After my stop in Hoi An it was finally time to escape the sweltering tropical humidity of Vietnam with a visit to the beach resort town of Nha Trang. I’d heard mixed things about this place, some backpackers loved it and stayed for a whole week, while others hated it and stayed only for a night. The reason for this difference of opinion is because a typical day in Nha Trang essentially consists if spending the day light hours relaxing on the beach, and then the moonlight hours partying. The beaches were a welcome relief from the heat but not particularly beautiful or amazing (that said growing up on the Central Coast of Australia left me with pretty high standards for beaches), and the party nightlife was definitely there, though it felt more like I’d stepped out of Vietnam and into Bali, Cancun or any other beach party town full of tacky bars and thirsty westerners.
The ride to Nha Trang was another infamous night bus. We were told this time that it would be a new bus and that it would essentially be empty as only 11 people had booked. To avoid the backseat blues of y previous night bus ride I jumped in the bottom front seat behind the driver. This was lightly more comfortable though I still got no sleep due to my general insomnia and the drivers liberal use of the loud horn, the blinding headlights of passing trucks, and the driver stopping every half our to pick up and let off local people in an attempt to fill up the bus.
Canadian Doug and myself arrived tired eyed at around 6am and waved off the mototaxis and hotel touts to walk o the Son & Daughter hostel where we were planning on staying. We also met back up with Welsh Owen and Chantel there. After checking in and grabbing a tasty egg pork and salad sandwich for less than a dollar from one of the numerous Banh Mi vendors on the street Owen, Chantel and I headed to the beach while Doug, who’s motorbike leg wounds were not healing, set out to find a doctor. It turned it Doug had managed to acquire an aggressive staph infection and even the little pimples and scratches on his legs had now mutated into delightful puss filled sores. Doug spent the next couple of days resting up on a course of potent antibiotics.
Back on the beach Owen was telling me about one of his favourite books, The Beach, of which I have only seen the movie of which I have mostly forgotten what happened. There is a part in the book where two of the guys on the island play a game where they have to swim down to the seabed and grab some sand and bring it back up. Of course they swam out till the people on their beach were mere specks and the water a couple of meters below the surface so cold and dark that the game became quite sinister. On our beach we didn’t go out very far.
Heading back to the hostel to find Doug and grab some lunch we were jumped by the many street sellers now polluting the footpaths who were blessedly absent when we arrived at 6 in the morning. If you’ve read my other posts you probably know by now that these sellers are everywhere in Vietnam. What’s interesting is how the main product changes in each city you pass through. In Hanoi it’s little old ladies selling some sort of Vietnamese doughnut, Hue is cyclo driver aggressively offering cheap city tours, Hoi An is tailors begging to make you suits, and as I later found out Dalat is sly Easy Riders offering motorcycle tours. In Nha Trang however, the streets are full of men and women walking around with giant boards hanging around there necks displaying all manner of fake designer sunglasses, an I’m not sure who gave them the memo but they all try and make you buy the brightly coloured Ray Ban Wayfarers.
These sellers are relentless and the fact you are already wearing sunglasses doesn’t deter them, they will just try and force a different color on you. Rather than get annoyed though Owen and I made a game of it by seeing how low we could get them to sell for, and in doing so we accumulated many pairs of Wayfarers and ended up on pretty friendly terms with a couple oft the sellers. We ended up getting them down to one dollar a pair, though at first that resulted in tortured moans of “Noooo, good you you, not good for me” by the sellers, but once we had our first pair for a dollar the others had to match it. Ignoring my tortoise shell pair, Doug’s black pair and Chantel’s misplaced white pair, we ended up with six pairs of coloured wayfarers between us. And of course with this many pairs of cheap sunglasses i did the only logical thing and tried to ware them all a once. This made me look like the most ridiculous hipster in Vietnam (Johnny two hats would be proud) and also resulted in a lot of laughter and amusement from the sellers and local Vietnamese.
In between mode ling absurd numbers of sunglasses I also managed to squeeze in some site seeing in Nha Trang. On my second day there I booked an island tour with the Welsh duo, these have a reputation of being Booze Cruises depending on who you book it with. We chose some random company on the street and as we got on the bus to take us to the boat we discovered we were the only westerners on the bus. Thankfully it rolled along to a few more hotels and a couple more backpackers came on. There was a Dutch couple Freek and Yvonne and a bunch of Brits; siblings Rob and Pipper, Zac Efron look-a-like Martin, and a large northerner Andy (who rubbed a few of my companions the wrong way).
The first stop on the tour was a diving spot off of Mum island where we could go snorkeling (if you paid the $2 fee which was conveniently not included in our tour price). There was some nice coral and fish to see here, and you could also see the learner divers gliding along the bottom if you went a bit further out from the island. As I was paddling around I looked over at Owen and said “Grab some sand?” and it was on. I tried to skin dive down to where I had seen the divers earlier but had to come up after only making it half way because of pain in my ears. It was apparently 5m deep here. I caught my breath and dived again, this time holding my nose and blowing out almost continuously for the last half of my decent to equalize the pressure in my ears. I made it to the bottom, and to my horror it was rock and no sand. I fished around while my oxygen was rapidly depleting and lungs starting to burn, and managed too scrape up a small handful from nearby before launching myself back to the surface. As my head broke through to blissful air I smiled at Owen and held out my hand letting the wet grains drain through my fingers.
