I grew up in Southern California. I spent most of my teen years living on the oceanfront. I’ve bodysurfed off Huntington Beach, frolicked in the crystal waters off Zanzibar and boogeyboarded along Poipu Beach in Kauai.
I think I know beaches. And I’ve never been to a better beach than China Beach in Vietnam.
China Beach is on the South China Sea just outside Danang proper. We hit the beach for an hour before driving on south from Danang to Hoi An. I wish we could have stayed longer.
I guess one of the things that astonished me the most about China Beach was the total lack of people. It was 3 p.m. and no one other than our group was using the beach, much less swimming. A few Vietnamese people were there eager to take our money to rent a chair and umbrella or use a rank changing cell with shower. But other than that, it was just us.
It was totally cool.
We hit the beach hot and sweaty. A couple of people stayed on the bus but most of us headed down to the sand. I checked it out first. Appearing in public in a swimming suit isn’t top of my list of things today. And this was the first time swimming after my bilateral mastectomy. But the water looked so nice and it was so hot, my hesitation quickly turned into what the hell and I went back to change into my suit.
I headed back up to the so-called changing rooms. Unfortunately, these resembled the small prison cells we’d seen at the war museum in Saigon. Still, for about 75 cents and a smile, I got to go into the little room, strip down to nothing standing on clammy concrete, and then try to pull on my suit over my already sweaty body. I then put my shirt and pants back on because, however enticing the water was and however deserted the beach was, I wasn’t walking the 100 yards back there only in my suit.
The hot sand on my bare feet made me move just a tad quicker but the sea was already drawing me in. I dropped my bag and clothes at the foot of the chairs we’d staked out, with Xe as a guard, and sped into the ocean.
It was just the right temperature, not cold enough to give you a jolt as you first stepped in but not too warm as to be uncomfortable after bobbing for awhile. I quickly made my way deeper, carving into the clean water until I got up to my chest.
It was pristine. The sand was clean and soft on my feet, with no rocks or, more like I’m used to in Southern California, bits of tar. The clear water didn’t have any trash or seaweed or anything resembling flotsam. The waves were high enough to make it interesting but not too high to be irritating.
At one point a group of flying fish, each about two inches long, leapt out of the water around me, zipping by with little concern for me.
About four of us from the group bobbed there for almost an hour, dipping in and out, going deeper, swimming shallower, talking and wallowing in the cool water. We wanted to stay longer. We kidding about sending the bus on and getting a taxi to our next destination, no matter the cost.
But, in the end, we waded out, pruny and happy, the last to pull on our clothes over our suits and scramble on to the bus, wet, sandy, salty and happy, reluctant to leave and yet so happy we’d come.
They’re building some huge resorts along China Beach, next to a couple that already exist, although I didn’t notice them where we were. How unfortunate. I was glad we got there when we did. I don’t know how long this perfect experience will remain.