streets can finally rest and only the silence sticks around; until the next the day when the cycle repeats.
This is a series about various observations and reflections I’ve had while staying in Ubud, Bali for a month.
Gamelan– a unique style of music on Bali
Right next to our place in Ubud, Bali is an arts museum. Every day they have a gamelan performance at 7pm. It’s very loud. When they don’t have a performance – they practice; so effectively you can hear gamelan music from our home about 8 hours a day.
You’re probably wondering what gamelan music is, and you’d be right to do so because it’s only found on Bali. It’s a combination of bells and gongs and drums – basically anything you can think of that’s good at making noise. Something a child would love to have a go at. Have a listen at this very atmospheric video. For those curious about the clothes they wear and what’s going on here, I’ll be getting into the full moon ceremony I went to, in my next post.
It’s obviously played at the before mentioned arts museum mostly for the benefit of tourists but it’s also played at a variety of festivities, most notoriously at spiritual events.
Hinduism and protective symbols in Ubud
Every day flowers with incense sticks, or jepun, are left in front of our house and every other house. The purpose is to keep the habitants safe and protect them. We have also had jepun left on our motorbike to keep with us when we drive. Jepun are placed everywhere for ceremonies and in everyday life. A friend of mine, who lives far out in a small village, has a lady come into her garden every day to leave jepun for her and she doesn’t know who it is. Apparently this lady has this as her job in this entire village – that’s what she does.
The same thing goes with faces. Everywhere on decorations and pictures you see faces and heads. They have carved out coconut faces outside our villa and wooden carved faces are hanging everywhere. Bali is highly spiritual and Hinduism runs deep in every local as far as I can tell.
I will get into one of the big ceremonies they only have twice a year – the full moon ceremony – in my next post.
The Balinese and their 4-name system
Now this is a peculiar system the Balinese are using here and (to some surprise) it certainly is still very intact and functioning.
“All Balinese people are named one of just 4 names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. Both men and women. In Bali, Indonesia, such a 4-names-only system is entirely real and intact. Here’s how it works:
Every Balinese child is simply named by his or her order of birth. The first born, boy or girl, is Wayan. The second born is Made (pronounced ma day). The third born is Nyoman. And the 4th born is Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’.”
As a funny anecdote, I remember asking our hostess what her name was and she said Wayan. No problem. Then I asked her son what his name was and he also said Wayan. So they’re both called the same. That’s confusing. I can’t even imagine how roll call in school would work out: “Is Wayan here?” – ten people, boys and girls, raise their hands: “Present!”. Consistently, when I’ve asked what a local’s name was, I was given as answer of one of those 4 names.
Now, before you completely give up on learning people’s names on Bali there are certain things that make it easier to distinguish one person from another.
Caste name. Two different Wayans might come from a different caste. Just like we, in the western world, have family names or surnames.
Girls and boys have different honorifics before their names and as such a girl would be “Ni” – Ni Wayan while a boy would be “I” – I Wayan.
Usually a third, hindu name, with a positive meaning, is given to each child. This, combined with their first name lets them create a nickname that distinguishes them from all the other Wayan’s or Made’s.
One such example is when I asked a staff member at Hubud what his name was. He said “Budi” which is a nickname based on his hindu name “Budiasa”.
Stay tuned for the next and final of the series about Bali where I’ll be getting into the full moon ceremony!
This concludes part 2 of the series about Ubud, Bali – part 3 will be coming shortly!