Back on the boat we pulled up outside another island for lunch. With an Autobot’s cry of Kiku kaku all the seats on the deck of our boat folded down to provide a giant makeshift table. After lunch a drum kit consisting of some old astir petrol drums and the rustiest and most decrepit cymbal I have ever seen was shuffled onto the table. This was followed by a grizzled old Vietnamese guy with a beat up red guitar, and finally by our guide wielding a microphone. They played a couple of surf rock songs, quite decently given the equipment (as long as you ignored the singing) and then the true entertainment started. The guide went around the boat asking people where they were from, then dragged them on stage to perform a duet of a surf cover of a song. I was lucky first and after banging my head on the low room multiple times sang and laughed my way through the most unusual rendition of Waltzing Matilda I will probably ever hear. After a few more embarrassing performances from various tourists Owen decided he wanted to try playing the drums and dragged me up to play the guitar. I panicked and couldn’t think of any songs to play in standard tuning (and without my loop pedal) and ended up fumbling my way through an awful cover of Hallelujah while Owen attempted to drum along, cringing at the broken sound that limped out every time he hit the ghetto cymbal. In retrospect I missed the worlds best opportunity to play a guitar version of I’m On A Boat (not that I even know how).
On my last full day in Nha Trang I wanted to see Long Son pagoda which is a giant Buddha sitting on a hill overlooking the city. It was a couple of kilometres from the hostel so I wanted to hire a bike and ride there. Chantel convinced me to hire a ridiculous retro tandem bicycle with her. The bike looked awesome, but ridge it was a whole other challenge. Add to this the busy Vietnamese traffic and it was a miracle we made it back in one piece. Two tourists on a tandem bicycle turned out to be quite a spectacle for the locals. We got many amazed and amused looks directed our way. At the temple the Buddha was indeed big, and there was also a lazy lounging Buddha a little further down the hill in the monastery. We also managed to kept scammed good.
While walking in we got swarmed by young adult Vietnamese, one or two for each of us, who started telling sad tales about being orphans and working for the monks. I tried to ignore mine as I went around taking photos but he clung on tight. I started to feel bad about his sorry tale he was spinning, and when I caught up to Owen and Chantel they were surrounded by four more who were now trying to sell them a book of postcards for $5 each. Mine tried this on me and I said I didn’t want them, ten hey tried to get us all to split one. After much what do we do hushed talking we cracked and got one between the three of us. As soon as money changed hands the orphans vanished leaving us with a book of 10 really shitty quality postcards and felt cheated. I have no idea if they were really orphans or not, but don’t work for the monks and it is a common scam we would have been forewarned about if we had bothered to read the Lonely Planet. Just then my heart shrivelled up into a black coal and I vowed to become like all the other backpackers with no more sympathy for the numerous beggars and scammers in south east Asia.
Another theme in Nha Trang was spending too much for food. For most if my travels I had been living off heap street food like delicious bowls of pho Ga, Bun bo, cao lau (all noodle dishes that don’t usually cost much more than a dollar). This was great while travelling with Doug who shared my taste in food, but since we added the Welsh Duo to the fold things god more complicated. This was because they are vegetarians or sorts, though that’s not really an accurate term in Owens case as he not only doesn’t eat meat, but also doesn’t eat vegetables either. His nickname is Starch Boy because about all he does eat is rice, bread and Pringles. This sent us in search of more orthodox restaurants, which in Nha Trang had good food, but at a price. The first night we went to some place that had a large seafood bucket for two people at $5 each. Five dollars might sound cheap back home buck you could eat for 2 days on that over here. Doug and i split this and it was tasty but neither big nor bucketish. The second we went to some Spanish restaurant and got all you can eat BBQ skewers for $5. These ended up being full swords loaded with vegetables and 4 chicken breasts each. It was delicious, and even though we were stuffed after one, since it was all you can eat I got a second one to split with Doug. This was probably a poor choice, and I broke out in the meat sweats and felt like my stomach would burst. Thankfully no one came offering just one more teeny-weeny after dinner mint, wafer thin or not.
Dinner on all nights was followed by getting into he Nha Trang party mode. Usually by first heading to the Red Apple Bar near our hostel for a happy hour 35k dong Vodka red bull bucket, which had about a quarter bottle of vodka in it. After that we would bounce to a couple of other bars picking up a crew of backpackers and knocking back drinks till the generous happy hours ran out. At the end of the night we would won’t up at a beach side nightclub/bar called The Sailing Club where we would dance till We were tired and sweaty. This place was packed with young Vietnamese who would come over to get in on our dance moves. A couple of nights of this and I was party sated and ready to escape the hot coast and tacky beach themed bars. My next stop was the city of Da Lat in the milder climate of the central highlands.