I was already well acquainted with Vietnam’s somewhat inconvenient electricity shortages and Facebook firewall (hey, who needs an international social networking site when you’ve got access to ‘go.vn’, where the Communist Party are more than happy to be your “friend”) by the time I arrived in Nha Trang, a quaint little town in the South Central Coast. Unfortunately this place is often equated to Koh Phangan, Thailand’s infamous full moon party island, when in actual fact it has a lot of hidden pleasures beyond the cheap beer and easy girls (and guys).
Night buses and trains are the way forward: not only do they save you money that you’d otherwise fork out on accommodation (negligible as that amount may be), but they also allow you to maximise the sunny hours in these exotic places. I relied on them heavily throughout my travels and got used to the sleep deprivation induced by the stench of nearby feet. In retrospect the smell was probably coming from me. So I hopped off of the bus and was in sunny Nha Trang. I wandered aimlessly attempting to find a guest house based on a recommendation from back in Cambodia, and eventually stumbled across it, only to find that single and dorm rooms were full. Thankfully the extrovert within compelled me to have a two minute icebreaker with a guy in the lobby who was also looking for a room: after a quick assessment I decided that he wasn’t going to kill me and he’d be a suitable room buddy for the time being, and we checked into a twin.
After a quick assessment I decided that he wasn’t going to kill me and he’d be a suitable room buddy for the time being
For some reason we were charged the full amount for an air-conditioned room (an extra 50p – big whoop) despite the fact that the power was set to be off for a couple of days for reasons I still don’t fully understand. So we took off to the beach with Lonely Planets and beers in hand and began to set the agenda. After soaking up some rays we hopped on some bikes and headed for the mud spa. The mud spa was the beginning of the end of my camera but did my skin wonders: obviously its claims of healing powers weren’t at all mythical. It was quite the hotspot for Asian tourists who all wanted photos with me for some reason which kind of killed the mellow atmosphere, but whatever. We smothered ourselves in tepid, creamy mud before showering and heading to some good old temples. By this point I wasn’t ‘all templed out’ and the novelty of all things old was still glistening. The Po Nagar Cham Towers, built by the Cham civilization sometime between the 7th and 12th century, were quite spectacular. I guess it’s a little like Angkor Wat but condensed a lot and placed on a hill. The intriguing architecture, lively dancing from performers and agreeable aromas from incense sticks made the climb well worth it. I don’t know why but I still find it a little weird when Buddhist monks ride around on choppers and whip out their digital cameras to take some cheeky snaps – it just doesn’t fit the image at all. Anyway, the hill offered a superb view of the town below.
If you haven’t tried Vietnamese cuisine I’d highly recommend it, particularly the obvious choice of ‘pho’, ‘nam’s national dish. Like most of the dishes in this part of the world, such simple ingredients somehow manage to conjure up amazing flavours that get you craving more. It was also here that I developed my undying passion for Vietnamese coffee, best mixed with a drizzle of condensed milk and poured over ice. But the real gem is Bia Hoi, a pitcher of mighty fine beer that’ll set you back a whopping 50p and get you absolutely tinselled. We indulged in all of the above and checked out the allegedly booming nightlife. Unfortunately the punters were mostly disillusioned Aussie diving instructors and their newly-found Vietnamese wives: isn’t true love magical?
The next day was a little more cultured as we got well off the beaten track and motorcycled up the coast and into the mountains. Travelling by bike certainly beats the bus, and I’ll be bearing this fact in mind on my next trip. We got to interact so much more with the places we visited: every time we rode through a fishing village we’d slow down to soak up the atmosphere a little more, and so often we were greeted by local children who just wanted to say hi or wanted us to join in on a ball game. In spite of the horrors imposed on them, these people are still amongst the most hospitable and cheery I’ve come across to date. It’s a shame that a lot of travellers don’t do this more often: the breeze in your hair as you zoom around on your bike is a great substitute to bus air-conditioning and you get to engage so much more with local people as opposed to ‘gap yahs’. It may seem intimidating to do this kind of thing but in reality you’re probably a lot safer in these kinds of places than walking through central London.
A few of the people I’d met decided to head over to Vin Pearl, a water park much like the ones you can find back home. I’m still not sure why you’d jet across the world to get involved in this kind of thing when there are so many better things at your disposal. Instead I went on a mission in search of the Ba Ho waterfalls, famous for their crystal clear waters – the perfect place to unwind and get away from the clutches of the water park. Two hours and a bucket of sweat later and I was stood atop the ultimate waterfall gazing into the distance, admiring the forest and the lack of people in the vicinity.
After an unexpected encounter with a bloody massive (and probably harmless) spider I took another little trip to Bia Hoi, quickly guzzled down a few glasses of beer, and headed further up the coast to Hoi An. A far cry from the anticipated reclusiveness induced by a bitter regime, fun-loving Vietnam was quickly turning out to be a favourite destination: my only real regret is that I didn’t stay for longer. Next time, next time.