I came to Mui Ne because it’s on the beach. I wanted a place to write and relax. Most days I don’t leave the hotel grounds except to walk on the beach or go for a meal close by. There really isn’t much to see right in my neighborhood other than tourists and tourist related industry. So I was rather surprised that the tourist map I had bought contained more than just advertisements for local restaurants and clubs. There are several places of interest within a 30 minute bus ride. Today’s trip was to the Whale Temple.
Since I was unable to talk to the source, I had to rely on the internet and got a bit more information.
Worship of the Whale God is a religion practiced by coastal fisherman in Vietnam and dates back to at least the early Khmer and Cham cultures. They believe that this god protects them while at sea and will guide them to shelter in a storm. Whales are highly revered creatures in Vietnam and have never been hunted here. If a dead whale or dolphin washes up on the coast, there is an elaborate ceremony performed to mourn and honor the mammal. It is then buried and three to five years later exhumed; the remains then carried to the temple to be worshiped. From what I have found, it seems the last whale funeral was in 2002. Once a year, around August, there is a large festival in honor of the whale and to ask for protection on the seas in the coming year.
I arrived at the small temple and was ushered in by a gentleman collecting the nominal entrance fee. From there one walks into the room which holds the intact skeleton of a fin whale. A placard stated that it was 22 meters long, (aprox 67 ft) and I believe it said it weighed 65 metric tons. I think this whale passed on to the great ocean in the beyond, either 50 or 100 or 150 years ago. (I’m not sure that I understood the man at the temple, or if the internet information was accurate.)
From there I walked over to the temple proper. Music and chanting was blaring from loudspeakers that came from a small room to the left where men in bright blue costumes were praying.
After making sure it was all right to enter, and then if it was ok to take pictures, I stepped into the first room with its central alter in golds and reds. There were also smaller ones on the sides. A few older folks sat around the edges and some others were lighting incense and praying. I did try to ask about it all, but my limited Vietnamese was not going to work. One gentleman guided me up to the alter. When I saw the donation box, I took out some money and put it in, then pointed to the incense. He kindly took out three sticks, lit them for me, and showed me where to stand. I said a few blessings for the whale god and for my mother, who loved whales. When he saw that I had finished, he took the burning incense and placed in the pot on the alter. Then he mimed that I should fold my hands in front of myself and bow.
This room led to a small passageway that held the remains of whales gone by. Again, I couldn’t ascertain just how many creatures were stored there. I then walked into the back room that also opened out onto an ally.